Unemployed, Unskilled & Inexperienced: S9 Ep 3 – Our First Major Trophy?!?

Right then ladies and gentlemen, this is going to be a mammoth episode so I wan’t to get straight into it. All I will say is trust me… you will want to read until the very end!

Last time out we went through the months of September, October & November 2028. Takeover rumours were still rife throughout the pre-festive period but the boys didn’t look like they were taking much notice as we were sat in 4th place at the end of November after 15 games.

In this one we will go through the months of December 2028, January & February 2029. The schedule is packed over the festive period, January has another typically busy transfer window and February brings an incredible moment in this journey. Like I said there’s a lot to get through, so find your quiet place and enjoy!

December 2028

December started with a very generous early Christmas present for myself from the board…

Considering 9 years ago we weren’t even earning £75 per week, and currently we’re on £37.5k pper week, the offer of a 5 year £75k per week deal at a Premier League club fighting for European football for 2 successive seasons is the stuff of dreams. However I decided to put contract talks on hold for now until the end of the season, when my current deal expires. You might be asking why? Good question.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking to leave or anything, but there is one thing that is making me uneasy about committing my future to the club right now…

Talks and rumours of takeovers are just non stop at the moment, and although it has the potential to be very exciting, I just want to see how these rumours develop before committing myself to the club. Like I have said before, I tend not to apply for job unless I absolutely have to in order to progress the save (like when we left Llanelli for Bala Town), so I want to know what I am signing myself up for. I’m sure talks at the end of the season won’t be a problem, but let’s see what happens.

Anyway, back to more football related matters, and as it was December we had the early assessment of our new youth intake. I always look forward to these and am usually left with nothing but disappointment, I wonder if this time would be any different?

Hmmmm very interesting. We have the always enticing ‘golden generation’ coming through! However from reading the preview in a little more detail you will be able to see that it looks like there are 3 defenders in particular who stand out, not much in the way of midfielders or strikers, but I guess we’ll have to wait until the actual intake in March to find out more. Looking forward to seeing this New Zealand left back!

Right come on then, let’s get into the matches! 4 Premier League games this month, some really tough ones in there as well, plus we face a Carabao Cup Quarter Final and a FA Cup 3rd Round tie. 6 Fixtures in total, 3 at home & 3 away…

Overall it’s not bad at all. We started the month with a trip to Goodison Park where Everton were not having the best of seasons, it looked like we were going to pile on the misery as Pol Seco smashed home a 25 yard thunderbolt in only the 2nd minute of the game. However from that point onwards Everton dominated and we were lucky to come away with a share of the points (1-1).

Another away trip followed, this time to Turf Moor, where another poor performance was put in by the boys. We shouldn’t have even got a draw let alone a win, but fortunately 2 goals in 3 minutes towards the end of the first half gave us a cushion and with Burnley’s strikers misfiring, it was enough to hold on for the win (2-1).

Up next we hosted the Carabao Cup Quarter Final against Tottenham. The performances in November and at the start of this month were no where near the required standard, despite being unbeaten during this time, the team were just not clicking how I wanted them to so I didn’t have high hopes for this one. But isn’t football a funny old game? We absolutely dominated here and ran out deserved 1-0 winners, onto the Semi Finals we go! The remaining teams were Man City, Liverpool & Watford, so you know who I was hoping for…

Oh get in! No disrespect to Watford but I wanted the best possible chance of experiencing a final again this season and although Watford can definitely beat us, we have more chance against them than Man City or Liverpool.

11 days after knocking Tottenham out of the Carabao Cup we faced them again in the league, unfortunately this time we couldn’t repeat the result despite leading the tie 2-1 with only a third of the game remaining. Spurs looked like a different side than the one we had swept aside only 11 days before and came away the victors this time round (2-3).

The less said about the Man Utd game the better. They are miles out in front at the top of the league and look like they will retain the title thanks to their star Argentinian Leandro Luna (who I think is the Aguero or Messi Regen). It was that star man who scored twice against us within the first 13 minutes at Old Trafford, the only good thing is the boys kept it at that respectable enough scoreline for the remainder of the match (0-2).

Fortunately we were back in cup action following those 2 successive league defeats, this time in the FA Cup 3rd Round at home against Leicester. It was quite an even game but for the second time this month our 18 year old wonderkid Ondrej Cech (CAM) scored a decisive goal on the way to a 2-1 victory that put us through to the 4th round.

