#IBWM100 on Football Manager – Season Five with Ajax


 
Yes, that is Ajax and Belgium wonderkid Van Van Tung.

It’s been a few months. A few glorious months of revelling in the glory of being a Champions League winner with an Ajax team filled with members of the IBWM100; and if you are reading this – then it is safe to say that I’m back to keep things going and ideally, establish this team as a great side of European football. With Football Manager 2017 looming and the new #IBWM100 soon to be on the way, I want to bring this story to an end as soon as possible.

You may have already enjoyed the first four seasons of this story. If not, they can be found here – Season One – 2015/16, Season Two – 2016/17 and Season Three – 2017/18 and Season Four – 2018/19. Feel free to take some time to go back and read through them as I sign players from a list of only 100 and try to turn them into European giants.

If you aren’t all that bothered about catching up then all you need to know is this. Using only the In Bed With Maradona list of 100 Young Players to watch in 2016 and whatever youth products are churned out of the Ajax system, I am attempting to conquer Europe. In season’s one, two and three, we struggled but everything fell nicely into place last year and we went all the way in Europe’s premier competition. However with an average age in the squad somewhere around 23 I couldn’t help but feel I wanted more from the team. To put that into actual goals, a couple of Champions League victories; mostly so that my legacy as a giant of the game can be cemented

It is all ego that is fuelling me now and as such – we’re back for Season Five. With a nod to Iain Macintosh over on The Set Pieces, I’ll be guiding you through the 2019/20 season month-by-month.

AC Milan and Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma

 
Summer Transfers: Being European champions and still only part of the 10th best league in Europe basically means my squad is filled with a host of transfer values and estimates that ultimately do not reflect the true worth of the players involved. As you would expect, I spent much of the close season trying to avoid selling my best players – which isn’t a change from norm but they were noticeably a lot more clubs sniffing around. I did my best with the big names in the squad – Ajer, Tah, #V2T and Druissi – when offers arrived for them, but I fucked it with Richairo Zivkovic.

I said the wrong thing at the wrong time and ended up backed into a corner by the rest of the squad. I accepted £16 million from Frank De Boer’s Schalke for Zivkovic – and made my peace with the fact that he had spent 15-20% of the last two seasons injured so it was right to let him move on. He was the only player of my best XI that I ended up selling. Daley Sinkgraven – unable to wrestle either of the double pivot roles away from Julian Weigl or Kristoffer Ajer – headed to Lyon for £5 million and Almamy Toure headed for Hoffenheim in a £5 million deal after failing to get the regular football he deserved. We also said goodbye to Bartosz Kapustka, who joined Heerenveen.

In the other direction there was only one transfer of note. Kenny Tete – a product of the Ajax academy having been with the club since the age of 10 – returned to the club after time away at Tottenham and Juventus. We sold him for £13.25 million at the end of season one and brought him as a better player for £14 million. Fine by me. There were also a number of smaller deals that bolstered the overall squad after a number of youth players departed, including the return of Abdelhak Nouri from Arsenal for just £2.5 million – a buy back clause worked nicely in my favour and a string of youth signings by the Director of Football and the Head of Youth Development. The club also unveiled World Cup winner Iker Casillas as a new coach, after he had spent time with both Swansea and Clermont Foot after two years at Porto.

August: Having won the Champions League in June, I made the decision to allow the team a longer off season than normal. Pre-season was shortened to give them more time on the beach after a pretty amazing campaign, and when they returned the focus was made clear – do it all again.

However when we stuttered a penalty shoot-out victory over Twente in the Dutch Super Cup I wondered if I had been foolish to extend the holidays of the players. Thankfully my concerns were eased with a confident 3-1 win over Valencia in the European Super Cup. We scored early, soaked up pressure and then hit them twice on the break to lift another trophy and roll into the season with a lot of confidence. Three wins from four in the Eredivisie got the league season off to a solid start.

Celtic and Norway midfielder Kristoffer Ajer

 
September: Pretty solid; all told. Three wins and a draw from four games in the Eredivisie saw us ease into top spot in the league, we opened our Champions League group with a 0-0 draw away at Valencia and Go Ahead Eagles were dispatched in the Dutch Cup by a second-string team.

Pleasingly Kristoffer Ajer delivered a string of confident performances in midfield and Luka Jovic chipped in with four goals as he cemented his place as the main striker in the squad.

October: A 2-0 win over Young Boys on the 2nd got the month off to a decent start and it was followed up with an encouraging 3-3 draw against Manchester United two weeks later. Anthony Martial scored an equaliser in the 92nd minute, so I tried not to sweat it too much.

In the league, a 2-2 draw with Utrecht in the aftermath of the Young Boys win were the only dropped points as we took seven from nine, and swept Rijnsburgse Boys aside in the Dutch Cup.

