Nuklearci - The Nuclear Boys of Slovenia (Now at Rapid Vienna!)

chrisloaf

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This is the story of NK Krsko - a small team in south-east Slovenia

For starters I love managing in obscure European countries, i've managed in most of them, most recently in Serbia with Trayal Krusevac (European and World Champions 2031..). I then went on to manage the Serbian national team and enjoyed great success as they continually produce some brilliant players. I usually need to really sell the idea of a club to take over if i'm going to make it work, I can't just jump on FM one day and pick a country and team at random and have it go anywhere. However here I loaded up FM planning on managing in Romania but ended up plumping for Slovenia, a country i've not *seriously* managed in before. I picked Krsko because of their peculiar name (to an English person...), and also they were one of only a few sides i'd heard of in the 2nd tier. I like to play the game realistically, signing players from the country i'm managing in instead of going for cheap South Americans and Africans. I'm also very tight on finances and don't spend more than I can afford.

So Krsko had just been relegated to the 2nd tier of Slovenia when I took over. I didn't actually realise this as they were only predicted to finish 10th in our 16 team league. I was led to believe from that that maybe there were underlying problems with the club but that wasn't the case. The target was a top half finish which I was more than happy to try to achieve, just to get my feet under the carpet and really push towards promotion in the 2nd season. The Nuklearci are a non-professional club who play in the 1470 capacity Matije Gubca stadium. They have a few rivalries, but are fierce rivals with The Farmacevti (NK Krka). Farmacevti is Slovenian for The Pharmacists, and if it wasn't obvious, Nuklearci is Slovenian for The Nuclear Boys. This is because there is a nuclear power plant in the town. I find these little facts fascinating to be honest and it helps draw me into the team i'm managing. Their average wage is about £150p/w, with a budget of £4k p/w.

The Slovenian league schedule is very simple. The First Division is a 10 team league, 36 games where everybody plays each other 4 times, 2 home and 2 away. The bottom team gets relegated, and 9th places goes into a play off with the team in 2nd in the Second Division. The Second Division is a 16 team league (30 games facing each other twice) with 2 relegation spots, with the Champions going straight up and 2nd place going into the play off with the First Division side. The Cup format is a little different. There is a qualifying round, which includes all 2nd tier sides and below. I'm still trying to get my head around this but there has also been 1 First Division side appear in the qualifying round. After this, there's two rounds, then a quarter final, semi final and final. The quarter and semi final are two legged affairs. In line with other European countries, there is a winter break which typically lasts around 10 weeks, returning mid-February. Strangely though (in the 2nd tier) 21 games are played before the winter break, with the remaining 9 played in a 3 month period post-break, meaning there are a good 4 or 5 weekends with no games. It reached a point where I was having to organise friendlies on these weekends off to try and keep match fitness up. There's only one mid-week game played in the league season, around matchday 3 or 4.

When I first joined I inherited the most inbalanced side i'd ever seen. The squad size was fine, however I had 3 defenders in total, with the squad littered with wingers and central midfielders. There were also only two or three active u19 players. When walking into a club of this size I prefer to make as few changes as possible, giving everybody a chance but I needed to get active in the transfer market. I sold/loaned out about four players, and got to work strengthening the defence with a few players on non-contracts. In fact one of these players ended up being most suited to becoming my captain for my first season. There seemed to be some decent quality in the squad but it remained to be seen whether this was my coaches' over-enthusiastic opinions. I made use of the very handy affiliation I already had with NK Maribor, the most successful side in Slovenia, by signing a star centre back on loan. Besides this it was just free transfers. Despite my preference for home grown players, 75% of my squad were actually Croatian, with only about half a dozen Slovenians. I also already had THREE Dinamo Zagreb players on loan despite no affiliation, however geographically the two clubs are very close. On this game I loaded the Austrian and Italian leagues, although I dropped Italy for Croatia after the first season.

