Unemployed, Unskilled & Inexperienced: S9 Ep 1 – Going for Europe!

Welcome back all to Season 9 of this incredible journey. We’re approaching a decade of seasons in this challenge and I think there may be another decade left for us yet as we start to approach the more elite levels of professional football. Remember the goal of this challenge is to take charge of one of the big boys (Manchester United, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, etc) and lead them to Champions League glory.

For now though we head into Season 9 of this challenge off the back of a fantastic season last time out, although it was frustrating towards the end I must admit. We finished 8th and runners up in the FA Cup, both of which were phenomenal achievements considering what was happening at the same stage the year before, when we joined the club in February and managed to complete the greatest of escapes from relegation on the final day.

However finishing so close and yet so far from a European spot, both through the league and FA Cup, was hard to take. Yet when I had time to reflect I realised that we as a squad were not ready for European football yet, but there is no doubt in my mind that this season that would be the aim. We are going for Europa League football so need to aim to finish between 5th-7th in the league or win one of the domestic cups.

We’re not predicted to finish there but I’m convinced with some smart recruitment we could potentially sneak in. Anyway enough talking, let’s get on with the first episode of season 9 shall we? As always I will take you through the incoming and outgoing transfers, season preview & predictions, some interesting updates from the club and the first month of the season.



Surprise surprise it’s another busy transfer window for me! It started early as well with 8 players joining at the end of last season before we officially moved over to this season. You may recognise one of the names on the list…

We took advantage of a £7m release clause in Shaun Holden’s contract to bring in the Northern Irish AM/ST from Vancouver. Those of you who are long term readers of this challenge should remember Sergio Quezada (RB) from our time with Stoke, and what a signing he is for us! He had a £45m relegation release clause so unfortunately I thought we wouldn’t be able to get him, but he then handed in a transfer request and despite having a value of £20m Stoke had agreed to let him leave for £5.5m. Bargain!

Mexican goalkeeper Martin Perez then followed through the doors. At the time we still had Stojkovic as our first choice but he was being heavily linked with big clubs so I decided to act fast and get Perez in, and for only £10m he is a great keeper for now and still has significant potential. He almost immediately filled be with confidence as he won the best keeper award at the Olympics:

Danny Taylor (CB) was an odd signing, my scout (who has 20 JPA & JPP) was insistent that he would be a great signing, he’s 2 star but has 3.5 star ability, the only thing that made me a bit unsure was the fact he is 22 years old. I nearly decided against it but for £1.6m I thought it was worth a punt. Rodrigo Gomes (RW/CAM/LW) was another one who my scouts were raving about, and with his ability to play anywhere across my more advanced midfield three, plus with his potential, it was an easy decision to bring him in.

Lucas Alvarez (ST) was a different type of striker to what we had at the club and I’m hoping with his mix of pace, dribbling and finishing he can contribute effectively in the season ahead. Adrian Pirla (CM/CAM) reminds me of a young Santi Cazorla with his flair, teamwork & vision attributes. If he can develop in other areas he could be a real magician to bring off the bench if we’re struggling to break teams down.

Finally the signing of Jan Kolbas (RB) for £825k is probably my favourite of the window. We tracked him for 12 months but couldn’t sign him due to the rule of not signing more than 6 under 21 players from abroad in one season, and unfortunately while we had to wait all the big clubs from around the world started to discover his talent.

Fortunately for us, despite him having offers from Inter Milan, Valencia and other massive clubs, he clearly valued our interest as he chose to continue his career with us. He needed some convincing after the work permit was rejected but we got it over the line and with 10 caps for his country at 18 years of age I have no doubt the work permit won’t be far away. Check out all of the players we brought in at the end of last season using the arrows below:

However those 8 signings were just a warm up for another 9 to follow when we got into the proper transfer window for the upcoming season. There were some very shrewd deals completed but we also smashed our record transfer fee for this journey so far.