November: Another seven points from a possible nine in the league kept us out in front of the chasing pack, thanks to a slew of goals from around the team.

However, in the Champions League the wheels came bouncing off as we went down 0-1 away at Manchester United and then shipped another late goal to lose 1-2 at home to Valencia.

December: Heading into the final game of the Champions League group stages, away at Young Boys, we needed a win to advance into the last 16. A draw might have been enough if Valencia and Manchester United shared the spoils in their game. Thankfully, they did.

Unfortunately we did not get the result we needed.

Sometimes I act like an arrogant bell-end and I’m not completely sure why. Away to Young Boys I decided that we’d coast past and so, I fielded a weaker team (prioritising the Club World Cup like no-one ever before me). Bartlomiej Dragowski, Ricardo van Rhijn, Adam Masina, Matias Sarue, Lucas Anderson and Federico Bernardeschi were all given a chance to impress me and they failed. Young Boys won 3-1 and we fell into the Europa League.

Thankfully we dusted ourselves down to the win the Club World Cup 11 days later.

In the league, we secured 10 points from 12 that included a pleasing 4-1 demolition of Twente.

January: We kicked off the year with a re-arranged Dutch Cup against AZ. I dragged the lads off the beach, watched them win 2-0 and then drove them back to the airport myself happy with their evenings work. The league re-started on the 26th with a 1-0 win over Heracles and we followed that with a 1-0 win over Excelsior on the 29th.

In the transfer market I kicked off the month by agreeing the bosman signing of a certain Alen Halilovic. In the days that followed, Bayern arrived at my door with a £23 million offer for a slightly mis-firing Leon Baily and after checking with Barcelona that £950,000 would be enough to get Halilovic early, both deals went through on January 5th.

Phakamani Mahlambi departed for NEC on a permanent deal after failing to make any impression on the Ajax first team.

Halilovic was followed in by the £21 million signing of Viktor Fischer from Tottenham Hotspur. It was around this time that it looked like Van Van Tung was readying himself to force his way out of the club, so I signed Fischer as eventual cover for him or Sebastian Driussi who I expected to be the next big name to leave.

To balance the books slightly, I let Frenkie De Jong who went to Borussia Monchengladbach.

To end the month, we agreed another Bosman signing – a certain Emre Can – and agreed a deal with AS Monaco for Kristoffer Ajer that would see him move at the end of the season for £35 million. Or so I thought.

Hamburg and Barcelona midfielder Alen Halilovic

 
February: Apparently the French transfer window doesn’t close on January 31st like the rest of Europe and so two days after we started February with a 2-0 win over PSV, Monaco faxed through the contracts for Ajer’s immediate transfer to the club.

Martyn Glover – my Director of Football – got to the fax machine before me and signed on the dotted line. The board had told him that we apparently couldn’t turn down the offer as it had triggered Ajer’s release clause.

Shit.

With Ajer and Frenkie De Jong gone from my midfield options and no way to force through an early deal for Can, I promoted wonderkid regen Nikola Simic from the Jong Ajax squad slightly before him time and set about trying to convince both Halilovic and Fischer that they would enjoy playing a game or two in the double pivot positions.

In the league, we weirdly played five times in February – strange for such a short month – and came away with three wins, one draw and one defeat. That defeat came in the middle of our Europa League clash with Tottenham so I was happy to forgive the second string side that I sent out to face Roda.

How did the Spurs games go? Pretty well thank you very much. 3-2 home in the first leg was followed up with a dogged 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane. Sebastian Driussi’s first minute goal in the second leg went a long way to settling the team down.

March: Four wins from four in the league, 11 goals scored and only two conceded left us basically on the verge of glory. Having lost only twice all season in the league, we looked to be coasting and I was able to focus the team on Europa League glory – and potentially doing a Chelsea.

Our opponents in Europe were Inter Milan and after a brilliant 1-0 counter-attacking win away in Italy (just 36% possesstion – *crying with laughter emoji*) we picked them off at home and romped away in the final 10 minutes to win 3-1 on the night, 4-1 on aggregate.

An extra-time win over PSV in the Dutch Cup took us into the final – to face VVV in April.

April: Despite being heavy favourites and out shooting VVV by 14-4 (not actually as many as I would have liked), it wasn’t to be and we lost the Dutch Cup 0-1. I kept faith with a host of the fringe players that had got the team as far as the final, but they didn’t play well enough to claim the prize.

VVV were deserving winners on the day (and for the second year in a row they became the team to knock us out of the Dutch Cup).

Elsewhere, two wins and a draw from three games wrapped up the league title and we eventually cruised past Trabzonspor 6-2 on aggregate after playing out a 2-2 draw at their place in the first leg. Three goals in the opening 30 minutes of the home leg quickly ended the tie.

