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Back in the CL, and back to being drawn against Santa Coloma.
Much, much easier than our 1st encounter last season, and while we also had the fitness issues this time at least we didn't exacerbate it by playing Extra Time.
Round 2 of the Prelims matched us up against the champions of Luxembourg, and as it turned out, much much easier than last season as well.
With hindsight, it was actually quite odd to have a Lithuanian side in the Prelims of the CL - the 4 clubs in this tourney this season were from San Marino, Andorra, Luxemboug and the Faroes - Lithuania might not be giants of the game, but they aren't literal microstates either.
But I digress - winning the Prelims means we've secured at least 2 more matches in Europe than last season: 1 CL and EL qualifying tie each if I lose immediately in the former.
... And yeah, we inevitably did.
I've still not got around to developing a tactic to barricade our goal, so we do find ourselves exposed and dominated at this level.
Same deal against the Slovak champions - showed a bit of ambition, but not enough ability, and as a result we bowed out of Europe - but at least with a marked improvement in our coefficient.
Oh, and a shit ton of money - so much so that we've quadrupled our bank to 2.1m after only having around 500k at one point after upgrading our facilities.
Now for the transfers - and quite a bit of bittersweet news:
So yes, Lazzeri has returned to Italy with Alessandria - I can't help but be glad for him getting a full-time deal at a Serie C team after 2 great years with us. A bit annoying that he left midway through our European tour, but at least he didn't leave to a La Fiorita for some trash part-time pay.
- Blanco... Ehh, he needed game time and I was never going to play someone as aggressive and positionally naive as he is.
- Pelliccia was slightly frustrating, he would've started league games this season; he's joined by Amici who did start league games.
- Santi was on awful form last season so I'm not too concerned with him leaving, but I guarantee he'll score against us next season.
- Gennari didn't start a league game last season, so I'm not going to begrudge him for looking for a starting berth.
A couple of arrivals:
De Letteriis is a talented midfielder, if a bit of a wrong'un, having already rejected being tutored by Bianchi.
Nevertheless he's already starting material, and will get the game time he deserves.
Bollini spent 10 seasons at Tre Fiori, though he really was only a starter for 4 of them.
Not as good as Bianchi as a whole, he still managed 11 clean sheets last season and will be starting in the Coppa Titano at least.
The bigger question I have is why Tre Fiori released him to begin with - they currently have no senior goalkeepers and it doesn't look like they're signing a replacement at this point - maybe they've got a couple of youth gems?
Preseason went pretty well, a couple of losses here and there but I'll put those down to rotation.
I can definitely see us finishing in the top 2 minimum, and we're helped by having to play Fiorentino and La Fiorita only once.
But of course the Coppa Titano is the objective going forward, and we find ourselves in a bit of a Group of Death.
Fiorentino, Tre Penne and Cailungo (who won the thing the season before last), yeah we had an objectively easier group last season and still nearly tripped up.
Lastly, some shoutouts to our best players of last season:
Della Valle has another 10 seasons left in him minimum, but for Bianchi I just hope he can still keep up with the game after his broken pelvis - he's done ok in preseason, but is clearly still unfit and will need further nursing.
7 wins from 9 is our best start to a season so far, being able to both blow teams out and grind out 1-0s.
Of course losing against Tre Penne and Virtus(!) puts puts a hell of a damper on things, especially finishing out the year with an L.
Being 3rd is always going to irk at 1st glance, but when considering that we've got:
- 2 games in hand on Tre Fiori, and
- 8 points and 3 games on Cosmos in 4th
We're actually in a much better position than at 1st glance - but it goes without saying when the team goes 7 of 9 right.
Far more issues in the Coppa Titano - whether it's the rotated team or a game approach issue, we can't seem to get it right in the Cup.
There's a case to be made that Fiorentino and Tre Penne are bum draws in an arguable Group of Death, but regardless of the draw we still need to beat what's in front of us.
It was imperative that we beat Cailungo to prevent this campaign from becoming a shitshow already, but we do still find ourselves 3rd in the group.
At our best we can beat both Fiorentino and Tre Penne, but my days have we been far from our best in the Cup in all the last 3 seasons.
At least we've still able to pad the trophy cabinet with another Supercup win.
Pelliccia's on loan at Libertas from La Fiorita, and as the sole striker in a 5-4-1 he was their only goal threat up top.
He did score too, and he really should have had a hattrick, such was he extent to which he terrorised our backline.
Fortunately our own young strikers also turned up big time to put any of his threats down.
We end off with another off-transfer window signing:
Much like Moses Bakare last season, Michael waited through the window for a club who would offer him a part-time deal that Tre Penne gave him last season.
Turns out no one thought him worthy of one, and so once the window slammed shut he had to have humble pie and entertain non-contract offers - that's when we pounced.
He's not brilliant, but he's a damn sight better than Molinari and that's all that counts really.
An unbeaten 2nd half of the season, which is undeniably great, but even here we find things to be pissed about - 4 draws, especially the Tre Fiori game where we failed to score against 9 men.
It speaks to the quality at the top that we only sneaked top spot by 1 point.
The top 3 in our group was a class apart too, a 16 point gap between Tre Fiori in 3rd and Libertas in 4th.
Some of the draws could be attributed to prioritising the Coppa Titano, and with hindsight I'd say it paid off handsomely.
Winning crunch ties against Tre Penne and Fiorentino allowed us to debut some youth graduates, who promptly went on to open their goal accounts for the club.
Losing the 1st 2 games in the group? ez
Pretty much the only big gun that bowed out was Fiorentino, so we were likely to meet one of the others in the quarters.
And so it proved - hopefully we can repeat the insane heroics from last season.
A number of transfers out as usual:
Poggiali and Boschi came through the previous youth intake and were extremely talented, Poggiali in particular.
In fact they were all under 20, but other than the former only bGasperoni was close to the 1st team.
Only 1 arrival:
Renzi came in for the RB spot in the U19s, and who knows, with his physical ability he could turn out to be a somewhat competent option at centreback as well.
Finally, another youth intake:
Ohhhh yeah, Varela's going to be a starter for San Marino.
As mentioned, Ceccoli and Ugolini both scored in their 1st starts for the club, and while Varela wasn't able to due to injury I'm expecting him to feature in the cup knockouts as well.
Bindi's definitely a work in progress still, but that turn of speed will do us a world of good in central midfield, not to mention his freekick ability.
Less of an evisceration compared to last season, but a dominant performance regardless.
George Michael popping up on the far post to score twice was a particular highlight.
Far tighter against rivals Murata, Protti put a dampener on our half-time break and threatened to derail our chances of winning the game. Fortunately, Varela scored on he debut off a set piece to regain the lead, before Michelotti and Ferrucci sealed the game.
So a first final appearance personally, and the first since in over a decade for the club:
Roerto Colonna continued his suspect form throughout the season here, struggling against Tre Penne's strike pair all game and eventually hauled off while on a yellow.
Even as they went a man down deep into extra time we didn't have enough time to capitalise, and as a result we had to face them off in penalties.
Going 2-0 up in the shootout only to miss all 3 subsequent pens, yeah this is absolute bollocks.
We now had to put away yet another cup disappointment (and having to play out at least another season here) and focus on the league playoffs:
Comparing the scoreline and shot counts it'd seem that we were much more clinical on the day - indeed that was the case, Michelotti entrenching his reputation as a penalty box sharpshooter.
Vengeance against Tre Penne! It was again quite a tight game, well up to the point when Poggiali got himself into the double jeopardy of conceding a penalty and earning a 2nd yellow.
Della Valle couldn't capitalise on the penalty of course, but we held on to qualify for the final anyway.
It was also a physical game, leading to many yellows including all our back 4; and wouldn't you know it, that meant we had both Tralongo and Colonna - our starting centreback pair - suspended for the final.
Well cometh the hour, cometh the man:
Yes, having been frozen out after last season's cup shitshow and only starting twice this season, Endri Bakaj was ready to hang up his boots but with our suspension issues, I had to swallow my pride and rope him back in for a last dance.
