Derby FM20 – The Digested Read

If you are brand new to these pages then you may very well be daunted by the number of posts covering my adventures with Derby County on Football Manager 2020. Basically an account of what I did during lockdown, each season in the game has been accompanied by a novel-length sequence of posts that cover what happened – each match, my reactions, happy thoughts and worries, player ins and outs, etc. I know what you’re thinking – why not just write a novel? Well, maybe one day, but doing this has been a lot of fun, however to those of you who are approaching this story with fresh eyes then the prospect of wading through the mass of words just to catch up will no doubt be asking a lot.

This page, therefore, is a digested read that sums up each of my completed years in a few hundred words. My recommendation, because I have a weird and sad sense of pride in my work here, is to ignore this and invest the hours in reading the whole thing, but as the goblins in World of Warcraft often say time is money, friend, so I’m leaving this here for you in case you need a quick route in getting you up to speed.

2019/20 Season

Start reading it here.

Derby County are a Championship team with little better than mid-table ambitions when I first take over. They have a good-sized stadium, a decent set of players and, most importantly, an ambitious transfer budget, so there’s plenty of room for manoeuvre, and with a few judicious bits of business – Lewis Baker and Bakery Jatta are the most notable – I go to work. The Rams spend much of the term in a playoff position, more or less maintaining a ‘two points per game’ record, establishing a defensively sound base while Jatta and Tom Lawrence lead our goalscoring exploits. On-loan teenager Troy Parrott is a bit of a disappointment. We have the strength to bully most comers into submission, notably promotion challengers Fulham, while Leeds are trickier opposition, and in the run-in we somehow outlast our rivals and late in the season clinch first place to win the Championship and go up. For me, working with a resolutely second tier level set of players, all this comes at least a year too soon. Getting promoted will mean changing many things, but that’s the job.

Link to the final Championship table.

2020/21 Season

Start reading it here.

Now a Premier League set-up, there’s nothing for it but to make sweeping changes to the squad. We get what we can for a number of Rams and bring in the likes of Kevin Stoger, Scott McKenna, Adam Hlozek, Ademola Lookman, Sebastiano Esposito on loan and, most crucially, Will Hughes, who rejoins after his current team (Watford) have gone down. The players we have can broadly be bisected into two camps – those who are good enough for this level, and the rest who aren’t. Luckily for me, the injury situation never develops into a crisis, meaning that I can field the same lads week after week, while the back-ups play where they can and help us to reach an FA Cup semi-final. Pedro Chirivella, a young defensive midfielder who was brought in at the end of his Liverpool contract, develops into a critical presence, a composed professional who winds up winning the division’s Young Player award after a year of keeping things tight. Esposito too turns into someone we really admire. A teenager from the Inter production line, he scores the key goals, supported mainly by Lookman’s growing confidence on the left wing, and we dwell within the top six all season, eventually finishing in an excellent fifth place.

Link to the final table.

2021/22 Season

Start reading it here.

Embarking on a continental odyssey via the Europa League, more squad updates are required. We welcome Englishmen Ronaldo Vieira and Reece Oxford, spend a fat wad to turn Esposito’s loan stint into a permanent transfer and bring in Barcelona prodigy Ilaix Moriba. After a slow start, the Rams rocket up the table and end the season in third place, clinching a Champions League berth. We make the Euro Cup final, choking at the final hurdle to Manchester City, but most impressive is our victory in the Carabao Cup. A 4-1 trashing of eventual Premier League winners Manchester United brings Derby their first silverware in many moons. There is a point when we could have won it all. Entering April, we are in first place and in command of our destiny, however the sudden realisation that the league is in our hands cascades the players into a mood of panic and we win only one more fixture. Goal difference alone keeps us ahead of City in fourth, completing a brilliant year but one that might have ended with even greater glories.

Link to the final table.

2022/23 Season

Start reading it here.

Derby’s first ever Champions League campaign means further changes are made to the squad. Jude Bellingham joins to improve our midfield and Jeremie Frimpong is signed to share time with Bogle at right-back. Most important is the capture of Luca Pellegrini, the young Juventus left-back who strikes me as a grown-up acquisition, a serious player for a team that’s flying high. In Europe, we navigate through a tough group and then are tied against Atletico Madrid, who narrowly dump us out in the Round of Sixteen. The Carabao Cup ends in defeat, but only at the final stage where Liverpool triumph 1-0. Elsewhere it’s solely good news. We taste glory in the Premier League, clinching the competition after being in the race from Day One. Ultimately we outlast our opposition, triumphing over the Pool by a margin of seven points. Even better is our unbeaten season – twenty-seven wins and eleven draws – to match Arsenal’s Invincibles campaign. We’re so pleased about this that we even add the FA Cup after defeating the Gunners in the FA Cup final to make it a Double. Where on earth do we go from here…?

Link to the final table.

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