As I explained in the introduction to this series, the conceit behind the Yanked Abroad Football Manager adventure was going to be in the selection of my initial team. For the new game, I activated as many leagues where I knew Americans were playing as seemed reasonable. Then I let the game pick random clubs for me until I hit upon one with a fellow Yank on the roster.
The third jump landed me on Randers FC of the Danish top flight. I remembered Randers as having once been home to former USA U20 Lee Nguyen, but a quick glance at the roster showed no Stars and Stripes in the nationality column. I did, however, spot a familiar name: ex-RSL forward Yura Movsisyan. A glance at his Personal Information tab revealed..."Other Nationalities: American."
We have a winner.
I know nothing of the Danish league structure save that a few Yanks are toiling there and the names of the bigger clubs. As a bonus, it looks like Randers are in the Europa League, though that means the season starts very early as we kick off with the first of four qualification rounds for the tournament proper.
In fact, the Danish league itself kicks off July 19th, by far the earliest summer start of any Euro-league I've ever played in. A quick glance at the fixture list reveals why. The winter break goes from early December to early March. Interesting. Perhaps the schedule Uncle Sepp would like to see MLS wrenched into alignment with?
The roster regulations are intriguing as well. We can register 25 players for active participation in league play, though anybody 21 or younger doesn't have to be registered in order to play. Eight of the 25 need to have been trained in Denmark, and, of those, four have to be home-grown products of the club itself. There are no restrictions on registration of foreign players though only 3 can be in the starting eleven on game day. (UPDATE: I've since learned that only 3 foreigners can be on the field at ANY time...so much for subbing on two Yanks.)
Pushing on. First order of business is to clear out some of the dead wood in the coaching ranks in order to bring in some quality staff, a process which entails bolstering the scouting corps and sacking half the coaches for more qualified replacements. The roster itself has the rough makings of a decent one though there are deficiencies. The two best players are the club captain, burly target man Marc Nygaard, who, conveniently, happens to be out injured for a couple of months (sigh says the DC United fan...), and Morten Karlsen, a midfielder who makes up for a lack of technique with a big engine and grit.
The remainder of our quality resides in an attacking mid and a trio of wingers. There's a decent set of starting defenders, but the depth isn't there. In fact, that's my initial call on the roster as a whole. Decent to about 13 or 14 players, but the drop off is significant thereafter. And I see precious little help coming from the B squad or the youth team.
Based on having a couple of good attacking mids, quality wingers, and only two forwards with any talent, I'm looking initially at my favored 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-1-1. The biggest roster defects? We need more speed and quality in central midfield and some defensive depth. Though the club restricts me to scouting in Europe, I use my American connections to rustle up a few unattached Yanks, lining up trials for those who might be of some help. I also invite in a few African players, a Chinese dude, and wonder if it's worth taking a risk on the increasingly frail (and old) Dejan Stefanovic, currently out a month or so with an injury (of course).
I won't list the friendly results, suffice it to say that we have "arrangements" with a series of amateur clubs that require friendlies, and I'm booked full. I'd schedule in a serious fixture or two, but the Euro-qualies are upon us so quickly that I'll just hope I can survive the first couple as tune-ups. The amateur clubs pose little resistance, with a series of 3-0 and 5-0 thrashings in our favor.
Europa League 1st Qualifying Round
agg. Randers 4:1 Xäzär (3:1 after first leg)
Our Azerbaijani opposition aren't pushovers, but we should be able to take them, and a first leg 3-1 win in their house pretty much wraps up the tie. Sadly, we lose Movsisyan for a couple of weeks late in the first leg. With Nygaard, our only other decent forward, out for months, that means we'll be playing with Søren Berg, a 33 year old winger, as an emergency forward. Predictably, the second leg isn't a goalfest, but we do advance after a 1-0 result. In both legs, we play quality possession stuff and create plenty of chances, though I wonder how we'll fare against better opposition in the league.
I've already registered my Europa League squad, but my coaches have made their feelings known about the trialists. Danny Szetela never accepts our trial invite and ends up with RSL, but Kelly Gray and Quavas Kirk both get offers, Gray to depth in defense and central midfield, and Kirk to offer depth all along the right flank and as an emergency forward. The third signing is Zhou Haibin, capped 39 times for China, who prompts major media interest when I unveil him alongside Gray (Kirk's signing is delayed to late July due to work permit issues). I'm keeping a handful of irons in the fire with regards to center back depth, but I've got over a month to pull that particular trigger.
Europa League 2nd Qualifying Round, first leg
Slavija 0:1 Randers
The Bosnians are a step up, but we're relatively comfortable defending away in the first leg despite not threatening their net much. I make a late sub to bring on Gian Rasmussen, a 19 year old attacking mid from the B squad whose stats don't suggest much of a player. He's not valued particularly highly either financially ($14k?) or by the coaching staff (1.5 star potential?), but for some reason, he's got a Serie B club in Italy (Lecce) sniffing around. I gave him a look in the preseason, where he was instrumental in the build-up to two goals during a 30 minute audition. I give him 15 minutes in this match...and he bags the winner with 10 minutes to go, turning and finding the side net under pressure in the 18. Hmmm.
