In the Begginning
Gone are the days of Henrik Larsson and Brian Laudrup, gracing football pitches around the Scottish Premiership with style and panache. In recent years, the locals have had to settle for a couple of star name coaches instead, in the shape of Brendan Rodgers and Steven Gerrard. That helps, but with little in the way of star name players, the sort that really excites you (think Paul Gascoigne), there’s still a long way way to go before you can put ‘Scottish football’ and ‘world class’ in the same sentence.
Scottish football needs a sprinkle of star dust, some star names to light it up and create those special moments, both domestically and in Europe.
My own words at the very beginning of the series.
- Direct and attacking football
- Set pieces utilised to their fullest
- Make it tough for opposition sides
- Two strikers (or a 9 with a slightly deeper 10)
- Attacking wingers who are direct and get crosses into the box
- Hardened battlers in midfield
- Defenders who’ll put the their bodies on the line and score from corners
By reintroducing a more traditional style of football (robust, direct, attacking, set piece focused) and by blending a few star names with youthful and hungry Scotsman, my eventual plans were to develop players for the Scottish national side, introduce a few star names, and compete in both the Premiership and in Europe.
My journey began with Greenock Morton in the Scottish Championship…
The Championship (Season 1 & 2)
- Marquee signing – Niko Kranjcar
- Devloped V1 of my modified 442 diamond formation
Starting off in the Scottish Championship 2018/19 season, a media prediction of 9th (out of 10) and instructions from the board to ‘battle bravely against relegation’, suggested a tough start to life in Scotland.
With the high profile signing of Niko Kranjcar on a free transfer, and with the rollout of our first tactic (an attacking, wing-play 4411 formation), we silenced critics with a 2nd place finish in our first season and qualified for the playoffs. Defeat to Dundee United in the final meant we’d have to take another stab at promotion. It was a great start to the series though, with immediate progress.
Andy Dallas, on loan from Rangers, led the line with 24 goals in all competitions. He’d become our record signing, officially joining us a couple of seasons later.
Our marquee signing that summer was attacking midfielder, Callum Gribbin, who’d join us next season on a free transfer having been released by Man United. As a creative set piece specialist, he would be a natural successor to Niko Kranjcar, who retired at the end of season 1.
Halfway through season 1 I introduced my modified 442 diamond formation. Still looking to develop attacks from out wide, this tactic aimed to get our DLP on the ball more, in a deeper role, to help increase distribution out wide.
- Academy graduates introduced to the 1st team squad (Sam Hunter, James Faulds, Lewis Strapp)
- Premiership status secured
- Marquee signing – Callum Gribbin
Season 2 was a breakthrough season for youth development, with many of our young talents featuring on a regular basis. In one fixture alone we featured six teenagers. Two 16 year old’s (Sam Hunter and James Faulds – both regens) and a 19 year old (Lewis Strapp), all from the Morton academy, played regular first team football that season. We also signed 17 year old defender Rohan Fotherington (regen) for £30K from Parick Thistle, the 6’6″ giant is a potential future Scotland international – he featured 11 times in his debut season.
It was in January of season 2 that saw the above mentioned crown jewel of our academy system emerge. Sam Hunter, a Greenock born attacking midfielder, was inducted in to the academy. Destined for greatness, he was immediately introduced to the first team squad. He made 10 appearances during the second half of the season at the tender age of 16, and scored his first senior goal for the club. He went on to greater things the following season, when we finished 2nd once again, but this time secured promotion to the Premiership after a playoff final victory over Motherwell. As our first choice attacking midfielder, at the tip of our diamond formation, he finished season 2 with 9 goals and 7 assists from 46 starts. Regular game time being the key to his rapid progress.
Premiership Return (Season 3)
Our return to the Premiership was a significant step financially. Having struggled to balance the books during our two season stint in the Championship, often dipping into the red by the end of a season, it was a relief to garner some extra income through TV rights and bigger gate receipts. Progress on the pitch had led to the financial stability of the club.
