Bolton Wanderers’ second Premier League title defence was off to a superb start as they headed into 2038 unbeaten. They were on a 24-match streak without losing in the league and were looking forward to an exciting clash with Real Madrid in the Champions League knockout stages.
2038 began with an emotional sale as Sean Caldwell, who’d been with us nearly 10 years since signing from Shamrock Rovers for £7,000, joined Spurs for £30 million. He’s scored 61 goals in 341 league appearances and still performing fairly well but his contract was up in the summer and he wanted over £100,000 a week to stay, so I decided to cash in. We also moved on homegrown midfielder Alfie Smith to Middlesbrough and troublemaker Jhonatan González to FC Andorra, who are currently third in La Liga!, for £20 million combined.
But those sales were long-forgotten as we broke the club transfer record for the second successive window with the signing wonderkid striker Emiliano Sotomayor. The 19-year-old got a 97 scout rating, which is the highest we’ve had so far, and cost £30 million, rising to £60 million, from Racing Club. He becomes the fifth Argentinian at the club.
Potential cup run
The first match of 2038 was an FA Cup clash with Bristol Rovers managed by Paul Pogba. A host of homegrown players came in and two scored in attackers Luca Godden and Dylan Smart along with Mexican wonderkid Luis Antonio Nava. That game saw 18-year-old goalkeeper Niksa Djerovic, who signed for £700,000 then went to MLS on loan, keep a debut clean sheet. The coaches rate him as our number one but he’s one of four strong goalkeepers.
His replacement Fabian Oostenbrink made 13 saves as another homegrown player Ray Beadling scored the only goal against Norwich in the fourth round. Before Smart and a screamer from academy product midfielder Riki Kristoferssen eased us past affiliate club Oldham and into the quarter-finals for the first time in this save!
Back to the Premier League
Our first league game of 2038 saw us host high-flying Watford. Jan Neuberg had been goal shy as an inside forward in our new 4-2-3-1 approach but he bagged a brace alongside a late Smart goal in a 3-0 win. A tough trip to Liverpool saw five central midfielders ruled out and our unbeaten run unsurprisingly ended with a resounding 4-1 thumping.
What we didn’t need next was a clash with bogey side Everton but we did have world-class midfielder Germán Martínez back from broken ribs and Sotomayor making his debut. Another of the Argentinian crew Darío Bordaberry, opened the scoring then Sotomayor tapped home a debut goal inside 16 minutes. Smart scored late on to wrap up a 3-0 win and a third clean sheet in three games for Djerovic. A 0-0 at Spurs was followed by Neuberg’s 50th league goal and a brace from supersub Smart, with all three assisted by Bordaberry, in a 3-0 win at sixth-place West Brom.
Another tough game followed as we welcomed fifth-place Arsenal but we put in the best first-half performance I think I’ve ever seen. Sotomayor opened the scoring with a brilliant finish, Luke Johnson smashed home a penalty and Gonzalo Pereyra headed home his first of the season to make it 3-0 inside half an hour. Bordaberry and Martínez made it a hat-trick of Argentine scorers before Neuberg made it six and Bordaberry tucked home a SEVENTH before the break!! Sotomayor scored again but we settled for Bolton 8-0 Arsenal! That came from just 14 shots and Marco Manuzzi ran the show with three assists that more than doubled his tally for the campaign.
My 900th game as Bolton manager, which puts me 12 games behind Charles Foweraker’s all-time record, saw us sneak a 2-1 win. Manuzzi then scored a brilliant solo goal before an excellent Martínez free-kick sealed a 2-0 win at Villa on the same day second-place Chelsea lost 5-2 at West Brom. That nicely teed up a potential title decider at Stamford Bridge. Another Johnson penalty put us ahead, Chelsea equalised with 20 minutes to go and we bagged a 1-1 draw that kept us 10 points clear with 10 games to go.
Bolton v Real Madrid
The first knockout round of the Champions League dealth another cruel tie as we were paired with Real Madrid, after facing Barcelona last season. Madrid started the first leg well but Sotomayor quickly cancelled out their early opener. We were superb in the second half and a Neuberg brace had us looking good before a shocking refereeing decision gifted Real a late second. But Bolton 3-2 Real Madrid sounds pretty sweet! But we lost the away leg 2-1 to cruelly exit on away goals. In a funny way it was lucky we didn’t get through as Real got thumped 5-0 by PSG in the next round.
10 games from glory
Our charge for the title continued with an easy 3-1 win over Fulham on the same day Chelsea drew 3-3 with Man City. We then had a trip to City and played out a pretty dire 0-0 draw. A final clash of the season against so-called big six sides saw us entertain Man United. We started brightly and Neuberg put us ahead, but United woke up after the break and swiftly levelled. However, a long hoof from Djerovic put Sotomayor clean through to score a huge late winner.
The most difficult game remaining was away to Leicester. Sotomayor picked up an ankle ligament injury in training but Neuberg stepped up with an opener, they equalised then missed a penalty and Bordaberry made them pay with a brace to seal a 3-2 win. Bottom side Newcastle, now managed by Gianluigi Donnarumma, fielded a ridiculously defensive 5-2DM-2-1 formation and we bombarded them with 14 shots in the first half, making it count with a Martínez long-range curler and an Edmundo Júnior penalty. Exciting midfielder Tarik El Arami scored a late third to move us five points away from the title.
We picked up three of those next at Bournemouth, where Neuberg and Smart goals were enough for a solid 2-0 win. And ahead of a game against West Ham, the title was handed on a plate as Chelsea lost 3-0 at home to Everton.
