As many of you (hopefully) reading this you’ll know that for a fair while now I have been progressing extremely well with a Stoke save on Football Manager 2016. We’ve had our ups and downs, but it’s now definitely one of the best and most enjoyable saves I had in any version of the game.
I’ve been playing a lot, we’re into the 2022/23 season which, for me, is some damn good commitment to a save. I’m usually hopefully jumping from one to another, I get itchy feet – but I’ve found my slippers at the Britannia Stadium.
With all this in mind I’ve decided it’s about time I share my Stoke saga with anyone who will listen. In a series of blog posts I hope to give you an insight into the brave new world in the city of Stoke, the club, the players, my tactics, results and everything in between. Hopefully you’ll then all see a bit more into my FM mind and who knows, maybe even come to like Stoke a bit more than you do now. Forgive me for the lack of detail, but I will be revisiting past players & matches for you in future posts 🙂
So without further ado, let’s crack on.
The Story So Far
I sit here today on February 25th 2023 and things are looking quite rosy, but it wasn’t always this way you know. I’ve worked bloody hard to get where I am today, you don’t get paid £40k for nothing…come to think of it I really should be getting paid more – but I digress.
So this is me. A not too shabby looking manager wouldn’t you say? Other than my apparent complete disregard for domestic players (which is kind of true), 4 personal trophies but more importantly, 16 trophies with Stoke over the last 7 seasons.
Since 2020 there really has been no better team in Europe that Stoke – winning the Premier League and Champions League for 3 seasons running and 4 times overall since 2018. It’s been such an enjoyable trophy haul with some cracking matches and hopefully I can give you an insight into the reasons for my success both tactically and individually.
It wasn’t all plain sailing though…we finished 12th in our first season on 50 points, OK it wasn’t plain sailing for the first season but we’ve achieved over the odds pretty much from there on in. As much as we struggled in the first season I was able to make a number of transfers that would help change the face of Stoke;
– Felipe Gutierrez (FC Twente) £3.9m
– Gabriel Barbosa (Santos) £9.5m
– Andrija Zivkovic (Partizan) £950k
– Leroy Sane (Schalke) £13.75m
– Robin Knoche (Wolfsburg) £1.7m
– Lucas Romero (Velez) £950k
The first 3 were bought in the summer, the latter 3 in January, alas they weren’t enough to make an instant impact, but all were big improvements and went on to have fantastic careers with us. As we moved into…
…we made these transfer;
– Geronimo Rulli (Sociedad) Free
– Emanuel Mammana (River) £7.5m
– Simone Zaza (Juventus) £15m
– Hirving Lozano (Pachuca) £12.5m
– Aaron Cresswell (West Ham) £10m
– Mayke (Cruziero) £7.5m
– Matias Kranevitter (Valencia) £24.5m
– Andrija Balic (Hajduk) £7.75m
– Matthew Targett (Southampton) £5m
These incomings were aided by the sale of Shaqiri to Utd for £40m, someone who I was reluctant to let go at the time, but he moaned, he wanted to leave and I rarely keep someone against their will. All of the transfers above went on to make a huge difference, with 4 of them still at the club with me now 7 years on.
Our second season is where we really started to assert ourselves as a top Premier League side, finishing 3rd (joint 2nd) with a record high 78 points, 10 off eventual runaway winners Arsenal.
In my next post I will delve deeply into my current tactic – but even in my second season, despite my success, I still wasn’t happy at the time with the system, we drew too many games (12) and I couldn’t get the two central midfielders to harmonise in a symmetrical 4-4-1-1. With the help of loanees Serge Gnabry & Rodrigo De Paul we ensured Champions League qualification outright. Rulli, Knoche, Juan Jesus & Barbosa were fantastic but it was Leroy Sané who stood head and shoulders above the rest averaging 7.90 and clocking 13 goals & 12 assists in 29 games. He quickly became a fan favourite and also won a special place in my heart as he tore right backs to pieces.
The Champions League was coming to the Britannia Stadium, would Lionel Messi be able to do it on a cold night in Stoke? Maybe we were going to find out.