- Finances secured
- Record signing – Andy Dallas (£500K)
- Scottish first team cap for Andy Dallas
- Scottish legend signed – Craig Gordon
- European football secured
Premiership status improved the pool of players available to us in the transfer market greatly, and although this was for only half a season before his retirement, the January signing of Scottish international goalkeeper, Craig Gordon, was a huge coup for the club.
Lead striker, Andy Dallas, became our record signing for £500,000 from Rangers and eventually went on to pick up his first cap for Scotland later in the season during a World Cup Qualifier.
Sam Hunter continued his impressive development by bettering his stats from the previous season. With 14 goals and 8 assists, he won the Premiership Young Player of the Year Award in season 3. After just 2 under 21 caps, Hunter was called up to the Scottish first team squad by Alex McLeish, but is yet to make his senior international debut. It’s a simply a question of when, rather than if.
It was key for us to maintain our Premiership status by avoiding relegation in our return season, but an incredible run of form saw us finish in 3rd place, securing a Europa League qualification spot. We were way off the top two (Celtic and Rangers, predictably), but our quick rise up the ranks meant that we’d quickly reached one of our long term targets – to play European football.
Competing on Two Fronts (Season 4)
With no less than ten signings, the squad was significantly bolstered to cope with the additional demands of European football.
- Scottish legend signed – Charlie Mulgrew
- Reached the Europa League group stages
Having lost the experience of Craig Gordon, one of those targets was another veteran Scottish international, someone to further help the youngsters and add some national pedigree to the squad. In stepped ex Blackburn and Celtic ball playing defender, Charlie Mulgrew. Another coup for the club.
Season 4 was perhaps our toughest one yet. It was a very early start to the season with Europa League qualification rounds to battle through before the Premiership kicked off. Tough rounds against Hajduk Split (of Croatia) and Ludogorets (of Bulgaria) were overcome to secure an incredible feat of reaching the group stages. One step too far, we admirably bowed out of the group stages with two victories to our name. Greenock Morton had established its name on the continent.
With the added commitment of European football, league form suffered a little and season 3’s 3rd place finish wasn’t to be repeated. 5th place however, meant that we’d reached the qualifying rounds once again. We earned in the region of £3.5M for our participation in the competition that season, through gate receipts and prize money.
Pre Season (Season 5)
- Marquee signing – Liam Millar
- Experienced international players added to the squad (Andy Carroll & Tim Krul)
With our biggest transfer budget to date (around £3.5M) the opportunity to sign some star names was at its greatest.
Liam Millar, ex Liverpool youth player, will join from Rangers on a free transfer. As the third top goalscorer in the Premiership last season with 15 goals, we now have two of the top three scorers in the league last year (Andy Dallas being number one). Labelled the next Harry Kane (wow!), it’s a huge coup and statement of intention to have stolen away one of Rangers’ best players.
A player I’ve had my eye on for a few years now, young Spanish forward, Gorka Larrazabal (regen), signs from Motherwell for £400K. At just 20, he’s been a first team player there for the past 3 seasons already. During a very successful season in the Championship last year, where Motherwell gained promotion via the playoffs, he broke their record for goals scored in a season with 26. This kid is the real deal.
Highly regarded Scotsman, David Turnball joins for £300K. The midfield playmaker is a pass master who looks to come deep to collect the ball – Michael Tidser’s long term replacement is in the bag. Quality experienced players join the ranks in the form of Andy Carroll (on loan) and Tim Krul.
There’s still plenty of money in the bank so improvements to the facilities could follow shortly.
I certainly feel that we’re going in the right direction with significant progress made so far to date. Our finances are looking healthy with our highest ever budget for a season, and we’ve got a nice blend of experienced players and top young Scottish talent.
The next tactical instalment, which will feature in season 6, is a more attacking formation. Continuing with our style/blueprint, this loosely maintains a diamond shape but with more players higher up the pitch in wide areas:
I plan to continue the save up until Christmas (when I usually buy the latest FM title) but this may be the last post as thoughts begin to turn towards a new FM20 series. I do hope you’ve enjoyed the series.
To wrap things up, it feels right to take a look at the attributes and progress of Sam Hunter, early on in season 6. He’s come a long way since breaking in to the side at the age of 16: