Bolton Wanderers’ hunt for a 10th successive Premier League title – aka La Decima – had begun in near-perfect fashion, drawing just one of their first 18 games heading into 2045. However, a free-scoring Liverpool were somehow keeping in touch with the dominant force of English football.
2045 began in perfect fashion as attacking midfielder Martial Diaby became the first Bolton player ever to be recognised as the best in the world as he won the Ballon d’Or, FIFA Best Men’s Player and FIFA FIFPro Player of the Year awards. Diaby has been sensational in the last 18 months or so and in the previous calendar year scored 21 goals and got 19 assists.
Striker Onur Kocaaslan finished second in the Ballon d’Or and FIFPro awards after scoring 32 goals in 2044, while fellow striker Norberto Rey became the sixth Bolton player in nine years to win the FIFA Best U21 Men’s Player award. Diaby, Kocaaslan and left-back Marco Brunori also made the FIFA FIFPro Team of the Year.
Even more exciting young talent from around the world arrived as the transfer window opened. The pick of five new signings were midfielder Dyonatas, who came in for just £1.6 million from Flamengo, left-back Daniel Duarte, who cost £2.5 million from River, and right-back Miguel Muniz, who cost £2.6 million from Atletico. We then sold backup striker Myles James to Benfica for £24 million and replaced him with a new strike sensation Serkan Ozer from Leipzig for £16 million.
The hunt for La Decima continues
2045 began with a ridiculously tough run of games. The only one not against one of the top five took us to Leicester with a mass of injuries and suspensions. But a second half Rey goal decided a terrible match for a 1-0 win.
We then faced Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, which wasn’t helped by Diaby going to the African Cup of Nations and missing all of them. Ozer came in for his debut at home to City and scored just after the half hour mark to make it 2-0 after Kocaaslan’s early opener. Exciting midfield prospect Daniel scored before the break as we dominated City 3-1.
We had the better of a trip to Chelsea end eventually nicked it through a second half strike from legendary midfielder Germán Martínez. We hosted Arsenal in my 1,300th match as Bolton manager and made a flying start with goals from the strikeforce of Kocaaslan and Ozer then homegrown centre-back Martin Preston headed home twice from corners after the break!
That teed up a huge trip to Anfield as we put our unbeaten start on the line against sole challengers Liverpool. Both teams missed sitters in the first half and Liverpool scored early in the second then nothing happened as they won 1-0. That closed our lead to just six points having played a game more – which is ridiculous after failing to win twice!
Diaby returned from Africa and scored after nine minutes at home to Bournemouth. Kyle Rangel’s second goal of the season and captain Lasse Hermansen’s first had us three up at half-time and it stayed that way in a dominant bounceback win. Academy product Adam Nolan had struggled this season but took his tally from two to five with a first-half hat-trick, two of which were penalties and the other won goal of the month, at home to Newcastle as we again led 3-0 at half-time and full-time. Another clean sheet followed as we somehow drew 0-0 at a stupidly defensive Villa despite battering them.
We overcame the even more defensive and struggling Southampton, who essentially played nine at the back, 2-0 thanks to a Hermansen screamer and Rey’s first goal in nine games. That began a string of games against teams in the relegation zone as we battered bottom of the league Brighton 3-0, Rangel scored and created three as we thumped Watford 6-1, and a Kocaaslan brace led a 2-0 win at Norwich.
8 games away from 10 titles
That string of wins had us nine points clear of Liverpool with eight games remaining in our hunt for La Decima.
Game 1 – Fulham (home): The run-in began at home to 15th-place Fulham and Kocaaslan, Rey and Diaby had us 3-0 up inside half an hour. Fulham were given a penalty to score with their first shot but Nolan scored a penalty of our own for a 4-1 win. On the same day, Liverpool lost 5-1 at Arsenal to extend the gap to 12 points.
Game 2 – Spurs (away): I rested players for Europe at Spurs and we shockingly lost 5-0 with backup keeper Ildamar Testoni conceding all five shots on target and playing a 5.9, which earned him a fine along with eight other players.
Game 3 – Everton (home): A Diaby double decided a dreadful game at home to Everton, in which there were just six shots in the entire match, of which Everton had just one!
Game 4 – Man United (away) : A slightly more entertaining affair saw Rey steal the show with a wonderful solo goal and a very much deserved injury-time winner at Old Trafford.
Game 5 – Palace (away): Rey was at it again as he opened the scoring at 13th-place Palace and his strike partner Kocaaslan doubled the tally to seal an easy 2-0 win. And that moved us nine points clear with three games remaining.
Game 6 – Middlesbrough (home): That meant a point at home to 16th-place relegation threatened Middlesbrough would confirm a 10th straight title. We came out on the front foot and got our reward as a criminally unmarked Kocaaslan turned home a Brunori cross then Rey headed home a Martínez free-kick. Rangel scored off the bench to complete a 3-0 win and seal the title, while Darlan completed a Premier League record 23rd clean sheet of the season.
Bolton Wanderers won a 10th successive Premier League title!!
With two games remaining, we had 98 points and were just two away from Man City’s all-time points record of 100 set in 2018. We fully rotated but and goals and an assist from exciting young striker Gatkuoth Lotiman earned a 3-0 win at home to West Brom to smash that particular record. And the season concluded on my 61st birthday with a 2-0 win at Watford with rare goals from Jack Bickley and Adrian Jules.
