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A Football Manager Story: The death of a dream

A month where an unbeaten season became impossible, but a league championship stayed within reach thanks to some excellent transfers.

Martin Rose

Throughout this first season I had been quietly monitoring my progress towards on goal, an unbeaten season. Somehow, through the first few months of the season I still had a shot at that goal. I knew that the month of December would be a make or break time for the team, but I wasn't prepared for things to go this way. A scoreless draw at Stamford Bridge seemed to be a good omen for our season, but then, as so often happens for Tottenham Hotspur, we ran into Arsenal at the Emirates.

Arsenal, were on top for the whole game, but it took them until the 75th minute to score. Lukas Podolski stole between Jan Vertonghen and Younes Kaboul to get on the end of a long clearance. He then made a lung bursting run down the center of the pitch before rounding Hugo Lloris and calmly slotting home. In hopes of salvaging a draw and our unbeaten run, I swapped Sandro for Ademilson and played with two strikers for the first time all season. Needless to say it didn't work and I had finally tasted defeat in the Premier League.

The match brought to attention two major deficiencies in my side. First, without Adebayor (who twisted an ankle the previous week) we had zero attacking threat from the striker position. Ademilson had yet to score for the club and was going on 7 hours of football without a goal. Defoe was ok, but as in real life, he's very streaky and at the moment his streak was trending towards cool. Second, the team really lacks creativity in midfield. Bielsa's Bilbao uses Ander Herrera as the team's creative engine and while Mousa Dembele is a pretty good midfielder his passing just isn't enough to break down a defense. I needed to make a change in January.

My side ended December well, rolling off four consecutive wins after the loss. This seemed like a side with a lot of resiiance and not even a loss to our hated rivals could bring this team down. We ended 2012 at the top of the table, four points clear of United in second and seven points in front of Arsenal. The only other interesting news to come out of December was that in the Europa League's first knockout round we were drawn against FC Basel. Sort of like art imitating life, right?

I drew up my shortlist of players I was hoping to acquire. My scouting staff and I had scoured the world to come up with some of the best passing midfielders that we could afford and the crown jewel atop our list was Joao Moutinho. His price was believed to be about £35 million and I had only £22.5 million of my budget remaining. That meant I would need to sell some players in order to being in the Portuguese pass-master. Failing that, the other names on my shortlist included the aforementioned Ander Herrera from Bilbao, Ever Banega (Valencia), Ganso (Sao Paulo), Marvin Martin (Lille), Benat (Real Betis), and Selcuk Inan (Galatasary).

However, on the first day of the window I was handed a tremendous gift. Daniel Levy saw that I was outperforming my goal of mere Champions League qualification and offered me the opportunity to change my expectations and possibly increase my budget. Sitting four points clear at the top I confidently told Mr. Levy that I thought we could win the league and the chairman promptly handed me an additional £24 million. I didn't even wait for the check to clear before I rang up Porto and offered £30 million for Moutinho.

Porto called back the next day to tell me he couldn't be had for less than his release clause of £35 million. I countered with them right down the middle, but their vice president told me the best he could do was £35. I accepted, offered a contract (with wages in excess of £100k/week), and soon I had the playmaker my team so desperately needed. The excitement was short-lived though, as in our first game with a midfield of Sandro, Dembele, and Moutinho, we barely avoided losing to Southampton at St. Mary's. Not exactly the most auspicious start.

Things got better as he started to blend into the squad and the team started to go on a roll. I had still yet to solidify the striker position and on the last day of the transfer window I was heavily involved in bidding for Roberto Soldado and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. PEA would cost £2 million less than Bobby Soldier, but the Spanish striker is a much better player. When I rolled up to the training ground at Bull's Cross around noon, a Sky Sports reporter was waiting to ask me questions. I rolled down the window on my Honda Accord, but the interview was very awkward as I was seated on the left side of the vehicle and the reporter was on the right. I assured him that something was going to happen, I just wasn't sure what. I then headed into the offices to see what we could get accomplished. Fortunately, with only five hours to spare on deadline day ,I finally secured the striker I so desperately needed: Soldado.

We ended the month still comfortably in first place and I hadn't bankrupted the club despite the transfer spending I'd been doing. In fact, I would have a little money to make some youth signings in the spring or summer. My only worry is that at some point our momentum will halt and we will, like all Spurs teams, hit a late season swoon.

Other things that happened in January:

  • Offered a contract to Fernando Llorente, who's deal was expiring at Bilbao. I then watched Bayern Munich, Barcelona, and pretty much every big club in Europe come in with bids for the Basque striker. He opted for Barca.
  • Hired more physios. The injury rate on this team was absolutely ridiculous and while I thought David Fevre and his staff were doing an excellent job of getting players back to health, they seemed, at times, overwhelmed by the shear number of players hurt.
  • I sold Clint Dempsey to West Brom for £4 million. Sure, I took a loss on him, but he wasn't playing and he didn't have the potential to be great. Unfortunately there's no stat in FM for grit.
  • I also sold David Bentley to Sunderland. I only got £1 million for him, but that's better than nothing.
  • For some reason, Scott Parker went to Porto. I assume as a replacement for Moutinho. Sometimes the world doesn't make sense.
  • Ademilson finally scored. Granted it was in the FA Cup against a League 2 side, but a goal is a goal.