And my oh my did he have a solid performance, no fuss with dealing with that strike pair and seeing it through to win a 3rd title in his last ever match.
Could have the Foreign player award wrapped up already 👀
Players of the Season
Michelotti has flourished in a Advanced Forward, fox in the box role, finishing with 25 goals in 34 starts.
The stats don't like, pretty much the Player of the Season.
Ferrucci is his partner in crime, doing the hard running while Michelotti poaches.
He's also a full international now, all in all great stuff.
Bianchi obviously started the season with a broken pelvis and did get his starting spot back once he got back to full fitness. However, De Letteriis' progress and Bianchi's own issues with lasting 90 minutes meant he was eased onto substitute duties.
With his setpiece ability though, he would always be first off the bench and did contribute with 2 goals and 6 assists himself.
His fitness means he'll continue to be rotated, but I'll do my damnedest to keep him around for as long as possible.
De Letteriis was supposed to be eased more gradually into the starting XI, but with the aforementioned issues and his own demand to start more frequently meant he had to get game time eventually.
He took to that deep-lying distributor to a duck to water, suffice it to say - being half-decent with freekicks also netted him one such goal.
Tralongo took the mantle of leading the backline this season - winning 85% of headers and 87% of tackles speak for themselves really.
Della Valle and Michael were our winged double act, clocking up the distance figures and whipping in crosses for Michelotti and Ferrucci to pounce on.
Bollocks, absolute bollocks.
So for context, in this year's CL preliminaries we had the usual suspects in us and Santa Coloma, with Maltese and Latvian champions in Birkirkara and Ventspils joining us - I don't know enough about either, but I know that Latvia isn't as bad as us.
So I tried to rotate the squad and try to snatch a win against the Malta side.
Nope, didn't work at all suffice it to say.
Well at least we wouldn't have beaten Ventspils-
Birkirkara then did the business and disposed of Santa Coloma (as we did and would have...)
So yes, we couldn't replicate the heroics of last season and confirmed 'progression' to the Europa League:
Where we promptly got torn a new one by Irish outfit Derry City.
Admittedly we had brought out the 5-4-1 last used in my 1st 6 months at Domagnano, and a team well used to dominate proceedings locally was not close to prepared for such a defensive system. And well, the scorelines showed.
So we're left licking our wounds while dealing with the transfer window:
Some were easier to stomach as others - Odaine Caesar has been a clear 3rd/4th choice since the emergences of Ferrucci and Michelotti, while Mularoni was only youth fodder at centreback.
The others... Well, not as much:
- Colonna might have been subpar last season, but he was still 1st team worthy and I could've done with keeping him around;
- Di Nicola - only left-footed left back in the club, nuff said;
- Ranocchini... Well he wasn't going to amount to much, but when he played his pace was a useful weapon;
- Giorgi I had hoped he would be happy with sharing game time in a title-challenging side, but clearly not.
And I've saved the best (worst) for last:
Well it was only a matter of time before he left, such is his ability and the boost in reputation he must've had having played in the CL qualifying rounds.
The one saving grace here is the transfer only going through at the turn of the year, which gave me a bit of time to find a replacement:
Admittedly a bit of a cheat here, as I had a peek at the World youth scouting package and looked for interested parties to offer loans.
Acosta was one such player, and my days is he an absolute stud - he lacks Tralongo's mobility, but is a much better tackler and is also capable in the air.
He'll play in the U19s for now (managed to talk him into a Hot Prospect role) and the cup as he learns the team and the language.
Our only other signing:
Semprini is someone who can actually dribble, which I hope, along with his speed will go a long way to making up for his lack of flair. Resolute personality helps too.
A more punishing preseason for the guys, playing more high-reputation sides to make up for our early CL exit.
A few losses, but all in all it wasn't a disaster.
We're title favourites, which while I'd much rather do without, I think I have to concede this as mostly true - 3 titles on the bounce is not nothing after all.
And it's clear that there's a distinct Top 6 currently, with a gulf in odds between Libertas and Tre Penne in 7th and 66th favourites respectively.
Which makes the draw for the league's group phase all the more bewildering really - 5 of the top 6 in the same group, including last season's top 3 (Cailungo lost in the Minor Semifinal), and that's without going into how there's a very real chance that one of the 3 professional outfits (Tre Penne, La Fiorita and Tri Fiori) will fail to qualify for the Playoffs.
Meanwhile Fiorentino's going to their the group a new one and reserve their spot in the Playoff Fourth Round as group winners.
3 for 3 in the SuperCoppa - some might dismiss supercups, but as far as I'm concerned these things are propping up my trophies to seasons ratio at over 1, so I'm counting these.
But of course the real meat is in the league:
A bloodbath indeed, though ironically we did well enough against the big guns, and tripped up more often than we'd liked against supposed smaller fry.
Folgore was a disasterclass in defending, while Juvenes Dogana... Well we just had no answer to their eventual control of the game.
As such both sides find themselves in the midst of overperforming seasons, and we find ourselves right in the mix as well.
La Fiorita completely shat the bed at the start of the season (losing 7-0 to Tre Penne among other results) and their season has stuttered since then, and while Tre Fiori started well enough, 4 straight losses to close our the year dropped them to the back of the queue.
Fiorentino also lost 4 of their 1st 6 but stormed back to top their group going into 2041.
For us, I'm just glad to have cleared most of the preseason favourites - Tre Penne and Cailungo (x2) are probably our toughest tests for the rest of the season.
Back on the hunt of the elusive Coppa Titano, and that start is about as good as it gets.
7 goals and 3 cleansheets in 3, gg ez.
We also had a signing in this time:
Welcome back Nicola Gennari, who was unceremoniously released by La Fiorita - considering he scored in 14 for them last season, that's just a stupid move really.
He's still the best finisher at the club, but also arguably the worst reading of the game with just Off The Ball of 6.
Just as enigmatic is his targetman frame and physique, but with such terrible heading (and arguably Bravery) I'm not sure how effective in the air he'll be.
Nevertheless he'll be in the rotation with Ferrucci (who has been on poor form), Michelotti, Bacciocchi et al., and has already played and scored in the cup.
We start off with a bit of an impulse signing:
Federico Michelotti was released by Tre Fiori at the end of last season, and much like Gennari was unwilling to sign a non-contract deal.
Much like him too, he eventually caved in when the summer transfer window came and went.
However, it had to be said that with Della Valle around, we really didn't need another right winger - well that is until I contrived to convince myself to start playing Della Valle on the left and converting George Michael to play LB. We'll get to how that got on later.
Quite a painful series of departures, all in and around the 1st team:
- Ceccoli probably had the least impact as a young striker who hadn't yet made his mark in the 1st team;
- Would've liked to keep Giorgi as left wing cover, but he's offered even less than Ceccoli when given game time so ehhh;
- Tommasoni didn't exactly do well when called upon either, but with Tralongo also gone it meant we'd lost about half our senior centrebacks - bad bad vibes;
- Bacciocchi had only found some semblance of form, only to be whisked away on deadline day - pissed off at that.
I'd say the departures were the root cause for consecutive losses to San Giovanni, but truth is the ridiculous change of system to accommodate Michelotti had completely failed, and after copious amounts of humble pie I reverted to our usual system, just to get the team going again.
We went unbeaten in our remaining games, but a lot of struggling had to be endured - lucky to bite back at Juvenes Dogana, failing to capitalise on an early lead against Tre Penne, horrible setpiece defending in both Cailungo games, and only 1 goal against 10-man Virtus.
TLDR not good.
All in all, no one was able to stop Tre Penne's romp to the top.
The bookies got the right call though, with preseason favourites finishing in the top 5 of Group A - La Fiorita almost snuck into the playoffs with 5 straight wins to finish the season, but it wasn't to be.
It was quite the bloodbath too, with only 3 points separating 3rd from 7th - tight in an 8-team group.