So after a succesful pre-season where i'd won 5 out of 6 games, attention turned to the start of the league season. An opening day 2-0 defeat at Drava was followed with a convincing 3-0 home win against pre-season title favourites Koper. This was to be one of only two defeats for Koper as they won the league with ease. This season we joined the Slovenian Cup in the 1st round, beating a non-league side 3-1. That is as far as our cup journey went, as fancied Second Division side Gorica won in extra time at the Matije Gubca stadium in the second round. From then on the rest of the season was very inconsistent. We went into the winter break in 5th position, 7 points behind Fuzinar who occupied 2nd spot. By the end of the season we held 5th place but had fallen 19pts behind 2nd, and a whopping 31 behind champions Koper. We didn't score enough goals but defensively we were solid, conceding less than a goal a game. W11, D10, L9. A successful season in terms of achieving our target of a top half finish but a lot of work to be done next season.

One of the bigger headaches of my first season was the league rule in which only one non-EU player was allowed to be named in the matchday squad, so that incldues the bench. I'd (very randomly) inherited an Argentinian striker on loan who in fairness looked a brilliant player, but it didn't work out at all. I'd also had a Serbian CB, and rather foolishly signed a Nigerian CB (went against my ethos here admittedly). These two were also very good players, the former being an u21 international, so there was a lot of rotation going on but usually favouring the Argentinian. Halfway through the season I felt it just wasn't working out and wanted to terminate his loan, but couldn't. At this point I was horrified to find that we were paying his £1,300 wages, 33% of our wage bill. I had no choice but to keep him on the books, but my attention turned to my Serbian CB Domic, who was out of contract at the end of the season. Predictably at this level a good 80% of my players were out of contract at the end of the season, and the majority of those, while admitting they were happy to stay at the club, also didn't want to enter talks as they felt we didn't have the finances to give them what they wanted, which was wrong. I'd noted down a total of 9 players that I wanted to keep hold of for next season, in the end I was only able to hold on to about 5 of them. A big rebuild was needed.

I was able to find 2 or 3 good players in the 2nd half of the season who would join me for the start of season 2. I made a lot more use of the loan market with 6 players coming in, a few of which had been with me the previous season. From memory if anything, the tables had turned this season and I found myself short in midfield and very comfortable with my defensive options. All of my staff were out of contract which gave me my first opportunity to bring in some of my own people. Sadly there's not too much quality out there, so most stayed put except for a few improvements made with physios and scouts. The target from the board this season was again a top half finish, but I was hoping for more.

We had a potentially difficult start to the season, travelling to Gorica first up, Koper in the qualifying round of the Slovenian Cup with our 3rd game of the league season being away to relegated Domzale. We drew, won and won those games respectively which saw us setting the pace early on. We exited the Cup in the 1st round with a 4-0 defeat at top flight Olimpija. Things slowed down again with many draws and uninspiring attacking performances. We managed to hold on to a final game showdown. After 29 games Triglav topped the table with 59pts, Gorica 58pts, and the Nuklearci 55pts. This league is sorted by H2H record, and I edged that on Gorica, who happened to be hosting Triglav on the final day. We were away to mid-table Dravograd, having just beaten our pharmacist rivals 4-2 the game before to keep our hopes alive. Simply I needed to win and hope Gorica lose. Unfortunately despite playing against 10 men for an hour, we took the lead and then dominated our way to a 1-1 draw, summing up our lack of cutting edge in front of goal. Us taking the lead in that game coincided with Triglav scoring two quick goals against Gorica, with 2-0 being how it finished. Again another season of struggling to score goals (36) but even tighter in defence (19)
 