Tiago Palma (RB/LB) for £1.3m is incredible business considering his ability and versatility. I returned to Red Star yet again to bring in Slavko Krulj (CDM/CM) who I have no doubt will go on to become one of the best central midfielders in the division, £7m is an absolute snip for him.

18 year old Ruben Mina (LW/CAM) on a free may be the best bit of business we have ever done if he reaches the potential he is predicted to get too. If he is going to be rivalled by anyone as our best bit of business ever then it’s going to Ondrej Cech (CAM) for £64k. Great work from my scouts to find both of these youngsters for such a small outlay.

Dragoslav Subert (CB) joined the squad in a £4.6m deal, which again I have no doubt will prove to be another bargain. Our next deal was the most amount of money we have ever spent on one signing during this journey! 19 year old wonderkid Darko Kelava (ST) had offers from a whole host of massive teams across the world, however he decided Crystal Palace was the best place for his development at this time and despite the £20m outlay I have no doubt we will make double or triple that within 2 or 3 seasons.

Back to Red Star for yet another bargain! 18 year old Predrag Joksimovic (CB) is already rated 3.5 star and we got him for just £900k. My scouting team are a thing of beauty they really are. However just like they did with Danny Taylor towards the end of last season, they threw me another curve ball with Derrick Ofori, he possesses great versatility but at 23 years old and only 2 star rated I wouldn’t have even thought about a move for him.

However my scouts were raving about him, suggesting a 4.5 star potential, so just as I did with Danny Taylor, I thought for such a minimal fee (£2.2m) it was worth having a punt. As you can see from the player profiles below, we have already sent him out on loan to Portsmouth for the season. The final signing was Lilo Guarneri (GK), a keeper who is 2.5 star rated with untapped potential, only 26 years old, £350k release clause and happy to be 2nd choice. Ideal signing which allowed our more youthful keepers to leave on loan for some first team experience.

Check out the additional 9 players signed below and let me know who you think will be the best addition to the squad in the comments!

Outgoings – Transfers

With 17 players coming in we had to ship a few out, and we managed to ship 10 players out on permanent deals.

The majority of these players were fringe squad or even reserve players. In fact all of them were except for Milan Stojkovic, but ultimately we managed to get rid of a bunch of players who were not in consideration for first team action for around £20m. As you can see the concern I had earlier in the transfer window regarding the high level of interest in Milan Stojkovic (GK), the concern that pushed me to sign Martin Perez, proved to come to light as AC Milan bid a huge some and Stojkovic let it be known that he wanted the opportunity to join the Italian giants.

Can’t blame him really, and after some negotiation with AC Milan we settled on a £45m fee as well as 50% of the profit on his next sale. Considering we signed him for only £3.5m 12 months ago, and he is still only 23 years of age, I think this could prove to be a very lucrative deal for Crystal Palace long after my time here.

Outgoings – Loans

As well as the 10 players shipped out on permanent deals we also managed to find loan spells for 12 players.

Rob Pucknell (RB) & Danny Taylor (CB) are around 2 seasons away from first team football. FC Nantes have a £3.5m optional future fee on Noel Rainsford (CB) and if they don’t activate it he will be sold next summer.

Andres Abu (LB) & Leandro Pias (GK) are good enough to be backup players in the first team squad now but I would rather let them go out on loan and get regular game time to develop as players. Paterne Lomboto (CAM) is another one who is probably around 2 seasons away from being a first team player with us, but I’m keen to see how he gets on at a club playing Champions League football this season.

Yann Gboho (LW/CAM/RW) never lived up to what I thought he was going to be unfortunately, my only signing from Red Star that hasn’t worked out as of yet. He leaves on loan with a mandatory future fee of £9m which is another good piece of business for us. Andre Fredericks is way off the first team, I’m not sure he’ll make it but he’ll need regular games to have any chance so off the Vanarama National League he goes!

Miguel Beron (CAM) is going to be a very important player for us but we couldn’t ship enough players out and he wasn’t going to get the games he needs so he’s off to play in the Eredivisie & Champions League with PSV this season. Similar situation with Shaun Holden, could have stayed in and around the first team but I would rather he has regular games to reach his potential, particularly as he adapts to english football following his move from the MLS.