As we were welcoming in a new midfield maestro in Cech, we got the confirmed news that we would be saying goodbye to one at the end of the season:

38 year old Jordan Henderson, my club captain after joining on January deadline day last year, decided it was time to call it a day on an incredible career where he has won it all. He may not have played as much for me this season but he sorts a lot of issues before they reach my door and really sets a standard in training. Players like him are hard to come by, you will be missed pal!

However we received further evidence that he was going to be leaving the club in good hands with the impressive youngsters coming through. Martin Perez (GK), only 23 years of age, won North American Goalkeeper of the Year!

Delighted with the decision to sign him for £10m even before we had sold Milan Stojkovic to Milan for £45m. It’s proved to be an inspired bit of business.

After taking only 4 points from a possible 12 in the league this month I expected us to have fallen out of the Champions League places, which would be fine as again our hopes for this season are Europa League qualification. That’s not a board aim (who just want mid table), it’s a personal one:

Okay I’ll definitely take that! Dropped to 7th so still in a Europa League spot at the halfway point, plus we’re only 4 points off Chelsea in 3rd so plenty to play for. Just need to find a way of competing with the big 6 in the league matches and stop throwing away points against lower quality or underperforming sides (Wolves, Southampton, Newcastle, Everton, etc).

January 2029

Into January we go and as always we will start with the transfer incomings, it was busy, but not as busy as my transfer windows normally are.

Transfers – Incoming

The window kicked off with 3 pre-agreed transfers. You can see the profiles below but personally to sign these 3 players of this calibre and potential for a combined £30m is incredible business!

Sebastian Szlenkier (LW/CAM/ST) is an 18 year old wonderkid who joins from Legia in Poland but is actually english. To get someone of his quality, potential & versatility, who is also home-grown, for only £6.5m is incredible work by my scouts.

Carlos Antonio (CM/CAM) & Ronildo Ximenes (DM/LW) both join from Brazil with incredible quality and potential. Carlos Antonio’s work rate & stamina will be very important for the way I want my team to play, and despite being a natural DM Ronildo Ximenes will play the majority of his games for me at LW where again I expect his work rate and stamina to be very important in allowing us to win & retain possession high up the pitch.

Srdja Vucinic (RW) is more one for the future, he has been denied a work permit, but still agreed to join and will most likely spend the next few seasons out on loan. However to get a player of his quality for only £2.3m was something I couldn’t turn down.

Check out all of the signings below and let me know who you think will be the best!

Transfers – Outgoing

Obviously with more players of real quality coming in we had to let others leave the club…

I know… Terem Moffi… a legend of this journey.

If you are new to this site and don’t understand who Terem Moffi is, please go and read the last episode from Season 7. Basically he single handedly kept us in the league from an impossible position and therefore provided the foundation for the successful last 18 months to be built. I will forever be in his debt, there is nothing tactically brilliant about an individual player picking the ball up in his own half, beating multiple defenders will skill & power before firing in 30 yard screamers… which he did on at least 3 occasions during the run in of that season!

However with the club progressing and the quality now at our disposal, Terem had slipped down the ranks and it was time to let him move on. The £35m we received helped balance the books as well, another gift from one of my favourite individual players of this journey.

We also agreed 5 loan deals for promising youngsters. Mina, Kolbas & Pirla should all be part of the first team squad next season or the year after. However the other big deal was selling 26 year old winger Jeremy Antonisse to Zenit for £30m, similar reasons to Moffi in that he just wasn’t at the level anymore, but it was a shame as he was one of the standout players in terms of rating when I arrived, but on the pitch it never quite happened for him so we take a very good deal and move on.

Transfer Roundup & Wages

A busy transfer window in comparison to others, but for us this was actually quite a tame one! Overall it was 4 players in for a combined £32.3m and 2 players out permanently for £65m.

Some huge deals elsewhere as Man City splashed out £96m for Pipi (CM) from Real Madrid. Despite it being a quiet window by our standard we were still the most active team in the division!

Unsurprisingly, the Premier League came out on top in terms of the highest spending league in the top divisions. However it was Leipzig who came out as the highest spending individual club ahead of Man City.

