Unemployed, Unskilled & Inexperienced: S9 Ep 4 – Among Europe’s Elite

Welcome to the final episode of Season 9! Next season will mark 10 years since we started this journey from absolutely nothing. It has been a crazy journey so far and judging from last episode, where we won our first major trophy as a manager, it will get nothing but crazier from here on in.

As well as winning the Carabao Cup and therefore guaranteeing a spot in the qualifying rounds of the Europa League, last episode also showed us sitting in 6th place at the end of February 2029. The aim was clear, try to secure a top 6 finish and a spot in the Europa League group stages through the league. Imagine if a little club like Crystal Palace could break into the top 6 of the Premier League!

In this episode we will take you through March, April & May 2029, the final months of the season. When I left you last we were still in the FA Cup at the quarter final stage so a domestic cup double could be on the cards! There are some tough fixtures remaining in our quest for the top 6, and we get a look at our youth intake which has been labelled as a ‘golden generation’ for the club. As always thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy!

March 2029

The Academy & Youth Intake

We kicked off March with some more investment from our board, who to be fair to them have definitely shared the same passion I have for improving the infrastructure and things behind the scenes at the club to make it more sustainable as a top flight team. This time the investment comes for our youth academy in order to move it to a Category One setup.

Now it’s on to one of my favourite moments of any season as we take a look at our youth intake, and this year I actually have a huge smile on my face for once as oppose to the complete and utter disappointment that normally follows.

Quite appropriately my namesake Louis Carter looks like he could be one of the best players of his generation. Alongside him there are a solid 5 players who should make it to the first team over the next few seasons, whether I am in charge or someone else.

This all goes back to what I have been saying in the other episodes, if you invest in the infrastructure of your club over time you reap the rewards and become a very sustainable club at this level. If all the players realise their potential you are looking at a group of potentially £50-70m players we have brought through for free. I can’t wait to welcome those who prove worthy into the first team setup!

The Football

In the league we had 4 tough matches this month, including games against Man City & Arsenal who are above us in the league, as well as Southampton & Newcastle who are both just below us in the league. With the FA Cup quarter final as well this could really be a season defining month for us!

What a month it was! We kicked it off with an incredible performance against 2nd placed Man City in what was my 100th game in charge of Crystal Palace. It was incredible to see how far we have come in my time here as the boys honestly played them off the park and it should have been a cricket score! However we only secured the points in the 93rd minute but a great win nonetheless (2-0).

We then followed that up with a far less rampant but equally as important win against Arsenal away at the Emirates. A very special moment for me as an Arsenal fan and we had another late cameo from Ondrej Cech to thank for the 3 points! (2-1). I wasn’t aware during the match but that was actually Arsenal’s first home defeat for 28 games… if only that was the same in real life!

With the 2 biggest games of the month out of the way I was confident heading into the games against Southampton & Newcastle. However the performance against Southampton was not at the level that is required when fighting for Europe in this league, but the fighting spirit of this team is tough to breakdown and we managed to dig out a win and the all important 3 points (2-1).

Up next was a very important game as we welcomed Arsenal to our temporary home of Stamford Bridge for the FA Cup Quarter Final. I was very confident that if we could navigate our way through this tie then a domestic cup double would be on the cards, and given our win away only 10 days previously I had high hopes it must be said.

Unfortunately I was brought right back down to earth as we conceded a 90th minute goal to Elias Lemos… does the name sound familiar? It should do as we had him on loan from Arsenal during our time with Stoke. Clearly Elias holds zero sentiment as he struck an incredible 25 yard volley to knock us out (1-2). Still though, can’t be greedy, the Carabao Cup win was already beyond my wildest dreams this season!

We wrapped up the month with a game at home against Newcastle. I think being knocked out of the FA Cup in the manner we were was playing on the boys mind as we put in a torrid performance and were fortunate to come away with a share of the points (1-1).

Overall an incredible month, it was a shame we couldn’t make it 4 wins from 4 in the league with the draw against Newcastle, but I was expecting to take a hammering from Man City & Arsenal so can’t be too disappointed.

One man who was at the centre of all things good in the month of March was Darko Stamatovic, and he was recognised with a runner up award in the Young Player of the Month award. The winner, Schumacher from Bournemouth is having a ridiculous debut season in the prem!

Another runner up award came to us personally as we finished behind Allegri at Man Utd, if we had beaten Newcastle I think there would of been a strong case for us winning it but oh well.

However on to the most important thing now, the league table! Obviously it had been a good month in terms of us beating the teams around us, but had it been enough to move us into 5th place and make the dream of Europa League Group Stages more of a reality?

Errr… WHAT?!? I know there are 7 games remaining and Spurs are only 2 points behind us, but Crystal Palace are in the top 4 at the end of March 2029… with a 6 point gap to 6th place and a 12 point gap to 7th place. We know we’re in the Europa League in some capacity next season because of the Carabao Cup triumph, but could we really make a late top 4 charge to secure Champions League football? Surely not…

April 2029

April started with even more investment from the club into our infrastructure! This time it was a present for the first team’s training facilities and work will start at the end of the current season.

In the league this would be an incredibly important month. We play 5 matches and ALL of the teams we play are in the bottom half of the table… if we manage to have a good month we could all but secure CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FOOTBALL NEXT SEASON!! However with 3 of the 5 matches being away from home it is going to be very tough.

So nearly a perfect month but who cares? What a month as we collect 13 points from 15!!

We started the month with a trip to Bramall Lane, where the game marked a huge occasion for myself in this incredible journey.

