The summer of 2048 was a period of massive change as legendary (in my head anyway) club captain Lasse Hermansen and long-time Trotter Talent Jack Barlow departed the club after 13 and 14 years of service respectively.
One wanted a well-deserved final new challenge, as Hermansen moved to Cádiz, and the other was plain greedy as Barlow, having demanded £575,000-a-week to stay, signed for Villa on just £155,000-a-week. This is just a stupid feature of this game. Joining them in leaving was one-time academy hope Adam Nolan, who hadn’t progressed as hoped and joined Newcastle for £23.5 million.
We moved quickly to replace Barlow by raiding relegated Man City for fellow England international and probably better all-round full-back Ross Bentley, who cost £20 million. We kept it English by bringing in Middlesbrough starlet Kris Bridges, who I’d been watching for a couple of years, for £30 million. We also maintained a focus on Brazilians by snapping up Flamengo’s 18-year-old midfielder Rondinelli for £3 million and a replacement for Hermansen in wonderkid defender Carlos Humberto for £5 million.
However, our best signing was exciting 19-year-old Malek Ziani, who attracted my first-ever A+ fans’ reaction when he signed from PSG for £65 million.
With him through the door, I’d devised a new formation – mainly because I was bored of the old trusty 4-3-1-2 and fancied a change. So I looked at popping Ziani up top in a front three, although in hindsight we’d jump between the two.
13th title defence
Coming into the 2048/49 campaign, star striker Onur Kocaaslan was just 10 goals short of becoming the leading league goalscorer in Bolton history.
We began the season with an exhausted squad from the Euros and 15 players still on international duty at the Olympics, where Ziani was the top scorer and the best player. But we still had Kocaaslan and he scored both goals in a 2-0 win over Spurs on the opening day.
We had a swift reunion with Nolan as Newcastle came to town, and Darlan gifted them a goal on 20 minutes so I took him off and we came back to win 4-1. Managerial genius! Another reunion followed against Barlow at Villa, where the new formation got its first outing and worked a treat as a Kocaaslan brace and a Ferre Naessens free-kick earned a comfortable 3-0 win.
Ziani eventually hit form with four goals in three games, which coincided with Kocaaslan yet again getting injured on international duty but we still won six on the bounce. A draw at Liverpool, earned with an injury-time first goal for the club for young striker Gaspard Lallement, saw the unbeaten run extended.
Kocaaslan returned to tuck home a penalty that earned a 1-1 draw with Arsenal, which was his 250th Bolton league goal. Legendary midfielder Germán Martínez then made his 450th Bolton league appearance as an Ivan Bone brace rescued a point in a terrible performance at Derby.
A little dip in form coincided with yet another Kocaaslan injury. But he returned in style with a hat-trick, along with a Ziani hat-trick of assists, to smash Wolves 5-1 and move one goal behind Lofthouse’s record. And that teed up a great run of festive form that sent us into 2049 with a 10 point lead at the top.
Another Brazilian wonderkid
January saw the latest Brazilian wonderkid walk through the doors of the Eddie Davies Arena as striker Anderson Hoffman, who’s been labelled “the next Jairzinho,” arrived from Flamengo for just £925,000. And he scored three minutes into his debut as a team of kids beat Bournemouth 3-0 in the FA Cup third round.
All-time greatest goalscorer
2049 began with a home game against Crystal Palace, which we well and truly dominated but only won 2-0 despite 3.4 xG. However, the big talking point was Kocaaslan scoring both goals in the first half. That took him to 256 goals in his 300th league game for Bolton – surpassing Nat Lofthouse’s all-time club record.
That milestone ensured all of my aims with this save were completed – as I passed the 21 day mark on the save file! – we just had to go on and dominate the Premier League again. And we surely did, despite an injury crisis that included Kocaaslan pulling his hamstring to suffer his seventh injury of the season in early March.
As a result, we struggled a little towards the end of the season and it was far from entertaining, including sneaking 1-0 wins over Brighton and Burnley, drawing with Southampton and losing at United and Arsenal. But a highlight was Naessens hitting a club-record double hat-trick, which usurped Kocaaslan’s debut five-goal haul. He also bagged an assist for Sergio’s first Bolton goal as we smashed West Ham 8-1 in mid-April. In that game, four players picked up injuries, which meant nine of our 22 first-teamers were sidelined.
Despite that, we went to Chelsea and won 2-1 with 16-year-old academy product Jacob Wangen scoring a sensational late winner with his first league goal. The next day, Villa drew at home to United, which handed us the title with four games remaining.
Bolton Wanderers won a 14th successive Premier League title!!
We eventually won the league by 11 points ahead of Villa, who were a further 7 clear of Arsenal and Everton finished fourth. We lost three and drew eight, scoring 86 and conceding just 23. The injury-hit nature of our season meant no individuals massively stood out, although Naessens and Kocaaslan were the joint third-top scorers in the league with 15 goals in just 20 matches apiece.