Bolton Wanderers won a third successive Premier League title!!
There was no letting up as Godden scored a brace in a 4-1 thumping of West Ham then scored again alongside Bordaberry’s 30th of the season and a Johnson in another 4-1 win at Southampton. But we finally relented against struggling Derby as I threw in all the youngsters in and we lost our final two games.
We finished the season on 89 points, nine clear of Chelsea, 11 ahead of Man City and 22 clear of Man United in fourth. We had the league’s best attack and defence, scoring 90 – which is the highest Premier League tally in this save – and conceding 29. Not bad for a team with the fifth-lowest salary spend in the league.
Bordaberry became the first Bolton player to win the English Footballer of the Year since Nat Lofthouse in 1952 and the first ever to win the English Players’ Player of the Year. While Neuberg became the second Bolton player to win the English Players’ Young Player of the Year, after Neal Vickers in 2034, and I won Manager of the Year for the third year in a row. We also had seven players named in the league’s team of the year.
FA Cup run continues
Our first domestic quarter-final since the Carabao Cup in 2025 pitted us against Liverpool. We started well with another Smart goal but they came firing back with goals either side of half-time. A cheeky late chip from Kristoffersen forced penalties and we scored all of ours for a narrow 5-4 spot kicks win and a semi-final berth.
Our opponents in the semis were Leicester, against whom our only defeat in the last five years was an FA Cup fifth round tie two seasons ago. Another tight game saw Smart’s opener cancelled out by their excellent winger Jack Ryan to force extra-time again. But Neuberg stepped up early in the extra period to seal the win and send Bolton to their first FA Cup Final in 80 years! This game also happened to be my 913th match as manager of Bolton, which made me the all-time record holder for games in charge of the club.
The last time Bolton Wanderers reached the FA Cup Final was the Lofthouse final in 1958, when they defeated Manchester United. Fast-forward 80 years and we now faced Manchester United in the FA Cup Final of 2038.
Nothing happened in the first half but Neuberg latched onto a high looping cross from Johnson to open the scoring 10 minutes after the break. United offered nothing and a lovely slide pass from Martínez for Manuzzi to double the lead with 15 minutes to go. Despite having five shots to 13, none of which troubled us, we won the FA Cup for the first time since 1958! And pleasingly homegrown Johnson was man of the match. Bolton Wanderers completed the league and FA Cup double!!
That win saw me not only move into the top English managers Hall of Fame for the first time, I was also instilled as a Bolton Wanderers Legend alongside the truly legendary Nat Lofthouse. Strangely, only Guilherme and Sean Caldwell are among the fans’ icons and favoured personnel.
Bordaberry was probably our main man this season, scoring 30 goals and getting nine assists in 47 appearances. While Martínez broke the club record for assists in a season with 16. Neuberg scored 21 and got 11 assists in 39 games, while academy products Smart scored 16 and go six assists and Godden scored 10 and got four assists. Johnson scored eight from midfield – and set a new discipline record of 17 bookings in 41 games – while Martínez scored seven and Sotomayor and Manuzzi got five as well as 10 assists.
Bordaberry won the fans’ player and young player of the season, Djerovic was signing of the season and Martínez, who only scores screamers, won goal of the season. We also broke our incoming and outgoing transfer fees. Johnson was finally named in the all-time Bolton XI, alongside current players Pereyra and Hermansen, with Neuberg on the bench. Furthermore, the oldest player in the squad is 25-year-old Pereyra, so there’s much more to come from this group!
Trotters Talent update
The Trotter Talents contingent isn’t as high as previous seasons, but there were definitely stand-out performances from our academy players. Johnson was among the best players at the club, while Smart and Godden were our third and fourth top scorers. Godden, in particular, looks to be developing into a quality striker.
We also had another decent youth intake that produced exciting centre-back Martin Preston and right winger Lance Banks. And they join the likes of Aiden Main, Ben Halliwell, Ken Cooper, Jack Bickley, Logan Holtz, Jack Barlow and Andrei Olesk, who turned down PSG to sign a new contract with us, as academy products with potential to step up to the first-team.
A look around England
Derby, Fulham and Newcastle got relegated from the Premier League. Liverpool finished 8th but won the Champions League – then bizarrely sacked manager Erik ten Hag! – and Spurs finished 13th but won the Europa League. So that forces fourth-place Man United into the Europa League next season.
Middlesbrough, Wolves and Leeds were promoted to the Premier League, with Bristol Rovers, Leyton Orient and Sunderland going down. Birmingham, Wigan and Preston came up to the Championship with Burton, Hull, Bromley and Swindon getting relegated. MK Dons won League 2 and Hartlepool, Wycombe and Gillingham got promoted, with Port Vale and Dulwich Hamlet going down.
Shrewsbury and Stockport got promoted back into the league system, with Newport, Spennymoor, Sutton and Salisbury dropping out of the National League. They were replaced by Altrincham, Kettering, Ebbsfleet and Wealdstone, with Halesowen, Barwell, Oxford City, Alfreton, Slough, Dover, Haringey and Taunton disappearing.
Over in Spain, there’s a strange situation where FC Andorra have qualified for the Champions League, Marbella FC finished fifth and FC Cartegena are in the top eight. While Real Betis and Sevilla are down in the second tier!
Join us next time as we look to develop our young Bolton side and look to promote more of our exciting homegrown youngsters. And can we do better in the Champions League?