Robí di Lathamé’s 20th season as a football manager saw him lead Feyenoord Rotterdam into 2039 in second place in Eredivisie. However, the club’s title defence was looking promising as they’d played rivals and Ajax twice and were well clear of both, only trailing AZ Alkmaar by a point with two games in hand.
Not a lot happened during the transfer window as we sold backup left-winger Peter Geerts to Swansea for a decent £14.5 million and replaced him with wonderkid Argentinian Nazareno Aguero.
But we got a great start to 2039 by thumping Fortuna Sittard 4-0 with a goal and two assists by exciting young attacker Gabriel Vinatoru. We slipped to a 0-0 draw at Heerenveen, but that inspired a flying run of five successive league victories in which we only conceded one goal and scored 15! The main man of those games was exciting winger Zsolt Papp, who scored four goals and racked up seven assists, including two assists in three successive matches.
That took us into a big game at home to flying AZ Alkmaar, in which Papp and most of our attack were poor in a dire game. In truth, not a lot happened until centre-back nodded home from a free-kick on 82 minutes then midfielder Jonathan Montagne repeated the feat in injury time.
And that moves us really close to defending our title, as we move 10 points clear of second-placed Ajax with eight games remaining.
We dropped points at NEC then somehow lost in the Dutch Cup semi-final against Heracles. However, we bounced back in style with a 5-0 thumping of bottom of the league Roda JC. Papp bagged two more assists that took him to 20 for the season and there was a first goal for the club for Aguero.
Papp immediately grabbed another in the first minute of the next game at home to RKC Waalwijk, teeing up the first and second of a 21-minute hat-trick for youngster Souhail Benali. Papp then picked up a groin strain that may rule him out for the season, and could make this his final appearance for Feyenoord, but his replacement Aguero added a late fourth.
Another dominant performance at VVV Venlo saw us win 3-0 with goals from Montagne, Benali again and another young attacker Abdelkhalek Ouakrim. That moved us 10 points clear with four games remaining, so one more win would wrap up the title. Howeevr, Ajax drew the early game in the next round of matches, making us effectively champions with a nine-point lead and a hugely substantial goal difference.
We then had a chance to wrap up the league at home to FC Utrecht, and got a great start as Kevin Verbeek bagged his 24th of the season after 8 minutes. However, despite having 29 shots, we couldn’t add to that and they somehow scored out of nowhere. It was a disgrace of a performance but enough to hand us another title, which is my 13th league title as a manager!
We celebrated the title with a 5-1 thrashing of NAC Breda as Papp scored on his early return and Vinatoru scored and made two. Verbeek and Ouakrim scored again in a 2-1 win at Twente, then we wrapped up the season with a Rotterdam derby at home to Sparta.
We got off to a flyer in the final game, with Verbeek scoring after 2 minutes. But again we struggled to build on that early lead until Vinatoru won a late penalty that, fittingly, last season’s hero Gergo Benedek stepped up to score his first goal of the season.
That saw us finish 10 points clear of Ajax with just one defeat all season and only conceding 16 goals from 34 games. And we finished the campaign with a 21-game unbeaten streak.
After coming second in our Champions Leaue group, we were handed a tough first knockout round draw with Inter. We were at home first and played well as we led 1-0 going into the closing stages, only for right-back Brutil Felomina to score an injury-time own goal. And that proved costly as we again defended well in Italy but lost 1-0 in a game that Inter dominated.
So the Champions League continues to defy us after 20 years in-game. And time is clearly against us with FM21 just around the corner.
Join us on Saturday as we reflect on a second successful season defending our Eredivisie title! And, a look ahead to the future of this save.