In the next stage of our Quantum Leap series we find ourselves in Holland in the year 2034. Previous challenge here.
Ed Wilsons AZ Alkmaar must be the most dominant domestic side throughout the FM community, 15 league titles in 15 years and a win percentage of 79%. His only Achilles heel being his quest for European honours. A brief look through the history of this save is quite remarkable both on and off the pitch.
A side that has single handedly dominated its domestic league by not only going unbeaten but by winning every single game in a regular season.
For Alkmaar to dominate so much means the historical might of Ajax has diminished. Last season they finished third, with no win in their last five league games and a humbling defeat to AZ in the Cup Final to boot, they were in need of a change and this is where the challenge begins.
A kitty of just £38,000,000 is made available which this far in the game cycle doesn’t go far, especially when it’s players we need for an instant impact.
A squad that at first glance looks way off the pace. It needs not only investment but inspiration if it is to close that gap on their closest rivals.
As I said above we aren’t able to go crazy with huge fees so we went about our business slowly and methodically. With no restrictions of foreign players my first port of call was South America where we picked up a couple of midfielders for a combined £20,000,000. Add to this a Brazilian centre half (Morato) from Benfica, a Portuguese midfielder (Aurelio) from Wolves and we were well on our way.
The one thing I note from anyone playing in Holland is how many departures each club seems to have every summer. *We were no different with 14 players leaving for pastures new. One player I didn’t want to leave was Wonderkid Arnold Roemeratoe but a £41,000,000 offer from Arsenal meant we could continue our recruitment drive, so a sacrifice was made.
Added to the earlier names were Sergei Tarasevich (AMC) from Inter Milan, Juan Ramon Berenguer (AML) from Betis and Neil Pickering (GK) on loan from Chelsea.
Now I mentioned investment and inspiration. We have done our best to create the former through player sales but inspiration needs to come from elsewhere. I love a romantic signing so…
On day one I set out a marker to re-sign Matthijs de Ligt from Manchester United. The now 34 year old centre half was fourth choice and seemingly winding down his career. United accepted a £7,000,000 offer but the man himself turned us down flat, he wouldn’t even acknowledge a contract offer.
Not to be deterred we made him our top target and even went to the CL Final where unfortunately he didn’t play. Five weeks later, another media interview praising him and he was delighted to talk to us. He eventually cost just £3,200,000 and the fans were delighted.
I added another cherry onto the nostalgia cake with he £200k pick up of this man.
So new players, new squad and new manager, now we need a new way of playing. I thought long and hard about recreating the famous Ajax tactic of the 90s, trying to implement it into this side would be tough and with just 12 months in the chair I couldn’t run with experiments.
We settled on three at the back and three across the middle with a backup 4411 alongside it. My reasoning was and still is that being a big side in a lower ranked league meant we should probably see a lot of the ball. By playing out of the back we instantly have six central players that can give ourselves time to dominate the middle corridor of the park. Add to that raw pace and skill in the attacking wing backs and we have a range of options when moving forward.
I say raw pace and skill as the right wing back role was one we lacked any real quality in so after reading a lovely article on full backs I decided to move my right winger/striker into the role.
Yassine Hajji wore the number nine, he was the previous incumbent of my jobs biggest threat going forward but for me he could possibly have all the tools to make a huge impact from this deeper position. His defensive skills were by no means good enough, but again I go back to being a big dog in a small yard and just how much defending would he be called upon to do?
Just before the season started we delved one final time into the market. Goals win games and with Hajji now being used elsewhere we needed a new face, someone proven to fill the gap he left. With tried and tested players from abroad unlikely to come to the Eredivisie we turned our attention to the domestic market. After consulting last seasons top goalscorer charts I was surprised to see it was not an AZ man that led the way but a young man from Feyenoord. Julian Rietberg scored 22 goals in 30 games last term and for a whopping £24,000,000 (In instalments) would become our final signing of the summer.
I like this signing a lot, laying a marker down that Ajax were and always will be the most attractive side in Dutch football. Something a bit Andy Cole joining Manchester United about it.
Preseason was alright, we won the inaugural Ajax cup but against poor opposition in Zulte Waregem of Belgium and Paderborn of Germany. We also played host to Richard Tols testimonial match in which former Ajax players came back to play, this is a feature I have never seen before but I loved it, great touch.
I wasn’t overly confident the system was working so I will give you a quick update of the results in the opening month.
We would open at the Amsterdam Arena against Roda JC. A nice first game that got nicer after 3 minutes when the visitors were reduced to ten men. After a slow first half which included a penalty miss we finally stepped through the gears to run in a comfortable 4-0 victory, Rietberg and Aurelio netting on their debuts. The result was most welcome but I worried it didn’t really give me any signs as to the formation and it’s durability ahead of a huge week.
Our Champions League third round qualifiers against Red Star Belgrade would sandwich one the biggest games of the season as we travel to Alkmaar. The presiding Eredivisie champions were now managed by none other than Pep Guardiola.
With that huge game on the horizon I really wanted to rest players but the Champions League is huge and we can’t afford any slip ups. We would travel to Belgrade at full strength and then look at the damage after.
Those games were played either side of the big one. AZ Alkmaar hadn’t lost a home league game in 15 years, not one (Incredible). This was about as big a task as we would face but pregame I felt it was too early in the campaign for us to really make a mark on the champions elect.
The game was by no means a classic and to be honest we offered very little going forward but we held out for a 0-0 draw and to be honest I was delighted with that result.
I felt that showed that this formation might actually stand up against the stronger sides as well as the cannon fodder we would play against some weeks. It was a real boost and now we can concentrate on Sporting Lisbon and getting into those Champions League group stages.
The first leg being at home meant we wanted a lead, but I felt what we needed more importantly was a clean sheet. Hajji was rested, the CWB role is really draining, something I didn’t think of and may try to find a back up before the window (slams) shut.
At half time we led 3-0, A goal from youngster Houwaart who replaced Hajji already had me thinking we wouldn’t need back up. We conceded a sloppy goal in a poor second half but at 3-1 I hoped we had done enough.
And enough it proved to be as an early Richard Tol goal sucked the life out of the Sporting fans and gave them no real road back into the tie, it ended 5-2 on aggregate. An injury to Hajji means we will miss him for the next three months and the majority of the Champions League group stages, hammer blow.
There were two other league games in the opening moth and although we weren’t dominant we did enough to keep the wins ticking over. Given AZs dominance in years gone by any dropped points were huge.
On the whole I am delighted at our start and how the team has knitted together so quickly. I think more than anything it’s the defence I’m happiest with. I wanted footballing centre halves and we managed to land three of them, the wing backs have been unsung heroes especially Berenguer who was on the transfer list at Betis but for us has been so strong down the left hand side.
AZ just beat PSV in Eindhoven to show they are as every bit a threat as they were under Wilson, can we keep pace with them? Who knows, but it should be fun finding out.
Oh and the Champions league draw was brutal FFS…
Thanks for spending the time to read, Hoping this should be a fun year and I will update along in slack.
For anyone wondering Ed Wilsons AZ Adventure is here and unbelievably he just stepped it up a gear – http://www.fmrensie.net/2019/11/01/az-me-part-1-setting-the-scene/