The Parken Stadion sits in the Indre Østerbro district, Copenhague, just a tad under 200 kilometres from Vejle’s ground. It was inaugurated in 1992, after two years of construction and it replaces, of course, the original Parken, the Københavns Idrætspark.
The original stadium was the theatre for the Danish Dynamite’s most iconic moment, at least on Danish soil. It happened on June 5th, 1985, during the European Qualifiers for the 1986 World Cup. There, inspired and spurred by a sea of red and white made up of 45,000 roligans, Elkjaer, Laudrup and company battled the Soviet Union in a match that would be described as “fast-paced” even today. The Danes went head to head with the Soviet’s energetic pressing and flawless technique and came up on top, securing a 4-2 win and the top spot on their qualification group.
For Michaël Asau’s Vejle, however, Parken, the new Parken, will forever be the stage for another epic. The French manager’s side arrived at Copenhague to play the last match of their Preliminary Phase season, and with a lot on the line. With the table looking as tight as it could be, and both their rivals playing supposedly weaker competition, the Jutland Ruby needed a miracle to achieve their goal of entering the Championship Group and another shot at European football. “At that point, the whole season was on the line”, Michaël told me.
Said season hadn’t been easy. The club’s hard-earned European qualification meant there was much less time to prepare and much less margin for error. With just two friendlies in early July to work iron things out, Vejle faced Lithuanian side FK Suduva in the Europa Conference League 2nd Qualifying Round. Comfortable 3-0 and 3-1 wins sealed their ticket to the next round, but the team was under huge pressure as mid-week fixtures piled on.
Next up was FK Tobyl from Kazahkstan; a surprise 3-1 loss away and subsequent 2-0 win at home meant extra time and yet more playing time for Asau’s squad. Vejle rallied, earning a 4-0 win after 120 minutes, to set up a Fourth Qualifying Round matchup with Spanish side Levante. Two losses (3-1 at home and 4-3 in Spain) spelt the end for the Jutland Ruby’s European adventure. The fact that Levante went on to win the whole thing is no consolation for Asau; “If anything, it means we could’ve won it if we beat them”, he told me.
In the middle of all this, Vejle was scrambling in the league. They started strong with three wins in a row, including a derby win against Silkeborg at home. Things, however, quickly derailed. Losses against Nordsjaelland and recently promoted Lyngby compounded with lacklustre performances at home against OB and SonderjyskE for a total of 2 points from a possible 12. It was only to be expected for a side that had effectively played 15 matches in the space of two months.
Things were made much worse by the departure of their top player last season, Allan Souza. “We knew that if the right offer came, we wouldn’t be able to hold on to Allan”, Michaël told me. The Brazilian winger departed for €2.4M to UAE side Shabab Al-Ahli, in a deal that multiplied his wages by more than tenfold. Yet another blow to Vejle came in early October when left winger Arbnor Mucolli suffered a damaged cruciate ligament, which took him out of the team for most of the season.
Still, Vejle rallied. “I think this season showed what great spirit this squad has”, said Michaël after the last match. Young winger Hektor Højbjerre-Thomsen was recalled from his loan at B.93 and performed admirably, with Lukas Engels stepping up in a big way to the starting role. Even the departure of yet another key figure in the January window, with Denis Kolinger leaving for Getafe after refusing a new contract, didn’t take them off their stride. In the sparsely fixtured second half of the Preliminary Stage, Asau’s squad achieved significant wins against AaB, Midtjylland and Brondby to come within a result of Championship Group qualification. Problem was… it was time to visit Parken.
With Nordsjaelland, OB and Midtjylland all playing the bottom three (AGF, AC Horsens and AaB respectively), Vejle need a miracle. They had to get at least a point from a team that had dropped just 13 from 63 possible and dominated the league all season long. If they failed to do that and none of the other contenders slipped, it would be down to Goal Difference; going against the league’s best attack, it would be difficult.
“We decided to treat it like any other fixture”, Asau told me. “We thought that if we put any emphasis on it, it might prove detrimental. So we just went about our days like any other fixtures. Give our best and win, draw or lose, then live with the consequences. The players aren’t stupid, they know what’s at stake at any moment”.
The players, it turns out, knew exactly what was at stake. Vejle came out of the gates firing. A low shot to the far post from inside the area by Mads Hansen put them in lead after just seven minutes. Not then minutes had passed when Filip Bundgaard extended the lead with an absolute belter from outside the box from a quick press by Djordjevic. Three minutes later, a pass into space from Hansen left Bundgaard one on one with the FC København for a 3-0 lead. That seemed to kick the home team out of their lapse, and quickly regain control of the match, but as the teams went into the dressing rooms for halftime, it was still 3-1 to Vejle.
