The winter break and training camp are over, and the January transfer window is closed. And I’m happy to report that things are looking good. I support having a winter break because it gives managers and players a chance to recharge and reevaluate the current situation within their respective clubs. And if necessary, it’s a time to make changes to improve the club’s situation.
For this post, I’ll be discussing some of the changes I made during the first half of my first season at Hadjuk. Specifically, within the backroom staff, (e.g. Coaches) and players. In addition to that, my plan is to bring Bielsa’s type of football to the club, meaning that we are going to play at a high tempo, use quick and direct passing, with intense and immediate pressure on our opponents to win the ball back and hit them on the counter. This philosophy and concepts are non-negiotiable, and those who oppose it will be shown the door. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but I will discuss this later in the post.
I will give an overview of the Croatian First Football League; then I will discuss my assessment of staff and players mentalities; I will report on transfers, specifically, players bought and sold; and I will report my experience in the Croatian and Serbian transfer markets. And lastly, some closing thoughts on my time with Hadjuk.
Croatia First Football League (PrvHNL)
For those of you that are not familiar with the Croatian First Football League (HNL), here’s a link to Wikipedia explaining the system. But let me give you a brief synopisis of the top flight of Croatian football. Currently, 10 teams are in the top flight. Dinmo Zagreb won it’s 11th consecutive title since the creation of the league in 1992 following the dissolution of the Yugoslavian Republic. They have won a total of 18 titles followed by Hadjuk’s six. The fiercest rivalry are between Hadjuk and Dinamo is known as the Eternal Derby. Supporters live for this match which happens three times during the season. The Torcida, an ultra supporter group goes back to 1950, which makes them the oldest firm in all of Europe. To say the least, it’s a very important match and has more significance than any other match.
PRVHNL July 2015-December 2015
After taking over the club, I met with the board and their expectations were realistic; finish in the top half of the season; qualify for the European football; use the club’s youth system to develop and promote young players. Outside of those expectations they left it up to me to bring my philosophy to the club; a manager’s dream in virtual and real life. I’ve given full license to bring the principles of juego de posicion and tactical periodization.
First, to make that possible I had to assess the overall club, finances, backroom,and players. I was in for a shock when I was told my transfer budget was £160K quid and a wage budget of £60K per week. The first thing I said was how do they expect me to run this club on a shoestring budget. I immediately reached out to my brother from across the pond, Michael Skidmore @totalfootball71, and his words were “well you’re going to have to be prudent.” I am fortunate to have a friend like him because he gave me the answer I needed instead of what I wanted. With that said, I conducted the first phase of the assessment: data collection and assessment of player mentalities.
Phase 1: Data Collection
Before I started this save I collected as much data as I as could. This consisted of me browsing Hadjuk’s website and reading player’s bios to get background information on them. Then, I searched YouTube for highlights showing their strengths and weakness on and off the ball. Lastly, I watch the first and second legs of the Eternal Derby, which took place on 16/03/2016 and 20/03/2016, respectively. For some FM’ers this might be too involved, but before I start a new save I like to get as much background information as I can to avoid disastrous results (see my earlier post about getting sacked by Roman Abramovich). To say the least, I am excited to have the opportunity to work with a talented group of players, and manage a club with a strong tradition and rich history.
Assessment: Players Mentality
The players and backroom staff had been settling for mediocrity prior to my arrival, and those of you that know my management style, mediocrity is intolerable. This was baffling because the club was filled with talented young players, however, for some reason or another, they weren’t being nurtured the way a young player should be. I was surprised to find that there was no battle tested veteran in the dressing room for these kids to look up to, someone who could guide and mentor these youngsters. I attribute this to a couple of things: (1) the coaches lacked credentials from UEFA, and those that did have credentials were content with National A or Continental A license; (2) none of them had experience working with young players. I was shocked to learn that the U19 and U21 Managers and Asst. Managers that had low ratings (8 & 9) for working with youngsters. No wonder their mentalities were in the pits because no knew how to bring the best out of them.
Additionally, the club had players brought in on season long loans whose commitment and dedication were questionable. To be honest, they had difficult personalities and bad for morale. I gave them the usual spiel that managers give to those temperamental players: that needed to get their heads out of the sand, and get on with their jobs. Tong story short Manuel Arteaga on loan from Palermo remains with the club, while the other two loans were terminated.
I’m sure you can tell that I had a lot to contend with my first 6 months on the job. Our list of fixtures and results for the first half of the season should give you an idea of what I was happening at the club.
Fixtures and Results
As a rule I try not to make major changes, but I could see there are going to be wholesale changes at the Poljud. We went into the winter break (20/12/2015) with an abysmal record of 6 wins 6 draws and 4 defeats; excluding our poor showing in the third round of the Europa League Qualifiers and Croatian Cup. Morale was at an all-time low and I needed to make changes and I needed to make them sooner than later.
Backroom Staff: Assistant Manager & Coaches
Remember I don’tlike making major changes in the first year, but it was imperative that I took action. So first I needed to change my backroom staff around with coaches and managers that could train the player to be total footballer. I conducted an exhaustive search for some the best coaches eastern Europe had to offer, and I found some real gems. I’m surprised that more of these coaches are not at some of the other clubs across Europe.
Transfers: Nikola Vlasic, Fran Tudor, Hrvoje Milic, and Franck Ohandza
Now that I’ve assembled solid backroom staff it was time to focus on identifying potential targets for the following season, but I had one problem; remember my budget is £160K quid. So I had to be strategic and really think through who I was going to bring in. Honestly, acquiring players on loan seems logical and feasible. However, we would find a solution to our problem; wonderkid Nikola Vlašić was a target for a number of clubs around Europe. Arsenal, Real Madrid, Man United, Man City, and Liverpool got in a bidding war for his signature. the opening bid was £800k, then it rose to £1.5m, then £2.5m, and so on.I realized that if they really want him I could dictate the terms of the deal. I needed bigger transfer budget and if I got a good fee for Nikola the board would get a majority of the fee (75%) but we’d still have something to work with. Eventually, we settled on a deal with Arsenal for a fee of £6.25million, upfront and no add-ons.
Fran Tudor request to speak with Hoffenheim was somewhat of a surprise because he seemed settled and began to show promise. Reluctantly I gave him permission to speak with them and the came with a bid of £2.8m (£1.1m upfront) plus add-ons.
Hrvoje Milić was transferred to Swansea City for £1.2m (£850K up front) with add-ons. He was not a good influence in the dressing room, then had a change of heart and wanted to stay but I thought it was best if he tried his luck at another club.
Franck Ohandza is an interesting case, he was injured during preseason and spent the first half of the season recovering from his injury. He did find it hard to adjust to the new system and group of players. Malmo FF offered £180K (£140k up front) with some add-ons and we accepted and the transfer took immediate effect.
Below is a screenshot of the business we conducted this season. I am pretty content with the way things are going and I am expecting great things from this group. Be on the look out for part two where I will give a recap of my first season at NK Hadjuk Split. Cheers.