Welcome back to #HaarlemGlobetrotting, my current #FM15 series where I have recreated the famous old Dutch club (they went bust in 2010) and placed them as an amateur club in the Dutch 4th tier. We finished runners up in season one, therefore missing promotion. This is a save with two aims really….
Firstly, to restore Haarlem to the top of Dutch football (the club was one of the oldest in Holland and won the top division in the 1940’s and the cup a few times). Secondly, as the club had been declared bankrupt in 2010 was to run the club sensibly financially. Having started to read “Soccernomics” by Simon Kuper and been fascinated by the film Moneyball, as well as enjoying the series by Alex Stewart on The Set Pieces I set myself some simple rules:
• Only sign Dutch players on free transfers
• These players must be U23 on the day of signing
• If anyone makes an offer that exceeds the value of a player, sell them (unlikely to factor for a season or so as we are currently amateur)
• Always have a replacement lined up for players that are wanted by other clubs (I have been rubbish at this bit so far!) – this replacement, ideally, will come from the U18’s
• Always replace a player with a better player if he becomes available and fits the criteria
As we moved into the pre-season of season two at Haarlem I was amazed by the fact I hadn’t made any signings. For me, who loves a freebie, this was unheard of so I was looking at my squad of 19 (plus the U18’s where I have a couple of lads from last season’s intake that seem to have potential) getting us into the Topklasse. With the players only on amateur contracts I was paranoid about some of the better ones getting tapped up by teams in the divisions above us. There was a lot of “Wnt” on the screen and all of them there were being looked at by Topklasse sides. Going into the season without Big Bad Bram, The Brink and Burly wasn’t worth thinking about. I didn’t have any replacements lined up, going against one of my rules above.
Pre-season went the way as planned. We made good money from the Eredivisie games (and got hammered in them, my favourite the 9-4 defeat against FC Twente, very 1950’s) and gained confidence from battering the local teams.
Then it happened. Big Bad Bram accepted an offer from De Treffers. He is still an amateur but playing at a higher level. You can’t blame him, he is young. Replacements were hard to find, the scouts must have looked at fifteen, twenty players before we offered a contract to a lad called Carlos Dos Santos. He is 22, so fits the profile, started his career at NEC and prefers to play as a DLF, so I hoping a switch to an F9 won’t be too much of a push for him. I have ignored his goal scoring record of 6 in 38 games, he won’t have played in a style like ours before! We also lost the back up goalkeeper, Meesters, who signed for Hercules. I have two kids in the U18’s that can share the spot on the substitutes bench. One of them is very highly rated, but 5ft 9. Could be interesting!
The bookies made us 3-1 for promotion and DOVO, relegated last season, the favourites. The media backed us for 4th, two places higher than last season so we must have impressed someone in the right place. We looked sharp, against FC Twente and Utrecht we had scored eight goals (ignore the fact we let in 15!) and the players were match fit. Plus some subtle position training should enhance our performance across the pitch – the two defenders that player on the sides of the back three are now trained to be full backs as well as centre-backs as they spend a lot of time out there, the central defender can now play as a sweeper and I will then train him to be a DM. My CMR/CML can all play as attacking midfielders as they are playing as CM/A and, by contrast, the CM/D is trained as a DM too. My F9’s are also being trained to play as AM as they spend a lot of time dropping deep. I have no proof this makes any difference but it keeps challenging the players.
God I was looking forward to the first game of the season, then BAM, we looked like losing another star man. Burleson, who I had been wrong about last season, was approached by two clubs. He had changed the way we played in the last few games of last season and he was someone I was not wanting to lose. I didn’t have a replacement lined up. I sent the scouts out searching high and low, it seemed like there were options out there. I also had a couple of lads from the youth intake last season that were training with the first team and getting a few run-outs in the friendlies. Panic was averted though as he chose to stay, I could have kissed the laptop!
The second round draw of the KNVB-beker was very nice to us, an away day at Feyenoord! Having been stuffed 5-0 by NEC at the same stage last season, I’m not expecting a much better result this time round. I have no idea whether we get a share of the gate, if so, could be a bit of a money spinner for us. I think it might be a few seasons yet before we can start to do what I did regularly at Clapton and Jena – knock out teams that used to look down their long, peery noses at us.
