Author: dbbaldwin (Page 2 of 10)

Sunderland ’til I’m Sacked – Season 9, Summer Transfer Window

Welcome back, footy nerds. If you’re just joining, the previous installment is available here, and the first installment in the series is available here.

I checked to see if he’d come coach for us, but he wants to be a Director of Football, and he has terrible stats for it. I passed.

We had four new kids join the club in early June.

I mentioned him in the last update, but Neja checks a lot of boxes for me. He’s a professional, has good physical attributes for his age, and starts with a good foundation of defensive technical attributes. I don’t think he’ll play much his first season, but if he develops well, he could get lots of minutes in the future.

Miguel is another professional who has tons of room to get better. I initially signed him thinking he’d be a decent right back, but he’ll actually fit better as a centerback. With his personality and potential, I have high hopes he’s pushing Puric and D’Haene for their minutes.

Oliveira is a project signing. He was free, he had high potential, and I thought I could sell him on in a season or two. I also need to run the face updater again.

Ricardo is another I’ve previously mentioned. He was scheduled to arrive this summer to avoid our registration limits last season. I expect him to contribute from day 1. He’s cut from the same cloth as Fede Cordero and Martin Ramirez. If his physical abilities develop a bit, he could be a top, top player.

These guys make up 4 of my possible 6 transfers for U21 international players.

Julien is a world-class wingback, and the whole world can tell. He cost us 45m rising to 69m. He doesn’t really have the crossing I want, but he’s a physical beast and really good everywhere else.

Shortly after making the bid for Julien Barji, PSG approached with an offer for Vlad Dragic.

Vlad is a good player, and two seasons ago he would have been too important for me to allow him to leave, but at this point I’m not so sure. He has okay physical attributes with good pace. Mentally he’s excellent. Technically he’s just okay. His crossing is poor, and his dribbling is meh. Yes, he can pass and defend, but I need more from my wingbacks.

Farewell, Vlad. You were a good player for us. He cost us 18.75m in 2024, and he’s departed for 34.5m.

I immediately replaced him with a Brazilian wonderkid. Gabriel set us back 13m. He’s pretty comparable to Vlad, tbh, though with slightly better crossing.
Gabriel is 5 out 6 U21 internationals.

Maybe I should have held out for more money for Vlad? Because a couple weeks later, I offered out Jordan Carlin, who ended up being a good player, but not Champion’s League calibre, and Club Brugge offered me 26.5m for him.

Tot ziens, Jordan. You ended up better than Finley Burns, but not quite good enough.

Goce was supposed to be our left back of the future, but I’m an idiot and didn’t realize he was right-footed. He actually did well in that role, but he came by my office worried that he’d never be good enough for our first team. I let him leave for Club Brugge in a deal that starts at 23.5m and could reach 32.5m. I am, unfortunately, paying part of his salary for the next FOUR years, but it’s still a great profit on a guy that joined us on a free (and forfeited his loyalty bonus by asking to be transfer-listed). With Nilson and Gabriel as the first-choice left backs and Puric and Augusto who can cover it, I’m not worried.

I brought in my final international wonderkid of the season late in the transfer window.

Wojciech was too good to pass up. The scouts thought he was 5 star potential, he had a release clause of 4.9m, great pace, and good enough mental and technical attributes. I can see him being a left-sided Freddy Baez in 18 months, so I got a deal done before West Ham or Arsenal could steal him. Now that he’s here and my coaches think he’s only 4 star potential, I have mild misgivings, but it’s getting hard to gauge the really high potential players.

I’m trying to come to terms with this:

  • Yunus Musah is a Bayern Munich player, and he would join us if I paid to get him
  • He’s a “world class midfielder”
  • My scouts rate him as 3 stars

Are we really to the point that world-class players are only 3 stars? I think my scouts are LIARS.

We took a shot at this guy, a truly world-class player, for 54m quid, who is–according to my (lying) scouts–the best midfielder in the world. He’s in the top few, for sure.

He chose Arsenal. I even offered him more money! (Seriously, dude wanted extortionate wages.) I would be annoyed, but I was more shocked that his agent even considered our offer. I’m trying to spend our war chest. I am. I just can’t do it with our current reputation.

I was minding my own business when Arsenal offered something like 30m for Nicolas Bacolla. I rejected it, of course. And the numpty decided to whinge about it.

He’s a good player, but also a little weird in that he’s supposed to be a winger, but he’s not really fast enough for it. He actually does reasonably well in midfield, but he doesn’t quite have the defensive nous or work rate to be one of my top three mids. If he didn’t already play for me, I’d seriously consider buying him, but I’d probably pass unless I could get a good deal. In the end, I let him leave for 62m (in installments). We didn’t end up paying many of the escalators in our original purchase agreement, so he only cost us 13.5m. I hope he likes keeping the bench warm for Filipe Canario. 

Our first match of the season was against… Arsenal. I probably should have put us into our 343 to give us good defensive solidity away against a top 6 side. I forgot. We went in with 10 of our first choice 11 (Nathan D’Haene was still away on international duty), and we won 2-0 while looking good in the process. Guys. Gals. We’re good now. Legitimately good.

Leeds came to visit the Stadium of Light. Other than giving away an unnecessary penalty, we played our game and took full points with a 3-1 victory.

A trip to Sheffield United was spoiled only by the lack of a clean sheet. We cruised to a 4-1 victory, and Ricardo Villafane bagged two, proving that he’s an excellent addition to our attack and giving me a great option to rotate with Freddy Baez. He’ll get the winger minutes Bacolla would have seen, plus get some time at striker.

Burnley visited us. We smashed them 3-0.

We swept the August awards with me getting manager of the month, Fede Cordero getting player of the month, Martin Ramirez coming in second, and Kevin Beck Hebo coming in third.

At the end of August, the table looked like this:

I rotated players for those matches, and we still dominated.

This could have been a lot worse. We can realistically top our group.

We are richer than ever. I tried to spend 84m on a good (but not as good as Canario) German midfielder. Bayern wouldn’t take my money.

So I was cruising along, dealing with transfers and the start of the season, and who should come calling but the actual Football Association.

Huh. England made it to the Euro 2028 semis and went out in extra time to eventual winners Belgium.

I thought about it for a good 5 minutes before I declined the job. Even if I could work both jobs, which was possible in previous iterations of FM, I’d rather focus my (real life) time on Sunderland.

Which does bring us to my personal objectives. If we win the Champion’s League, I’m retiring. If we win the Premier League, I’m probably retiring. If we do well in both but win neither, I don’t know. I may have another season after this one in me. Beyond that, the outlook is unclear.

See you next time, footy nerds.

Sunderland ’til I’m Sacked – Season 8, Part 2

Welcome back, footy nerds. If you’re just joining, the previous installment is available here, and the first installment in the series is available here.

This update is going to be a bit of a different structure than the others have been. Mostly because I didn’t take as many notes as I went along this time, so the fixtures and results are all retrospective. The blog is not dying, and I’m definitely playing at least another season after this one.

Our players are actually good now. Not just young and with potential, but young and ready to play Right Now. Remember how I told you that Martin Ramirez was outshining Fede? The rest of the world seems to agree.

For the record, while a few of my wonderkids have release clauses in their contracts, Martin does not. He also has 4.5 years left on his 26k per week deal. (That will soon turn into 44.5k a week due to him playing so much.) I’m not saying I’m good at this game, but I do get things right on occasion.

Coming into the January transfer window, we had a solid war chest if we found any players who could improve our squad and were willing to join.

By “war chest” I mean “176m quid at the end of December.” That’s frankly obscene, but so is the Premier League TV revenue.

Our January form wasn’t great. Losing to Liverpool didn’t bother me, but the West Ham result was poor, and the dropped points at Bristol City were egregious. We continued to fight for the top 4, but at this point we were down into the Europa League places and I was afraid we’d slip right back to 7th as we have in the past.

We turned things around in February, stomping Chesterfield in our FA Cup replay, recording a famous victory over Chelsea, losing narrowly in a match where we played well at United, and thumping Leeds.

March was nearly perfect, only marred by the FA Cup exit. Annihilating Hoffenheim made up for it, though. The win against Arsenal was a good one, too. This put us back into the top 4.

Our youth intake was rubbish, as usual.

LA Galaxy turned up in March asking to take Harrison Jackson on loan. I countered with a 15m direct sale, which was a bit lower than the 20m I wanted last summer, but matched his value at the time. They accepted it.

He joined us on a free in 2025, played a good bit in his first season, but was replaced by better, younger players. In the end, he made us 15m quid. Darn good business, in my view.

April was one of the best months in the history of this save. After floating around the top 4 spots in the league, we finished the month with an amazing win at Manchester City that left us in second place in the league, behind Chelsea. We also progressed in the Conference League, including a first leg away win at Lyon.

And then there was May. We finished the job against Lyon to make the Conference League final. We then had a horrible, terrible, I-can’t-believe-it match against Huddersfield. A match that we may rue for decades to come. Had we won that match, we would have gone into the final day with a chance at winning the league. We would have needed Chelsea to stumble (which they did), but without those points, Chelsea clinched it. We needed a win vs Spurs to confirm 2nd, which we achieved with surprising ease.

To repeat: Sunderland Football Club just finished second in the Premier League!
This was Chelsea’s run-in:

They had a commanding position in the league at the beginning of April, and then the wheels just fell off. Four scoreless draws! They wanted us to win the league, and we nearly did it.

We’re in the Champion’s League next season, friends.

I don’t know if we’ll ever have a better chance at winning the league. Hopefully next year, but 80 points is the lowest any league winner has had during this save. Honestly, though, if we can win some of those home matches against the top 6 sides and clean up our form a little against the basement dwellers, we should be in the conversation again.

Our players received significant recognition. Chelsea received more, but they did win the league.

We did still have one match left vs Braga in the Conference League. Going into the match, I went with our 4231.

I wanted our best players on the pitch, and I wanted to exert as much control over the match as I could. And if we needed to go more defensive, Pardo could drop into the back three.

Freddy Baez had our first shot within 15 seconds, but it was horrifically off target. To my surprise, Braga held possession around 52%, but they couldn’t generate much going forward while we were taking shots, including hitting the woodwork on 30 minutes. We went into halftime with 15 shots, but only 1 on target. Braga had exactly zero.

I have the lads the hairdryer, and sent them back out exactly as they were.
Martin Ramirez scored his 32nd goal of the season on 54 minutes, cutting in from the left wing in Adam Idah’s role. It was nearly offside, but the goal stood and we were up 1-0. We kept the pressure, not so much dominating possession as simply never allowing Braga to get near our goal. Freddy Baez doubled our lead at 90+2.
We won, of course. 2-0. Braga never took a single shot. It was the most anti-climactic cup final imaginable.

