Pre-Season (July and half of August) 2026
July brings about the busiest month for me in terms of loading up previous games to export stats to Excel and build visuals. So here is a very thorough explanation of the thoughts in my head, starting with a run down of the pre-season fixtures and then detailing a further four new faces that have arrived at the club…
10Bet Cup (named after our shirt sponsor – thanks Kitbasher!) winners, you’ll never sing that!!! I, once again, followed the @danielgear strategy and set up three different cups, of which we won all of, so that I could get two consecutive playing days and increase time where we are not recovering away from the training pitch. As pre-seasons go, I’m not too unhappy, but, I’ve decided to split it into a couple of sections. I am a bit more conscious, this time, that match fitness hasn’t necessarily been achieved by all of the squad, but I will continue to monitor.
+ Amine Adli has been fantastic and laid on a couple of lovely goals.
+ Karamoko, with his trait of getting past the last defender, actually makes us a little more aggressive and vertical in our play.
+ Sirat Keceli, the young winger, has really impressed although I’m more focused than ever on ensuring his injury problems don’t stop him from developing.
– Lots of goals conceded and neither keeper looks fantastic at the moment…
– Julius Adeshina failed to score in any of his five pre-season appearances and may not quite be ready for the first team yet, as I’d hoped.
– Ali Keten’s game was still full of errors and poor passing choices, despite him being someone I should be able to trust on the ball.
A slightly unplanned transfer, but one that is going to have to come good for us. After Freiburg tabled a huge bid for Tai Sodje, I had no choice but to accept. Tai has been an absolute revelation for us and not only got us promoted but fired us to the position that we finished in last year. Both myself and the team will miss him dearly but, to play this as realistically as I can, there is no way we’d be standing in his way of a dream move to Germany, Champions League Football and the financial gain that the club will get from this move. Interestingly, his new move saw him immediately switch international allegiances again, maybe his reputation boost has also given him an ambition to represent the country of his birth again. His new wage of €70k p/m is justification that I absolute could not afford to keep him here and would be moving him on this time next year, probably for the less than this amount anyway.
To replace him, I was in two minds: we have Omercan Tekin, a well-thought of player who has scored at nearly one in two throughout the early part of his career and is deemed good enough for this level as well as Julius Adeshina, brought in as part of our development program, but we also now have €10m to spend. That just doesn’t feel like the Gencler way so I dipped into my list of scouted players and came across Mamadou Karamoko, whose profile you can see by clicking on the thumbnail. Karamoko appeared last season whilst playing at Kobenhavn and I was able to watch a cameo of a few games and noted that, like Emre Mor before him, has likely been frozen out due to telling the team he wanted to leave.
I think that my aim for this transfer window, as you will see with other signings too, is to normalise the left-out player, finding good in something that other teams clearly don’t see. In his short career in Denmark, he’s scored at nearly a goal in every three matches and was recognised with an international debut last season – clearly there is something in there to like. I decided to trial him and see how he played out during pre-season, knowing that it was kind of a win-win: I either had a new forward or Omercan played his way into being my number one.
Pre-season has taught me that this man is just an out and out finisher! He does very little else, contributes little to the rest of the build up, but knows where the back of the net is. Kind of reminiscent of Erling Haaland is some ways – just look at the pass map from the last game, where he had sixteen touches in his 65 minutes, with three of them firing the ball into the back of the net. However, that is what I needed and just €18k p/m was enough to seal the deal. I have, since, had to deal with unhappiness from Omercan Tekin’s camp about being replaced. I was able to appease him by saying he’d get football, too, but I need to actually stick to my word.
Timmy (full profile linked in thumbnail) is a lad I know well from being a Villa fan and it is kind of sad to see that he’s not kicked on in FM as I’d love him to in real life, where he is on loan at QPR: here you can see his 2022-23 statistics in game. Sadly, he went back to the Villa (who are now a solid European side under the stewardship of Spaniard Marcelino) and didn’t play at all, just making one cup appearance last year – an EFL Fourth Round tie against Stoke where Tiago Almada (oh, how I can dream!) scored a brace.
