Welcome back to the Aswijan Assignment, a Football Manager 2020 save in the fictional country of Aswijan – using a database created by @Chilled_Moose.
At the mid-way point of Zagora Athletik’s first ever season in the Aswijan top tier, things were going much better than expected. After not winning any of our first 8 matches, we’d picked up 14 points from the next 8 games to climb out of the relegation zone.
Indeed, 2022 began with striker Aatami Begovic picking up the award for Adelan di la Mes (striker of the month) for his 4 goals in 4 matches in December.
We didn’t have much cash to burn, with a transfer budget of £300,000 and only £40k-per-week available for wages. So there wasn’t much movement in the January transfer window.
Tough cup game
Our first match of 2022 was a tough ask up against Aswijan Siti in the Copa Populare fourth round. And those chances weren’t helped when Jeremias Burunda got sent off after 3 minutes. They scored after 19 minutes and we did really well to hold them until they added a second in injury-time. But a red card after 3 minutes is just ridiculous.
However, the good news is that we set a new gate receipts record high of £650k.
A seriously tough run of league games
Things didn’t get much easier as the league resumed, with 2nd-placed Marrador FC coming to town. And, in the days before, Yabe Avitabile got injured for 2 months. But we got a good start against Marrador with Tryfon Tahani scoring after 7 minutes, only for them to equalise a minute later. Then they scored straight away after half-time and we had a player sent off just as we were about to try and push. All the classic FM tricks going on in that game.
Then another home game saw us welcome SCM, who were just above us in the league. We, or rather Martin Goronda, began the game superbly as the left winger nutmegged his full-back and shot into the far corner on 14 minutes then crossed for Begovic to score his 5th goal in 5 league matches a minute later. Then nothing happened until midfield loanee Mikael Utica banged in his first goal for the club in injury time.
That took us to the heady heights of 12th in the league but, annoyingly, still only 5 points clear of the relegation zone.
But things got a whole lot more difficult as we made our first league trip to champions Aswijan Malikiy. We did well to hold them for 25 minutes, until Leroy Sané decided to start playing. He scored one, made one, then we did well to hold them until the last few minutes, in a respectable 3-0 defeat.
Annoyingly, the other Aswijan big boys Siti were up next, and we did really well to hold them to 1-0 until we had the audacity to have a go at it and they scored in injury time.
We’d played the 4 best teams in Aswijan in our first 5 matches of 2022 and not come away with any horrendous beatings, which was about as much as we could hope for against these teams. But it didn’t get much easier as we went to CSSC, who were pushing for European football. We went behind early, got back into it through Tryfon Tahani – who obviously then got injured – and they obviously scored a late winner.
After that tough run of games we were now just 3 points clear of the relegation zone. In other news, Rune Azevedo won Tendor di la Mes (goalkeeper of the month) for January despite conceding 9 goals, which says a lot.
Surely it can’t get more difficult? It can…
A big game followed to open up February as we travelled to Pippo Inzaghi’s FC Lakhra, who were one place above us going into the game. We put in one of our best performances of the season led by the impressive Martin Goronda.
The winger tucked home after Begovic’s shot was saved after 13 minutes, and we dominated the first half. Lakhra had a goal rightly disalloed early in the second half but we made sure of three points as Goronda crossed for Tahani to smash home a superb volley on 67 minutes. Bizarrely, that saw Lakhra drop into the relegation zone with the battle for the drop getting ridiculously tight.
Next up was the only team that had given us a real hiding all season in Berche 08, who beat us 5-0 earlier in the season. After a highlightless first half after a Goronda run ended up with the ball at Begovic’s feet and he finished from a narrow angle. Berche scored from their only highlight of the match to equalise and we had a couple of half chances in a very equal game, which is pleasing given the previous meeting.
Our start to 2022 continued to be tough with games in 3rd, 4th and 5th in the league. First up was 3rd-placed Manouza. They battered us by 27 shots to 1 and we were lucky to escape with a 2-0 loss.
