A blistering start to the 2046/47 had Bolton Wanderers romping their way towards a 12th consecutive Premier League title. Halfway through the campaign, Bolton were still undefeated and only drawn once led by some scintillating performances by legendary midfielder Germán Martínez.
The new year began with one of the best Trotter Talents products so far leaving the club. Jack Bickley, who came through the academy in 2037 and made 218 league appearances, but had been poor over the last few seasons and wanted a ridiculous £450,000-a-week to renew a contract that expired in the summer. So we had no choice but to cash in. He joined Liverpool for £26.5 million on £125,000-a-week, which is just really frustrating.
One player that did deserve £450,000-a-week was sensational star striker Onur Kocaaslan, who signed a new deal to keep him at the club until 2051. While Martínez’s fine form was rewarded with a new £525,000-a-week deal that keeps the 31-year-old at Eddie Davies Arena until 2050.
I felt the one area we were struggling in most was midfield, especially with Bickley departing. So to address that, I brought in some more experience and a familiar face as we re-signed Emanuel from Arsenal for £2.5 million. The Brazilian played 82 league games for us between 2033 and 2036, then 273 games for Arsenal in 11 seasons. But he was transfer-listed despite still performing pretty well, so I decided to bring him back on an 18-month deal.
Premier League resumes
A busy festive period continued with a third successive away match at Leicester on New Year’s Day, which seems a little unfair. Both teams were exhausted and a poor game ensued, which looked to be bringing our unbeaten run to an end. That was until Kocaaslan stepped up to score a penalty in the last minute for a 1-1 draw that halted a 12-match winning streak. We also started slowly at home to Everton but the two big money men combined as Martínez created two goals for Kocaaslan, who created a late third for midfielder Mazinho. In that game, the amazing Lasse Hermansen made his 600th Bolton appearance in all competitions.
A tough run of games continued at second-place Arsenal, where Emanuel made his second debut against his former club. The hosts scored early but Martínez swiftly created an equaliser for homegrown centre-back Martin Preston before a rare goal for midfielder Pedro Sousa had us ahead. Our former midfielder Marco Manuzzi equalised three minutes later but a Mazinho thunderbolt and a Kocaaslan strike had us 4-2 up at half-time! Not much happened after the break but exciting academy product striker Ivan Bone got in to wrap up a 2-5 win late on. What a game!
The first half excellence continued at home to Man City, who were languishing in ninth, racking up 16 shots to their one before the break. We made two count through Mazinho, which made it three in three for him, and striker Ferre Naessens, which ended his 10-hour goal drought, before Martínez hit a trademark long-ranger after the break. And City duly sacked Issa Diop after six months in charge.
West Ham came to town and defended for 90 minutes. We had Marco Brunori sent off but kept pushing and eventually nicked an injury-time winner through 17-year-old substitute Michael Patterson. The unbeaten run continued with an entertaining 0-0 at Chelsea. The same day, Arsenal lost at West Ham, which saw our lead at the top extended to 19 points with 13 games remaining. And we continued to struggle for goals with draws at home to West Ham and away to Southampton and Watford.
We returned to winning ways by thumping bottom-of-the-league Stoke 5-1, led by a Kocaaslan brace on his 250th league appearance and two Martínez assists. Kocaaslan was on form again with a goal and an assist in a 3-0 win over next-to-bottom Derby, in which Martínez made his 400th Bolton league appearance.
Invincible season on the line
With eight games remaining, Bolton were still unbeaten in the Premier League with 24 wins and six draws. That meant our best season yet was on the line.
We kept it up with a 2-1 home win against Spurs, in which Kocaaslan scored his 278th Bolton goal in all competitions. That moved him second in the club’s all-time goalscoring record, ahead of Joe Smith who scored 277 Bolton goals between 1908 and 1927.
A big test of our unbeaten record came at third-place Man United, now manged by Julian Nagelsmann, who put out a bizarrely defensive 5-3-2 formation and showed no inkling of wanting to attack. A tepid first half saw them nullify us and have zero shots, as Naessens missed a sitter. But after the break I decided to try and exploit the width, changed to a 4-2-4, brought on Patterson wide and replaced the exhausted Martínez with Adam Nolan. And the changes worked as Nolan created the only goal for Kocaaslan to seal a deserved 1-0 win after 12 shots to one.
We breezed past Palace 3-1 at home with Kocaaslan bagging his 30th of the season, which moved us 15 points clear with five to play. In that game, the brilliant Hermansen made his 500th Bolton league appearance!