Coppa Titano proved to be much easier for us, sealing progress into the quarters by Matchday 4.
It ended rather appallingly:
But ehh, it's not like La Fiorita were going to qualify anyway.
Lastly, we welcome another batch of youths:
Not quite the crop we'd seen from last season, but there were a couple of lads who could do a job here and now:
Micheli isn't the best marker, neither is he any good in the air, which makes him worryingly similar to Varela - good as they are, pairing them together will be a match made in hell.
Giovanelli's got a fantastic touch, but otherwise, well what a terrible personality to begin with - will need a lot of work.
Coppa Titano quarterfinals, and a pretty easy win over Cailungo.
Ferrucci and Michelotti were at their best in a double act, and well we'll need them to replicate it in the semifinal - more so now because well, it's Tre Penne:
Michelotti gave us a vital lead early in the 2nd half, but other than that was pretty wasteful with his chances and keeping himself onside.
Meanwhile our defence wasn't able to hold on to the lead and eventually caved.
about 40 minutes of tense football later, penalties happened - and well, well see for yourself.
At least they failed to defend their cup title, the pricks.
So for a fourth season, we have to pick ourselves back up for the league playoffs:
A pretty shit win, but given our mental wounds after the cup run I'd take progress by any means.
Much better, though it was helped by Virtus going down to 9 men.
Michele Giorgi scored against his former club for their opener, but De Letteriis fired in a great freekick 7 minutes later, and once Ferrucci gave us the lead 5 minutes after we knew we had things under control.
A fantastic semifinal win against Fiorentino - none of that cautious stuff this time.
Another clash against Tre Penne, another opener, another inability to hold on to the lead, another penalty shootout.
At least we won this time round.
Honestly, at this point every title win is just to keep the show going, since every win just means a season without the Coppa Titano and I'll probably be sacked if I didn't win it.
Not sure if I should've won Manager of the Season given Tre Penne's dominance, but I'll take it.
This is definitely the most annoying thing - La Fiorita got blown out at the start of the league and eventually failed to qualify for the playoffs, but despite winning 4 in a row we still can't overtake them as the
bestmost reputable club in San Marino? Come on now...
Players of the Season
Michelotti was actually out with a torn hamstring just before the new year, so to finish as top scorer after that is testament to his undeniable talent (if not his consistency...)
Honestly, 14 goals in 14 starts is a stunning return,now all he needs is to work on his reading of the game and springing of the offside trap.
Della Valle could've had a much worse season if accommodating Federico Michelotti worked out - thankfully for him it completely flopped, so he kept playing at right wing and returned with 8 assists.
Midfield orchestrator Gianpaolo De Letteriis continued his orchestrating from deep, and chipped in with a couple of goals to boot.
The clear areas of improvement for him are his setpieces - with his technique as it is it just makes sense for him to be on dead balls as well.
For a last-minute loan, Nicolas Acosta eventually became the most solid centreback in the team, with his strength and aerial ability vital in making up for Diego Varela's lack of either.
Shame we'll be losing him - his parent club will only offer him a non-contract upon the expiry of his youth deal this summer, and frankly with a guy of his talent he needs (and wants from us) contract terms.
Lastly, some great news on the continental front:
Our first opponents in the CL Preliminaries are Kosovar side Trepca - a couple of Kosovo internationals in there, but I'm quietly confident I think.
In any case that's not actually the good news:
For next year at least, league champions go straight to the 1st qualifying round, which ensures at least 700k-ish of cash just for playing.
3 teams in the EL too, massive.
Champions League Prelims had us pitted against Trepça of Kosovo, a better side than ours considering they'd made it to the 2nd round of Europa League qualifying last season.
A jammy, jammy win - being peppered with shots at home all game (including a missed penalty) only for Gennari to bundle in a winner, I'll take those.
Hibernians of Malta were also considerable opposition (well at this level I consider us rank underdogs so everyone's technically considerable) but playing at home, we didn't disappoint our fans and put them away.
That also turned out to be Nicolas Acosta's last game with us before the end of his loan deal - he helped to bring us into the CL (qualifying) proper, but we're on our own now.
Qualifying round 1 gave us our most famous opponent so far in Polish champions Lech Poznan.
And it showed - comfortably outclassed in both legs, helped by our 5-4-1 no doubt, though in my defence we'd probably be done for by more if we played more openly.
Upon dropping into the Europa League, Dudelange welcomed us for our next qualifying matchup - having beaten fellow Luxembourgish side Differdange a few seasons ago I really thought we had a chance here.
We showed that we did too, with our forward double act grabbing a goal each to give us a shock lead.
Alas, the loss of Acosta and inability to bring in a replacement in time meant Varela and Micheli started at centreback, and with an average age of under 17 that was always going to be a risky proposition - 3 goals in 5 minutes only exposed that fact.
Still, 2 away goals and a home leg, anything could happen.
We definitely gave it a go, and Ferrucci gave us a glimmer of hope early in the 2nd half, something to build on.
Well, until Goncalves broke San Marinese hearts with a belter from range.
So that was that, another profitable campaign in Europe, and with better news going forward:
Direct entry into CL qualifying, and 3 teams in EL qualifying! Great stuff for San Marino as a whole.
With our European exploits over, we returned into the usual preseason prep - 5 wins from 7 is good stuff, with Jena being the only real blip.
Of course, while all this was going on we had some transfer activity:
The standout departure had to be De Letteriis, who arguably stayed 2 seasons too long at the club.
Not that I'd begrudge him for it, far from it - he even stayed until we exited Europe, can't argue with that commitment to the cause.
But yes, now he's off to earn a regular wage back in Italy, and deservedly so given his ability.
Giardi would've been his successor as the midfield orchestrator, but he too left earlier having not seen a path to regular 1st team football here.
Giovanelli was a prospect from this year's youth intake - fantastic 1st touch and decent distribution from the centre, unfortunately his Low Self Belief and complete refusal to be mentored by any of the senior players meant I won't be missing him too much.
Bernardi was a bit more annoying, having rotated with Bakare regularly last season.
Teijeira was signed too late to play in the 1st leg against Dudelange, but he arrives on loan nonetheless - he'll partner Varela, mainly because of the latter's height deficiency.
You know things are getting desperate if we're signing players from (England's 7th tier) Warrington.
Jon McCombe will be to Micheli what Teijeira will be to Varela, a more aerially dominant player to shore things up at the back.
Fabio Novaes was actually offered to us by his agent, and judging by his stats back in Brazil I had to take a punt on him.
His stats were not without reason as he's probably the most intelligent defender at the club, but the back of any physical ability whatsoever really puts a dent on his potential.
He'll definitely need to toughen up in the U19s 1st.
Chiaruzzi, youth depth signing, not likely to do anything at senior level.
With 4 straight league titles we've come to expect the billing of favourites by now.
At least the groups are far more forgiving this time, with a better distribution of favourites than last season's bloodbath.
The Coppa Titano draw also gave us a very favourable group, so qualification is an absolute must even without this being my elusive trophy.
We finish with a surprise:
A casual chat about increasing physios' wages turned into an approval for turning professional!
It was just a shot in the dark and I hadn't expected it - it'll be interesting to see how we handle this (assuming I don't win the Coppa Titano and leave of course).
Clearly a very frustrating season so far, starting with 4 points from 4 matches and losing both Virtus matches.
I don't know if De Letteriis' departure was the direct cause of this, but what I do know is Varela's way too limited to be part of a title-wining backline - short, way too aggressive and lacking in positional discipline to make up for that, he's cost us many a game already.
At least we can say we did the current league leaders for 7, though that was only 1 of 2 defeats all season as they recovered from missing out on the playoffs last season.
Meanwhile we're top of our group on points, but Fiorentino will catch us up if we're being honest - our double header late in the regular season will be crucial.
Didn't help that we weren't able to beat them in our 1st meeting this season, as we lose the Supercoppa for the 1st time.