Winning the cup paid us 2.5m, but check this:

19m for television money! I didn’t expect that, at all. How delightful. We also received 1.45m for ranking pool money. Not bad at all.

Our new arrivals were key. Ramirez was even better than Fede, D’Haene was worth every pence, Kevin Beck Hebo played a ton, and Pardo was brilliant as our holding midfielder. 

Finances were good. We’re still rich, of course.

End of season meetings are so dumb.

We came in second, and you don’t think we can qualify for the Europa League next season, lads? Are you mental? I suggested that we could finish top half, and they felt like that was better.

We’re still rich. Richer than ever, in fact.

Our keepers better than league average. I actually just gave Tirado a new contract on 79k a week. He wanted over 100k, and I had to offer a massive loyalty bonus to keep the wages down.

Our defenders are better than league average. We’re actually being held back here by Burns, Augusto and Jordan, who are all mid-table quality rather than Champion’s League quality. At least one will need to go in the summer if I can make it work with the homegrown rules.

Our midfield is now a position of strength rather than weakness. You love to see it.

The attack isn’t quite a good as the midfield, but our best attackers are top shelf and the guys behind them still have room to develop (other than Idah).

Looking about the squad, we don’t have any glaring holes. We could probably do with a better left-winger than Adam Idah, and our fullbacks could be better. I have tons of quality forwards, so I may not even need to go shopping for the winger.

We’ll leave it here, for now. I’m super excited about next season. See you soon, footy nerds.

Sunderland ’til I’m Sacked – Season 8, Part 1

Welcome back, footy nerds. If you’re just joining, the previous installment is available here, and the first installment in the series is available here.

One nice thing about having a decent-sized squad of wonderkids is that I can rotate and still have actual quality coming off the bench. My rotated sides are as strong as my starting 11 was our first season in the Premier League. It gives me the ability to play pretty much any non-Premier League side while resting my most-important players.

It’s not Champion’s League money, but that 2.66m isn’t chump change, either. It doesn’t matter too much for us, but if I were playing in a smaller league, that would be a noticeable boost. Add in money for wins/draws and advancing in the competition, and we’re near 5m if you get to the semis and lose. (We should win the competition, but I’m thinking of some saves I’ve done in smaller European countries.) Did UEFA actually get something right in their latest money grab?

Our scouts turned up another hotshit Argentinian striker.

Great agility, good pace, dribbling, finishing, teamwork, work rate, and first touch. He is injury prone, which is certainly a negative, but the scouts think he would be the best striker at the club if he were here today.

That doesn’t look true to me, to be honest, but he’s not far off, either. I signed him, of course. Boca was willing to take 10m with half over three years.  Due to our signing limits, I’ve set him to arrive next summer.

September started pretty well with us being flat track bullies and running up the score against drastically inferior teams while I used highly-rotated lineups. And then this happened.

Some days you’re the dog; some days you’re the hydrant. Our defense of the Carabao Cup has ended at the first opportunity.

We went to Stamford Bridge to face league-leading Chelsea. We lost.

Our first big glory night on the European stage arrived with the visit of seven-time Ligue 1 winners Olympique Lyonnais. The weather was sadly pleasant, and while we hammered them in terms of shots, we only found the back of the net one time. That one time was enough to claim the points and keep us top of Group A in the Conference League.

We finished September in a good place.

The only real surprise was away at Hull, but otherwise no complaints.

Individually, we had some stand-out performers. Ten goals in 3 matches got us some recognition. Our recruitment has been excellent. Someone should get a raise.

It’s me. I should get a raise. 83k a week makes me tied for the highest earner at the club, with Kevin De Bruyne.

October started with a pair of narrow losses vs Manchester United and at Arsenal. Both matches were winnable, and I had my best 11 on the pitch, but we just couldn’t keep the ball out of the net in two matches where we kept the opposition to low-quality chances. Therefore, I went stress shopping.

For the low, low price of one point three million pounds I was able to secure another left-footed centerback. (I already have three, somehow.) Nejc is a Professional, which I really appreciate. He’s physically gifted, which I also appreciate. He’s a little sub-par in his mental and technical attributes, though he’s starting from a decent base and can easily improve. With his potential, he probably will improve.

Will he ever be as good as D’Haene or Puric? Maybe not. Will he give me another solid athlete to plug into my backline and make me 20m in a couple years? Almost certainly. I will admit this isn’t my best purchase, but I wanted another centerback prospect, and he’s only a Breakthrough Prospect, so it’s not like he expects to play every match.

Some days you’re the dog; some days you’re the hydrant. Adam Idah edition.

We scored SEVEN goals AT Everton. They’re a good team in this save! What a way to cap off the month.

Like I mentioned, two narrow losses to start the month, but good results the rest of the way. I should feel bad about hammering Plzen so badly. I do not. The Leeds match was one we controlled, though didn’t get as many chances as I wanted. I shifted things around a little prior to the Everton match. It, uh, worked.

We ended the month in 6th amidst a ridiculously tight table for there having been 11 matches already.

Our defense is quiet and leaky, but our attack is aggressive and clinical. This is so strange. In seasons past we were the opposite.

Let’s talk set pieces.

I’ve been double-checking my corners before each match. Well, before most matches. I forgot against Southampton, and we were counter-attacked twice and conceded two goals. The problem was that my guys on the edge of the area were actually forward, since my usual guy there was taking the corner. The ball was cleared out, the defenders got to it first, and it was two on two against our fullbacks. By keeping someone lurking on the edge of the area, we have someone to sweep up the loose ball, or at least a third body to contest the counter-attack. I’m also using someone to attack the ball from the edge of the area to give us another body rushing into the box, but this person has little effect on stopping counters. As you’re drawing up your own corner routines, I really, REALLY recommend having two back plus one on the edge of the area. Be smarter than me.
November was almost perfect. The start was a little dicey with a narrow 1-0 away at Viktoria Plzen and a 0-0 at home to Villa, but when you score 15 goals in the next 3 matches, it’s hard to complain too much.

It feels really good to hammer mid-table Premier League teams.

We finished the month in the lofty heights of 3rd. Can we stay there? I doubt it, but the upcoming schedule is forgiving.

We should dismantle Norwich, Fulham, Huddersfield, and Bournemouth. That doesn’t mean we will, but it’s more possible this season than ever before. I don’t much care about Lyon and will probably rotate with Spurs in mind. Spurs and City are always tough matches. We could lose 4-1. We could win 2-0. We could draw 3-3 or 0-0. Pretty much any result is in the cards. If we come out of the month with 12 more points, I’ll be happy. That will keep us in the Europa League places, I think.
Fede Cordero hit a rough patch without any goals, so moved Martin Martinez up top. He’s been outstanding.

Fede is still getting lots of minutes in the Conference League (EURO Cup II) and off the bench, but Martin is the clear starter until his form falters. We’ll see how he does against the top of the Premier League.

Oddly enough, Idah has been our best goalscorer coming off the left.

Thirteen in the league! I’d say about half of them are headers, either from Freddy Baez and Neco Williams crosses or from set pieces.

All that investment in our youth setup and we get “This is not a great group of young players.” Killing me, SI.

I said I’d be happy with 12 points from December. I would have been, though I was a bit worried that we followed up a 4-0 demolition of Norwich with a 1-1 draw at Fulham. The low score was bad enough, but we gave up an 84th minute goal to drop the points. Away to Lyon was a freebie as far as I was concerned. I heavily rotated our lineup. The lads brought us back another 1-1 draw. I was far happier about that one. For a few minutes of the Spurs match I thought we’d run away with it. Martin Ramirez scored in the first minute, and we had a chance to go up by 2 goals on 29 minutes, only for Fede Cordero to have a penalty saved. After a first half of Black Cat dominance, Spurs scored early in the second half and played much better. We had a chance to seal it late, but Fede hit the post, and we took only another 1-1 draw against the league leaders.

Then we rattled off 12 unanswered goals against City, Huddersfield, and Bournemouth. Twelve unanswered goals nicely spread across the 3 matches, no less.

We ended up with 14 points from the month.

We’re 3 points back of first place after Boxing Day.

That will probably turn into a 5 point deficit if Spurs win their game in hand. We’ve played exceedingly well over the first half of the season. The only loss where I was genuinely annoyed was at Wolves in August. I can’t complain about Chelsea, United, or Arsenal, especially when 2 out of 3 were on the road.

Looking ahead, January is promising.

An FA Cup match we’ll probably bottle, a tough home match against Liverpool, and a bunch of matches we absolutely should be winning. I predict 10 points from the 5 matches, but I’m secretly hoping for 13 (and assuming that we’ll draw one of Liverpool or West Ham).

At this point I think we’re more likely to win the league than to come in 7th. More likely we finish 4th or 5th, but anything could happen. We even play Spurs at home on the final day, so there’s opportunity for high drama.

But to find out whether that happens, you’ll have to read the next installment. See you next time, footy nerds.

Sunderland ’til I’m Sacked – Season 8, Summer Transfer Window

Welcome back, footy nerds. If you’re just joining, the previous installment is available here, and the first installment in the series is available here.

Just after the season ended, Kyril dropped by to congratulate himself for his fine running of the club.

We no longer have the lowest wage bill in the league, but we do have the best wages to turnover ratio. Yay, I guess. The real story here, in my opinion, is how poorly Kyril is doing with sponsorship deals. After three seasons of solid mid-table results, shouldn’t we be able to shill more pasties and used cars?

Our matchday and ticket revenue is actually pretty decent. You’re welcome, Kyril. I will take significant credit for getting bums into seats every other Saturday.

As the numbers above hinted, we’re doing well financially. This is the June 1 update–before all our transfer spending goes through for the deals I arranged in the last update. It’ll be interesting to see how much we make back as I jettison some dead wood and potentially lose a couple important players if the big clubs come hunting.

Our new transfer record! I’m happy to have him join. He’ll slot straight into our backline.

Darcey came by with a note about our new record spending. Darcey, talk to me in September. We’ve got a lot of summer left.

I’d say this is the rich getting richer, but 161m is a lot of money, even for Manchester City. This guy is so amazing, though. They did eventually get him, and I’m dreading facing him in the league next season.

Don’t worry about Manchester City, though. They also signed one of my centerback targets.

Yet again, no one was offering on this guy, but as soon as our offer went in, the biggest clubs in Europe swooped in.

Let’s talk about some good news aka spring cleaning in Sunderland. I moved multiple players out of the club over the course of the summer.

We signed Marcus on a free. He left for 17m. Granted, we’re going to pay 250k of his wages over the next year, but that’s still a fantastic profit.

You may or may not remember Blair Sellars. I barely remember Blair Sellars. He’s a homegrown player from the academy who was never remotely going to be good enough for the first team. Somehow I’ve managed to ship him to Nottingham Forest for 1.7m.

