Hola fanáticos del fútbol! and welcome back to sunny Spain, to where I’ve just returned from Italy, it’s a tough job this football management malarkey! I hope you all enjoyed season one with the Aces, but Tsigalko and co have hopped on their spaceship and travelled back to the future for their holidays, allowing us to carry on where we left off in Bilbao.
If you missed season one, where have you been?! To recap, I’m managing Athletic Bilbao and have to adhere to their real-life policy of only signing Basque players. Last season was a successful one as we finished runners-up to Barcelona in the league, got to the third round of the Copa Del Rey before losing to fellow Basque side Real Sociedad, and were knocked out of the UEFA Cup quarter-finals by eventual winners Schalke 04.
So let’s get season two underway. You may remember that I made a club record £3.6m bid for Lilian Laslandes at the end of last season, and I’m pleased to say that we got our man, and he’s the second new arrival of the summer following Gaizka Mendieta from Valencia for £1.4m.
Now to the small matter of the World Cup, where three basque boys were called up by Spain, so Alkorta, Larrainzar and Rios all travelled to France, and were it not for Guerrero’s injury, he probably would have gone too. I’m astonished that there was no call-up for Etxebe after his 37 league goals, but I’m sure his time will come.
Spain reached the quarter-finals and were surprisingly knocked out by Morocco, who went on to finish third after a play-off win over England. Alkorta made four starts and was on the bench once, Rios started twice and was a sub once, and Larrainzar didn’t feature at all. Germany were crowned champions, beating Norway on penalties after a 1-1 draw.
So back to domestic life, and I make a £3.3m bid for Bixente Lizarazu of Bayern Munich, which they accept but he rejects. He did actually play for Bilbao in real life before his move to Germany, but I guess he’s not in a sentimental mood.
We’re awarded the princely sum of £5.8m for finishing runners-up in the league, and in the Spanish annual awards, Etxebe collects the top scorer gong, which is thoroughly deserved, well done lad. I’m somewhat surprised to see Bulgarian Trifon Ivanov named European footballer of the year, but I’m sure he deserves it.
The board then proceed to spend almost half my transfer budget on some new seats for the stadium. I’ve no problem with the new seats, but it always bugs me that the cost comes directly out of the transfer budget. I guess it’s not so bad seeing that I haven’t exactly got my pick of all the players in the world.
The fixtures are released, and we face a tricky first five games, with a trip to Celta Vigo first, followed by a visit from Rafa Benitez’s newly-promoted Extremadura and then three very tough matches in a row against Real Madrid, Deportivo and Barcelona. But before that, it’s the pre-season tour and this year it’s the USA, where we’ll play Colorado Rapids, DC United and Metrostars.
I make my third summer signing in the shape of Jon Aingeru Bastida, a young centre back who arrives on a free transfer. He is the regen of former Spanish international and Basque boy, Francisco Patxi Salinas, so hopefully one day he will become an international himself. He immediately gets listed for loan, along with Huegun and Lacruz, who could both do with some regular playing time.
So with a few coming in, I must also let a few go, starting with Óscar Alkorta, who joins Merida for £750k. Being his brother, Rafa Alkorta is understandably gutted, but I think he’ll be happy for him to get some regular game time elsewhere.
Real Madrid try and take a few players off my hands and make bids for Larrazabal, Rios and Larrainzar, but I won’t be letting those three go.
Didier Deschamps is available again and I try my luck with a £7.5m bid, which the club accepts but like his countryman Lizarazu, he rejects.
The draw is made for Champions League qualifying, and we draw Hungarian outfit Ferencvaros. I’m quite pleased with that draw when I see some of the other teams that we could have faced.
So off to the states we go, and it’s Colorado Rapids up first. I’ve decided to give my first team regulars an extended rest, so the team is made up of new signings and fringe players.
After all our disallowed goals last season, it’s only natural we start the new season with one, and then to rub salt in the wound, we go behind on 10 minutes. Huegun struggled last season, so it’s nice to see him score the equaliser before Goikoetxea gives us a half time lead.
Urrutia gets our third shortly after the restart, Mendieta opens his Basque boys account before the hour and the hosts pull one back on 66. It’s a good day for the new boys as Laslandes gets his first goal on 84, but in the same minute Bastida goes off injured, which slightly mars a 5-2 win.
Bastida has a groin strain and will be out for a couple of weeks, so I send him home to Spain to begin his recovery.
Next up are DC United, and I make a few changes, with Lafuente, Billabona, Larrainzar, Perez and Ziganda coming in for Valencia, Mendieta, Bastida, Goikoetxea and Laslandes. It’s a similar start to the last match as we go behind early and equalise after half an hour. Huegun then gets his second goal in as many games to give us a 2-1 lead at the break.
The game quietens down until the final 14 minutes, when DC level, but thankfully we regain the lead within a minute. We have another goal disallowed on 85, but Huegun and Arregui quickly get their second goals to seal another 5-2 win.
Rejecting bids has become something of a pastime in this job, but it’s nice to reject one that isn’t from Real Madrid or Barcelona…
I start to check who’s contracts expire this year and next, and make offers to Alkiza, Arregui, Larrainzar, Larrazabal, Ziganda, Etxebe, Garitano, Tabuenka and Urzaiz.
The last game of the tour arrives and it’s Metrostars. With our Champions League qualifying match less than a week away, I field my strongest side. Laslandes and Loinaz are out-and-out strikers, so I move Etxebe back into midfield, with everyone else assuming their normal positions.
It’s a low-key first half with no goals and few chances. Laslandes has struggled so he’s off for Perez, who swaps with Etxebe, which pays off as Etxebe gives us the lead. We have a few more chances but can’t put them away and are made to pay by Middlesbrough and Brazil legend Branco, who equalises late on.
So no third win, but we finish the tour unbeaten and fly back to Spain for a few days before our Champions League campaign begins.
In England, Wimbledon’s trophy cabinet continues to fill as they beat Arsenal 1-0 to add the charity shield to the FA Cup they won last season, and back in Spain a day later, Barcelona beat Real Madrid 2-1 on aggregate to win the Supercopa Española.
Larrainzar, Larrazabal and Arregui all accept their new contracts, but 31-year old Ziganda wants a four-year deal and I’m only offering two, so I transfer list him to try and get some cash. There’s more injury news as Lacruz is out for couple of months with fractured ribs.
So after a few summer comings and goings, this is the squad we’ll start the season with. I’m pleased with the players we’ve brought in so far, and I hope to add one or two more as they become available.
So that wraps up pre-season and now the hard work begins once more. Tune in next week to see if we can get through our champions League qualifying match with Ferencvaros. Adios amigos!