“At the dressing room everyone was quiet”, Asau told me. Once again, the French manager chose to use few words: “I simply told them to remain focused and not get complacent. There was still a job to be done”. The match, which had been a celebration of Vejle style of play, quickly became a hard drawn battle. The defending champions, perhaps a tad too comfortable before, perhaps a tad too complacent, had been humiliated. They wanted their honour back. Jeppe Højbjerg’s goal was barraged from all sides but to little avail. It took a 96th-minute penalty by Simon Graves to give København the chance to salvage a drawn.
Even as it went in, Asau’s eyes were fixed on the referee; when the whistle blew, his arms went up like they had been held in place with springs. Heartbreaking as it must’ve been for the players, it was enough, just enough. None of the other sides had dropped points, with OB’s comeback against AC Horsens the closest Vejle came to receiving a helping hand.
Their Championship Group campaign started in shaky form. A last-minute draw against Midtjylland at home and a desperately boring loss at OB took some steam off their sails. “It was only to be expected after the emotional drainage of that last match”, Asau explained. Even after a near-perfect second leg saw them pick up 13 points from 15 available (including another epic match against FC København, this time at Vejle Stadium), it was only good enough for 4th. OB’s surprise cup win means it’s not even good enough for a European Places Playoff.
For Asau, it only leaves a taste of missed opportunities: “If we could’ve held against København, or Midtjylland, maybe it would’ve been enough for third”. Their disappointing DBU Pokalen Third Round exit against 2nd Division HB Køge only adds to that feeling: “København defeated us once all season. Maybe it could’ve been us in that final”. “It was a hard season and we came through better than last time, despite so many problems,” says a more contemplative Asau. “In the end, that’s all that matters”.
Trent Crimm, for theangrylinesmen.
The Part Where I Apologize for How Infrequent This Series Has Been
Well, it’s been some time. Sure, there was the Wenger series eating my time like a newborn, but that’s only half the story. Truth be told (like I tweeted last week), I just take a long time when playing. If I have to name just one thing I admire from fellow bloggers like my friend FM Stag is their capacity to just move on with the game and create quality written posts one after the other making it seem effortless. I’m not that kind of blogger. I don’t think I’ll ever be.
In other news, what a season it has been. I’ll be so happy when FM24 comes around and we don’t have to deal with this hateful 2022 WC stuff anymore. I hadn’t played so many matches so closely stuffed since my days at Confiança with the SA Journeyman. Worst of it is Denmark is a REALLY unforgiving league. Teams (apart from almighty København) are all closely matched, so if you slip up a bit the fall is quick and the recovery is long. Any how…
The topic I wanted to take on this chapter is that of scouting. Recently I’ve been taking some interest in the real-life art of watching some teenage kid play football and determining whether he’ll be any good or not. In particular, I took a short class on how real-life scouting departments work. Hardly made me an expert, but it was interesting, and as always I was keen to test these newfound smarts into the game. So, how does it work?
The Scouting Process
The class I took was taught by Venezuelan scout Victor Grao, meaning he used a calendar-year season (JAN/DEC) to explain the timeframes. Regardless, as you’ll quickly see, it can be adapted to a European-style season (JUL/JUN) without issues. He divided the season into two parts, one spanning from January to June, and the other from July to December. For reasons soon to be explained, these parts work much the same way so we’ll focus on the early part of the year.
From January to April, scouts are meant to, well, scout… During this first phase, we’re recollecting data on players. Early on, the leagues each scout will cover are decided, with Grao’s recommendation being no more than six leagues per scout. He also points out the importance of establishing priority leagues, like the ones in your own country (say, the English pyramid for English clubs), particularly when dealing with clubs where the league rules put a limit on the number of foreign players. He recommends as well following homegrown footballers playing abroad and the own club’s loaned out players.
When choosing the leagues each scout will follow, Grao recommends using a mix of calendar year and seasonal leagues. This way, scouts will always be able to provide players with soon to end contracts as options, which are often at a discount. There’s also a focus on time-efficient scouting, discarding unattainable options (say, Mpappé for Ligue 2 side) early in the scouting process.
After each player is scouted, Grao recommends filtering according to how interesting a player is for the club. According to him, we should at this point have somewhere around 400 players on our books, sorted as follows:
- Optimal Players, those who the club would ideally sign
- Second Choice Players, interesting but not prime options
- Last Option Players, players who would require an improvement to be considered
- Discarded Players, players the club would have no interest in
- Youth Players, players who still have to develop could be considered at a later point.
