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Livin' La Vida Loko - Part 4: This Could be Kosovo Or Anywhere...

23rd December, 2022



 

'Sie kochen auch nur mit Wasser' (German: "They also only cook with water") - An idiom that describes how people are only human, with nobody being inherently better than anybody else.

 


 

Note: This is the fourth part of my FM23 series, 'Livin' La Vida Loko!' for part three, click here:

 

What do you mean Serbia isn't in the EU?


The tension was palpable in that place. It clung in the air, making it feel thick and heavy. None dared speak, fearing a furious retribution.


They didn't need to.


Ralph spoke for them.


"It's funny, isn't it?" he folded one leg over the other, and sat with a curled finger under his lip. "A room full of experience, a room full of intelligent people with university degrees yet not one of us knew that Serbia wasn't in the fucking EU."


He let out a wry chuckle


An audible sigh of relief was released from the other attendees at the meeting, who had been sat with bated breath.


"We are sorry, Herr Ralph." a junior member of the scouting team gulped, "We-"


Ralph Hönigsberg cut him off with a dismissive flick of his hand.


"It's fine, Otto. I have as much blame to take over the matter as you."


The fear of the recruitment team was probably justifiable. To them, he was a modern-day Kaiser, a figurehead of discipline who had no time for mistakes.


Following Loko's surprise promotion to the 3. Liga, Ralph Hönigsberg had become somewhat of a local celebrity. The Leipzig press had swarmed to interview the man that had become known as Der Dirigent, and uncover the scoop about his tightly-knit team of pretenders to the Rasenballsport throne.


Truth be told, Ralph hated that kind of attention. But he was no fool. He understood that to grow the club, to achieve his goal, he had to use the media to spread the message that Loko were here to stay and nothing but success was acceptable. He also understood that RB Leipzig were the villains of German football, hated without measure across the country.


That hatred was no stronger anywhere than in Leipzig itself. Now that he had gained a modicum of success, he had launched a campaign for popular support in the city - fashioning Lokomotive Leipzig as the morally superior alternative to supporting a club founded from the ever-expanding commercilization of the sport.


Now he had the notoriety, he had to back it up. He knew he had to fashion another promotion immediately to pick up some real clout. Not even the national press could ignore the story of a plucky local team shooting through the footballing hierarchy with back to back promotions.


The stress of planning such a monumental task had led him to the point of obsession in the pursuit of perfection. There was a very fine margin for error, and a mistake at this point could derail everything. They might be the rebels to RB Leipzig, but they certainly didn't have their finances. Thankfully, the recruitment team were spared his wrath.


The meeting had now finished, and Ralph Hönigsberg wandered across the southern cemetery to the Monument to the Battle of the Nations, situated a stones throw from Loko's Bruno-Plache Stadion. This had become something of a ritual for him, since he took the reigns of the club over a year ago.


He would sit alone, contemplatively staring at the great example of Wilhelmine architecture before him. Usually, he would come at night, to see the splendid structure lit up, and its reflection perfectly mirrored over the glassy surface of the lake in front of it.


He had always been a philosophical man, striving to find a deeper meaning behind whatever he could. That night, he though of the monument, and how it commemorated a victory over the great Napoleon. At the time it must have seemed an insurmountable feat. Everywhere he had gone, destruction had followed. But here, on the field where Ralph sat, a fiercely bloody battle had been fought - and Napoleon had lost. What was once a fearsome foe had been bruised, and Leipzig had played another important role in history. Napoleon was beatable after all, it seemed. It was hard to imagine such a theatre of death occurring in this tranquil place.


His eyes moved to the reflection on the water. He thought of how it mirrored his own experience. He had taken on an impossible task of toppling one of the biggest clubs in the country. Perhaps he, like his forefathers, could stare into the face of defeat and come out on top? It was a while away yet.


