After 444 league appearances for Bolton Wanderers, it was time to bid farewell to true Trotters Talent hero Nigel Turner. The club captain and first player to step up from the successful Trotter Talents academy into the first team was, sadly, moving on at the end of his contract in 2032.
Turner hadn’t progressed to a level to play in the Premier League and was only considered a League 1 player at the end of the 2031/32 campaign. However, having survived a first season back in the Premier League, there were plenty more exciting youth talents following in Turner’s footsteps. Having been linked with several MLS sides, he eventually moved to Sheffield Wednesday at the end of his contract. We also sold academy product Nick Hayward to West Ham for £7 million then, on deadline day, Carl Greaves to Blackburn for a huge £10 million – both showed promise but are worth nowhere near what we got for them.
With Turner gone, it was time to strengthen the Bolton squad. That began with Uruguayan wonderkid centre-back Gonzalo Pereyra, who joined for £7.5 million from Atletico Penarol. And we added to midfield by snapping up Mathias Hansen for just £4.5 million from FC Kobenhavn, and his value has already gone to £20 million. Then we brought in striker Vedran Stamenkovic, of whom I had a player of the same name with Valencia on FM20, on loan from Arsenal. We also brought in a couple of backup youngsters and added to the Brazilian clan at the club in centre-back Éder Luís and goalkeeper Givanildo, then loaned a backup left-back in Atalanta’s Serkan Pala and midfielder in Barcelona’s Alin Marzea.
The first-team squad still has 13 players who came through the Bolton youth academy, including first-choice starters David Roberts, Ajah Wray, Nana Martin and Solomon Suraka. The squad is also ridiculously young, with Martin our oldest player at just 25 and only three players aged over 22. Tactically, I’m going to stick with the new tactic we implemented in Part 25, which looks like this:
Tough Premier League start
The 2032/33 season got off to an exciting start as we hosted Aston Villa. Stamenkovic scored nine minutes into his debut then got injured 13 minutes later. Villa scored two screamers to move in front but the Serb’s replacement Guilherme latched onto a long ball by academy product defender Carl Greaves to score the equaliser.
Things soon got much more difficult with Spurs, Liverpool, Chelsea and Man United in the next four games. Suraka made his 150th league appearance for Bolton in a trip to Spurs, which we dominated impressively but lost 2-1 to an early goal and a late winner. But a “tactical gamble” and move to a 5-3-2 worked wonders as we hosted leaders Liverpool. The visitors well and truly dominated by 19 shots to five but two brilliant solo goals on the break by Guilherme were enough to down them 2-1! That was a welcome first win in eight games going back to last season, our first win against the big six sides, and ended Liverpool’s 15-game unbeaten streak.
That was followed by one of the craziest games I’ve ever seen on Football Manager. We managed to take the lead at home to Chelsea as Jack Fleming scored an own goal from a corner after four minutes but he equalised 11 minutes later. Pereyra scored his first Bolton goal to send us into half-time ahead before Suraka and Guilherme scored two goals in a minute after the break. But then things went wild as Chelsea scored four goals in eight minutes to lead 5-4. We went attacking and academy product utility player Neal Vickers (think the new Paul Warhurst) was sent through on goal and fired home to equalise with his first senior goal. Guilherme even had a huge chance to nick it but, ridiculously, it ended Bolton 5-5 Chelsea!
Despite the tough start to the season, Guilherme won the August player of the month award, which is the first time one of our players has won the award in the Premier League. Next was a trip to Old Trafford and we didn’t even manage a shot to United’s 32 and somehow only lost 2-0 with Roberts making 15 saves. And the wait for a win continued with four successive draws at Southampton, at home to Leicester and two of the worst 0-0s ever against Brighton and Burnley. We looked to be ending that streak in a game we dominated and lead 1-0 through midfielder Sean Caldwell at Leeds, only for them to score a 94th-minute equaliser.
After 10 games, we’d only won once but only lost twice with a mighty seven draws, which had us looking nervously towards the relegation zone.
We put an end to a seven-game winless streak by sneaking a 1-0 in a tight game at home to West Brom. Caldwell, playing in a new Mezzala role, was again our scorer – tucking home from a Sharon Laluz cross – and the player of the match. That gave us a little confidence going into a clash with high-flying Everton but without Caldwell, who picked up a knock, and both teams missed a host of chances in a 0-0 draw. That took us to just one goal conceded and two scored in the last five games and six unbeaten.
That streak surprisingly extended to seven at third-place Thierry Henry’s Arsenal, who dominated the first half and scored just after the break through Alphonso Davies. I changed our formation to 4-1-3-2, went more positive and brought on Vickers, who latched onto a through-ball and hit a hard shot that their keeper parried to Guilherme to nab a late equaliser. And that earned a ninth draw in 13 games! Then we somehow only lost 2-1 at Man City through two goals from corners, despite them dominating and racking up 23 shots.
We bounced back against the odds at home to eighth-place Fulham. Laluz got sent off for a horror tackle just after half-time but Caldwell continued his fine form by breaking from a corner, running 80 yards and slamming home the only goal. Another clean sheet followed in a 10th draw of the season, again missing loads of chances at struggling Portsmouth.
We put in our best performance of the season to beat Watford 3-0. Suraka got things started early on, which ended an outrageous 16-hour, 15-match and four-month goal drought, then second half goals from Guilherme and Martin. A 15-day break took us into a Boxing Day clash at home to Wolves and an own goal and Caldwell repeating his goal against Fulham saw us ease to a 2-0 win, which lifted us into the top half of the table. That took us to four games without conceding, while we haven’t conceded to a non-top six side in our last eight games!
Our good form continued as we finished 2032 with an away win. We scored twice early on at Middlesbrough, with Caldwell finishing off a lovely counter attack then academy product midfielder Peter Agnew teed up Guilherme. The hosts ended our mean defensive streak but a big three points has us set nicely for the remainder of the campaign.
We ended the year on a five-game unbeaten streak that’s lifted us to ninth in the Premier League, just three points off the European places. We’ve only lost three of our 19 matches, but drawn 10! Guilherme is the joint-third top scorer in the league with nine goals, while Caldwell is joint-13th with an impressive six league goals.
Join us next time as we look to build on another solid start to Bolton Wanderers’ second season back in the Premier League.