You certainly remember Obren Cikic, one of our first nearly-wonderkids. He was a good player for us for three seasons, but we outgrew him. He leaves a much better player than when he joined, but he’s still a weird collection of attributes. Not enough pace to be a winger, not quite good enough to fit into our midfield as a destroyer. We brought him in for 1.7m and we sold him in a deal that should get very near the 25m max.

Brad Laws was our most promising academy player, but he never quite hit the level I feel we need for a starting striker.

Physically he’s excellent, mentally he’s good, and technically he’s below par. (I’ve said all this before, but it’s still true six months later.) If his finishing or dribbling had been a bit better, he could have been a good rotation player for us. Salzburg have offered us a deal that could reach 24m, which I considered to be good for someone of Brad’s level (the Championship, basically).

Sima’s transfer was the conclusion of last summer’s fiasco. I tried to sell him last summer, but I couldn’t find a buyer at the price I wanted, then he threw a fit about me selling him and I promised I would keep him. Well, it turns out that promise meant I’d keep him for last summer, the winter transfer window, and THIS transfer window. I was willing to let him stay around last autumn, but I was annoyed about not selling him in January. I decided to just move him on this summer and damn the consequences. After he spent the season in the U23s, he had no real stature within the team, so moving him didn’t affect morale. I only managed 7.25m, which was about 1/4 of what I was wanting last year. He’s basically the same player he was when we had 35m offers for him a few seasons ago, and he’s only 26. I suppose that’s proof that form really matters when selling.

Scott Forbes was another homegrown player who was never going to quite be good enough. A couple years ago he was my biggest hope for an academy player that might make the first team. We outpaced his potential, unfortunately. I shipped him off to Scotland for a fee that should reach 5.5m.

Eddy Laenan joined us for 1.7m in 2024. He went on loan for a couple seasons, and he’s now off to Blackburn Rovers for 10m spread over three years. He isn’t a bad player, but once again he’s not the level I feel like we need if we’re going to compete at the top of the Premier League.

Kevin Lacroix was another nearly-wonderkid that didn’t quite pan out. He joined us for 2.3m in 2024, and three years on he’s only made 12 appearances in our first team. I had hoped that he’d turn into a good fullback, but the 5 star potential in 2024 has turned into 3 star potential in 2027 and only 2 star current ability. He’s much worse than Neco and Victor Fernandez, and only his crossing separates him from our backup centerback Jordan Carlin. I was hoping to get about 10m for him earlier in the window, but I’ve settled for 6m and sent him to Sheffield Wednesday, where he’ll likely do a fine job in the Championship.

Huh. I don’t recall ever seeing this before. With only 1 star potential ability, I can’t say I really mind, either.

And then the big one.

I don’t like this, but he had 1 year left on his contract and he had no interest in signing a new deal. I managed to negotiate City to 44m, but I feel like it should have been 60+. Most of the money will be paid installments, which is pretty typical for my outgoing deals. I don’t need the money today, and I’d rather have more money over the longer-term.

Farrell wasn’t happy, either, but he didn’t want to make anything of it. I don’t blame him.

At the end of the day, I could live without Steele. We have Dragic, Goce (the new WB/L signing from last winter who has just arrived with a busted knee), and Nilson on the left. We have Neco and Victor Fernandez on the right. Plus we have multiple centerbacks who can step out wide and play as decent fullbacks if truly needed.

For incoming news, I found us a solid backup keeper in France.

Wilson is pretty decent in general, and he was willing to come in as backup to Adan Tirado. I’ll play him in the cups. He cost 1.7m, and he has excellent potential, so I’m feeling pretty pleased with the business. Yeah, I’d like someone with a bit more aerial reach, command of the area, and strength, but he’s by far the best backup we’ve ever had, and a backup keeper was a real position of need.

And then I did this:

Kevin freakin De Bruyne was released on a free, and I picked him up. He wasn’t exactly cheap with 83k a week wages plus a 1.1m in loyalty bonus, but it’s a 1 season deal, and I thought having an actual Professional midfielder around to mentor some of these wonderkids would be a good plan. He can play in the Conference League and just stand around as an Enganche until we need him to take set pieces.

Already putting the man to work.

Our first match of the season was away at Liverpool. I didn’t expect much from what was probably the most difficult match we’ll face over the next 10 months, but it was actually the best time to face them. My squad should have better cohesion than theirs given our superior pre-season compared to the computer.

We won 4-3.

Not gonna lie, I thought maybe this could be our season. Perhaps we were finally turning the corner and catching up to the big boys. We immediately drew to Bournemouth at home and lost away at Wolves. We looked fine in both matches, and were honestly much better against Wolves, but we continued to gift other teams easy goals.

At this point, I decided that we needed someone else in the center of the park that could help control matches. (Or maybe I went stress-shopping; you decide.) I found this lad in Argentina, and put in a bid.

He’s quick, he’s agile, he’s strong. He also tackles well and has decent marking and passing. I don’t love that Fickle personality, but it was easily the best option of players that would consider us. (Man City had two superior players, but they wouldn’t return my calls.)

I also asked Nicolas Bacolla to put in a good word for us.

Uh huh. We’ll see, dude.

He signed. I nearly wrote “of course,” but we’ve lost out on far too many transfers. Claudio makes 11 native Spanish speakers in the first team. I need to spend some quality time with DuoLingo.

Matias Martin–who I would still love to come around and be part of the team–decided to pull a Harry Kane and skip training.

Unlike Spurs, we fined him. I shipped him off to Bayer Leverkusen on deadline day in a loan deal that paid us a fraction of his salary, but will see him play plenty of football and hopefully come back next summer a better player and ready to be part of our squad. We’re down to 10 native Spanish speakers.🙂

Gaston Araujo, our problem child from last summer, did actually come around and ask to be taken off the transfer list.

He’s good enough that he’ll get minutes this season, in the Conference League, if nothing else. He may get sold next summer, but it’ll be for a lot more than the 1.8m valuation he has currently.

We won our qualification matches for the Conference League, and Harrison Jackson finally scored a goal.

TWENTY-TWO matches without scoring. Holy hell. I should probably sell him. (I tried but he wouldn’t accept a contract at Blackburn, and I wasn’t willing to pay his wages to send him to Salzburg. He ended up going to Legia on loan.)

Our last match of August was at West Ham, and I setup more defensively than usual, including marking Myron Boadu out of the match. It was dread, horrific football. The Scottish Mistake scored on a 22 meter curler in the first half to give us a slender lead, but former transfer target Geovane leveled late in the second half on a free kick. Just as I thought we’d take away a draw (and I was going to be happy with a draw, mind you), Neco put in a cross from a throw-in and Ignacio Escalante–on for an injured Idah–headed in the winner at 90+5.

Our financials at the beginning of September were as good as ever.

We spent 100m quid on players, and we ended up down 13m from where we started the summer. Much of the outgoing transfer spending is structured over time. In the last 14 months we spent 110m and made 157m (including the structured deals) for a net profit of 47m. If you subtract Adam Steel, who I would have preferred to keep, we were pretty much dead even.

August results were middling.

A famous victory at Anfield, some horrific dropped points, and a scrappy win at West Ham.

In what seems to forever be the case, we found ourselves in 7th place.

I was pretty down on the save at the end of last season. I’m in a slightly better place now. The 7th place isn’t helping, but the chance to win a decent trophy in the Conference League is. If we can get on a good run in the Premier League, I’ll start to get excited again.

I’ll leave you here for now. See you next time, footy nerds.

A Year+ of Running: A Retrospective

Our lives were upended, along with the rest of the world, in March 2020. A year and a half into our big adventure of leaving Missouri for the UK, our plans of cavorting around London and dashing off to Europe were thwarted. With us all stuck at home, I cooked more than ever. I also learned to bake my own bread. After a few months of being entirely sedentary and eating lots of good food, I had an acute realization that I had to get more exercise. (See my post last summer about a trip to Accident & Emergency (American translation: the ER).)

The wicker dragon at Hampton Court Palace

At first I tried cycling. Carissa and I rode around the borough a bit, including a trip up to Kew to see the new Brentford Community Stadium. I realized, though, that cycling is both time-consuming and expensive. It also isn’t that great at helping prepare a body for the only exercise I knew I really enjoyed: playing football (soccer).

Richmond Hill and the Thames

After years of incomprehension about why people would possibly do it, I laced up my shoes and went out for a run. See, my joke had been that I only believed in running if there was a ball, frisbee, or the police involved. The first run was two miles, and I hated it.

I went out again two days later.

Somewhere around run number four or five, it started to suck less. After about three weeks, I was actually enjoying it. I chatted with a friend who was running long road races in the US (hey, Carey!), and he gave me some advice and suggested some books to read. Somewhere in that first month, I saw a signup for the Kew Gardens 10k. Running 10 consecutive kilometers seemed like a stretch, but I enjoy a challenge, and one of my coworkers (hi, Matt!) encouraged me to try it. When I mentioned it to Carissa, she was eager to join me, so we both signed up.

I found a running plan online and set to work. Along the way, I decided to replace my old, battered Adidas running shoes, and after reading “Born to Run,” I went for some minimalist shoes. Cue my first running injury. I didn’t realize that you need to shift from padded shoes to minimalist shoes gradually, and I especially didn’t appreciate what running with a zero drop from heel to toe would do to my achilles tendon. I lost a few weeks to achilles rehabilitation (so many eccentric heel drops!), but I was in good enough shape to run the 10k in September.

A greenhouse at Kew Gardens

It was a blast. Hard, but fun. I was doing 6 mile runs prior to the race, and on race day I went out and pushed myself harder than I had since I was playing soccer in high school. I finished the race in 55:59, which wasn’t exactly fast, but it was faster than Carissa, and that was what really mattered.

After the race, I kept running. English autumns are mild, and I cruised through October and November. I looked at the race calendars for the London area, and I set my sights on a half-marathon at Hampton Court Palace, which is only a few miles from us. I found a new training plan, and set to work.

The path at Bushy Park

The training plan lasted about three weeks. In early December my second bit of trouble hit. I started to get pain in my knee. I first noticed it out on a long run where the first four or so miles were fine, and it gradually grew worse until around mile seven. I had to stop and walk home. I rested a few days, everything felt fine in the house, so I went for another run. About a mile into it, I felt mild pain. A half mile later, and it was excruciating. Some internet research made me think I was suffering IT band syndrome, so I was back to rehab. Amy Winehouse would not have approved. (This routine from Strength Running worked really well.)

After about a month of knee and hip work, I was back out on the road in January. English winters are mild, but they’re dark. And wet. Working from home was convenient because I could watch for a dry part of the day, block an hour from work, and dash out the door. This kept me going until March when the light started to improve. Unfortunately, with the UK in another covid lockdown, the half-marathon was moved from April to September, which was probably for the best for me. Fortunately, the lockdown was relaxing in stages, so I was able to sign up for another 10k at Kew in May.

