Going Dutch with Sparta Rotterdam

This summer was all about balancing the books.

It meant that we made some tough decisions and recouped more than £60m in transfer fees

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The only first team starter we sold was Coen van Gool to PSG for £30m.

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Transfers are normally my strong point in FM, but I got this one wrong. Spending £65m on him last season was not the wisest decision so I decided to accept the loss and get as much as we could for him - it also bugged me that he was only 5’4”...

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We also sold long-serving midfielder Murat Kacar to Club Brugge for £7.5m.

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He started for us in the Europa League final just over a year ago but was backup last season so I decided to cash in. After signing for £600,000 as a 15 year old he leaves Sparta Rotterdam having won the Eredivisie 3 times!

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All other players sold were regens who were Eredivisie quality, but were not going to become starters in our team.

It means we have £12m in the bank, although it looks like we’re going to be bleeding money this season judging by the forecasts

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I’ve also upset Donny van de Beek after transfer listing him. Lille actually came in with £15m but the board rejected it the deal because it wasn’t enough money.

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The reason I’m trying to sell van de Beek is because of Berry van Es. Out of all the promising youngsters we have, he seems to be the best.

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And I’m also hoping that £55m man Roland Leidelmeijer starts firing straight away.

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He made a decent start, scoring a last minute winner on his debut as we won the Johan Cruijff Schaal for the 4th year in a row by beating Feyenoord 3-2.

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This season we’re actually 2nd favourites for the Eredivisie, which is the highest we’ve ever been predicted to finish!

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We're into our 9th season of the save and it's proving to be difficult to match the elite teams in Europe with an entirely Dutch squad. Of course I want to retain the Eredivisie, but I really want to make it to the quarter-finals of the Champions League this season.
After offering him out for £20m at the start of the summer and getting no bids, I expected Donny van de Beek to remain at the club.

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That was until Ajax came in with a £20m bid for him. He’s now back at the club where it all began and we got £20m for a 31 year old who we signed for free just last season!

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That deal, along with the rest of the transfers in the summer, means that I’m feeling a lot more relaxed about the financial situation at the club. At one point I thought I was going to liquidate Sparta!

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Finally, we had a squad that had 0 unhappy players… for about 2 days. £55m signing Roland Leidelmeijer is unhappy that we didn’t strengthen our midfield, so much so that he wants to leave.

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He’s probably been our best player so far in an otherwise average start to the season. We’re unbeaten after 4 games but are struggling to be clinical.

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We had the most ridiculous 2-2 draw against N.E.C. They scored two worldies and despite creating one million chances, our 2 goals were penalties which were both dodgy decisions

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And it’s no surprise who is top of the table...

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Elsewhere, we have been given an interesting Champions League group. We’ll play Man City who knocked us out so cruelly last year and also face Valencia who beat us in the Europa Conference League 5 years ago.

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We also now only have 2 players in the Dutch squad despite this being the 9th season of the save. Seeing that statistic makes it’s difficult to figure out if we’re going backwards or not!

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I expect us to get through to the last 16 of the Champions League this campaign, the question is can we improve on last season?
Since the last post we have played 8 games and won all 8.

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That included a brilliant win against Man City at the Etihad to get revenge (kind of) for them knocking us out of the Champions League last season.

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So after three group stage games, we are top of the table and Man City have work to do to get into the last 16!

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And you’d think that with all of those wins we’d be top of the Eredivisie? You’d be wrong.

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Ajax are unbelievable and are led by their world class striker Joel Sarpong.

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He has 18 goals in 7 league games and 24 in 8 in all competitions. The man is literally averaging a hattrick every game - it’s ridiculous.

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One of our standouts this season has been defender Micky van de Ven, who we signed for £4.8m 4 seasons ago

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And Emanuel Emegha has 10 goals and 6 assists already this season.

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He’s been such a brilliant player for us since the very start of the save and is not far off 200 Eredivisie goals for us

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Those 8 wins in a row are great but our next 4 games look tasty and could define our season.

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We can’t afford to drop any points and desperately need to beat Ajax at home in the Eredivisie!
Remember those 4 crucial games in a row? Well, we lost 3 of them…

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It started with a poor defeat away to AZ in supposedly our easiest game.

