My 25th season in charge of Bolton Wanderers saw us heading into the campaign as nine-time Champions of England, Champions of Europe for the third time in five years and on the back of an outrageous quintuple.
It’s safe to say that this team has hit ridiculous new heights, but there was no time to slack off as we chased an unprecedented 10th successive Premier League title.
As a result, the summer saw a fire sale that began with two academy products leave for massive money. Left-back Aidan Main was now 24 and played poorly last season and Aston Villa came in with £41 million. But that was nothing compared to midfielder Andrei Olesk going to Chinese side SIPG for £52 million!
More big sales followed as Jesus Bonilla, who was never going to be good enough and signed from Bilbao £450,000 two years ago, attracted an £80 million bid from AC Milan. Backup full-backs Casemiro Gallas and Dave Ferguson joined Barcelona and PSV for £40 million and £26.5 million, midfielder Giannis Ntelekos went to Dortmund for £25 million and wingers Lars Kleihs and Bruno Santos joined Darmstadt and Catania for £20 million each. That took our summer sales to £298 million!
Several more prospects arrived from all over the world, of which the pick was exciting 18-year-old centre-back Gerardo Álvarez from Boca Juniors for just £3.5 million before he went to Derby on loan for the season. We were short on striker options so our big signing was 20-year-old Gatkuoth Lotiman, who won EFL Player of the Year at Norwich last season, for £32.5 million. We also signed promising 18-year-old midfielder Mazinho for £3 million from Atletico Mineiro, who went to LA Galaxy on loan, and exciting Brazilian defender Marcos Roberto, who cost £5 million from Corinthians and is already worth nearly five-times that but immediately broke his leg!
Captain Lasse Hermansen, now 30, is starting his 13th season at Bolton and racked up 494 appearances in all competitions. A nice touch saw him have a testimonial against Kobenhavn, who we signed him from, in the summer.
Bagging more silverware
The pre-season concluded with a glorified friendly against Chelsea in the Charity Shield. One of the worst football matches ever saw an even worse penalty shootout as the two sides scored one of the first seven penalties. But homegrown keeper Ildamar Testoni saved Chelsea’s sixth and fellow academy product Jack Barlow stepped up to win the trophy for the fourth year in a row.
That was followed by the European Super Cup, which took us to Estonia to face Porto. England international Adrian Jules rounded off a nice counter attack in the first half and that was enough for a 1-0 win that sealed a third Super Cup win and my 25th trophy as a manager.
Tough start to 10th Premier League hunt
The 2044/45 campaign began away at Newcastle, who we also played on the opening day of last season and we’d beaten 13 times in a row! We still had four players at the Olympics and a load of players injured or exhuasted from a busy summer. But a brilliant Adam Nolan pass set up Onur Kocaaslan to head home after 27 minutes. The striker scored with either foot after the break to seal an opening day perfect hat-trick and a 3-1 win.
A sensational free-kick by Germán Martínez, who’s now known as a “legendary midfielder” and a Martial Diaby penalty earned a 2-0 win over Leicester, in which we racked up 28 shots and 3.8 xG. But two tough away days followed at Man City and Arsenal. Kocaaslan gave us a great start at City, scoring inside 90 seconds before City equalised five minutes later. Nothing happened until the 94th-minute when Kocaaslan was sent through on goal and coolly tucked home a slightly undeserved winner. At Arsenal, Diaby won and converted a dubious penalty on 16 minutes and we held them off for an edgy 1-0 win.
The tough fixture list continued with home games against Chelsea and Liverpool! We dominated Chelsea with an early Kocaaslan goal getting us started before a Darlan own goal got them level without having had a shot. But a Nolan penalty and substitute Adrian Jules sealed a 3-1 win. The league’s only two 100% records went on the line as we hosted Liverpool and another bright start saw Norberto Rey bag his first goal of the season. Liverpool dominated from then on and levelled with a dubious penalty, which seemingly woke us up as Rey and Kocaaslan wrapped up another 3-1, which this time was pretty undeserved.
Backup right-back Sílvio Luiz, who signed two years ago then went out on loan, made his Premier League debut at Bournemouth and marked it with two assists in a 3-0 win. The winning start ended with a 0-0 at Southampton but we bounced back to beat Villa 3-0, with goals from centre-back Martin Preston, Kocaaslan and sub Myles James, somehow only beat Norwich 1-0 with 2.6 xG, then a Diaby penalty edged us past Brighton 1-0 to end their 24-game unbeaten home streak.
That run of fairly narrow results teed up a big test against third-place Man United. The big game brought out our clinical best as Kocaaslan teed up Rey for an early opener then bagged twice in the second half to move past 200 goals for Bolton Wanderers. That makes the Turk only the third player in Bolton history to score 200 goals behind David Jack (277) and Nat Lofthouse (285). So he’s well on track to become the club’s all-time record goalscorer.
Two clashes with London sides were dominated by our two key players. A Diaby doubled eased us past Fulham 3-1 away before Kocaaslan bagged all four in a 4-2 thumping of Spurs, who we allowed to score both their shots on target.
We then travelled to the bottom two sides within four days of each other. Bottom side Everton, who were for so long our bogey side but just sacked Wayne Rooney after an awful start, were dispatched 3-0 with goals from Kocaaslan, Preston and Rey. Middlesbrough predictably scored with their first and only shot of the first half but, probably more predictably, Kocaaslan bagged a brace to nick a 2-1 win and move to 20 goals for the season.
Another bottom of the league team followed as we hosted Palace and a pair of screamers from Martínez and his potential heir apparent Daniel inspired an easy 3-0 win. 2044 concluded with an ill-tempered affair at West Brom, in which we had seven players booked and nicked it 1-0 with a second half Kocaaslan strike.
That took us into the new year on a run of 10 consecutive wins. But despite having dropped just two points all season, we were still only six points clear of Liverpool! We’ve only conceded 9 times in 18 games and we’ve scored 42, but that’s nothing compared to Liverpool’s impressive tally of 55. Despite that, Kocaaslan is the top scorer in the league with 19 and has the highest average rating of 7.67. Darlan has the most clean sheets with 11 and Barlow and Preston have the joint-most bookings with 10 each.
Champions League group
We got an interesting draw in the Champions League up against AC Milan, Rangers and Anderlecht. We started with a dreadful 0-0 in Glasgow but vastly improved to thump Milan 4-1 then two assists and a goal from Diaby inspired a 3-1 win in Belgium. A brilliant Martínez free-kick and Lotiman’s first for the club helped us dominate Anderlecht 3-0 and saw us qualify with two games remaining.
We threw the kids in for the last two games and drew 2-2 with Rangers, in which an exciting moment saw 17-year-old academy product midfielder Zain Carey score his first senior goal, and a team of total youngsters were unlucky to lose 3-0 in Milan. But we breezed through top of the group with Rangers also qualifying. And we drew Athletic Bilbao in the knockout stages.
Join us next time as we look to wrap up a 10th title on the trot for Bolton Wanderers and move into the knockout stages looking to win a 3rd straight Champions League!