Going Dutch with Sparta Rotterdam

There wasn’t much to shout about in our latest youth intake, although Adri Mbikulu could become a decent player if we are able to change his personality.

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With 6 games to go, the quest was on to somehow beat Ajax to the Eredivisie title. It started with a home match against PSV Eindhoven.

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To get a draw against them is a decent result because of the quality gap between the sides, however it didn't do us any favours in the title race as Ajax continued to win and also AZ were gaining on us in 3rd.

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We followed up that draw with 2 wins over sides near the bottom of the table VVV Venlo and Almere City

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With 3 games remaining, we were just one point behind Ajax

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I was truly beginning to believe that we were somehow going to fluke it and win the league…

Next up was NAC Breda, a side who have overperformed this season and found themselves 6th in the table.

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That 1-0 loss - just our 4th of the season - decided it. There was no way we were going to catch Ajax with our last 2 games being against Groningen and Feyenoord and we needed to be wary of AZ in 3rd position.

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In our final two league games we came back from 2-0 against Groningen and smashed Feyenoord 5-0 as they played their kids, presumably because there was nothing left to play for.

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So we end what has been an incredible season in 2nd position having won 80 points in the Eredivisie.

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It was our best ever finish and means that we will enter the Champions League qualifying rounds next season.

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What a mad season it has been, our squad of Dutch players (plus a Nigerian goalkeeper) have performed against the odds and got within 3 points of winning the league!
 
Great season to be pushing Ajax so early on!

Interested to see what your budget will be given the prospect of Champions League football next season (Good luck in qualification btw)
 
Great season to be pushing Ajax so early on!

Interested to see what your budget will be given the prospect of Champions League football next season (Good luck in qualification btw)

Got £8m and a lot of wage budget to spend but I have a similar problem to you in that the players that would improve the squad simply don't want to join. Think I'm going to have to buy young talents and develop them at the club, which is what I planned to do all along, so to finish 2nd whilst in a transitioning period is amazing!
 
After that whirlwind season there’s so much I want to cover, so I’m going to split the season review into 2 posts with the second post looking predominantly at players.

Our first season in Europe was eventful, after squeezing through to the Europa League group stage we finished 3rd and were eventually knocked out by Valencia in the Europa Conference League (who then went onto win the competition)

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And we had an incredible season in the Eredivisie, finishing in 2nd position to earn a place in the Champions League 3rd Qualifying Round next season. Yours truly also won the Manager of the Year award for the first time.

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We achieved that despite having one of the lowest wage budgets in the Eredivisie, Ajax spend 18x as much as we do and even PSV’s wage expenditure is 9x the size of ours!

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It has been an incredible team effort and our young Dutch squad is coming along nicely.

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Emanuel Emegha had his best season yet with 31 goals and 10 assists in all competitions and finally won Young Player of the Year. He’s been awesome for us since the very start of the save and it’s essential that we keep him.

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Another standout was Sven Mijnans, who got 12 goals in all competitions from midfield last season, including 11 in the league.

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And youngster Dominique Maysonnave had an excellent breakout season, scoring 13 goals in all competitions predominantly as a shadow striker

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We’ve still not spent over £1m on a player yet, which again makes finishing second remarkable.

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However, we have an £8m transfer budget and £170,000 to spend on wages next season…

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That transfer record is about to be broken!
 
I covered our 3 standout players Emegha, Maysonnave and Mijnans in the last post and thought I’d look at some other players who I have probably not even mentioned so far in the save.

Firstly, 2 players will be leaving in the summer when their contracts expire. Neraysho Kasanwirjo has been a reliable backup right back and Thomas Bruns played a big part in us finishing 3rd two seasons ago.

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The unsung hero of last season was captain Bart Vriends. He was a mainstay in the best defence in the league but we probably need to upgrade on him if we want to push on.

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The only non-Dutch player in the squad is goalkeeper Okoye. He got most clean sheets in the Eredivisie last season and has been such a solid keeper for us, but I think it is time to go completely Dutch next season

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Abdou Harroui has been solid for us for 3 seasons as the defensive deep lying playmaker. He also no longer wants to leave so will again be a key player for us next season.

