Welcome back to the Aswijan Assignment, a Football Manager 2020 save in the fictional country of Aswijan – using a database created by @Chilled_Moose.
Zagora Athletik came into a first season in the big time of Aswijan’s Liga Regale knowing they faced an absolutely massive task if they were to avoid relegation.
Promotion to this new level required some strengthening of the playing squad but I was keen not to completely overhaul it with new players that would need time to gel in. That said, I think we have made significant improvements in key areas of the team. And, that includes one big transfer that smashes the club record.
So with no further ado, meet the new Zagora Athletik club record signing… Mirco Bjerg.
Of course, he’s a player we know well having signed him on loan last season, and he went on to be the standout player in our Liga Principale promotion push. I tried to extend his loan several times but he repeatedly rejected the move. Then, when I tried to bid for him his parent club and our senior affiliate Mufala Malikiy wanted at least £12 million. But, they got relegated and that enabled us to come in with a much lower bid of £3 million, which could become £7 million.
We also strengthened with five free signing, of which I hope the most significant will be 22-year-old striker Aatami Begovic, who arrives upon the expiry of his contract with Aswijan Siti. He’s only played 5 games in 2 seasons but he’s already valued at £12 million and my coaches rate him as our best player.
Another free signing is Jeremias Burunda, a defensive midfielder released by Aswijan Malikiy. I think he’ll slot nicely into the middle of our midfield trio, and we could also deploy him in a slightly deeper role.
Also bolstering our midfield is Arif Kalonda, who was released by another Liga Regale side Sporting Club Marrador (SMC). His physicals aren’t great but I think he could be a useful creative option for us.
Last year’s loanee centre-back had returned to Mufala so we dipped into the free market to snap up 19-year-old Boris Agha. I think he has great potential and will start off as a decent backup option. And we strengthened at right-back with 20-year-old Moise Saldanha, who will provide support to Arkadios Gram, who was excellent last season.
Liga Regale chances (or lack of!)
Whether we have what it takes to be anywhere near competitive in Liga Regale remains to be seen, but I very much expect not! And the media agree, predicting we’ll finish bottom of the pile in 18th place.
For context, our annual salary of £4.05 million is by far and away the lowest in the league. The next lowest is Wabani Athletik’s £6.65 million, while more than half of the league are spending five-times more than us with annual salaries of at least £20 million. At the other end of the scale, champions Aswijan Malikiy are spending over £91 million per year on wages, followed by Aswijan Siti on £73 million and Marrador FC on £52 million.
In other words, Malikiy’s wages are double that of 15 of the other 17 teams in the league. And their wage budget alone is the same as that of all the eight lowest spenders combined. Madness!
However, the board handed me a new three-year contract a couple of weeks before the start of the season. And, these are the expectations we’re working towards for our third season in Aswijan:
Life in Liga Regale begins
Our first game in the top tier of Aswijani football was away to SCM, and they absolutely battered us. However, they struggled to break us down and only scored after 72 minutes to win 1-0. That said, we didn’t have a shot until the 68th minute, so we definitely didn’t deserve anything from it!
Things didn’t get much easier as we hosted perennial national champions Aswijan Malikiy in our second match, in which we were 13/2 to win at home! We played really well this time and were very unlucky to narrowly lose 1-0, holding Malikiy until the 60th minute and having a penalty awarded to us then taken away by VAR – which I’m not sure ever previously seen on FM! So that was a bit dubious… but, the performance did give me a little ray of optimism.
The game also saw us more than double our record attendance with 20,687 turning up at our temporary new home of Revelació Arena, and nearly triple our record gate receipts.
A couple of cup games (see below) then the transfer deadline came inbetween that and our next league game, but Malikiy clearly weren’t happy with their attack against us as they decided to splurge £36.5 million and £130k-a-week on Leroy Sané. Oh boy…
We signed a couple of loanees on deadline day but it didn’t do anything to improve our fortunes, as we continued to go without a win or a goal in our first six league matches. However, that included three 1-0 defeats that were compounded with a 5-0 thumping at Berche 08.
The bad luck continued to come even as we took the lead in a match. Manouza Akademi took an early lead, only for Begovic to get his first league goal to equalise then Navneet Timsit scored his first goal for the club with a 25-yard drive.
However, Arkadios Gram then got a red card that the media later claimed was “questionable” then both our goalscorers went and picked up injuries. And Manouza got themselves level on 82 minutes. Gutting, but at least it’s another point on the board… and I went on the rampage in the media about the standard of officiating.
Can we at least win in the Cups?
A first win of the season came with a 2-0 win at Zaan in the Copa Populare, in which Begovic got his first goal for the club. We then snuck past local rivals Rabaqa, who are now managed by Fernando Morientes, with a 1-0 away win in the first round of Copa Azore.
We then faced Kasra in the Copa Azore, and we were still massive underdogs – which says a lot about the actual quality of this team. And we lost another game 1-0.
But we finally got a win in the Copa Populare second round, which came with a little tweak to the formation. We dropped to a 4-1-2-2-1, and beat Liga Dukh side Ozakrik Siti 3-0 away, with goals from Tiberius Olivero, an Acrisio Aberg penalty and a late Martin Goronda third.
Do we have to go back to the league?
Unfortunately, we then had to go back to playing in Liga Regale, with a visit to Hadria FC. And we got well and truly ripped apart. Hadria had 26 shots to 0 in the first half… but only led 1-0. Somehow. And they only added a second in the last minute when I tried to make our players do something, anything. Incredibly, after 39 shots to 1 and both of their strikers missing with 9 shots each, we only lost 2-0.