Arsenal played before us and lost at Man United the next weekend, handing us the title without having to play our game.
Bolton Wanderers wrapped up a 12th consecutive Premier League title!
The next challenge was whether we could go the entire season without defeat, which could be tricky as I decided to give youth a chance to aid ongoing European efforts. The run continued with a 2-0 win at Burnley with two goals by the increasingly impressive Patterson, who’s now rated as 4-star ability and a wonderkid considered a leading Premier League player at just 17!
A slightly less rotated side beat Brighton 2-0 with Kocaaslan’s 25th league goal of the season and a Mazinho strike. A fully rotated side went to sixth-place and second in the form table West Brom and fell behind early but turned it around with a goal by academy product striker Bone, who just won his first cap for the USA aged 17, and Mazinho. West Brom levelled before the break but Brazilian midfielder Dyonatas wrapped up an assist hat-trick as he created goals for centre-back Gerardo Álvarez and Patterson to seal a seriously impressive 4-2 win!
A slightly stronger side drew 1-1 at Liverpool to take us 37 games undefeated. That put the invincible season one game away as we hosted Newcastle on the final day. And it was never in doubt as the first 11 came back in to win 4-2 led by Kocaaslan, Martial Diaby and Naessens goals.
That ensured we went the entire Premier League season unbeaten, winning 31 and drawing seven, to reach 100 points for the second time. We were the league’s top scorers with 86 goals and had the best defence, conceding just 23.
Kocaaslan was the top scorer in the league for the second year in a row and fourth time in six years. His 26 goals was five more than West Brom’s Chris Humphreys. Martínez got a league-high 17 assists, had the best average rating (7.52) and got the most player of the match awards (11).
Martínez was rightly named the English Footballer of the Year and English Players’ Player of the Year for the first time, while Pedro Sousa was a surprise winner of English Players’ Young Player of the Year, which our players have won for the last 10 years. And Kocaaslan won the European Golden Shoe for the third time in his career.
Champions League knockouts
The first Champions League knockout round pitted us up against PSV, which was all over after half an hour of the first leg as we led 3-0. We went on to win 6-1 led by four Martínez assists, a Kocaaslan perfect hat-trick and a Diaby brace. I fully rotated for the home leg and we still won 2-0.
Next up was Inter Milan, where Brunori’s second goal of the season earned us a 1-1 draw. Kocaaslan scored a sensational solo strike and created one for Mazinho in a five-minute period of the first half to send us through to the semis with an easy 2-0 win.
The semis drew us was another Italian side Calcio Catania, who’d beaten fellow Italians Juventus in the quarters and were managed by my good pal Frank Lampard. While Liverpool and Everton faced off in the other semi!
The home leg was up first and midfielder Kyle Rangel fired home just his fourth goal of the season early. A Martínez masterclass in the second half laid on goals for substitute Patterson and Kocaaslan for a comfortable 3-0 lead to take to Italy. However, we capitulated in the second leg, conceding to Catania’s first, second and fourth shots to see them level up the tie after 68 minutes. But that man Martínez stepped up to lay on goals for Mazinho and Diaby, who’s been pretty awful this season. And that was enough to see off the scare and see us through to the final 5-3 on aggregate.
FA Cup Final
The youngsters had once again done us proud in the FA Cup, defeating Mansfield, Middlesbrough, then Premier League Newcastle and Man United. Championship side Nottingham Forest awaited in the semis, which wrote the script for former player Patterson. And he delivered with an early goal then creating one for Bruno Luís, who scored again late on alongside a Nolan penalty for a 4-1 win.
The first team returned for the Final against Everton and dominated from the first kick. Kocaaslan bagged a goal in each half to help Hermansen lift yet another trophy. Those two Kocaaslan strikes took him to 286 goals in 340 games in all competitions, making him Bolton Wanderers’ all-time record goalscorer!
Champions League Final
A week later we faced the other Merseysiders Liverpool in the big one: our fourth Champions League Final in five years and fifth in the last eight. Both sides travelled to Spain to face off at the Nou Camp. However, Liverpool’s preparation was a little unusual as they sacked their manager after a dreadful league campaign and appointed new manager Filip Stevanovic, who starts the game as a youngster at Partizan but went on to play for Man City, Real Madrid, Spurs and Man United before managing Pisa and Athletic Bilbao, the day before the final. Truly bizarre!