After that’s all taken care of, we move into May, and Phase Two of the process. During this part, Grao suggests taking the whole body of scouting knowledge we have and filtering it down even more. From those 400 players, we should be able to pick (at most) five per position, depending on how your team sets out on the pitch. That should leave you with a list of around 50~60 players to focus on. At this point, the scouting of leagues slows down, and scouts are expected to focus more on this list of players.
When the list is ready, players should be contacted to get a better grip on whether the owning club would be open to selling, as well as if the player’s wages and other demands can be met. That should further trim down the list as we come across clubs that don’t want to get rid of the player or ask too high a fee, or simply players who aren’t interested in joining your club.
Come June, we enter Phase Three of the process when all that remains is that your club can negotiate for the players and reinforce the squad.
Adapting the Process to FM
Much of this, of course, is hard to translate to the game. For once, I’m not sure how useful a scout doing five leagues would be in FM, and there’s certainly no chance they bring you 400 players every 6 months… The case could be made that the 400 players could be listed as EVERY player a scout gets that initial 10-15% of knowledge but it’d be impossibly hard to trim players off that having learned so little. Much the same way, the slowing down of scouting leagues can’t really be done. Still, some of Grao’s methods can be applied to the game. This is how I did it at Vejle…
First, I set up my scouting team. This being a Danish oriented challenge, it would make little sense to put a watchful eye over a huge number of leagues, but I wanted to make sure I was making the most of the talent I could invest in. I took my Chief Scout out and put him on Opposition Analysis duty. Then, I split each of my remaining four scouts and split them into four sets of tasks:
- Scout #1 was set up to watch over the Danish 1st and 2nd Divisions as well as the Swedish Allsvenskan and Superettan, achieving that split between seasonal and calendar year leagues.
- Scout #2 watched over the Danish 3rd and 4th Divisions, as well as the Norwegian Eliteserien and OBOS-ligaen, much to the same logic.
- Scout #3 took care of the Danish Reserve and u19, as well as the UEFA Youth League. It later dawned on me that I could’ve gone for the youth leagues in Sweden and Norway, but hey… you do and you learn.
- Scout #4, last but not least, was set up to look for first-team players of Danish nationality based outside of Denmark. This was the trickiest of the four tasks. I tried setting up an established set of leagues (say, the top 5 leagues), but it ended up meaning the scout mostly sat on his bum all day. This approach netted me some results, although he did spend a lot of time (for some reason) watching Danish u19 teams. For my next attempt, I’ll try setting up regions instead of leagues and see how that works.
All scouts were sent on six-month-long assignments, which are renewed when they end, to mimic that restarting of the cycle. As the scouts bring players to my attention, I set them to scout those that attract my interest and discard (or stop scouting) all others. When a player of my interest is fully scouted, I send them into the default FM shortlist.
As we enter month 5 of the process (November and May for the seasonal cycle), I split the players and filter them according to Grao’s categories, with A-listed players being potential top targets, B-listed players being second options, C-listed players being third options and J-listed players being youth players (J for Juveniles, sometimes I can’t escape my mother tongue).
In the last couple of cycles, I’ve also made the habit of going through the already listed players and moving or deleting those that no longer fit the criteria. For example, several of my first cycle J players were by then nearing 19 or 20, which means I no longer consider them youth players (the cut being set at 17).
With all players sorted, I decide on a number of positions I’d like to see improve, and move at least three players per position to a list named “Targets”. Then, I approach the players’ agents and decide which are viable options and which aren’t. If we end up with less than 2 options per position, we go back to the drawing board. After that, negotiating begins
So… does it work?
The Process Under the Spotlight: Analyzing My 2022/23 Signings
During the 2022/23 season we made a total of nine signings. Some were made out of necessity, others out of intention, and a few were made out of temptation. Let’s take a look at how we arrived at said players, how expensive the process was, and how effective they were.
#1 Oliver Jensen on a free from Randers FC
I spotted Oliver somewhere along the second cycle of the first season. He had a strange, almost Riquelme-like skillset. He was still just 20yo and I figured with enough training and playing time he could at least become a solid rotation option. However, lacklustre performances and TERRIBLE training levels mean he’s leaving on a free after a single season.