We now had 2 points from 8 league games, but we were only 4 points from safety. Yet the chances of us winning a game all season look outrageously slim. Meanwhile, Filippo Inzaghi, the FC Lakhra boss, was putting the boot in telling us we had no chance of staying up in the press. I mean, we don’t, but no need to be mean to us, Pippo.
Next up was Aldaia, who had Divock Origi up front, at home, but we were still massive underdogs (take that as a given for every game…). However, we put in a solid defensive performance that took us into the break at 0-0 and held Aldaia to the mere 9 shots to our 1. In the second half they mustered 7 more to our 4, but we made ours count.
On 75 minutes, Tryfon Tahani swung in a free-kick from the left and centre-back Yabe Avitabile leaped highest to head home at the back post. We were winning a league match!! I immediately went (even more) defensive, and Aldaia couldn’t muster anything. And we held on for a famous first win in Liga Regale. That kept us bottom of the league but only two points from safety!
The whole of Aswijan then took two weeks off in order to celebrate our first win / recover from the shock of such a miracle. And that coincided with a timely international break that saw Aswijan qualify for its first ever World Cup this time next year.
All the relegation battles
That was followed by a huge battle between the bottom two as we made the trip to face Chaouka Warriors, who’d just fired their manager and had a little boy in charge as caretaker manager (see below), in which we were 3/1 rank outsiders.
And the absolutely unthinkable happened as we not only scored our first away goal of the season, but also kept a clean sheet, scored two and won an away match! Goronda gave us a great start after 4 minutes then we doubled our lead as Agha nodded home his first goal for the club from a Bjerg free-kick.
This huge win also saw us escape the relegation zone for the first time all season, and we have a game in hand on the teams below us.
We then made it three games unbeaten with a 0-0 draw at home to Hadria Oskat, last year’s Liga Principale champions, in what must be the most boring match in the history of Football Manager. Both teams had 3 shots each, but we will absolutely take the point.
I have noticed, by the way, that our possession stats are creeping up, with 66% in this game and 69% in the win at Chaouka. And this hasn’t gone unnoticed as Marcelo Bielsa, who manages our next opponent Khaliza Unidi, launched an unbelievable attack on us in the media, labelling us as “impotent.” That’s a bit personal…
We also got our first look at the next youth intake… which looks rubbish, again, despite some improvements behind the scenes.
Avitabile won the Garda di la Mes (defender of the month), while Azevedo and Agha came second in Tendor di la Mes and Iuvento Libando di la Mes (goalkeeper and young player). Loanee Avitabile, by the way, already lists me as his only favoured personnel and Zagora as his favoured club.
Khaliza were way too strong for us, dominating us but only winning 2-0. But that was followed by another huge relegation battle was we welcomed 16th-placed Fari to town.
Tahani got us off to a great start with his first goal of the season after 3 minutes, only for the ref and VAR to give the visitors a decidedly dubious penalty 2 minutes later. Probably for the first time all season we were the better team, and eventually made it count as Aberg’s cross from the left found Begovic at the front post to slam home a powerful header.
A 2-1 win saw us climb over Fari, out of the relegation zone and up to the heady heights of 15th! We’re on 12 points, as are Fari, Chaouka are one back on 11, and Wabani are bottom on 8.
Next up were two games against Wabanis, first at mid-table Wabani Athletik then another relegation battle against bottom of the league Wabani.
We made a great start to the first of this double header as Begovic was played through with a lovely ball from Goronda and slotted home. We were playing some lovely football in a snowy Wabani, with at least 6 highlights showing us playing the ball out from the goalkeeper and looking to pass through their defence. Three of these resulted in big chances for Begovic, which he wasted.
We went into half-time one-up but Wabani Athletik responded 10 minutes after the break. We kept creating decent chances on the counter, and one of our brilliant moves from the back ended up in Bjerg picking out Begovic, who jinked past two defenders and coolly finished to puts us 2-1 ahead. The hosts pushed late on but we held firm and recorded another miraculous away win!
The next day Wabani drew 0-0 at home to Fari, which left us in 14th place and 4 points above the drop zone. But a huge sucker punch followed as right-back Arkadios Gram was ruled out for 5 weeks with a twisted ankle (which seems like a very long lay-off period).
The other Wabani came to town the following weekend with new manager Rafa Benitez, who is apparently a “big fan” of mine, in tow. And we got a dreadful start as Aberg scored a stupid own-goal on 11 minutes then Bobby Adekanye doubled their lead just after the half-hour mark.
But we gave ourselves a sniff as Begovic scored a goal out of nothing, then Tahani hit the bar with a powerful effort with the last kick of the half. 2-1 down at half-time, I wasn’t too scathing on the boys but asked for more from them. And we got exactly that 2 minutes after the break as Agha headed home from a Tahani free-kick. Nothing happened for the rest of the match and we held Wabani to a 2-2 draw.
That took us into the Winter break in Aswijan 5 points clear of the relegation zone. We’re sitting far more prettily than I’d expected at the start of the season and certainly after a winless 8 opening games.
Join us next time to see if we can survive in our first season of Liga Regale or if relegation is calling at the end of Season 3 in Aswijan.
I hope you’re enjoying reading about this fictitious country! If you have any questions about the save or want more info on specific players in the squad, just let me know in the comments or get in touch on Twitter.
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