06|03 RITORNO: WE HAD IT ALL … TO PLAY FOR!

seasonSix.episodeThree | Ritorno

During the January transfer window, we decided to bring in a few new faces, some forced, some because the deals were too good to turn down.

TRANSFER BUSINESS

Manchester United had been upsetting my star right-back all season. I agreed to sell Marques should a bid of €30m come in for him. A bid was forthcoming, but at €10m so I was happy to decline it. However, eventually, we settled on a €40m+ deal. So I needed a replacement which wasn’t going to be easy.

Francisco Vargas | €2.6m from Colo-Colo

Francisco looks like he could exceed the abilities of Marques. My scouts had highlighted him as someone who will be an important player who could still improve. However, being a foreign player and due to the rules in Italy, he will spend the next six months waiting to join the first team, having failed in my attempts to loan him out until the end of the season.

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Ales Srom | €65k from Dukla Prague

Ales is an interesting one. He was on a scout report for a while but didn’t really look good enough on a technical level. However, he kept coming to my attention to I asked Danielle to see if we could do a cheap deal, even if it was to make a bit of profit and to my surprise, we managed to bring him in for just €65k. I will retrain him as a Central Midfielder.

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Douglas Costa | €3.7m from PSG

This is the transfer I was not sure on. We only have Messina who can play as a left winger, however, I thought I would see what sort of deal PSG would do. As it happens they would agree to pay almost all of his €200k per week wage. We contribute €550 per week. Yes, that is just five hundred and fifty Euros. He can play on either wing but will be good cover. While his attributes are in decline, we will see how he performs. He’s here for 5 months, so little risk.

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Marcos Michelli | Free transfer from Gimnasia La Plata

I was amazed when we came across this guy. With his contract almost up, he looks like he could slot right into the first team when he arrives in the summer. He has balance and agility in abundance. He will be a great addition, considering a couple of our longer serving Central midfielders are leaving when their contracts expire at the end of the season.

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Mario Bazan | Free transfer from CA Sarmiento

Minimal risk transfer. Bazan is coming to the end of his contract so we will see if we can develop him at Parma to be a first-team player. At the least, we should have a player who we can move on for profit if it doesn’t work out. The only thing that might let him down is his inability to leap off the ground.

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THE RESULTS

I’m always amazed at our overachievements. With the squad available to me, I expect us to finish top half of the table. We don’t have the resources of the top clubs and we don’t have the personnel. However, what we continue to achieve amazed me. This is how the second half of the season went.

Despite the opposition, the results kept coming. We began the second half of the season in scintillating fashion. Demolishing Ascoli and then Pescara in the cup, we got things off to a good start. Then, somehow, we managed to beat AC Milan, with two late goals, and then Inter Milan a week later. However, it was what happened at home to AC Milan, this time in the cup, that really shocked me.

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In a quite unbelievable game, we managed to qualify from the Coppa Italia Quarter Final with a battering of Milan. And If I’m honest, I’m not quite sure how.

The results kept coming.

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Except for that little 0-3 loss to Chievo. Yes, Chievo. We just didn’t turn up and my fear was that it would knock the wind out of our sails. However, we battled to a win over Verona before we took Dortmund to pieces in the Champions League. Again, not sure how, but we were magnificent and barring an absolute cock-up, we should be able to qualify from that round.

We eased past Cagliari, who are a bit of a bogey team for me. I always struggle to get by them it seems. However, Iemmello was on form, as he has been all season. We also followed up our 4-1 win over Dortmund with a 1-0 win away to secure a great passage into the next round of the Champions League. Where we managed to avoid the likes of Man United, PSG, Liverpool and Atletico Madrid. We face FB Leipzig.

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In the next game, against Salermitana, it finally happened. My fears were realised. Iemmello got injured. His 29 goals this season were probably the main reason we are where we are, and I know Alagna is not as good.

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After Salermitana, the wheels fell off. We struggled to a draw against Cagliari, who we were fortunate to beat in the first leg, booking a place in the Coppa Italia final for a second year running. However, with Juventus being our opponents, I think the odds are firmly stacked against us coming away with the cup again. We then lost to Cagliari in the league fixture. I changed to a 4-3-3 against RB Leipzig, and it worked. However, a 93rd-minute penalty for them meant the fixture was still well and truly open. At 3-1 I’d have been a bit calmer.

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We then struggled to a 1-1 league draw against Udinese, conceding a 91st-minute equaliser, to put our league position in jeopardy. We were firmly second, with a chance to go top after the match against Cagliari, albeit with more games played than our rivals, however, the 5 points dropped means we now have a very eager Juventus side breathing down our necks for the final Champions League place.

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Our remaining six matches include fixtures again Juventus, Roma, Lazio, Atalanta and Napoli. With the Champions League sandwiched in there, it isn’t going to be easy.

Fortunately, Alagna had been scoring some goals at least.

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No pressure.

But up first was a Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg against RB Leipzig. Hoping not to have given them too much of an advantage with their late goal. The game was somewhat of a formality. The early goal settled the nerves and despite them scoring a couple of goals, we were home and dry on the hour mark.