Plenty of chances, but when your attackers aren't on it they just aren't, really.
Coppa Titano brought a lot more joy, even if we didn't exactly start promisingly, a late freak equaliser that really summed up our awful start to the season.
10 goals in our next 2 matches though, that's bound to give us a lot more joy.
Drawing on MD1 put quite the dampener on things, but at least we've got some buffer as far as qualifying in general goes.
To end off, some unfortunate news:
Yeah, to be honest McCombe was ever going to play in the cup, and with Novaes around as well there's just not enough game time to go around.
And what good is a superior aerial ability if you're not available to provide it?
A stuttering season descends into a full-blown crisis.
Firing blanks in 4 of 7 games, and while we're usually ok when we score, the horrific reverse against Folgore only rubbed salt to our wounds.
Michelotti and Ferrucci have struggled up top, and Gennari has been arguably worse as their deputy - our reliance on strikers' goals have come back to haunt us.
Despite averaging barely above 1.5ppg, we've found ourselves 2nd on our group, behind runaway leaders Fiorentino.
We're very lucky we weren't in Group A and their trio of professional clubs, where our points total wouldn't even have been enough for the playoff deciders.
Thankfully the cup proved to be much more productive - beating Folgore secured qualification to the knockouts, while the remaining group games also afforded us some rotation.
Big shock was La Fiorita bombing out, but other than that group-toppers were the usual suspects.
San Giovanni is about as good a draw as we could get (other than Cosmos anyway), but with Tre Penne drawing Fiorentino that's already a contender confirmed out for the semis.
In any case, I think I need to win this more than any other season - I don't think we're winning the league this time round, and with the move to full-time (well part-time really) the money issues could well start to appear.
There were also some wheeling and dealing:
Outs wise, well they're all youths in the fringes of the senior squad - probably the more annoying one is Pontrelli who was developing into a good striker and recently started in the cup, while Novaes didn't show much in the games he did play.
Likewise, Ins were all youth fodder, including the Brazilian Cassiano - I can't help myself when I'm offered random Brazilian youths who reject trial offers.
Not the best technically, and not yet 1st team material in general.
We finish with another youth intake:
Ceccoli and Colonna are great striker prospects and will light a fire under Ferrucci and Michelotti hopefully.
Arzilli's... odd I guess, good passer and equally athletic.
Nah he's great, will be a 2-way option as a DLP or B2B/Carrilero in our system/s.
Zanotti's a tall centreback(!), not sure if he can improve enough to hack it alongside Micheli and Varela, but his height is already an advantage off the blocks.
And Michael Masi? The jokes write themselves, especially when you consider how his debut went:
Good to know that the game has a great sense of comic timing by invoking that mayhem.
Also fair play on keeping this up.
Haha, helps that I've not bought 22 yet and I'm not that desperate to play 20 that I'll install Epic Launcher.
And yeah, thanks for following too!
Well that's one more season at Domagnano guaranteed, and our season is arguably up in flames already.
I switched to a back 3 due to Teijeira's poor form and to accommodate the 'talents' of Micheli and Varela, and there's not much more to say than it blew up in my face.
Ok, reset - drop Varela and Micheli, revert to a 4-4-2, try to scrape whatever top 4 is in this convoluted playoff system and hope one of the other 3 wins the Coppa Titano, so I can at least make the Europa league.
Much, much better showing - Teijeira returned to the back 4 (and scored) as did Marangio with Afkir returning to RB, and Ugolini playing centreback with his decent speed and Jumping Reach.
Michelotti has been complete trash for a good month or 2 by this point, so Gennari also started, and he returned with a clinical near post finish.
Ferucci picked up a knock in the previous round, so Michelotti did play in his stead - he was pretty invisible throughout, but he poached a goal when it counted, off an unexpectedly good cross from Gennari.
And yes, another knock, this time Marangio being the unfortunate recipient.
We weren't at the races for quite some time, up top in particular, so Fede Michelotti's introduction over Gennari as a makeshift forward was all the more crucial - Bakare's leveller came off his saved shot, before his own winner.
(Marangio was replaced by Micheli - he didn't have a great game, but we don't dwell on that do we)
Ok, so we're in the final, which I know for certain means a Europa League place at minimum - some solace after a hair-tearing season.
Oh and we are in the final, so it'd be a hell of a way to end on a high!
Oh my days - we make it unbelievably hard for ourselves, but my days do we turn it up in the playoffs.
Much of the pregame talk was Boschi's return, and boy did he try his damnedest to turn heel.
But a goal and assist from Michael later (sandwiching another goal from them), and we were headed to extra time, where it was their old boy's turn to spoil their party - Gennari with a late, late winner in 2ET.
And there it is - I haven't the faintest clue how the guys turn it up to 11 for the playoffs (but not for the Cup somehow ahem) but they just keep going.
Definitely one of the more satisfying titles of the 5, maybe only bettered than our 1st.
Another disaster of a Coppa Titano, and it was about to be the same for the league if they didn't put that hero run out of the hat.
Well deserved for Della Valle, though Id've liked for Michael to get his roses for this season.
And our all time XI, still a ways to go before we get all this squad's guys in but we're on our way.
Players of the Season
Player of the Season despite sharing game time with Fede Michelotti, well deserved for Della Valle as his crosses continued to threaten all season.
... Though my pick would've been Michael, who raised his game playing all season when his opposite flank was rotated.
Not the best winger out there, but so long he's still doing bits we're more than good.
Michelotti and Ferucci didn't manage to replicate their rampant successes of seasons past, but such were their performances that even a below-average season still returned over 20 goals in the league.
Unfortunately for the former, with newcomer Nicola Ceccoli being so much better a goalgetter he's very likely going to find himself sidelined next season.
Ferucci still has his industry to set himself apart, but if we can find ourselves a physical presence (that's better than Gennari) he could find himself looking in from the outside too.
Lastly, let's have a toast to Bianchi - 3 fantastic seasons as the set piece master and midfield coordinator, and when his legs left him for good he was good off the bench too.
Pros are definitely getting to keep youth prospects, cons we'll have to see (obvious one being the wage bill, which is why it's no longer just beneficial to qualify for Europe, it's basically essential at this point).
Well... We go again:
Another vastly superior side in Maccabi Tel-Aviv, and we somehow scraped a draw.
Well ball don't lie as they say, even if it had to take another 90 minutes.
Not really sure what else to say here - they're better, we'll have this for the next few seasons unless we pull something out of the bag this season, and playing a back 5 after a season's worth of positive back 4 football was never ending well.
OOO!!!! A win in the qualifying rounds proper.
As usual we were well under the cosh, but Ceccoli popped out with his first ever senior goal, and what an occasion to do so!
Er yeah, still not good enough.
But at least we did come away with a lead at the halfway point of the tie, baby steps and all that.
On to transfers now, and with our newfound professional status we've suddenly found ourselves a ton of trialist offers:
As it turned out, none of them were signed:
No real commitment to permanent signings this season, as we try to evaluate our options throughout the year.
And as you'll see, with the quality available in the loan market I don't even need to commit:
The only permanent arrival first, Sandro Roma came in as a left-footed and superior version of Nicola Gennari.
It's been a tough start to life in Domagnano though - started all the European matches and did so little, and to add injury to insult he tore his hamstring in the 2nd leg against Buducnost.
I think he'll still come good? That dribbling ability is nothing to be sniffed at after all.
Jeez.... Leopoldo Agost is an absolute beast.
Tall, pretty quick, already our set piece taker and a wicked crosser, he's a mad pickup on loan.
We're also changing our formation to play him in that maurauding wing back role, which I think he'll be a monster in.
Poratti... He's tall, not really fast and reads the game somewhat well.
I'll still start Ugolini over him, but he's already streets ahead of Diego Varela and that's all that I need right now.
Boyd? Meh - tall, somewhat quick, can tackle, I can play him over Micheli at a pinch though he'll mainly be making up the numbers in the U19s.