The month ended with the first leg of our Europa League semi-final against Everton; and it went brilliantly. We scored four times and effectively ended the tie at the half way stage.

May: The final two league matches were used primarily to keep important players fit. We won both to finish the season with 84 points (P34 W26 D6 L2), a cool 22 ahead of Vitesse in second place.

In Europe, we took a 0-2 lead at Goodison Park in the second leg and though the home side did bag two late goals we were coasting for the majority of the game.

That left us with a trip to the VELTINS-Arena for the Europa League final against heavy favourites Manchester City.

They lined up with a star-studded line-up boasting Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Maximillan Meyer, Renato Sanches, Hirbing Lozano, Ricardo Rodriguez and Radja Nainggolan, and they were ultimately too good for us.

We had 14 shots to their nine. We had 61% possession. But they scored one goal, and we didn’t manage any. Harry Kane netted in the 10th minute and then Unai Emery’s side shifted their shape so they could soak up our pressure but remain dangerous on the break.

It was the same tactic that had suited us so well during the previous season, and we had no answer. We couldn’t find a way through and we ultimately lost our second cup final of the season 0-1.

So close and yet so far.

Oh, did I mention that the 2021 Champions League final is set to be played at the Amsterdam Arena?

River Plate and Argentina forward Sebastian Driussi

 
Kristoffer Ajer 24 appearances, 7 goals, 5 assists, 5 player of the match, 1 yellow card, 7.85 average rating

A 7.85 rating before he was signed away for £35 million should tell you everything you need to know about the season Kristoffer Ajer was having. One of the first signings I made, he enjoyed an excellent three and a half years at the club before being tempted away by a triggered release clause, big money wages and a more competitive league.

Goran Karačić 35(1) apps, 45 goals conceded, 7 clean sheets, 6.59 avg (on loan at FC Emmen)

His time at Ajax is up. He wasn’t good enough to challenge for a regular spot when he arrived and has been surpassed by Gianluigi Donnarumm and recent youth signing Christian Colcado, who looks very promising. He had a very good season with Emmen in the Jupiler League and my hope is that an Eredivisie team will take him off my hands this summer. I’m only interested in a permanent move now.

Bartłomiej Drągowski 14 apps, 15 gls con, 5 cln shts, 6.89 avg

At some stage the loan deal to keep brining Bartłomiej to the club for a season had to end, and with the Polish youngster eager to play regularly for a club side and for his national team we decided it was best to make 2020/21 his last in Amsterdam. I’ll miss him and never forget his efforts in the cup competitions of late but the number one jersey belongs to Donnarumma now.

Héctor Villalba 9(14) apps, 3 gls, 3 assts, 1 pom, 7.11 avg

Still manages to pop up with the odd important goal but after a barren run to begin the season I’ve started to prefer Bernardeschi as the regular back-up for the wide players. As such Villalba’s role has become more limited. Though I like him he isn’t deserving of more game time that he is currently getting. Interestingly he made the switch from Argentina to Paraguay this season and picked a couple of international caps for his efforts.

Andreas Christensen 35(4) apps, 2 gls, 5 yellow, 7.02 avg

The weaker of my two regular centre-backs I started to rotate Andreas out from time-to-time to give a few of the youngsters playing time. He still played in all of the big games but if a decent sum is offered for him, I may have to think twice about it. I don’t know if I’m the cause of him plateauing or if it is just him, but unfortunately for the lad – I’m not going anywhere.

Julian Weigl 38(4) apps, 1 gl, 5 assts, 1 pom, 16 yellow, 7.19 avg

Julian has become the master of the cynical yellow card, clipping the heels of a forward around the centre circle just as they think a counter attack might be on the cards. Easily the best defensive midfielder in the squad and will stay that way even when Emre Can walks through the door. The deparutre of Ajer makes him more vital to the team.

Sebastián Driussi 42(8) apps, 11 gls, 4 assts, 2 pom, 2 yellow, 7.27 avg

It wasn’t quite the same season as 2018/19 but that’s okay. Driussi remains an important creative force in this team and one that won’t last the summer. As I watched the European Championship Final play out at Wembley, an official from Real Madrid tapped me on the shoulder and I knew it wasn’t to check if I still wanted the job as manager. He’s far too good for the Eredivisie and I’ll be hugely surprised (though massively thrilled to) if he remains with the club.

Jonathan Tah 48 apps, 1 gl, 4 assts, 2 pom, 11 yellow, 7.44 avg

Once again, one of the best and most consistent performers at the club. Tah marshalls the defence and assumed the role as club vice captain when Ajer left. Given that Ricardo van Rhijn is now a fringe player behind Kenny Tete, that basically means Tah leads the team out more often than not.

