Another Bundesliga. Another DFB-Pokal.
But a Champions League loss.
Going into a Champions League semi-final without your three best players is never ideal. Manchester United, PSG & Dortmund seem to be the three dominant teams in world football — you have to go back six years to find a winner outside those three. Manchester United had been runners-up in three consecutive seasons, and made it to their fourth straight final as they strolled past us. Robert Wechner, Baby & Vittorio Peroni were all out and we really missed the players I like to think of as our attacking ‘difference-makers’, at this level. In the league, or easier CL games, other squad players can fill in and still create that spark of magic to win the game, but it’s much more difficult to achieve against a team of Manchester United’s quality. The fact they lined up with six ex-Dortmund players meant it was always going to be tough. Eventually they beat Chelsea 2-1.
Going into the season we made two major signings in order to re-firm our status as one of Europe’s best side. They were essentially replacements for two outgoing players; Christopher Holtz & Andres Olarticoechea.
Always sad to lose an academy graduate, but the £85m fee for Christoph Holtz was far too good to ignore
Olarticoechea: a good player who just didn’t set the world alight
I had no idea Espanyol had £85m to spend on one player. They’d massively overpayed for a rubbish full-back we sold to them for £20m last year, but this was just beyond anything I expected. Holtz was a handy player, but the 4-4-1-1 meant there was only space for one AMC and the options were Baby, Caseres, Holtz, Devico, Barbosa & Schmidt. Something had to budge. The money certainly helped, anyway.
Much of it (£41.5m) went on Italian midfielder Ricardo Maimone.
Riccardo Maimone: extremely impressive for Inter Milan and worthy of the step up
The difference between the two is that Maimone is more comfortable playing without the ball than Holtz, who is very much a playmaker. With Baby the primary playmaker of the side, and Wechner demanding a huge amount of the ball as a Trequartista, I wanted to turn the LCM into a BBM rather than a Roaming Playmaker. Maimone’s 19 Off the Ball was the main draw for me. He has a number of other excellent ‘intangibles’ that make him perfect for the all-action midfield role alongside a holding midfielder.
Plus the beard. We needed more beard.
After Maimone was Brazilian midfielder Neto, a steal from Spartak Moscow at £13.75m.
Braitner Ceolin Neto: naturally an AMC but was used more as a Wide Playmaker or Winger at MR
With slightly more midfield depth needed, this deal was a no-brainer. An excellent fee, and plenty of sell-on potential if things didn’t work out. If we were playing at home or easy away games, Neto would be used as a Wide Playmaker, meaning he’d drift inside and allow the RB (CWB-A) to bomb on outside of him. In tough away games, we’d tend to use a winger on that side.
Then in January came a name that I’m sure is all too familiar if you went all the way through the previous update…
Return of the Jeff
Mr. Jefferson Chelles is back with a vengeance. Only 22 starts in 3 years for PSG after his £68m move meant he found himself in the reserves. They eventually transfer listed him and at £7.5m I wasn’t going to say now.
He scored 16 in his six months since being back; only one less than in those 3 years at PSG. I love having him about but it’s highly likely he’ll be gone again this Summer. We needed a goalscoring boost and he provided it, but at age 29 he’s again in selling territory. Part of me hopes PSG take a punt at £25m+.
There’s a few other players that we’ll probably sell on too, as they’re reaching prime age.
But also, for the second time, the council have been utter bastards.
GIVE ME MY SHINY NEW STADIUM
Our bank balance has drifted above £1bn but now I’ve resigned myself to the fact that we’re not going to get a new stadium. The plan for the save is to finish once Robert Wechner hangs up his boots, and it seems incredibly unlikely that it’ll be built in that time.
So there’s a chance we may just go all-out on creating a mega-team to make his final few years as successful as possible. Why not?