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Spirit of ’86 – Recapture


Football is… infinite. It’s unending. You can cover every story in every big team in every top league, but go one level below and it all starts again. It’s like a fractal of goals, near misses and drama.

The game we fell in love with…

When Carl Hagedorn contacted me to join this team, it was the liberty he offered that enticed me. “Write about whatever you want”, he said, “I won’t set quotas, I won’t set targets, I won’t set topics. I want your writing, wherever it goes”. After so many years covering the main European football leagues day in, day out, for a mainstream medium, it was everything I desired.

Yet freedom can be a double-edged sword. When no one tells you what to do, you have to figure it out yourself. Soon, the very thing I craved became what was holding me back. Every subject I approached, every angle I decided on, brought more doubt than certainty. What if there was a better way to tell the story? What if there was a better story to be told? It’s an unsolvable dilemma. At least, it was for me.

For a young French manager making a connection at Istanbul Airport, it was a fairly easy problem. “Cover us”, he said. His name is Michaël Asau, and by us, he meant the side he’d soon take charge of, Vejle Boldklub, who play in the Danish Superliga. 

Michaël Asau, our international man of mystery

When we met, we were waiting to board the same plane. I was going from St. Petersburg to Londo, after watching Spain’s QFs match at Euro 2021; he was on the way back from Baku. He was following the Danish national team, looking to gain a better understanding of his soon-to-be adoptive home and its footballing culture. 

As these lines make it obvious to figure out, I accepted his proposal, but why? Vejle is an illustrious name in Danish football, but they haven’t exactly set the world alight since their return to the top tier in 2020. They also look set to be nailed to the bottom of the table for most of this season. There are also other, more interesting projects in Danish football, with the likes of FC Midtjylland, FC Kobenhavn and FC Nordsjaelland far more developed in their current paths.

It’s also not the case that Michaël is some kind of footballing genius; I’ve come to be familiar enough with him to know he won’t mind me saying that. One of very few footballers of French Polynesian descent, he had an average career as a regional level midfielder in the lower tiers of French football. He completed his UEFA courses whilst working part-time on the lower tiers and impressed enough to get a recommendation for the Vejle job. He is, by no accounts, a deadbeat; but footballing genius? He’d be the first to discredit that.

Denmark at the 1986 World Cup. A team we love to love

What he is, however, is a man with a vision. “I fell in love with Piontek’s side whilst doing my badges”, he said when we first met. “He was the man who gave Denmark their style. There is nothing more important for a national side than their identity”. “The thrill, and the excitement, the beauty and the chaos, the ruthlessness and the naivete. I want to recapture that. I want to recapture the Spirit of ‘86”. It was his convictions, ironically, that convinced me. 

So I’m departing for Denmark. I’m joining Michaël, perhaps not as part of his endeavour, but as an observer; a catcher in the rye of sorts. Wish him, wish me, wish us the best of luck.

Trent Crimm, for theangrylinesmen.

Goals and Objectives

So, here we are. As my fictionalized version of Ted Lasso’s insightful and slightly snobbish reporter Trent Crimm has pointed out, we’re setting out to conquer Denmark with Vejle Boldklub.

As some of you might’ve noticed, we’re doing so in the shoes of one Michaël Asau, a man of French Polynesian descent. The keen-eyed (or extremely memorious) amongst you, might see the connection between our current alter ego and RFC Liège’s deadliest striker. That’s because I’m starting a new tradition here at the blog, where my favourite player from the last cycle becomes the inspiration for the next cycle’s manager character.

That being said, I’ve talked in the past about how I got the decision of managing them for FM22, and why, so I figured it’s time to talk a bit more about how I plan to go about this.

Vejle Stadion, our new home for Football Manager 2022

My goal is to build a side, with Vejle on the club game and (should the opportunity come) with Denmark on the international stage, that can compete on the highest level playing a brand of football inspired by the Sepp Piontek sides of the 1980s. To do this, I will also have to put a heavy focus on nurturing and developing top-level players, and strengthening the Danish game so as to be able to keep them at the club for as long as I can.

My objectives, which I take to be more down-to-earth aims, are to keep the ratio among the squad at 50% academy players, and also keep a maximum of 3 non-Danish players on the first team books. Additionally, I’d like to have the next Danish Ballon d’Or winner be a Vejle academy graduate.

Should this be a club better placed within the national game, I would look to set stricter deadlines for myself (have X number of foreign players by X date, etc.), but as our friend Trent Crimm points out, Vejle isn’t in the best spot.

Club Status

Being predicted to finish second to last, that puts us as the press’ premiere candidate for the second relegation spot. With a plan that doesn’t involve adding any top outside talent but rather growing the club organically, we realistically won’t be in a position to fully control our fates any time soon.

My workaround will likely be a “one-for-one” rule, where I can only bring as many foreigners as I sell/release. As the series progresses, I’ll probably move into a “two-for-one” rule or even some hard deadlines. For now, it is what it is.

Economically the club isn’t sound. Starting with almost €5.2M in the bank, we’re projected to sink like a stone, at a rate of almost €6M per season. I’m unaware of whether the owners will pump money into the club to keep the bleeding at a minimum, but it seems obvious that we’re going to have to apply some creative accounting the first couple of seasons, at least until we (hopefully) reach the European stages.

Facilities wise, we’ve got a solid base. Of course, we’re going to need a lot of improvement, and a lot of money to make that happen, but it should be enough to put things into motion. In terms of Staff, we’re rather ravaged, so we’ll probably need some work there to get things up to standard, particularly when it comes to scouts.

I’ve been working on a new scouting method, which I’ll probably detail in a future blog. Of course, with the Danish-heavy focus of this save, we’ll probably just be looking inside our own borders. However, we need a top department as we’ll depend on getting the best talent in said borders.

Squad Analysis

The first thing that hit me when I checked the squad was how many foreigners we have. Perhaps I’m unaccustomed to the reality of European top tiers, but it was a surprise to me that on a 23 man squad we have just five Danes. 

We’re currently dealing with four major injuries at the moment, one of which is a season-ender. One of them is sadly Tobias Molgaard, whom I enjoyed watching when I started following Vejle’s campaign (to my despair). Out for at least six months is Tobias Gunderlund, a solid right-back, if not a top player. As always, I’ve closed the first transfer window, so we’ll have to deal with these injuries as best we can. Let’s take a look at our key players…

Our overall best player (probably) is Croatian centre-back Denis Kolinger. He might as well play with his feet stuck in molasses, but at almost 2 metres high, he’ll be a weapon on set pieces and probably allow me to defend narrow and not worry too much about opposition crosses.

Next, we have Brazilian winger Allan Souza, who I plan to use as a Raphinha of sorts, a main risk from the wings, looking to finish or cross deep. I had great success on a side save near the end of FM21 with deeper sitting Inverted Wingers, so I’ll look to see if we can replicate that.

Last but not least, we have the pairing of Venezuelan Andrés Ponce and Montenegrin Luka Djordjevic. Both of them fill the industrious tag more than anything else. Djordjevic is slightly more clinical up top, but regardless I’m looking to use them more as a first line of defence than as focal points for attack. 

Speaking of which, in the next episode I’ll be talking about tactics. In particular, I wanted to discuss how Piontek’s side played, how I’m looking to translate that into Football Manager, and how much of that we’ll be able to put in place in this first season.

Until then, thanks for reading

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  1. Seattle Red

    Meant to say this the other day, but it has been a long week… The journalistic intro is fantastic, as is the overall premise. Can’t wait to see how this one plays out!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. fromero92

      Thanks Ian!

      Liked by 1 person

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