Three more friendlies to wrap up pre-season:
I was disappointed not to beat Larnacas, of Cyprus, but felt that the 120 minutes for our squad players was more important to the bigger picture. A nice win over another Cypriot side sealed the end of a really successful period in terms of new recruits and match fitness.
Göztepe SK 2-3 Genclerbirligi
We kicked the season off in style with a win against Goztepe, predicted 12th in the league. Without my trusty Data Hub for the first few games, I went in a little blind. I was sensible against their 4-4-2, tight marking where possible but found that the combined power of a DL/ML and DR/MR – much like my own – was a worry as we were regularly countered. We had more shots and more danger as the game went on – with Sidibe netting twice and Sodje the other but I felt that there were several moments when you could just tell our opposition was better than we’ve faced before. However, to come away with a win, and €170k, is a great start to the season for us.
Genclerbirligi 1-0 Sivasspor
Is this a dream?
Our first home match in the big time against a Sivasspor side, predicted to finish 11th. Eager to defend better and facing a more familiar foe in a 4-2-3-1 shape, I set about the usual instructions, tight marking their creative deep midfielders and trigger pressing creative outlets – which, in this case, was none other than FM legend of old, Ryder. The Brazilian lasted sixty-five minutes and contributed twenty-five touches, with just one in our box and three in that magical Zone 14. Our game plan worked really well as we limited the away side to a spattering of half chances, with Sidibe (already beating his goal haul of last season inside two games) volleying us ahead jut before halftime. I had noticed that their substitutes were not match fit and, as a result, was able to ensure that I slightly tweaked our style in the second half, keeping the ball for longer periods of time and playing less risky passes in order to ensure that they spent most of their time chasing our shadows.
Another €170k, another win and a start that means we’ve now won fifteen competitive games in a row. I didn’t envisage that to continue into this season.
However, in between games, I was rocked by star player Sidibe becoming unhappy after I rejected an offer from Cadiz. Sadly, his influence has impacted the squad and morale, the number one marginal gain I have at my disposal, has somewhat plummetted.
Hatayspor 2-2 Genclerbirligi
The winning run is over but in heartbreaking style as we concede with virtually the last kick away at Hatayspor, predicted 10th.
A 4-3-3 wide but their build up, as I witnessed early one, came from a pass combination between the centre back and left. I ensured that I triggered a press to try and reduce this passing lane, but was also able to build up down our right, exploiting space left by their marauding left back. The game looked, in danger anyway, like it belonged to the hosts, but looking at their overall passes explains what a great job I did to keep them at arm’s length. We took the lead through Olawoyin’s first goal for the club before being pegged back immediately from a set piece, which allowed us to experience our first taste of VAR – as it’s not active in the second tier. A wonderful strike from Omercan restored our lead but a push in the dying seconds, confirmed by the video assistant, gifted Hatayspor a penalty that they converted, more than doubling their xG and saving a point from the jaws of defeat. Heartbreak for us but a truly insane month!
Whilst we are unbeaten, I still pay absolutely no interest to this early season table as there is much more work to be done. Next month we face our first really tough task with a trip to Besiktas, all but guaranteeing an end to our unbeaten streak. There is work to be done defensively, but that will be on the training pitch!
Gençlerbirliği 1-2 Adana Demirspor
With my trusty data hub back available, I took the time to notice that Adana’s defensive actions appear to be very deep so far, indicating that I’m likely to have a lot more possession in deeper areas and, thus, changed the DM(d) to a DLP(d) to try and allow him a bit more creativity to make things happen from deep. Sadly, it didn’t work as intended as his pass record remained remarkably similar. In terms of their pass map, I decided that the ball between their left centre back and DM was their most used build up as well as some interplay down the right hand side, so adapted as necessary. That was backed up by their stats for possession lost, which would indicate a counter attacking style – given their lack of passing numbers – which plays either centrally or down the right, so decided to trigger a press on the DMs, too. Most importantly for me to note was their xG match story in their last match, where they proved to be a strong outfit against Fenerbache.