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chrisloaf

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I'd signed a new contract around Christmas time in my first two seasons, a one year extension being all they can offer. The 3rd season was the be-all and end-all for me with the board now expecting promotion. I'd done enough to get a crack at a top division side I had thought if this didn't pan out. I'd signed a whopping ELEVEN players on loan over the course of this season, 2 of them being post-winter break and a good chunk of them being returnees, 2 on their 3rd consecutive loan. Maribor bring through some great youngsters and with our partnership, four of them came from there. This summer also marked my first transfer where money was exchanged, paying 19k to Bilje for right winger Jan Strukelj who had scored 8 and assisted 9 the previous season in the Second Division. Crucially and to my surprise, we were able to extend the loan of our star Slovenian striker Oliver Kregar, on loan from Hajduk. They signed him on a free after season 1 despite us and many other (bigger) Slovenian clubs trying to sign him on a free. Realistically we didn't stand a chance, ironically the best chance of getting him to play for us was for him to join Hajduk, as they were likely to put him in their B team and place him on the loan list, which they did. Our improvements to staff continued and we also welcomed our first data analyst. We also agreed to upgrade our training facilities, although this later fell through. Crucially we didn't lose any of *our own" players this summer. After two years of trying to find the right formation, we stuck this year mainly with a 4-3-3 (3CM's, RAM/LAM/ST).

It's also worth noting that our u19 side, who, like the main team, have seen their staff numbers increase have improved remarkably. I do pay a great deal of attention to our youth side, we struggled to 10th (out of 14) place finish in our first season in the top flight of Slovenian youth football which I was more than happy with. 10th would have to do in season two, but season 3 saw us finish 3rd. We have some tidy youngsters coming through, only one or two look like they could turn into something special but it's still very solid for an area of the club that can still do with a lot of improvement structure-wise.

We made another fast start to our league season, winning 4 and drawing 2 of our first 6 with a 2nd elimination in 3 years at the hands of Gorica in the Slovenian Cup. Again our fortunes turned, we were very hard to beat but went on a run of 6 wins in 15 games. Our record at one stage was W8 D10 L0 and had fallen 5pts behind surprise leaders Brda. As mentioned above, we made two loan signings in January which may have played a huge part in how our season ended. Maribor recalled the very highly rated but unused loanee Marko Bedek, so I went and loaned an even better centre back from them. We have some good quality in central defence but this new loanee was on another level, so I stuck him straight in. Preperation for the 2nd half of the season saw us make use of our partnership with Maribor by hosting them in a friendly for the first time, impressively drawing 1-1 with the side who had dominated the current and previous season in the top flight. On the flipside, we had an issue which we always knew was going to happen, that our Dinamo Zagreb midfielder Luka Nizic was out of contract in January. He had been snapped up on a free at the end of his contract by Croatian side Varazdin but we were able to find a replacement. Nizic was being talked about in player of the season discussions well after he had left, such was the season he was having.

Our form post-winter break was fantastic, winning our first 6 games and opening up a gap of 4pts to Domzale and 5pts to Brda with 3 games remaining. The Krsko board were happy enough to offer me a contract extension despite our target not being achieved yet. We were still unbeaten at this stage, but we still had to play relegated Fuzinar who were quietly coming into contention near the top. We slipped to a deserved 2-0 defeat and a first defeat of the season, and with this being the first game where we could have mathematically wrapped up the title, it had me wondering whether nerves were going to play a part. Domzale and Brda both won their games, meaning I had a 1 and 2 point lead with two games remaining. Dravograd were dispatched 4-0 at home in MW29 but Domzale weren't giving up, Brda drew, and their inferior H2H record with Domzale meant the top two were decided. Crucially the order wasn't, and somewhat conveniently, the Nuklearci were to host Domzale on the final day of the season. Winner takes all. We'd lost 2 home games in the 44 i'd taken charge of, both in the first season, now was not the time to make that 3...........

...........and they didn't! The Nuclear Boys will be returning to the Slovenian top flight after a three year hiatus. A surprisingly comfortable and convincing 3-0 win saw us home. Just 13 goals conceded this season and an improvement in goals scored. The board have also announced their intention to go professional once again. The promotion would also see our links to Maribor ended, which could be crucial with our squad and loans situation. Our wage bill shrunk after season one and stayed the same after season two. We were blessed with a 74k transfer budget after promotion which won't really get us anywhere and an identical wage budget to years before (just short of 5k). Further improvements to backroom staff are needed and like last season, we gain in a new area by welcoming a new sport scientist. There really won't be much room to manouvre with what we can pay players. Fortunately the rules are more relaxed in the top flight with an increase from 1 to 3 maximum non-EU players in a matchday squad. However we can only loan 2 players from the same club.