As explained earlier Derrick Ofori will be an interesting one. I am not expecting him to reach first team level but my scouts are absolutely convinced so we’ll see how he gets on with Pompey. Finally Philip Mcloughlin, who is going to be our first choice goalkeeper for many many years in the future, again easily could have been our 3rd choice keeper for the season but I would much rather he gets regular first team action so he’s going to spend this season at Loftus Road.

Transfer Summary

We signed 17 players for £78.5m and sold 10 players for £64m, which means for the first time in this journey we spent more in a transfer window than we made! Having said that with the mandatory fee of £9m coming in for Gboho and the potential £3.5m for Noel Rainsford we have pretty much broke even.

However I was frustrated we couldn’t ship more players out of the team as we now have about 7 or 8 players who are rated between 2.5 – 3 star who are not going to see much first team football this season. I am expecting that they will want to leave in January but until then we may have a few unhappy campers in the squad.

The Premier League roundup is below, no surprise as we were the most active team in the window, meanwhile Liverpool were the biggest spenders with £206m. You can see from the money spent by the big clubs on individual deals that it’s no wonder they all have absolutely ridiculous squads! We are a long way from their level but if we can start to get European football at Selhurst Park, along with the increased revenue from the stadium expansion then who knows, one day we might be able to hold our own alongside them.

The Premier League is way out in front in terms of the highest spending league… £1bn ahead of La Liga, the next division. It’s crazy money here and everyone is just trying to compete! I am still proud to say that we are doing our best to stay true to our roots and not get carried away with huge fees, I think I’m doing a pretty good job to be honest.

Season Preview

Ahead of the new Premier League season there were a few bits of news that caught the eye…

We sit 11th in the wage expenditure table, which again I’m proud of, but to be honest we need to trim it a little bit by getting rid of the 7 or 8 players who are on good wages but are not going to get any games. Hopefully by the end of January we will have dropped a few more places to get closer to our humble roots.

Speaking of our humble roots there was a mention of the JD Cymru Premier in the competition rankings list…

For those of you who don’t know my first job in this challenge was with Llanelli Town in the JD Cymru South so now that we sit here as a manager in the best competition in the world, it’s a nice reminder of what we have been through to get here.

Anyway let’s look ahead to the football this season:

Man Utd will be looking to retain the title but with the quality of the squads in the top 6 anyone could win it! It will be interesting to see how the promoted sides get on, particularly Middlesbrough, who you may remember offered me a job before I joined Crystal Palace, and if you have a very good memory you will recall they are tycoon rich following a takeover. So I’m sure significant investment has gone in to make that squad premier league ready.

Ahead of the season the board set out their expectations for us as a club this season…

They’re looking for us to finish mid table, however you all know that my personal aim is to try and get Europa League football here next season. If we were to finish in the top half again it would be another successful season for me but I would love to sneak into European qualification if possible.

In the cups they’re looking for us to go quite far in both, which is fair enough given our great performances last season. In terms of media & pundit predictions we are predicted to finish 11th, but like I said anything other than a top half finish would be a failure for me.

August 2028

Right then after that hectic transfer window and build up, let’s get on with the football! 4 League games int he first month as well as a Carabao Cup 2nd round tie to contend with. Ahh it’s nice to be back with all the promise and optimism that comes with the opening of a new league season!

Great start! Fortunate run of fixtures as we hosted 2 of the 3 promoted sides, but you can only beat what’s in front of you and we did that for the majority.

A fantastic opening day saw us thrash Nottingham Forest 4-0, with our record signing in this challenge Darko Kelava scoring a debut goal. Hopefully a sign of things to come! We followed that up with an extremely impressive 3-0 win away at the London Stadium in front of the cameras, Kelava scoring again and Stamatovic getting his 3rd in 2 games. Martin Perez also pulled off a string of saves to keep the clean sheet, no less than 9 in fact in a man of the match performance.