The game itself was very even as we matched them in most areas. Whilst that will work out well for us defensively, it’s important that I also ensure I have players with the ability to create things from nothing and it was DLP Emirhan Aydogan, who swung in a perfect corner for Metehan Mert to bring us level after an early goal for the visitors. Our play stagnated a little in the second half but a well worked move gave the visitors the lead; our reply to their goal was god but we couldn’t quite find enough to save the game, sending us to our first defeat in thirty-seven games. We go again, though.
Beşiktaş 0-0 Gençlerbirliği
Some defensive tactical changes as I move to IWB(d) and an A(d) instead of IWB(s) and DM(d) in order to counter their offensive strength, which contains two well known ex-Premier league players; Nathan Redmond and Rachid Ghezzal. Their use of a double drew me into the change given their intended overload of each side, however, there is also potential for quick breaks, which has seen me look to overload the middle and use a pair of CM(a) instead of a CM(a) and Mez(a) combo. Unlike Adana before them, Besiktas’ ball losses seem to come much higher up the pitch, so my move to a Balanced approach is intended to reduce the level of risk a little to avoid them being able to quickly play the ball to their offensive players in dangerous areas.
Against, undoubtedly, the most fans we’ve ever faced, we started amazingly well, nearly going ahead through Ismaila Coulibaly’s first goal for the club. What I like most about the build up is that we’ve got both of our central midfielders ahead of their two and, whilst Sodje is being taken care of by their DM and CB, it allows Coulibaly to get 1v1 on their defender, just as I wanted. He didn’t score this time but it’s was a marker for an attacking performance that maybe Besiktas didn’t expect. Defensively, we stood firm and restricted them with a strong and high defensive line – which the choice of a A(d) feeling justified given his removal of licence to roam a bit more. At half time. the two heat maps showed just how well we’d kept them at arm’s length: over 70% of the ball but little that posed a threat for us. The game ended as a draw as we come away with a hard-earned yet completely unexpected point and another €85k!
Gençlerbirliği 5-0 Fatih Karagümrük
Fatih, managed by none other than Andrea Pirlo, have narrowly avoided relegation in the last two years and, technically, were there for the taking in terms of teams I would want to beat as a newly promoted side. However, the manner in which we did that was something else. My setup for this game was very similar to how we played against Besiktas, using two CM(a) as they opted for a double Mez again, focusing the play through the centre. It was midfielder Coulibaly who was involved in the best bit of pla, unleashing a sumptuous through ball, which Sodje finished well. So good that I felt it needed to be recorded! What is more, the Malian has moved into the team and has already become a key figure for us, as shown by his outputs, below:
I’m very aware that these updates are predominantly team based and I’ve not paid too much attention to the individual and the development of my players so will try and drop little bits like this into more of the future updates.
The end of the month is marked by the signing of a new contract for me, with the board tying me down for three years. In truth, I’ll certainly see out this season at the club but, depending on the level of success we achieve, may find that a – financial at least – ceiling is hit. However, I’m still quite taken aback with how easy I’ve found this. That’s not me saying that I’m particularly good at this game or developing some kind of cheat tactic, but it just feels like, considering the strain to attract any new faces and the promotion, that I shouldn’t have been able to hold off Besiktas with the ease that I did or dismantle Fatih as we did. I’m sure there’ll be harder times but I’ve now won fifty-nine of my 101 games as a manager across three Turkish leagues, scoring at nearly two a game and conceding at around 0.7 per game. Watch as I now lose every game next month…
An international break seems like a nice time to have a little run down of the young, home grown talent currently in the first team at the club. The six players below are all training with the first team and I have two further talents – Resit Yildrim and Enescan Ozu – who are training with the youth side still. In fact, the youth team is quite strong at present, although short on numbers as we look to recover from our financial issues before contracting more players. All images below are clickable to reveal a full profile for these players.