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Silvester van der Water was our record signing at £900,000 and has had 2 solid yet unspectacular seasons. He played in most of our European games last season but I aim to bring in better players in his position

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First choice right back Giovanni Troupee was injured frequently last season, but still managed 8 assists in 26 games. He’s proving to be a great signing for just £650,000.

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Midfielder Delano Vianello has constantly been on the verge of breaking into the first team and is still only 20 so has room to improve.

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We’ve got a handful of bright prospects in the under 18s, who my scouts believe will go on to be first team players at a minimum.

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The two players I am most excited about are Murat Kacar and Johan Den Boer - both of them were bought from ADO Den Haag for less than £1m and both are ready to be in the first team next season.

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We’re still in May but I’ve already been busy in the transfer market. Let’s see if we can build a Dutch squad that is capable of challenging the big boys next season!
 
It’s been a busy summer for us as we aim to make our squad 100% Dutch, whilst preparing for our first taste of Champions League action.

Transfers Out

Sadly, we have said goodbye to the last non-Dutch player at the club in goalkeeper Maduka Okoye who has joined Lazio for £1.2m. He was immense for us for 3 seasons but we were able to finally get a Dutch keeper as good as him.

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Silvester van der Water has also left and joined Vitesse for £1.6m. He was in the last year of his contract and wanted 4x as much money so to make a profit on him was a good piece of business.

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We’ve replaced both of those players and also made our record transfer signing this summer.

Transfers In

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Our record signing at a massive £3.8m is that of Marcelencio Kastiel from Fortuna Sittard. We activated his relegation release clause and I think the big money spent will be worthwhile in the long run.

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We have also finally got a Dutch goalkeeper in Rody de Boer, who joins for £850,000 from PSV. At £12,500 a week he completely ruins our modest wage structure but he was needed to ensure we had a fully dutch squad.

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Maxim Gullit permanently joins us from AZ for £950,000 after spending the last 2 seasons on loan at the club.

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Naturally, when you see the name Gullit you think of Ruud Gullit. But I thought Gullit was just a popular Dutch name and that Maxim Gullit would not be related to Ruud. It turns out that he is Ruud Gullit’s son!

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Former Southampton midfielder Jordy Clasie joins us for £900,000. He’s on big wages but, after a few retirements in the summer, I felt as though we needed an experienced player to mentor some of the promising youngsters at the club

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I also spent another £900,000 on Joeri Bresser from Fortuna Sittard, who are producing some amazing youngsters in this save. He has just turned 17 and looks like he can become something special.

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We’ve also made some prudent free transfers in Thomas Poll on a free from Groningen and Mohamed Sankoh from Stuttgart. Sankoh actually started his career at Sparta Rotterdam and I’m thinking of training him as an inside forward on the left as there is no way he’ll displace Emegha from the team.

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We’ve also extended the loan of Joel Ideho from Arsenal, who got 6 goals and 6 assists in the Eredivisie last season, and loaned in Dillon Hoogewerf from Manchester United. The latter is a quality striker but I’m actually going to use him on both wings due to our strength up top.

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We’ve also tied down a lot of our key players to long term contracts this summer. They all got significant pay rises but they deserve it simply for finishing in 2nd last season.

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So we had a fully Dutch first-team squad for about a week, then Deroy Duarte decided to declare eligibility for Cape Verde. It would be a bit cut-throat (and borderline xenophobic) to sell him so I have no plans to get rid of him just because of that.

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Our young Dutch (and Cape Verdan) side is predicted to finish in 6th this season in the Eredivise. We’re getting shorter odds year by year as we gradually improve.

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And because we finished 2nd last season, we’re straight into the big games this season and will face Dynamo Kiev in the 3rd qualifying round of the Champions League.

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They finished 2nd in the Ukranian league last season but have a player on £55,000 a week whereas we only have 2 players earning over £7,000!
 
Looks like you could have your central defence sorted for the next 10 years with those 2 regens you've signed
 
Looks like you could have your central defence sorted for the next 10 years with those 2 regens you've signed

Yeah I hope so, they probably won't get too much game time this season and I've left Bresser in the B team for now but in 2 or 3 years they should be first-team starters
 
Our season started with a loss to Ajax in the Dutch version of the community shield. They’ve sold Tagliafico and Onana this summer but are still miles ahead of everybody else.

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Our first game of the Eredivisie season was an emphatic win over Almere, with the main man Emegha scoring a hattrick.

