Johan Cruijff at Barcelona

The Cruijffbal Challenge #3

Welcome to my third season update of The Cruijffbal Challenge.

Prologue | Part 1 | Part 2

Well, Season 3 didn’t go as planned. They say you’re only good as your last game and that kind of summed us up. Kind of. The bad news is we didn’t get promoted but the good news is we didn’t get relegated (the board are still delighted with me, phew). But how did it all turn out and did we finish above Forest? Let’s find out.

The League

League table
7 points from victory.

We stunk. There’s no skunk in the land that could generate a pungent odour as bad as our season emitted. We started badly and it continued until the final third of the season where we found our old form but there was too much ground to make up. 20 league defeats – more than double the number of defeats in my last two seasons combined. No amount of team changes or tactical juggling could get us out of the funk. In the end, we just stayed with our “Mentalist” formation and finished (un)comfortably in mid-table.

The Cups

League Cup
A League Cup run ended in the fourth.
FA Cup
3rd and out.

We finally went past the first round of the League Cup, beating Bristol Rovers, Portsmouth, and Bolton on the way to the fourth round before losing 3-0 to Cardiff City. We entered the FA Cup at the third round but went no further after Millwall finished us off at Meadow Lane. Not even a decent attendance to cushion the blow. Rubbish.

The Players

10 players were signed between June and September for a total of £1.264m (including one freebie and one player exchange). No money made so a net loss of £1.264m. Not very Moneyball but nobody wants our players so what can you do? Anyway here’s how they did:

Joe van der Sar – Player exchange with Enzio Boldewijn. Played 29(1), 33 conceded, average rating 7.23. Doesn’t that surname sound familiar? Whatever you’re thinking, you’re right – Joe is the son of Edwin, the former Juventus, Fulham, and Manchester United goalkeeper. When I needed his dad’s quality, I got it. But there were a few 4s in some matches which I could have done without. Good stats and he’s definitely my #1 for next season.

Ross Brown – Signed for £40k. I needed some backup in goal with only Branislav Pindroch as my other keeper in the squad. He’s been in the reserves but Pindroch’s contract is up next summer so he’ll make the step up.

Dino Peric – Signed for £825k. Played 31(4), 3 goals, 1 assist, 3 MOMs, average rating 7.37. A big fee given my previous purchases but a vital centre back to fix the leaks. 4.3 tackles per game and a 83% pass rate shows how important he was. Well worth the money, even if the league table doesn’t reflect it.

Alen Deanovic – Signed for £8k. Played 25, 1 assist, 4 MOMs, average rating 6.60. I needed a right back and took a chance on Deanovic, found in Croatia along with Peric. Unfortunately, his season wasn’t as successful as his compatriot’s.

Michael Kedman – Signed for £325k. Played 32, scored 2, 2 assists, 1 MOM, average rating 7.09. Great left back from Patro Eisden in Belgium.

Jamie Stott – Signed for £28k. Played 32, scored 1, 4 assists, 1 MOM, average rating 7.25. Another centre back we needed for back up. At 23, he’s got plenty of time to improve but his first season was great. 83% pass rate is nothing to be sniffed at.

Alessandro Mattioli – Signed on a free. Played 12, average rating 6.50. I think I signed him because I was hit by a right back shortage (injuries, eh?) I didn’t want to spend money on a backup’s back up so in came Mattioli. Not great but he served a purpose. I don’t see him figuring much next season.

Sander Barstad Bergan – Signed for £8k. Played 24(6), scored 5, 1 assist, 1 MOM, average rating 6.90. Striker numbers were dwindling and I needed some cover. A Norwegian from Odds BK’s second team. Perhaps a better run in the first team would have improved his consistency and rating but not a bad return from the 20 year old.

Volodya Babayan – Signed for £16k. Played 37, scored 7, 4 assists, 4 MOMs, average rating 7.24. While trialling a different tactic needing some AMCs, I found Babayan in Portugal (scout search again). The Armenian ticked all the Cruijffbal boxes: determination (17), flair (16), technique (14), work rate (12). The return on investment was high, being involved in 15% of all goals scored.

Joao Claudio Gomes Ricciulli – Signed for £14k. Played 27(3), scored 7, 2 assists, 1 MOM, average rating 7.20. The Bissau-Guinean striker was also found in Portugal and at £14k, I couldn’t say no. I was actually in the market for another AMC but felt Ricciulli could do a job there anyway. He did both in the hole and up front. Looking forward to seeing him more next season.

The Money

The Moneyball aspect of Cruijffbal isn’t working quite the way I liked. We’re up by £7m in net profit but that’s due to the same reasons as last season: TV money, gate receipts, and season tickets. Wages were our biggest expenditure as we signed more players and I loosened the purse strings. I guess making the most of a small situation.

The Aims

A reminder of the goals:

  • Level 1: Finish above Nottingham Forest
  • Level 2: Win a cup competition
  • Level 3: Reach the Premier League
  • Level 4: Stay for at least a season
  • Level 5: Qualify for Europe
  • Level 6: Reach the FA Cup final
  • Level 7: Win the Premier League
  • Level 8: Win a European competition
  • Level 9: Win the World Club Cup
  • Level 10: Reach a £1bn bank balance
League progress
Separated by Oxford.

We drew 0-0 with Forest at home and lost 2-0 at the City Ground. It’s weird because I live about 20 minutes walk from Meadow Lane and 10 minutes walk from the City Ground. The gap between us in the league was close too. So so close.

That’s it. Season 3 was a washout but we stayed up and we’re richer. Can we get into the playoffs or even an automatic promotion place next season? Join me next time to find out!

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