Having played a ridiculous amount of hours on both Football Manager 15 and 16, I’m ashamed to say that I took my foot off the gas last year. All sorts of things got in the way of a consistent save on FM17, despite occasional highlights at various minnows around Europe.
But this year, it’s time for a very different challenge.
AFC Bournemouth are a club I know very well. Having lived local on the south coast all my life, I’ve been lucky enough to watch the Cherries move through the football leagues under the shrewd leadership of Eddie Howe.
Good ol’ Eddie has always looked destined for a job at a bigger club, with more money and a larger stadium. Some had even touted him for the England job a few years ago. And despite a mixed spell in charge of Burnley, Howe has departed AFC Bournemouth again for the second time, in search of bigger and better things.
After a search for his replacement, chairman Jeff Mostyn has settled for me. I guess I’ll have to do.
With the squad at my disposal, survival is absolutely key with any sort of mid-table push coming after. In terms of strikers, Jermain Defoe and Callum Wilson are exceptional goal scorers, so I can trust them to find the back of the net for us. Josh King is another option, and he is capable of playing in a deeper role to provide some extra versatility or defensive cover. He will be starting alongside Defoe for the start of the campaign, as Wilson looks to recover from his long-term injury setback that will see him ruled out for 3-4 months.
The wide areas are definitely in need of improvement. Marc Pugh, Junior Stanislas and Ryan Fraser are all good players, but nothing special. An upgrade on either flank will be crucial in setting up the strikers. And in the centre of the park, Surman, Arter, Gosling and Lewis Cook will all be competing for places.
At the back, we seem pretty much set. Both full-back areas possess good depth, and with both Steve Cook and Nathan Ake at centre-half we’re in good stead – although one more centre-back wouldn’t go amiss to further squad depth. In goal, we have a four-star rated Asmir Begovic and Artur Boruc, both of which I will trust at least until the end of the season providing either avoids injuries.
During the transfer window, I strengthened the areas that I believed could use some upgrades or rotation. In came Cristian Zapata on loan, whose defensive statistics will make him a reliable starter or useful back-up to Ake and Cook. Luciano Narsingh will be my new winger, after he was transfer-listed by Swansea. Admittedly, he wasn’t my first choice after deals for the likes of Scott Sinclair, Lazar Markovic and Nicolas Gaitan all fell through. However, in his two pre-season games, he has impressed me with his dribbling and two assists so far.
Jorrit Hendrix will play in a holding midfield role, where Andrew Surman started most of pre-season. His statistics make him a formidable, hard-working player with an all-round skillset that allows him to play anywhere in the middle of the park.
Out went Benik Afobe for £10 million, as well as Rhoys Wiggins and Emerson Hyndman on loan. One of the stranger transfers that could have happened was my rotation full-back Brad Smith, who was wanted by several large European clubs despite having some fairly average stats. How bizarre.
Pre-season showed me that we suffer whenever Jermain Defoe has a bad game. The wingers have been providing constant service into the penalty area, but our strikers just don’t seem to be getting the final touch. Narsingh’s introduction in the last two fixtures helped, as he recorded two assists and helped move the team through the attacking phases. At the back, we looked fairly comfortable although the centre-backs are allowing opposing forwards far too much time inside the box despite being told to press. All in all, five wins out of six isn’t bad at all – even if they were against the likes of Carlisle United, FC Volendam and de Graafschap. Not the toughest sides in the world, admittedly.
Anyway, onwards and upwards. In the next episode, we take on West Ham at home in our first Premier League game, then trip to Newcastle, followed by a Carabao Cup second round tie with Bristol Rovers!