Dedic I reckon will be an absolute beast in the midfield, and if I have my way he'll be starting over Claudio Zanotti.
Top vision, great passer, great first touch - in a stronger league he'd be seen as a bit raw, but over here? Game breaking easily.
Too bad he's already a bit injury prone, so minutes wise we'll have to see.
Preseason was er, fine I guess.
Unbeaten again, Gennari was quite prolific, hopefully we can bring it into the league.
5 titles in a row and professional status, no surprises at the Favourites tag.
Not that I give a damn though, Coppa Titano's my priority now (and has been for 4 seasons - how can we win 5 leagues and not a single cp ffs)
Bit of an odd start, struggling to break open Folgore, finally doing so only to concede a late equaliser.
Cosmos was a mandatory 3 points given how they've been for a long while, and Tre Penne was desperately disappointing given our improvements this season.
We do seem to have taken that loss personally though, and blasted to the top of the pile with 7 straight wins - only 1 'big win' against La Fiorita to speak of, but this was sorely needed regardless after the uninspiring start to the season.
Top of our Group, though with another game against La Fiorita and 2(!) against Fiorentino I'm not putting too much stock on top spot just yet.
And this is why.
2 straight Supercup losses to Fiorentino, horrible showing from the strikers and Michelotti stupidly conceding a penalty despite trying his best to make amends afterwards.
They're a bogey team if we ever have one.
Our Cup run started as good as it could, 10 in 2 to put us on top.
... Then we proceed to throw all that away with another insipid performance up top and a late concession of the winner.
Makes our journey to progression far harder than it really needed to be, so annoying.
Quite an eventful January window:
Zanotti leaving was seriously annoying - a tall left footed centreback complemented Pietro Ugolini lack of height well, and he had started most of our league games in the 1st half of the season.
Alas, hubris got the better of me as I assumed that he'd be ok with a non-contract deal and Youngster role, though when Fiorentino came in oour full-time deal was offered with bonuses and all.
Lo and behold it turns out that a regular wage is suddenly no longer the be all and end all for players, so off he went to Fiorentino living off his appearance fees.
By contrast, Sandro Roma's departure was much more on our terms - it transpired quickly that his contract for next season would require a $200 raise minimum, which frankly I wasn't prepared to stump up.
So after trialling and scouting potential replacements we moved on to offer him out to other clubs, with Rende successfully securing his signature for the next 18 months.
Great player, can and did score bucketloads, but I couldn't justify his pay packet especially seeing him bomb in Europe at the start of the season.
Having only come through San Giovanni's academy last season, I broke my rule of not signing from clubs in the same league for Tocacelli.
Very clearly a step down from Roma, but more than enough for us at this point in time.
More importantly, with the deal we agreed on we're assured of his staying and wage stability for the next 4 seasons basically, which even if the board disagrees I see as a win.
Barseghyan trialled with us previously, and an 18-month deal on minimum wage was agreed afterwards.
A relatively quick destroyer with setpiece ability, that's precisely what I needed.
Dedic didn't really manage to deliver on his ability as a playmaker, so I figured we had to look for an alternative.
Enter Boubacar Tangara, whose passing might not be as spectacular but overall ability offers much more.
Also on relatively low wages, him and Barseghyan give us the flexibility to changes things come the season after if things don't work out.
Our league campaign continued its trail of destruction, as we finished the regular season unbeaten.
Fiorentino did frustrate us with an early goal in our 1st game (which thankfully we went on to win) and a late equaliser in the 2nd, but it wasn't enough to nab that top spot eventually:
Good shit, best attack and joint best defence.
Tre Fiori has been poor throughout the season despite their good defence, and it couldn't have come at a worse time with another 3 professional teams in the same group.
San Giovanni, Libertas and Folgore were beneficiaries of their easier group with qualification to the playoffs.
In the Coppa Titano, we bounced back from the Murata loss with a clutch win at Cosmos, then went on to clean up on the rest of the group.
Not much in the way of surprises, though Tre Fiori has again paid for their Group of Death and find themselves ending their season prematurely.
We NEED to beat Folgore, end of.
Lastly, we welcome a new batch of youth graduates:
Ahhh... Yeah this is a bit of a down year for us, not a good intake.
Bacciocchi is one bright spot for us - he continues the trend of short goalkeepers at the club, but he does have the fundamentals of goalkeeping otherwise.
Maiani and Michelotti are the only others who will be signed probably.
Ok I lied, we'll sign Aliff as well - I mean come on, a first Singaporean coming through the academy? He's getting signed.
6 seasons in San Marino, 5 league titles, and we still can't buy a Coppa Titano trophy for love nor money.
Sure Folgore has shown good form this season, sure I was probably too cautious for making the team focus on defending setpieces in anticipation of their gigantic back 3/5, but 27 shots and only 6 on target? Come on now.
Absolutely well deserved, we had the squad to win it so to stumble in the QFs yet again is all the more damning.
So for the 6 straight year, we have to dust ourselves down and regroup for the Championship playoffs:
Only difference in Michelotti's performance was that he scored this time, such is the fine margin between prolific and profligate.
Oh man what a game.
Pelliccia has consistently terrorised his former club, and today was no different, contorting our backline all match and coming away with a race.
Our only hope here was another brace, as Tangara came in flaming hot when it mattered the most.
Fancy us coming through on penalties too - can't do it against Folgore, but La Fiorita was a piece of cake somehow.
Fiorentino shithoused an opening OG then proceeded to shut up shop with their infamous back 5.
Their approach largely worked, though with repeated fouling near their area they began accumulating cards.
Eventually Veronesi pushed things too far and collected a and yellow, but by then Tangara had already hauled us back level with another wondergoal.
We kept knocking on the door a man up, but it looked like we had another extra time to get through...
... Until Ceccoli came up with a wondergoal of his own.
What a time too, to earn us the title.
And with that I've finally been mentioned in the ranks of Icons at Domagnano - only took the failure to win the Coppa Titano 6 times eh.
Players of the Season
Michelotti pretty much made the starting right winger spot his own this season, with his superior pace winning out over Della Valle's crossing - the latter has also made peace with his new reality by accepting a new Backup role in his new deal , thankfully for us.
Michelotti himself though, he's still very much a weapon down that flank - 6 assists in 17 don't seem much but I'd probably attribute that to our strikers' finishing than his lack of final ball.
6 months in and Tangara has already taken to this league like taking candy from a baby.
Both a creative and physical presence, he's got a penchant for long shots with either foot and already has 6 goals and 4 MotMs in just 11 league matches.
Perhaps he'll be the key in us winning Coppa Titano next season...
A return to form for Claudio, with 15 goals and 6 assists in 18 league starts somehow not quite getting him the top scorer's gong, but certainly enough to win the league.
Alas, it's his ability to go missing at times that really cost us - add to that his lack of outright strength and hitting his ability ceiling, and I think he'll finally relinquish his starting spot to Nicola Ceccoli.
Oh and he's now a club legend, how about that - scoring 60+ goals at 21 does have that effect.
Nicola Gennari did well enough to keep Sandro Roma out of the team even after the latter's return from injury, and after our striker merry-go-round in January also kept himself in the conversation alongside Tocacelli.
He's happy with his non-contract deal, I'm happy with his goalscoring, what's not to like.
Agost was a mainstay at leftback, and ruled the left flank like his own fiefdom.
I'm actually disappointed he only came away with 2 assists, but his overall threat on the left was constant throughout regardless.
He's far too good for us at this point unfortunately, so there's no chance of signing him on a pre-contract.
Player of the Season, Bakare pretty much deserved it.
Showing an unusually golden touch for assists to add to his all-action performances, he turned it up to 11 this season.
Unfortunately... His performances also warranted a new contract which he eventually demanded, which when I rejected, he promptly kicked up a fuss and could've put our season in jeopardy during the tail end of the league stage.
Well so I did, 200 p/w for something like 4 months.
