FM Experiment | FM Retro 98/99 | Part 3: Big Name Signings

Trebor Mahtal led West Ham United to their first-ever league title in just his second season in charge led by future superstar Ronaldinho and a team that had been wholly rebuilt from the one he inherited.

The summer began with the biggest news of all, Ronaldinho – who joined Mahtal as fans’ preferred personnel, while striker Jaunildo became a club icon – signing a new contract that upped his £35m minimum fee release to £197m. To do that, his wages increased to a lofty £110k per week.

The Brazilian had been instrumental in West Ham’s reputation increasing significantly, which meant he could be joined by much better players. Case in point, West Ham beat all of Europe’s elite to the signings of 23-year-old Thierry Henry for a new club record £20m. And he was joined by 18-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic for £850k from Malmö. They were joined by midfielder Xavi Hernandez for £10m from Barcelona (as backup to Joe Cole) and full-back Gianluca Zambrotta on a free transfer from Bari.

Mahtal balanced the books by bringing in £42m for 10 players, including Sebastian Deisler to Middlesbrough for £15m, Stiliyan Petrov to Galatasaray for £14.75m, Zdenek Grygera to Leeds for £9m and Peter Prosper to Norwich for £2.3m. He then bolstered his squad with the likes of 19-year-old Iker Casillas providing backup to Shay Given after signing for £6m, holding midfielder Fabian Ernst for £12.5m from Hamburg, striker Alan Smith turning his loan move from Leeds permanent for £7m and flair-heavy midfielder Steed Malbranque for £5.5m from Lyon.

There weren’t too many significant transfers elsewhere this summer, but Arsenal sold Nicolas Anelka to Juventus for £31.5m. While Jamie Carragher was sold on from Chelsea to Leeds for £17.25m and newly promoted Bolton signed Stefano Fiore for £5m. But with his summer activity done and dusted, Mahtal stuck with the successful 4-3-3 approach, deploying Henry as an inverted winger on the right.

West Ham’s Maiden Title Defence

The season began with the Charity Shield against Man UFC, who won it on penalties after Henry’s debut goal earned a 1-1 draw. The bookies now fancy champions West Ham to finish 5th, up from 9th last season, with odds of 33/1 to retain their title. Man UFC are 4/7 favourites followed by Arsenal (6/1), Liverpool (15/2) and Chelsea (18/1).

The title defence began at Sunderland and did so in style as Jaunildo put them 2-0 up inside half an hour then Ronaldinho and a late Peter Løvenkrands double off the bench sealed a 5-1 win. That victory tied Man UFC’s all-time Premier League record of 10 consecutive victories, and they broke it as Hidetoshi Nakata and Jonathan Woodgate goals defeated Villa 2-0. But Ronaldinho was laid off for three months with torn knee ligaments and Xavi was sidelined with a fractured leg suffered on his debut.

That didn’t derail West Ham’s start, including Nakata’s brace leading a 4-0 thumping of Everton away then Ronaldinho’s replacement Løvenkrands – who’s quietly developed into a better player than Henry, according to the coaches – scoring both in a 2-0 home win over Man UFC. A win at Derby saw West Ham set a new Premier League record of 18 matches unbeaten

They showed no sign of slowing down as Smith staked his claim to start with two goals in a 3-2 win over Liverpool and went on to win their first 10 games before losing at home to Leeds and away to Arsenal. But they got back on track with Nakata scoring the only goal at home to Bolton (slightly ironic) and Ronaldinho scoring his first goal since the injury at Sheffield Wednesday. Given’s 10 saves secured a vital 2-1 win at home to Chelsea, and they headed into 2025 with a three-point lead at the top.

Champions League League Phase

The switch to the new Champions League format saw West Ham get a mixed bag of fixtures including tough home games against Juventus, Barcelona and Dortmund.

They began with an easy win over AEK, but there was no shame in losing 2-1 to Juve goals by Edgar Davids and Zinedine Zidane. A Nakata double earned a 2-1 win at Marseille before a 1-0 defeat in Valencia and a 3-1 battering by Barcelona, but Jaunildo, Nakata and Løvenkrands earned a much-needed win at Porto. They hammered Helsingborgs 5-1 then defeated Dortmund 3-0 through Mario Yepes, Jaunildo and a very rare Henry strike. That secured a 14th-place finish, just 2 points below the top 8.

