Wahey a 3rd season on a save! Lets not dwell on that and get on with the business at hand
My 3rd pre-season probably was the busiest of the lot. Starting with the outgoings we saw veteran centre half Emir Spahic retire from football and 4 others released at the end of their contract. The only one of any note was Chouchoumis who has been the back up at left back for the last two seasons whilst Spahic only made a few appearances last season becoming our main tutor at the back.
There were bigger assets as i sold on the whinging Mubarak Wakaso to Nantes for a nice £2.5m. His performances were adequate and he was constantly whinging about not starting despite starting 25 games last season. I said Marcus Berg was a worry for me and in some ways it is a risk to sell your top scorer for the last two seasons but his £37.5k wages were huge for us and a £600k deal saw him off to Las Palmas in Spain. Giondomineco Mesto is 36 years of age and his pace is disappearing quickly so a little £40k deal selling him back to Italy was nice change. Koutroubis was another centre back in an area where we were strong. His performances had been good but he didnt have the potential to get any better. A £800k deal saw him off to Belgium so we could promote a young regen Lazaro Kantimoiris to the first team squad.
The final sale happened on the last day of the season but when Legia Warsaw bid £1.5m for Gerard Gumbau it was hard to resist. Signed for £0 , 18 months ago it was good profit for a man that was injured for most of last season. Again we have another young Greek Theodoros Mingos who can come in and get more game time.
Some nice money raised and once again i looked to use that well. The loan market saw me resign Jeff Reine-Adelaide on loan for the next two seasons whilst adding fellow Arsenal winger Vaclav Cerny to the team on loan for the next two seasons. Two fast wingers both with the potential to grow give us the opportunity to be potent from the wings this season. I turned my attentions to Spain to bring in two more free transfers. Playmaker Marcos Llorente signed from Real Madrid on a free transfer to replace Carlos Soler and Inigo Lekue joins from Athletic Bilbao to take on the right back role.
Some money was spent though. Firstly i added 18 year old Egyptian Regen Ahmed Abdel Gawad from Zamalek for £500k. He might be tiny but his technical skill is there already and he will compete for the AMC role this season with Palocevic. Desperately needing more Greeks i was finally able to get a back up left back with Alexandros Katranis joining from Atromitos for £2.2m. His tackling ability make him a better defensive option to Hult and again at 20 years of age he has potential to be a great signing for us. My final signing was to replace Marcus Berg. Lots of options were looked at and i may have gambled a bit but Corentin Jean from Monaco seemed a good option. At £1.2m he has resell value even if he flops and at 22 plenty of years left at him. Physically he is better than Berg but the main question is can he finish well enough to get us the goals we need.
Another window where we have operated at a profit. We still have £6m to spend and £90k per week to play with should we need to turn things around in the winter.
I knew the champions league was always going to be a tough effort finishing 2nd and going down the best placed route of the qualifiers. It was even tougher for us as we were not seeded in the 3rd Qualifying round and we were paired with Shakhtar Donetsk of the Ukraine. A tough task and one where we made it even tougher for ourselves. The first leg was in Athens and we raced into a 2-0 lead through a Huntelaar penalty and a Jeff Reine-Adelaide goal. Things were all going well until the 60th or so minute when Shakhtar bought on Wellington Nem who went on to put the Ukrainians back into the game capitalising on two mix ups at the back to score two goals and level the tie at 2-2.
It meant we had to go out and attack in the Ukraine but we were unable to make the breakthrough going down 1-0 in the return leg and sending us back into the Europa League.
So back we came to this competition and in the play-off round we were seeded and given Romanian side Concordia Chiajna. A much easier two leg affair as we won 3-1 away at home before regen Kantimoiris scored on his debut to give us a 1-0 win.
Back in the group stages we were seeded 4th and were given the below pot
A pretty nasty group if i am honest. Ajax will be difficult with the countless youth the possess. Galatasaray and Spartak Moscow are going to be nasty away ties. We need a run into the knock out rounds to get our coefficient up and also to progress in the overall challenge of the save. The more money we can make the better we can stock the team and the more chance we have of winning a European Competition.
Normally we have played two games by the close of the transfer window but the schedule has meant we have just played the once. A draw against Levadiakos was a disappointment and again we seem to be facing a curse post European football.
So there we go, another window down and time for us to challenge on three fronts again. The squad does seem stronger with more 4* players than ever before. The biggest risk for me is the striking option. It was a bold move to sell Berg as even though he was flawed he was getting into double figures each time. Corentin Jean had a good pre-season and his all energy displays i am hoping will allow him to be able to take on the mantle. However, Cerny, Lekue and Llorente are big improvements to our squad and with Reine-Adelaide here for another year we hopefully can push on.
Financially things were strong enough for me to get the board to agree to junior coaching increases as well as an improvement to the Youth Facilities. It is time for us to develop our own talent in order to take on the best in Europe.
Until next time