Unfortunately (again), he also suffered a long-term injury which rules him out till next season, and pragmatically speaking there's scarcely a better time to cut loose, goodwill be damned.
Shoutout to Nicola Ceccoli, who despite featuring sparingly with the 1st team, did score our winner in the Championship playoff final, and spent most of the season tearing up other kids as we won the U-19s double.
As I've said he'll probably lead the line for us next season.
Micheli didn't really excel or anything, but he did come back into the team after Marco Zanotti was poached, and well he's gone on to develop into our best defender.
He's still got massive weaknesses (Concentration, Jumping) but we might alleviate at least 1 of them with a new signing.
But no, I've highlighted him because he really did have my balls in contract talks:
That's a 2.5x increase in wage before other clauses and bonuses, way over the odds.
So yes, moral of the story is to negotiate at least some of your key players' deals before you win the title.
Beggars belief how we still haven't achieved that top reputation, is 6 years on the bounce not enough?!
At least we're climbing somewhere... Baby Steps...
Yep baby steps, even if this dumbass baby does fall a fair few times along the way.
Season 7 begins here:
2ish weeks of friendlies and some others last season preparing our defensive formation, and we still get pumped.
At least we do have a backup despite the loss, and some actual beatable opposition this time round:
Our usual system paid dividends against Lincoln Red Imps, completely dominating them at home and maintaining the edge in Gibraltar.
It only took a proper win (and the utterly dour CL exit) to open my eyes to the idea that I don't actually have to sit back against superior opposition all the time.
And so we didn't, Lech Poznan did us over once before but we weren't going to let them roll past this time round - well at least not the final score anyway.
20 shots and 9 on target with only and OG to show for it, while we at least managed to create 4 of our own and level the scores ahead of the 2nd leg:
WOOT! A fantastic effort from the guys to keep Lech at bay again and put 2 past them this time.
Admittedly we were even more clinical (read: Lucky) this time, with 2 goals from 2 shots on goal.
Ok... So we somehow only have 1 more tie between us and an EL Group Stage spot:
Young Boys Berned us real good with their 1st, a blindingly quick passing sequence that ended with a goal before I even knew what was going on. Our keeper dropped the ball to gift them their 2nd, but even without that it'd be hard to see us winning this.
As such the team I sent out at Bern was a largely rotated one, mostly with the intention of letting the guys who didn't play in our European campaign yet to get some game time in Switzerland. So imagine my surprise when Della Valle scored a shock opener.
Well I mean they did reply almost immediately, but they did make me second-guess myself over that decision - not that it mattered in the end...
Quite surprised they did this, because we certainly didn't when we got absolutely dicked by Maccabi Tel-Aviv last season.
Nevertheless, there can be no question that this European adventure has been a roaring success, and I hope marks the beginning of longer runs in the future (just hope that I'm not around to manage it anyway).
This run was helped in no small part by the transfer activity this summer:
Lauro Steffens was found last season via the Global scouting package, and it was a good day's of access having found him.
He spent 2 months on trial at the tail end of last season, and did enough to earn a deal this season.
He's got great pedigree too, having been released by Internacional - I'm really expecting him to stay this season only, with a less expensive replacement to be sought out throughout the season.
Or maybe I don't - Pavaozinho comes in as backup and development in the U19s, but if he develops sufficiently I'll be tying him down to a long ass extension.
Still a bit rough around the edges, though rough for this team is top class for the league as a whole at this point.
Hofmann is more youth fodder and backup to Micheli at LCB, and will start cup games at minimum.
I wasn't optimistic about getting him back on loan, but apparently he was willing to stay here even as his game time didn't really increase last season.
He'll be the 2nd choice playmaker - quite raw compared to Tangara's more refined game, but there's an incredible ceiling for him and I'll try to train him to be a more all-action playmaker than the quarterback role last season.
Safaryan approached the club on the eve of the Lech tie, and with his wage demands ($180 is the minimum wage in the league) I couldn't turn down this opportunity.
I was really unfortunate that he dropped the ball against Young Boys, but as a goalkeeper he's levels above any GK in San Marino and I'm really expecting him to give us the Coppa Titano this time.
Mattia Pelliccioni didn't cover him in any glory throughout our European run, so I figured that we really needed some competition for him in the season proper.
Biaggio's another bruiser at leftback - not quite as much of a crossing wizard that Agost was, but still more than good enough here.
Lmao no, he might be the best ability wise but I'll be damned if he get the highest rating.
Again no, the bookies don't know that Ferrucci has been out of favour for the best part of a season (though he somehow still gets called up to the NT).
No surprises, with our team and 6 straight titles this is almost a pre-requisite.
We're helped that our group is again relatively easy, with only Tre Penne the other giant around.
Coppa Titano, even as we need to win this, does prove to be much trickier with Tre Fiori as the Pro team, while Juvenes Dogana and Libertas being more than capable of being banana skins.
Steamrollering through the vast majority of matches with at least 3 goals in all our wins.
Arguably the only black mark on our results is the occasional mental block that seems to occur randomly, which leads to dropped points against usually easy sides.
A goal difference of +32 says it all, and with the added benefit of a relatively easier group this season our qualification to the playoffs as top seeds are all but certain.
But of course for the 6th straight season, our actual focus is on the Coppa Titano:
A 2nd string cup team has been sufficient in finishing the job, though obviously not in anywhere near the dominance of the league performances.
Still very much all to play for in the groups, so with the league in a good position we'll probably fully move priorities to the cup.
We picked up where we left off and continued tearing the league a new one, finishing with 9 straight wins.
And so we finish the league with 56 points (not a record somehow - La Fiorita managed 57 about 14 seasons ago) and an easy all-time record of 67 goals, an average of over 3 a game.
It'll probably increase too, probably won't happen but it'd be great if we managed 80 to finish off the season.
Coppa Titano was also professionally dealt with in the end, 3 straight wins to secure top spot and avoid any unnecessary drama.
Unfortunately... Not everything went swimmingly:
Absolutely brutal for a 20-year old to do his cruciates.
The winningest team in the group stage, though with Fiorentino and Tre Penne also going unbeaten they sure are in heat as well.
A bit of transfer activity as well:
Cassiano leaves, not played much for the 1st team since the full-timers came in, and spent most of his time leading the U19s to their own demolition job in the youth level.
Jose Antonio is already better and has a clearly higher ceiling - at 18 he also has 1 more year to stay in the youths, before we determine his medium- to long-term future.
Liking these signings too, the 18-year olds that have talent and don't mind taking minimum pay to develop in the youths while providing cover.
Brandt comes in as cover for next season's European campaign - Biaggio's not going to stay for that and Pellicioni has shown on multiple occasions that he's barely San Marino level (less said of George Michael the better), so it was imperative that we look for a temporary upgrade.
Lastly, another intake:
yeah unfortunately it's another bum year, as our rapidly improved squad has pretty much left the current youth development behind and laid bare the fact that we can no longer coast without a proper HoYD.
Guerra's fine, not a world beater and in all likelihood not going to usurp Pietro Ugolini, but he seems pretty versatile and we could yet develop him into a DM.
Bologna was the only other graduate of note - I'dve snatched your hand off for him just 2 seasons ago, but with our already established strike pair and backups he'll need to fight his way to the 1st team.
Well I say that, any self-respecting manager would've released Claudio Michelotti and Simone Ferucci already, but I'm not going to let club legends go put it that way.
Cool performance in the quarters, no fuss throughout.
Same for the semifinal, I was expecting more from Tre Penne but that they couldn't muster a shot on target until their last minute goal speaks for itself.
Nicola Ceccoli had an off day in front of goal, but as long as the other striker's firing (Tocacelli) we're all good, as has been the case all season.
You take an off day in the semi and turn it up in the final - hat trick for Ceccoli within the half hour mark as we took apart Cailungo to finally, finally win the Coppa Titano.
The last trophy to my collection, and all it took was 7 seasons, 6 straight titles, the move to full-time and assembling the best squad in San Marino, probably ever.