Sculpture at Kew Gardens

I adjusted my running routine in the spring. I added lunges and leg swings to my pre-run warmup. I kept doing my hip and glute work once a week or so. I made sure to foam roll and stretch after each run.

I went into my second Kew 10k, and I felt good. Carissa ran it with me again, and this time I was ready. My goal was sub-50 minutes. My stretch goal was sub-48, and I thought I had a chance at it after seeing how my interval training went in April. I finished in 47:45. I was over the moon. (Yes, I beat Carissa again; she has long-term knee problems and can’t push as hard as I can. Naturally, I taunted her about beating her a second time.)

I set my sights on the Hampton Court Palace half-marathon, but I also signed up for another 10k in August.

In addition to running, I started playing football again. I was fitter and lighter than ever, and I went from being one of the weakest players in the group to one of–I don’t want to say better players, but I’ll at least say that I didn’t feel as if I was embarrassing the entire United States when I stepped on the pitch.

In early June injury struck again. This time it was a recurrence of an old injury from Missouri: busted ribs. Playing indoor soccer in Missouri involved a few untimely collisions with other players and the wall, and one of those cracked a rib on my left side. I missed a month of playing, and it healed, but another hard blow at 7-a-side this past June took me out of commission for a few weeks. Things healed with time, but my half-marathon training plan was destroyed. I kept running, but without as much structure or volume.

The Supermarine Spitfire

The Spitfire 10k is a fundraiser for the RAF Museum, and I ran it in late August. I finished in 51:31 minutes, right in between my previous two races. I felt tired. And heavy. And slow.  The lack of structure to my training didn’t feel as obvious on my long, easy runs, but I really felt it on race day.

The first two injuries were my fault. I should have done more research before changing shoes. I also should have been more careful about increasing my volume after the first Kew 10k. The rib injury, though, was more of a freak accident. I could quit playing football, but I enjoy it too much to walk away because I might run a few minutes slower in a race.

I had a two-week gap between races, and I was determined to improve on my Spitfire time. The course at Kew Gardens is a bit more twisty, but it’s one I know well.

Look at those turns!

Carissa and I both ran it in early September. With a cool, cloudy morning and no traffic exhaust filling my lungs, I was ready to run. Going in, my stretch goal was to set a new personal best (beating 47:45), my primary goal was to break 50 minutes, and my tertiary goal was to improve on my Spitfire time of 51:37.

People like Kew Gardens. No, people love Kew Gardens. It’s one of the prettiest places in London, and worth a day out even if there’s no race. And it was packed. Over 2000 people turned up. The organizers had people in waves, but they were by bib number rather than expected finish time. This meant significant crowding near the start, and with the first few kilometers being so narrow and windy, it was hard to settle into a rhythm. I probably lost 30 seconds to a minute fighting the crowd. Not that it really mattered. My fitness wasn’t quite as good as it was in May, and I don’t have a great feel for how to pace myself yet. Those were much larger contributors to missing my stretch goal, but I was reasonably pleased to finish in under 50 minutes at 49:21.

Carissa, unfortunately, injured her knee around the eight-kilometer mark. She somehow limped to the finish line, but really struggled after that. We walked–very slowly–out to Kew Green and caught a cab home. The good news is that she felt better the next day and is now working on her own rehab routine.

My final race of the year was the big one. The Hampton Court Palace Half-marathon. Hampton Court Palace is in the southern part of the borough, about four miles from us. I jog through the adjacent park (Bushy Park) periodically, and I was excited to have a race through the park and along the Thames.

Going into the race my goals were to finish under 2:00:00 as the main goal, under 2:15:00 as the B goal, and simply to finish without injury as the C goal. The race calculators said I should be able to finish in under 1:50:00, but I was far from convinced.

The moat at Hampton Court Palace

Sunday morning was cloudy and cool, and the crowd was about the same size as the Kew 10k at 2000 people. I felt undertrained, and wasn’t sure how things were going to go, but I went out at about an 8:40 pace, and it felt easy. I held close to it throughout the race, with a few dips here and there. Around the 9-mile mark, I was telling myself that I was almost finished, under 1/3 of the race to go. At about the 11-mile mark things started to hurt, and I was once again wondering why sane people would go running if they weren’t getting paid to do it. I remembered, though, that your body lies to you. It’s lazy. It wants sourdough and wine and Football Manager. I kept going. Maybe not as fast as I did at the start, but at a pace I was sure would get to the finish line under two hours.

Ultimately, I finished in 1:55:07. I stopped jogging for about 30 meters to drink a half bottle of water, and that probably cost me the 8 seconds I needed to break 1:55. You could also say that I could have pushed just a little harder at pretty much any point in the race, and that would have been true, too. It’s a good result and one that I’m sure I can beat in the future if I can string together a few months of injury-free training.

Lessons learned over the last year:

  • Don’t ramp up pace or volume too fast; the guidance I’ve found is to only add 10% volume per week and to only run 20% of your miles near a race pace
  • Ease yourself into any new shoes
  • Take the time for preventative maintenance with dynamic stretching before each run and static stretching after
  • Don’t be a slave to the training plan; take breaks when you start to feel worn down

From here, I plan to keep running. I have my sights set on a marathon next year. The Richmond Marathon is organized by the same people who organize the Kew 10k, and it’s scheduled for 11 September 2022. It’s the flattest marathon in London, run all along the Thames path from Kew Gardens down to Kingston and back. I know the course, and I know I can handle up to 15 miles, and I have plenty of time to prepare.

I don’t need to be fast. The only race I’m really trying to win is against congestive heart failure and myocardial infarction. That is the longest race, and I have miles to go before the end is in sight. Many, many miles, hopefully.

Sunderland ’til I’m Sacked – Season 7, Part 2

Welcome back, footy nerds. If you’re just joining, the previous installment is available here, and the first installment in the series is available here.

With us limping a bit through the festive season, I tried some more tactical tweaks in January.

I moved us back to the 4231 when we faced Derby at home. The thinking was that we had been in the 3 at the back for a while, and it would be helpful to show a different look to other managers and limit their ability to adapt to us. It also gave us a chance to showcase Freddy Baez at right wing, and he delivered with two goals and an 8.6 rating.

I seriously love it when a tactical change so clearly pays dividends. That was with Fede Cordero out injured, too.

West Ham came to visit, and knowing how strong they were, I used the 3 at the back. Myron Boadu torched us for 3 goals and we mustered only 1 in response. Fede Cordero was nearly ready to return to practice, and we desperately needed him.

Once again, I responded to a poor performance by going wonderkid shopping. I found one.

Haroldo is Brazilian, which meant I had to cough up 13.5m to sign him rather than the 7m I paid for Fede, but still far less than the 33.5m for Kevin Beck Hebo. (One of these days I’ll list out the pricing tiers for wonderkids.)

He’s physically better than Fede in nearly every category. He’s technically worse in nearly every category. He’s a year older than Fede, but has great potential. My hope is that between Haroldo, Fede, and Kevin, we have a truly world-class front line. Adam Idah is good enough to contribute there, and maybe Jhonny Palacios or Ignacio Escalante get there. The guys behind them are in trouble. Harrison Jackson, Scott Forbes, and Brad Laws have to be getting nervous.

Wait. Are you f***ing kidding me?

West Ham??? No one was after him until we made a bid. Unbelievable. Harrison, you live to play another day. For now.

Huh. Dan moved to the UAE, and West Brom turned a profit on him. Good for him. Good for them. I hope it works out for all parties.

My scouts, by very cleverly watching Real Madrid matches, have turned up probably the best striker in the world. I wish he’d even consider us. He won’t. I asked his agent.

Kouyate probably isn’t the second-best striker in the world, but he may very well be soon. I’ve been tracking him the last couple seasons. Lyon have so many great players, and they don’t want to sell any of them to me.

Not that their players even want to join, either.

The scouts have also turned up an Argentine wonderkid right back, but he is so poor in attack I’m not sure I have a place for him. I already have Dragic and Steele, who are similar players.

I kinda want to buy him, but I dunno. It could be an investment, I guess?

In match news, we went to Spurs in the semi-final of the Carabao Cup and scraped by with a 2-3 loss. In the return fixture, we scored in the 2nd minute to make things even, but Spurs grabbed a goal just before halftime to take the lead. Down a goal in the last 10 minutes, I adjusted us to a Very Attacking mentality and upped a bunch of roles to be more attack-minded. Fede Cordero delivered in the 89th minute. Even 4-4 on aggregate at fulltime, we went to a shootout, where Idah missed the first kick. The rest of our players made theirs, and…

We’re going to our third Carabao Cup final in a row, where we’ll face Leicester. They’ve been in poor form, but progressed past Leeds after both semi-final legs finished 0-0 and they won the shootout.

We’ll never get a better chance at winning it and sneaking into Europe.

Our own January results were middling. (Much like the last 2.5 seasons.)

The draw at Chelsea was a good one. Hard-fought and well-earned. Crushing Derby was a joy, of course. West Ham have become my nemesis. Not just that they keep beating us, but that they keep taking “our” players in Ilic and Haroldo. We had a good win against Huddersfield, the cup matches, and a bore draw at Crystal Palace. The Palace match was particularly rubbish. We started with the 343 but with a semi-rotated side, we couldn’t keep possession or create much threat. I adjusted to the 4231 in the second half and made some subs, which was enough to give us the upper hand, but not so much that we were able to get a second goal to win it.

As January wound down, we saw a meaningful departure on deadline day.

Ivan wasn’t making it on the pitch very often, and when Blackburn came in with an offer for near his 5m value, I negotiated it up to 7m and let him leave. He was a good player for us for a few years, and I’ll miss him as a mentor, but it was time for him to move to a club nearer his level. Safe travels, Ivan. Don’t drink all the whiskey at once.

It’s been a while since I gave a financial update. We’re rich still. We have a ridiculous amount of transfer funds. I’m trying to spend it. I am. I promise. It’s still a struggle to get the players that will make us better given our reputation.

Shortly after the transfer window closed a few of the lads came by my office with some concerns about our depth at centerback. I checked my (multiple) shortlists, and I found an outstanding Belgian wonderkid centerback who was willing to join us.

Nathan profiles as our best centerback the day he joins the club. He passes the eye test, too. Excellent physical attributes, solid mental and technical attributes, and a ton of potential to get even better. He cost 41.5m, which is our new record transfer. We have money, and I’ve struggled to spend it, so I have no regrets. He’s on 90k per week as a star player. Wage inflation is real.

Update: Bloody West Ham came in ag– Just kidding! We really got him.
Sometimes things work the way I planned.

A brilliant away win at Spurs put us back into European contention. Fede scored an amazing opener after a well-worked team play that ended up with the ball being played back to him about 20 yards from goal. He stuck it in the top bin with his first touch.