I'm happier with a smaller squad this season as injuries haven't been as bad as feared in years gone by, so i'm using some of my higher rated youngsters as back-up options while making them available for the u19s still. Three youngsters have joined my feeder club Brezice, making this the first time i've been able to make use of the partnership. We go into the new season largely with the side that got us promoted minus one or two loan players. We've spent a little more money on a 2nd division right back that our new coach couldn't recommend highly enough. Who knew Arjen Robben knew his Slovenian Second Division football............ Again, not the sort of direction I usually go in however he was well within what I was willing to pay a coach, and a lot of average-at-best coaches want silly money here for some reason. Over the next year i'm keen to try and make use of January and signing players who are out of contract in the summer as relying on loan players is not sustainable. I'm lucky I've got multiple players who have been on loan for atleast two years

As for the new season all I'm looking to do is stay up. I have a feeling the step up won't actually be too big, as far as mid table anyway. I expect a few thrashings but being able to compete in games in the first objective. Domzale followed me up through the play offs, and with their stature I don't have another weak side to hope go worse than I do. I'm favourites for the drop which is something my players couldn't have been quicker to agree with when we had our end of season meeting after promotion......

To be continued

Stadium
 
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chrisloaf

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So season four - pre season began with continued rumours of a takeover at Nuklearci. This has been a repeated theme since day 1 but has never gone anywhere serious. By this point, rather impressively our squad has gone from being about 20% Slovenian to about 75%. With our Maribor affiliation expiring, we searched for and found a new parent club in the way of Sparta Prague. Sparta Prague were the chosen choice ahead of fellow Czech side Slovan Liberec, and Portugese side Moreirense. They were chosen more for geographical reasons, as well as the soft spot I have for them as being one of my greatest FM saves....... Sadly with Czech Republic not being a loaded league I doubt i'll be able to make much use of them, I was hoping for Dinamo Zagreb or a top Austrian side.

Another negative was our pre-season. I'd noticed while in the 2nd tier that the top division started their season a good few weeks before we did, in early July. Players returned to training in late June, meaning we had a whole 12 days between the first day back and matchday 1. Majorly off-putting to be honest when considering if I want to manage in this country long term. I managed to squeeze in two friendlies before the big kick off at Koper. The start to the season was terrific, winning 5 of our first 6 games, including a victory at Maribor, with our only defeat coming at Triglav. Gorica for the third time in four seasons knocked us out of the Slovenian Cup, this time in the qualifying round, however it was encouraging that a fully rotated squad managed to outplay a side we traditionally struggle against. A bit of inconsistency followed with victories still being frequent, we headed into the break for the World Cup in 2nd position, only a few points behind Maribor but with a couple games more played. The Qatar World Cup meant our winter break started on 30th October with the season resuming on 31st December. France won the World Cup again, with Italy beating Qatar 8-0 in the opening game.

Injuries were and continued to be a problem for the rest of the season. With no training/tactical/coaching changes, I've no idea why this is but we were picking up injuries on a weekly basis. Our side also continued to be prolific from set pieces and headed goals, however we were picking up a lot more bookings than previous seasons. The second half of the season started with five consecutive clean sheets and three victories. At this point I wasn't looking up at Maribor, more below at the gap to 5th place as European qualification had become a realistic target. At this point came the first feeling of doubt as to whether I want to remain here long term, as my chairman accepted a bid from Maribor for my highly rated youngster behind my back. Since I joined our bank balance has always been in the black, and with a bit of European money coming in next season looking likely, why sell a star in the making to a team we want to be competing with in years to come? It was about 150k up front with an extra 250k in instalments/appearances, and 40% of the profit they make on him. I'd also received a few job interview offers from higher profile clubs in the division which I rejected, promising to know for future reference though. I was able to find a veryhighly rated player from Hajduk II on loan, and signed him on a pre contrat agreement for the summer. He went on to score two screamers in his first two games.