I was alerted to him by his agent, Steve Jones, who appears to have a good relationship with me – probably through the brokerage of either the Mazeed Ogungbo or Tai Sodje deals, although both have new agents now – and had noticed he’d also given up on representing England, the country of his birth, and had decided to make himself eligible for Nigeria. Now, I don’t have any particular rules on recruitment but I’ve already got quite the African feel to this squad and I must say that it sweetened the deal even more. Again, I went for a trial contract to see how he’d perform: does he really match up to the scout report of a player who is good enough for this level and could improve, consistent and an all-round, all-action midfielder or has the time away from the highest level of football been too much for him. Again, it’s bringing that use of the recruitment team into my thoughts in a realistic way.
Unlike Karamoko above him, Tim didn’t have a lot to prove to me in pre-season as I knew he was quality. I was most pleased with his physical stature but it’s clear that he’s won headers, intercepted balls, won tackles when needed and still been able to lay the ball off, recording just under four progressive passes a game and a good number of key passes, too. In the end, a €25k p/m deal was arranged. He’s the highest earner in my team but, if it goes well, could become and the cog to both the attacking and defensive parts of my play. I am delighted to have him on board.
The last trialist-cum-signing is ex-Galatasaray defender Abdulkerim Bardakci (clickable link in thumbnail), a man fresh from winning the league last time out. His Super Lig performance show a regular starter who, despite entering the later stages of his career, was able to progress the ball just as well as he was able to win the ball back. Another player deemed good enough for this level, consistent, likes big matches and with a wealth of experience, I felt that a month on trial would be a good way to persuade him to join us.
A steady pre-season but enough for me to go ahead and seal the signing. €22.5k p/m for three years is a big outlay for a 31-year old but I really feel that his experience will be vital to our progress.
One that feels like a big risk, here.
I decided to invest 38% of the profit made on the Alassane Sidibe sale – €1.5m – on a new keeper, Slovenian Martin Turk (again, clickable on thumbnail). Parma brought in a new number one in the summer, ousting Martin and allowing him just one appearance in Serie B, but he has three full seasons of experience before him: at Valenciennes in French Ligue 2, Parma and Reggiana, in the third tier of Italian football. I had sent the scouting team out to find me a keeper more suited to playing out with his feet and someone who would be able to assist in the early stages of our counter attacks and they found him. Annoyingly, FM does not record progressive passes for players not in leagues with full detail so I have no idea where he stands here but I was able to take his full season in France and compare it with Ubeyd Adiyaman’s performances, last season:
Playing in a side that finished mid-table is a pretty fair comparison and it’s really clear that he’s used the ball better – being in the top 1% in terms of not giving the ball away across a game. Whether that is because he is simply passing to his centre backs is to be found out, I guess, as no footage exists that is that old. I am not quite sure how to take his handling stats – way less shots held than Ubeyd but is that because the shots are better and that he has to parry them or is his Handling not as good? (the raw attribute is 2 points better in favour of the Slovenian so probably not). Likewise, is he tipping more because he’s an inch smaller and can’t reach as well or is that because more of the shots are in the corners?
What I do have though is a man who is consistent, will adapt well to living in a new country and loves a big match. That, and being considerably younger than the Ubeyd, should allow me to develop him and move him on for a profit in future if possible.
Click the above thumbnail for a full view of my first team squad as we head into the 2026/27 season here in Ankara.
I think that this concludes my dealings this summer. We’ve brought in seven new players: Emre Mor, Abou Cisse, Mamadou Karamoko, Amile Adil, Tim Iroegbunam, Abdulkerim Bardakci and Martin Turk but also bringing in nearly €13m in money this month, alone. Whilst my recruitment plan last year was to get rounded individuals – Coulibaly, Mendy and Olawoyin did exactly that, I opted for consistent players who enjoy bigger matches and the most telling difference is that three ‘three circle’ rating now represents a player good enough for this level, whereas, last year, it certainly did not.