400 games in management. Blimey! Who would have thought when I took charge of my first ever game which was a 3-0 win away at Buckley Town in North Wales in the JD Welsh Cup, on a day where we had 9 away fans join us for the game, that 400 games later we would be managing a team fighting for Champions League qualification… fair play this journey has been class!

However despite twice going ahead the boys couldn’t hang on to give me a much desired win to mark the occasion in front of the TV cameras as we conceded a 94th minute equaliser and had to accept a share of the points (2-2).

Fortunately the next game away at Bournemouth was far more like it as we put in a fantastic performance, it was only 1-0 in the end but it should have been far more comfortable, and we managed to keep the dangerous Schumacher quiet on our way to collecting all 3 points on our travels.

After those two away trips it was nice to be back home for the match against relegation threatened Burnley. I rotated the starting line up fully in a risky move, but I felt the game away at Wolves would need a fully fit and fresh first XI. Fortunately our second string performed very well and ran out comfortable 3-1 winners.

The fully fit first XI returned for the game against newly appointed Unai Emery’s Wolverhampton Wonderers and honestly I almost felt bad for them. This should have been 5 or 6 nil, but my boys seemed to take their foot off the gas after storming into a 2-0 lead before just playing the game out in complete control (3-0).

The performances at the moment are really at a level I haven’t seen from us so far, the whole squad has just taken it to a different pace and I’m loving the football being played. It was no different in our final game of the month back at Stamford Bridge as we ran out 4-1 winners against Everton. As it turned out, that would be the final home match we would play at Chelsea’s stadium as the expansion of Selhurst Park had been completed.

The owners may not have built a Crystal Palace (thanks came up with that myself) but with just over 13,000 seats added this is fantastic news for the club and their supporters as we continue to think more long term with our investment requests.

Hopefully we will be able to carry over the brilliant form we have had since February into next season and give the fans plenty to cheer about, all 39,445 of them! Speaking of great form, there was even more recognition for a player who has undoubtedly been our star man this season, as Darko Kelava (ST) wins both the Player & Young Player of the Month awards for April!

This time around we also scooped 1st place in the Manager of the Month competition!

There was even bigger news however… possibly THE BIGGEST NEWS ON THIS JOURNEY SO FAR. Ladies & Gentlemen… I will be managing in the Champions League next season. THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE!!!

From Buckley Town to the likes of Barcelona within 10 seasons. I literally can’t get my head around it… and we’re not done yet. Take a look at the table!

WHAT IS HAPPENING?!?

Not only have we secured Champions League football, but we have secured a top 3 finish as the teams around us faltered and we are currently sat in 2nd place at the end of April 2029. Yes you are seeing this correctly, Crystal Palace are 2nd in the league with 2 games to go!!

May 2029

Now admittedly those 2 games are away to Tottenham before we play our final game of the season in our newly expanded stadium against the League Champions, Manchester United, to bring this incredible season to a close. Quite frankly though, and I hope you don’t mind me saying it, but I really don’t care what happens now. We have won the Carabao Cup and will be playing in the Champions League next season… speechless. Come on then, let’s bring this incredible season to an end.

Let’s not even talk about the Tottenham game, we were beyond battered, absolutely awful. It looked like we had been celebrating the Champions League qualification a little too hard, and who could blame us?

However wouldn’t you just know it that the boys pulled it out of the bag to bring this most special of seasons to an end with an incredible result back in our home stadium of Selhurst Park in front of the fans against the title winners. Couldn’t have written it better myself.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better…

I honestly don’t even know what to write anymore. Runner Up in the Premier League, Champions League group stage football confirmed for next season, Carabao Cup winners… just leave me in this dreamland please.

Unsurprisingly this was a record high for Crystal Palace and the highest they had finished since 1990 when they came 3rd, before I was even thought about let alone born!

In terms of individual player awards, Martin Perez (GK) picked up 3rd place for the Golden Glove award.

Additionally thanks to my fellow managers I was awarded the Premier League Manager of the Year award. I would say deservedly so but then again I am a bit bias!

That recognition from other managers also spilled over into other clubs as we were approached by Sky Sports to discuss links to the Man City job, where bookmakers had me as the strong favourite.

As those of you who read regularly will know, I rarely apply for jobs, only if I need to do it to progress the save. I have only applied to get one job in this journey and that was Bala Town, the rest I was approached for and would have been quite happy to stay where I was.

Quite frankly that was exactly the same boat I was in here with Crystal Palace, particularly after the season we had just had. If Man City approached me I would talk to them, but I would not be applying.

We were given another reminder of just how incredible our achievements have been this season considering how sensible our approach to running this football club is in comparison to others.

We spend the 2nd lowest when measuring wage expenditure as a percentage of revenue, yet we managed to win a major trophy and finish runner up in the league. Fantastic achievement for the club and hopefully this frees up further investment for both the infrastructure & squad next season.

Despite all the success we did have a pretty sad ending as we waved goodbye to Club Captain Jordan Henderson, who has decided to retire at the age of 38. I tried everything to keep him at the club for another season but his mind was made up. He won everything the game has to offer and really helped up me with his leadership when he came in, I think his presence around the place has been a huge factor in how we have transformed the club since I have come in. Enjoy your retirement big man!

What’s Next?

Well well well… WHAT. A. SEASON.

I hope you are all still enjoying reading this challenge as I am loving every minute of playing it! Up next will be the start of Season 10 in this journey of never ending drama.

Do we get approached by the biggest clubs in world football? Or do we stay loyal to Crystal Palace and take them on a Champions League journey that will be spoken about forever? There’s only one way to find out… see you next time! For now though I leave you with the season review for those of you who are interested in taking a look through.

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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