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We then managed to beat PSV and were so close, yet so far against Ajax. An abysmal first half meant that we lost and I seriously think they could win every single league game this season.

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A loss to Man City was probably expected but a 1-1 draw away against Young Boys was really poor. It baffles me how we didn’t win - their one shot on target went in, naturally.

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So a draw was needed in our final group stage game against Valencia to progress to the knockout stages.

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We went one better. A commanding 1-0 win ensured that we topped the group and qualified for the knockout stages for the second consecutive season.

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After finishing top of the group last season and getting shafted with the First Knockout Round draw, I was hoping for a slightly easier opponent this time around.

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And that’s exactly what we got!

We have a bit of history with Sociedad in the Europa League and considering we could’ve faced Barcelona or Juventus, you have to say it’s a very favourable draw for us!

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Ajax also made it to the last 16 of the Champions League, which is no surprise given that they have won 16 out of 16 league matches!

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I feel like I need to provide a Joel Sarpong update on every post because his numbers are getting astounding.

It’s not even January and the Ajax striker has 39 goals in 21 matches - and 32 in 16 Eredivisie games. You read that correct… 32 goals in 16 Eredivisie games.

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So retaining the Eredivisie looks out of the question, but we have a serious chance of getting to the Champions League quarter-finals!
Serious shoutout to Joel Sarpong. Immense numbers.

When did you find out about him and was there a time you could've nicked him from Amsterdam?
Serious shoutout to Joel Sarpong. Immense numbers.

When did you find out about him and was there a time you could've nicked him from Amsterdam?

I've known about him since he came through the youth intake but there was just no way Ajax were going to sell him. 5 years ago he turned down a loan move to us in favour of PSV and that's about the closest we've come to getting him.

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Ajax have also produced this goalkeeper who they've also refused to sell at any price

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It's very annoying doing a save with just Dutch players where the best Dutch youngsters are never available!

I'm not sure why the big European clubs haven't come in for them either, especially Sarpong. Holland is now 3rd in the nation coefficients so that could be why he's happy to stay at Ajax but he'd walk into any team in Europe
We never seem to get an easy opponent in the cup when we enter the competition in the second round - and this year was no exception. We played a strong side but still lost 2-1 at home to Feyenoord.

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Our city rivals were also involved in our only transfer activity in January, as we sold defender Marcelencio Kastiel to them for £3m.

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He started in our cup final win 5 years ago and has been a great servant for us so it shows just how far we’ve come that he was no longer needed.

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The reason I decided to sell Kastiel is because we have youngster Arnoud Zwiers, who soon bagged his first goal for the club in a routine win over Dordrecht.

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16 year old academy graduate Soufiani also scored on his debut in that game, breaking the record set by Maysonnave who we sold to Man City for £140m!

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Our second game of the season against Ajax was a 0-0 draw away from home which was a pretty decent result… especially as they have now finally started dropping points

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Since that result, we have won every Eredivisie match including a hectic 4-3 away against Feyenoord

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And Ajax seem to be crumbling again - despite winning the first 16 matches of the season, they now find themselves in second position behind us!

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There has never been a dull title race in this save!

However, our attention now turns to the Champions League 1st Knockout Round and Real Sociedad

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We have never progressed to the quarter-finals before so this might be our best chance to do so!
The first leg of our Champions League First Knockout Round against Real Sociedad was a drab affair that ended 0-0, but we probably should’ve won the game.


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We had 3 league games to play before the second leg and seeing Ajax lose again really boosted morale

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Especially as we then beat a very strong PSV side 5-1 away from home!

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An Emanuel Emegha hattrick in that game took him to 204 league goals, which is a Sparta record. Every single one of those goals have been scored in this save - what a player!

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So we were hitting perfect form ahead of the second leg against Real Sociedad, we just needed to get the job done in the home tie.

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And a brilliant first half performance ensured that we’re into the Champions League quarter finals for the first time!

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Our opponents in the quarter final are Real Madrid. What a tie!.

