Trotters Talent | Part 37: Youth Development Hits New Heights

The good people of Bolton had yet more reason to celebrate in the summer of 2037 as their Bolton Wanderers heroes sealed the unlikely feat of defending their maiden Premier League title. They’d done so without signing any first-team players, but that would likely have to change as they set about another title defence.

The summer began with a strange message that Chairman Rick Harris, who took over the club 12 years ago in 2025, was “retiring from hand-on roles in football and will only pursue part-time roles going forward.” What that meant for his role at Bolton was at first anyone’s guess but it immediately triggered interest in club takeovers, which resulted in a “rival consortium tug of war” that put us under a transfer embargo.

Two days later, a consortium led by Prestwich-based investor James Randall – who’d claimed he wanted to oust me as manager if he took over – completed a takeover. Upon completing the deal, Randall said “he wanted to make a difference for the fans,” made no additional investment and added a Managing Director to the board in Luis Rea. He also invested an additional £34 million into further expanding Eddie Davies Arena by 4,000 seats to a 59,189 capacity stadium. Importantly though, he didn’t follow through on his promise to remove me from my role.

So not too much changed, which meant the finances looked in ridiculously good shape with a bank balance of £667 million, transfer budget of £356.4 million and weekly wage budget of £4.9 million, of which we were using just £1.4 million. And that’s pretty impressive when you consider the massive debt we were in for the first few seasons of this save. Furthermore, world reputation list now placed Bolton Wanderers as the 17th most reputable club in the world!

Replacing legends of the save

The biggest deal of the summer saw us break the bank to keep star midfielder Germán Martínez at the club. The world-class midfielder quadrupled his wages in a new five-year deal on £225,000-per-week, nearly three times more than any other player at the club and even more than me!

However, we saw two key players of the save depart the club. Guilherme left when his contract expired as he wanted huge wages and I’d had enough of his antics. But, after 123 goals in 211 league appearances, he’s been a great servant and eventually joined newly-promoted Newcastle. Mathias Hansen felt he’d outgrown the club and got unhappy when we rejected a derisory bid from Liverpool. he eventually moved to Atletico for a new club record sale of £81 million. Backup left-back Luiz Antonio also moved on for £10 million to Leganes, as we’d be unlikely to get a work permit for him, and I promoted exciting academy product Aiden Main.

We immediately replaced Guilherme with exciting 18-year-old Mexican striker Luis Antonio Nava, who cost just £700,000 from Cruz Azul and looks like being a superstar. He was joined by fellow 18-year-old Argentinian midfielder Adrian Biasoli, who cost £3 million from River Plate. That took the first-team wonderkid count to nine.

We then smashed the Bolton transfer record to sign exciting 19-year-old midfielder Marco Manuzzi from AC Milan for an initial £28 million, potentially rising to £60 million – beating the £15.5 million we paid for Emanuel. My scouts had raved about Manuzzi for two years but he was way too expensive, until his value dropped slightly and Man City came in with a bid. So I decided to go all out and spend big for a change.

I think the squad is still in a pretty strong place despite the departure of Hansen and I’m really excited about the potential of Nava and Manuzzi in particular. I’d toyed with the idea of switching our tactic to a 4-3-2-1 or 4-1-3-2 as we do now have players capable of playing as inside forwards, so I’ll test those out and keep the tried and trusted 4-1-3-2 in the back pocket.

Second Premier League defence begins

Preparation for the new season wasn’t great as we were dreadful in a 2-0 defeat to Man United in the Charity Shield. And it got even worse when temperamental right-back Jhonatan González went AWOL on the eve of the season opener after I criticised his training level of 5.4.

Luckily, we faced Watford in the opener, against whom we were unbeaten in 16 games. At the last minute I decided to test out the 4-2-3-1 above using inside forwards, which worked nicely as wonderkid left-back Edmundo Júnior scored his first Bolton goal from the penalty spot then Martínez celebrated his new contract with a goal. González went AWOL again before game two against Norwich, which is now his fifth club policy breach! His replacement Vítor Mesquita had a blinder, creating goals for Jan Neuberg, which ended his 15-game goal drought, and Darío Bordaberry, who bagged a brace in a 3-1 win.