Huh, this was the first time I’ve seen this happen.

Good for Harrison. I’m pleased that he felt comfortable enough at the club to make such an announcement.

That’s a nice little note that Sports Interactive added for Harrison. Well done, SI.

This was great team news:

This was terrible news:

Two injured centerbacks. Jordan went down just before the Burnley match. Finley was injured in the middle of it. We only have four senior centerbacks at the club. Looks like McCrorie is going to be stepping in.

The worst part of the Finley Burns injury was that our next match was the Carabao Cup final. Our white whale. Leicester were in 18th place at the time the match kicked off. We were in 7th. We have had good luck against them. I started with the 343 with McCrorie at centerback. It gives me the option to easily switch to 4231 and move him into midfield.

We started in the 343, but weren’t generating much offense, so I moved to the 4231 in the second half. Lee “the Scottish Mistake” Farrell scored a scrappy goal after a melee in the Leicester penalty area. Fede added a classy finish from a counter-attack ten minutes later. Leicester had a couple good opportunities, including a Joao Pedro 1 on 1 with Adan Tirado, but Joao plonked his shot off the far post and Felipe Augusto swooped in to clear it to safety. The whistle blew for fulltime and…

We did it! We’re going to Europe!

Fede was excellent again. He’s one of those players you just love to see improve season over season.

Am I actually an icon?

Yes, indeed.

I don’t remember that clause. I also don’t begrudge him a single pence of it.

Up the Black Cats!

Matches ticked along with progress in the FA Cup, which was a welcome change, but poor form in the league.

Three consecutive 1-2 losses at Everton, at Norwich and vs Aston Villa sapped my will to live. Our mediocre youth intake didn’t help.

Maybe one of those kids will turn out to be a decent Premier League calibre player in five years, but I doubt it.

My wonderkid hunting continued, and I’ve filled 5 of my 6 slots for next season.

Martin isn’t as quick as I’d really like in a striker, but he’s already at 15 strength and 17 jumping at 18 years old. Couple that with his work rate, decisions, finishing, and first touch, and I think he’ll be a great complement to Fede Cordero. He set us back 9m.

Maybe bringing in a 4th (what was I thinking?) striker in the summer is a mistake. Maybe. But Jaroslav cost me 57k in compensation for his free transfer.

Our incoming transfers are

  • Nathan D’Haene – DC – 41m
  • Goce Sterjovksi – DL – 0m (he’s actually 22)
  • Kevin Beck Hebo – AMR/AMC/ST – 33.5m
  • Jhonny Palacios – AMR/AMC/ST – 725k (joins in January 2029)
  • Martin Ramirez – AMR/AML/ST – 9m
  • Jaroslav Holub – ST – 57k

That covers 5 of my 6 foreign youth transfers. I’ll hold onto the final slot to see if anyone pops up that I just cannot live without. (I actually thought it was all 6 until I noticed Goce’s age. Whew.)

I’ll have to have a long look at these guys plus my current squad in June and decide who stays at the club, who goes on loan, and who gets sold.

Our schedule for April isn’t bad. Southampton, Wolves, Leicester, Spurs (FA Cup Semi), and Leeds. May is a horror show. Arsenal (at home), Liverpool (at home), and Man City (away).

The good news is that we’re already locked in for the Europa Conference League. We could very possibly make it into the Europa League via the FA Cup. Making it to the Europa League via 6th place is a tall order and not one I’m sure we can handle without fantastic form over the next 7 league matches. Form that has eluded us for most of the season.

The Southampton match went south after 17 seconds when the first Saints cross of the game resulted in a free header and a goal. Was Vlad Dragic awake? Does he want to be part of our football club? Who the f*** knows. Fede Cordero had the ball in the net on 20 minutes, but it was called back for offsides. Idah leveled things for us 6 minutes later after a lovely dink over the fullback from Adam Steele (who is refusing to extend his contract). Fede scored another that counted 1 minute after that via a lovely throughball from the Scottish Mistake, only for the defense to utterly shit the bed 1 minute after that and give up a goal in almost exactly the same manner. After 32 minutes Southampton had 3 shots on target and their third goal of the day, courtesy of another horrific piece of defending that involved Liam Delap running free between our centerbacks. Forget Sandstorm; our team is now entering the pitch to Yakety Sax for the rest of the season. The whole point of running a 343 is the defensive solidity. Which did work out in the second half, but we couldn’t score again and dropped 3 points from a winnable match.

For the Wolves match I went back to the 4231, and I used more attack-minded fullbacks with Neco on the right and Nilson on the left. Adam Idah bagged a hat trick, Ignacio Escalante added an extra, and Wolves’ consolation goal was nowhere near enough to affect the result. Good win. Good three points.

Leicester came to the Stadium of Light, and it was as if half their squad was already in the Maldives. We scored from a Felipe Augusto header on a free kick at 45+3, and I was a bit worried in the second half when we kept wasting chances, but Fede sealed the win with a nice finish on 71 minutes.

A simple, professional 2-0 home victory was just what everyone needed to reduce the tension in the locker room before our trip to Wembley to face Spurs in the FA Cup semi-final.

I’ve given the best striker of my seven-year tenure a massive wage hike.

Fede signed a deal for the next 5 years, though it included a 100m release clause. He’s outstanding, and it might actually get activated, but it’s an increase from his previous 77m clause. 

We had a couple defensive suspensions going into the FA Cup semi-final vs Spurs, so I rolled with the 4231. We gave up a poor penalty midway through the first half, but Adam Idah leveled via a rocket to the top corner. We went into halftime even pretty much across the board: goals, shots (3 to 2), shots on target (2 each), even possession at 49-51. Enric put us up 2-1 on 53 minutes after the simplest throw-in routine. Dragic threw to Idah, who played it right back to him. Dragic crossed, and Enric found the ball from a crowd of three Sunderland players and finished crisply at the far post. Our advantage held until the 73rd minute when Spurs scored on a near-post corner routine that looked like they stole it from us (who stole it from Zealand and the Football Manager Show). Again, things were pretty even, and we went into extra time with the score at 2-2. At 94 minutes Fede received a deep cross from Neco, rounded the defender, and laid the ball into Idah’s path for a tap-in. Somehow Nenad Puric managed to give the ball away on a freekick IN OUR OWN HALF and leave Adan Tirado more work to do than he could manage, and Spurs leveled things for the third time on the day. I swear to the heavens, our defenders live to give me ulcers. At 119:30, Spurs took their first lead of the day. A blocked shot rebounded to their midfield, the ball was played back through one-touch, and Lee Adebowale (regen winger with ridiculous pace) was the quickest person to the ball. Of all the goals we conceded on the day, that was the one that was the least-bad.

I couldn’t justifiably feel that we were robbed, but the loss left a real sour taste. We were so close, and the last goal came in the dying moments when I was expecting us to lose on penalties instead.

Three days later we were off to Leeds. We were not at 100%, but my first choice 11 does so much better than the rotated side, that I went with some players that weren’t 100%. The match was a balancing act of fatigue and quality, helped considerably by Leeds having a fairly shambolic day and gifting us an own-goal and couple defensive errors that we turned into goals. We won without too much trouble or worry.

At the end of April, before the horror run-in, the table looked like this.

The Europa League was tantalizingly close. The Champion’s League was completely out of reach (again). And these were the next three matches.

Arsenal came to Sunderland in the driving rain. At the end the scoreboard read Sunderland 2 – 0 Visitors, and a glorious rainbow stretched from the Stadium of Light into the North Sea. 

We played ’em off the park.

Get rich, kid. You’ve earned it.

Second-place Liverpool at home, and I rolled out the attacking 4231. It felt like juggling dynamite, but you can’t stop using a tactic that’s still working, right? We generated more shots, more shots on target, more xG, and we lost 0-2. For all the work I’ve done to increase quality throughout the squad, we are still undeniably inferior to Liverpool.

Going into the final day, we were in 8th place, but 3 behind Man City, Everton, and Aston Villa.

Any chance at the Europa League had to involve a win, but we did have goal difference working for us.

The assumption was that we beat City. That would put us in 5th before other results. Everton needed a result at Derby to stay ahead. Villa needed a result at Leicester. Both Everton and Villa had far easier opponents. My feeling going in was that this was going to be like our relegation season. We’d win dramatically, but only get to 7th because Everton and Villa would each manage at least one point to stay ahead of us.

I went back to our 343 for City.

We had to win, but we also had to stay tight at the back if we were going to have a chance. The 4231 was clearly not going to be enough if the Liverpool result was anything to go by, but I knew I could make adjustments as needed by shifting to the 4231 with Baez moving up, Neco going to the right side, and Puric sliding out to the left. And yes, I was playing Baez out of position. He’s too good to not have him on the pitch.

It didn’t work. We were down 2 within 17 minutes. We went right back to the 4231, and Freddy Baez had us a goal 10 minutes later to make it City 2 – 1 Sunderland. Freddy scored a wonderstrike that may end up as Premier League goal of the season, but City scored 3 more and we lost, badly. I’m so tired of matches where there’s such a huge gulf in quality.

We have regressed to 9th and have fewer points than last season.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do from here. We have some more good signings coming, including a top class centerback, an upgraded WB/L, and multiple striker options who will push Adam Idah for his spot alongside Fede. We’re also in Europe next season, even if it is the Europa Conference League.

I won’t lie, though. I’m getting tired of this save. It feels as if we’re treading water from season to season, making the best improvements to the squad that we can afford and who will sign for us, but it all feels so small. So incremental.

I can’t quit with our first chance in Europe next season, though, can I? So I think I have at least one more in me. I have some nearly-wonderkids to sell, a couple legit wonderkids that are angry about stupid stuff, and Adam Steele who still won’t sign a new contract. If I can make good money from them, add that to the 112m war chest Kyril has offered, and bring in 1 or 2 quality starters, maybe we really can have a good run next season. (We’ll finish 7th and I’ll be done with this save, most likely.)

See you next week, footy nerds.

Sunderland ’til I’m Sacked – Season 7, Part 1

Welcome back, footy nerds. If you’re just joining, the previous installment is available here, and the first installment in the series is available here.

One of these seasons we’ll get a good run of form and not make me want to pull my hair out by mid-October. This was not that season.

A spotty start in August turned into an undefeated September, but “undefeated” meant three consecutive draws in the league. 

I went back to tinkering with my tactics and ended up with this.

The thinking was that we had 3 legitimately good centerbacks in Augusto, Puric, and Burns, plus a very good Carlin for cover. Our wingbacks were not as strong, but we were in good shape in midfield and up top.

We lost at Old Trafford 2-3, but played well.  We drew at home to Everton, followed by two convincing victories against Burnley and Norwich. It felt as if things were working.

