The clock ticked over to 2040 as 55-year-old English title specialist Robí di Lathamé was showing no signs of letting up with his Juventus side sitting pretty seven points clear at the top of Serie A
However, there was plenty of work to do to fend off the in-form Inter and progress in the elusive Champions League. That said, we had a quiet transfer window in which a few more players were shipped out and we brought in Dortmund left-back Jurgen Pirschel, who I had in Feyenoord for two seasons, as a backup.
The 2040s – which I’m fairly certain makes this the first time I’ve ever reached this decade on any Football Manager – began with a solid 2-0 home win over Udinese, thanks to goals from winger Ivan Barbosa Martins and striker Carl Guillaume. We then claimed a 3-0 cruise at home to Bari and an edgy 1-0 win at Chievo Verona, courtesy of a 5th minute goal by Márcio Roberto, and our defnesive dominance continued in a tame 2-0 stroll at home to Ascoli.
After 22 games we’d only conceded four goals, which is just ridiculous, and won 20. But Inter, the only team to have beaten us, were keeping pace. However, on the day they drew 0-0 at home to Atalanta we eased to a 3-0 win overt third-placed Genoa to go nine points clear of Inter and a huge 21 ahead of Genoa.
We handed those points straight back to Inter with a 1-1 draw in a poor game at Roma. But a dominant 3-0 win over a poor Milan side and the same result at Crotone then a 4-1 thumping of Fiorentina got us back on track. An edgy 1-0 win at bottom of the league Perugia moved us seven points clear of Inter with eight games remaining.
Eight games for the Scudetto
The final eight games began with a 1-0 at home to Bologna then, on the day Inter snuck past Roma 2-1, we only drew 1-1 with ten-man Napoli as Edouard Pierre-Charles missed a third penalty of the season. Then we left it late to defeat Sampdoria 2-0, as substitute Sebastián González came on to change the game. But we again struggled on the road as we stumbled to a 0-0 at Lazio, who were way down in 15th in the league.
And that teed up a potential Scudetto decider as we welcomed Inter to town. We went into the game five points clear with four games remaining, meaning a win would almost certainly wrap up the title.
A very tight first half saw neither side do much until Ivan Barbosa Martins, who’d been quiet recently, pop up to score eight minutes before the break. Pierre-Charles was shown a red card for a shocking challenge on the hour mark but we went a little more defensive and held on for a huge 1-0 win to put Serie A within our grasp.
A tough trip to Atalanta followed and we made a great start as Barbosa Martins scored the first shot of the game, which proved to be one of only two shots in the first half. Papp came off the bench to score a great strike and wrap up the title!
That’s now my 15th title in six countries, and I think this is probably one of the best to have overcome a strong Inter side in what is, admittedly, a pretty weak Serie A.
That was followed by an Italian Cup Final against Inter, for which I had to fully rotate a knackered and very injured squad, and lost 3-0. And the rotation continued for the final two games, the first of which we lost 2-0 at home to former club Cagliari then a 1-0 loss at Udinese.
But that didn’t shadow a strong campaign that saw us rack up 97 points and 83 goals, and only concede 10 times to win the league by four points from Inter. Bizarrely, the club lost £20 million for winning the league as we received £4.45 million in prize money but paid out £24 million in bonuses!
Champions League knockouts
Despite five of the last 16 being my former clubs we didn’t get any of them. Instead, we got the best draw possible, considering we finished second in our group, against Schalke. A 0-0 in the home leg had things looking risky but we made sure of progression with a 5=2 away win inspired by a Guillaume hat-trick.
Unsurprisingly, a former club was next as we took on Man City. Centre-back Daniel Dallera nodded us ahead early on in the first leg then Márcio Roberto seized on a dodgy attempt to play out from the back to double the lead on the verge of half-time. And that was enough for a solid 2-0 first leg advantage. And that clean sheet proved vital as we snuck through on away goals with a 3-1 loss at the Etihad.
That took us to a semi-final up against Bayern Munich, in which we were again at home first. Left-back and captain Franco Muggeri gave us a great start with his second goal of the season, only for Bayern to immediately equalise. A more likely source regained the lead as Márcio Roberto bagged his 22nd, then won a penalty converted by Pierre-Charles, who then doubled his tally with the unusual feat of scoring a header from outside the box! Guillaume got involved just after half-time to wrap up an eye-catching 5-1 thumping!
We were poor in the second half but got away with a 2-0 defeat that sent me through to my first Champions League Final!
First Champions League Final
Our opponent in the Final was a former club, as Valencia – now managed by another Englishman, Sean Dyche – edged past Man United 3-2 in the semi-final. And my current and former teams did battle at the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid.
We started well with a couple of chances, and made it count as a Márcio Roberto run down the left was partially stopped by a tackle that diverted the ball into the path of Guillaume to tap home. Then three minutes later Muggeri went down the left and whipped in a cross for Barbosa Martins to head home at the back post.
That sent us in 2-0 up at the break, and we were given a chance to seal the deal just after it as we won a penalty. Pierre-Charles smashed home, but we immediately gave one away that they converted to make it 3-1. We generally defended and looked to be in control, but Valencia got an injury-time goal to make it a slightly nervy finish.
However, we held firm to lift my first Champions League title after 21 years of management! Amazingly, this was also Juventus’ first Champions League win in 44 years, since their previous title way back in 1995/96.
The timing of this win is vital as it may well be the final season of this 21-year save. It’s been a long time coming but this Juve team has to be the best, in terms of sheer quality, that I’ve managed during this time.
Join us next time as we reflect on a double-winning first season back in Italy!