But a much tougher run of games followed, beginning with Liverpool and Spurs coming to town. We did nothing in the first half against Liverpool but a stern half-time team talk sparked us into life as Sean Caldwell teed up Bordaberry. Nothing happened after that and we won 1-0. Bordaberry was the star again as he bagged a hat-trick including an 89th-minute winner to defeat Spurs in a 3-2 thriller.

That gave us the perfect preparation of four wins out of four for a dreaded trip to Everton, where we’d not even managed a draw. With that in mind, I took a more defensive approach that did deliver a point despite being well and truly dominated. Neuberg scored early on, we offered nothing for the rest of the match and Everton deservedly levelled after 83 minutes. We only had one shot all match and were very lucky to get a 1-1 draw. I’m very confused about why we’re so bad against Everton!

That teed up another big game as we travelled to second place Arsenal, who probably edged a tight game. However, two of our academy products combined as Dylan Smart teed up Luca Godden for his first senior goal to rescue a point and a 1-1 draw.

Manuzzi finally got his first goal for the club in fine style as he scored a 20-yard header to open the scoring at home to West Brom. Neuberg went on to bang a hat-trick as we dominated the Baggies 4-0, then added a brace to inspire a come from behind 2-1 win at Aston Villa. As luck would have it, he then got injured on international duty but Bordaberry and Manuzzi earned a 2-2 draw with Chelsea. Then potentially the best individual performance I’ve seen on FM21 saw Bordaberry score a hat-trick and lay on two assists to inspire a 6-0 away thumping of Fulham, in which Nava scored his first Bolton goal and laid on a Martínez screamer.

That gave us confidence heading into a big home clash with Man City – now managed by Frank Lampard – and a Luke Johnson penalty and a late Bordaberry winner nicked a 2-1 win. And we kept the good form going with a 1-0 win over Leicester, thanks to Biasoli’s first senior goal.

That took us eight points clear heading into a huge clash with second-place Man United at Old Trafford. The hosts scored early on but homegrown Godden etched his name into Bolton folklore as he came off the bench to bag a match-winning brace!

A first reunion with striker Guilherme followed at Newcastle and stunners from Martínez and Neuberg, which came second and third in the November Goal of the Month, sealed a 4-0 win to show him what he’s missing. Bordaberry then bagged a brace and a hat-trick to inspire 4-0 and 4-1 wins over Bournemouth and Derby, in which we lost Martínez to broken ribs. The first game without him saw us somehow score a late equaliser with 10 men at West Ham.

Boxing Day, traditionally a day for local derbies, saw us embark on a 470-mile round trip to Southampton after a 13-day break. Unsurprisingly, we started painfully slowly but nicked a point thanks to Caldwell’s strike. Two days later, the Scottish winger was the main man again as he scored both goals to seal a 2-1 win at home to Crystal Palace.

That took us into the new year and the halfway point of the season top of the league and unbeaten, eight points clear of Chelsea. We’ve won 14 and drawn five, scored 46 and conceded a league-low 14. Interestingly, Watford are in fourth above Man United, Arsenal, Everton, Liverpool and Spurs!

Champions League Group

Our second Champions League campaign again paired us with Hertha BSC, alongside Fenerbahce and Shakhtar Donetsk. It began away at Hertha in the middle of a tough spell of league games so I had no choice but to rotate. Smart came in and scored twice but a pathetic defensive effort saw a 5-2 loss.

More dreadful defending saw us go 2-0 down inside 10 minutes at home to Shakhtar. But Smart came off the bench to bag a hat-trick in the last seven minutes to and inspire a 4-2 win. We thumped Fenerbahce 3-0 then Caldwell inspired a 3-2 win in Turkey with a goal and two assists. Hertha beat us again to tee up a tense final day with three teams all on nine points. But we thrashed Shakhtar 4-0 away to qualify in second place.

After facing Barcelona in the first knockout round last year… we will now face Real Madrid this time around!

Youth prowess reaches new levels

One of the key aims of this save was to produce homegrown talents that would help the club progress, be it through playing for Bolton or bringing in a profit. And our success on that front was shown by Bolton having the best Premier League player development and the fourth best in Europe.

Join us next time as we look to continue our strong start to the 2037/38 and chase a third successive Premier League title with Bolton Wanderers.


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