The next phase of the squad improvement is to work on the quality of the inverted wing backs for this style of play. My concerns are that all of the money I have brought in and all of the settling of the clubs finances are off my own work, rather than that of the board and I do wonder just how much they back me. Taking the club to that next, next level will involve some serious money and recruitment time. Whether Gencler will offer that, I don’t know. However – I’m ready for the season ahead!
Genclerbirligi 0-1 Istanbul Basaksehir
Not the way I’d intended to kick off the season, knowing that we face Istanbul, Trabzonspor and Gala in three of our first four fixtures. However, there were plenty of positives, that was until Emre Mor picked up a second yellow card in the first half. I changed our tactical shape, which, actually, led to some really nice positional play and a good few chances. However, we conceded thanks to a free kick before Ali Keten picked up his second yellow card and our nine men just hung on. I don’t recall a single red card last year so, to get two in the first game, is somewhat concerning. It basically meant that the game became a right-off from forty minutes onwards as the defensive manager in me just wanted to not get hammered!
Trabzonspor 0-3 Genclerbirligi
This is a Trabzon side that comfortably beat league winners Galatasaray in their first game and we have battered them. Our playing style is so well embedded now but it was three new faces that provided the key parts to some sweeping, vertical football that saw us take the lead. Karamoko finished the first, Coulibaly continued to impress me with the second and Safa Kinali scored a deflected volley to put the game beyond doubt as we successfully saw the game out in the closing minutes. One of the things that I want to dig into more is not the possession that we receive in Zone 14, but more about the possession we receive in Zone 10, 11 and 12 as that is where we are able to play these line splitting balls. I am under no reservations that Coulibaly, Cem and Adil are world class but what they do, they do very well! I’ll try and pick out some things over the coming months.
In the end, it was just one of those games, like the Fenerbahce result – where we won 4-0 – where everything goes to plan and, on another day, could have been much closer.
Kayserispor 0-3 Genclerbirligi
The first game of the season that I expected to win and we did just that.
Coulibaly, again, and first club goals for both Tim Iroegbunam – celebrating his first call up to the Nigerian national team – and Sirat Kecili putting the game to bed. Kayserispor are newly promoted and look like they’re going to struggle this season.
The Bilic-effect is complete! From relegation fodder to top of the table – Konyaspor have won sixteen of the twenty-six games that the Croat has been in charge of and have got themselves what seems to be a really strong team ethos. Obviously, it’s early season and I’d expected them to drop back but it’s also early season and we find ourselves above all of the club, sans Trabzonspor, that finished above us last year. Besiktas, under the stewardship of Chelsea legend Dan Petrescu, look to be in need of a total rebuild after three fourth placed finishes, a seventh last year and then a poor start this year but surely they’ll be strong enough to be challenging in the same areas as we are.
I’ll be jetting off to Africa to hopefully see two Gencler players make international debuts, but, after the World Cup campaign that Coulibaly didn’t have, I’m not holding out much hope.
September looks tough but I’m hoping for at least four points from it…
I set my training up to roughly align with the quality of team I’m facing:
I have schedules pre-made for Saturday and Sunday and a defensive and attacking week, depending on whether I’m home/away or facing stronger/weaker opposition.