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Next up was our first ever match in the Champions League. Dynamo Kiev were strong favourites going into the Champions League Third Qualifying Round but we managed to get a decent draw in the first leg

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We followed that up with a 1-0 home loss against PSV, which was tough to take as we didn't really deserve to lose.

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However, it was quickly forgotten because of what happened in the second leg against Dynamo Kiev

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We beat them 6-0 out of absolutely nowhere!

Backup utility man Jeremy Helmer of all people opened the scoring and they played a narrow formation so we exploited the flanks with devastating effect.

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We’ll play CSKA Moscow in the Playoff Round and are just 2 matches away from reaching the Champions League group stage!

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We actually followed up that amazing result in the Champions League with a poor result against ten-man N.E.C.

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We rotated the side for that game which backfired, but record signing Kastiel scored on his debut from right back!

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So 3 games in and we’re 7th in the table. Ajax have basically won the league already.

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But I’m not too concerned about the league position right now. It’s all about our 2 games against CSKA Moscow.

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Even if we lose, we’ll be in the Europa League group stage for the second season in a row. But the financial implications of qualifying for the Champions League would be huge!
 
That's exactly the same draw I had for my first Champions League Qualifying as well in the 3rd season
 
That's exactly the same draw I had for my first Champions League Qualifying as well in the 3rd season

that's really weird how it was identical for us! Still have no idea how we finished 2nd last season considering the strength of the other Dutch teams, it might be the last opportunity we get in the Champions League for a while
 
The first leg of our Champions League Playoff was away in Moscow and we put in a vintage away performance.

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A 2-1 win was the least we deserved. All we needed to do was keep a clean sheet in the second leg and our young Dutch squad would somehow make it to the group stages of the Champions League.

The second leg was just as easy.

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Well that was simple. We’re into the Champions League group stage and earned ourselves a nice £14m for doing so!

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We will face Bayern Munich. Atletico Madrid and Lyon in the group stage. It was always going to be tough no matter who we got, but I honestly think we’ll struggle to pick up 1 point!

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Still, we’re now officially a ‘rich’ club and at the very least should have a lot of money at the end of the season to spend on players.

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Just to give some context as to how much of an achievement it is to qualify for the group stages, we still only have the 10th highest wage spend in the Eredivisie!

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This might be the only time we make it to the Champions League group stage for the next few years, so it’s going to be interesting to see how well we do!
 
The first leg of our Champions League Playoff was away in Moscow and we put in a vintage away performance.

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A 2-1 win was the least we deserved. All we needed to do was keep a clean sheet in the second leg and our young Dutch squad would somehow make it to the group stages of the Champions League.

The second leg was just as easy.


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Well that was simple. We’re into the Champions League group stage and earned ourselves a nice £14m for doing so!

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We will face Bayern Munich. Atletico Madrid and Lyon in the group stage. It was always going to be tough no matter who we got, but I honestly think we’ll struggle to pick up 1 point!

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Still, we’re now officially a ‘rich’ club and at the very least should have a lot of money at the end of the season to spend on players.

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Just to give some context as to how much of an achievement it is to qualify for the group stages, we still only have the 10th highest wage spend in the Eredivisie!

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This might be the only time we make it to the Champions League group stage for the next few years, so it’s going to be interesting to see how well we do!
Well if there was going to be a group of death its certainly yours
 
In our first ever season in the Champions League group stage, we were marked as having an 8000-1 chance of winning the competition by the bookies. So it was fair to say nothing was expected of us!

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Our first match was at home to Bayern Munich. I calculated that the combined weekly wage of our first-team squad is £83,000… 18 Bayern players are earning more than that! Lewandowski is on £325,00!

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Considering the gulf in class between the teams, I wasn’t really disappointed with a 3-1 loss especially as we had 10 shots against them.

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We then won our next two league games against PEC Zwolle (courtesy of the worst goalkeeping I’ve ever seen on any FM match engine) and a 5-1 against Vitesse in which Emegha scored yet another hattrick for us.

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That prepared us nicely for a trip to Madrid to face Diego Simeone’s Atletico, where we recorded our second 3-1 loss in a row.

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Jeremy Helmer has gone from not getting into the AZ team 2 seasons ago, to scoring in the Champions League group stage

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Then we faced Lyon at home in our 3rd Champions League group stage match. Lyon seemed like a better opponent to have than Bayern and Atletico, until I realised they were top of Ligue 1!