It was time to concentrate on the league.

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What proceeded was nothing short of a calamity. 18th placed Torino scored with their only shot of the game, we on the other hand only scored only one of our 26 shots, and despite Torino playing a lot of the match with 10 men, and gifting us a penalty, we still managed to drop two much-needed points.

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Against Juventus, we should have won. We were cruising 2-1 and should have put some distance between us and them. However, this happened.

<click at your own discretion>

Onto Roma. Another catastrophic result. I’m starting to think the lads don’t understand that by playing Champions League football, they get to better their careers. We just cannot defend crosses right now. Another loss and nine points dropped in the last four games. This is not Champions League qualification form. However, Juventus seem to be having just as bad a time as us and cannot find a win, having drawn four of their last five games.

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In the Champions League Semi-Final, we managed to avoid Manchester United and PSG.  We drew Leverkusen. In the match, we actually beat them, with Iemmello scoring in the 91st minute. Boy, do we need his form right now.

So we head into May with our financial status upgraded to rich and our estimated value soaring at €198m. We have a Champions League semi-final second leg at home against Leverkusen and, dare I say it, we could actually be playing in a bloody final! However, three key league games to secure Champions League football next season against Lazio (2nd), Atalanta (7th), and Napoli (13), and a Coppa Italia final against Juventus. It isn’t going to be easy. We need to fix this run of five games without a win.

Juventus, by contrast, have Verona, Ascoli and Inter Milan.

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We have at least one more game to play, too. Whoever said I play boring football needs to see this.

First things first.

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We’ve dropped to fourth with two games to go.

Then this.

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I don’t know what has happened. Every shot, from every angle, is going in against us right now. We’re still dominating games, we’re still creating clear-cut chances, we’re just not finishing them and we’re conceding anything that comes our way.

From a promising season, I’m sitting here now, with three games to go wondering where the next win is going to come from. From 17 wins in 18 games, we’ve won 3 of the last 11 games. I’m not even sure I want to be here anymore. I have six unhappy players, five wanting to leave for another club and another complaining about his contract.

Thoughts turn to Atalanta. I’m going to have to start earning my salary. Maurizio Sarri plays a 4-3-3 and heavily presses the opposition. I needed to tweak things. I want Champions League football. I tell the lads to dribble less, this should encourage better retention of the ball, and should ensure the players give it to someone free rather than running with the ball when it is likely they’ll have a couple of players pressing them. He also plays direct, so I set one of my Central Defenders to a stopper so he will be more aggressive to combat the long balls forward.

It works.

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Juventus go to Inter Milan who tops the league in the evening fixture, knowing we have just won and have moved into the final Champions League place. With one game to go after this, the pressure is on them. Heart pounding, I hit continue. Nil-nil. We retain third place with a game to go. Away to Napoli. Juve host 10th placed Verona.

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Up first, it’s the Coppa Italia final against Juventus. Ahead of the game, I fell out with Dalibor Komes who thought it appropriate to come tell me of his desire to leave Parma for Real Madrid. Naturally, I told him to exit my office, I will not be discussing this with two games to go.

Miserable, but he has to play. Komes starts. We dominate proceedings in the first half. Where was this passion in the last few games?  Within the first 40 minutes, we’ve had 11 shots to their three. Including this beauty, which the ever dependable Iemmello managed to pass back to the keeper.

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History tells me that this isn’t going to end well. We have had more possession and created the better chances throughout the game.

With 52 minutes on the clock, I give Escandar the nod to go warm up, Iemmello has had a nightmare. The Juventus backline is slow at best, Escandar has bags of pace, and despite not being a striker, I think he could cause them some issues. It’s a gamble I’m willing to take.

It’s a short-lived plan. Juventus have changed shape and move to a 4-4-2. I don’t need as many players in the Central Midfield area who can tackle. I pull off Wendel who has smashed 10 long shots at goal already despite being told to shoot less. I drag him off, bring Alagna up front and drop Escandar to Attacking Midfield and Komes to Central Midfield.  He can’t tackle like Wendel, but he should provide better passes into the front players than Wendel has managed. Moreover, he is quick and skilful, so with less protection in the midfield for Juve, he should be able to open them up better.

It works! GOAL! Substitute Escandar dribbles through the middle and plays it into Komes, the grumpy midfielder who plays the pre-assist to Mboula who crosses for Escandar to get on the end of it! Brilliant team goal. Juventus opened up with their own tactical change. I shout out to the lads to concentrate.

10 minutes later it is 2-0 and an almost carbon copy of the first goal. Escandar again plays a simple pass out wide rather than shooting (as Wendel would have done), the cross comes in which is rattled against the crossbar, but Escandar is there to get his and our second.

A quick shout to the lads to tighten up as we enter the final 10 minutes. And with that Juventus almost peg us back. Emre Can with an excellent drive from outside of the box, but Scuffet was there to make a brilliant save.