The Champions League group began with an unbelievable 0-0 battering of Fenerbahce. Then a reunion with former midfielder Daniel and his Inter side, where we nicked a 1-0 win, was followed by thumping Lyon 4-0. A 1-0 win in Lyon sent us through before the exciting Wangen nicked a point in Turkey and created the opener as a team of kids beat Inter 2-0. The depth of quality at this club is just scary!
The knockouts reunited us with more former players in Martial Diaby and Dragan Andric against Barcelona. But Kocaaslan stole the show as he returned from yet another injury to score two, the first being an outrageous 25-yard chip, and make the other in a 3-0 win at the Nou Camp. Ziani bagged a brace in the home leg to send us through 5-1 on aggregate.
We also breezed past Catania 5-1 in the quarters, which teed up a semi with Man United, and their new manager Wayne Rooney – who really hates me and “doesn’t think my success is deserved.” Our injury-ravaged side was at home first and, after a dross first half, I stuck Rooney’s comments on the changing room wall at half-time and threw a half-fit Ziani on. It worked wonders as he and Naessens bagged braces to earn a crushing 4-0 win. United scored after five and 95 minutes in the away leg but we eased through 4-2 for a sixth final in seven years and seventh final in 10 years.
Champions League Final
The 2049 Champions League Final was a repeat of 2048 as we took on reigning champions PSG, who beat Real Madrid 1-0 on aggregate in the semis. Kocaaslan was only just back to fitness so I decided not to risk him from the start, so we lined up:
Darlan; Bentley, Preston, Marcos Roberto, Brunori (c); Dyonatas, Pedro Sousa, Martínez; Patterson; Ziani, Naessens
Subs: Kocaaslan, Testoni, Álvarez, Rangel, Bone, Bridges, Gabriel, Sergio, Wangen, Maestre, Carlos Humberto, Lallement
A cagey start saw neither side have a shot in the first 20 minutes. But that changed as Pedro Sousa slid a beautiful pass through for Ziani to open the scoring against his former club. PSG got on top but we went into the break a goal up and doubled our lead 15 minutes after it as midfielder Michael Patterson coolly finished. PSG well and truly took control and got a deserved goal with 15 remaining but we held firm to frustrate them and earn a probably undeserved win.
Bolton Wanderers were Champions of Europe for the sixth time!
Where else to begin than the absolute legend that is Onur Kocaaslan. The Turish striker is now the all-time leading Bolton goalscorer with 337 in 403 games in all competitions and 260 in 306 league games. He was massively affected by injury this season, only playing 24 games but still scoring 17, getting seven assists and the best average rating at the club. He is a Bolton God.
Naessens replaced him as top scorer with 22 goals, including a new club-record six in one match against West Ham. While summer signing Ziani impressed with 18 goals and 10 assists, Dyonatas got 11 goals from midfield and Bone got nine goals and 10 assists in a rather sub-standard season. The evergreen Martínez topped the assists chart again with 15.
Martínez, by the way, has moved on to 613 appearances in all competitions, which is just 31 behind Hermansen’s all-time record. He won fans’ player of the season and Naessens young player of the season while Ziani won signing of the season. And Bentley set a new record for worst discipline with 18 yellow cards. While new captain Marco Brunori and, surprisingly, Naessens earned their places in our all-time Best XI squad.
Trotter Talents update
Our homegrown prospects are still pretty strong, including the likes of Martin Preston, now 27 and with 58 England caps, and Ivan Bone, who wasn’t quite as good as last season. But the big new prospect is Norwegian striker Jacob Wangen, who scored a brilliant late goal against Chelsea and a screamer against Derby in the penultimate league game and only turned professional after the final game of the season.
A look around England
We won yet another title while Burnley, Norwich and Portsmouth went down. Fulham won the Championship and Man City, hilariously, missed out in the playoffs against Bournemouth, who came up with Stoke. Bristol City, Sheffield Wednesday and Barnsley went down.
Rotherham won League 1 and Huddersfield and Ipswich were promoted as Hull, Chesterfield, Walsall and Coventry went down. Fleetwood won League 2 and were promoted with Wrexham, Swindon and Stockport, while Torquay and Carlisle dropped into non-league. They were replaced by Bromley and Boston with South Shields, Salisbury, Ebbsfleet and Woking going down. Halifax, Morecambe, Sutton and Dartford went up while Tamworth, St Neots, Halesowen, Curzon Ashton, Cinderford, Tiverton, Hornchurch and Eastbourne Borough dropped out of the playable leagues.
With FM22 very much around the corner, Trotters Talent is coming to an end. However, I’m keen to reach the 2050 mark for the first time ever. So we’ll do more one more season, review the save as a whole, and potentially do a little simulation experiment as well.
Join us next time as we celebrate passing 30 years of life as a virtual football manager with Bolton Wanderers!