The Diary of Nigel Martyn #3

This is the third chapter, in the series written by guest writer @Footy Asian



Chapter Three

Despite finishing 13th last campaign, the media expected to see us in a relegation fight once more this season. To be more specific, we were predicted by the media to finish 16th this time round and it was an indication of how much strengthening we had to do in the summer transfer window.

The Transfers

Gaetano Berardi, Liam Cooper, Kemar Roofe, Benik Afobe, Jay-Roy Grot, Samu Saiz, Kalvin Philips, Adam Forshaw, Hadi Sacko, Luke Ayling, Mateusz Klich, Juan Fuentes and Bailey Peacock-Farrell departed the club and we were left with half of the squad for the upcoming campaign. We added 48.5 million pounds to our transfer budget and managed to bring in 13 new players to replace the outgoing ones.

James Tarkowski was our most expensive addition in the summer as he left relegated Burnley for 16.5 million pounds in pursuit of top flight football. Two of his old team-mates, Jamaal Lascelles and Nick Pope followed him to Elland Road for 6.25 million pounds and 675K pounds respectively. We secured Nikola Maksimovic on a permanent transfer after last season’s successful loan deal and it was 8.25 million pounds well-spent. Luke Shaw was our last defensive addition and we snapped him up without hesitation after we found out that he was available on a free transfer.

Another player (Will Hughes) arrived from a relegated club (Watford) and the talented Englishman will compete with Ronaldo Vieira for the Carrilero role. We signed 9 English players in total this summer as a strong English core was lacking in the squad. James Maddison was one of those signings as he came in for 14 million pounds from Championship outfit Norwich City. Nathan Redmond was another English signing and the pacey winger would hopefully fill the hole left behind by the outgoing Sacko. He will compete with Chris Willock for a spot on the wings, who came in on a season-long loan deal from Benfica. If he performs well, we have the option of signing him permanently for an optional future fee of 10 million pounds.

Daniel Amartey came in for a mere 2.7 million pounds and he would be that handy utility player in the squad as he can play in a number of positions (DR, DC, DM & MC). Like Shaw, Andreas Pereira was released by Man United on a free at the end of last season and we signed him up immediately. It was a no-brainer as I admire his technique on the ball and set-piece delivery. After last season’s failings in front of goal, Jordan Ayew and Eddie Nketiah were brought in to hopefully lift us off the bottom of the ‘goals scored’ table.

The Results

We improved by two places in the table and finished with 52 points, 4 more than what we managed last campaign. The lads managed to outdo our goals scored last season by 19 goals, but we conceded 8 more at the other end this time round. We continued to top the possession charts with an average possession of 58.16%. The boys were also great in the air, winning 69% of our headers and that is better than the rest of the teams in the league.

It was incredibly tight at the top end of the table as the top 3 were separated by a solitary point. Chelsea bagged the title after overcoming Liverpool on goal difference. Tottenham and Man United grabbed the remaining Champions League places while Arsenal and Man City completed a very familiar looking top 6.

All in all, I had to be pleased with our league finish as our salary per annum is only higher than two of the twenty teams in the league. And we have not even taken into consideration the wonderful campaign we have had in the cup competitions…

We are the FA Cup winners! To be fair, we were lucky with the cup draws until the Semi Finals, where we drew eventual League Champions Chelsea. We parked the bus throughout the 120 minutes and scrapped through after a very poor penalty shootout. 7 of the 12 penalty takers missed from the spot. On the other side of the draw, Newcastle miraculously knocked out Man United and we were the favourites for the Final after the Magpies finished rock bottom in the league.

The Newcastle players clearly wanted to make amends for their poor showing in the league and took the lead against the run of play near the half-hour mark. Nathan Redmond was brought on after 55 minutes and he levelled things with a well-timed header after ghosting in from the right-wing. Our top scorer, Moise Kean, was suffering from a goal drought late in the season and I left him on the bench for the final.

He came on for the injured Redmond on the 90th minute and was determined to prove me wrong as we went into extra-time. The injury turned out to be a blessing in disguise as Moise smashed home the winner from a Jordan Ayew cross on the 105th minute. Unbelievably, we are the FA Cup winners and to my pleasant surprise, we will be playing in Europe next season! It was a fitting end to a long season.

I’ve not even mentioned our credible performances in the Carabao Cup. The boys did incredibly well to knock out the likes of Rotherham, Brentford, Millwall and Leicester to reach the Semi Final, where we faced a strong Man United side. We lost narrowly at Old Trafford to a Kasper Dolberg winner in the first leg before a 5-goal cracker at Elland Road, where we were eliminated on away goals after a disappointing injury-time penalty from Anthony Martial.    

The Players’ Performance

Moise Kean came in on loan last campaign but did not manage a single start as he struggled to assert himself in the squad. We believed in his potential and extended his loan deal for another campaign and the boy repaid our faith by finishing as the club’s top goal scorer. The Italian finished with 17 goals from 26 starts and to everyone’s delight, we have now signed him permanently for 15.25 million pounds. I have high hopes for the lad and hopefully, he can continue to progress and be our focal point in attack for many seasons to come.

Alioski was by far my player of the season as he had a very productive season in terms of goals and assists. The Macedonian reminds me a lot of my old team-mate Harry Kewell and he finished the campaign with an impressive 11 goals and 14 assists from left-wing. On the opposite wing, Willock was equally important to us as the Englishman bagged 6 goals and 9 assists in 38 starts. Another player who has been with me from the start of my tenure, Pontus Jansson, had a fantastic season in defense as he managed 49 starts in all competitions. He even managed attacking returns at the other end of the pitch, scoring 3 and creating a further 4 for his team-mates. If Alioski is my Harry Kewell, Jansson would be my Lucas Radebe.  

The Future

I still can’t believe the fact that we will be playing in Europe next season. We won the Championship in my first season, survived the Premier League in my second, and have now won my first piece of proper silverware in the third campaign. The progress is satisfying but we now have to plan for the upcoming season carefully as teams normally suffer a dip in league performances when they play in the Europa League. We have to strengthen again this summer but it is not easy to improve on the quality of players we already have at the club as players at the next level would want to play in the Champions League. The squad turnover will definitely be less considerable this time round as we will be going for quality rather than quantity. And oh yes, Martin Jeffs is developing along nicely…

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