But that night he dreamed. He dreamed of scores of Leipzigers, of people from all over the world celebrating the wondrous victory of Lokomotive Leipzig. He dreamed that the first kings of Germany would be crowned kings once again, and the revellers would flock to this monument in their thousands. It would be a fitting tribute to the fallen, seeing such joy in a place that once saw such hatred and death.


For now, however, that was just a dream.


 

They Also Only Drink Water


Season two in Leipzig ended rather miserably - a loss at home to title chasing Magdeburg, followed by a frustrating draw to Unterhaching and a blood-boiling 3-2 loss to Erzgebirge Aue to cap off the season.


Well, they weren't really that frustrating - regardless of these results, 1 FC. Lokomotive Leipzig had secured promotion to the 2. Bundesliga with 3 games to spare.


Oh and to crown it off, Magdeburg lost on the last day too - meaning we were crowned as 2023/24 3. Liga champions!


We'll have to start calling them 'Schockomotive' soon if they keep this up! ... Anybody? No? Alright.

This marks the first time the team have played in the 2. Bundesliga since 1998 - 26 years ago in game.


I can't really stress just how important this promotion is for the club. Even a bottom place finish in the 2. Bundesliga is worth €7.83M in prize money, and that sort of funding could change the trajectory of the club forever providing it's invested wisely.


In the season preview, we were tipped (probably fairly) to finish 18th, but against the odds - 101/1 odds to be precise - we ended up on the top of the table.


I think we again owe a lot of our success to a strong start, achieving another 10 match unbeaten run at the onset of the campaign.



Fitting in with the theme of Zusammenkeit, our success didn't necessarily come from individual excellence. We didn't win the league because specific players were really good, but as a unit the team performed pretty well. To put it into perspective, we only had 4 players names in the 3. Liga 'Team of the Season'.



I would like to do a statistical deep dive into what went really well for the club, but in all honesty I think I would just be repeating most of what I said about last season. I'll hold off on the proper analysis until we face stiffer opposition in the 2. Bundesliga, which should be a real test of the system. Using our 4-5-1 shape, we were defensively solid and restricted opposition chances by holding on to the ball. Because of this, we conceded the least goals of any team in the league and that led to us snagging wins and grinding out draws when necessary.


That's not to say we didn't score, with our biggest result being a 5-1 victory over Hallescher FC toward the end of the season.


We defended well, held onto the ball and waited for our opportunity to pounce. 'If they don't have the ball, they can't score' continues to be our team motto.


 

Standout Performers & New Blood


Like I mentioned earlier in the post, this wasn't a season of individual merit. I do still want to look at how some players performed, however, and run through some new arrivals for this season.


Raphael Dwamena showed glimmers of his expected ability, bagging 17 goals over 31 appearances. Most of these came at the start of the campaign, and a 2 month injury seemed to set him back a bit going forward.


Heiko Duhnke tended to struggle a bit at this level too, and his bright start turned into a 10 game goal drought whilst he deputised for the injured Dwamena. I fear I may have placed too much responsibility on his shoulders at such a young age, but his regular appearances have led to him being courted by Hannover 96 - which does make me feel a glimmer of pride.


Heiko's talent hasn't gone unnoticed.

Elsewhere, newcomers from last season Yaya Meledje and Amadou Diambo were first team regulars over the course of this season. Their efforts in midfield were vital to securing possession, with Meledje's dogged determination to win the ball being of great use to the team. Diambo really came into his own toward the end of the campaign, and is comfortable in either the defensive or attacking slots of our midfield three - popping up with the occasional screamer from the edge of the box which is exactly what I want of my CMs on Attack.


It will be interesting to see what happens with these two moving forward. Meledje is whining about getting a new contract and wants more money than he's probably worth. That being said, he's upsetting some of the other players and it's an issue that needs resolving. Diambo is still young and he's in demand, with several other 2. Bundesliga teams sniffing around. His market value has skyrocketed to a dizzying €200k - €700k, and that kind of money could be quite useful in strengthening other areas of the squad.


