Trotters Talent: Part 35 – FIFA Best Under 21 Men’s Player

Bolton Wanderers had become Champions of England for the first time in their history in the summer of 2036. This confirmed our turnaround in the club’s fortunes, rising from League 2 to the best team in the country in 16 years. That was solidified by the club completing the expansion of the Eddie Davies Arena to a huge 55,153 capacity in the summer of 2036.

The summer also saw a true legend of the save in club captain Nana Martin depart after 375 league games for Bolton since coming through our academy in 2024. He was still performing reasonably but slipped behind two other left-backs and wanted ridiculous money to sign a new deal, so I allowed him to leave at the end of his contract.

Several key staff members retired in the summer, including my long-term assistant Paul McGuinness, coach Mark Bowen and goalkeeping coach Simon Royce. That offered a staff overhaul opportunity as I brought in a personal hero in Eidur Gudjohnsen as my assistant plus Italian legends Leonardo Bonucci and Gianluigi Buffon. We now have the best coaching, recruitment and medical teams in the Premier League. I brought another legend of the save back to the club with former striker Ryan Cassidy, now 35, returning as an under 18s coach.

The summer also saw a new club record sale as Juan Maldonado, who had plenty of potential but refused to sign a contract, joined Aston Villa for a huge £53 million. Fellow midfielder Emanuel was poor last season and we allowed him to move to Arsenal for £26 million while Darío Bordaberry, who was also unimpressive last season, went out on loan. They were replaced by homegrown talents Luca Godden, Craig Radcliffe and George Hunt, which took us to eight Trotter Talents in the first-team squad. We also passed £500 million in the bank balance for the first time.

Despite that, I struggled to find any players worth spending money on compared to the potential talent in our squad. So, unusually, we didn’t sign any first-team players in the summer.

That was largely because of our continued focus on developing our own homegrown academy products, the benefits of which were proven as we moved to the top of the Premier League player development table. 28 of our homegrown players are now playing for top flight clubs, including the likes of Jack Salter, who’s now 30!, Lewis Gordon, Solomon Suraka and Carl Greaves.

Despite being Champions of England, the media predict us to finish eighth and have us at 33/1 to defend our title. Midfielder Germán Martínez remains our sole representative in their Dream 11. Furthermore, we still have the second-lowest wage spending of £61.6 million per year, only above Middlesbrough’s £57 million. That’s nearly a quarter of the highest-spending Man City’s £245 million annual wage spending.

I saw no reason to change a winning tactic, so we stuck with our 4-1-3-2 approach that’s served us well over the last few seasons. Defender Lasse Hermansen, who’s now 22 and has been with the club for five years, replaces Martin as club captain with fellow Dane 23-year-old midfielder Mathias Hansen becoming vice-captain.

Season curtain raiser

The 2036/37 campaign began with the Community Shield against Liverpool, for which we barely had a fit squad and six academy products started. The Scousers took an early lead, Guilherme equalised, a Hermansen own goal restored their lead and they added to it in the first minute of the second half. Guilherme immediately doubled his tally but Liverpool claimed a deserved 3-2 win.

Premier League defence begins

Frustratingly, our Premier League title defence began at Bramley-Moore Dock Stadium, the home ground of our bogey side Everton, who we only beat for the first time in 11 meetings last season. Half of our team was still exhausted too, so it was no surprise that we lost 1-0 and put in a really poor display. Elsewhere on the opening day, Jurgen Klopp’s Spurs thrashed Mauricio Pochettino’s Man United 7-1!

Our first game in the brand spanking new Eddie Davies Arena saw 54,056 people attend a clash with Fulham, who scored with their first shot in the fourth minute. We rallied and won a penalty that Guilherme converted then continued to dominate after the break and sealed the win through a brace from his strike partner Jan Neuberg.

We got a first clean sheet of the season in a 0-0 at West Brom, then another draw at home to Man City – who just signed a midfielder for £106 million – as a brilliant strike by substitute striker and academy product Dylan Smart earned a 1-1.

Star player Martínez had been quiet early in the season. But he came to life with a brilliant performance at home to Leicester, in which he scored a magnificent volley then laid on goals for Jonathan and Guilherme to seal a 3-1 win. That gave us a little more confidence heading into a trip to leaders Arsenal, in which a thunderous Guilherme volley put us ahead then Neuberg doubled the lead inside 27 minutes with a cheeky chip. But Arsenal battered us after the break and came back to draw 2-2 in a game we definitely should have lost considering Tim Marshall earned man of the match with 14 saves!