That ensured we finished on an outrageous 104 points with just two defeats and two draws. We scored 88 and conceded just 19, of which five were in one game against Spurs! But Liverpool will be devastated to come second with 95 points and 108 goals, which would have won the league on all but three occasions during this save.
Kocaaslan finished joint-top scorer in the league with 27 goals, alongside Liverpool’s Morales again, and had the highest average rating of 7.41. As a result, he won English Footballer of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year, while the impressive Rey won Young Player of the Year.
Champions League knockouts
Our quest for a third straight Champions League resumed with a trip to Bilbao, who obviously scored with their first two shots. But Kocaaslan got us back into it with a vital away goal. And Kocaaslan and a sensational Rey solo goal in the home leg edged us through 3-2 on aggregate.
The quarter-finals were much closer to home against Man City. The away leg was first and we started well only for City to score their first shot. Martínez got us level but a shocking Barlow throw-in gifted City a late winner. Having rested players for the Spurs 5-0 battering we then hammered City with 16 shots to one in the first-half of the home leg and Kocaaslan eventually converted one just before the break. The onslaught continued and Nolan scored a second but we only won 2-0 for another 3-2 aggregate win.
The semi-finals saw a repeat of last year’s final and the previous year’s semis as we faced Bayern Munich. This time the home leg was up first and we took full advantage with Preston and Diaby goals inside 15 minutes. We well and truly dominated the Germans and Kocaaslan scored against his former club again after the break to seal a convincing 3-0 success. Bayern started the return leg strongly and scored on 18 minutes. But a return to our Positive mentality saw that man Kocaaslan once again respond with a rapid brace to immediately kill the tie off. A 2-1 away win took us to our third successive Champions League Final!
Champions League Final
The 2045 Champions League Final was a repeat of 2043 as we took on Juventus, who beat Chelsea 2-1 in the semis, at Stade de France. Daniel was our only injury concern so we lined up:
Darlan; Hermansen, Latorre, Preston, Brunori; Bickley, Nolan, Martínez; Diaby; Kocaaslan, Rey
Subs: Lotima, Testoni, Barlow, Fava, Jules, Rangel, Luiz, Duarte, Ozer, Dickens
Juve had two former Bolton players in their ranks, but neither lasted very long. Our former left-back Allen Thomasen, who moved to PSG then Real and Juve, was sent off after six minutes for elbowing Kocaaslan in the face and they immediately subbed our former winger Emiliano Sotomayor for a defender!
It didn’t take us too long to capitalise as Rey bagged a first-half brace. Centre-back Juanjo Latorre scored from a corner just after the break before Juve got a goal back but Kocaaslan bagged late on to seal a thumping 4-1 win.
Bolton Wanderers won a 3rd successive Champions League and 4th in the last 6 years!!
This was our best season so far in the league, racking up Premier League records for most points, most wins and most clean sheets. And the league and European treble makes this Bolton side easily the best I’ve ever had on Football Manager, probably now surpassing my Atalanta team on FM19.
Kocaaslan was our main man this season, scoring 36 goals, getting eight assists and the best average rating of 7.37 in all competitions. Still only 24, he won the fans’ player and young player of the season and isn’t too far off smashing Bolton’s all-time goalscoring records with 223 goals in 264 games in all competitions in just six seasons.
A quieter hero was Brunori, who got 12 assists and the second-best average rating of 7.31. While Ballon d’Or winner Diaby maintained his solid form with 15 goals and 16 assists and Rey impressed with 19 goals and nine assists. Preston popped up with six goals and a strong average rating of 7.22 and Martínez was quietly solid with six goals and eight assists.
Trotter Talents update
Preston was again the shining light of our first-team academy players, scoring his first England goal on his 18th cap in addition to excellent club form. Barlow managed to worm his way back into the England team and reach 30 caps despite terrible club form that led me to largely drop him from January onwards.
We also had a slightly better youth intake, of which the pick were centre-back Matthew Harkin, winger David Sherlock, Texan striker Ivan Bone attacking midfielder Connor Anderson. Our under 23s also defended their Checkatrade Trophy title!
A look around England
Bolton, of course, won a 10th Premier League title, with Fulham, Southampton and Norwich going down. Familiar faces replaced them with Derby, Wolves and West Ham getting promoted, while Barnsley, Notts County and Millwall were relegated.
Luton won League 1 and were joined by Rotherham and Reading with Scunthorpe, Ipswich, Southend and Gillingham going down. Chesterfield won League 2 and Preston, Northampton and Coventry were promoted with them as Bromley and Salford were relegated.
They were replaced by Chester and Maidstone while Telford, Chorley, Ebbsfleet and Scarborough went down. Some big names replaced them in Exeter and Newport, along with Basford (who I’ve never heard of and Hereford, with Stafford, Dunstable, Peterborough Sports, Bamber Bridge, Tonbridge, Hitchin, Hungerford and Weston-Super-Mare dropping out of the system.
Fulham won the FA Cup to qualify for Europe despite being relegated, beating Man United on penalties in the final, and Liverpool won the Carabao Cup, beating Brighton 3-1 in the final. More English dominance saw Man United win the Europa League, beating Arsenal 1-0 in the final to become the 17th English winner in 25 years.
Join us next time for a reflection on 25 years of managing Bolton Wanderers!