Lastly, a little shout out to Theo Ogbidi, who also made the 3. Liga Team of The Season. My gamble of keeping him over Sascha Pfeffer seemed to pay off, and he contributed 5 goals and 7 assists with an average rating of 7.06. Not the most prolific, but he seemed to always pop up when we needed him to - Origi style.


 

"Mistakes have been made, as all can see and I can admit it"


Now, I have an confession to make.


You're probably still a bit confused about the opening story to this post, and wondering what precisely the mistake was that Ralph Hönigsberg's recruitment team had made.


Truthfully, that mistake was mine, not theirs.


After an evening of revelry, where I had quite fittingly been consuming a fair amount of German Pilsner, I opened up FM to play around before bed.


Before checking the league registration rules, I signed Serbian midfielder Ivan Doric on a free transfer and felt suitably smug at acquiring what I thought was quite a talented player for our level.


What I didn't realise was that I could only register 3 non EU players to play in the 3. Liga - and these slots were already taken up by Diambo, Meledje and Dwamena. I was horrified when I discovered my blunder the following day.


So I came out with egg on my face, a hangover and one pretty angry Serbian demanding a transfer. That didn't materialize despite my best efforts. As they say though, every cloud has a silver lining.


Now that we've been promoted, he is eligible to (finally) make his debut, and he looks to be a handy player too. He's determined, mentally sound and can pick out a pass to boot.


Moral of the story? Don't drink and FM.


An upset Serbian is probably not someone you want to have banging on your door.

 

Another position that needed strengthening as we embarked on our foray in the 3. Liga was our Goalkeeper.


Isa Dogan had performed ok, but I wanted someone with a bit more quality for the step up.


I was chasing Spanish keeper Javier Belman for a while, but he ultimately opted to sign for Gaziantep in the far more illustrious Turkish second division.


Out of a lack of both funds and better options, I brought in 20 year old Philipp Schulze, who was available for free after leaving Wolfsburg. It was a bit of a panic signing, but we'd had him on trial for 3 weeks and he'd impressed in the friendlies. He was also young, German and had decent technical ability for his position.


The main issue was that as far as I could tell he'd never played a senior professional game, so that wasn't much to go off in terms of previous experience. Naturally, I was slightly apprehensive.



But sometimes you just have to trust your gut. He played as our first choice keeper, and took part in every game this season - which turned out to be a pretty good one for him, too.


20 clean sheets and only 25 goals conceded in 38 games is a pretty good effort, and he was awarded a 7.22 average rating for his trouble. Despite a strong start, he occasionally showed flashes of his inexperience, particularly from set pieces and FM23's new goalkeeper mechanics stung us on occasion.


He'll be staying at the club for next season, and I think he's earned a chance to remain as our first choice - let's hope I don't live to regret that decision!


 

With the jump up to a higher league, and with most player's on expiring contracts, we had quite a high turnover of players this season. In fact, we released 11 first teamers at the end of 23/24. I'm not going to go in depth on every player, but I will run through them and how they got on during their first season.


Following our clear-out we were left with a severe shortage of wide men. This led to the signings of Full-Backs/Wingers Luca Nikolai, Sanoussy Ba, Felix Müller and Marvin Rittmüller.


With the exception of Sanoussy Ba, all of them became starters in the first-team and performed well. Felix Müller made the Team of The Season but looks destined to leave on a free after upping his wage demands to levels I can't really justify. Marvin Rittmüller has become our club captain, but had to fill in at Right-Back more often than I would've liked whereas I prefer him on the right side of midfield. He's also out until late 2024 with a spinal injury, which is unfortunate to say the least.


The pick of the bunch was probably Luca Nikolai, who showed promise early on but unfortunately spent 30% of the season out with torn knee ligaments and then a fractured lower leg. He's still young and looks to have a fairly high ceiling so he'll have a place in the first team as we head into the 2. Bundesliga.


