The big focus of this Bolton Wanderers save has been producing our own talents through the youth academy. The summer of 2041 saw the very first product of the academy hang up his boots as former captain Nigel Turner, who came through our 2021 intake, retired after 653 appearances, including 444 league games for Bolton.
My focus on targeting other teams’ youth intakes paid off this summer with some really exciting signings. First, we snapped up wonderkid centre-back Juanjo Latorre for a compensation fee of £3.7 million from Real Madrid – and he’s already worth £24.5 million. We also picked up a wonderkid goalkeeper in Gremio’s Darlan, for whom we paid a £20 million minimum fee release clause and his value has doubled.
With Darlan through the door, we flogged the slightly dodgy Niksa Djerovic to Aston Villa for a comparatively massive £38.5 million. Emiliano Sotomayor was in the last year of his contract and wanted way more money than his performances warranted so he moved to Man United (not ideal) for £41 million. We also sold backup centre-back Octavio Macedo to Catania for £19 million.
Off the pitch, I let assistant manager Eidur Gudjohnsen leave and replaced him with a better option in Gary Neville, now 66, who joins his brother Phil (who’s a coach) at the club.
With the summer transfer business done, this is how we’re looking tactically. I’ve not changed much over the last couple of seasons, but personnel-wise Adrian Jules steps up to become our first-choice left-winger and Adam Nolan – who turned professional on the opening day of the season – is now a starting midfielder. The squad now has nine wonderkids and 11 of the 22 players came through our academy.
FIFA Club World Cup
Our summer was cut rudely short by our first appearance at the FIFA Club World Cup. Several players were on international duty and all of the squad was technically on holiday but we started by beating Al-Sadd 2-1. We then thumped SuperSport 8-0 with eight first half goals led by a hat-trick from star striker Onur Kocaaslan, braces for academy products Luca Godden and Andrei Olesk and two assists for young right-back Ben Halliwell. An exhausted, unfit team faced a somehow fully fit Man City in the quarter-finals and, unsurprisingly, got thumped 4-0. That seemed unfair, but back on holiday we go.
Premier League defence begins
Despite our six successive titles, the media still only had us as fifth favourites at 17/2 – I would take those odds. That’s behind Man City (5/2), Liverpool – who finished 32 points behind us last season – and Arsenal (both 9/2), and Chelsea (6/1). Regardless, the new season began with more silverware as a Kocaaslan first half brace and a strike from Casemiro Gallas – who spent last season on loan at Lazio – sealed a 3-1 win over Spurs in the Community Shield.
The league didn’t get off to a great start at Leicester, who scored after 25 minutes. But we quickly hit back through Kocaaslan then two academy products combined for the winner as Jack Bickley set up Godden to tap home. And Kocaaslan’s great start to the season continued with a hat-trick alongside an Olesk strike as we beat newly promoted Palace 4-0 in our first home game.
Our great start to the season continued with Kocaaslan bagging a brace in a 4-2 win at Derby 4-2 then a hat-trick as we thumped Bournemouth 4-0. It looked to be ending at West Brom, who scored a 30th-minute penalty, but substitute Gallas came on to score and create the winner for fellow sub Dragan Andric, who ended his 10-game goal drought. We also went behind early at home to Leeds but an inspired Diaby performance with two goals and an assist for Kocaaslan, who doubled his tally late on, saw us breeze to a 5-1 win.
But things got a bit tougher as we went to Everton, who again seemed to be struggling, in my 1,100th match as Bolton manager. As usual at Everton they totally dominated us but we managed to sneak a very lucky 2-2 draw. Another tough game followed as we hosted Man City, who came out flying only for Godden to give us the lead completely against the run of play. Martial Diaby latched onto a long clearance to double the lead and Germán Martínez curled home a free-kick and Andric tucked home a fourth inside an hour. Two academy products combined as Jack Barlow crossed for sub Bickley before Andric doubled his tally to wrap up a magnificent 6-1 thumping.
Djerovic returned for the first time with Villa and we duly popped a few goals past him, including another Kocaaslan brace, in a 3-0 win. The striker went one better with a hat-trick to inspire a 3-2 win at Spurs. We then got dominated by 12 shots to four in the first half at third-place Chelsea, improved after the break but neither side could score.
I’d been considering a change of formation for a while as we weren’t getting enough out of the wide players and we had two elite strikers. So I trialled a 4-3-1-2 at home to Paul Pogba’s struggling Stoke. It started slowly but, in the 55th minute, a brilliant cross from Edmundo Júnior created a tap in for Kocaaslan, who duly added another two minutes later and we eased home 2-0. That took the striker to 18 goals in 11 league games, scoring a goal every 54 minutes!
