There are few things in Football Manager that I love more than unearthing a talented Brazilian wonderkid midfielder. And the good news for Bolton Wanderers fans was that, in January 2034, I snapped up not one but two at the same time.
The most exciting is 19-year-old Emanuel, who comes in for a club record fee of £15.5 million from Internacional – surpassing the 26 year record that stood since Johan Elmander signed for £8 million. Nearly as exciting is fellow 19-year-old Brazilian Jonathan, for whom we met a £13.5 million minimum fee clause. I’m not sure how we fit both into the team, but Jonathan should be able to play as the box-to-box midfielder while Emanuel may rotate between the Mezzala and advanced playmaker. The duo take us to five wonderkids in the first-team squad alongside centre-backs Lasse Hermansen and Gonzalo Pereyra and midfielder Mathias Hansen.
Heading into 2034, most of our first-team was wanted by various clubs, most of which were in China. That included Solomon Suraka, who turned down a massive £60 million move to Shanghai SIPG, and Neal Vickers, who rejected a £30 million move to Beijing Guoan. More homegrown players did leave as defender Ajah Wray went to Norwich for £9.25 million, full-back Darragh Bonner went to Portsmouth for £250,000 and winger Ryan McCutcheon moved to Dundee United for £2.9 million. Midfielder Stefan Grubelic also wasn’t progressing and we let him go to Shanghai SIPG for a huge £16.5 million.
Out of absolutely nowhere on deadline day, Norwich came in with a £15 million bid for midfielder Vítor Hugo, who we’d signed on a free transfer two years ago, which we negotiated up to an outrageous £25 million. We also rejected a £60 million bid for Hansen from Man United, while young midfielder Ray Johnston went on loan to Blackpool for more first-team experience.
More additions arrived, including another Brazilian in right-back Raphael Augusto, who comes in on loan with an option to buy him for £2 million or on an end of contract deal in December 2034. Then 18-year-old winger Ricardo Acuna, who has great potential but I honestly don’t remember signing and eventually went out on loan.
Despite this transfer activity, our focus on homegrown talent remains strong with nine Trotter Talents still in the first-team squad, including attackers Dylan Smart and Peter Whatley-Wilmot being promoted in January.
Johnson at the double
The Premier League resumed at home to bottom of the league Leicester, who’d just poached Raúl from Burnley. Things didn’t start well but holding midfielder Luke Johnson, who’d never scored a goal before this game, stepped up with two identical screamers to put us ahead. Fellow midfielder Sean Caldwell raced through to score a third and kill Leicester off and start 2034 with a bang.
We then went to Newcastle, absolutely dominated them and made it count with goals from centre-back Hermansen and Jonathan curling in his first Bolton goal. We somehow allowed our former loanee Stamenkovic to get one back with their second shot just before half-time but Caldwell scored a long-ranger on his 200th Bolton league appearance to settle any nerves. This was easily our most dominant performance in the Premier League, as we had a huge 38 shots – of which Caldwell had 11 and Jonathan had nine! – but settled for three, with Hansen claiming two assists, eight key passes and an 8.4
We also dominated Derby with Vickers scoring yet again and Suraka scoring his first goal after several injury lay-offs. That moved us up to third in the league, which is becoming really tight with just four points between us and Villa in eighth, but realistically I’m still hoping for a top half finish.
Tough run of games
Two defeats in a week at Southampton, one of which was in the cup, set us up for a tough run. That began at home to Man City, who scored with their first and only shot of the first half. But we fired back as a brilliant lofted pass from Emanuel resulted in his first assist teeing up Guilherme, who doubled his tally on the verge of half-time. But City scored straight after the break and nicked an undeserved 3-2 win late on.
We’d been trying to have a go at bigger teams lately but for a trip to Chelsea I decided on a more conservative approach that worked as we got a hard-earned 0-0. And that also worked as we dominated Arsenal with 19 shots to seven and 54% possession and converted it with both full-backs creating a Caldwell opener and an own goal, which sealed our first win against Arsenal.
That gave us confidence to run riot in a 5-1 win at struggling West Brom with Guilherme smashing an incredible four-goal haul and Vickers scoring one and creating two.
We kept the stellar form with a 2-1 home win over Watford, who handed us the win with a pathetic own goal, then Guilherme’s 20th goal of the season earned a 1-1 draw with Leeds, who equalised in the 89th minute, before a 0-0 at eighth-place Villa. That took us top of the Premier League form table, which showed as we went to struggling Sheffield United and pummelled them in the early stages. Guilherme scored after 20 seconds then Vickers twice in a minute to put us 3-0 up inside 14 minutes! We allowed them back into it but Guilherme doubled his tally to take the pressure off and seal a 4-2 win. And that temporarily took us fourth and passed our points tally of last season (54).
Chasing European football
With eight games remaining, our goal of finishing in the top half of the Premier League for the first time was looking good. We were fourth with 56 points, 15 clear of 10th place. European football was also a possibility but we were only four points ahead of Arsenal in seventh. But the season run-in was far from easy with three of the top five visiting Bolton.
It began at home to Liverpool, who started strongly and deservedly took the lead after half an hour. But Caldwell scored a trademark goal running from midfield and slamming home, then three minutes later left-back Nana Martin curled home a free-kick for his first goal of the season and our first direct free-kick goal. Martin, by the way, has been in excellent form this season and came third in the March player of the month award.