With growing coaching capacity and quality at the club, I’ve been able to spend a little more time on developing the youngsters away from just giving them first team football. Sirat has made some really strong progress mentally and physically since coming through the academy and has been rewarded with minutes where possible. I’m currently training him as a Wide Playmaker with work on his Attacking Movement, knowing that he’s already in a good place physically for a kid of his age. Ufuk has somewhat surprised me, becoming a solid backup player and earning a good number of minutes over the season and a bit I’ve been here. He’s not the most amazing in terms of anything attribute-wise but has seen plenty of mental growth since coming through.Dunyacan is steadily returning from a small dip that coincided with an injury and already has thirteen assists to his name. He’s training as a Mez with focus on his shooting as an output of one goal in fifteen isn’t ideal for a player in his role – however, the progress he’s made overall in that area has been really strong. Ahmet Tunc is a slightly different option in the DM role given his strong passing range but hasn’t really progressed technically since I took over and now third choice in that role. This is quite similarly to Cem, who, despite becoming a key member of the first team squad, hasn’t pushed on with his attribute development, adding a point here or there to his mental attributes but little technically or physically. He has, however, had a few injuries and spent a fair bit of time learning new traits, so I can excuse him slightly. Omercan is, according to my staff, the best of these young academy products and has made some fantastic progress as well as showing some really strong performances on the field, too. He’s a little one-dimensional, and, to be fair, the use of the PF schedule probably further pushes that, but he’s proven that he is a really important player for the club now and in the future too. Five of the six also appear in the mentoring groups that I currently have, with Sirat still not secure enough in the first team to warrant a permanent slot in them.
I’m possibly guilty of not allowing them as many minutes as they – based on training performances – deserve, but, as a newly promoted team, it’s quite difficult to thrust these inexperienced players into the first team. However, that will change as the season goes on:
Cem’s place has currently been lost due to the fact that Serkan has hit a nice little purple patch that coincided with an injury, whilst Dunyacan is still on his path to recover from an injury, too. It’s also great to see that these developments are being recognised at a national level:
I’m drawn back to the reason why I took over the club. My Turkish is non-existent, and, therefore, my research was a little shaky but to directly quote Wikipedia:
Gençlerbirliği were founded in a slightly different way compared to many other football clubs, having been established by students from a high school, Ankara Erkek Lisesi (Sultani Mektebi). The students in question had failed to be selected for their own school team, and asked one of their student friends, Asim, to talk with his father about setting up a football team for them to show how well they could play.
On 14 March 1923, Asim’s father, the member of parliament from Muş Province, established the team for his son and his friends. Since all the members of the team were students he chose the name ‘Youth Union’ (Turkish: Gençlerbirliği). They elected Sarı Ziya’s father Faik Bey as their first chairman. Subsequently, these young students wanted to play against the school team which had not selected them. Gençlerbirliği won the game, played at “Hamit tarlası”, 3–0. According to these young rebellious players this victory forged the identity of their new team.
It’s imperative that I maintain that sense of Gencler throughout my time here. It’s ingrained within this club who had been faced by hard times of late and, therefore, it’s my honour to return the club and youth academy to the standing that it deserves to be at.
Konyaspor 1-2 Genclerbirligi
The form continues.
Konyaspor haven’t had the strongest starts to the season and my pre-match work showed that they obviously aren’t match fit as they seem to have faded in the second half of games. I decided to go a little more cautious in the first half, saving ourselves for the second half but that plan was scrapped as they scored from another set piece – something that continues to concern me and warrants a deeper dive. However, within minutes of moving to a higher risk strategy, we were ahead thanks to Tai Sodje and Ismaila Coulibaly. The second half continued as just one way traffic for us as they failed to register another shot at our goal. We wasted several good chances but pick up another three points, as we continue to defy expectations.
Genclerbirligi 0-0 Alanyaspor
I came face to face with an ex-FM legend; Emre Belözoğlu. I remember managing him way back on CM01/02 when he was just breaking out at Inter and then watching him play for Newcastle in the Premier League years later.
Finishing sixth last year, this was, on paper, our second hardest league game after the Besiktas tie and we did remarkably well, bossing it for long periods. I did, however, get my half-time teamtalk wrong – telling them that I was happy (well, wouldn’t you be?) but their drop in morale was almost catastrophic as that gave them the upper hand for a good portion of the second half, however, even then, we really restricted them to deep passes (graphic shows completed passes in the second half) and very little in the way of quality chances. I don’t know how much longer we can continue riding the wave of high morale, high fitness and high cohesion but, whilst we have it, we are looking very hard to beat.