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I drop the mentality down to defensive in a hope to see out the final few minutes and almost immediately afterwards academy graduate Messina smashes home from outside the area to make it 3-0 and put the result beyond any doubt.

The final whistle goes, it was a magnificent performance and result. Look at those shots from outside the area by Wendel. This is one area of his game I wish he could control. However, that win does confirm us as record holders for the number of Coppa Italia matches won in a row and most goals scored, which is a trend we’re setting in competitions right now.

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I give the lads 3 days off to recuperate for the final league game of the season. We need to be at our best to qualify for the final Champions League position. While the lads are home with their wives and families, I set about watching tapes of Napoli to try to get a handle on how they might set up and how I might beat them.

They play a narrow 4-3-1-2 system and rarely seem to make much use of the flanks. I ask my wing-backs to tuck in and mark their two strikers while pulling my wingers back to man-mark their full-backs. To make use of the lack of width I get the team to exploit the flanks.

We start perfectly. Breaking away from a Napoli attack, Mboula—as he has done so many times this season—evades a couple of challenges on the right wing before crossing for Iemmello to tap one home. It’s a similar feeling. Napoli, however, pulls one back just 10 minutes later. Bloody Milik again. At halftime, I decided to go in hard on the lads, despite the three clear-cut chances we should be playing better and they know it. It’s a positive reaction.

Then the grumbles in the crowd start to break out as news of a Juventus goal begin to circulate. As it stands we’re outside of the Champions League places. On 53 minutes Iemmello is fouled in the box. Penalty. he steps up himself to calmly slot home.

Napoli swap to a 3-4-1-2 in a bid to get a goal back, so I drop my wingers back and change a few marking instructions. Napoli pepper our goal. I swap to defensive as we approach 80 minutes. Napoli continues to hammer shots at us. On 90 minutes I switch to contain. Just as I do that, Mboula crosses for Iemmello to get his hattrick. I’ve lost count of how many he has this season.

The whistle is blown. We’ve qualified for the Champions League again. I can breathe!

Final league table

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Juventus were so off the pace this season that they didn’t even finish in the Champions League places. Inter, despite losing three more games than Lazio were winners.

We’ve had a phenomenal season by our standards. Just three points from second place. But the all-important Champions League qualification was achieved.

The goal this year really was just to try to qualify for the Champions League. It was a lot harder than it seemed, too. Next season will be tougher unless we can get the financial support to get some strong defenders in. I might also need to start looking at Iemmello replacements. He has 36 goals in 45 games this season. It’ll be hard to replace him.

Manager of the Year, and Manager’s Manager of the Year? I might have won those again…

PLAYER STATS

We have scored a lot of goals this year. I saw we… I mean Iemmello. He scored an astonishing five hattricks taking his total to 36 goals or 0.84 goals per game.

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Scuffet was named in the Team of the Year, which shows you his importance to the side. 17 clean sheets and an average rating of 7.04 ensured he had a great season.

In defence young Paul van Wegen made 5 interceptions per game that he played. He might be ready for the first team next season. Marques and Hegedüs contributed a good number of key passes for the team, helping with the attacks.

In the midfield, Wendel and Majailovic have almost identical stats. Contributing 5 assists each.

It was the front players who stole the show. On-loan Mboula was phenomenal on the right wing, with Atuna out injured for much of the season. Mboula hit 14 goals, 19 assists and made over 2 key passes and created 1 chance per game.

Komes and Escandar in the AMC slot were key once again, with 27 goals between them and 26 assists. However, 19 of those were from Komes, who, if he does leave, will be difficult to replace.

We took a risk on Douglas Costa, he did okay for a January signing. 4 goals and 5 assists helped the cause.

The POTY for me is Iemmello. 36 goals and 16 assists. Unbelievable numbers for someone who turned 31 this year.

FINANCIAL RESULTS

This time last year we had around €40m in the bank, we have well surpassed that. The €60m in Champions League TV money has boosted our finances much higher than I expected and underpins the importance of aiming for Champions League football each season now. However, with a rising reputation comes increased expectation in wages from the players.

We’ve had a few of the key players coming to ask for new contracts close to €100k-per-week which is not something we can sustain if we hand them out to everyone. Pre-season will see me review the statuses of the players at the club and try to get smarter with the wages offered.

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We have signed a new kit sponsor, unfortunately, we seem to have a pretty poor deal for a club in the Champions League. The main rises are to our broadcast revenue and competition prize money, up €80m over last season.

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PLANS FOR NEXT SEASON

It looks as if Komes might be off to join Marques if he doesn’t stop complaining. I don’t want him to upset the rest of the side. I’ve slapped a €60m price tag on his head. All other bids will be rejected.

We have a few youth players who I will look to bring through into the first team, and we are so very desperate for a new central defender. We have about €150k-per-week coming off the wage bill with contracts ending but no doubt this will be reinvested into the exiting team as players look for new contracts.

Competition wise, top three is a must, I want more Champions League football. Getting out of the groups would be a bonus, but a couple of wins for the prize money is my main objective here.

It promises to be a great season!

Until next time, arrivederci.

O.Jensen

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