The general trend again was scoring few goals but being tight in defence. After about 21 games we'd scored 18 goals, conceding only 10. This took a strange turn in the third quarter of the season, where we scored 2 or more goals in 7 out of 8 games, conceding a few more to go with it. The format of this league of playing each other four times is new to me and I found it interesting to try and complete a grand slam on a team, we went into the final quarter of the season with that only being a possibility with two sides, unfortunately we couldn't grab a 4th win against Koper and Mura, in fact losing at home to Koper in what would be one of only two home defeats in the season. Maribor won the title with four games to spare, losing their next game to ourselves meaning our H2H record over the season was won 2 and lost 2, not bad considering 2 was the total number of defeats they'd suffered in the previous couple of seasons. Our season ended in normal fashion with a series of 1-0 wins to cement a comfortable 2nd place finish, 10pts behind Maribor and 13pts clear of Olimpija in 3rd. We'd managed to beat every team atleast twice with the exception of Aluminij (once). P 36 W 21 D 6 L 6 F 43 A 29 GD 14 PTS 69 (69pts equaling our previous best points finish in a season in 2001/02), with our 2nd place finish being our highest ever league position.

Next season will also be the first time the Nuklearci will feature in European competition, although sadly it will be in the new Euro Cup II. I've no idea how this competition will work when in starts (in real life or on the game) but it will be disappointing if its clubs at our level that are the ones that are chucked into it, when really 2nd place should qualify for the Europa League, and maybe 3rd place go into the new competition. Still, it will be welcome money in our pocket that will be used to grow the club.

My contract takes me through to next season at which point i'm open to the idea of moving to another club. As mentioned in my first post i've done the whole "take a tiny club to World glory" in Serbia, I think here I might look more towards gradual progression through multiple clubs. With Austria loaded a side like Austria/Rapid Vienna might be a good move, or Rijeka/Hajduk in Croatia. It would be nice to leave the Nuklearci with another trophy. In the meantime I've managed to build towards my goal of relying less on loan moves. It will be a factor next season but it will be more towards 4 or 5 loans instead of the usual 8/9. Oliver Kregar has already signed up for a 4th year on loan, Marko Brest a 3rd year. I've terminated a link with one of my lower feeder clubs in the hope I can find another who are in the second division. Brezice, my main feeder club, went down this season despite having four of my players on loan but they rarely used them sadly. The board trusted me enough to choose a club to form a link with but the side I chose weren't interested, so i'll get the board to look for me next time. Krsko's most successful season in our centenary year, good stuff!

Finally I need to give a shoutout to my experienced central midfidler Zvonko Pamic. He's a real player who played for Leverkusen and Dinamo Zagreb at the start of last decade. He's been here since I joined, I used him sparingly in my first season not realising just how good he was. He is a master of free kicks and has scored all 16 penalties he has taken for us.
2019/20 - 13 apps 1 goal 2 assists
2020/21 - 29 apps 8 goals 10 assists
2021/22 - 28 apps 11 goals 8 assists
2022/23 - 32 apps 8 goals 7 assists
 

chrisloaf

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Feb 4, 2018
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Season five began with our board cancelling our only remaining link with a feeder club. Strangely they didn't see it to be worthwhile thing to search for another one, thankfully a handful of our younger players were able to find clubs in the 2nd tier to go and get some extra experience. A new scout was signed up spot talent in Croatia, while our other scout continued his work in his native Slovenia. Our European adventure was a brief one after being handed a tricky draw against Rijeka of Croatia. We lost the first leg 2-0 away, and the lack of an away goal was to prove crucial as Rijeka took an early lead in the 2nd leg. We came back to win 2-1 but it wasn't enough, despite edging both games. This fetched us a whole 71k in prize money which was massively disappointing. It makes no sense to me why finishing 2nd wasn't enough to see us put in the Europa League.