Gianluigi Donnarumma 45 apps, 34 gls con, 20 cln shts, 6.86 avg

For the last two (maybe three?) years there has been no question that Gianluigi has been the best goalkeeper at the club. He has been a regular in the Italy squad all season long – though he has only won two caps so far – and has done a very decent job of keeping clean sheets in almost 50% of the games he played last season. Given how attacking I like the team to be, that’s pretty good.

Phakamani Mahlambi No appearances

Didn’t play a single minute before moving to NEC in January on a permanent deal. I don’t think I ever believed he was going to be good enough but with the links that Ajax had I knew he’d do just fine after spending a few years learning from our coaches. Towards the end of the season it appeared as though he’d established himself in the NEC side.

Luka Jovic 38(6) apps, 30 gls, 6 assts, 5 pom, 2 yellow, 7.41 avg

Where Zivkovic left off as the man leading the line in this team, Luka has picked up and run with it. Scored 30 goals across all competitions with 10 of those coming from 15 appearances in Europe. He picked up the top goalscorer award in the league (19 goals) and may have scored more if I’d played him more in the Dutch Cup. Still only 22 and going nowhere.

Federico Bernardeschi 18(13) apps, 6 gls, 4 assts, 2 pom, 2 yellow, 7.16 avg

Started the finish as the third choice in a couple of positions but thanks to a string of decent performances he appears to have ousted a couple of rivals. He can play on the left or right wing which means he is almost always named on the bench as cover for Van Van Tung and/or Alen Halilovic. Scored a couple of important goals including the extra-time winner versus PSV.

Duje Caleta–Car 35(1) apps, 1 gl, 2 yellow, 6.98 avg (on loan at AZ)

Another player that will probably see himself leaving Ajax this summer if someone makes a decent bid for him. Whereas he was seen a back-up option during pre-season, the progression of some youth players such as Matthijs de Ligt means he has quickly dropped down the pecking order. A decent Eredivisie player but we are way above that now.

Ludwig Augustinsson 45(3) apps, 1 gl, 9 assts, 1 pom, 1 yellow, 1 red, 7.39 avg

Rarely gets beaten in defence. Rarely picks up a booking. Loves to overlap Van Van Tung and create space. Ludwig Augustinsson had a near perfect season as my regular left-back. He was rarely caught of position by the attacking team which meant few chances were ever created down that side. My only worry is that I have no-one who can replace him right now.

Kevin Diks 33 apps, 2 gls, 3 assts, 7 yellow, 1 red, 6.96 avg (on loan at Maccabi Tel-Aviv)

Kevin has every right to curse Kenny Tete’s name. Instead of spending the year cementing himself as the right-back in this Ajax side, he was shipped off to Israel. The opportunity to sign Tete wasn’t planned but after he was put on the transfer list, it seemed silly not to upgrade. Diks can hold out hope that van Rhijn isn’t going to leave forever but he’ll has a tough task playing Tete out of the side.

Leon Bailey 17(6) apps, 7 gls, 4 assts, 1 pom, 2 yellow, 7.33 avg

On the face of it, Leon Bailey was an excellent signing and I was probably foolish to let him go. But for the money that Bayern spent on him I was able to pay the transfer fees of both Viktor Fischer and Alen Halilovic – decent returns in my estimation. A really good player, Bailey had a pretty decent season before he left.

Alen Halilovic 18(5) apps, 7 gls, 4 assts, 2 pom, 1 yellow, 7.45 avg

Arrived in the wake of Bailey’s departure and made the right wing all of his own. He is capable of playing around the midfield and at times he was shoved into other places due to injury or suspension, but was at his best on the right. Assumed set-piece duties pretty quickly after joining and picked up a few goals and assists as a result. I’m stupidly pleased he only cost £950,000.

Anyone for a Van Van Tung update? Go on then.


 
44(5) appearances, 14 goals, 25 assists, 9 player of the match, 7.58 average rating

It is safe to say that #V2T had another strong year as he continued to establish himself as one of the best players – if not, THE best – in my squad. Having won the Eredivisie Young Player of the Year award in 2018/19, he followed it up with another victory in 2019/20 and added the European Golden Boy trophy for good measure (previous winners in real-life include Paul Pogba, Raheem Sterling and Anthony Martial which puts him in decent company). Whereas others struggled to match their levels from our Champions League winning campaign, Van Tung went from strength-to-strength and is pretty crucial to our success now.

Unsurprisingly he is a regular in the Belgium team and boasts Manchester United as long term admirers of his work. We’ll have to sell him eventually but given that he is only 20 right now I expect we’ll see him in an Ajax shirt for another couple of years.

Big thanks to Twitter dot com’s @JonnyGabriel for creating the #V2T image used above.

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