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They’re current holders of La Liga but are actually in 3rd position at the moment.

Still, they have an awesome squad including Alex Isak, Kubo and a few world class regens so we’re massive underdogs for the tie.

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But we could not be in better form at the moment and have won our last 9 Eredivisie matches in a row.


And Ajax have dropped more points, meaning that with 5 games left we are 4 points ahead of them!

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So once again it’s all looking good in the Eredivisie and we’re on course for our 4th Eredivisie title.

Bring on Real Madrid!
With us 17 games unbeaten in the Eredivisie, I expected another routine win over Utrecht… but somehow we ended up conceding 5 goals.

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It was a ridiculous game with all the goals coming in the second half. More significantly, it let Ajax back into the title race

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What a way to prepare for Real Madrid at home in the Champions League quarter-final!

Madrid’s squad is ridiculous and their backup players would walk into our lineup

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In comparison, our 100% Dutch side contained just 2 players who are regular starters for their country (Malacia and van der Steen)

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An awesome first-half performance was cancelled out by a terrible second half as two late goals gave Real complete momentum going into the second leg.

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We were poor second half, but it was a bit of a wind up when centre back Jesus Martin scored a volley from outside the area with 4 seconds left to give them the lead...

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We managed to beat FC Volendam in the one Eredivisie match before the second leg but I was really not looking forward to the trip to the Bernabeu.

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We truly needed a miracle and there was just no way it was happening.

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I expected to lose, but 4-0 flattered Real and it really wound me up the fact that the first 2 goals were conceded directly from corners.

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But what can you do? We stand no chance against the big European teams unless the direction of the save takes a new course…

We still have the Eredivisie to play for and are just one point ahead of Ajax with 3 games remaining.

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Given our recent slumps, I’m a bit worried that we’ll bottle it… especially as we play local rivals Feyenoord in the traditional last game of the season

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We’ve done so well this season, it’d be such a shame to go out with a whimper.
Our 32nd league game out of 34 was a narrow win over Willem II - but at this point it didn’t matter how we won as long as we did.

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The result was not as emphatic as Ajax’s win over Venlo, which meant that we were still one point ahead with 2 matches remaining.

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And it was business as usual in the 33rd and penultimate Eredivisie match of the season with both us and Ajax winning.

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So, just like last season, we had to beat Rotterdam rivals Feyenoord in the final match of the season to ensure that we won the Eredivisie

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At half time it was 0-0 but Feyenoord were down to 10 men. We could not be in a better position to get the victory we needed.

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We made incredibly hard work of it, but we’ve done it again! Eredivisie title number 4 is ours!

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The irony is that we didn’t actually need a last minute winner from Mo Sankoh, as Ajax drew their final Eredivisie match 1-1.

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Considering Ajax won all of their first 16 matches, we’ve done amazingly well to win the Eredivisie this campaign.

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Despite having an incredibly strong side, Ajax have now only won the league once in the last 5 seasons!

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And spare a thought for Joel Sarpong…

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47 goals and still no league title!
2028/29 was our most successful season yet, as we won our 4th Eredivisie and got to the Champions League quarter finals for the first time ever.

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We were knocked out by Real Madrid and they went on to win the competition by beating rivals Barcelona in the final.

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Former Sparta striker Maysonnave was also top scorer in the competition for Man City with 11 goals.

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It was a great Eredivisie season for us and 89 points is the highest total we’ve ever had.

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Our Dutch squad has only 3 players that are in the national squad, so it’s amazing we won the league and got to the last 8 of the Champions League!

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Emanuel Emegha would have scooped all the awards had it not been for the ridiculousness of Joel Sarpong. The Ajax striker ended with 47 Eredivisie goals in 33 starts.

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Emegha has been an unbelievable player in this save. I’ve never had a striker that’s so consistent and it’s just a shame that his ability compared to other Dutch strikers means that he’s unlikely to add to his 2 caps.

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Bram Van den Berg scored our first (and only) Champions League quarter final goal and was named young player of the season with 9 goals and 14 assists in all competitions.

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It’s also important to emphasise just how strong a league the Eredivisie is. Holland is now 3rd in the European coefficients table, which is crazy.

