Chengdu, China. The setting for the origins of my adventure throughout the world. I arrive here with one purpose, and one purpose only; glory with Sichuan Jiuniu. As discussed in my prologue to the save, the only way for me to move on from one club is to attain domestic success by winning the league and the continent’s Champions League. This means our plan of attack is as follows:

  • Secure passage into the Chinese Super League
  • Become an established Super League side
  • Push for Super League success
  • Make the latter stages of the Asian Champions League
  • Win the Asian Champions League

Without further ado, it is time to get familiar with our new home for the foreseeable and work on writing history for the City Football Group.

With the official announcement now in the public domain, a lot of eyebrows were raised and heads were turned. The national media were questioning the motives behind the board’s decision to hire a novice for the head job, and even the Sichuan Jiuniu players’ were questioning the thought process. But I wasn’t going to let this phase me – I had my ideas in place. I felt prepared to do great things with this group of players.

A quick summary of the squad and what would be the best 11, provided by the outgoing backroom staff, was quickly reviewed but there were some faults in here not to mention the alarming lack of U23 players; where one is required to be in the starting 11 week-in and week-out. And although I agreed with the assessment provided to me, I felt that the following tactic would be successful in the early stages of the season.

The squad was lacking quality in the wings, particularly with the absence of 3 Spaniards (Ortiz, Garcia and Hernán – all of which will be available on the 1st of August) but I felt going narrow and trying to play through the middle with our better players in midfield would give us the best chance short term.

Pre-season made me think I was onto something and had devised a wonder tactic. Oh, how wrong was I…

Just two wins from our opening eight games is alarming for any manager, even more so when goals were going in against you every week. Fourteen against whilst only ten were scored, I knew things had to change, and we desperately needed quality into the side, along with our Spaniards.

Without a recognised U23 appearing immediately available for me, I had to play a system-generated player in defence just to adhere to rulings. Moving away from the narrow formation, allowed me to bring in youngsters Muzepper and Ma Canjie to the side to rotate amongst themselves. Muzepper was certainly the better footballer, but adult football will take its toll on young players. Their introductions allowed me to fall back to the tried and tested 4231.

The change in formation certainly brought some joy to the side, but with weaknesses in the squad, we were still struggling to either kill off games or compete with slightly better-equipped opposition.

Whilst results improved in general, too many draws against lesser sides was the problem; GX PG Hawlaeh and Qingdao Youth Island stick out as massive missed opportunities in our hunt for JIA League glory or in a worst-case scenario, promotion.

A massive win against Chang’an Athletic was followed by a disappointing collapse against Kunshan, wherein a division that consists of H2H record as a deciding factor, these results were crucial. The draw against Qingdao Youth Island moves us into 11th which was truly appalling considering the board wanted to win the league; we require a massive push in the second half of the season.

Chinese defenders halfway through a season were always going to be difficult to locate and sign, so I decided to go with the next best tactic; we will score one more than you at least. Gao Xiang was one of the key signings in August, but he was soon injured for the remainder of the season which was a big loss given how well-rounded he was in the striker role, albeit with low finishing, he makes up for that with good composure. Chen Kerui arrives to be the creative attacking midfielder that we have been crying out for, and at this level of football, he will certainly be a standout, regardless of his low-ish physical attributes.

Ni Yusong was a panic signing, and one I am disappointed about signing. Originally he was going to come in as the starting striker given his slightly higher finishing, but once Gao Xiang appeared, I should have cancelled this one down. Yusong does still offer depth, but sadly not the quality for a title-chasing team. Finally, Cong Zhen arrives to take the starting berth of central midfield, and much like Chen Kerui is an absolute standout at this level. Certainly, one of my most exciting signings to come into the side for the important second half of the season.

With the new signings in through the door, I could only hope they would have the positive effect I have been praying for; I do have a job to fight for after only receiving a one-year contract.

Thankfully, August and September was the opposite of the opening 8 games; we only lost 2 games in this section of games and were impressive once again against Chang’an Athletic as we romped to a 3-0 victory in the first round of the Chinese Super Cup. Our new signings, coupled with the anticipated arrival of our 3 Spaniards, hit the ground running as they contributed to 13 goals alone in this run of games.

With our momentum starting to build, I was hoping we could continue it for the remainder of the season, and it did not disappoint.

Our only defeat came at the hands of Super League side Guangzhou in the Super Cup, which given the start to the season we had, I was happy enough with. The top 4 in the JIA League continued into the 3rd and 4th rounds of the Super Cup, which was a massive bonus to Sichuan as we neared the end of the season needing results.

We flew up the table from 11th back at the halfway stage to give ourselves a chance at promotion in the final game weeks. Yes, it was a slim chance of promotion, but given where we were 15 games ago, I didn’t think this would be possible. I had the players to thank for buying into the vision for the club, as their performances and results run awarded me with a contract for the following year – I needed to win this league now should promotion be out of our grasp.

So really, the situation was simple going into the second to last game of the season, we had to win.

As I said, clear as day what we needed to do against a side we lost 2-0 against earlier in the season. We had developed a lot since that day, but it was going to be tense.

A massive result which left it all to play for on the final day of the season; three teams fighting it out for promotion. Only this time, we were helpless – we had to rely on results, and that didn’t seem likely.

Given the unlikely outcome we required, we just had to do our job and hope for the best. However, FM22 pentagon side Heilongjiang Ice City had plenty to say about ruining our potential party:

I really have no idea how we didn’t win this game given how dominant we were during the game. A key moment was in the 77th minute when youngster Muzepper found himself in this situation, and somehow made the wrong decision and decided to shoot.

Thankfully for Muzepper, this decision didn’t cost the team promotion, as a late winner for Qingdao Manatee was found and they went up to the Super League. Nanjiang City succumbed to a 3-3 draw, but the damage was done thanks to our form in May.

A lot of highs. A lot of lows certainly. But I do think after a rebuild project, we will have a team capable of pushing for that Super League space, and hopefully, a winners’ medal to go with it. The board aren’t overly convinced with me at this moment in time, but with the security of another year, I may just be alright to continue my work and move this team onwards.

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