Eyüpspor 2-1 Gençlerbirliği
With the smooth must come the rough. It was against Yorkshire’s favourite team.
Emeka Eze, the league’s top scorer, is 6’1″ tall and I managed to completely nullify him in our games last year but he rose highest to level for them after an early goal from Tai Sodje. Considering my game play was to not allow these kind of situations and, even if I did allow them, to have a surplus of defenders in the box, conceding in this manner was somewhat annoying. For the second game in a row, there was a period of time whereby we lacked creativity and that is something that I need to look at and address. We still recorded a decent xG total and had a couple of good chances but we need to lick our wounds and come back stronger next time out. I think it does warrant a bit of further investigative work though:
Whilst I have, on several occasions, discussed the want to not have to make tackles, I do want any tackles we have to attempt to be won. Therefore, it’s concerning to see that Metehan Mert isn’t winning a lot – just 56% (although he has only attempted nine tackles all season) – of his. I think that this is further compounded by his number of clearances which, if my definition matches FM’s, (a pass out of a dangerous area with no intended recipient) is also a bit of a worry in terms of how we build up. I think, when you add that to the fact that most of our midfield are wasteful in possession, it shows that the ball is just coming back at us repeatedly. We lead the league in terms of interceptions per game (35.00 – 0.22 more than second placed Konyaspor), so are clearly good at keeping a compact shape and winning a ball by essentially annoying the opposition into playing a risky pass but then do not have the quality to play quickly through the lines but commit players forward, meaning that a turnover leaves us exposed.
I think that part of this comes from the quality of players that we have – my backroom team consider Ubeyd (GK), Ali (CB) and Cisse (DR) good enough for only the second tier, facing up against some of the best player in the South of Europe. However, we are only conceding 1.00 goals a game and 0.74xGa, leaving us top of the table in that area, some 1.4xGa ahead of second placed Fenerbahçe, who visit next…
Fenerbahce are in town next but then the remainder of November is against Altinordu and Adanaspor, which could result in more points for us. The table is becoming a lot more normal here – with Besiktas, Trabzonspor and Fenerbahce all moving upwards and leaving just 11th placed Hatayspor, who we drew with, as the only team really out of place. I’d also be expected Istanbul Basaksehir to make a move but, aside from that, I think we’re certainly looking at a battle where we could become the best of the rest – an insane result for a debut season in this league and not a huge amount of time since the club was staring at a relegation to the third tier…
Genclerbirligi 4-0 Fenerbahce
Pinch me! This must be a dream!
What I have achieved here is possibly the most amazing tactical victory I ever have, and maybe ever will, achieve. I completely changed my match plan: looking at their analyst report basically told me everything I needed to know: much better than us and good at most things! Their last game was against Maccabi Tel Aviv and I noticed that, like us, a weaker side, they had possession deeper than I’d normally expect – meaning they may not be quite as good at breaking down a locked defence as you’d expect. So I did just that. No pressing traps or marking instructions on anyone in the defensive and DM strata, instead altering the positions and approach to create an even more solid defensive wall. I did, however, pay attention to trigger presses and closing down, as well as weaker foot instructions, for their front four.
I also made a bold move, for me, and held off with my substitutions until late in the game. I very often like to change the game with my changes by freshening up the XI but wanted to see, particularly at 1-0 still, what Fener would do. However, we answered their threats and then utilised changes late on in the game to waste some time.
The match stats tell the whole story here:
- We allowed Fenerbahce 9.71 passes per defensive action, double our average pre-game and pulling us down to sixteenth in that metric.
- Their near 800 passes were unable to penetrate our defense and the few that did tended to be long balls
- Arda Gula – a man who earns nearly what my entire team does – didn’t get anywhere near the goal at all.
- We created 18 key passes and five big chances, with most coming from vertical play involving some kind of line splitting pass.