We had no fitness issues, which meant my main choices were who to play at centre-back and in the mezzala role in midfield. We lined up:
Darlan; Barlow, Preston, Hermansen, Brunori; Mazinho, Pedro Sousa, Martínez; Diaby; Kocaaslan, Naessens
Subs: Bruno Luís, Testoni, Marco Roberto, Rangel, Patterson, Dyonatas, Muniz, Duarte, Nolan, Bone, Álvarez, Emanuel
Liverpool started the better, forcing a good save out of Darlan. But they were then handed a very dubious penalty only for Darlan to save it, before VAR rejected another penalty the referee tried to give them. We then had Barlow and Brunori injured and missed a host of chances. It looked like this opportunity was going to pass us by until another epic final conclusion for an English team in Barcelona.
In the 93rd-minute, Martínez swung in a corner that Preston headed against the bar and Kocaaslan tucked home an open goal. Fur minutes later, Kocaaslan collected the ball in the centre circle and picked out the run of Patterson through the middle of the Liverpool defence, and the 18-year-old coolly passed the ball past the keeper and into the bottom corner. What a comeback and what a dramatic late win!
Bolton Wanderers were Champions of Europe for the fifth time!!
What a season this has been, with our second domestic treble, a 12th national title and 5th European crown! This team has well and truly become the best in Europe and we’re on a completely different level to any English side.
Picking the star player from this season is tough. Martínez has been consistently fantastic while Kocaaslan has been outstanding from a goalscoring point of view. But for me, it has to be Martínez. The legendary midfielder racked up a club-high 23 assists at an average rating of 7.53 in 44 games in all competitions. The fans agreed with me and gave him player of the season while Naessens won young player of the season.
Kocaaslan scored 36 goals in 44 games, including a goal and assist in Champions League Final injury-time. He’s now the all-time leading Bolton goalscorer with 287 goals in all competitions, and trails Lofthouse’s record of 255 league goals by 35. The man is an absolute monster of a player. And the European voters sided with him, awarding the Turk the honour of Best Player in Europe with Martínez in second.
Aside from those two, a surprise top performer was Patterson, who turned 18 two days before scoring the winning goal in the Champions League Final! The attacking midfielder scored 13 goals and got two assists in 35 appearances, of which just 15 were starts, and he may be pushing Diaby for his place in the team next season.
Them aside, Naessens and Diaby scored 12 goals each followed by Mazinho (11), Bruno Luís (10), Pedro Sousa (6) and Bone and Rangel (4). Assists-wise, nobody got near Martínez, who was followed by Kocaaslan (9), Mazinho and Brunori (8), Barlow (7) and Bruno Luís, Pedro Sousa and Diaby (6).
Trotters Talents update
The focus on homegrown players has been hindered a little this season. However, centre-back has been the rock of our defence and goalkeeper Ildamar Testoni only conceded five goals in 13 league games, as I dropped Darlan quite a lot. Midfielder Nolan struggled and seems to have hit his potential limit but I have high hopes for striker Ivan Bone.
Our under 23s side continued its domination of the Checkatrade Trophy, winning it for the fourth successive year. We also had a solid if unspectacular youth intake, of which the pick were attackers Peter Kelly and Nick Inness, full-back Nyle Fleming and midfielder Earl Knibbs.
A look around Engand
There was a strange Premier League season as Chelsea, City and Liverpool all missed out on Europe, with the latter two finishing 11th and 12th! Derby, Southampton and Stoke went down. Wolves won the Championship with Norwich and Sheffield United promoted, while our feeder club Oldham, Hull and Rochdale went down.
Rotherham won League 1 and Blackburn and Ipswich came up, while Chesterfield, Leyton Orient, Brentford and Wimbledon went down. Bradford won League 2 and were joined in promotion by Northampton, Forest Green and Crawley, with Grimsby and Gillingham going down.
York and Accrington Stanley came back into the league system with Halifax, Newport, Braintree and Sutton going down. They were replaced by Kidderminster, Nuneaton, Stevenage and Ebbsfleet, with Barwell, Needham, Leiston, Biggleswade, Concord Rangers, Hornchurch, Farnborough and Cheshunt dropping out of the playable leagues.
Trotters Talent save update
At 27 years into this save and with FM22 a few weeks away, it’s time to begin bringing this save to an end. My aim remains to get Kocaaslan the all-time Bolton league goalscoring record, which I think may take two more seasons. However, I’m also keen to make it to 2050 and we just signed some amazing looking youngsters that I’m keen to see progress. With that in mind, I’m probably going to reduce these updates to one blog per season as we crack on with the save.
Join us next time as we look to build on a 12th title and defend our European crown again.