Danish Premier - FC København 3:2 Randers
København are the pundits' pick to win the league, and they don't provide a nice welcome to the league, going up 2-0 midway through the first half. Their forwards, who each manage to tally, are too quick and of too high quality for my decidedly average center backs. One of those center backs, however, manages to rise high and nod in a corner, bringing us back to 2-1 before Kelly Gray swings in a great deep cross that our left wing, Lorentzen, settles and finishes (after having missed a sitter earlier in the half). 2-2 at the half, but we come out like a Soehn squad, and concede the winner within two minutes of the break as they finish a ball bouncing around the box. A late dismissal later, after 14 yellow cards (!), and we capitulate on the road.
Europa League 2nd Qualifying Round, second leg
Randers 2:1 Slavija (3:1 agg)
Movisyan returns from injury on a mission, dribbling around the perimeter of the box, beating four defenders before dishing to midfield dynamo Karlsen to smash home in the first minute. Ten minutes later, he's dragged down in the box, allowing Karlsen to put us up two. My mix of regulars and reserves then settles down, bosses the game, but can't find another despite a handful of great chances, giving away a meaningless late goal. A much sterner test, in the form of Slovan Liberec of the Czech Republic, awaits in the third qualifying round.
Quavas Kirk's work permit gets turned down, so we're left scrambling for defensive help yet again. I've invited another round of trialists and sent out the scouts, hoping to find the defensive depth that should complete the roster until the winter window swings open.
Danish Premier - Randers 4:2 AaB
Our league home opener gets off to a terrible start as American Marcus Tracy pounces on a loose ball in the box to put our rivals AaB up. After a lackluster opening half-hour, we finally start to make chances after a slight adjustment of the midfield shape, dropping Karlsen deep to cover the space their forwards are exploiting between our midfield and defense. Then Movsisyan decides to take over a game again, first blasting in a 35-yard screamer that "no keeper in the world would have stopped" followed by a mad dash into the box that results in him getting dragged down for a PK.
Up 2-1 at the break, but we Soehnize once again and get pegged back within a minute of the restart. It turns a bit cagey then, with neither side pushing the issue until they suffer an injury with all their subs used up (their turn to Soehnize!). I start to press the advantage, resulting in both posts and the crossbar getting pinged before one of their defenders gets his second yellow. Finally, our Chinese midfielder, Zhou, after a largely anonymous outing, curls one in from the edge of the box on 69 minutes. With ten minutes to go, they suffer another injury. We're hammering them now, and finally one of three unmarked players in the box manage to head in from close range to put it out of reach.
Of the trialists, Kryzsztof Krol, recently released by the Chicago Fire, does the most to impress and is duly rewarded with a contract. We really need another center back more than a left back, but he's the best available player for the money and versatile enough to play in the middle as well. If we want to land a center back, we're going to need to make some changes as we're now at our full complement of 25 players.
Europa League 3nd Qualifying Round, first leg
Slovan Liberec 0:3 Randers
Shocker. Liberec were picked to wipe the floor with us in their house, and the first 20 minutes looked to prove them right. Narrow misses, the crossbar, and good goalkeeping kept us in it till Movsisyan continued his hot streak, first scoring direct from a corner played to him quickly on the ground at the near post, then dancing around the box after a short corner and laying off to Beckmann for 2-0. He completed the rout by powering one in off the far post from a tight angle on a second half breakaway. At this rate, I may have to reconsider my 4-4-1-1 when Nygaard returns. Movsisyan is demanding to be included in the starting eleven with his outstanding play.
Danish Premier - OB 0:0 Randers
This was always going to be a holding action. My small squad is being stretched by over a month of two games a week fixture congestion. Still, we had two big chances to snatch things late when young striker Danni König, on for the exhausted and ineffective Movsisyan, couldn't beat Roy Carroll on the break then unbelievably pulled the ball back when we were countering 3 v. 1 from a corner. Odense are a much better outfit than we are, so an away draw is a good result made more gratifying by finally pitching a shutout in league action.
Europa League 3nd Qualifying Round, second leg
Randers 1:0 Slovan Liberec (4:0 agg)
Given the tiredness creeping into the squad, I took the opportunity of a 3-0 lead to rest some starters. Movsisyan was a notable exception, but he disappointed for the second match running. Young König, however, managed to grab the winner opportunistically after a ragged patch of play in the first half. We created more chances, but only took advantage once. Nevertheless, another clean sheet and we're through to the fourth and final qualification round.
The draw the next day isn't kind. We'll do well financially at the gate, but a date with Roma means we're highly unlikely to qualify for the Europa League group stage.
And with that, we'll wrap up the first installment of Yanked Abroad. We've had a marvelous run in the Europa League, but it looks like coming to an end at the next hurdle. In the league, we're only 8th out of 12 with a win, loss, and draw, but the three teams we've faced were all among the favorites to challenge for the title, so I'm pleased. Additionally, club captain Marc Nygaard is only a week or two away from recovering from the injury that's kept him out since preseason began.
Check it out, FBF now sports an "FM Tales" page for easily accessing my current and former FM adventures. You can purchase Football Manager 2010 at Amazon.com or other fine retailers, though your social life may inevitably suffer. You have been warned...