The formation’s second outing came at home to high-flying Newcastle, who were fifth. But they were no match for Martínez, who laid on first-half goals for Bickley and Diaby before Kocaaslan got his customary goal after the break to finish off a dominant 3-0 win. The good form continued with Martínez putting in inspired performances with two assists from corners in a 4-1 win at Wayne Rooney’s Burnley then two more assists in a 4-1 win at West Ham, in which Olesk scored a hat-trick from his new mezzala role.
Those last two wins were coupled with nearest challengers Liverpool, who had trailed us by just two points, losing to Chelsea and rescuing a point at Burnely with an injury-time equaliser. They were our next visitors and I couldn’t understand how they were doing so well based on their horribly defensive 7-2-1 formation, which created just one shot as we dominated and Kocaaslan deservedly scored the only goal. We were even more dominant at struggling Southampton, where Andric and Kocaaslan both bagged hat-tricks and Martínez got two more assists in a 6-0 away win.
That big win took us into a Boxing Day trip to Old Trafford to face a Man United side now managed by Alexander Frei, after sacking Mauricio Pochettino in the summer, and languishing in ninth place. We were gifted a lead with a calamitous own goal but they restored parity with a shocking penalty decision. But a brilliant Kocaaslan finish from an Olesk through ball put us back in front just before the break, then he doubled his tally from a Martínez pass before another defensive howler gifted Andric a fourth! And that handed us a somewhat fortuitous 4-1 away win.
Two days later, we hosted Arsenal in the early kick-off. We made a great start in fortuitous circumstances as a clearance hit Kocaaslan and rebounded for Andric to score an open goal. But that gave us confidence as Kocaaslan was the creator again for Bickley and Andric doubled his tally on 35 minutes. Arsenal were absolutely dreadful, gifting us a fourth through sub Jules and only mustering a shot in the 90th minute when we went down to 10 men with Bickley going off injured.
The fixture congestion continued three days later as we again had the early game hosting in-form, fourth-place Leicester. Another strong start saw Martínez coolly finish after 14 minutes then Kocaaslan bagged his 35th of the season from a brilliant Edmundo Júnior cross three minutes later. They got a goal back just before half-time but our exhausted squad held firm for a huge 2-1 win to finish 2041 in style.
Our great form took us into the New Year still undefeated and with just two draws from 20 games, scoring a mighty 65 and conceding just 14. The table looks very interesting with Leicester and Newcastle challenging for the Champions League and Palace in European contention. Everton have struggled agains and are in the bottom three, while Spurs are five points off the drop and, interestingly, Man United are closer to the relgation zone than they are third place!
But this Bolton team has hit whole new levels so far this season. We’re 10 points clear of Liverpool, who somehow thumped Man United 6-0 on New Year’s Day, and a massive 17 ahead of City in third. Kocaaslan is the top scorer in the league with 26 in 19, five ahead of Liverpool’s Morales, and he and Andric are at the top of the average rating chart – with Kocasslan on an outrageous 7.89. While Martínez is already only four assists behind Barlow’s Premier League record of 19, Diaby has 10 goals and 10 assists and Andric has scored 10 in 14 starts. A surprise star has been Luke Johnson, who has a career-high eight assists to strengthen his claim for a new contract.
We ended the year by handing Kocaaslan a bumper £250,000-a-week contract. His magnificent form saw him pick up the FIFA Best Under 21 Men’s Player award for 2041 with 48 goals in 45 games at an average rating of 7.56 through 2041.
Champions League group
We got an interesting Champions League draw up against Bayern Munich, Shakhtar Donetsk and Fenerbahce. The opening game saw a familiar face return as our academy product centre-back Jack Salter lined up for Shakhtar. We dominated him and his Ukrainian teammates with 40 shots to four and won 5-0 with Martínez scoring two free kicks, as well as 13 key passes, plus goals from Diaby, Kocaaslan and Godden.
Our team was already exhausted so I rested a load of players at home to Fenerbahce and we still managed to sneak a 2-1 win. We then faced a first clash with Bayern in Germany and got a great start as Diaby and Andric both scored naughty little chips in the first half hour before Bickley did exactly the same six minutes later. It could have been more as we laid siege on the Bayern goal while Darlan was in inspired form in our goal, making 11 saves and winning player of the match to deny the Germans and earn us a famous 3-0 win. Bayern at home was next and we and conceded two identical goals in two minutes then had two disallowed before Kocaaslan inspired a superb late comeback with a goal and assist to nick a point against his former club.
We rested several starters at Shakhtar and won 2-0 through a Kocaaslan brace, which sealed qualification. All the youngsters came in for the final game at Fenerbahce, in which Nolan started as a striker and scored his first goal of the season in a 1-1 draw that won the group. Despite winning our group, we got Barcelona in the first knockout round.
Join us next time to find out if we can continue our Premier League domination and if we can make it past the mighty Barcelona.