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Our under 18s also won the UEFA Youth League for the second time in the save, beating Inter in the final.

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And finances are pretty solid now after looking bleak this time last season.

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So, we’re 9 seasons in and have 4x Eredivisie titles, 1x Dutch Cup, lost in the Europa League final and have made it to the Champions League quarter-finals once...

But I’ll be honest, I can’t see us winning the Champions League with a 100% Dutch squad with Sparta.

So the ‘Going Dutch’ part of this story is about to change...
9 seasons into this save, we’ve won the Eredivisie 4 times and reached the Europa League final as well as a Champions League quarter final… which is pretty good going.

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However, one thing I didn’t expect at this stage was to only have 3 Dutch players in the Holland squad.

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Dutch players at the elite European clubs are never going to join Sparta and that, coupled with the fact Ajax are producing world-class Dutch regens that they’re never going to sell to us, is making the 100% Dutch aspect of this save very tricky.

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Whilst we’re producing very good Dutch players at Sparta, I think I’ve been blinded by the potential star ratings that are given to them. Our youth players are good but they’re not going to turn into the elite players that we need to take things forward.

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When we sold Dominique Maysonnave to Man City for £140m I thought that would be the turning point of the save, but it hasn’t really turned out that way.

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We’ve spent all the money on all the Dutch players that were willing to join us and I just can’t see us getting past the quarter final stage of the Champions League stage as things continue.

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So, I’ve decided that going forward I will be signing non-Dutch players under the age of 20 so that we can have a squad that can compete for the Champions League.

We’ve actually had a Uruguayan at the club since January and Ricardo Martinez is exactly the kind of player I’m looking to sign.

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The fact he was free, when mediocre Dutch players who are worse than him would cost us £40m made me realise I want to freshen up the save and have a serious go at winning the Champions League.

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So it’s fair to say that this summer transfer window will be busy!

There won’t be any kind of clear out, but I’m looking to sign the kind of youngsters (like Martinez) who will be able to get us to the latter stages of the Champions League in the next few seasons.
Now that I’ve tweaked the self-imposed rules of the save so that we can buy players of any nationality under the age of 20, we have recruited some extremely talented youngsters who will hopefully take us to the next level.

But that also means that we’ve had to move some players on. The first was Dillon Hoogewerf for £11m to Saudi Arabia.

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He’s been a great servant and popped up with important goals for us over the last couple of seasons, but has been a squad player for a while and it made sense to move him on.

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Centre back Joeri Bresser has also left and joined Sporting Lisbon for £11.5m. He had a great career at Sparta, playing an important part in all 4 Eredivisie titles, and we made a huge profit on the £900,000 we spent on him as a 17 year old.

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Now for the exciting bit... We’ve signed 3 quality teenagers who will hopefully help us get to the later stages of the Champions League in the next few years.

Bresser’s replacement is Mauro Díaz - a Uruguayan who we got on a free transfer. He can play in multiple positions but I’ll be using him at centre back mainly because he’s 6’4”

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Another Uruguayan teenager that joined us was Damián Crossa for £6m. He was an absolute bargain and I have no doubts he will become world class.

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It wasn’t just Uruguayans that we signed though. We’ve also recruited Miranda, a Brazilian, for £13m from Flamengo.

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The signings of those foreign players improves our squad, and it will only get better considering how much room for improvement these players have!

Ajax are still overwhelming favourites for the league this season but we have 4 players in the media best eleven, which is usually made up entirely of Ajax players

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A win over Ajax in what is now the traditional fixture in the Johan Cruijff Schaal has got me seriously excited for what we can achieve this year.

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It was great seeing how far we could get with Dutch players - but now it’s time to turn Sparta into one of the elite clubs in Europe!
The 2029/30 season could not have started any better for us as we stormed to a 7-0 win against N.E.C who finished 6th last season. There were 7 different scorers in the match including all 3 substitutes!

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That result had me very excited so I needed a nice reality check with a 0-0 draw away against newly promoted Roda JC Kerkrade - ridiculous!