Signing Rating: 6/10
Player Rating: 3/10
#2 Lucas Bøje-Larsen on a free from Hillerød
Another young bet, Lucas was spotted near the end of the second cycle. I was alerted he was on an expiring deal and signed him on a cheap contract. Unable to break into the first team and unimpressive in the Reserves, he went out on loan for this next season and won’t be coming back
Signing Rating: 6/10
Player Rating: 4/10
#3 Hektor Højbjerre-Thomsen on a free from Nordsjaelland
A first cycle catch, Hektor was signed on a pre-contract from our European-spot rivals. Like our friend Trent comments, Hektor had quite the intense first season, being recalled from a loan to cover but for Mucolli. He performed well, at times looking like he was going to displace Engels, but a lack of development looks like it might be his downfall. I’ve been unable to find a loan for him in this next season, so chances are he’ll (hopefully) have to impress with the Reserves to get another chance.
Signing Rating: 7/10
Player Rating: 6/10
#4 Lasse Nielsen for €30k from Malmö
Lasse was spotted on the second cycle, entering his final contract with the Swedish club. I liked his personality, and with his air dominance, he seemed like could add an option to Kolinger. However, performances were weak and his contract quickly became too expensive. Luckily I was able to ship him to Qatar
Signing Rating: 6/10
Player Rating: 2/10
#5 Théo Pellenard on a free from Auxerre
Théo was actually an emergency signing, as following the end of Fulham’s Jerome Opoku loan at Vejle my other options were either too expensive or uninterested. He was suggested by my DoF and following a successful two-week trial, I signed him. He seemed like a top addition, so I wasn’t too hesitant in offering him one of the top salaries. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fullback underperform so consistently. Much like Lasse, he became a burden long before the end of the season. I’m glad Lillestrøm is taking him off my wages.
Signing Rating: 3/10
Player Rating: 2/10
#6 Simon Graves for €500k from Randers FC
Finally, we can talk about a success story. Simon was spotted early during the second cycle and quickly marked as a target that transfer window. At first, he seemed a little pricey, but later into the window he demanded a transfer, which put him right in our price range. Randers actually wanted €400K for him, but I negotiated a €200K initial payment and €300K in instalments so as to not dry the coffers. He can be a bit inconsistent but is generally one of our top performers and solid all-around.
Signing Rating: 8/10
Player Rating: 7/10
#7 Ali Almosawe for €850K from FC København
Ali was actually proof the system works. After the departure of Souza, I was sure Mads Hansen was going to take that spot, so I could indulge a bit and look for a top prospect to fill the substitute spot. My first objective was AGF’s Albert Grønbæk, but his agent must’ve been on something when he said they’d be looking for somewhere around €500K and €1.9M, cause I could never get them to ask anything below €6M. With Albert out of the race, I went for Ali and got him on a deal for €350k + €500K in instalments. He broke my heart a little bit when he chose to represent Syria internationally, and he’s a bit behind on development, but hopefully he’ll get more minutes next season.
Signing Rating: 8/10
Player Rating: 6/10
#8 Jonas Jensen-Abbew for €1.1M from Nordsjaelland
Following the departure of Denis Kolinger, we were scrambling to find a good replacement. With Simon taking first-team duties, once again I could look to bring a top prospect. Jonas was option number two, actually spotted during the first cycle of this season. He was expensive, on €300k + two instalments of €400K, but if we can manage to get him to grow, he could become an asset not just to Vejle but the Danish NT. As a CB, he gets more time on the clock than someone like Jensen or Almosawe, so I’m hopeful.
Signing Rating: 7/10
Player Rating: 6/10
#9 Filip Bundgaard for €1M from Randers FC
In case you haven’t already realized who our favourite victims were, we got Filip. The departure of Kolinger and the freeing of Lasse Nielsen’s wages (plus the board offering some extra cash since we were bound to make it into the Championship Group) left us with some money to play with. When I spotted Filip during the 22/23 first cycle, I knew I wanted him. Our attacking rotation had been somewhat failing, and a top prospect at just 18 years old was just too good to ignore. He was expensive, €300K + two instalments of €350K… but if I told you how I jumped of my seat when he scored that beauty against København… I have no regrets.
Signing Rating: 6/10
Player Rating: 9/10
So, did the new system work? I’d say it does. For now, it’s on continuing development, but I’ve found I often have enough options when looking to make a signing. Some positions are harder to come by than others (I’ve noted that creative number 10s seem to grow on trees in Denmark but ball-winning midfielders are the rarest commodity), and yet for someone who never really got a grip on the whole scouting thing, it’s been better than usual. For now, all that remains is going into the next season and hope we can keep progressing.
Until then, thanks for reading.