08|01 PRESEASON: UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS BRINGS A CHANGE IN DIRECTION

seasonEight.episodeOne | Preseason

There comes a time when expectations become unrealistic. The Parma board never in a million years expected us to win the league last season, but here we are now, with a €20m budget and a squad fit for a mid-table battle, expected to win the league, with no wiggle room.

This could signal the end of my Parma career, even if I didn’t want to leave. I am under no illusions that winning the league is going to be near on impossible. We’ve lost a front three that carried us all season and I do not have the funds to replace them. Moreover, even if I did, I don’t think I could convince anyone to come on the wages we can offer.

So against my better judgement, I’m changing the direction of the club philosophies. I arranged a meeting with Lizhang Jiang, the Chairman, and agreed that we would look to sign young players for the first team and develop players using the club’s youth system. This could be a risky strategy for two reasons. First, it adds board pressure to my desire to move to a more youth based philosophy, and secondly, we’ve enjoyed some success recently, and where players leave the club for bigger and better things, we may not be able to sign higher profile players to step onto their shoes.

That being said, I hope it’ll help us push on with the development of our training facilities and allow us to develop our players at a better rate.

SCOUTING ADJUSTMENTS

To cater to our new philosophy I’ve taken over the scouting responsibilities from my Chief Scout. I’ve also brought in a new Chief Scout, Guy Worthington, and set up a new structure to the team. I will have three primary scouting regions, South America, Europe and Aisa. I will have a team in each region reporting to the Chief Scout, who will assess any players and report the best ones to me. I will then have Guy scout the players personally until full knowledge is known before adding potential targets to my transfer shortlist.

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This is an example of how it’ll work in practice.  My scouts have found 14 players, and Steenberg is the top rated player by my Chief Scout. He’s been fully scouted and will now go on the transfer target list.

Criteria for their search is simple. Any potential hot prospects for under €10m who are at most 24 years old and with good potential ability. It looks a little something like this.

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So it’s a fairly standard setup, but there’s more structure and control around where and who we scout. I will look at the results we get over the first six months of the season and assess this approach if it is not working.

If it is, any targets identified are passed onto the Director of Football via the transfer targets list, where they’re prioritised, and then the process of signing them can begin.

TRANSFER BUSINESS

Before the board sprung on me that they expect us to win the league this year, and my subsequent change in philosophy I had made a couple of signings for the first team, so not all of these meet our philosophy.

My goalkeeper, the record-breaking Simone Scuffet wanted to double his wages to £200k p/w after I rejected a bid from Bayern, and naturally after I said no he kicked his toys out of the pram. He is now close to leaving. I’ve transfer listed him, so he’s free to leave should someone stump up €30m. But it won’t be Bayern, they were quick to weaken our rivals Inter Milan by taking Alex Meret off their hands for €35.5m rising to €50m. Maybe €30m is too cheap.

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My commanding wing-back Francisco Vargas has also just told me he feels like he needs to move to a bigger club. Obviously, two cups, the league and a Champions League final were not enough to convince him that we’re heading in the right direction. I reminded him of our young talented players and that his dreams of lifting the Champions League can be realised here. He believed me.

IN| Dennis Jacobs | Free transfer

With Scuffet being an ass, I’ve signed Jacobs to be a replacement. He clearly isn’t anywhere near good enough right now, but with the right development, he can be better than him. And for a free transfer, this was a minimal risk deal. Unless Scuffet does actually find a suiter and I have to start him this season.

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IN| Adrian Biasoli | Free transfer

We tried to sign Biasoli last season, but we couldn’t agree on a fee with the Argentinian side Chacarita Juniors. When I saw that his contract was expiring I set a reminder on him to check to see if he had renewed and to my surprise, he didn’t, so we moved quickly to bring him in. However, because of the foreign player rules in place, we’ve loaned him straight back out again to Lanus, who have excellent training facilities and a professional squad personality.

I’m looking forward to seeing how he develops this year.

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IN| N’Golo Kanté | Free transfer

He doesn’t fit the philosophy, but we signed him before those discussions. He has very high natural fitness so his physical attributes should withstand the test of time. However, after bringing him in, he injured his ankle and was out for eight weeks. Not the best start.

We signed him on a one-year deal, so if it doesn’t work out he is free to leave at the end of the season. I want to add more bite to the centre of the park, and he should give us that.

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IN| Andoni Ballester | Loan from Dortmund

With us losing Sergio Gómez and Douglas Costa on the left, we needed someone who could come in and fill the void. Ballester does that for us. Not blessed with bags of pace, but his crossing and decision making should help us in the final third.

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IN| Catalin Stefan | €8.5m from Steaua Bucharest

One of the first young players I signed based on scouts recommendation. With the new structure in place, this was the first signing we made. As I’ve pointed out before, my Director of Football makes all signings for me, after I find the targets, so I didn’t have much say over the fee, but hopefully, over the season we can integrate him into the team as the likes of Wendel fade out.

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IN| Robert Bronic | €11.5m from Dinamo Zagreb

One very much for the future. A potential five-star winger, I gave the green light to sign him and he immediately looks like he is developing well. I wouldn’t have thought he would come into the first team this season, but will probably be around the team next season.

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As you can see, we’ve been busy. We’ve signed a lot of youth players, mostly on free transfers. The bulk of the budget came from two highly rated youth players so I took the chance and signed them both. I’d have liked to have paid less, but getting the deals done is the important thing.

THE PRESEASON RESULTS

Screen Shot 2018-06-15 at 14.52.31With it being the European Championships we started later than usual but we managed to fit in five matches. On the whole, things went well. I’ve made a couple of tweaks to the system to cater for the lower calibre of player available to me now.

We’re no longer hitting early crosses into the box, and I’ve asked my central midfielders to dribble less in an attempt to control possession a little better. I’ve also switched from a Complete Forward to a Poacher in attack and asked my ‘keeper to distribute it quickly in an attempt to hit more counter attacks. It seems to have worked nicely so far but the key test of its effectiveness will be when the season kicks off proper, starting with a Supercoppa Final against Inter Milan.

The results of preseason are as follows.

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I’m apprehensive about the season ahead, and despite the board’s expectations of winning the league again, if we can achieve a Champions League place again I will have to call the season a success. We’re blooding in the youth, and we will be giving Piercarlo Cristini his debut season. At 19 years old it might be a bit early for him, but he has my confidence and backing so there’s no rush for him to hit the ground running.

Until next time, arrivederci.

O.Jensen

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