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We weren’t even that bad against them, but they had a front 4 of Cuadrado, Aouar, Lucas Paqueta and Marcus Thuram.

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So unless we get a miraculous victory away against Lyon in our next game, I can’t see us getting any points in the group stage - not that I really expected us to

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In more positive news Dominique Maysonnave, who came through our first youth intake, is a wonderkid according to his media description. He’s yet to set the world alight this season with just 4 goals in 14 games, but it’s great to see the academy producing quality players.

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And I may have predicted Ajax’s league triumph a bit prematurely as things are also very interesting in the Eredivisie this season. After 9 games the top 6 are separated by 3 points.

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We were predicted to finish 6th at the start of the campaign but I’m aiming for a top 4 finish to guarantee European football next season.
 

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November started with a 2-2 draw against FC Emmen, with us bottling a 2-0 lead in the last 15 minutes. We were solid defensively last season, but results and performances are a bit more worrying this time around.

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So I really wasn’t expecting much from the game with Lyon, especially not a clean sheet.

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We were still knocked out with 2 games remaining, but the result earned us a nice bonus of £800,000 which is still a good amount of money for a club our size.

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And we got an even better result next up against defending champions Ajax, making it 3 home victories against them in the last 3 seasons.

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Since this save started, the star player has been Emanuel Emegha and he just keeps on delivering. He has 13 in 13 in the Eredivisie, is in the running to win the European Golden Boy and is surely not far away from a full Netherlands call up.

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He was also on the scoresheet in the Allianz Arena, as we somehow got a draw against Bayern Munich in our 5th group stage game. We didn't really deserve it based on the match stats but who cares?

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That match confirmed we’d finish in last position in the group, however our u18s have won their Champions League group.

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They are led by Khalid Haddadi who, out of absolutely nowhere, has become first-team quality after coming through our youth intake 3 seasons ago. We have a lot of attacking options but it's becoming difficult to leave him out and as he came through our academy, I'm willing to ignore the fact he is from Morocco.

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Our final group stage game ended with a loss at home to Atletico Madrid

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And so we end our Champions League campaign winless but can certainly be proud of picking up points against Bayern Munich and Lyon.

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The Eredivisie continues to be incredibly close and we’ve still only lost 1 of our opening 14 matches. PSV Eindhoven are benefiting from no European football and so are top by 3 points.

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With no Champions League to distract us, it’s going to be interesting to see if we can mount a title challenge this season.
 
After finishing last in our Champions League group we had 2 crucial games in the space of 4 days in the Eredivisie. The first was at home to FC Utrecht.

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We had countless chances but just couldn't score and so undeservedly lost the game 2-1. That was followed up with an appalling display against our city counterparts Feyenoord.

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We always seem to get battered by them (rather than Ajax) and the fact they’re our local rivals makes it worse!

However, after those 2 straight losses, we then showed incredible character against PSV Eindhoven to make it to the next stage of the Cup.

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The cup might be our best chance of gaining European football next season the way things are going, especially as we have a favourable draw in the next round.

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Making his first start in that match was Joeri Bresser who impressed so much that I was going to play him in the next league match. However I couldn’t play him in the Eredivisie against Groningen because all the youth team and B team players were on holiday!

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But it didn’t matter, as our last game in 2023 ended with a comfortable victory.

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It means we are in 5th position, 4 points away from the teams ahead of us.

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Our team and tactic centre around Emegha, but recent signing Mohamed Sankoh is progressing nicely now that we have trained him as a left winger. He has 7 goals and 6 assists in all competitions.

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And Sepp van den Berg has been solid all season for us. At 22, he still has room for improvement yet is already a team leader.

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We now have a month long winter break, I’m expecting a quiet January transfer window so I’m hoping the squad come back revitalised and ready to push for those European places.
 
After an extremely uneventful January transfer window, we’ve brushed off the bad form and returned to winning ways in the Eredivisie.

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Mohamad Sankoh scored a hattrick against Heracles and then got another 2 in an impressive away win over AZ - a side that still have Myron Boadu up front

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That takes him to 12 goals and 8 assists in all competitions. He’s already proving to be an incredible free signing!