Then we hosted 4th-placed Hadria. But before that, I got offered job interviews by two of our closest challengers in the relegation battle FC Lakhra, who’d just sacked Inzaghi, and Fari. Lakhra actually offered me the job but I turned it down. We took an early lead over Hadria through Tahani and they came back to win 2-1 and deserved it as they battered us.
But to put this in context, Hadria spent £49 million on the likes of Lucas Ocampos and loaned in Tahith Chong, Dan-Axel Zagadou and Pedro Neto. Their top two earners are on £66k and £61k per week. We are spending £94k per week on our ENTIRE SQUAD. It’s not really a contest. We then went to Aldaia and lost 3-0, hvaing 3 shots to their 31. They have a player on £87k-a-week, nearly as much as our entire wage budget. Moving on…
The good news was that the players generally still had decent-ish morale heading into two home games. The bad news, we were only outside the drop zone on goal difference after a run of 1 win in 8 games and just 2 in the last 10.
Now can things get a bit easier?
Well, it didn’t get much easier as 8th-placed Hamjar came to visit us. But a mid-week team meeting may have had some effect as the winless run ended. It was a relatively tight affair in which we bossed the ball with 62% possession and they had 15 shots to our 6. But we had the only one that mattered as Boris Agha snuck in at the front post to glance a header into the far post from Tahani’s corner.
We then faced a big game at home to Chaouka Warriors, who’ve picked up a little, and we drew 2-2. Frontman Begovic bagged a brace on his birthday but our injury-ridden defence leaked a late equaliser. However, that moved us 4 points clear of the relegation zone with a game in hand on 17th-placed Hadria Oskat… who we played next.
We went to Oskat and earned a 0-0 draw which, again, is a very good result for us. Our youth intake followed this game and, as my head of development had already informed me, it wasn’t very good. Maybe this guy needs to be better at his job?
We then faced European football challenging Khaliza, led by Marcelo Bielsa, at home and earned a creditable 0-0 draw given they had 22 shots to our 9. That edged us 5 points clear, which was lucky because the next one was Aswijan Siti away and they promptly hammered us 4-0.
Tense relegation battle
With four games remaining, Zagora Athletik faced a huge task to secure their position in Liga Regale for next season. Three of the last four matches were away from home, one was at home to the bottom of the league, and our final game was away to probably the second best team in Aswijan.
The run-in began with a 0-0 draw at fellow strugglers Fari, who battered our goal with 26 shots but thankfully couldn’t find a way through. Luckily, Chaouka in the final relegation spot lost both of their games in hand, leaving us 6 points ahead of them with 3 games remaining.
But if any nerves were jangling, at least my assistant had me covered with his insightful tactical advice. Cheers Illuminato…
As it happened, his tactical advice didn’t go much beyond that. We took on bottom of the table Wabani Athletik, didn’t do much, nor did they, and played out a dull 0-0 draw. The next day, Chaouka went to Aswijan Malikiy and, unsurprisingly, lost 3-0, which meant that Zagora Athletik were officially safe!
We’d achieved something that looked a near impossibility at the start of the season, when the media had us down to come plum last in the league, and survived in Liga Regale for a second season.
That took the pressure off the last two games, which was lucky as we had no chance away to Wabani, had one shot and lost 1-0. Which wasn’t great, but in reality not that bad. However, it did mark 6 games without scoring a single goal…
And we finished the campaign at 3rd place Marrador FC, which certainly wasn’t an end of season game to remember. We went a goal down inside 30 seconds, they had another one-on-one straight from our kick-off, were 3-0 up in 25 minutes and totally ripped us apart. But we somehow only lost 3-0.
Anyway, no need to dwell, we’d done amazingly well to stay up despite finishing the season in truly dreadful form. We didn’t score in our last 7 matches, only won one of our last 13 matches and three of our 20 matches in 2022.
Unsurprisingly, Malikiy walked the league, winning it by 14 points. Hadria, Marrador and Aswijan Siti made the Champions League, and Manouza and Aldaia got into the Europa League. While Chaouka and Wabani Athleik were relegated.
Join us next time as we look back on a season that was strangely successful despite a huge lack of success!
I hope you enjoyed Season 3 in this fictitious nation of Aswijan! 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.