Now for the championship playoffs to end this season on a high:
La Fiorita were dispatched of easily, no shots on target from them while the strike pair popped up with 1 each.
Oooooohhh.... Battling performance but it just wasn't to be on penalties.
Tangara was an absolute idiot getting himself an early bath in 26 minutes, but even with 10 men we still managed to win the possession battle and get in more shots.
Unfortunately, neither Tocacelli and Ceccoli couldn't keep up having to play a man down, and we needed a long range wondergoal from Barseghyan to equalise.
So it was doubly unfortunate that he too missed the final penalty to confirm our loss, interestingly our 1st loss in 7 years of playoffs football no less.
The beauty of double elimination playoffs is the 2nd chance teams get, and boy did we take ours.
Bindi was an absolute madness popping up in the box for a brace, and Ceccoli secured his own a minute after the 2nd to put the game to bed effectively.
Revenge is SWEET baby!
The double act teamed up again to put the game to bed, again within the half hour.
No second yellows this time (despite the 4 cautions before the interval), probably helped by Tangara being dropped for the final.
But yes, a fantastic way to end the 7 years here, a domestic treble and great run in Europe.
I don't know how Pelliccioni has already been inducted into the Best XI, but at least Ugolini's also in.
Tocacelli, Micheli, Ceccoli et al will find themselves in there eventually, it's only a matter of time.
Ceccoli with a deserved PotY, though the top 3 within 10% shows the quality of performances we had across the team all season.
Tocacelli dominating the stats, though I did feel that he's had too many stinkers to win PotY.
A settled squad this season was a feature of our successes, with 10 players with over 30 starts.
Players of the Season
Ceccoli and Tocacelli was the established strike partnership this season, more than worthy successors to Michelotti and Ferrucci/Gennari.
They were occasionally frustrating with their profligacy but that's inevitable with their youth.
Both breaking records too, could be a force in the domestic game for the next 15 years if they're managed properly.
Behind them was the midfield triumvirate of Barseghyan, Bindi and Tangara.
Up till now I still have no idea how Bindi could be so good - he can't really pass, he can't really finish, isn't positionally sound, and yet he's usually one of the higher-rated players in games. Can't argue with his end product though, 13 goal contributions is a great return.
Tangara continued to be our creative force, his ball-carrying and dribbling outsmarting opposition midfields. Such a shame that he got himself stupidly sent off though, I had to drop him in the final to teach him a lesson.
Barseghyan was the destroyer behind this pair, with his athleticism helping to cover most of the midfield in front of the backline. Of course his main job was taking set-pieces, and while he didn't manage to score from a free-kick himself, he did put in many an assist over the season. Signed up for the next 3 seasons on low-ish too, will be an invaluable asset for years to come.
Michelotti had a bit of an injury-hit season, but nonetheless he still managed 6 goals and 7 assists in 14 starts.
No doubt there are better wingers out there, but if the club knows what it's doing it'll keep him as one of its local stars.
Good shit, and you're welcome San Marino.
I'll probably stay till the end of the European campaign as I look to bring them further into the CL qualifying before I leave.
Glad that we're receiving our flowers for that mental last season, well deserved.
Additionally, San Marino has managed to find itself back into the CL First Qualifying Phase for next season, and 2 teams into the EL First Qualifying Round instead of the Prelims.
Unfortunately... for this final run in Europe we had to start in that absolutely accursed CL Preliminary Round:
70%-ish fitness? Didn't prove to be an issue against Santa Coloma, as our strike duo again sealed the deal for us.
Ayiyiyiyi.... Granted, I should've been more conservative against an arguably superior Sheriff team, but honestly what was I supposed to do when the team finishes the match with fitness like this?
Nice near-comeback, but a near-comeback was all that this ended up being unfortunately.
So we lick our wounds and continue in the Europa League:
Ohhhhhh yeah, what a terrifying performance.
We played and lost to Dudelange a few years back, and while I was asking for revenge from the guys I certainly wasn't expecting this - no complacency, just a bloodlust for goals on the night.
Fun fact: Tocacelli was subbed off in 65mins with us 8 up and 4 goals and 3 assists individually - we went on to score another 5 goals, with new short-term signing Isaac Ebere finding another brace of his own for an impressive debut cameo.
B Team played, and even if they had more shots they simply didn't have the clinical ability or the mindstate to score in the 2nd leg.
Well we did, and once we did their heads went even more, ending with 2 dismissals.
Next up was Rosenborg, and my days was this a shit game.
We should've lost given their chances, but given our shots on target it was also a game that could've gone either way.
The turgid football continued back in San Marino, with neither side able to find any goalscoring ability - they continued to fire shots to the moon, while ours weren't testing the goalkeeper either.
But someone had to win, and as it turned out the turgidity continued to penalties, and we proved to be more shit in the end.
So the Domagnano adventure comes to an end - about 4 seasons too late on one hand, but my days the European runs were probably worth it, beating Lech Poznan and all that.
Oh and I finally got that Club Legend status, perfecto.
As usual, Red Sea came forward first, so they got the signature.
And so we find ourselves in one of the most impoverished and oppressed countries in the world, with virtually no freedoms to speak of and a despot at the helm:
A very successful side who were league and cup champions only 2 seasons ago, this could end quickly - with instant success or failure is another matter entirely.
The most famous club in Eritrea
We have a crop of pretty talented midfielders and forwards, but at the back is where we find ourselves sorely lacking.
Abdoh will lead the line for us, an athletic forward who's not averse to putting himself on the line.
Apparently he's quite an inconsistent performer, which will no doubt make me want to tear my hair out as I've done so many times before.
Our best (only) centreback, Isak's a threat in the air and isn't too slow.
Alexander is mentally capable for a playmaking role, and with a half decent free kick on him he'll start games - just need better technique.
Behind Isak we have a more than capable stopper in Solomun, dodgy in 1v1s but hopefully the rest of his game makes up for it.
And our supposed hottest prospect, Seleman's already got the tenacity to be in midfield - now to just work on every other facet of his game.
Our 1st window, and it has to be said that it's quite the drop from San Marino to Eritrea (I mean, well of course when you consider the 2 countries).
From having European and African countries' players to look into to only Eritrean players, and obviously no one from Domagnano would even consider leaving Europe to a totalitarian hellhole.
Couple of departures first - Redle was our backup goalkeeper, and Isak was only one of our apparent stable of creative midfielders, so we could deal with that loss.
Couple of incomings too:
Merid returns to the club after leaving for, then getting released by, City Center.
Not the best centreback, but his availability from the off meant he was signed first, to develop that defensive partnership with Quentin Isak.
Hussein is good apparently, great with setpieces and positioning.
Well he'd better be legit, because he'll be starting the season opener beside Merid due to Isak's suspension.
Tewelde was transfer listed by Denden, and with our current numbers at the back he was more than welcome to the club.
Will be in the U20s for the vast majority of the near future, but he will definitely start 1st team matches this season.
Weldu and Getge are objectively uninspiring players, with no more than 3 stars for potential ability.
Still, we need all the cover we can get, and at least they're young so the fanbase was happy with them.
Ah, well Tesfagabr they were deeply unhappy with.
Many parallels to the Giancarlo Giardi signing from 8 seasons ago, an ageing former international centreback who's literally around just for cover and coaching.
That didn't turn out too well, so hopefully this does if he does ever get game time.
Salih was unhappy at Tesfa due to a lack of game time, and I was only too happy to snap him up to be our next backup.
He'll need to improve by leaps and bounds to displace Solomun, though he's get the cups at the very least I think.
Preseason was fine...? No defeats, some decent mentality to come back from behind, and a great way to finish against last season's relegated Al-Tahrir.
Oof, quite the wild west here - 6 teams out of 10 can be considered title challengers.
I still don't see us as 2nd best - Adel Abdoh, as good as he is isn't a consistent goalscorer, while at the back we're also still lacking in cover.
