Bolton Wanderers had bagged yet another Premier League title and a 6th Champions League in 10 years in the 2048/49 campaign. With 2050 (and FM22) approaching, I’d decided this would be my last season, which also happened to be the 175th in the club’s history. And we went into it targeting a first Club World Cup and 15 titles in a row.
We saw plenty of players leave in the summer of 2049, including Pedro Sousa joining Liverpool for £66 million, Gaspard Lallement going to Leicester for an outrageous £60 million, left-back Gabriel joining Hertha for £30.5 million and Rob Irwin joining Empoli for £18.25 million. That brought in more than £250 million, which took the bank balance back over £1.1 billion for the first time in a few years.
Our focus of snapping up the best youth talent around the world paid off as centre-back Esteban Almada arrived from River for just £3.5 million. He looks like being an absolute beast and joins a squad containing 11 wonderkids, which shows just how good a young side we still have!
Club World Cup
The only trophy evading us in this wild journey is the FIFA Club World Cup, and this time we got a better draw with River Plate and Pyramids (from Egypt). We battered River 5-0, with Kyle Rangel scoring twice to match his tally all of last season!, then exciting prospects Malek Ziani and the homegrown Jacob Wangen both scored twice in a 6-0 thumping of Pyramids.
An Onur Kocaaslan double eased a knackered side past Juventus 2-1. And that teed up a rematch of the Champions League Final as we faced PSG, now managerless after Tuchel retired after 30 years and 30 league titles, in the semis. An early Kocaaslan was enough for a 1-0 win in a terrible match between two exhausted teams.
Nevertheless, the Final was an all English affair against an ageing Liverpool, who beat Gremio 1-0 in the semis. We dominated and second half goals from Kocaaslan and Ferre Naessens earned a slightly underwhelming 2-1 win.
Bolton Wanderers were World Champions for the first time!! And I topped the Greatest English Manager list for the first time!
We added more silverware by wrapping up an 8th Charity Shield, beating Arsenal 1-1 on penalties, which sealed my 40th trophy as a manager! And my 41st followed a week later as we beat Dortmund 1-0 to lift our sixth UEFA Super Cup.
Chasing 15 in a row
The new season started well with the strikeforce of Kocaaslan and Ivan Bone scoring in a 2-1 win over West Brom, who somehow scored from 0.13 xG. Standard. Bone earned us a point at Arsenal before a Kocaaslan double inspired a 3-0 win over Southampton and the Turk scored again in a 2-0 win over Derby, in which midfielder Dyonatas suffered a broken leg that promoted academy product Peter Kelly.
Kocaaslan bagged his 350th Bolton goal in a 3-0 win over Newcastle that saw a classic Germán Martínez performance with two assists on his 475th Bolton league appearance. The strong start continued through to a November international break, including two more Martínez creative masterclasses, then a Naessens brace earned a 2-0 win over second-placed Villa to move us 11 points clear after 12 games!
We hadn’t been scoring loads of goals but that ended with a string of games against struggling sides, including thumping next-to-bottom Stoke 7-1 led by a Kocaaslan quadruple.
We’d gone 17 unbeaten before a trip to second-placed Man United, where we’d failed to win in three attempts, for a Boxing Day cracker. United led early but a Kris Bridges screamer seemed to be earning a point until a brilliant run and cross by left-back and captain Marco Brunori was matched by a Kocaaslan header to win it in the 91st-minute! And a 1-0 win at former bogey side Everton two days later took us 12 points clear at the top.
We moved into the second half of the 21st Century for the first time in my time playing Football Manager. with Ziani defending his FIFA Best Under 21 Player and European Golden Boy awards, Darlan winning World Golden Glove and Darlan, Brunori, Martínez and Ziani in the FIFPro World Team of the Year.
We also snapped up the latest group of Bolton wonderkids, including Uruguayan Gustavo Canosa for £9 million from Nacional. He’s apparently a midfielder but I think he’d be an ideal ball-playing centre-back.
The new decade began in fine style with Kocaaslan bagging consecutive braces to inspire a 3-2 win at fifth-placed West Brom then a 2-1 win over third-placed Arsenal, in which we racked up 29 shots and 4.08 xG! By the end of January we had a 21-point lead and the league was effectively over.
Our romp towards the title continued with a new Premier League record 20-match winning spree, which included 11 consecutive wins without conceding. Highlights were a 7-0 battering of Palace, Kocaaslan scoring the only goal at Newcastle in my 1,600th match in management, and hot prospects combining as Wangen teed up Kelly for the opener at Bournemouth.
We won the league by easily our biggest margin yet, even beating fourth-placed Everton 1-0 on the penultimate day with a fully rotated 11. So we basically have two teams better than the rest of the league! And that helped us to smash our own Premier League record points total, finishing top on a mighty 105 points.