Finally the season opener came around, a trip to VVA ’71. Dos Santos had done well enough in the last couple of friendlies to force himself into the starting XI. It was then I realised that we had shifted leagues, we were lining up in the Hoofdklasse A league this season – interesting. I wasn’t sure if I was happy with that or not, but at least we would have different challenges I guess. In the build up I lost Racaj, my best centre back, to a hip injury that ruled him out for 6 months. That meant we were without the entire first choice back three due to suspension’s hanging over from last season ruling out the other two. VVA ’71 had already played one game and drawn, so sacked their manager. They clearly have high standards. We were the only side not to have played a game, so it was about time we laid down a marker.
A long ball from debutant Mulder found Vanmaris lurking after 11 minutes and the lad opened his account for the season with a clinical finish. We made a right mess of defending in the 30th, and the ball fell to their striker who got them level. Dos Santos missed a sitter before half time but had his blushes spared by Vanmaris who poached a header at the near post, meaning we went in 2-1 up. Defensive frailties were exposed once more after half time as they levelled. The game was becoming a proper ding-dong as we went up the other end and fed Vanmaris for his hat-trick. That gave the kid ten goals in just six starts since he signed for us. It became four on the hour, Burly throwing in a cross that squeezed in at the far post. I switched it to “control” and dropped us deeper to hopefully close the final twenty minutes out, and was delighted to see us score a fifth with a swift counter attack, Burly again finding the net. The rest of game passed by without any trouble and it was a stunning start to our second season at the club. In Vanmaris I think I have found someone quite special. I’ve always loved a young striking talent playing at the front of the 3313. In Crimea at Gvardiets I had a kid called Men’shykov who scored something like 35+ goals, at Padova it was Luigi De Mitri who was only 17 when I gave him a break and he scored 50 goals in just two seasons. Vanmaris is only 5ft 2 but seems deadly in front of goal. His arrival in the trequartista role has meant Brinkman has moved to the right and is playing as an F9, but with Vanmaris now having ten in just six starts for the club I think it is proving itself to be the right decision!
Next up were Oranje Wit, who finished bottom of Hoofdklasse C last season. We struggled against them in both matches but I was confident of a win at our place. In the build up Maastricht offered Ronckers a contract, which I just felt he was likely to accept. The 18-year-old is a brilliant, brilliant player in the CM/D role but has only just started training again following a broken foot. If he stays, I will once again be over the moon but it has meant the scouts are now on the look out again for a suitable replacement. Then someone else came in for the skipper, Cimen. Man, this is killing me! Cimen and Niuewenhuis were back in the side alongside Hoekstra at the back. I was pleased to see Fairouz back on the bench after a long injury lay-off so I was looking forward to collecting our first three points at the Haarlem Stadion.
In the first six minute Burly had the ball in the net twice, the first offside but the second had no doubt. We broke from a corner and Vanmaris sprinted down the right wing. Burleson had to go some to join him in the box and arrived at the perfect time to slot the ball home. Marengo went close shortly after and we looked on top of things. I don’t know why, but I have always preferred a beautiful left footed free kick to a beautiful right footed free kick and Vanmaris gave me something to purr about after twenty five. Up and over the wall, top corner and the goalkeeper had no chance. 2-0. They got one back after 37 and I ended up giving the lads a bit of a half time kicking. They responded magnificently, Vanmaris getting on the end of a through ball from Dos Santos and making it 3-1. Beumer then boomed in a stunner from 25 yards, the ball nestling in the top corner. 4-1! The switch to the “control” version of the tactic closed the game out once again and we had made a flying start to the season.
We travelled to Koninlikijke for our third game of the season. As ever, changes needed to be made due to suspensions and it was Beumer that was missing this one. In came Fairouz to play as the left sided CM/A. Cimen and Ronckers were still with us, Cimen leading the side out and Ronckers having a run out with the U18’s to get some match fitness. With it being famous clubs in the Eerste Division coming in for the lad I cannot believe he will want to stay with us.
We started well but couldn’t break them down. It took a defensive mix-up after twenty minutes or so for Brinkman to loop a header over the stranded goalkeeper for 1-0. It was his first goal of the season, hopefully the first of many. We had to wait until the second half to double the lead. Hoekstra, up for a corner, was clipped and Fairouz blasted home the penalty. It turned out to be a very comfortable 2-0 win, and I was delighted with a clean sheet. The win moved us to the top of the table, sure only after three games, but I like getting there and staying there.