November really irritated me, though. We dominated Wolves and only managed to find the net once, but fortunately it was all we needed. An ugly 2-4 loss to Villa was bad enough, but losing at home to Southampton was worse.

I tweaked things a little midway through our match at (frankly terrible) Leicester.

These changes helped us turn things around after a tepid first half.

Look at that xG. Look at those Fede Cordero goals.

Our form after Leicester wasn’t bad, necessarily. A narrow loss at Arsenal wasn’t upsetting. They’re legit stacked in this save. A famous 5-1 win over Liverpool in the Carabao Cup was probably the high point of our season. We lost at home to City, drew to Liverpool in the league, and then had an away loss to Blackburn in which we scored early, looked good, and gave up two thunderbastards to Moises Caicedo.

We’re in a place where I feel like our talent level has gone up, but we’re getting the same kinds of results as we were two years ago.

Personnel news was more of what you’d expect. (Maybe that’s the problem?)

Glad to see our investment paying off already… We will, at some point, get a good youth intake. That point is not this season.

Since I didn’t have a good youth intake, I went shopping. Check out this 700k bargain.

He’ll be joining us in January 2028 (13 months away). He already has good pace, good agility, good dribbling, and a good first touch. And flair. And teamwork. And work rate. And composure! Other than some mediocre finishing, he looks great right now.  My scouts could be pulling a Pure Magic on me, but with his current level of ability I am 100% sure I could flip him in the summer of 2028 for a few million.

This lad is Danish, which means I had to pay a premium. A big premium. 33m over three years big.

But once again, look at him! I’d like him to be just a bit faster, but he’s so very nearly what I want in a forward.

Very comparable to Fede Cordero.

Yeah, yeah, Fede is better. Fede is better than everyone. But it’s really close.

The better comparison might be Enric, who he would also compete with for our AMC spot. Enric is quicker, but Kevin has slightly better passing and work rate.
Unfortunately, I can’t sign him in January, so he’ll be arriving next summer. (Because, get this, I let my DoF sign kids for the U23s, and he snuck a foreign player past me, which still counts for the senior team’s limit of 6! That will not be happening again.)

Since I’m trying to make 3 at the back work, I picked up a Bosman signing at left wingback.

Goce will arrive in July. His best comparison is probably Vlad Dragic.

They both can play wingback, but Vlad offers excellent defensive capabilities while Goce offers better attacking capabilities.

Red Star also had an excellent AMR/ST that was available for free in the summer, but he chose Manchester City instead of us.

At the end of December we were just over the halfway point in the season.

The European places aren’t far away, but we really needed to string together some decent runs of form if we were going to get there and stay there. We’re good enough at our best, but not quite as consistent as we need to be.

We’ll break here. See you next week, footy nerds.

Update: Part 2 is now posted

Sunderland ’til I’m Sacked – Season 7, Summer Transfer Window

Welcome back, footy nerds. If you’re just joining, the previous installment is available here, and the first installment in the series is available here.

Kyril came ’round with his expectations for the season.

They’re starting to align with reality, which makes it harder and harder for me to overachieve. Midtable is the right goal. We might manage to sneak into Europe. I don’t see us cracking the top 4.

The game now gives you an option to tap up a player by having one of his international teammates speak to him. I didn’t get a screenshot of the interaction, but I asked Vlad Dragic to talk to his international centerback teammate, Nenad Puric, which he readily agreed to do.

Supposedly Vlad’s sales pitch didn’t work, but either it (or the money) did, and we got our guy.

There are so many great players coming out of Serbia that it’s ridiculous. Nenad signed as an Important Player, which means he needs lots of minutes to stay happy. I now have four very good (young) centerbacks, so I’ll rotate him around with Burns, Augusto, and Carlin. He’s not as much of a leaper as my other guys, but he’s fast and has excellent agility. He’ll be a great complement to enable our high defensive line. The fact that he’s left footed is a bonus. He’ll rotate on the left with Augusto while Burns and Carlin rotate on the right.

Nenad is my 4th of 6 possible U21 international signings. (The other three are at the top of the last installment since I completed their deals in January, though our new Spanish rightback, Victor Fernandez, did his ACL in April and is out for another two months.)

I didn’t really need another hotshit midfielder, but if you’ve been reading this for a while, you know that I just can’t resist a good wonderkid.

Matias Martin is a legit wonderkid, rated at 5 star potential. His passing, first touch, flair, and balance are all excellent, and he’s pretty good across the board.

He profiles well against Farrell.

And Ramirez.

And better than Araujo, who is still unhappy I didn’t sign someone for him to settle in at the club and may have to leave because of it.

Speaking of Araujo, the “sign a player to help me settle” promise has to be the worst promise in the game. I had no idea who he wanted to help him settle. He had no favored personnel. I had multiple Argentines already at the club. I asked him who he could suggest we sign, and he had no ideas. Maybe I just needed any new Argentine? It would be helpful if the game provided a bit more guidance on who qualifies. The worst part is that he’s been with us a year, and he’s still angry about it. Like, dude. C’mon.

He’s not leaving for 10m. I actually had an offer for 20m in January, and the board refused to take it.

This shot is from early June, and it gives a good view of loan players at the beginning of the transfer window.

The most interesting area for me in terms of transfers is the progress. We have a bunch of guys who just haven’t been progressing. Schmitz, Puric (no surprise there at this point), Belafonte, Bednar, Simon, Knight, Forbes, and Jensen all seem stagnant. A few still have potential and I’ll give them another loan to develop further. Others are 3 stars at best, and I’ll sell if I can get a decent fee.

The press came in with odds on best young player of the year.

I’m gonna take that as a vote of confidence. Farrell and Steele are 20 and 21, respectively, and they both cost about 15m. Both are developing really well, and I have high hopes that they’ll be key players to help us qualify for Europe.

I was finally able to find a buyer for Vlad Puric that he would accept. He left us as about the same player as he joined us.

All I could fetch was 4.7m from Bristol City, but he only cost 1.3m. We probably broke even when you consider his wages. Given the profit, I’m not sure you can really count him as a failure, but I feel like he was a failure.

Michal never developed any pace or crossing ability, and he’s only mediocre on defense. And yet, Almeria paid me 9.75m (in installments) for him.

Lars has good pace and dribbling with decent passing and crossing, but he wasn’t developing well and I couldn’t realistically see him in our first team pretty much ever. I sold him to AC Milan for 8.25m in installments.

I don’t know what happened to Ruben’s face, but he’s gone on loan to Charlton with an optional future fee of 1.3m.

Arnaut Danjuma came into the transfer window as a 29-year-old squad player whose minutes were going to go to younger, better players in the next season. I wanted to move him on, hopefully for something in the region of the 30m offers I was getting a year ago. The transfer turned into an utter nightmare. He was nominally worth 15m, but I struggled to get offers for more than 7.5 early in the window. Then he came into the office complaining about me selling him. I was willing to go down to about 20m, but he felt that was too high and started texting his mates. Finally, after half the squad backed him, I managed to get some offers for 10m and 8m from France and Germany. His bloody agent came in asking for a payoff! I tried to negotiate the first deal, and the agent terminated negotiations. I agreed to the others.

He did eventually leave for Saint-Etienne for 10m and a 400k payoff. We lost another 500k in solidarity payments, but we saved 2.5m in wages and didn’t have to let him leave on a free. The business was bad enough, but our morale tanked pretty hard. Fortunately, he left in mid-July, so we still had time to win some friendlies to get morale back to a decent level.

I had high hopes for Calum Knight, but he never developed the way I hoped.

He was homegrown, and I wanted to be sentimental, but with one year left on his contract and a fairly low ceiling, I sold him for 725k to Stoke. I would have even extended him for a few more years and given him some more loans, but he wouldn’t agree to a new deal after my Director of Football angered his agent somehow.

I attempted to sell Abdallah Sima, but he threw a fit, and after the fiasco with Danjuma, I agreed to let him stay.

We do, oddly, have too many promising players at the club. I’ve sent a few out on paying loans.

Kevin went off to France to get some game time with Toulouse. He’ll likely be sold when he comes back next summer. Hopefully, he improves while he’s away; those orange arrows are not encouraging, but he just left a few days before this screenshot, so he hasn’t had any matches yet.

Marcus Wendel was the random free signing we picked up. He’s looking like he could be a good midfield destroyer, so he’s off to get more experience and develop further.

Araujo was still unhappy about being sold, but I can’t get the price for him that I want (40m+) yet, so he’s off on loan to develop further and be someone else’s problem. He could turn out to be excellent, but he’s my fifth-best creative midfielder behind Farrell, Martin, Ramirez, and Enric.

Our old pal Obren Cikic is off on loan as well. He’s a weird player. Nominally a winger, but he’s too slow to really be effective. He has decent tackling, so maybe he could play at midfield, but his passing and vision aren’t really good enough. My hope is that he plays a bunch on loan and we can sell him for 25-30m next summer.

Watford made us a 37.5m offer for Jordan Carlin. He’s still in my first-team plans, so I declined it. It definitely makes me wonder if I’ll regret it in a year like I did Danjuma. Fact was, I needed Arnaut at the time. The wonderkid conveyor belt wasn’t quite as loaded back then.

Going into our first competitive match, my plan was to use the 4231, tweaked for our new players. Fede Cordero, Freddy Baez, and Matias Martin look to be of such quality that they’ll slot straight into the first team.

Fede is ridiculous. I’ve been wanting a good striker, and well, here he is. Four stars at advanced forward, and still plenty of room to improve. He looks as if he could be an incredible complete forward in the near future.

Freddy looks to be just as good, but as a right-footed winger going to the byline.

We’ll roll with Idah on the left, cutting inside as an inside forward.

Enric is our first-choice AMC with excellent ability to play on either wing as needed.

The Scottish Mistake will be at the base of our midfield as a CM-S alongside Matias Martin as a DLP-S.

I feel more confident about this year’s squad than any we’ve had so far. The summer signings were nearly all upgrades, and we have decent quality in the spots behind them. The only place I’m legitimately worried about depth is at GK. I’ve had a look at finding a decent backup, but without any real success.

My confidence was shaken in the first two matches. We scored early against Blackburn, and I was feeling as smug as a dog with two bones, but then we just couldn’t get the ball in the net. They scored early in the second half, and we piled on pressure, but it ended in a draw. The Derby match was even worse. We were under the cosh from the 3rd minute when they scored on a corner. We pulled level just before halftime, but couldn’t generate any offense. I thought we’d coast to a draw, which would be bad enough, but Derby scored the winner at 90+2.

I had to rethink our tactic. The rethink was to apply the lessons from last season. A lower line of engagement, forcing the other team wide, and no longer pressuring the opposing keeper.

Results immediately improved, including a glorious first half against Chelsea where we scored three goals before conceding two in the second half. We duly smashed Mansfield and Crystal Palace.