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Other than that, it was a routine start to the season for us with wins over inferior opposition in the league

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Thankfully Ajax have also dropped points, so it’s actually Willem II who have started the strongest in the league this season!

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Out of all of our signings we made in the summer, I am most excited about Damian Crossa - he has 4 assists in 4 Eredivisie games but I will not be making any puns related to crossing…

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Despite being 1st seeds, we’ve been drawn in the group of death in the Champions League group stage. We’ll face last years finalist Barcelona as well as a very strong AC Milan side that have won Serie A 4 times in the last 5 years.

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We faced AC Milan 2 seasons ago in the Champions League but It’ll be good to face Barcelona for the very first time!
September 2029 started off with wins in the Eredivisie and Champions League, but we then struggled to a 2-2 draw away to Utrecht

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That was directly before the real test against Bareclona in the Champions League…

After going 1-0 up at Camp Nou, everything that could go wrong after that point in the match went wrong.

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The stupid thing is that we weren’t even that bad when we went down to 10 men and a 5-1 result flattered Barca.

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But my new policy of signing young, foreign players such as Ricardo Martinez back fired on this occasion as the Uruguayan midfielder’s sending off gave us no chance of getting back into the match.

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The result was made worse by Injuries to 2 key players Van der Steen and Emegha at exactly the wrong time as we faced Ajax 4 days later in the Eredivisie.

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But we really turned it on in the game against Ajax and had Ernest Poku to thank for a first half hat trick

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Poku has been such a hit and miss player for us. He goes missing in so many games yet pops up with world class performances… which makes him an extremely frustrating player!

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But, once again, another injury hit us as Bram van den Berg fractured his leg just before our crucial match against AC Milan in the Champions League

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Yet an inspired performance saw us beat Milan 3-1 at the San Siro. Uruguayan teenagers Diaz and Crossa were on fire!

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So that leaves us comfortably in 2nd place at the halfway mark in the Champions League group stage and I expect us and Barcelona to go through to the knockout rounds.

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And despite the injuries, we are top of the Eredivisie by 1 point and remain the only team that is unbeaten.

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Our run of games becomes easier over the next few weeks, so hopefully we can rotate the squad more to avoid getting further injuries to key players.
Top of the league and unbeaten - things were going great for us so far in the Eredivisie, so it was only a matter of time before things went wrong.

That time came at home to PSV Eindhoven, where we put in a truly woeful performance. We’ve honestly not played that bad in years!

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I mentioned Ernst Poku and his inconsistency in the last post - but scoring a hattrick against Ajax then dropping a 6.1 against PSV pretty much sums him up.

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Thankfully we gained a solid win over AC Milan in the Champions League, which meant that we qualified for the knockout rounds with 2 games remaining.

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But we continued to struggle to get results in the league. First, we had to rely on a last-minute winner against NAC and then we only just got a draw against lowly PEC Zwolle

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We’re also continuing to pick up niggly little injuries to key players - this time it was Crossa and Leidelmeijer who have been our best 2 players this season!

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And we always seem to concede at least 1 goal per game at the moment - a 4-2 win over Vitesse being the prime example. They scored with both of their shots on target!

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In that game 17 year old academy graduate Mourad Soufiani scored a hattrick. He’s got an extended run in the team because of injuries and If he continues developing he could become a very special player for us.

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But despite inconsistent performances, bad luck with injuries and out of form players… we are 2 points clear at the top of the Eredivisie.

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We’re going through the motions a bit this season - a nice quiet next few months with no injuries or bad performances would be nice...
With qualification already confirmed, we faced Barcelona in the fina Champions Leaguel group game to decide who finished top.

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They smashed our depleted side but once again our performance did not warrant the result - we honestly weren't that bad!

The result ensured that we finished 2nd in the group, meaning our opponents in the last 16 were going to be scary...

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And they turned out to be just that - we’ll face current Premier League champions Liverpool in the Champions League First Knockout Round

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I can't say that I’m optimistic about our chances at all.

We’ve had some excruciating results this year and a 0-0 at home to Groningen where we missed a penalty and they had literally 0 shots topped the lot.

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Then we faced local rivals Feyenoord at home.

