Welcome back to Serbia! After a lot of thought and a restructuring of the squad last time out, we return to more normal service today. We’ve got a slimmed down squad, with plenty of young players getting a crack, so I’m excited to see what they can do.
I’ll also be keeping a keen eye on some of the older heads in the squad, who have been a little disappointing of late. We have some talented players out on loan, competition is fierce. I think the squad is still too big, our restructuring is by no means complete.
Today will mostly be about the first half of the season, with our activities during the January transfer window tacked on the end for good measure. But first, a little behind the scenes action…
Behind The Scenes:
Our chairman has started responding more positively to my requests in the most part, and we’ve secured an affiliate that should help us make more money:
Ideally, I would like to further expand the stadium (currently 12’000 capacity), which we are routinely selling out, but I don’t have the option. Seeing as we’re sitting on a mountain of cash, I’ve requested that our training, youth and data analysis facilities all be upgraded. All three requests have been accepted.
I really want to be able to offer coaches more in the way of wages, but they won’t budge on that one, weirdly. I could have four more coaches if I so desired, but what I actually want is the ability to attract some of the best candidates to Serbia. As it is, we can’t do so.
We are doing very well again:
We’re a far more impressive goalscoring force this year, only fourteen behind our entire season’s haul last year (with sixteen to play!) and our defence remains the best in the league. Santiago Bonilla has started brilliantly, with sixteen goals already in all competitions. Saeid Asgari’s return from loan has gone well, and he has eight goals in his fairly limited appearances so far.
On the wings, Jovan Tasevski and Branko Kojic have played brilliantly, and wrenched first team duties from their older, more established team mates. Branko Kojic has developed to the point where he’s now considered a wonderkid.
Ivan Ilic has been amazing as Regista, averaging over 8 from 23 appearances in all competitions.
It’s really only a title race because of my somewhat foolish decision to loan Franklin Moukoko to Partizan…
He’s scored twelve goals in sixteen games for them, and won them their last two games after coming off the bench with them losing. Still, it’s nice to know he can actually score goals.
Great news! We’re not in the group of death this year. We face Liverpool, Dinamo Zagreb and Benfica. We’ve been competitive with Benfica before, so there are potential points there. Dinamo Zagreb looked a much friendlier draw before I checked out their squad. They’re actually a very good side. But I was still confident we could secure Europa League football through third place.
All the goals in the Zagreb game came in the first 23 minutes, with both of ours equalisers. They are a good team, and I was pleased to get a point away from home from a fairly even contest (although the five best chances of the game were ours).
Another magical night in Europe at Stadion FK Macva! Liverpool fall to us, and our list of European conquests grows ever more impressive. It was another close game, but that in itself is an indication of how far we’ve come. We rode our luck late on as Liverpool hit the woodwork twice, but that’s an incredible three points.
Our next game was Benfica at home, and a real chance at putting ourselves in the running for the top two. The first half, we were excellent, going in at the half only 2-1 up was disappointing, and after 59 minutes looked like it would cost us, as Benfica hit us on the counter twice. We were 3-2 down, and they’d only had four shots to our twenty.
Their change to a 442 at the half had changed the match, so at this point we changed too, rolling out a narrow 41212 which I’ve had some joy with, especially against sides lined up in a 442. Off came our disappointing wingers, Arabidze and Vidosavljevic, and on came Asgari up top, and Kim Soo-Hyung in midfield…
Another valuable away point, followed by a tight win in which our winger’s profligacy once again almost cost us. Liverpool at Anfield was pretty ugly, and keeping the score down was a relief.
Have some of that. We’re in the hat with four teams from England, four from Spain, three from Germany, three from Italy, and PSG. Easy peasy.
January Transfer Window:
Analysing our season’s first half, I came to the conclusion that it was time for Giorgi Arabidze to go. On paper, he’s still an excellent player, but after an incredible first season and a good start to last year, his impact on our play has diminished to the point where I often forget he’s even on the pitch. This year, he only has one assist, and though he has six goals, two were penalties and one a direct free kick (finally, his first for us in competitive action). Our oldest player, about to turn 29, selling now seemed sensible.
Guangzhou have been on his trail for the best part of a year, and after a quick negotiation, we agreed to sell him for £4m. Taking into account wages and bonuses, we definitely made a loss on this one. But when he was good, he was amazing. 73(10) apps, 33 goals, 27 assists. Average rating in his first season: 7.49, in both the following seasons: 7.04. He was on £8k p/w for us, Guangzhou are paying him a staggering £300k p/w, so he’s happy.
As promised, we’ll be replacing him by recalling one of the players out on loan. It’ll come as no surprise to you I’m sure, that I’ve chosen Franklin Moukoko.
He’s not a like for like replacement by any means, but I’m confident he can do a job on both flanks, and we’ve begun training him to play as an Inside Forward on the left. And if it torpedoes Partizan’s form, all the better.
Later in the window, a number of Premier League club’s began chasing Milutin Vidosavljevic, and his head was turned. I didn’t particularly want to sell two first team squad players (playing in similar positions too) in the same window, but when Aston Villa agreed to my optimistic negotiation of £7m plus a 50% sell on clause, I accepted. 118(31) appearances, 51 goals, 34 assists, averaging around 7. His performances when we had him on loan from Chelsea were brilliant. Since he signed for us? Not so good. Four assists in 18 months. #MythMike?
I’ll not be bringing anyone else in, or back from a loan however, instead trusting the likes of Asgari and Moukoko to make the most of an increase in appearances.
I did make one addition though. We haven’t had much luck developing centre backs so far, and I wanted to add an U21 option to our squad. When the scouts discovered another talented Colombian, I couldn’t say no:
He joins happy to be a fringe player (for now), and with Popovic’s new contract also making him a fringe player, I’m confident of keeping five centre backs happy.
End Of Year Awards:
Ivan Ilic has had a fantastic year:
He’s broken Sergej Milinkovic-Savic’s recent stranglehold on the award, and I think we’ve found his perfect role as a Regista.
Branko Kojic’s breakout year has seen him grab a very coveted award:
Coming through our 2024 youth intake, a successful loan spell with Mladost Lučani in 25/26, breaking into our first team, and now this. His career hasn’t even spanned three full years yet. How far can he go?
The first half of the season has gone better than I could’ve hoped. Realistically, we’re not going any further in Europe, so the focus of the next post will likely be on some of our more recent youth intakes. I haven’t mentioned them much, but seeing how well some of our homegrown youngsters are doing, I think it’s worth loading up some old save files to look at some development stuff. Plus, we’ll get season eight wrapped up. Thanks for reading, stay safe x