That was followed by a trip to local rivals Burnley, who replaced Raúl with Paul Pogba! And they got the best of us to win 1-0 in a terrible match. Bu we were much improved as Tottenham, who are way down in 12 place. Great play down the right by Sharon Laluz set up a tap-in for Vickers, who then created the second for Guilherme just after the break. Laluz was the creative force again as Guilherme doubled his tally and we strolled to a 3-0 success. As a result, Spurs sacked manager Sergey Semak after nine years at the club and replaced him with Jurgen Klopp, who they poached from Valencia.
Our increasingly dodgy defence reared its head again as we conceded two goals in four minutes to throw away a two-goal lead at Fulham. And that was a concern as we then hosted Man United, who could seal the title if they beat us and did as that man Bustos, who scored a hat-trick in the reverse fixture, scored the only goal.
That said, we were eight points clear of eighth place with just three games remaining. First up was Wolves away and another Guilherme brace sealed seventh place. That helped him win April player of the month, despite Liverpool’s ridiculous young striker Eder Morales scoring nine in four games. Our final away day of the season was at mid-table Leeds, where we somehow lost 3-0 despite having 25 shots to their 11. Despite that, we qualified for the Europa Conference League, which meant Bolton Wanderers would be back in Europe for the first time in 27 years next season!
We finished the 2033/34 campaign on the day of my 50th birthday at home to third-place Everton against whom in six meetings we’ve not only lost five but also not even scored! True to tradition, they thumped us 4-0 and we picked up our first two red cards of the season.
Not a great ending to the season but we can’t let that cloud a fantastic season that saw Bolton not only break the top half of the Premier League but finish seventh and qualify for Europe. We beat last season’s points tally by 12, scored 13 more goals (67) – which was the fourth-most in the league – and conceded one fewer (44), but our defence was shaky towards the end of the season. That bagged us £30.87 million in prize money and the board handed us a £100 million transfer kitty.
Guilherme finished as the Premier League top scorer with 27 goals, one more than Morales (who only played 28 games!) and eight more than Southampton’s Dane Scarlett. He also tied for the European Golden Shoe, but the award went to PSG superstar Oguzhan Topcu as he had less playing time.
The Brazilian also had the most shots (133) and shots on target (66) in the league and was offside more than any other player (37). Vickers was the fifth-top scorer with 13 and, impressively, had the second-highest average rating in the league with 7.37 from 32 appearances – only bettered by City’s ridiculous winger Danilo Pisani. While right-back Laluz got the fifth-most assists in the league with an impressive 10 and left-back Martin had the ninth-most key passes (81).
Caldwell won the second-most tackles in the league (151), only behind, randomly, Arsenal’s Ansu Fati. Pereyra made the most clearances (551) and won the second-most key headers (189) and Martin made by far the most blocks (133). Unusually, Guilherme and centre-back duo Pereyra and Hermansen all played in all 38 league games – and I’m pretty sure the two defenders played every single minute of the campaign.
Guilherme was undoubtedly our key man this season, scoring 27 and getting seven assists in 38 games. Vickers got 13 goals and eight assists and had the highest average rating at the club of 7.33. Caldwell chipped in with nine goals and four assists and right-back Laluz topped our assists chart with an impressive 10. While young academy product Luke Johnson had an average rating of 7/08 from 35 appearances.
Vickers won fans’ player of the season and young player of the season, Johnson won goal of the season for a strike against Leicester that came third in the league’s goal of the season, Emanuel won signing of the season. Even more impressively, Neal Vickers won the English Players’ Young Player of the Year award. What a hero!
Trotter Talents update
As mentioned earlier, our homegrown talents are still central to our successes as we finished the campaign with 10 academy products in the first-team squad, despite Trotter Talents continuing to leave for a profit. The pick of those was, of course, the excellent Vickers, along with the emerging Johnson, while Martin impressed and has moved onto 315 league appearances for Bolton. Suraka barely featured this season but passed 200 league appearances.
We had another interesting youth intake, although admittedly probably not the best. That said, the youth candidates side did defeat a strong under 18s side 2-1 led by best prospects attacker Luca Godden, right-back Bryan Callachan and centre-back Jeffrey Hurdle.
A look around England
Man United, still managed by Solskjaer, won their third successive Premier League and their seventh in the last nine years. While Chelsea sacked Frank Lampard after 14 years in charge and were, apparently, keen on bringing me in as his replacement. Burnley, Sheffield United and Newcastle were relegated.
Brighton won the Championship and Palace and Cardiff were promoted, with our feeder club Leyton Orient going down alongside Preston and Reading. Crawley won League One and were promoted with Rotherham and Hull, while Coventry, Exeter, Doncaster and Bristol Rovers went down – and Bromley missed out on the playoffs on goal difference. Accrington Stanley won League 2 and Brentford, Chesterfield and Wimbledon got promoted, with Shrewsbury and Grimsby relegated.
Hartlepool won the National League but Dulwich Hamlet will be in the Football League for the first time as they won the playoffs. Torquay, Chorley, Telford and Worthing went down and were replaced by FC United of Manchester, Nuneaton Town, Woking and Dagenham & Redbridge. Leamington, Tamworth, Gainsborough Trinity, Stourbridge, Oxford City, Dorchester, Horsham and Merthyr all dropped to the lower reaches of the system.
Man City beat Spurs 3-0 to win the FA Cup, beat Liverpool on penalties to win the Carabao Cup and beat PSG 4-2 to win the Champions League, in addition to finishing second in the league. But Spurs beat Inter to win the Europa League, which means they make the Champions League despite finishing 10th in the league!
Join us next time as we look to strengthen our Bolton squad to cement our status in the top half and build for a first European campaign since 2007!