I want to start this new chapter by thanking all of you for your support on the first post. It might sound a bit exaggerated, but I found it astonishing that so many of you would be so interested in a simple save update and a somewhat silly stream of consciousness. Perhaps I’m doing this whole FM blogging thing wrong. In any case, I’ll continue to “fire from the hip” so to speak. When we left off last time, we had narrowly missed promotion from the Belgian First Amateur Division after taking too long to find a striker who recognized he ought to kick it into the white squared shape at the other end of the pitch. So… what then?
Follow the money
I might’ve touched on this before (I can’t recall) but RFC Liège is the Real Madrid of owing money. At least it is on FM, and its track record in real life vouches for that. I’d show you said track records, but their original stadium was sold in 1995 and turned into a cinema after the club simply couldn’t pay to fix the crumbling terraces.
The projections were dire, but I initially expected that after dealing with issues like a single player accruing over fifteen per cent of our entire wage bill (a loanee, even worse) and our third best-paid player being the third choice goalie, things would lookup. I was wrong. Already 1.15 million euros in debt at the beginning of our second season, we were projected to owe almost 2 million by the end of it.
Still, the team had proved that with a few minor tweaks, it could compete for promotion. That was the important bit since there’s little to no strategies to be deployed for a struggling team in FM other than “Win and hope for the best”. With no sign of the owners figuring out how to transfer some money to pay the electricity bill (let alone sign anyone) and the club bleeding money like a Kill Bill henchmen, hope we did.
I’ve commented on the past how when I started playing I used to feel like managing the economy of the club “wasn’t my job”. In strict terms, you get a budget and as long as you stick to it, what else could you do? I’ve since grown to understand the budgets in FM less as like your parents’ credit card and more like the timer on a bomb. However, I hadn’t had the opportunity to manage a club in financial trouble since my wretched days at Livorno. So I didn’t so much as love the challenge, but I certainly was interested to see how my new approach would work; cut expenses and improve smartly was the name of the game.
Therefore, in came a batch of free signings, taking care of not overpaying on wages and not bringing luxury players but rather bringing the right signings to make the team as close as a sure thing for promotion as possible. A fair bit of summer cleaning was done, with several underperformers departing either for free or on loan (on their last year of contract). Lallemand himself kicked a huge fuss when I put him up for sale but he quickly shut up when recently promoted Francs Borains came calling. He even scored a few for them, lucky bastards.
The season of the French Polynesian god
It’d be impossible to tell the story of this season without the name David Aristoteles Faupala (not his real middle name). The Lens academy graduate had already silenced any doubters with an impressive first half-season, essentially putting us in the promotion conversation, even if for just a bit. He was about to get us a permanent ticket into the big boys conversation.
Pre-season went fairly all right, with us battering mediocre sides left, right and centre, but that never tells you much. The first couple of cup fixtures came and went without telling us much; three victories set up a Sixth Round meetup with Anderlecht, but the opposition had still been weak. Any doubts I had were quashed by an eleven match unbeaten run in the league, eight of those victories. Key in all of that, Mr Faupala himself; scoring like a madman, with eight goals in those 11 matches.
Right about that time we got the jewel of the crown, a 2-1 win vs Anderlecht. Did we batter them? Of course not. We got an early penalty and a lucky rebound shortly before half-time, but that was enough. That got us our ticket into the Belgian Cup Seventh Round, just one match away from the Quarter Finals and much-needed prize money.
Of course, FM is a cruel lover. Just a couple of weeks before that potential key match, the run was ended by whom else but KVK Tienen, eager to wreck everybody else’s league run like theirs was ruined. We were trashed 4-1 in the cup by Beershot, who would go on to beat a mediocre Kortrijk in the next round before being eliminated by an even more mediocre Mechelen in the semis. Local rivals Standard Liège would beat them in the final that could’ve been our return to the big time. It may sound hopeful, but having beaten the first division’s 4th best side, I feel a final appearance could’ve been on the cards.
The stumble became the fall as we never managed to regain that snappy, first half of the season form. After losing to Tienen in late November, it took us until mid January to win a league match again. The winter break might make that run look worse than it was, but our game certainly suffered. Faupala went from the best of a competent bunch to the only player performing game-in, game-out.
Still, it matters little if you ride the horse or if you push it to the destination, we got there. Arriving into the mini-league with a single point’s advantage, having just edged second-placed Aalst 54 to 53 (remember, odd numbers don’t get rounded up), we run a smooth last six games and won the whole thing convincingly. When it looked like our second half of the season was gonna prove costly, the team showed up.
Faupala? Five in six, including a brace to dismantle Aalst in a promotion-clincher at a packed up Rocourt. He would finish the season with 25 league goals in 31 matches, which would win him the league’s top scorer award, some eight goals better than the previous winner. For reasons beyond my understanding, he was snubbed for the division’s player of the season award. I love that man.
Kids are the future
I think (again) I might’ve neglected it last time around, but unbeknownst to me when I took over the team, Liège’s got quite a capable youth academy. I didn’t think much of it when last season, struggling to get the side to make that final push, my HoYD came and said we had a golden generation in the works. In truth, I think that’s about the least believable piece of advice in all of FM; it’s always a golden generation the first season, but hardly ever it really is.
Right about the time that I was hoping for a miracle in last season’s Ppromotion mini-league, the first bunch arrive; to my surprise, there were quite a few capable footballers. Having Erwin Vandenbergh as a HoYD meant most came out with a decent enough personality, and with my team being ostensibly bad, a few even jumped straight into the first team. Chief amongst them was short attacking midfielder Norbert Behrend, who quickly gained a spot in the first team over the 2021/22 season.
However, before my brand new right-back Mohammed Diatta had any chance of even challenging the rotating duo of Jordan Kerstenne and Wouter Hias, KRC Genk came and swooped him for about 50k, but most importantly allowing me to keep 50% of the profit from any future sale.
That’s when I realised that my Youth Intakes were gonna play a double part in the development of this club. On the one side, the more traditional use of having them, you know, play football. On the other, the more crooked part of effectively being living, breathing cash. With most of my players going through the “former prospect” or “has-been” part of their careers, it would soon prove clear that the academy was going to prove Liège’s way out of perpetual indebtment.
Promotion, then, was going to prove key, as entering the financial plentitudes of the second tier would allow the club to become a fully professional side, improving the kids’ development with an entire week of training. It was going to be vital to remain in the Belgian Second Division then. That was precisely the objective for next season, which we’ll cover in the coming episode.