Furthermore, from a financial viewpoint – €170k was awarded for the win, as well as TV revenue of €91k and gate receipts of €86k for a record, sell out, crowd, meaning that we’ve earned just under 75% of our total income from last month in just one game.
The best moment I think I have ever had on any FM game.
Genclerbirligi 2-0 Altay
A heavily rotated squad was pushed all the way by third tier Altay but, in the end, quality prevailed thanks to extra time goals for Olawoyin and Omercan Tekin.
A midweek trip to Antananarivo, at the expense of the board I presume, didn’t go down well though as despite being named on the bench, Ismaila didn’t play a part in their 4-1 victory. Upon return, I was greeted with some concerning news:
Purposely moving for just two out and out forwards this season looks to have backfired on me. I’ll set up some recruitment foci and see what I can do, but will have to manage a month and a half with just Tai Sodje up top.
Genclerbirligi 5-0 Altinordu
We are absolutely on fire at the moment. Goals from Tai Sodje, Ismaila Couilbaly, Alassane Sidibe and debutant Sinan Ozgur saw us absolutely demolish a team that we, really, had no right to. Once again, the tactical approach – this time not allowing their wingers space to get outside and put crosses in, worked really well for us as we basically limited them to a couple of low xG chances. I knew that they would also be sitting back and, as such, changed the DM(d) to a DLP(d) in order to try and control the extra possession with a little more intent – as seen in Gokhan Gul’s return of four key passes, his second best this season so far:
With the slightly unexpected extra income coming our way thanks to a significant amount more victories than expected, I’ve decided to add some extra scouting ability, for a couple of months. We’re quite restricted, in terms of transfer budget, thanks to the board’s focus on becoming financially sustainable, so, therefore, I’ll only be able to maintain this focus for a couple of months but, by opening up the entire world to my scouts, I can add a few new names to my shortlists, which I can then hone in on individually, if necessary.
The three main areas that I’ve decided to broadly target for the next two months are South America, Africa and Europe. As detailed in Gencler’s philosophy, again, taken from Wikipedia, I can see their historical preference to scouting specific regions:
Gençlerbirliği had been run by İlhan Cavcav from 1978 until his death in 2017. With Cavcav’s help, Gençlerbirliği have become one of the more stable clubs in Turkey. This has been achieved mainly through the departure of the most talented players every season to the other clubs in Turkey. Departing players are usually replaced with much cheaper imports from Turkey, Europe or Africa.
I currently have seven African players in my squad. However, you can see, by looking at their last club, none have come directly from Africa. You can see them and their routes to Gencler below.
- Cisse: Fello Star (GUI) -> Angers (FRA) -> Martigues (FRA) -> SC Schiltigheim (FRA) -> FK Novi Pazar (SER) -> Kocaelispor (TUR) -> Tuzlaspor (TUR)
- Sidibe: Atalanta (ITA)
- Coulibaly: CS Duguwolofia (MLI) -> Sarpsborg (NOR) -> Sheffield United (ENG)
- Olawoyin: Abia Comets (NGA) -> Enugu Rangers (NGA) -> Ankara Keciorengucu (TUR)
- Ogungbo: Arsenal (ENG)
- Sodje: Man City (ENG)
- Mendy: Diambars (SEN) -> Lens (FRA) -> Servette (SUI) -> Clermont Foot (FRA)
Whilst I really like the ideology of getting these scraps – players who’ve already made the move to Europe but are either not performing or are that hidden gem kind of player, it does mean we are missing out players directly from the source and either we then have to rely on being better than the other team’s scouting setups or having the ability to allow them to play better at my club. Surely, if Coulibaly was ‘all that,’ he’d have had many offers to stay in England as he was already there. Those born in England are players who have come through, and failed, at their clubs – so, again, surely Mazeed and Tai would be getting minutes in the Premier League or moved to Championship clubs if their potential, and ability (although Tai is knocking on the door of a Nigeria call up and has been red hot since I signed him) was good enough.
Adding some scouting ability in Africa will allow me to find players who are, probably, even more rough around the edges but will then see the club moving to the levels of these bigger clubs where I can be the club that casts off those who aren’t good enough rather than being the one that takes those cast offs.