In terms of wage expenditure we had moved up the rankings 4 places to 13th from this time last year (17th). Our outgoings on wages increased from £1.5m to £1.9m which is to be expected as we start to gather greater quality and a larger squad.

The Football

Back to the football we go! Looking forward to seeing how our new signings get on in a very busy month. We face 8 fixtures in total, 5 league games, our two-legged Carabao Cup Semi Final against Watford, and we welcome oil-rich Middlesbrough in the 4th round of the FA Cup. Come on then, how did we get on?

8 fixtures across 3 competitions and completely unbeaten? Don’t mind if I do!

We started the month with a disappointing first leg result at home against Watford in the Carabao Cup Semi Final, again the performance was not great, but new man Carlos Antonio got on the score sheet only 24 hours after arriving to the club! However we would have to be better in the second leg if we wanted to get to the final (1-1).

Up next was West Ham, a fairly flat first half where our other Brazilian signing Ronildo Ximenes (LW) scored his first goal for the club to give us a 1-0 half time lead. An influx of goals followed in the second half and fortunately Darko Kelava (ST) was on fine form to give us all 3 points (3-2).

We took a trip north next to face Nottingham Forest where Lucas Alvarez finally scored his first (and second) goal for the club. He has found chances limited since his move from Velez in the summer but was in fine form in this one to give us a comfortable win (2-0).

We then faced Watford for the league exactly one week before our crucial Carabao Cup 2nd Leg. As they were sitting bottom of the league I rotated heavily to keep the squad fresh in this hectic month and fortunately we managed to come from behind to win in an overall good performance by the fringe players (2-1).

Up next was the big one! We had only managed a draw at home in the first leg, and then in the league our fringe players had scraped past them at home again, but this time we needed to win away from home. With their form in the league leaving them rock bottom and virtually relegated by Christmas this was all the Watford players had left to fight for this season, hence why they had made it this far. Fortunately for the second time in 7 days we came from 0-1 down to win 2-1, courtesy of a 92nd minute winner by Ivan Rakic (RW/ST), and we’re through to the final! Our 2nd Cup Final in the last 9 months as we lost the FA Cup final last season.

It was going to be a tough game regardless of whether it would be Man City or Liverpool. I have beaten Man City quite a few times throughout this journey, but they were back in form this season with Jurgen Klopp at the helm. On the other hand I had only beaten Liverpool once during this journey, but they were not having the best season with Pep Guardiola in charge (no I haven’t got the managers mixed up, they’ve swapped clubs in my save). So who would it be?

Fair enough, like I said it would be tough either way but I’m just delighted to be taking the team to Wembley for another cup final only 9 months after we appeared in the last one, hopefully this shows we are starting to become more of a regular challenger to the top 6 sides for European places & trophies.

Our final league game of the months was against Chelsea who we are sharing a stadium with this season whilst some expansion work is completed on Selhurst Park. I think we actually did enough to win it, but overall a very entertaining 0-0 draw, and a result which meant we were undefeated against Chelsea this season following our win against them earlier in the season.

It was back to cup action for our final game of the month, this time against Middlesbrough in the 4th round of the FA Cup. Our Brazilian import Ronildo Ximenes showing I was right to play him as a LW rather than a DM with a brilliant performance and hat-trick of goals to put us into the 5th Round.

So overall it was 6 wins from 8 fixtures, into the 5th round of the FA Cup, the Final of the Carabao Cup and 13 points from 15 available in the league. A VERY good month, and we were recognised appropriately with the Manager of the Month Award.

But as you’re all probably aware by now I don’t care much for individual awards, I am more interested in how the team is performing. Had this great run of results pushed us back into Champions League contention?

No… well not no, but not yes, but also kind of yes. We’re still 7th and have a comfortable 9 points gap to the non European places which is incredible news, but we also have a game in hand that if we win takes us level on points with Arsenal in 5th and only 1 point behind Tottenham & Chelsea in the Champions League places! The focus is still Europa League football and I’m determined to try and finish in 5th so we go straight into the group stages rather than having to deal with the qualification rounds that make a long season even longer.

February 2029

February promised to be a huge month as we prepared for the Carabao Cup final! However the talk at the start of the month centred around me and my contract situation…

Like I said, nothing to worry about at all, I am 99% confident I will sign a new deal in the summer, I just want to see what happens with these takeover rumours.

