Hello! Welcome back to Serbia, and what is for me, quite a quick turnaround between blog posts. We’re incredibly well positioned after the first half of the season, and look well set to add some more silverware to our haul.
As promised, today will have a significant focus on a bit of player development before I crack on with covering the rest of season six. But first, just a very tiny bit of January news to get us started…
January Transfer Window:
Not a lot of business to speak of, and that’s how I like it. We did have to fend off a fair few bids for some of our players, but it turns out, nothing too serious. I let some of our more promising youngsters go out on loan for a few months of first team action, including Marko Pejovic and Logan Declercq.
I did a spot of scouting in West Africa, which started out with taking another look at ASEC Mimosas, in the hopes of finding a new Diomandé in the rough. No luck with a new anchorman, but three decent prospects nonetheless:
Welbeck heads straight out on loan, Obi will be staying for some mentoring and training, whilst Franklin Moukoko will make some appearances straight away.
SuperLiga, Part One:
After a lovely warm weather training camp in Cyprus, we were back on track in the same style as we left off last time:
Goals from striker’s and everything. With 14 games to play, we were 13 points clear. If you’d told me at this point we’d only win a further two league games, I would’ve at minimum, laughed in your face.
In truth, this section will underwhelm. I scoured the squad (at the end of this season) looking for big old green arrows to display some success stories, but unfortunately, there’s not been as much to show as I had expected.
I’ve spent a lot of time on individual training, as I always do, and put thought into good loan moves to provide young players with more first team action. So which of our players stood out progress wise?
That’s right, it’s our never before mentioned, 3rd choice goalkeeper:
Young goalkeepers is an area of the squad we’ve generally done well developing, although annoyingly our first choice ‘keeper Marko Copic (21), has made little progress after three full years in our first team. Aleksandar Roganovic (21) seems to have particularly benefited from a couple of loan spells, even though all we could find him were semi-pro clubs to go to.
Probably the best example of progress from an outfield player comes from Marko Djukic (21):
He’s improved especially well during some loan spells, with this season’s spell at fellow SuperLiga club Bačka Palanka being particularly successful. His eleven goals for them weren’t enough to keep them up, but were enough to put him in the top ten league goalscorers. At 21 years-old I was very tempted to keep him in our first team squad for next season, but realistically he wouldn’t play a whole lot, so given how well his progress is going, he’ll likely be loaned one more time. Hopefully we’ll see more of him in season eight.
These examples however, are largely outliers. I’m only going to include one example of lack of progress, as they’re all basically the same. Our poster boy for developmental stagnation is Marko Zarkovic (21):
We’ve had this Marko since 2021, and he’s had four seasons in our squad. He’s made between 30 and 40 starts in each of those seasons, and been a consistently good performer, I have no complaints there. But attribute wise, he’s not made great strides.
This is pretty typical of the majority of my squad, seemingly irrelevant of playing time. I have concluded that I’m doing something sub-optimal in training. My current working theory is that I’ve been spending too much time training player roles.
Next season, unless a player is re-training to play in a new position, I’m going to do away with that top option entirely, and have players concentrate even more on their “additional focus” instead. I’m hoping this approach will lead to more focused gains, in areas where the players need improvement the most. I’ll be taking a harder look at this as the next season goes on, as I think I’ve been guilty of complacency here.
Anyway, back to this season, and some more football…
How would we deal with a tough first round draw?
Very well. The first leg in Portugal was a tight affair, and a win was a touch fortunate. But we spanked them in the second leg. They had two shots and scored them both, but late enough that we never had any worries about a comeback.
Even more surprisingly, Partizan knocked out Dortmund!
Unfortunately, we then drew Spurs:
We did alright. We didn’t embarrass ourselves, but it wasn’t much of a contest to be honest. A good effort, and more money for the club.
I’m not sure how the coefficient will fare for Serbia this year. With Partizan and us both knocked out in the 2nd round, and Red Star incapable of even qualifying from their easy-ass ECII group, it may take a knock. Although all the clubs through to the quarter finals were from bigger countries than us, so maybe it’ll be fine.
Our competition. They should name it after us. Or maybe just me:
And it’s not like we were playing lower league opposition either. All top flight opponents, all taken behind the woodshed and hacked into tiny pieces. Or something. A fifth successive Kup win. Nikola Vukosav is my new favourite. He didn’t want to go to Parma, Juventus or even Man Utd in January, and he’s been superb, largely as a CM(A) since we changed tactics. A perfect hat-trick in the final, made even more perfecterer by then banging in a fourth.
So with form like that, what the bloody hell happened in the league?
SuperLiga, Part Two:
What the bloody hell happened!?
I’d love to give you an in-depth tactical essay on mistakes that were made and how I intend on learning from this in future. But the truth is more irritating. Apart from the Partizan game, in which a draw was an accurate reflection of the game, we were the better team in every match, sometimes, by a lot. In the two draws with one of our theoretically toughest rivals Red Star, for example, we had a combined 49 shots to their 17, dominated possession and quality chances.
We were still creating good chances, still playing our game that had been so effective up until this point, and still looking solid defensively. Even those most fickle of things, our player ratings, didn’t suffer much, with individual performances still very good. Although there was one exception, with our star player Giorgi Arabidze’s form cratering until the final three games of the season.
So FEO, for the love of all that is holy, what the bloody hell happened!?!
And the sad truth is, despite going back to re-watch some of these games to answer that, I didn’t come up with a great conclusion. We spurned plenty of good chances, our previously reliable source of penalties dried up, we smashed the woodwork, we had numerous marginal offside calls go against us, and in so many of these games, our opponents scored with their first serious foray into our half.
My best guess is that the boys got either scared or complacent with the finish line in sight, and frustratingly and repeatedly fluffed their collective lines. Although they had no such problem last season, and there were no indications of this from either player morale or body language in games. My other guess is it was just a sustained period of terrible luck.
So with just 17 points from a possible 39, what happened to our 13 point lead?
Of course, we extended our lead by a point. Reader, I don’t understand either. An invincible season! Although we finished 13 points worse off than last year, scored fewer goals, conceded more and had that bizarre run of end of season form, so it actually feels like we took a bit of a step back.
Absolutely no complaints about the team of the season:
And Ivan Ilic narrowly beat Giorgi Arabidze to the Fans’ Player of the Year award due to playing well for the entire season.
We had a clean sweep in the SuperLiga awards:
And seven of our first XI finished in the SuperLiga Team of the Season.
Nikola Vukosav was so close to Young Player of the Year too, but narrowly missed out to a young Partizan winger being heavily linked to Man City.
Behind The Scenes:
The board have decided to invest some of our hefty bank balance into the facilities, completely unprompted:
We finally managed to add a foreign affiliate club, with Chilean side Club Unión Española hopefully providing benefits to our youth setup.
And our transfer budget for next year is crazy:
With a handful of squad players’ contracts up in the summer, the big question for the start of next season will be how to replace them? That big old transfer budget, or youth prospects? The big likely out is vice captain Nikola Kovacevic, who hasn’t been himself this year, especially after a lower back stress fracture in October.
Otherwise, season seven looks like more of the same. By which I hopefully mean domestic success and the challenge of Europe, rather than an incredibly frustrating to watch run of ludicrous draws! Thanks for reading, stay safe