As Bolton Wanderers’ young squad flourished, the club was becoming an increasingly dominant force in the Premier League. The 2037/38 campaign saw us only lose once until the final two games of the season in wrapping up a third successive title. And the squad was set to become even strong in the summer of 2038.
Most of our players had a relaxing summer but 10 of them went to the 2038 World Cup in South Africa. The second round saw England knock out Brazil before some huge third round clashes. France, Holland and Belgium knocked out Germany, Portugal and Italy on penalties while Spain beat holders Argentina 3-2. Belgium then beat England and France beat Holland in the quarter-finals.
A bit of a shock saw Belgium beat France 1-0 in the semis as Spain thumped Croatia 4-1. I attended the final and nothing happened until Belgium scored two quick goals from an indirect free-kick and a corner around the hour mark. And Belgium became world champions for the first time! But our man Marco Manuzzi came third in the goal of the tournament.
Liverpool – who sacked thier manager after winning the Champions League then offered me a job interview! – spent the biggest transfer fee of this save so far as they blew £156 million on Ajax midfielder Maikel van der Meulen, surpassing the £123 million Man United spent on Leonardo Bustos in 2031. He’d been recommended by my scouts and is very good but I don’t think he’s worth that sort of money.
Transfer Record Smashed!
For the third successive transfer window, we broke Bolton’s transfer record. This time, we snapped up on the most exciting young players in the world in 19-year-old 6ft 4in right-winger Martial Diaby. The Ivorian cost £45 million potentially rising to £95 million from Lyon and looks set to be an absolute superstar. Several of our star players demanded new contracts, which also saw the wage spending increase.
We balanced the books by selling off prize asset Jan Neuberg, who had one year remaining on his contract and wanted an obscene £350,000-a-week to stay. He joined Mathias Hansen at Atletico for a tasty £76 million. That gives me an opportunity to focus on homegrown talents by giving Dylan Smart and Luca Godden more opportunities. Other sales included Fabian Oostenbrink going to Burnley for £6.25 million and Riki Kristoffersen joining Dijon for £2.8 million rising to about £16 million. This took to our bank balance over £800 million for the first time.
Tactics wise, we’re going to stick with the 4-2-3-1 approach that we used for most of last season, but with a 4-1-3-2 and a more defensive approach as backup options.
Third title defence begins
The 2038/39 campaign began with the toughest test we could ask for – away to Everton, where we’d only ever got one point. Diaby took 20 seconds to show his monstrous quality, running down the right to create a goal for Marco Manuzzi. They quickly levelled but Godden sent striker Emiliano Sotomayor through to restore our lead. Everton again levelled but Godden seized on a poor cross-field pass to slam home a winner after an hour. The hoodoo was over and Godden’s performance left us thinking ‘Neuberg who?’
Diaby bagged his first Bolton goal in our first home game of the season at home to Bournemouth, in which Darío Bordaberry and Edmundo Júnior sealed a 3-0 win. The strong start continued at Aston Villa thanks to a Sotomayor brace and a Bordaberry header, a 2-1 win over Middlesbrough, which we should have scored four or five in, then a Diaby goal nicked a 1-0 win at Watford in which he also picked up an ankle ligament injury.
That inspired a switch to our 4-1-3-2 formation at home to Chelsea, which worked a treat. Lasse Hermansen headed home the opener then the front two of Sotomayor and Bordaberry wrapped up a comfortable 3-1 win as dirty Chelsea had six players booked. The winning start ended with a 2-2 draw at West Ham thanks to a Sotomayor brace, and he scored again in a 3-1 win at nine-man Palace.
A proud day for the club saw academy product full-back/midfielder/winger Jack Barlow come off the bench to score his first Bolton goal in a 2-0 win over Leicester. A late show saw us wrap up a 4-1 win over Norwich, in which the highlight was Germán Martínez whipping in a free-kick for his first goal of the season. Diaby announced his return from injury by scoring at bottom of the league Leeds alongside another Sotomayor brace in a 3-2 win. And the standout form continued with a narrow win over fifth-place Southampton
That teed up two huge games against the Manchester clubs in late November. We put in a pathetic performance at home to City to lose 1-0, which had been coming based on recent efforts. Just what we didn’t need next was a trip to Old Trafford, where United battered us but somehow only won 1-0. And that meant back-to-back league defeats for the first time in a long time. We had a chance to rectify that two days later as Wolves, who we’d won six in a row against, came to town. It wasn’t convincing but we did beat them 3-2 with goals from Godden, who ended a 15-hour goal drought, Smart and Martínez but somehow conceded twice from five shots and three on target.
An exhausted squad then welcomed third-place Arsenal, which wasn’t helped by three players picking up knocks in the first half! But a Gonzalo Pereyra header from a Martínez corner was enough to nick an edgy but important 1-0 win, thanks to a huge injury-time save by Niksa Djerovic. And that ended Arsenal’s amazing 21-game unbeaten run!
A ridiculous game at West Brom saw them score three goals from their first three shots inside 13 minutes. And we lost 3-0 despite having 21 shots to their nine. Good one. That was followed by a trip to Spurs – who were bottom of the league after 17 games! – on Boxing Day. Spurs also scored with their first shot but we came firing back to win 3-2 with goals from Godden, Bordaberry and Manuzzi. But our defending was, once again, a concern.
Two days later, we finished the year off by welcoming top of the form table Liverpool, against whom we were much improved and won 3-1 with goals from Bordaberry, Pereyra and a late Smart third.
That win, combined with United drawing 0-0 at Watford, took us top of the league heading into 2038. Despite a few shaky performances, we’ve still won 15 out of 19 and have a two point lead at the top. That’s largely thanks to Martínez having a league-high 10 assists.
Hello Hertha… again
The Champions League group saw us drawn with Hertha for a third successive season alongside Rangers and, quite randomly, Pisa Calcio. It began with an uninspiring 0-0 at Rangers then a 1-1 draw at home to Hertha, who scored from basically their only attack. But we got a first win in Pisa with goals from Tarik El Alami and Barlow.
Three academy players combined to score the only goal at home to Pisa. Aidan Main passed to Stewart Allan, who crossed for Barlow to tuck home on his first start for the club. And the academy sent us through to the knockouts too as Barlow opened the scoring at home to Rangers and Smart scored the second in a 4-0 win. I, probably foolishly, threw in an entirely changed 11 for the final game at Hertha but a ridiculously young team held the Germans until the 89th minute and we lost 1-0. I never want to face Hertha ever again.
And guess who we drew in the first knockout round? Real Madrid… again.
Join us next time to see if we can manage to overcome Madrid this time and if we can wrap up a fourth successive Premier League title for Bolton Wanderers.