A frustrating Hirving Lozano was sold to Watford for £35m, in truth he needs to play as an IF from the right hand side but I was stubborn and wanted a Winger in that role at MR – he wasn’t going to dislodge Sané in the ML position, he did quite well at MR but his incessant need to cut inside was a detriment to our play at times.
Out went Juan Jesus too, for a cracking £33.5m to Wolfsburg, he had a fantastic season with me but I had 2 left footed defenders at DC and he wasn’t getting any younger – I just couldn’t turn that sort of money down. It also allowed me to do the following business:
– Alex Teixeira (Shakhtar) £17.5m
– Rodrigo Bentancur (Boca) £7.25m
– Lucas Moura (PSG) £10m
– Filip Lesniak (Legia) £5.75m – Regen
– Roberto Firmino (Liverpool) £25.5m
Teixeira & Firmino were still fantastic players, unhappy at their clubs and available at good prices, with De Paul heading back to Valencia they would rotate in the AMC position. Moura would replace Lozano at MR, Lesniak was a cracking looking young DC & Bentancur is a potential world class midfielder able to play anywhere across midfield.
This season turned out to be quite special.
Initially I was happy to progress through such a group, but nothing could prepare me for the run we then went on to lift the trophy at our first attempt, the two wins against Barcelona were just…amazing, and I’ll be sure to analyse these games for you in the coming weeks. The final was then so special; 1-0 down, 2-1 down, 3-2 down and then a last minute winner from Teixeira sealed an incredible win.
It was a run that, at the time, kept me going with the save, our league form was incredibly inconsistent and we struggled with the hectic schedule and ended up finishing 6th – but they didn’t bloody matter did it?! Champions League secured for a second season and what a way to do it. It was at the back end of this season that I finally settled on my current lob-sided 4-4-1-1 system. This was also the season I discovered how good Jeff Rene-Adelaide was after a cracking loan spell with me averaging 7.50.
How could Stoke improve after winning the Champions League? Well I still had the desire to win the Premier League and now I’d gotten to grips with my 4-4-1-1 I was far more optimistic of a stronger domestic campaign. It was another busy summer…
Kranevitter never quite performed as I’d hoped so when PSG came in with a big fat offer, I lined up Kimmich and cashed in. Moura & Zaza weren’t happy with their lack of football so were sold. Chambers was an annoying one, I really didn’t want to sell but he moaned so bloody much. His story with Stoke wasn’t over though. Kyle Walker came in for a complete steal given what he went on to achieve with us, and this was the season we welcome Milorad Jevdjovic to the club. You’ll hear a lot more on him. A lot more.
But how did we do in competition this season? Frustrating that’s how. We bowed out of the Champions League at the hands of Bayern in the Quarter finals 4-1 on aggregate and came runner-up to (bloody) Chelsea in the league, finishing on 77 points and 6 behind Chelsea. Again draws were our downfall as we drew 11 games, there were small improvements to be made and I was keen to find them, the title would be ours. Our team was starting to click with my wide men performing fantastically, Gabriel Barbosa getting 41 goals in 48 and Lucas Romero was becoming the ultimate box-to-box midfielder.
2019/20 – 2021/22
Three seasons, three titles, pipping Chelsea to the post on all three occasions made them all the more sweeter. 86 points, 91 points & 92 points and we had converted the frustrating draws into wins and the steady process of buying numerous wonderkids and regens was reaping dividends alongside the 4-4-1-1.
It didn’t end there, each of these 3 seasons also saw 3 Champions League titles added to the bag, making it 4 in the last 5 seasons. We have established ourselves as the best team in Europe through extreme pace down the widths, incessant pressing and some fantastic, intricate build-up.
2019 saw the birth of a star and a key cog in the Stoke machine – Milorad Jevdjovic. After a fruitful loan spell in his first season with me at Sporting Lisbon as an 18 year old – he progressed very quickly and I could do nothing other than start him the following season. Let’s just say his article will be the longest and the most enjoyable to watch and read.
Thanks for sticking with me here, I hope this quickly summarises how I’ve got to where I am today, please rest assured I will be jumping back to plenty of the key moments throughout this save and going into a lot more detail on the tactic, matches and the players.
Until next time where I’ll be drilling down into the successful 4-4-1-1.