I’ve added a simple filter to the Scouted Players area, too:
As you can see, there was plenty of returned reports within a couple of days from players all over the globe. I will wait to collate these and dig a little deeper but, immediately, Joel Mumbongo stood out. A man who will be available on a free in a matter of weeks, who has scored pretty well in Sweden despite an awful conversion rate, which can definitely be worked on as well as someone who is relatively consistent and quick on and off the ball. I don’t know whether I’ll make a move for him but it’s this kind of find that I’ll be looking to bring to the club along with youngsters from the source as well as my own academy players.
Adanaspor 1-1 Gençlerbirliği
For some reason the xG story is showing non-Pen xG when sometimes it shows all xG. However, you can see the level of domination we had against a side scoring their third goal in twelve games and only recording their second point. Tai Sodje has reached ten goals, scoring at a rate not too dissimilar from what he managed last year, which is amazing considering that this is the first time he’s kicked a ball in the top flight of football in any country.
I am still in disbelief at our start to the season as we lead the scoring charts and have the second best defence in the league. The longer that the season goes on, the more I am expecting charges from Besiktas and Fener, although the former are in slightly better form and have reached the European places. Hatayspor just keep on winning but, like ourselves, I am just waiting for a downturn in their form and the table to represent some sort of normality again. Individually, Tai is mixing it with the best and a familiar face in Emeka Eze, who battled for the Golden Boot with him last year. It’s well worth noting that the bigger teams have a much bigger spread of players contributing goals and assists, when compared to us and the smaller teams, but that’s something that we need to aspire to do!
Gala come to town next and, despite saying how worried I was about the Fenerbahce tie, I genuinely have no expectation that we’ll be able to match that level of performance against the might of them. It’s actually a really tough month will all of our opponents in the top half of the table…
Genclerbirligi 1-2 Galatasaray
A really tough month started with a disappointing, in some ways, loss to Gala. We were great in the first half and went ahead thanks to another Tai Sodje strike but I knew I couldn’t keep them at bay forever. Whatever their manager said to them at half time worked wonders as the didn’t change the team or style from my perspective, but, instead, their quality shone through. Still, there is nothing to be embarrassed about with this performance.
On the eve of the game, star midfielder Ismaila Coulibaly signed a new contract. Whilst he was only six months into his deal, this new removed the €1.5m release clause, which, given the quality he has shown, would be a huge undersale.
Trabzonspor 0-0 Gençlerbirliği
The tough run continued as we went to Trabzon and I was reunited with Melih Demir, whose hardly set the world alight since his move. However, he’s no longer the best player in the team and does seem to be developing nicely for them. We were a little slow to get started and should have been behind at the break but, as has happened on several occasions this season, our defensive stability was fantastic and, whilst Trabzonspor had the lion’s share of the ball, they really did little with it.
Genclerbirligi 0-1 Istanbul Basaksehir
We’ve kind of forgotten what winning feels like!
I’ve experienced so many tactical victories but this on feels like a defeat. We were great on the break and should have punished them, getting ourselves back onto level teams following an early concession. However, despite pressing traps, man marking and, in the end – attempting to kick him off the park – Berkay Ozcan absolutely ran the show for the visitors. There are times I have to admit that I just didn’t have the answers and today was one of them!
Genclerbirligi 2-0 Pendikspor
A rotated squad – but not as rotated as I would have liked – overcame second tier Pendikspor. We were sluggish and as you’d expect for a team that’d lost a bit of their mojo but, the use of a DLP(d) instead of a DM(d) did allow us to become a little more creative in our build up patterns. Sidibe scored a really good goal, finishing from the edge of the area on the angle and Tai Sodje popped in a second as we progress. Besiktas are our opponents in the Sixth Round…
Gaziantep 0-0 Gençlerbirliği
For two teams that are overperforming, this game was bereft of quality. We’re clearly still quite short on confidence, are suffering from a lot of fatigue and injuries are piling up, but we got a point away from home, ensuring that we don’t end the year with consecutive losses. Scoring is certainly an issue right now!
Still defying expectations despite a tough month.