We were back at Stamford Bridge (our temporary home whilst building work is being completed on Selhurst Park) for another game against one of the promoted sides, this time it was tycoon rich Middlesbrough. Fortunately this was not a pay-to-win and we battered them, 2 more goals for Darko Kelava making it 4 in the opening 3 for the 19 year old wonderkid. A nice opportunity to rotate the squad came next as we faced Bristol Rovers in the Carabao Cup, the lack of match sharpness for some of these boys didn’t seem to matter as the superior quality shone through.

Our final game of the month was at home against Leicester, but the curse against them in the league continues for us. We are yet to beat them as Crystal Palace manager if my memory serves me correct and we lost both fixtures in the league to them last season before our FA Cup Semi Final victory over them helped heal the wounds. At least we managed to take a point from the game against them this time round.

So how does the table look after the opening 4 games and month of the season?

Well… the table below is from the opening 5 games as I forgot to screenshot it at the end of August, but we won our first game of September as you can see (but more on that in next episode).

Blimey… getting vertigo from being this high up! Not sure it will last mind as it’s fair to say we haven’t had the hardest opening 5 games. Once all the big boys start coming thick and fast I’m sure we’ll be back down to mid table in no time! However like I said before, you can only beat what’s put in front of you, and we have done that so far with the exception of Leicester.

It was an exceptional month for a couple of our players there’s no doubt about that, and Darko Kelava looks to be repaying the £20m investment in him already as he scooped up young player of the month, with Darko Stamatovic finishing runner up.

On a personal note, were also awarded runner up (or joint winner when looking at the points) in the manager of the month awards. Always nice to get some recognition and who knows, maybe a chief executive at a big club is watching on…

Club Updates

If you read the last episode you would have seen a piece I did at the end about the importance of investing in your clubs infrastructure if you want them to be sustainable in their progression both whilst you’re at the helm and long after you’re gone.

With that in mind I saw a couple of bits of news come through to the inbox that made me excited for when the stadium expansion is complete and also for what the future might hold for Crystal Palace if we can sneak into a European slot this season.

As you can see in terms of commercial income we are right down at the bottom of the league. Now you might see this as a negative, but I’m thinking that if we can achieve 8th place finishes and FA Cup finals at the moment, imagine what this club can do once the expansion is complete and with ties to European Football. If we can start pushing up the rankings here we know we’re heading in the right direction.

It’s a similar story when it comes to match day revenue…

Again down the bottom end of the league. The stadium capacity increasing to 40,000 will help us out no end on this front. Both of these statistics show that as long as the performances on the pitch maintain a certain standard, we have a significant amount of potential to grow. If anything with the club performing how it is now this is a significant investment opportunity… and would you believe it, as soon as I started thinking that very thought, almost right on cue this came through the inbox:

The board were quick to shut it down however…

But something tells me there is more in this one yet. Only time will tell but with the right investor this club has all the foundations to challenge the very best in this division.

What’s Next?

Up next will be the months of September, October & November as we build up to the busy festive period. Can we build on the great start to the season we’ve had and continue our fine form to keep us amongst the very best in the division? Find out in the next episode!

Don’t forget you can subscribe below to have updates sent directly to your email so you know as soon as an episode is released! As always if you have any thoughts, tips or feedback leave them in the comments below or get in touch with us through our contact page or social media (Twitter @DP_FM_) – we’d love to hear from you! If you’re enjoying then make sure you like this post and share with others from the FM Community.

While you’re here on DP-FM if you want to follow more challenges go over to Scott’s (the co-author of this site) challenge where he is on a journey to rebuild Bolton Wanderers and take them on a Europa League run! Click here for the first ever episode or here for the latest one.

To check out The Far East Express series click here for the preview, here for the first episode and here for Season 3 (managed by me). I promise you it will be nothing like any other Football Manager Challenge you have seen before!

Thank you for reading and supporting us. As always please keep safe during these difficult times and we’ll see you again soon!

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