For tactical stuff, I will always start with their scout report, seeing where they lie in terms of strengths and weaknesses. Straight off, Sivasspor aren’t great with Positioning and Concentration so I think our natural, vertical, high-risk game will pay off here but I’m able to make slight tweaks to address things like lack of bravery (tackle harder), lack of stamina (more aggressive, possession orientated and attacking at the end of the game) etc from this screen. I might also use this to amend training – adding attacking or defensive corners from what I see here. I back that up with their analyst overview – trying to spot any trends. Sivasspor won’t hog the ball so I won’t need to man-mark their double pivot but their pass map shows they tend to build from CB to LB so I’ll tight mark their left back in order for them to another way. I can then cross reference things in their match preview screen – which I’ve built myself in the Data Hub area. Here, I can see that Sivasspor haven’t scored lately yet have the league’s top scorer in Perea and, with Wingers and Wing Backs, are likely to want to overload the flanks to create more space in the middle for him. I’ll then look at their player page to get a better feel for any specific strengths (corner taker might indicate more set piece ability and I’ll drop another defender back, for example), a really out of form player (I might trigger press them if they’re in a sensible position on the pitch), someone with very few games – maybe a youth prospect who could be starting – will get targeted, too. Here, I noticed that it’s their left back who leads the assists so that backs up my original thoughts. I tend to put these things in place on the opposition instructions and, going back to the left back, my plan will be to get him inside onto his right foot due to the fact I’m not worried about his dribbling and he only uses that foot to stand on!
Whilst my shape, see below, would indicate we have one style (The changes are really for times when I’ve moved a ST to be offset or have played with ten men):
But we’re really so flexible in terms of how we line up and our core principles, below, remain the same.
But there is much fluctuation between what goes with them. As simple as overloading the left instead of the right, forcing Wingers with Target Men that can’t dribble inside, not regrouping when chasing the game etc. My updates sometimes show the thought process but, even if I don’t write about it, it’s a process that takes four of five minutes each game and means that we very rarely line up the same way two matches in a row. It’s also, in my opinion, helped me achieve really well with a team that – probably – isn’t quite as good as it appears.
The other glorious thing is that this is not the right way and many many people are more successful than I, but it’s just the way I feel most realistic and most fun.
Disappointment from the Nigerian camp but I was happy to watch Coulibaly pick up his first bit of international recognition, off the back of a wonderful season with us.
Galatasaray 2-0 Gençlerbirliği
Not the result that I wanted but a really strong performance, in areas. I wanted to go in and start well – we did just that, racking up 0.96xG in the first seven minutes of the game. Things didn’t quite go to plan and I must consider the animation/choice of Turk’s save, which led to the corner they opened the scoring from. Entering the last fifteen, it was always going to a 1-1 or a 2-0 as we had to push on and do something. In the end, the scored on the break as we pushed men forwards. Nothing to be embarrassed or annoyed at though as we played well.
Genclerbirligi 3-0 Sivasspor
Back to winning ways in emphatic style. Much of the build up to this game was documented in the reply to @Ausie and it worked really well. We stopped their left back – their main creator and assist leader – from doing anything and, following a rash challenge in the 50th minute that saw them down to ten men, we continued to run the show. Really pleasing and goals from Cem Bilgin, Metehan Mert and Ismaila Coulibaly sealed the win.
Eyüpspor 0-2 Genclerbirligi
Goals from Emre Mor and Mamadou Karamoko saw up Eyupspor who are still looking like a decent team after being promoted when we were.
We’ve started strongly and sit around where I’d expect us to be. However, the news below is of real interest to me right now…
I love Gencler and have absolutely loved my time here but I think the ceiling may have been reached. We still have the lowest wage (€3.2m per annum) in the league, compared with Trabzonspor, who spend €20m, Besiktas – €16m, Gala – €40m and Fener – €42m so, realistically, cannot continue to mix it with the big boys until we are on a level playing field. It appears that the board are not interested in upgrading anything. I also know that, to get that move to Serie A – I actually have to win something and get my name out there. WIth us missing out on a European berth (although it was to be expected and, at least, a year too soon), Trabzonspor have that. The other thing that I can’t ignore is the link to my own club, Aston Villa, as seen in this Wiki quote:
Although a number of theories have been put forward as to why the club colours of Trabzonspor are claret and blue, it has been claimed that they were adopted after the club were sent a set of kits by the English club Aston Villa after their formation in 1967.
We shall see…