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In between those results we got a decent draw against PSV, although we only just got past relegation candidates Almere City at home.

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Khalid Haddadi made his league debut in that game and scored in the last minute. It’s honestly incredible how much he has improved this season.

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Murat Kacar also got his first goal for the club in that match. We signed him on the cheap as a 15 year old and he is now forming part of the first team squad that is slowly being infiltrated by regens!

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So the upturn in results means that we are just 2 points off Utrecht in 3rd and would have to go on an incredibly poor run to finish below 5th.

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I really don’t want to finish 5th as it means we will have to go into a playoff just to appear in the Europa Conference League next season (assuming Ajax win the cup, which they always do).

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Hopefully we can overtake one of the teams ahead of us to guarantee European football next season. It would also be nice to get past PEC Zwolle in the cup quarter final too.

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Next up for us though is Ajax, who once again look to be heading for an Eredivisie title
 
Whenever we play Ajax away from home it ends up being a routine loss. However, we broke that run with a 1-1 draw at the Amsterdam Arena thanks to a rare goal from Deroy Duarte.

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That was followed up with a comfortable win over PEC Zwolle to make it through to the semi-final of the cup for the first time.

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Thankfully, we avoided Ajax in the semi-final draw and will face Heerenveen. They’re 10th in the league so we’re favourites to make it to the final!

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Back in the league, Duarte popped up with another goal against Vitesse as we continued to pick up victories.

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After being a regular first-choice since the start of the save, he’s been reduced to the bench mostly this season so it’s good to see that he’s still got it. I am still a bit annoyed he chose to represent Cape Verde though...

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He got his 3rd in as many games versus RKC Waalwijk, but that game was all about 18 year old Haddadi as he scored his first hattrick for the club.

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I’ve said it before but he’s improved so much this season it’s been ridiculous. 5 goals in 4 Eredivisie games isn’t a bad start to his senior career after coming through the academy!

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However neither he or Duarte could do anything against Willem II as we laboured to a draw at home.

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It was our only bad result of the month, but the teams around us just keep on winning.

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We’re still in 5th and it looks like we’re destined for the European place playoff... that is unless we win the cup.

For the semi-final against Heerenveen, we will be without first-choice right-back Troupee.

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The only back up we have is Kastiel, who has improved a lot for us this season. He’s definitely good enough but I don’t like playing a left-footed player at right-back so we shall see how he does.

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Can we make it to the KNVB Cup final for the first time Sparta Rotterdam manager?
 
Standing between us and our first final as Sparta Rotterdam manager was Heerenveen, a side 3 places below us in the league

But when the semi-final went to extra time despite us dominating, it felt as if the writing was on the wall for us.

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Especially as almost nothing happened in extra time! 0-0 after 120 minutes meant that we’d take part in our first ever penalty shootout

This is my 4th season as manager and it’s taken up until now for me to realise that nobody in this squad can take a penalty.

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But it didn’t matter in the end.

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The most experienced member in the squad, 33 year old Marvin Zeegelaar, tucked away the winning penalty after a save from keeper Rody de Boer earlier on in the shootout.

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Despite being on £3,000 a week more than everybody else, de Boer has been a good signing for us and thriving as first choice after being backup at both PSV and AZ.

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And we got £1.15m in prize money for winning that game - I should’ve taken the cup more seriously, I didn’t realise there was so much money in it!

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Unsurprisingly, we will face Ajax in the final that takes place before the end of the Eredivisie season.

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They’ve won the competition for the last 4 seasons, so no big deal.

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But back in the Eredivisie, things were hotting up. PSV and Utrecht drawing games meant that we had snuck back up to 4th position.

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An away game against Utrecht was therefore crucial for us in our quest not to finish 5th and enter the European place playoff.

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It was a harsh, harsh result when we least needed it... but we did at least win our next game to keep in touch with the top 4.

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With 5 games remaining we are 1 point behind PSV and 4 behind Feyenoord, who we play on the last game of the season.

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March means youth intake time and once again we’ve had a fairly decent one. I'm looking forward to seeing how these players develop in the next few years.

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We had 15 players called up to the various Dutch youth squads in the March internationals. That’s an impressive number and the next step for us is to finally get a Sparta Rotterdam player in the Dutch squad.

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Now for the final Eredivisie games and the small matter of a cup final versus Ajax!
 
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