The day after the game this skipper told me he was staying. Great news, and I tried not to let on I was more interested in Ronckers staying. It was not to be, the young man chose to join Maastricht. I could not blame him. I’d earmarked Adil Tihouna as his replacement and offered him a contract. We had two weeks until the next match, De Zouaven at home, so I was hoping to get the lad in and settled before I had to select my next team.
The deal got done, but the lad has a groin strain which is keeping him out for a fortnight. I am really bad at checking the injury status of players! He looks like he will be a top signing though, but he will have to win the shirt off Fer who has started the season very well. Another bid came in for one of my better players, Niuwenheus. Fortunately I was already scouting another left footed defender as another team is already in for Lopes, but already I am getting worried about the amount of change that might be happening to the side.
For the first time in living memory I was able to name an unchanged side for the match against De Zouaven. Loyalty was kicking in with some players, Niuwenheus said no to the move away. I had to hope that Hoekstra would do the same, as a bid came in for him just before kick off. De Zouven had started the season poorly, second bottom, so I hoped we were not the team to kick start their recovery.
We were off to a flyer after just five minutes. A short free kick, Brinkman found Burly in the box and it was 1-0. The same man put us 2-0 ahead on the stroke of half time, running on to a clever pass from Marengo and slotting into the corner. I warned of complacency at half time, which normally leads to a goal being conceded, but no! A short corner found it’s way to Burly and the boy finished again. 3-0 and a hattrick from the kid who couldn’t get in the side last season. A switch to the “control” tactic worked out well again as Marengo pinched it off the defender’s toes and chipped it home for 4-0 with two minutes left. It was another convincing win that set us up beautifully for the trip to the league favourites, DOVO. Fifteen goals scored in four games and just three conceded, I was happy.
DOVO was going to be a different test. Of their five matches they had won three and lost two, whereas we had a 100% record. Hoekstra then rocked us, accepting the offer from AFC. To be fair, it was a proper contract on £100 a week but I was gutted that he decided to move on as he was progressing brilliantly as a player. Racaj was still months away from being fit again. It meant a starting place for 16-year-old Mulder, a lad who came in our intake last season. He would slot in on the right and Cimen would move into the middle. I had identified Tom Kessels as the next defender I would look to sign if anyone left, and an offer was sent out to him.
Mulder was the only change to the starting XI. A brilliantly worked short free kick routine grabbed us the opening goal after five minutes. Fairouz played it down the side of the wall to Brinkman, he pulled it back to Vanmaris who tapped home. The prolific striker then doubled the lead three minutes later, running on to a flick on from Dos Santos and chipping the ‘keeper from 18 yards. It was a delightful goal. Frustratingly they pulled one back ten minutes later. But we went again, and Dos Santos finally broke his duck just before half time, firing home from the edge of the area. The ‘keeper got a hand to it, but he couldn’t keep it out. Again I warned the boys against complacency and again they responded well. Marengo was played in and brought down when clean through, penalty! Amazingly it only brought a yellow, but Vanmaris slotted home his hattrick from the spot. Burly had to be taken off injured midway through the half, meaning there was going to be a nervous wait to see if had a bad knock. We saw the game out comfortably and it was five from five. Young Mulder was excellent at the back so I was less worried about losing Hoekstra.
Rkav Volendam were matching us, also winning their first five games so the head to head in four league games time was becoming mouth watering. Next up were Feyenoord in the cup, but we were going to be without Burly for that and the next few – twisted ankle meaning he was out for eight weeks.
But what a start to the season for HFC Haarlem. Including the final four matches of last season we have now won nine league games on the bounce. In that time Vanmaris has scored 15 goals and the team have scored 35. Since the tactical tweak, the settling down of the squad, the addition of an extra coach following begging the board to allow me to spend zero wages on another one as we are amateurs and the training switch to defensive positioning we have been awesome.
That, however, is likely to change when we play Feyenoord on Saturday and it is far too early to think about winning the league. As they say in Haarlem, “You don’t grow tulips by the end of September.”*
Kom op Haarlem!
(if you enjoyed all that ramble, why not read a chapter of my second book, “Johnny Cooper, Championship Manager: The Second Season Syndrome” here: http://www.chrisdarwen.com)
*they probably don’t say that at all, actually.