Taking offence to Guilherme

Out of nowhere, volatile star striker Guilherme suddenly decided he no longer wanted to be at the club, showing his “Mercenary” personality as “he wants to play for a club with a stronger squad.” Despite playing for the English champions… He requested to leave and refused to sign a new deal, with his current contract expiring at the end of this season. Given all that I’d done for him since signing him on a free transfer, I was pretty offended and took it personally and, I have to admit, threw my toys out of the pram. So I dropped him to the under 23s and gave exciting prospect Smart an opportunity to show me what he could do.

With the Brazilian on the naughty step, Neuberg immediately stepped up by bagging a hat-trick in a 3-1 win over Bournemouth. He scored again to open the scoring at Norwich, who dominated the game and deservedly turned things around to lead 2-1 only for Jhonatan González to score his first league goal and nick a point on 87 minutes.

I soon swallowed my pride and restored Guilherme to the first-team for a home game against Southampton because we didn’t have a backup striker available. But Smart staked his claim for the starting role by poking us ahead after 24 minutes before Neuberg doubled the lead five minutes later and added another just after the break. But the 3-0 win was dominated by Hansen, who claimed all three assists and six key passes and was immediately linked with an £86 million move to Real Madrid.

A tough run of games

That big win teed up a clash with Liverpool at Anfield, where we’ve lost on all five previous trips. And that trend continued, despite trying a more defensive approach, as Liverpool seemingly as always scored with their first shot then dominated and won 2-0. Ten games into our title defence we sat in a solid sixth position on 16 points, but a huge 10 points off still unbeaten leaders Arsenal.

We were much improved at home to Chelsea, who didn’t even muster a shot in the first half, and another Neuberg brace inspired a 2-0 win. We then welcomed Man United to the Eddie Davies Arena, and 5ft 7in Neuberg somehow headed home the opener before Hermansen powered home a Martínez corner just before the break. Ten minutes into the second half another Martínez corner was headed home by the other centre-back Gonzalo Pereyra as we claimed a huge 3-0 win. Martínez was the star man with two assists and eight key passes.

Our home form was the best in the league but we were really struggling away from home as a 2-2 draw at Villa then a shocking performance at Spurs meant we still hadn’t picked up an away win by the end of November. But the home form continued with an easy 3-0 win over bottom side Middlesbrough on the occasion of Sean Caldwell, who still hasn’t scored this season, making his 300th league appearance for Bolton.

The away hoodoo finally ended as Martínez was at his creative best to assist goals for Neuberg and Jonathan at struggling Brighton. That gave us confidence to win consecutive away games with Neuberg bagging a hat-trick to defeat Watford 3-1.

The Czech striker had a rare off day as Palace came to town but Guilherme came off the bench to redeem himself with a brace to inspire a 2-0 win, with Palace not even mustering a shot. Another home game quickly followed against Leeds two days later and Neuberg took just two minutes to bag his 20th goal of the season and swiftly doubled his tally to win our final game of 2036.

A strong end to the year saw us reel in Arsenal and Spurs who, a couple of months ago, had been as much as 12 points clear. However, we were now just four points off the top at the half-way point of the season with both of those sides yet to visit us. Neuberg has an impressive 20 league goals in 19 games, but that’s been massively usurped by the ridiculous 27 goals in 19 games by Arsenal’s Rolly Tshibuabua.

Neuberg’s great form resulted in him winning the FIFA Best Under 21 Men’s Player award, after scoring 26 goals in 41 games this calendar year. And he’s become a fantastic striker, not just in the stats but also in his attributes.

Bolton in the Champions League

Bolton’s first Champions League campaign saw us drawn in a group with Hertha BSC, Lille and Sankt Gallen. An interesting note from the draw is one of the Spanish representatives is FC Cartagena, who I’ve never even heard of!

Our very first Champions League game saw us host Lille. Neuberg, who’d been linked with a £105 million move to Spurs, put us ahead with a nice finish and we somehow only won 1-0 despite having 25 shots to their two. But that game set a new gate receipts record of £2.2 million, which is £800,000 more than the previous record.

Smart’s first half goal earned us a 1-0 win at Sankt Gallen then I decided to rotate for a trip to Hertha that was a few days before the Liverpool away game and we lost 3-0. We also played poorly at home to Hertha, twice going behind in the first half but academy products Ray Johnston and Smart equalised, before the two combined for Johnston to put us ahead in injury-time. He was cruelly denied a hat-trick by VAR after the break and Hertha obviously went and equalised to claim a 3-3 draw despite only having seven shots.

Two late Guilherme goals snatched a 2-2 draw at Lille, which sent us into the knockout stages and the same scoreline at home to Sankt Gallen with a fully rotated side brought us home in second. That meant we’d be guaranteed a tough draw and we got just that – as Bolton, for the first time ever, will face Barcelona!

Join us next time to see how the continuation of our title defence plays out and how we fare against Barcelona.

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