Image of Johan Cruijff by Robert Ball

The Cruijffbal Challenge #1

Welcome to my first season update of The Cruijffbal Challenge.

If you have no idea what that is, check out my prologue/primer to get up to speed. Given how I long I’ve played Championship Manager, I’m used to the English football league system so promotions are much easier at the start. That’s less a boast and more comfort in using a tactic that exploits the AI. Is that cheating? Some would say yes but it’s not foolproof; I’m still Notts County after all. We started with a few top players but overall nothing special. Jon Stead led the attack as a seasoned veteran with Premier League experience and Christian Oxlade-Chamberlain (younger brother of Alex) was a decent young midfielder. It came as no surprise that they won’t be joining me in the second season, but more on that later.

As with all my precious challenge posts, I’ll split them up into headings:

The League
The Cups
The Players
The Money
The Aims

Let’s see how the league campaign finished.

The League

Following on from my “brag” about easier promotions, that’s what happened. I didn’t have the best horse in the race before it started but I was a few furlongs ahead by the end. By the time I took a look at the table, I’d discovered I was 33 points clear of the last playoff place and only needed a point to get an automatic place. It didn’t take long before I gained automatic promotion and then won the title. When we went ahead, we never lost but there were quite a few 3-2 wins after going into a commanding lead. I didn’t like the similarities between us and the other Magpies from 95/96. I hadn’t intended to create a team like Keegan’s but we ended the season with least conceded and most scored. That’s 12 wins ahead.

The Cups

Who are they?
Peak embarrassment.
I hate penalties.

The League Cup came and went because I followed the squad rotation rule and out a defender in goal by mistake. I didn’t spot my error until I went 2-0 down. Changing my keeper stemmed the flow a little but my mini-comeback wasn’t enough and it ended 3-2. We got a scalp off Portsmouth in the first round of the FA Cup but my rotation system faltered again against non-league opposition as we lost 4-3 to Hampton & Richmond Borough in the second round. I was most annoyed about that result. Our run in the FA Trophy ended in the quarter-finals when we lost to Oldham on penalties.

The Players

My best player would have been Christian Oxlade-Chamberlain but he went to Leicester in January for £90k. Ninety thousand. Because of the rule that says any amount offered over the asking price has to be accepted, I couldn’t negotiate for more (and I would have got more). He’s now worth £1.1m and that money would have been great right now. It just means I’ll have to increase the asking price of some of my players. Is that cheating? Maybe but I have a money goal and because of how the game works, it significantly undervalues lower league players and the profit is rarely seen for the smaller club. I won’t go heavy on it. Four players left for £250k in total and I reinvested that into three players for a paltry £40k. That’s £210k net profit.

Our best player, Christian Oxlade-Chamberlain, went to Leicester in January for £90k. Ninety thousand. Because of the rule that says any amount offered over the asking price has to be accepted, I couldn’t negotiate for more (and I would have got more). He’s now worth £1.1m and that money would have been great right now. It means I’ll have to increase the asking price of some of my players. Is that cheating? Maybe, but I have a money goal and because of how the game works, it undervalues lower league players and smaller clubs don’t see the profit. But I’ll leave the soapbox for another time. Four players left for £250k in total and I reinvested that into three players for a paltry £40k. That’s £210k net profit.

The best player who stayed was Kristian Dennis, who started in the reserves before I brought him out for cover up front. And he stayed. 50 matches, 1 sub appearance, 32 goals. For the transfers in, Henry Lawrence has been a revelation. It was a risk playing a 17-year-old in the DMC role, especially when he was replacing David Vaughan. But despite the mediocre attributes, he made the role his own and ended with a 7.17 average, 3 goals and 7 assists. Nortei Nortey came in as fullback cover but didn’t impress much with a 6.91 average over 8(3) appearances. There’s still time. Finally, Rory Oliver was C-OC’s replacement (I doubt he’s been called that but it works and I’m sticking with it.) 16 appearances, 1 goal, and 5 assists with a 7.19 average is a decent return on £35k.

The Money

At the time of writing this, I haven’t got to pre-season for Season 2 yet but I know I’ll end with a deficit. It’s only £149k at the moment but I have a £200k transfer kitty which is more than I started with. Increasing asking prices to sensible levels may help. Wages will be lower with a lot of £1000pw earners going on frees in the summer. I’ll aim to replace them with players on lower wages. That’s about it.

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

I’ve not achieved any but I didn’t expect to. But a mini-crisis: Forest won the Championship play-off final which makes Level 1 harder (if they stay in the Premier League). That’ll teach me for being cocky. For now, the focus is on consecutive promotions and maybe a FA Trophy run.

Season 1 is over. What does Season 2 have in store? Join me next time to find out.

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