The 2016/17 season is underway and HFC Haarlem are in Topklasse A having been promoted in a nail biting finale last season. Yes, we have finally completed phase one and will be playing in the third tier of Dutch football. Worryingly, we have been made 6/1 favourites. Do the bookies know something I don’t? Probably, as anyone who has read this for a while knows I make all this stuff up as I go along – I am certainly not the Jurgen Klopp of FM.
That’s right, we are clear favourites and the next group, according to the bookmakers, are 40/1. That isn’t just favourites, that is clear favourites. That is a lot of pressure!
At the end of last season I released the weakest player in each position, meaning Racaj, Tihouna and Sadiek were told to find new clubs. Dos Santos was poached by league rivals JVC so we were four players light from last season’s promotion winning squad. The president has made us semi-professional so a lot of my time was spent trying to tie people down to part-time contracts, but it two weeks to be told what the wage budget was meaning that by the time I knew what I was safe to offer Dos Santos had accepted £400 elsewhere. It was annoying, but hey.
Having been promoted I thought about the rules I have imposed on myself. I am sticking to the free transfers that are U23, but only being Dutch might now start restricting me. I’ve opened the boundaries to U23 free transfers of all nationalities, and realistically the non-Dutch lads that I pick up at the moment will have been released by other Dutch sides.
So, by the time the first league match with Scheveningen came round I had made three additions to the squad:
Farshad Noor – a 21-year-old utility player who can play anywhere in defence or midfield, released by PSV.
Ajdin Hrustic – 20-year-old Australian attacking midfielder, formerly of Schalke and Groningen.
Hjortur Hermannsson – 21-year-old, giant Icelandic defender, released by PSV.
We were still looking light up-front, I have been unable to find a replacement for Dos Santos yet so hopefully we won’t pick up any injuries.
I had lined up four tough, money spinning pre-season friendlies against Ajax, AZ, Feyenoord and VVV Venlo and we lost all four, as expected. As the first game came round I had some decisions to make. Was I to bring in the new lads straight away, or should I keep faith in the side that had got us up? I thought back to Clapton. One of the reasons we went from Essex Senior to Conference in straight seasons, I felt, was because I kept faith in players that were with me from day one. To be fair to the lads at FC Carl Zeiss Jena, it was the same with four of my first ever line-up playing in the Bundesliga. My brief, save corrupted, time at Padova became tricky in the fourth season after I made too many changes to the side. Problem solved, keep the same boys who got us up and bring the others in when needed.
Scheveningen was potentially a big match straight out. The media had them down for second place, so I was keen to make a big impression. Despite the coaching team urging me to replace Cimek and Burleson they both lined up in the starting XI.
Hermy had to come on for an early debut, Janzen being taken off after half an hour. The first half passed without a single highlight, so I gave them a kicking. It worked and Burly gave us the lead right after half time. I should be letting him go, should I? Then we gave away a penalty straight from kick off, nightmare. 1-1. Suddenly we were 2-1 down. I was tearing my hair out as our shot count went up, 20, 25, 30 and they had had just 2! Finally we found a way through, Brinkman curling into the far right hand corner to draw us level, after a clever pass from Burly. Could we hold on, or could we even go and win it? Well nothing else happened and we opened our season with a point.
We headed off to Capelle the next week and Brinkman put us ahead early on. Half time came and it was still only 1-0, so I warned of complacency. We were dominating, 30 shots to 3, 62% possession and suddenly we needed Jochems to bail us out with a world-class save. Cross came in, shot from 6 yards and he clawed the ball from behind him and on to the post, where Janzen punted it clear. Incredible. 20 minutes to go and we won a penalty, Vanmaris was just about to pull the trigger when his foot was taken from beneath him. The offender was sent off, some rare common sense refereeing! Gyasi slotted the penalty home, sending the ‘keeper the wrong way. We made it 3-0 with ten minutes left, Brinkman scoring his second with a low finish. It was a thoroughly professional performance and I was delighted. We passed the ball well, created so many chances and took some of the better ones. It looked like we were capable of stepping up to this level.
The draw for the second round of the cup came in, and for the first time we didn’t get an Eredivisie team. We will travel to RVVH who we played last season. Maybe we will get into the third round for the first time, which will match the board’s expectations.
Whilst killing the time in the 14 days to the next match I downloaded some awesome ad-boards from DazS8 Graphics which kind of make up for the fact that all the opposition teams seem to be playing in black (a glitch in the database I downloaded and edited to recreate Haarlem). Add in the Telstar football from the 1970’s and I am feeling truly retro out here in the Netherlands.
Now, one of my original rules for this save was when a better player comes along and is available, bring them in without fail. I think I have found a brilliant goalkeeper, just released by AZ and played a few games in the Eredivisie for them last season – Bedenarek. If he accepts a trial I may well move one of the two goalkeepers I have on, which is tough on them as they are both good goalkeepers. I would rather find a star striker right now to be honest.
Anyway, Leonidas were next at the Haarlem Stadion. I named the same XI for the third straight game, a record for me on this save. The new match ball was looking amazing and looked even better when it was nestling in the top corner via Marengo’s left boot. 1-0! He got his second after 15 minutes, Vanmaris playing him in cleverly. Brinkman continued his amazing start to the season, volleying home a crackerjack following a poor defensive header. At this rate he will overtake last season’s tally by the end of the month! Vanmaris had one chalked off for offside and we went in at the break comfortably ahead. Second half, Vanmaris hit the post – this is a drought for the lad! 3-0 became 3-1 from a free kick. We won a last minute penalty when Gyasi was cleaned out and Marengo stepped up to get his hattrick, top bins. It was a dominant performance, I was very pleased again.
Bedenarek came in on trial. In fairness, I think Jochems is actually the better keeper, so I let him go again.
Fievo Boys were our next challenge. I have to admit to thinking that they would need more than 5 boys to beat us. My daft pun failed when I realised they were called Flevo Boys. Ah well. Anyway, Chacon was on a one match ban so Noor came in for his debut. Hermy was on U21 duty with Iceland so there was a place on the bench for youth team player Rene Rutten.
The “Vanmaris Drought” seemed to be continuing, he had another goal ruled out for offside. Failure to score today would be his longest run without a goal since breaking into the team, a whole four games. We don’t often get 0-0 draws at Haarlem, this might have even been our first one. Terrible game, nothing happened at all at either end. The commentators must have been watching something different as they ended the match with “what a game!” – bloody mad Dutch people. Already results seemed to be favouring us, three of us tied at the top on eight points – two wins, two draws.
My early thoughts on Topklasse is that it feels like very tight division. Teams seem able to beat each other at will, so if we can go on a bit of a run I can see us winning this league. Vanmaris will start scoring goals again, but I could do with picking up another striker for the squad, maybe to replace Gyasi who just hasn’t done it for me yet. I think I will proactively go and find one and get the scouts to check them out, we have 14 days until the next match. Defensively, we feel ok following the first match where Nieuwenhuis had an absolute Kompany of a game. Cimen, despite being written off by everyone other than myself, is playing well and Janzen is a beast. In midfield, I love the options I have – unless someone gets signed (unlikely now as they are all under contract) I will not be making signings here unless something very special comes up. I think we can do well here, I really do.
When I update you all tomorrow I will have played HBS and Excelsior M, both of which are looking half decent, as well as the cup game against RVVH.
Any questions, give me a shout (if only to let me know people are still reading!)
Kom op Haarlem!