A quick update for a quick half-season so far:
It's all been the league, and what a league it is, with their scheduling and all.
We started off with 3 wins in 8 days before a 24-day break, and then a gruelling 7-game month (6 of which we've already played of course).
After all this we get 1 (one!) game in June, before the schedule returns to a more conventional setup.
Adel Abdoh started off with a hat-trick, but after matchday 2 he's since failed to find the net - it's not that he's not contributed otherwise, with assists and general presence up top, but still.
Nevertheless, we've navigated through May without defeat and find ourselves top at the halfway point of the season.
A great defence was key to this run, with 5 clean sheets in 9 speaking for itself.
Transfers out, in what has to be said was a very late window - opened with 3 league matches left, and closed on the eve of the final day:
Still, there was more than a bit of action - 3 midfielders out, and tbfh I'm not fussed at all.
Mehbratu was probably the one I'd miss most, with his knack for late goals and relative creativity as Claver Alexander's playmaker deputy.
Andemariam and Seleman can't pass can don't make use of the strengths they have anyway, good riddance.
5 arrivals, and 3 forwards among the:
- Adem seems to have finishing touch but not the mentals or physicals. Nevertheless, he's still young and I always fall for bait like him.
- Aregay is bad, quite bad, but he can tackle and push opponents so he's in.
- Mehbratu's a archetypal target man, oh so slow but supposedly okay in the air.
- Meanwhile Yosief is one of the few strikers in Eritrea who has both pace and a smidge of reading of the game.
- Lastly, Zeratsion is now part of our central mid rotation. Not good at all by any means, but a very hard worker and free-kick taker gives him a fighting chance.
Anyway... Back to the league:
We jumped straight into the 2nd half of the season, and came out with out 1st loss. 3 wins on the trot followed as it seemed likely for us to coast to the title - well no, not really.
Crashing to 2 goals down to City Centre before scraping a draw, no goals against Akria, before absolutely bombing against Denden.
Worse was to come, completely losing the plot against relegation-threatened Asmara Brewery, where Abdoh ensured he'll go the last 4 league matches without scoring by getting himself sent off.
We then at least finish the season beating an already relegated Tesfa.
Normally such an appalling end to the season would see us lose the title, but with closest challengers Akria, Denden and Adulis Club either bottling it also or getting into form a tad too late:
We're champions - far from the most comfortable or enjoyable, but my days if a title isn't a title.
And as it turned out, while all that was going on we still had a cup to compete in:
Best win of the season, tore Asmara a new one even if the shot count didn't look as dominating as the scoreline suggested.
Well this came in the aftermath of the Denden loss, so we evidently still needed some time to get our wits back.
Completely outplayed, only saved by Alexander at the death, and somehow we found ourselves in the final!
Well I never, from such a shite season came a league and cup double.
Abdoh was dropped due to his sheer stupidity against Asmara, and Mehbratu repaid the faith in him with the early goal.
Edagahamus weren't really in the contest for some reason, and we saw it out with relative ease.
(So it's a treble...?)
Players of the Season
Claver Alexander - absolute baller and heart of our midfield.
He might've needed to be paired with a rotating cast of characters, but as the constant distributor he pretty much performed regardless of the volatility next to him.
Our PoTY, Kiflom did well on the right and picked up quite a few assists.
I suspect it'll be his last season as a regular, though an obvious replacement hasn't quite appeared yet.
Ok, maybe I should give Abdoh his roses...
Still Eritrea's best striker when he's on it, he was just about good enough to score 1 in 2 despite some genuinely awful scoring droughts.
Hopefully with another 2 strikers around he'll feel the fire up his arse and actually give it a better go next season.
And our back 3, Solomun, Merid and Isak didn't exactly keep everything out towards the end of the season, but we still let in a league-low 14.
Isak looks like he's losing a bit of his physicals, but fingers crossed it's still enough as a successor is sought.
And well, before we end:
Well er, it turns out that the job I applied for on a whim after leaving Domagnano has returned...
Well at the very least we can be sure that there'll be something to do this offseason.
Great story. Loving your adventures around the world. Looking forward to seeing your updates on the story.
Ok... Not many fullbacks of any quality, so I eventually settled on a 3-4-3.
Lots of giants on both ends of the pitch, good stuff for some hoofball.
Oh and spoiler alert, Maio Petaia? So he had incurred a suspension in the last Pacific Games.
It turns out that a bug in FM means as far as we can tell, he will never get to serve his suspension and is now (I believe) forever banned from the tourney - brilliant.
A decent set of friendlies on the eve of the tournament, as we try to get to grips with the new system.
3 draws and a win against FIFA-ranked sides represents very good form I would think.
Quite a mad game, rode our luck more than a few times, though with the missed penalty we really should have gone on to win.
A 1st win!
Defensively we definitely leave a lot to be desired, but the current tactic of somehow keeping up with goals of our own looks like it's working.
... Well to a point, anyway.
Fiji are Oceania's 3rd best side, and it showed as they outplayed us throughout, unfortunately.
So there we were, a respectable 2nd place in our group if I may say so myself, but not enough for the semifinal knockouts.
At least I wasn't sacked, so we'll hopefully have the next Pacific Mini games to look forward to in 4 years' time.
Another takeaway was the hoofball 3-4-3 that was implemented here - turns out you can do quite a bit if you have giants at the back and up top.
I don't think I've had a transfer roundup that summarised our window as completely:
2 key players out, and a former player's return as the top 3 moves of the window, and 3 of our 4 as a club.
Solomun leaving was a massive bummer, especially since he had rejected an improved deal to move to a newly promoted side, though we had a more than capable replacement in Mohamed Ali Salih.
Likewise for Al-Shammari, a young attacking midfielder who wasn't going to get any game time with Claver Alexander at the club.
Well about that... Nothing like a deadline day departure to blow up our best laid plans.
After Claver's shock departure we were left to scramble for another playmaker who was readily available and interested:
Luis Isak left at the start of last season for Denden, and started all their games but to little tangible effect, with only 2 assists and no goals in 25 starts.
Nevertheless, at such short notice he was probably our best option.
Preseason was so close to perfect, but for the shock reverse to non-league Hinsta that laid bare our issues up top - Yosief has pace but can't finish to save his life, and Abdoh, well the less said about him the better.
The bookies seemed to think the same too, expecting us to be knee-deep in a relegation battle.
But let's be honest here, if we win our next match I couldn't care less:
GET IN, that's Eritrea cleared as well.
A thoroughly terrible match as well, Denden really should've put us to the sword with their 4-3-3 (as they had done previously) but somehow they basically failed to turn up, with only 3 starters managing above a 6.5 rating.
So we dominated proceedings, but with the Chuckle Brothers up top you know they would never have scored even with another 90 minutes.
So it was left to Ogbagabriel, who in true shithouse fashion punted a freekick in that completely wrong-footed Denden's stopper for the winner.
I won't lie, this won't line up among my favourite stints, but from a efficiency perspective 3 trophies in about 6 months represents very good going.
A new job wasn't immediately forthcoming despite multiple applications, though within 2 months they did eventually get back to me:
By all accounts a pretty successful side in Anguilla, with a couple of titles in the last decades, though their absolute best was nearly 20 seasons ago with 5 straight wins.
Quite a strong outfit, though I'm not sure what to make of our best players being youth graduates in the season just past.
Petty-Rogers is literally the youngest player at the club (yes, accounting for DOB) and he's already the best as well.
Quite worrying that he's already on other clubs' radar, though it's also a sign of his ability.
Hughes-Hamm is the other youth graduate, with already 15 Reflexes and an ok Aerial Ability he's likely going to start.
Connor's supposedly our best midfielder, though he's not all that great technically.
Decent pace, decent in the air, decent workrate - they all make up a decent option in the centre (that passing notwithstanding).
Anthony's a dead cert starting RB, and will in all likelihood provide the same verticality as Tendros back in Eritrea.
Or maybe not, not with his workrate anyway - preseason will determine that aspect of our tactic.