Bolton Wanderers’ brilliant start to the season had us fighting surprise package Everton at the top of the Premier League. Both teams had strikers in ridiculous form, with our Onur Kocaaslan’s 25 league goals usurped by Mario Ricca’s 28. After 18 games!
2039 ended with attacking midfielder Martial Diaby winning the European Golden Boy and the FIFA Best Under 21 Men’s Player. Diaby also came second in the Ballon d’Or vote, which was won by Arsenal striker Rolly Tshibuabua, who scored 46 goals in 43 games!
A few days later we ticked over into 2040, which I think is only the third time I’ve ever reached this decade on Football Manager after my Atalanta Avventura and The Journeyman saves. The new decade began with scumbags PSG bidding a miniscule £74 million for our star man Germán Martínez, even though I rejected £150 million in the summer. Transfer dealings are one factor that I think needs some work on Football Manager’s behalf.
By comparison, we got £57 million for his fellow Argentinian midfielder Adrian Biasoli, who has plenty of potential but regularly underperforms and was one game away from us having to shell out a £15 million appearances fee to River Plate. We also didn’t need him as we had three more exciting midfielders in Tarik El Alami and academy product talents Jack Bickley and Andrei Olesk.
Title defence resumes
Bolton were chasing a fifth successive Premier League title and sat top of the table heading into the new year. We began 2040 at Watford and a Diaby brace had us 2-0 up inside 14 minutes then, for some reason, stopped playing and allowed them a goal back but held on for a 2-1 win. We then entertained Norwich and Bickley scored his first senior goal to tee up a 4-1 thumping. The same result followed at Palace thanks to a goal and two assists from fellow academy product Jack Barlow and a Martínez brace.
That strong start to the year teed up a huge game at home to third-place Everton, which pitted the league’s top two scorers against each other in Kocaaslan (26 in 20) and their striker Ricca (30 in 21). Our man who came up big as he created the opener for left-winger Emiliano Sotomayor then powered in a header from a corner. Centre-back Gonzalo Pereyra stabbed home from a free-kick and it was all over before half-time. Nevertheless, Kocaaslan scored again three minutes after the break and swiftly wrapped up his hat-trick. Some shoddy goalkeeping allowed them three goals back, but what an attacking performance! And it opened up an eight point gap at the top.
That win triggered the board to hand me a brand spanking new contract worth £300,000-per-week, which is £75,000 more than any of my players, until 2044. There’s also a £1 million bonus if we ever win the Champions League. Bling.
Having scored 13 in three games we struggled to a draw at Bournemouth before hammering Southampton and Leicester 4-0. While Arsenal had a wobble as they lost their game in hand in a 5-4 thriller at Norwich then home games against Palace and high-flying Leeds. But out of nowhere, Man City had become our closest challengers.
And, after edging an undeserved 2-1 win at Villa in which Pereyra scored on his 275th league appearance for Bolton, we faced a huge trip to City with a nine point lead. Diaby was ruled out with a knock two days before the game and we struggled to a 2-1 loss without him. That was immediately followed by a visit from Liverpool, who scored with their first shot. But academy products Bickley and Barlow showed creative excellence to set Diaby and a Kocaaslan brace that moved him to 35 goals for the season. And that prompted Liverpool to sack Luis Enrique.
Another Martínez brace in a 3-1 win over Brighton, on the same day City lost at Chelsea, took him past 10 goals for the first time in his Bolton career. His form had bizarrely prompted Chelsea, who were ninth, to show an interest in him, and we faced them next. But it was Diaby, yet again, who stepped up with a goal and an assist in a dominant 3-0 win.
Kocaaslan’s great form saw him become the first Bolton player to win the NxGn award, ahead of Lille winger Markus Hogseth and PSG’s fantastic right-back Vincent Le Bris, who I’d been monitoring but PSG wanted £100 million+.
Eight games from glory
With eight games remaining, we enjoyed an eight point lead over Arsenal and Everton. We fell behind to a penalty early at West Ham but an own goal and two sensational solo strikes from academy product Luca Godden inspired a 4-2 win. In that game, the latest Trotter Talents prospect Adam Nolan became the youngest-ever Bolton player aged 15 years and 234 days – see more on him below!
We struggled to a 1-1 draw at Burnley but Arsenal and Everton both dropped points and we moved 10 clear. We then twice trailed at home to Man United but 19-year-old right-back/winger Casemiro Gallas came on to create an equaliser for Sotomayor then score a 93rd-minute winner. That took us to 101 goals for the season – which is five behind City’s Premier League record in 2017/18 and well beyond the highest so far in this save of 90, which we set in 2038/39.
The media were trying to claim the title race was “heading to the wire” but, let’s be honest, it was all but over after that massive win over United. We were nine points clear of Everton and 10 clear of Arsenal.
We had to rest our exhausted squad for the Leeds game and, despite 10 changes, Edvan’s second goal of the season was enough to see off Leeds 1-0. That was combined with Everton losing at Villa and Arsenal losing at West Ham, which handed us the Premier League title.
Bolton Wanderers were Champions of England for the fifth successive time!!
Kocaaslan broke the club record for most goals in a season as he notched his 42nd in a 2-1 win at Derby, whose goal, poetically, was scored by our former hero Sean Caldwell in the 93rd minute. It was lucky the league was wrapped up as we faced the other top three teams and, with European adventures in mind, hugely rotated. But very young sides were unlucky to lose out to late goals. But we improved to beat West Brom 3-2 on the final day thanks to a Barlow screamer and a Kocaslaan brace that took his season tally to 44.
