The key focus of this FM21 save is to focus on homegrown academy products, or Trotters Talents. So with that in mind, it’s pleasing to now have 12 academy products in the Bolton Wanderers first-team squad heading into the 2027/28 campsign.
Last season we fell at the final hurdle, losing to Blackburn in the Championship playoff final. But honestly, I’m pretty glad we didn’t get promoted as this team would get hammered in the Premier League. And I’d rather focus on developing our youngsters in the Championship to help them reach their potential.
With that in mind, I promoted a few more of our homegrown Trotters Talents into the first-team squad, including exciting Chinese starlet Liu Junyan. Joining him were striker Solomon Suraka, right-back Craig Chilton and left-back Lloyd Whalley, which takes us to 12 academy products in the first-team squad.
Another huge sale
The summer of 2027 began with another massive sale as Alfie Gilchrist, who signed on a free from Chelsea 12 months and delivered two assists and an average rating of 6.72, joined Burnley for a huge £7.5 million. That’s the second-highest sale in Bolton history and boosts our bank balance to £29.9 million, thanks to selling homegrown players Joshua McNally for £145,000 and Ebube Onoja and young striker Greg Ward (who I genuinely had forgotten about) for £400,000 each. Furthermore, after seven years in charge of Bolton, I’ve sold 41 players for £27 million and bought 49 for £450,000.
The big summer incoming was Ryan Cassidy joining for a ridiculous sixth successive season on loan from Watford! He was joined in returning to the club by versatile midfielders André Manuel from Leicester and Hernán Florentín from Porto. We replaced Gilchrist by loaning in David Long, a Man United player I’d been watching for a while and is probably a better right-back. Another player I’d been watching for a while was MK Dons right-winger Shane Auger who, from some reason, keeps getting loan listed, so we snapped him up. We also finally took advantage of our relationship with Liverpool to loan in Brazilian midfielder Michael for zero wages, and he looks like an exciting prospect.
This may be one of the weaker squads we’ve had, as more than half of our squad are still rated as League 1 or lower ability players. So I don’t expect us to get anywhere near the playoffs this time around but the squad is packed with talent, which is the main thing that matters to me. However, the media have boosted their expectations, predicting us to finish in 19th. And this is the way we’re lining the boys up to start the season.
The 2027/28 campaign began with the worst match ever, a 0-0 at home to Bristol City in which there wasn’t a single highlight, then a 2-0 loss at Nottingham Forest. We got a first goal of the season as Nana Martin clipped a free-kick in to Cassidy to score inside three minutes at home to Rochdale. They equalised within five minutes of half-time but Cassidy completed his hat-trick to seal a 3-1 win.
The next league game at home to Barnsley was a special day as captain Nigel Turner made his 250th league appearance for Bolton, at the age of just 21! He didn’t have a great game but we had Ivor Mulders to thank for a late goal that nicked a 1-0 win. Two tough away days followed at Norwich, who’ve spent an outrageous £132 million, spend £1.3 million a week on wages compared to our £99,000 and unsurprisingly beat us 3-0, and early leaders Cardiff, where we earned a highly creditable 0-0 thanks to goalkeeper Roco Rees. And it didn’t get a lot easier as we hosted Middlesbrough, who scored with their first shot and Che Adams’ first for the club (obviously, obviously) but Cassidy’s second half goal (obviously) earned a point.
Charlton also scored with their first shot but Cassidy dragged us level then right-winger Mark Parish, who’d been injured at the start of the campaign, came in to win it by kicking the ball very, very hard. What a goal! Two Lancashire derbies followed and we lost 2-1 to Wayne Rooney’s Blackpool before Mulders and Turner’s first goal of the season gave us a 2-1 win over second-place Burnley.
We go into most games as underdogs, including at Sunderland who were promoted last season, in a game in which five Trotters Talents started the game. Parish continued his good form by putting us ahead, they got a dubious penalty to equalise, but we nicked it when Rwandan 19-year-old Eric Nirisarike, who I signed on a free last summer from LA Galaxy, came off the the bench to bag his first Bolton goal.
18-year-old goalkeeper David Roberts made his senior debut and was one of EIGHT academy products to play in a 1-0 win over Ipswich, in which Mulders finished off a move that Junyan (or is it Liu? not sure…) started with a beautiful pass to set Cassidy away down the right.
The big issue this season has been finding a right-back who isn’t absolutely terrible. Loanee Long has an rating of 6.48 from 12 games and I’ve tried out youngsters Chilton and Darragh Bonner, who’re both nowhere near ready for this standard. Just to prove a point, Bonner played a 5.8 despite us defending superbly to earn a 1-1 draw at Sheffield United, who had 24 shots and Roberts was player of the match with 12 saves and a 7.6. Seriously though, I think right-backs are broken.
That took us onto a seven game unbeaten run, but that unsurprisingly ended with a 2-0 loss at Watford, but a string of five without a win continued with a 0-0 against Reading. But we just about ended that streak with Jack Salter’s late winner and first goal of the season earning a 1-0 win at struggling Huddersfield. A third-straight clean sheet followed with a 0-0 at home to title challengers Crystal Palace then a 1-0 loss at QPR took us to nine successive games without scoring more than once. But that streak also ended with Cassidy ending his 10-hour goal drought with a late winner at Bristol City on Boxing Day.
2027 concluded with a dire 0-0 draw at home to Nottingham Forest in which there was one highlight in the first half and none in the second. That took us into the new year firmly in mid-table in 11th, once again well overachieving on the expectation of relegation. On 37 points, we’re well clear of relegation and, surprisingly, just three points off the playoffs and eight points off the promotion places!
However, we have to be the most boring team of all time! After 25 games, we’ve scored 25 and conceded 24. It’s safe to say you don’t get entertainment with Bolton. Unfortunately, that’s partly because of Cassidy’s drop in form this season, with an unusually low for him eight goals in 22 games. Another big concern is that we’re somehow managing to lose more than £1 million a month…
Trotters Talents’ progress
However, the key positive is the progression of some of our Trotters Talents. Jack Salter (see the main image at the top) is progressing very nicely indeed, as is left-back Nana Martin – to the point where both are considering whether they need to move to a bigger club. Despite both having pretty terrible average ratings. While the likes of Liu Junyan, Lewis Gordon and David Roberts are all coming on very nicely and deservedly getting more first-team action ahead of our loanees, who are all playing terribly.
Join us next time to discover how Bolton Wanderers fare in the second half of their sixth season back in The Championship!
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