The quality in our squad continued to grow in the transfer market, with the final piece of the jigsaw being Slovenia and Atalanta legend Josip Ilicic on a free transfer. We were able to snap him up on £825p/w, nearly x2 as much as anybody else in the squad. Not my typical sort of signing, but the wages were there to be used and he covered two positions we were short in. Then there's the obviously bonus of added experience and kit sales. At this stage he was 35yo and still an absolute gem of a player.

The league season started steadily, with a smash and grab victory at home to Maribor a particular highlight, Josip Ilicic with a 93rd minute free kick from 30 years. We safely negotiated our way past Olimpija in the 2nd round of the Slovenian Cup, and then past 2nd division Nafta over two legs to take us through to the semi finals next spring against our Cup nemesis Gorica. Our league season really pittered out from here, and was littered with inconsistency that was seen over our first few years. Our defence remained as strong as ever, with only 6 goals being conceded from our first 18 games. A tricky spell before and after Christmas saw any hopes of a top three finish disappear as Maribor raced clear at the top, and Olimpija and Aluminij fought for 2nd place. We were in a fight for the final Euro Cup II spot with Triglav.

We struggled our way to 5th place with one game remaining, level on points with 4th place Triglav. They faced a trip to champions Maribor, while we travelled to Celje who needed a victory to stand any chance of avoiding relegation. We managed to scrape a 1-0 win while Triglav slumped to a 3-0 defeat. 4th place typically wouldn't get European qualification if a team outside the top 4 won the Slovenian Cup, however with Maribor waiting in the final, navigating our way past Gorica in the semi finals would guarantree it. A 3-0 victory in the home leg meant a 2-0 defeat with a rotated side in the 2nd was nothing but another limp performance. The 2nd leg was played 4 days after the end of the league season, and 3 days before the Cup final. Maribor played their 2nd leg a month before which I don't understand. It was the Nuklearci's first ever cup final but the result was never in question really with Maribor running out 2-0 winners.

The Ilicic experiment started well but fazed out a little. Overall it was decent but no disaster by any stretch. He finished the season with 15 starts, 23 sub appearances and 6 goals. But this is where the Nuklearci story ends with a decision made months ago to leave at the end of my contract. Despite a 4th place finish we still exceeded our modest expectations from the media/board but not so much myself. There were a few temptations to stay, with a significantly increased transfer budget (70k > 800k) and wage budget (8k > 10K) being offered at the end of the season, and an easier Euro Cup II qualifier against Sachter Soligorsk of Belarus. Talks of a takeover were starting to hot up more than ever with the current owner publicly stating he wants things to be wrapped up quickly as we had been placed under a transfer embargo.

Days after my departure a takeover of the club was finally completed. On July 1st I was a free man. I'm actively looking to take a job in Austria at the Croatian league, despite being an obvious step up, is still fairly similar to the league format in Slovenia. The Wolfsberger job was available but they'd just been relegated to the 2nd tier, and i'm not keen on a rebuild job right now. I'm currently in December, six months after leaving the Nuclear Boys but there have been some intriguing jobs to come up from elsewhere, notably Olimpija and Rijeka.
 

chrisloaf

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Feb 4, 2018
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In March 2025 I was appointed manager of Rapid Vienna in Austria. I had arrived just in time for the start of the relegation group which we topped. We had a big scare with relegation, dropping 3pts adrift at the bottom at one stage before winning 2 of our final 3 games to see us safe. On the verge of the sack after six games, this really did save me. Expectations at the club do seem lower than i'd expect, however mid-table finishes had been the norm for the past 5 years.

Austria is a 12 team league where you play each other twice before the league splits into two and points are halved. Two more games are played against each opposition to total 32. The season runs from mid-late July through to late May, although the league does extend for teams who finish in certain positions to sort out who gets Euro II football next season. A winter break splits the season for two months from mid-December. Again this league seems sort of harsh in the way there are no spots available to qualify for the Europa League. From what I understand, 2nd place goes the Euro II qualifiers, while 3rd place has to play a few more two legged league matches to determine who gets the final spot. The first round of the Austrian Cup is the curtain raiser to the season with R2 and R3 played before Christmas, the QF, SF and final all played later in the season, all one legged affairs.