The only worry at the moment is the number of early injuries, but we’ve managed to cope with them. I may need to recall a player or two in January to give us more depth for the second half of the season.

We’re gunning for 6th, hoping for 4th, and wouldn’t turn down a title if Liverpool wanted to collapse.

The table–while basically meaningless this early in the season–says we’re on track.

See you in January, footy nerds.

Update: the next installment is available here

Sunderland ’til I’m Sacked – Season 6, Part 2

Welcome back, footy nerds. If you’re just joining, the previous installment is available here, and the first installment in the series is available here.

I love transfer season. I never stop looking for players, but the hunt goes up to 11 in the summer and in January.

I’ve found us an excellent Colombian winger.

Do we need another player on the right wing? Not really, though his pace is a welcome change to the plodding we have from Bacolla and Cikic right now. I like them both, and they’re both good players, but they’re both slow.

Freddy cost us a staggering 50k. Thousand. Not million. Fifty Thousand Pounds. He was technically a free transfer, but apparently, we had some visa fees or something.

That’s our first confirmed arrival for the summer and the first of six possible under 21 international players.

Victor is a Villareal player with an expiring contract. He will join us on a free transfer and provide an option on the right in rotation with Neco Williams and Adam Steele. We kind of have a crunch there with three players for one spot, but Neco can play at a midfield and Steele can play on the left or at DM. We’ll manage.

Fede Cordero is the next hotshit Argentinian forward to come out of Boca. (We hope he is, anyway.)

He cost a cool 7m to activate his release clause. He profiles as an excellent prospect, but also a player of the present. My scouts think he’d be third on our depth chart if he were at the club today. Kid is only 17! He’s also evidence that I need to run the face updater again soon.

Wait a tick…

That’s better. Fede makes the third of my possible six international U21 signings for next season.

January results were mediocre, so I made yet another round of tactical tweaks, this time modifying our third tactic based on the 4231 that was so successful in the Championship.

Our personnel are good enough now that it’s not suicidal to try this. It actually makes me wish I had Freddy Baez to put on the right, so we’ll have to give that a shot next season.

The tactical change wasn’t enough to hold off 2nd place Arsenal when they came to visit, though a second-half change to the asymmetric formation was even less effective.

I know the cliche is “it’s your tactics, mate,” but it’s also our quality. Here are a few comparisons.

Arsenal’s starting striker is Patson Daka. Our best striker is Adam Idah.

Idah is better in the air, but worse in literally every other category.

Our best winger is debatable, but let’s use Cikic for this.

Cikic is a great jumper, but that’s not a stat you really need in your wingers. Tsygankov is better in the meaningful categories.

Neco is our best attacking fullback. He’s simply outclassed by Tierney.

The numbers are more interesting. Not the score. Ignore the score.

Statistically, we played Arsenal fairly even. Other than goals. Due to injury, we did have our backup keeper playing, so maybe that’s on me for not playing Meggie enough in the autumn that he asked for and received a transfer in January. It’s hard to keep two quality keepers happy at the same time.

We simply have to improve our quality if we’re going to improve our league position, and that’s challenging in this league with so much talent already in on the teams we’re facing. If we can scrape into Europe, that will help.

Moving on…

Don’t tease me, Barca.

We played a two-legged tie against Arsenal in the Carabao Cup semi-final. The first match was away at Arsenal, where we played well but lost 1-2. The second match was at home, where we played well and f***ing crushed them 4-0. (They had their revenge a couple weeks later, as you can see above.)

Our biggest match of the season came on Sunday, March 1, 2026. Sunderland vs Everton at Wembley for (another) chance at our first trophy in our new Premier League era.

I went back and looked at our prior results. We played on Merseyside on 31 January and lost 2-4. We gave up four goals in the first half, including a brace to Juan Manuel Gutierrez. That was with our 4132 that I built for away matches. We played Everton at home on 21 September in a match that ended with a scoreless draw. In that one I used 442 with a wide midfield diamond that I haven’t kept around because it was worthless. In both those matches Everton played three at the back with wingbacks, two central midfielders, a winger on each side, and a striker.

Given our prior results and Everton’s formation, I took a gamble on using our 4231.

My thinking was that this would let us get a player into the hole between Everton’s midfield and defense while matching them out wide. Farrell and McCrorie are set to stay deeper, and I’ve shuffled the BWM to the right to counter the pace and crossing threat from Ghislain Konan, Everton’s attacking leftback.

I told the lads to get their revenge, and we took to the pitch.

Naturally, after all my research, Everton lined-up in a different formation.

I think they feared the mighty Black Cats and felt they had to mirror us.

The first half played out without too many opportunities and no goals. We had four shots with two on target. Everton had two shots with one on target. xG was dead even at 0.29 each. We were dominating possession with 68%, which made me pretty happy. I’d rather have the ball than not, especially when we’re not giving up counter-attacks.

At the hour mark little had changed, other than a horrifically off-target Lee Farrell shot from the edge of the penalty area. I pulled Harrison for Danjuma, and moved Idah to the tip of the spear. Everton immediately counter-attacked down Danjuma’s side, and we were saved from a Gutierrez goal by a narrow (but correct) offside call. At 75 minutes I pulled Araujo for Ramirez, in part because Araujo was on a 6.5 rating, but also because Ramirez is a far superior penalty taker, if things were to go that direction.

The match reached the end of regulation scoreless, though we were marginally the better side in shots and xG, and we were still dominating possession at 63%. I pulled Vlad Dragic from his spot at leftback and put in Adam Steele. Vlad was knackered and I wanted Steele’s slightly better penalty taking.

Everton took a 1-0 lead on 104 minutes through our nemesis Gutierrez. He brought down a long clearance, beat a knackered Finley Burns, and finished low to Tirado’s right. I pulled the ineffective Idah for Abdallah Sima and threw everyone forward. Everton scored again at 120+1 with a Scott McTominay thunderbastard from 25 meters.

Other than Adam Idah’s 6.2 rating, we played generally okay. Not great, obviously, but we moved the ball well, generated some shots, and were not obviously outplayed.  That’s two seasons in a row we’ve lost the Carabao Cup final. I hope that’s just us getting it out of our system before we reach the European stage.
I complain about lack of quality, but we do have some good players in the team that only need more time to develop. John Ramirez is a great example. He has been with us less than a year, but he’s developing as well as any player I’ve ever seen.

He was thinking about asking for a new contract, so I’ve given him one as a squad player. He appears to be very happy with it, and I’m looking forward to seeing his continued improvement.

Our youth intake came in March. It was as rubbish as usual.

I’m not sure why it’s so bad. Our youth setup looks good.

The academy coaching, maybe?

Yeah, looks like that was part of it. I feel pretty dumb. That’s something I should have caught three seasons ago.

Had to go to the board and beg, but I got this done, too.

That should take us from excellent to state of the art.

We secured survival at some point. The board dropped me a note about it.

Let’ s not get ahead of our– actually, f***ing cheer, people! We’re fighting for European qualification, and relegation worries are in our rearview mirror.

With five matches to play we were sitting in 7th place.

With Everton defeating us in the Carabao Cup final, 7th won’t be good enough for European football. We need to gain a point on Manchester United and hold off West Ham. Unfortunately, our run-in is ugly. Worse than ugly. Nigh impossible.

Norwich should be beatable, but we’re not all that good when away. Liverpool is basically impossible. Spurs and Chelsea at home are possible, but we need a measure of luck. City away is basically impossible. We realistically could take 4 out of 15 points and fall to 9th, but we’re unlikely to finish any lower.

We started the run-in by losing Ivan Sunjic for 3-4 weeks to injury. He’s been our rotation DM, giving McCrorie breaks. Not the worst player to lose by any means, but I’d rather have him than not. By the way, we extended Sunjic’s deal for three more years. He’s 29, and I don’t expect to keep him that long, but he’s a useful player and I didn’t want to let him leave for free in June. If I get an offer for him, I’ll let him move to “new challenges.”

We went to Norwich, played like rubbish, and lost 2-1.

Shortly after the Norwich horror show, Felipe Augusto pulled an abdominal muscle in training and went down for two weeks. That ruled him out of the Liverpool and Spurs matches. On the eve of facing Liverpool, Vlad Dragic damaged his foot, taking him out of contention for 11 to 14 days. You might think it was training, but all we were doing was match tactics and match preview.

On the one hand, Liverpool started Max Aarons at rightback, which was slightly better for us than them starting Trent Alexander-Arnold. On the other hand, they started Erling Haaland at striker. Harvey Elliott, playing in Mo Salah’s old position, put the ball in the net on 20 minutes, but it was called back for offside. Somehow, we weathered the storm all the way to halftime. The xG was Liverpool 1.2 – 0.38 Sunderland. Not great! Because I’m a glutton for punishment, and because we were clearly not going to hold out for another 45 minutes, I changed things up at halftime. We switched to our asymmetric formation, and I dropped McCrorie to DM. Haaland scored 6 minutes later. It was ruled out for offside, but Haaland put the ball in the net again on a ridiculous piece of skill where the ball came in from a deep cross on his left and he hit it left-footed into the net. I don’t see how it’s physically possible. The match ended 0-2 with Haaland completing a brace with a late penalty.

I just have zero answers for how we can deal with serial Premier League winners and Champion’s League holders Liverpool at Anfield. We can play them reasonably closely at the Stadium of Light, but on their patch? It’s brutal.

Our second loss in a row left us right where we were before: 7th place with West Ham on our heels and still a point behind United, though they had a game in hand, which they won later in the week.

Spurs were all over us at the Stadium of Light, barely giving us a sniff of the ball. I noticed that Idah, playing as an inside forward on the left, wasn’t doing anything to help out on his side, so I switched him from attack to support at around 15 minutes. I dropped our line of engagement from very high to high, hoping to compact midfield a bit more so Harrison Jackson wasn’t on an island by himself. We also weren’t getting many shots, so I moved our mentality from balanced to positive. Things settled down, and we stole a goal via a Finley Burns header from a free-kick just before halftime. Jackson and Idah came off midway through the second half for Danjuma and Laws. Our best chance came from the forwards working the ball through the box to Lee Farrell with half the goal open and no one in his way. He blasted it into the North Sea. Spurs didn’t do much better, and we held on for a well-earned 1-0 victory.

Things remained tight with two matches to go.

I made a few personnel changes for the Chelsea match. Idah went up top and Danjuma came in on the left. I also lowered our line of engagement as I did for Spurs, and set our mentality to positive. The first half was pretty even, though we only mustered a single shot. We went into halftime scoreless, where I lied to the lads and told them I was happy with their performance, which they lapped up. Unfortunately, they didn’t play any better in the second half, and Chelsea managed a goal on 58 minutes from a Moukoko to Tammy Abraham throughball. Things finished Sunderland 0 – 1 Chelsea, though even on shots and nearly even on xG.