They took on Feyenoord in the playoff round and Jaunildo and Zambrotta’s first goal for the club earned a 2-0 away win before a 2-1 success at Upton Park. Now things got more difficult as they drew Bayern in the last 16 but Ronaldinho inspired a 4-0 win in the home leg and an Ernst penalty secured a 1-0 win in Munich. The run looked to be ending in the quarters as a David Beckham brace earned Man UFC a 2-0 home win. But a bonkers game at Upton Park saw West Ham win 5-3 then 7-3 after extra time with braces by Smith, Nakata and Jaunildo!

That sent West Ham into the Champions League semi-finals against Inter. But this time it was a step too far as they lost 4-1 to a Luizão hat-trick in Italy before Jaunildo scored the only goal at Upton Park.

Tight Title Battle

Another iconic name arrived in January as Mahtal completed the £3.3m signing of Kaká from Sao Paulo before sending him on loan to Nancy in France. Then, having sold Gustavo Nery to Liverpool for £30m, made the most boring deadline day signing ever by bringing in Phil Neville on loan.

Jaunildo began the season fairly poorly but started 2025 in top form with three consecutive hat-tricks, including a 5-2 thrashing of Liverpool at Anfield. And the goals continued to flow, including a 6-0 hammering of bottom side Leicester led by the impressive Cole.

A top 2 clash saw West Ham welcome Arsenal and a dreadful game looked to be drifting to 0-0 before Malbranque popped up off the bench to score the only goal and move his side 5 points clear with 9 to play. But a midfield injury crisis, which saw Ashley Cole have to play as a DLP, saw them hand that advantage back with a 1-0 loss at Chelsea and 1-1 at Bolton. But Xavi’s first goal for the club earned a massive 2-1 win at 4th-place Leeds

But Arsenal lost their games in hand at Man UFC and Newcastle, moving West Ham 8 points clear with 3 games to go. So they had a chance to wrap up the title at relegated Man City. They got a flyer as Ernst headed home a corner from Nakata, who made it 2-0 with his 25th goal of the season on 21 minutes. A scintillating Ronaldinho run and cross teed up Jaunildo for the 3rd and Neville’s cross laid a 4th on a plate for Henry. 4-0 at half-time and City hadn’t even mustered an attack! Smith bagged another off the bench as they cruised to victory while Henry had easily his best game for West Ham.

West Ham won back-to-back Premier Leagues!

Mahtal threw in a few youngsters and they lost at Newcastle and Middlesbrough so a 2-point winning margin didn’t really reflect West Ham’s dominance. They racked up 96 goals en route to the title. Jaunildo was 4th-top scorer with 28, well behind Nikos Machlas’ 36 for Leeds, and Henry got the second-most assists with 16, but only scored twice. But their defensive record was much poorer than last season, conceding 20 more goals and 11 fewer clean sheets.

Some of the signings had been a little iffy this season. Henry largely disappointed despite a club-high 17 assists, Zambrotta was poor until the last few months and Ernst spent half the season injured. But Smith chipped in with 20 goals in 40 games.

Jaunildo impressed again with 32 goals and 8 assists, Ronaldinho’s 14 goals and 16 assists were around on par with last season and Løvenkrands scored 18 and got 11 assists. But the star was undoubtedly Nakata, who scored 25 with 16 assists from centre midfield.

Mahtal’s continued overperformance with West Ham had led to interest from elsewhere. He’d rejected an offer from AC Milan in the summer then turned down Liverpool in February. So he was beginning to wonder if he should look to pastures new.

Would he stay or go? Join us next Wednesday to find out as we continue this FM Retro experiment!

Thanks for reading this FM 23 Experiment using The Mad Scientist’s 1998/99 database. To use the database yourself, either:

  • Subscribe to the database on Steam
  • Download the Save Game File into your ‘FM23 Games’ folder (this is what I did)

And follow The Mad Scientist on Facebook, Twitter, Patreon, Twitch and YouTube.


2 thoughts on “FM Experiment | FM Retro 98/99 | Part 3: Big Name Signings

Add yours

  1. Love the Mad Scientist’s retro database this year. Had a great Parma save going on it for a few weeks when it dropped.

    I also signed Henry and couldn’t get a tun out of him as a winger or a striker but, at least you got a decent return in Assists from him.

    Keep up the great work. I love reading your blog posts!
    Just made my way through, and finished your full ‘Aventuras Americas’ story!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha yeah, Henry wasn’t great other than the assists.. And thanks for reading the AA story, that’s some commitment!


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