The Journeyman | Vamos Valencia: Part 1 – Old Boys and an Ageing Superstar

Last time out, I explained my decision to, with rather a heavy heart, move on from my six seasons with Sporting and explore pastures new by embarking on the start of a Journeyman save.

Our first port of call post-Sporting was another of my favourite European teams – Valencia Club de Fútbol. This move, incidentally, is very interestingly timed in terms of what I should have been doing right now had the Coronavirus pandemic not broken out.

Before Coronavirus, I was travelling the world and living in a new country every month. I was due to spend the summer in Europe, living in Lisbon in June then moving to Valencia for July – and would have moved there this coming Saturday. The timing of my FM switch from Lisbon to Valencia is wholly coincidental – to the point that I only realised a few days ago, because in-game I’m at least a month / several seasons ahead and have these posts scheduled well in advanced. Anyway, just an interesting sidenote and a strange coincidence linking Lisbon to Valencia!

Valencia CF in 2025

Valencia had just finished 5th in La Liga and parted ways with former manager Neil Lennon, who was sacked after 1 year and 318 days in charge. That, worryingly, was the longest Valencia had kept any manager during my six seasons in Lisbon…

Valencia haven’t finished outside of the top six in any of those seasons, but also haven’t finished above fourth. But last season they finished a huge 31 points behind third-placed Barcelona and 7 points behind Real Sociedad in the final Champions League spot, with 59 points from their 38 matches.

Luckily the board weren’t expecting too much of us to start with. They wanted Europa League qualification – which makes me question why they sacked Lennon – and there were no real club vision objections in place.

The first thing I noticed upon taking the Valencia job was a serious lack of strikers. To the extent that Son Heung-Min – who Valencia had just signed for a huge £34 million following a relatively successful loan spell of 14 goals in 38 matches from Manchester City – was considered our best “striker.”

But I also realised that we had two of our old boys from the Sporting days available to us in midfielder Rodrigo Fernandes, who joined the previous summer for £12.5 million, and winger Jovane Cabral, who signed for £30 million in 2023. Both also list me among their favoured personnel, so they’ll be happy to see the new boss arrive in Valencia.

We also had two of my favourite Valencia players still at the club in captain Carlos Soler and vice-captain Jose Gaya.

However, we did have several players that were unhappy and plenty of deadwood that would need to be recycled from the Lennon reign. We also only had a bank balance of £18 million at our disposal. So it’s safe to say we had a bit of a task on our hands.

Summer upheaval

The summer began with former Sporting player William Carvalho completing his £15 million move to Porto having spent the previous season on loan there. And we set about selling off players that wouldn’t fit in.

This unexpectedly included Geoffrey Kondogbia, who decided he was homesick and we sold him for a cut-price £2 million to Stade Brestois. We also sold backup striker Rafael Santos Borré, who’d scored 4 times in 28 appearances the previous season, for a respectable £8 million to Hamburg. And midfielder Koba Koindredi went to Mallorca for £4 million.

But our biggest sale of the summer was moving on winger Steven Bergwijn, who only managed 4 goals and 2 assists in 34 appearances the previous season, to Napoli for a decent £12 million.

That gave us a little bit of wiggle room and my first objective was to strengthen a very threadbare looking defence. And something to note is that our lack of funds and strength throughout the squad has temporarily led to me ditching my focus on signing youngsters.

I addressed this by snapping up 27-year-old English defender Fikayo Tomori for £12.75 million, which could rise to £24 million, from Chelsea. We also brought in holding midfielder/centre-back Marco Kana on a season-long loan from Manchester City. And we raided City again to bring in midfielder Tommy Doyle on loan to provide a bit of backup.

We brought in a few young players for minimal fees who went straight into the youth team, then I went on the hunt for a striker. The search was pretty fruitless given our lack of transfer budget so, like an absolute hobo of a football manager, I started to scour the free transfer market. And I spotted an absolute legend available for free, so we snapped up Sergio Aguero. Now 37, I swiftly realised that he’d actually just been released by Valencia in the summer… oops! But, I think he can just about do a job for us as a backup.

But the headline of the summer signings was dominated by an exciting and intriguing loan deal. I scoured the transfer market looking for an attacker and couldn’t really find anything affordable until I stumbled across an ageing, legendary winger available for loan.

So, welcome to Valencia… Neymar! This will be the first time I’ve ever managed the now 33-year-old winger on Football Manager, so I’m pretty excited about having him at the club, and I think he can still be good for us.

During his 9 years in Paris, Neymar made 210 league appearances and scored 97 goals, and has 55 league assists over the last 6 seasons. Last season, he scored 11 and assisted 8 with an average rating of 7.71. So I think there’s still talent here.

Valencia squad

I’ve also promoted a couple of average youngsters up to the first team to bulk the squad out a little. But to give you an overview of what we’re working with, here is our full first-team squad in terms of possible positions players can play in (i.e. players appear multiple times).

Goalkeepers: David Soria, Cristian Rivero

Right-backs: Victor Gomez, Manual Jose Tejeda
Centre backs: Daniele Rugani, Fikayo Tomori, Marcos Senesi, Marc
Left-backs: Jose Gaya, Jesus Vazquez, Roman Sisler

Holding midfielders: Marco Kana (Rodrigo Fernandes, Tommy Doyle)

Central midfielders: Carlos Soler, Rodrigo Fernandes, Tommy Doyle, Mohamed Ihattaren, Jose Carlos

Left wingers: Neymar, Jovane Cabral, Son Heung-Min (Roman Sisler, Mariano)
Right wingers: Jovane Cabral, Mohamed Ihattaren, Son Heung-Min

Strikers: Son Heung-Min, Sergio Aguero, Mariano, Jordi Escobar

And here is how I’m lining them up to begin with…

La Liga begins with a bang

Our first match as Valencia manager looked like a relatively nice one, with Granada at home. And we got off to a flyer through a very familiar face. Neymar whipped in a corner from the right and Jovane Cabral leaped highest to nod home from close range in the 4th minute.

Granada gave us a helping hand as a defender deflected Neymar’s shot into the net and it somewhat harshly went down as an own goal. And Cabral then made it an amazing start as he doubled his tally after being played through by Kana and slotted home to make it 3-0 inside 20 minutes.

We held Granada at arm’s length, to the extent that they only had one shot, and finished things off with another Sporting old boy. Neymar played the ball inside to Rodrigo Fernandes, who fired home to score his first goal for Valencia in his 30th appearance.

A 4-0 win with 3 goals from former Sporting players and 2, technically 3, assists from new boy Neymar (why doesn’t FM count assists of own goals as assists?!). It was a dream start in Valencia and gives me a little hope, but the fact is that we are nowhere near the level of the big three Atletico, Real and Barcelona.

Join us next time as we push ahead with our first season in Spain. And Vamos Valencia!

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