Come on Derby, let’s go party! (Season 1, Part A)

Prologue

It’s 4:52pm on a cold December afternoon in 2017. I’ve just witnessed my Derby County team get ripped apart by a struggling Stoke City side in a Championship game. Kelechi Iheanacho has just scored a consolation but I fail to even acknowledge the goal. As my son attempts to climb onto my head, reality kicks in. I’m sat at my computer desk, with an incredibly tea-stained mug to the right and a pixelated, slimmer version of myself on the screen ahead of me with his head in his hands. I know how you feel, pal. I’m, of course, playing Football Manager 2016.

I’ve never written about my Football Manger exploits in the past but it’s at this point that I put pen to paper/fingers to keyboard as I’m hoping that typing up how I got to this dreadful low point in my Derby career would help me get the team out of this mess. This is how it all started..

My go-to club to take control of on the management simulation game is ordinarily Manchester United, the team I have supported all of my life. It gives me a feel of the game before I go off and start a new save with a smaller club where it becomes infinitely more difficult to meet the board’s demands. But this time, I fancied jumping straight into it. There was no logic behind it, I was just inspired by the writings of various people I follow on twitter and fancied having a go at it myself before finding out the secrets to winning in this new version. Why Derby County? Young squad, big club and I don’t dislike them. So, let’s go.

Pre-season/transfer window

I’m a man who likes his Football Manager saves to be as realistic as possible and I start the save at the beginning of the 2016/17 season after Derby had narrowly missed out on the play-offs under Paul Clement. I immediately set to work on revamping the coaching team, asking for upgrades on training and youth facilities (these renovations are sadly rejected) and asking for more scouts to improve the knowledge of players across the globe.

I then begin to look at my squad. Having read Moneyball and Soccernomics I should’ve been less hasty in overturning the squad and given chances for players to prove themselves. But like a wrecking ball I put the majority of my first team squad up for sale and am more than happy to listen to offers for the better ones. Will Hughes is the subject of a £6m bid from FC Porto but I hold out for £7.5m and the wonderkid secures his move to Portugal. West Brom call on Tom Ince and the unsettled winger is let go for a fee potentially rising to £8.25m. Bradley Johnson and Jacob Butterfield are wanted by Sunderland and Big Sam gets his men for a combined fee of £7.75m. George Thorne and Craig Bryson are packed off to Norwich for fees rising to £6.25m. My main striker Chris Martin is moved onto Watford for £4m in what can only be described as a cold play from me (sorry). Johnny Russell, Simon Dawkins, Craig Forsyth, Ryan Shotton and Chris Baird are also sold for a combined £2m. I’m left with a squad bereft of central midfielders (except for my prize asset Jeff Hendrick) and yet, the board make only just over half of the near-£26m available to me.

I immediately bring through Jamie Hanson, Farrend Rawson and Timi Elsnik from the Under 21s and sign a couple of players on free transfers in order to beef up the squad. After the release of Scott Carson, my priority is to look for a keeper and my scouts do some fabulous work to find Karl-Johan Johnsson for half a million pounds and Mickey van der Hart on a free from PEC Zwolle. Ben Mee comes from Burnley for £1.3m, whilst Reece Oxford comes from West Ham on loan. My scouts find a potential diamond in Morten Thorsby and his signature is secured for £1.5m. Manchester United surprisingly accept my cheeky offer of £2.5m for Jesse Lingard. I mercilessly chase Aron Gunnarson from Cardiff and eventually they accept an offer of £3.5m up front and £2.5m in add-ons depending on appearances and promotion. Ravel Morrison is brought in on loan from Lazio and Zach Clough is signed from Bolton for £4m up front with add-ons. And my biggest coup is the signing of Robert Muric from Ajax for £4.4m. He will be the player that I will build my team around as we head toward the Premier League. I get most of this business done before the 1st August so that we have a week before the season starts.

Having decided to write this 18 in-game months after my appointment, I cannot retrieve my formation/team that I had decided on so, here is the first XI (played in a 4–2–3–1 Wide formation) — Johnsson, Christie, Oxford, Shackell, Mee, Gunnarson, Hendrick, Muric, Ravel, Lingard, Clough

Pre-season’s main focus has been on fitness. I want to try and make sure that the second half of the season is the time that we shine most whilst we go through what I expect to be a transitional first 23 league games. Pre-season friendly results are a mixed bag as we go on a tour of France’s second tier.

I find out that the club only has the 16th highest salary per annum but is the fourth favourite for the Championship title. The board are expecting a play-off place at the bare minimum. I’m scared. So, with a mix of nerves and optimism, I head into the 2016/17 Championship season.

Expect the next installment of this story tomorrow.