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This is turning into a painful season. We are recording some awful results yet none of them feel deserved.

We’re now looking over our shoulders in the Eredivisie rather than at Ajax, who are still only 3 points ahead of us.

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Our poor form is worrying and there are a couple of scapegoats I need to pick out.

The first is Sparta Rotterdam legend Emanuel Emegha.

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The record goalscorer for Sparta has gone 10 games without scoring and is now only considered as a 2.5 star player. It’s seriously unbelievable that a player who once scored 51 goals in 51 games in a season for us has now gone 10 without a goal!

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The second is Ernest Poku

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Don’t let those career stats deceive you, he has been incredibly inconsistent (and poor) for us this season. He’s the highest earner at the club by miles yet has achieved a rating over 7 once in his last ten games

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Bayern Munich are interested in him and if they come in with a decent fee I’ll be more than happy to sell him.

Our best player Rody van der Steen is also wanted by PSG and it’s going to be very hard to keep him at the club without annoying him - plus the money PSG have may be too good to turn down.

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We could be in for a very, very busy January transfer window!
I said in the last post that if decent money was offered for Ernest Poku then I would let him go… so £42.5m will do nicely!

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He popped up with some magic at times, but a 6.62 rating in the 6 Champions League games this season sums Poku up - we need players who are going to turn up against the big teams.

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I also said in the last post that PSG may make an offer I couldn’t refuse for Rody van der Steen… and that’s exactly what they did

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He was our best player, who we signed for £80m, but wanted to leave and I could not refuse that money.

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And so van der Steen becomes the second player we have sold for £140m in the save

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We recouped over £180m for 2 players in January. Now that I’ve tweaked the rules of the save, this time I’m not going to waste the money on average Dutch players!

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The only player we bought in was Márcio Ginatto - a £14m replacement for Poku who fits in with our new policy of signing anybody under the age of 20.

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So we have £166m in the bank and I plan to spend it all wisely at the end of the season

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The reason for not replacing van der Steen directly is because of the development of Brian Garcia, who I initially signed to be in the B team but has developed nicely over the last year.

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And I also have faith in central midfielders Miranda and Ricardo Martinez - especially Martinez who is turning into a beast of a player.

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It might be madness to sell 2 of our best players halfway through the season.

But I can’t see us beating Liverpool in the Champions League or beating Ajax to the Eredivisie, so I am hoping that the decision eventually has long term benefits!
After selling 2 key players in January, it was always going to be interesting to see how we reacted…
Turns out that we reacted quite well and February was an almost perfect month for us!

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Mo Sankoh scoring a hattrick against NAC to then later get injured pretty much sums him up...

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He never lets us down but is injured far too often, which means he is now just a rotation option for us after 6 seasons of being first choice.

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That aside - it has been a very good month or so for us and we even got to the semi-finals of the cup for the first time in about 5 years. Despite winning the Eredivisie 4 times, we’ve only won the cup once so it would be nice to add to that!

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The huge test for us came when we faced Ajax and Liverpool in the space of 4 days.

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We needed to avoid defeat to Ajax to realistically stand any chance of winning the Eredivisie for the 3rd year in a row

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We put in a solid performance to get a credible point in Amsterdam, but we should not have drawn the game after taking the lead in the 87th minute.

So I was not very confident heading into the first leg of the Champions League knockout round against current Premier League holders Liverpool.

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But we absolutely battered them 4-0 - it was a performance that came out of absolutely nowhere!

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That emphatic win seems to have turned our season around and put some belief in the squad. Despite the many blips this season, we are level on points with Ajax with 8 games remaining as they’re making a habit of losing key matches.

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Surely we’ll qualify for the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the second season in a row?
Massive result against Liverpool, fingers crossed this can be your best CL season to date!

Not that it seemed to impact your performance (beating Liverpool 4-0), but you may want to look at your training schedule, especially when you have 2 big games back to back. I've started doing it a lot more on this FM, adding rest days or match preparation stuff instead of general/overall training as it is much less fatiguing on the players when you have a short turn around. Possibly something to look at, but as I say it didn't seem to impact your performance one bit!