Determined, capable of defending and can play on either side. Certainly not the complete package but he's got plenty of room to develop.


I'll just ignore all those red arrows. I'm sure it'll be fine...

 

The last signing, and probably my favourite after Raphael Dwamena was Lukas Quirin.


The first thing that stood out to me was that he is capable of playing in Central Defence, Midfield and Attacking Midfield. A Centre-Back who can also play as an Advanced Playmaker is the sort of thing that really gets me going.


He's got a good spread of attributes, being both physically and technically competent, and his 16 Teamwork was what sealed the deal on signing him.


He's played mostly off the bench this season, as both Mike Egleseder and Leon Heynke were performing too well to drop. I think going forward his teamwork and playmaking capability might mean I push him forward into our Defensive Midfield slot. He's a capable defender, but I think he would be better suited to playing in a back three rather than two.



Tall, Handsome, can play as a CB and AM... dreamy.

 

The Big, Bad Bundesliga 2


Our rise to the second division has been pretty meteoric. I wasn't too surprised, as I had achieved exactly the same in FM22 with another East German club. I think it's time to temper expectations, however.


As I mentioned towards the start of this post, even finishing bottom of the league will provide a substantial financial benefit to the club. Unfortunately, we have to wait until the end of the season for that. That means we will most likely be fighting for survival in a much better league, without the need to strengthen the squad until it might be too late.


If there's one thing my players have proved so far it's their mental fortitude - but this is a proper test. I'm hoping we can get off to a good start like we have for the past two seasons before inevitably our weaknesses are exposed.


Our main problem will be quality in depth. We've been gifted a wage budget of €50k p/w and a transfer war chest of €44k. With the right wheeling and dealing I'm confident I can put together a starting squad that's capable of survival, but if we face an injury crisis I fear we won't be able to cover up the cracks.


That being said, some of our players are starting to get noticed - with Amadou Diambo the source of plenty of attention from higher profile teams. I would naturally be sad to see him go, but Zusammenkeit is about the strength of our team, not the individual.


A shield-wall is only as strong as it's weakest link. The funds acquired from selling him could go a long way to strengthening those links. Or alternatively he stays, and continues his good form as we take on the 2. Bundesliga. Who knows?


It's going to be a battle, but I'm ready for it.



 


That wraps up the fourth installment for this series, and I've learned plenty of lessons along the way. I had to take a break from this save, and from writing, for about a month. That made it slightly difficult to come back in and write a whole season review from scratch, so I think going forward I'll write alongside playing to avoid getting too far ahead of myself. That also leaves me a bit more time for editing to make sure each piece is at the standard I hold myself to.


On another note, I've reached the point in a lower league save where things really start getting fun. I'm attracting the attention of players who are actually good, who could potentially play at the top level. It's a fantastic feeling of achievement and the reward for putting in the effort required to keep the team performing.


What's made this save so interesting is the tactical restriction I've placed on myself. I made an entire article on how and why I'm using this specific tactic and shape and haven't deviated from it. That means trying to find players who fit it, and not just signing a load of wonderkids and cramming them in. It's something I haven't really done before and the club really feels like it's picking up a unique identity as we build the squad.


I'm now four posts into my first FM blog and whilst it's enjoyable, it can be difficult at times. Sometimes, I just want to play the game and writing about it takes a back seat. Balancing everything around in life can be challenging but it does feel rewarding to finish a post and publish it. I also like having this conclusion section as an area to just voice my personal thoughts and feelings, and it's almost become a diary for me as I continue the journey into blogging and writing.


In the New Year, I'm hoping to branch out into a new series I've planned called 'On War (And Football Manager)', and also want to try my hand at some non-FM journalistic style pieces on Football as well, which I'll host on a separate place on this site.


If any of that sounds interesting to you and you want to keep up to date with the Loko Leipzig save, you can follow me on Twitter:







And if you made it this far, thanks for reading!



Patrick - FM Bhikkhu




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