Kocaaslan was the league’s top scorer for the sixth time with 28 goals in 36 games, which was 7 more than our former striker Lotiman, now at Spurs. But Martínez was the best player in the league with 17 assists and an average rating of 7.49 in 36 games, which won him English Footballer of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year for the second time. While the exciting Bridges won English Players’ Young Player of the Year and Darlan won Golden Glove for the fifth time. And I won my 12th Manager of the Year award a couple of days after my 66th birthday.
We drew Inter in the group stage for the second year in a row, along with Genk and Valladolid. We got off to a flyer in Milan as a Martínez masterclass inspired a 3-0 win over Inter. Then fully rotated, very young sides battered Genk with 28 shots to two and won 2-0, including a goal from Wangen, beat Real Valladolid 1-0 home and away and beat Inter 3-0 with Wangen scoring again. They rounded the group off with one of the best individual performances of the save as homegrown striker Nick Inness scored two and created three and Wangen scored two more in a 5-1 thrashing of Genk!
We breezed past Vitoria de Guimaraes then drew a first ever knockout rounds clash with old group foes Hertha BSC. We beat them 1-0 away with a trademark Bridges screamer then a Naessens brace and Wangen sealed a 3-0 home win. Our 2044 final opponents Bayern followed in the semis, and a classic performance saw us thump them 4-0 led by magnificent Martínez with two assists, Kocaaslan scoring against his former club and a very early red card for a shocking challenge. That set a new Champions League record of 12 consecutive wins! But that ended as we lost 2-0 in Germany but progressed to a fourth consecutive Final.
Champions League Final
That meant that, fittingly, my last match as Bolton Wanderers manager would be the Champions League Final of 2050. Slightly disappointingly, our opponent was again English as we faced Aston Villa, who beat Barcelona in the semis!
Both sides travelled to the Olympiastadion in Berlin, with Villa taking three former Bolton players in Djerovic, Ntelekos (who they bought off Dortmund for £92 million!) and our homegrown boy Barlow. While we had Naessens injured and Marcos Roberto unfit, so we lined up:
Starters: Darlan; Bentley, Preston, Álvarez, Brunori; Rangel, Bridges, Martínez; Ziani; Kocaaslan, Wangen
Subs: Bone, Gómez, Marcos Roberto, Dyonatas, Patterson, Kelly, Sebastian, Canosa, Sergio, Carlos Humberto, Almada, Cannon
The only highlight of a dull first-half was Rangel missing a sitter just before the break. But we came to life as Ziani latched onto a Darlan clearance, burst into the box and crossed for Kocaaslan to tap home. And, despite our 2.25 xG, that was enough to win a seventh Champions League in 12 years! We did so with a 100% Champions League win record this season.
Our main man yet again this season was Kocaaslan, who scored 36 goals in 48 games in all competitions. While Martínez, now 34, led the way with 21 assists in 48 games that won him fans’ player of the season again.
Naessens scored 18 and exciting prospect Wangen scored 12, followed by Ziani and the impressive Bridges – who’s suddenly become the best player at the club (9), Rangel (8) and Patterson (7). Brunori got 11 assists, followed by Ziani and Kocaaslan (9), Bentley (8) and Rangel (7).
We also set new club records of 14 games without conceding (which earned the Park the Tank Steam achievement), surpassing the previous record of eight, and 19 consecutive wins, breaking the previous record of 13.
Trotters Talent update
We leave Bolton with plenty of exciting homegrown talent, including the exciting Wangen, who came second in Champions League Striker of the Season and midfielder Kelly, who won our Goal of the Season. Although Ivan Bone’s career has stalled a little this season.
A look around England
We won yet a 15th title while Liverpool finished way down in 10th and Bournemouth, Stoke and Brighton went down. Man City did get promoted as champions this time, along with Norwich and Watford, while Cardiff, Cambridge and Rotherham went down.
Sheffield Wednesday won League 1 and Barnsley and Bristol City came up with them as Brentford, Forest Green, Millwall and Stockport went down. Coventry won League 2, Walsall, Hull and Burton went up and Boston and Bromley were relegated. Chester won the National League and were promoted with Barnet as Stevenage, Boreham Wood, Dartford and Yeovil went down. They were replaced by Kidderminster, Southport, Dagenham & Redbridge and Salisbury, while Worcester, Ashton, Bradford Park Avenue, Coalville, Margate, Cirencester, Kings Langsley and Carshalton dropped out of the system.
Newcastle beat Derby 1-0 to win the FA Cup, which was their first major trophy in 95 years!, and Everton won the Carabao Cup on penalties against Liverpool. And Man United beat Montpellier 1-0 to win the Europa League.
Signing off as World Champions with a 15th Premier League title and a 7th Champions League in the 175th-year of the club’s history seems like a fitting end to this crazy tale of managing a ridiculously good Bolton Wanderers side. We’ll round the season out with a Trotters Talent review and potentially look into the future with some simulations.
Join us next time for a 30-year review of our time at Bolton Wanderers!