The current board decided that after our opening game of the month against Norwich the team should get away to Barcelona for some warm weather training ahead of the Carabao Cup Final. It’s the first time in 9 seasons on this game I am taking the team on a mid-season training camp. Looking forward to seeing if it helps bring the team together and galvanise them ahead of the second half of the campaign.

Sticking with our board for a moment, they also delivered the good news that the expansion work on both our Youth & Training Facilities had been completed. As I said before when the work was commissioned, this crucial development of our infrastructure will ensure this club stays at the top end of the division long after I go.

Anyway back to the football, 5 fixtures in total for the final month of this update. 3 League games, an FA Cup 5th Round tie and the Carabao Cup Final against Liverpool… come on the boys!

You didn’t think I would show you the result that easily did you?

We started the month with a home tie against Norwich who were defying all relegation expectations and were sitting mid table. It was a brilliant performance by the boys before they went on the mid season warm weather camp, but unfortunately we found ourselves 0-1 down all the way until the 91st minute when that young man Cech found another crucial goal to give us a share of the points (1-1).

After spending 5 days away in Barcelona we were then away in Leicester… not quite the same but the boys enjoyed themselves as they came out on top in a really entertaining game. Darko Stamatovic & Ebere Eze got the goals to give us a 2-1 win.

Up next we faced a home time against Liverpool in the league, 6 days before we faced them in the Carabao Cup Final. I really wanted the boys to go out there and show them that we could match them in performance and quality, and we certainly did that with some majestic football at times. It looked like it wouldn’t be enough however as Liverpool made it 1-1 with only 7 minutes to go, but with 2 minutes left on the clock Ivan Rakic scored yet another late winner to give us a massive confidence boost ahead of the cup final (2-1).

Right then this is it, the big one. Our 2nd Cup Final in 9 months and Crystal Palace’s first ever appearance in the Carabao Cup Final, up against Liverpool, who have won the competition 8 times…

This was another opportunity to win our first major trophy as a manager and our first ever cup competition as our previous honours only include league titles. However as I have said before, the top 6 teams on this save are just freaks of nature so it would be extremely difficult, but I do feel like we have improved as a team since we lost to Chelsea in the FA Cup Final last season. Either way the hype and euphoria that surrounds any cup final was there for all to see…

Enough build up. This was it. The time for talking was over and we needed to go out there and enjoy the occasion with the constant dream of bringing home silverware. Are you ready?

PROBABLY ONE OF THE MOST BORING CUP FINALS IN HISTORY BUT ONDREJ CECH YOU 18 YEAR OLD MAD MAN!!

Incredible. Just Incredible…

8.5 years after I took my first job in football, without any coaching badges or experience, we win our first major trophy. Don’t get me wrong I understand that the Carabao Cup is not the Champions League but it is one of the big trophies in domestic football and I just cannot believe we have beaten one of the biggest teams in the country and in this competitions history to win it, thanks to a 92nd minute winner by Ondrej Cech, an 18 year old we signed for £64k at the start of the season, who cannot score anything but crucial goals.

Yet more good news came after the game, as our hopes of achieving a place in next seasons Europa League were confirmed with this trophy.

It only confirms us as into the qualifying playoff rounds so I am still hopeful in the league we will do the job and finish high enough to go straight into the group stages. Anyway, that’s next season, for now let’s just take a moment to understand what we have achieved here by taking a look over the Carabao Cup Review:

Bristol Rovers, Salford, Manchester United, Tottenham, Watford, Liverpool. Those are the teams we had to get passed to win this first major trophy of ours, I could not be prouder of the boys and this first piece of top level silverware!

Our final game of the month took us closer to a potential domestic cup double as our fringe players defeated Leeds on penalties to take us into the FA Cup Quarter Final. Could we really win another cup this season? I really don’t care to be honest, a trophy and Europa League will do nicely for me.

At the end of a month dominated by our Carabao Cup trophy the league looked like this:

Still sat comfortably in 7th place, and a win in our game in hand could bring us into the Champions League places with only 10 games to go… now that would be a turn up for the books.

What’s Next?

What next? Probably a lie down after all that. But don’t worry, we’ll be back with the final 3 months of the season as we conclude an unlikely race for the Champions League places, and can we really claim a domestic cup double? Find out next time!

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 and here for the first episode. 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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