Enough of a budget was available to bring in three players for money. A striker from Sweden, a winger from Hungary and a midfielder from Croatia saw us spend 2.6m, with 2.4m brought in from a few player sales. 3 players were also brought in on free transfers while a wonderkid centre back was loaned from Bayern Munich (Germany now added to the game, Croatia removed). I also have a star striker that appears to have came through the academy, wanted by some top European clubs. Sadly has a minimum fee release clause of 16m, potentially worth a lot more although he's valued at around 2m. If I don't cash in on him next summer then I may have to the year after as his contract runs to 2028. Throughout the season my experienced GK Richard Strebinger who has been here since 2015 led on and off revolts against me, culminating in a showdown in February which led to me selling him to Besiktas in the summer. A massively disruptive influence who the players held in high regard, will be interesting to see if the level of support for me increases on his departure. I also began having issues with the young Bulgarian starlet who was signed on a free from Atletico Madrid in the summer who wants more first team football than he is currently getting.

Pre-season went well with 5 wins out of 6 and no goals conceded. Games were just against lower Austrian teams with a couple in a tour of Poland. We beat lower league opposition in the first two rounds before stumbling out with a rotated squad against BW Linz of the 2nd tier. The target from the board was a top 6 finish. The start to the league season promised to be difficult with a trip to fierce rivals Austria Vienna on the opening day, before two home games against St Polten and Florisdorfer before travelling to face Red Bull Salzburg with Rhian Brewster and Mason Greenwood spearheading their attack. A draw, two wins and a 1-0 defeat saw us begin strongly, with the good form continuing for much of the season. Four straight wins on the return from the winter break saw us end the regular season in 2nd, 4 points behind Red Bull and 8 ahead of Austria Vienna.

Points being halved, we were two points from Red Bull and four ahead of Austria Vienna. I had no expectations of pushing for a title win, however we eventually bottled our way to a 2nd placed finish, climbing up from 3rd after failing to win any of the first 9 games of the Championship Group, drawing 7 and losing 2. Finished the season conceding 14 goals in 32 games, dwarfed by Red Bull's 11.

Overall a positive season, much better than I was expecting despite continued ramblings of discontent among my players. Struggling to see how I can improve my squad too much with lack of funds and the general poor state of the club financially. Hopefully a decent run in Europe will help things.



On a Krsko note, they have finished 3rd and 6th in the two seasons without me, reaching the Slovenian Cup final twice more to make it three years in a row. All three have ended in defeats to Maribor.
 
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chrisloaf

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So season eight

The season started with the positive news that as from next season, the team finishing in 2nd will be rewarded with Champions League football, entering at the second qualifying round. A Europa League place was now on offer for 3rd place, with 4th having the possibility of Euro Cup II football. On the downside, our new winger arriving from Red Star Belgrade had picked up a hip injury just days before joining and would miss the next 5 months. Rody de Boer, a 28yo GK from AZ Alkmaar signed on a free transfer to replace my troublesome outgoing first choice keeper. A wonderkid regen winger named Max Cohen joined on loan from Man City as I opted against a second straight loan for Bayern's wonderkid CB Clement Hübscher, bringing in a 27yo Slovenian CB from Olimpija, and a young Austrian CB on loan with a mandatory 725k fee to buy next summer. This really begins my attempt to start giving my squad more of a domestic feel to it as currently about 50% of the team are Austrian. We have 4 or 5 highly rated youngsters out on loan in the second tier this season at various clubs, two of which i'm certain will have a part to play in the first team in years to come. Our young wantaway Bulgarian RB moved back to Spain for around 4m meaning we'd came through the summer with a positive net spend and wages trimmed a tad.