We topped the league with 92 points and a Premier League record 108 goals, but a worrying 41 conceded. But who cares when you score that many! Homegrown man Barlow broke the Premier League assists record with an impressive 19 in 34 games. And despite scoring 37 league goals, Kocaaslan was only third top scorer! Arsenal’s Tshibuabua scored an outrageous 40 in 36 and Ricca got 39 in 33! However, Kocaaslan did win English Players’ Young Player of the Year and six of our players were in the team of the year (which didn’t include Ricca!).
Champions League knockouts
The Champions League first knockout round was a little kinder than usual as we faced Porto. An excellent Diaby strike after half an hour put us ahead in the home leg and Porto offered nothing until forcing a great save out of Djerovic late on. Diaby scored exactly the same goal early in the away leg and doubled his tally just after half-time to single-handedly take us through.
The quarter-finals had four English teams and we drew one in Everton, while United played Atletico, Juve took on Barca and City faced PSG. We were at home first and took full advantage as Kocaaslan scored an early brace, Diaby made it 3-0 before the break then Kocaaslan wrapped up his hat-trick late on to move to 40 goals for the season. And a late first Bolton goal for young right-back Casemiro Gallas was enough for a 1-0 away win.
The semi-finals drew us against Barcelona with the home leg again up first. We made a great start as Kocaaslan equalled Guilherme’s club record with his 41st of the season after 20 minutes. Weabsolutely dominated the game and a second half brace by Barlow wrapped up a brilliant 3-0 win – with Barca having three shots and none on target! They did in the away leg, however, and scored two late first-half goals to make things nervy but we saw off a barrage as Djerovic made 15 saves to edge us through 3-2 on aggregate. Bolton were off to the Champions League Final!
First-Ever Champions League Final!
Bolton’s first Champions League Final in its 166-year history was against Atletico Madrid at Old Trafford. We were up against former player Mathias Hansen, but Jan Neuberg was ruled out. We had a fully fit squad so we lined up:
Djerovic; García, Hermansen, Pereyra, Edmundo Júnior; Johnson, Martínez; Barlow, Diaby, Sotomayor, Kocoslaan
Subs: Bickley, Ibarguen, Holtz, Olesk, El Alami, Nolan, Gallas, Main, Godden, Edvan, Sinnott, Mighty
A slow start was ripped up as Barlow latched onto a Martínez to head home from close range on 27 minutes. Two minutes later, he crossed for Kocaaslan to slam home a header from six yards for his 45th goal of the season! We started to run away with it as Kocaaslan latched onto a Djerovic and sent Diaby through to make it three on 45 minutes. Atletico scored early in the second half but we went more defensive to nullify them and Kocaaslan fittingly rounded off the rout with a late tap home from a Barlow pass. Bolton 4-1 Atletico Madrid.
Bolton Wanderers were Champions of Europe for the first time in their history!!
This has been a phenomenal season for Bolton, winning the Premier League and Champions League. It’s also been a crazy year for personal achievements. Kocaaslan smashed the club’s goalscoring record with 46 goals and 11 assists in 43 games at a new club record 7.63 average rating. He came second in the Champions League Golden Boot with nine goals in nine games and broke the club record for most goals in a match with a five-goal haul on his debut. The 19-year-old Turk won fans’ player and young player of the season and signing of the season. He has to be the best signing I’ve ever made on FM, considering he cost just £14 million in the summer.
Diaby scored 30 goals and got 16 assists with an average rating of 7.62. While Barlow scored 14 goals and got 24 assists, Sotomayor scored 11 and got 13 assists and the ever-impressive Martínez scored 11 and got 17 assists. We also had 18 players score at least one goal and we scored 137 in all competitions. While in the Champions League, Djerovic won goalkeeper of the season, Pereyra won defender of the season, Diaby won midfielder of the season and Kocaaslan won forward of the season. What a campaign this was!! And to top it off, our bank balance surpassed £1 BILLION for the first time at the end of it!
Trotters Talent Update
This has also been a very exciting season for our academy products. Barlow won his first England cap and Bickley, Olesk and Iwan Sinnott have shown real promise. But all of our talents so far have been well and truly usurped by Adam Nolan coming through our latest youth intake. At 15, he’s already the sixth-best midfielder at the club. Just check out how fantastic this kid looks, along with the other NINE homegrown players already in the first-team. We also have seven further homegrown players coming through with at least 4-star potential.
A look around England
We won the Premier League again, while Leeds and Derby qualified for Europe ahead of Liverpool and Chelsea, who finished 12th! Burnley, Brighton and Palace all went down. Wolves won the Championship with Tottenham returning to the top tier with Newcastle, who won the playoff final on penalties against Sheffield United, and Barnsley, Nottingham Forest and AFC Wimbledon went down.
Rotherham won League 1 with Bristol Rovers and Notts County getting promoted and Crawley, Burton, Oxford and Wigan going down. Hull won League 2 and Forest Green, Chesterfield and Fleetwood came up with them, with Exeter and Shrewsbury going into non-league.
Chester and Port Vale replaced them, with Fylde, Cheltenha, Hemel Hempstead and Morecambe going down. Halifax, Spennymoor, Dartford and Kingstonian went up to the National League and Brackley, Stratford, Mickleover, Radcliffe, Frome, Hitchin, Chippenham and Truro dropped out of the playable leagues.
Arsenal beat Man City 1-0 to win the FA Cup and Man United beat Arsenal on penalties for the Carabao Cup. We, of course, won the Champions League and Inter ended seven years of English dominance by winning the Europa League.
Join us next time for a reflection on 20 years of life in-game as manager of Bolton Wanderers, looking back at how the footballing world has changed.