My strikers are terrible and I hate them.

Our European dream died with a whimper.

You can’t see them in 20th place here, but Liverpool have spent 141m net. It’s been spent well, too, given their titles in recent years. Spurs are, naturally, turning a profit on transfers, including the 69m Liverpool paid for Oliver Skipp last season.

Oh, and look at that. Harry Kane to Barcelona for 64m. How the heck did Skippy fetch more than Harry? Actually, how the heck did they get someone pay 64m for thirty-two-year-old Harry Kane?

So. Manchester City away. I didn’t expect to win, but I didn’t want to get pasted for 5 goals, either. I rolled out the 4132 and mixed in a few of the kids that needed minutes, including Brad Laws, John Ramirez, Obren Cikic, and Gaston Araujo. The bad news was that we once again generated nothing going forward. The other bad news was that City did. It took them 89 minutes, but they finally scraped a goal. After the match I made up some tripe about the lads giving it everything, which they once again lapped up.

But will he be wearing a Sunderland shirt when he ends it?

Five matches ago we were in 7th place on 54 points. In that time we managed a mere 3 points to get to 57.

And yet we stayed right there in 7th place. That is, if you’re counting, the same number of points as last season, but two places higher in the table.

We were kinda bad in the second half of the season, though many of those losses were close. We are punching a bit above our level of talent, in my opinion. 

Actually, let’s look at the analyst stats again.

Our keepers are below average, though I think this does us a disservice due to our backup keeper being so bad. So let’s just look at Tirano compared to the league.

Not so bad! The best agility, but the worst reflexes. Generally decent otherwise. He’ll get better, too.

Defensively we are legit. A bit slow, but good everywhere else.

Midfield is a worse story. Poor passing and vision on average, but good tackling and decisions. Decisions??? I have no idea.

Our forwards are really killing us.

I have some excellent attacking prospects on the way, but they’re still kids. We really need a 22-24-year-old striker with superlative stats. That’s going to cost us 50m+, and I have no idea if the board will let me spend that much on a single player. I also have no idea if I can find someone who is both good and willing to join us. That will be for the next installment.

We played too much defense this season. Burns and Augusto were immense. Tirado and Idah were very good. After that things were mediocre. Lee Farrell, for example, is probably our best player in terms of ability, but he turned in the lowest rating.

He’s still improving, though.

Jamie Allen has retired from football at only 30 years old.

I haven’t noticed this screen previously (or maybe I have and have forgotten it). We were below our xG, which isn’t a shock. We finished right on our expected position, though.

“There is currently a leadership void in the squad.” This is what happens when most of your first team is under 21.

This is your yearly reminder that City sold him to us for 300k.

Speaking of City, they edged Spurs in the Europa League final.

That’s brutal. A first-minute goal. I did go back and check, and yep, Spurs finished 5th and City finished 6th last season.

Arsenal edged Manchester United in the Champion’s League final.

United have Calvert-Lewin leading the line. He’s a good striker, but he’s no Erling Haaland. To make matters worse, United needed to win to get back to the Champion’s League since they finished in 6th.

Kyril, my man. You’re a legend.

And on that fine note, I’ll sign out. Until next time, footy nerds.

Sunderland ’til I’m Sacked – Season 6, Part 1

Welcome back, footy nerds. If you’re just joining, the previous installment is available here, and the first installment in the series is available here.

It’s a month into the 2025-2026 season, and Sunderland are alive and well in the top flight after comfortably avoiding relegation last season. Our summer transfer window saw some new faces join the club, and our first month of results was good, other than one shambolic away loss.

After the excellent run in August, we cooled a bit in September, losing to Villa, drawing at home against Everton, and drawing away at Arsenal. We did scrape a 1-0 over Portsmouth in the Carabao Cup, but that was expected.

October was better with a 2-1 win over Manchester United at home, 2-0 over Bournemouth at home, and 2-0 over Derby at home in the next round of the Carabao Cup. The only blemish was a horrific 0-2 loss way at Fulham.

November started poorly with a 0-3 loss away at Wolves. At this point I took a long, hard look at our tactic. We were doing great at home, but really struggling on the road, including some embarrassing losses.

Here’s how we looked at the time (ignore the injuries as this screenshot was from mid-December).

I looked at our players and thought about why we were getting beat and where our strengths were. We couldn’t maintain possession as I wanted, and we were getting beat by counter-attacks.

I switched things up.

Yes, I will admit that this basic formation is pretty meta within the downloadable tactics, BUT this is something I cooked up by shifting around from our old 4231. You can even see the tactic name at the top since I haven’t changed it. I know, from watching far too many YouTube videos, that two strikers is generally better than one in FM21, and wingers are not as necessary as they were in FM20.

The key principle here was to stop conceding so much. My hope was that the halfback dropping between the centerbacks would give us the extra stability in the back line and the packed midfield would disrupt possession around our box. The formation in the tactic is the shape the players will take in defense. Their roles and individual instructions govern what they do in attack. The wingbacks will charge up the field and give us width, and the mezzalas will slide wider and occupy the half spaces between the opposing midfield and defense. I have the AP-attack at CM to move up and support the DLF and Advanced Forward.

Instruction-wise, I kept it simple, as you can see. Shorter passing and playing out of defense to maintain possession, higher tempo because I do want us to have some attacking threat on the counter. I’m distributing to my fullbacks because they’re better with the ball than my centerbacks or DM. We’re counter-pressing because you pretty much have to in this match engine. Forcing the opposition outside was a conscious decision since we have so many great leapers in defense. The higher line of engagement is to get pressure from the strikers, but we’re maintaining a standard defensive line to prevent those counter-attacks.

I did add individual instructions to the AP. He should be getting further forward and make more direct passes. With Farrell’s 18 passing, 16 vision, and 18 decisions, he should be incredible in this role. Ramirez has 16 passing, 15 decisions, and 13 vision, so he’s not far behind and will be the second choice here.

All this combines to mean that we’re conceding some possession in the middle third, but we’re clogging the center of the park in the final third, and when our giant centerbacks head the ball away, we’re quick to pick it up and move it upfield.

Leeds came to visit, and I used the old formation since it was working at home. We smashed them 5-0. Norwich came to visit, and we won 2-1. On a trip to Leicester, I tried the new tactic. It wasn’t pretty, but we won 2-1. Then we had to go to Burnley, who haven’t been kind to us in our Premier League encounters. We won 4-2.

Our next series of matches was ugly.

  • Spurs away
  • Liverpool at home
  • Manchester United at home in the Carabao Cup
  • Manchester City at home
  • Chelsea away
  • West Ham at home

We throttled Spurs 3-1, to my surprise and delight.

Then Liverpool came to the Stadium of Light, and it was proper English football weather. Cold, driving rain. Oliver Skipp was starting in midfield after a 69m transfer from Spurs in the summer of 2025. We went up early but gave one back on 20 minutes before Idah scored his second of the day. Midway through the second half Alaba cleared off the line to prevent an Idah hat trick, and I thought we were going to take a famous 2-1 victory, only to be denied by a dodgy penalty call at 90+6. The draw flattered Liverpool more than us, to be honest. We were robbed by the penalty call.

After the Liverpool match, another head-hunting message turned up on my WhatsApp.

Did I want to leave 5th placed Sunderland, who I lovingly crafted into a decent top-half Premier League club for last-placed Aston Villa? No. I did not.

And that’s that. Bring on the Manchesters.

Man United at home in the Carabao Cup was a match where I considered going back to our asymmetric attacking formation, but injuries wouldn’t let me. Danjuma was out, Jackson had a knock, Enric was recovering from a long-term injury, and Dan N’Lundulu wasn’t match fit or good enough. I rolled with the tactic above, and we cruised to a 3-0 victory. Unfortunately, Idah picked up a 4-week injury, and Farrell picked up a 4-day knock.

We played Manchester City at home in the league without Lee Farrell or Adam Idah, our two most important players. This is a City team we have beaten before at home, but they were too good for us. Both their goals came from their centerbacks on set pieces, which was disappointing given that we’re usually dominant on set pieces. We actually looked okay going forward, getting some shots on goal, including a very late Harrison Jackson consolation, but ultimately our 6 match winning streak ended in a 1-2 loss that really could have gone either way.

Chelsea in 2025 are, if anything, more stacked than City. Their front line of Moukoko, Leao, and Rodrygo is preposterous. Amusingly, their back four still includes Chillwell, Tomori, and James. We got outplayed. The xG battle was Chelsea 1.85 – 0.73 Sunderland. Not great, and a match you’d expect to lose 99% of the time. Usually when we get 5 shots on target we can get a goal. We did not. No problem; it happens. Chelsea had 12 shots with 7 on target, including the penalty. They scored FIVE.

And they hurt Neco for a month. Pricks.

Every bad loss is an opportunity for free work rate or determination (if you know what I mean (and I mean yelling at the lazy bastards for such poor performances)), and Tirado, Sima, Jackson, and Farrell all picked up stats.

We followed up the Chelsea loss with a slightly less shitty loss to West Ham. At home. The injuries and accumulated fatigue were brutal.

The November and December results were so good, and then the wheels fell off after the narrow loss to City.

The West Ham loss left us in 7th place, on 33 points.

I did my usual deal-making in December, trying to lineup transfers for January.

It’s a dog-eat black cat world out there. This guy was on no one’s radar until we bid, but his agent managed to get Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and PSG to go in for him.

He went to PSG to play in their U19s. You coulda been a hero, kid. And played lots of minutes in the Premier League.

We picked up an extra 1.23 million by way of allowing Brentford to buyout a transfer clause on our former free transfer Isak Solberg. Solberg was our emergency backup keeper that played one match and left for 550k after sitting in our reserves for a season. I included a sell-on clause in that deal, and with Solberg sitting on the Brentford bench and having a 200k value, I decided to cash in. We didn’t need the money, but the hunt for value never stops.

Dzenis Burnic, who was attracting 20m offers last winter, departed the club for 7.5m. Chinese club DL Pro were willing to take him off our hands six months before his contract ended, and I was willing to let them do it.

Dan N’Lundulu finally agreed a contract with another club. Again, we were six months from him leaving on a free, so I had to take a 5m deal from West Brom. It was spread over three years, but at least we got paid.

Going into the window, I once again wanted a striker. I had two possible options I could recall from their loans.

Brad Laws was 3rd on the depth chart, according to Mike Phelan, my AssMan. That may or may not be accurate, but he’s physically capable, okay mentally, but a bit lacking technically.

Ignacio doesn’t have the same physical tools yet, but he’s far better technically. With him growing like he was, I was hesitant to bring him back.

There were a couple other irons in the fire, but they will be part of the next update.

See you next time, footy nerds.

Update: the next installment is available here.

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