Pre-season included a two-game tour of Holland, including an 8-0 win against Almere City, with new and old feeder teams visited either side of a home friendly against CSKA Sofia. Our first competitive game was an away tie at lowly Klagenfurt in the Cup, with a rotated side still proving too strong as we ran out 9-0 winners. Our goalscoring form was to continue as we entered the EURO Cup II second qualifying round with a 7-0 home victory against Aris, drawing the away leg 1-1. Rio Ave (3-1 agg) and Nitra (7-1 agg) were dispatched as we strolled into an underwhelming group stage consisting of Slovan Bratislava, KV Mechelen and Astana. Back in the league, we won our first seven games including a 1-0 home success against Salzburg. Game 8 pitched us against Austria Vienna who had won all but one game themselves, with our rivals running out 3-0 winners. Winning commenced until another humbling defeat at the hands of Salzburg. Christmas saw Austria Vienna leading the way with ourselves and Salzburg right on their tail. Back in Europe, 5 wins from our first 5 games saw us cruise through to the knockout rounds, a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Astana in the final round of matches was made more frustrating as we had won 7-1 in Kazakhstan. Lower league opposition in the next two rounds of the Austrian Cup helped us through to the quarter finals after the winter break.

We toured Slovenia in our warm up matches for the return of the season, beating both Domzale and Gorica. Another lower league side in SV Lafnitz were brushed aside 3-1 in the Cup Quarter Final before a crucial return to league action against Austria Vienna. A 1-0 win was then followed by a record breaking 10-0 win away at Mattersburg, before a 2nd win against Austria Vienna in 10 days saw us book our spot in the Cup final against Salzburg later in the season. This was the start of a tiny slump for Austria Vienna as they lost 3 of their last 4 league games of the normal season, having lost none of their first 18. This meant we topped the table going into the Championship rounds, with points halved we were tied on 27pts with Salzburg, with Austria Vienna on 26pts. LASK Linz were best of the rest having been reset to 20pts. Over in Europe, winning the group meant we skipped the first knockout round and faced AZ Alkmaar in the second round. Despite dominating both legs, a 2-0 away defeat in the first leg proved too much to overturn as we exited European football for the season (2-1 agg). Definitely reasons to be positive though knowing we performed how we did against a very good side.

Despite the title not being realistic last season, it was fresh in my memory that our form in the Championship group took a big hit last season, winning only 1 of the 10 games but drawing 7. Our struggles against the top sides rose again, with four defeats all at the hands of Salzburg and Austria Vienna erasing any hope of a first league title for 20 years. There was however one reason to cheer, as we beat Salzburg 2-0 in the Cup final to get our hands on the trophy for the first time since 1995. A bit of a smash and grab victory, but a welcome change. This is only my 2nd trophy win after lifting the Slovenian 2nd division title in 2022. By no means the first time we've been able to beat them, but they definitely do have the edge over us, as do Austria Vienna it seems. Big game performances is one area inparticular that we need to improve. Despite being one win away from guaranteeing Champions League football for our final four games, an end of season stutter saw us go into the final game 1pt ahead of Austria Vienna, and 10 behind champions Salzburg. All 3 games finished 1-1 meaning we had just about done enough to seal 2nd place for a 2nd straight season, the first time Rapid Vienna have done so for over 10 years.

Our young striker Klaus Haas finished top goalscorer in the 2nd tier with BW Linz, with another youth player finishing 3rd top goalscorer. I'll be looking to get some of these players loans in the top division next season supposing they will be regularly used. Our midfielder Luka Pavlak won Euro Cup II Player of the tournament, with 3 goals, 3 assists and an average rating of 7.74 from 9 matches. 156 goals were scored in 62 games (inc friendlies) meaning our attacking was much improved this season with our defence being a bit leakier than normal, but nothing to be too concerned about. Next season is quite straight forwards in terms of recruitment, I feel we need a LB, CM and RM to push us on. Salzburg will be tough to beat as their budget completely balloons everybody elses, their frontline of Rhian Brewster and Mason Greenwood are on 75% of my entire wage budget alone. I have 7m to spend and only about 30k free in the wage budget, next year with some Champions League money we will hopefully be able to push the boat out a little more
 
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