FM17: Flying The Flag, part 1

Welcome to the Welsh capital and a new Football Manager 2017 challenge

Cardiff City have lost their Welsh identity, with only one Welshman in the first team at present at the Cardiff City Stadium. The challenge? Take Cardiff City back to the promise land of the Premier League, whilst developing the club’s youth system and restore its Welsh identity. You’ll be managing the Welsh national team, too, to help you develop the next generation of Welsh footballers.

Cardiff City, my old friends. My first ever game of football was at the old Ninian Park. I grew up in the Welsh capital and started my footballing journey there. With my old man and his mates, I quickly learnt that football could be a cruel game.

The club was very different back then. Division Three (the old League 2) and a rusty old stadium that we called home. Ninian Park was a thing of beauty. Intimidating for opposing fans, but for us Cardiff faithful it was a mecca.

Now Vincent Tan, via Sam Hammam, is in charge and the club is a completely different landscape. The last ten years has seen the club develop into a solid Championship club, with a single season in the Premier League to its name. We’ve also seen two major cup appearances (losing both) — against Portsmouth in the FA Cup Final in 2008 and against Liverpool in the Carling Cup final in 2012.

Following relegation from the Premier League in 2014, the club has endured a torrid time. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s transfer-happy mentality put the club in further financial peril, before Russell Slade steadied the ship.

Old, reliable Russell. What a bore he was. The fans stayed away and they’ve not come back since. Vincent Tan forced a transfer cull — a way of cutting the costs — and there was little aspire in South Wales.

Now, it’s my turn. In real life, Paul Trollope was sacked, leaving the club in the relegation zone, and Neil Warnock took charge. The stalwart of Championship football has done a stellar job, guiding the Bluebirds to safety with an outside chance of promotion via the play-offs. It will likely be a step too far for Warnock’s men, but it presents hope for the future.

Editor’s Note: This save is being played on an updated database with the January transfers. The leagues loaded are England (League 2 and above), France (Ligue 1 only), Germany (2. Bundesliga and above), Italy (Serie B and above), Netherlands (Eredivisie — view only), Portugal (Liga NOS — view only), Spain (Segunda Division and above) and Brazil Serie B and above).

In game, Warnock starts the season in charge but I quickly take his place. His staff remain, for now. Kevin Blackwell, the former Leeds United boss, is my assistant, whilst mad-head Ronnie Jepson is a first-team coach. Martyn Margetson, the England goalkeeping coach, also occupies the same position for us.

As a whole, our coaching staff is okay for this level. I let them stay.

Now to meet the boys. I’ve watched them from afar for some time, being a Cardiff fan. I’ve formed my opinions and yes, I probably will have some pre-conceived ideas of them.

Declan John and Emyr Huws present two talented young Welshman — remember I’m also the Welsh national team coach — and Ashley ‘Jazz’ Richards’ joins them to complete our Welsh contingent.

Aron Gunnarsson — the captain of the Icelandic heroes who took the Summer’s Euro 2016 Championships by storm — is one of our stronger players in the centre of the park, whilst Bruno Ecuele Manga — an old FM favourite — looks our strongest player at the back. His contract expires in one year, so I see that as a priority.

Up front, we’re looking light. Rickie Lambert is currently our strongest striker, despite his questionable mobility. Despite his renaissance under Neil Warnock, I have little faith in 22-year old Kenneth Zahore, whilst Frederic Gounongbe couldn’t hit a barn door in real-life let alone in game. Blackwell and Jepson — like the Hanson Brothers from the famous Ice Hockey film Slapshot — tell me he’s a fucking waste of space.

Old Uncle Vincent flies me out to Malaysia — he doesn’t like to show his face in Cardif these days — to tell me that he has given me £1.2million to spend, whilst there’s £17k spare in the wage budget. I look to offload Matt Connolly — who has one year left on his deal — to Norwich, Sheffield Wednesday and Aston Villa, who are all interested, for £2.5million. I hope they’ll bite.

Before I get the chance to even meet the players, I’m whisked away by Poppy, the club’s press officer, who throws me in front of the media. They pick up on the fact that I’m a Cardiff fan, “It’s a huge honour and I’ve dreamt of this moment for years” I tell them.

It’s all going well until Stanley Haque from ESPN (like they’ve ever been interested in Cardiff City) throws me under the bus. “Surely you can’t handle the responsibility of managing both Cardiff and Wales, can you?”

“Fuck off, Stanley” I tell him.

Well, I wanted to tell him, at least. Instead, I bite my tounge and tell him I’ve fully confident of juggling the roles. He nods. The smug twat.

Upon leaving the press conference, I finally get to meet the lads. I take off my suit and put on a club tracksuit — easier to fit in, I think.

I introduce myself and captain Sean Morrison stands up and tells me how happy they all are to see my in charge and hope that I can guide the club to success. He’s so far up my arse it almost hurts, but it’s nice that no one is upset I’ve taken charge.

When I tell them I want them to reach the play-offs, that quickly changes. Scouser Rickie Lambert speaks up “Are you mad?” he asks. No, Ricky, I’m not. If you got your arse out of first gear, we may well just be able to do what I expect.

It’s clear that the side needs a goal scorer, especially if Rickie Lambert is going to carry on being a bit of a twat. On the transfer list are Atdhe Nuhiu (Sheffield Wednesday, £1.2m), Kyle Lafferty (Norwich, £750k) and Matt Smith (Fulham, £350k). I send a scout to check them out, as well as David Cotterill, Gary Madine and Kwesi Appiah.

I notice Darren Bent is available for just £45k — which seems a bargain considering he knows how to hit the back of the net — but could I really justify a strikforce of Rickie Lambert and Darren Bent? Few sides would be worried about pace in behind, that’s for sure.

Copyright: Sports Interactive

Just one day after taking charge and I have my first match. It’s only a friendly and it’s only against Margate, but I’m taking this seriously.

I channel Malky Mackay circa 2012 and set up the team in a 4–5–1 formation. It’s how I want to play this season — solid and hard to break down. Energetic and efficient.

Copyright: Sports Interactive

We start the match well, with Rickie Lambert setting Aaron Gunnarsson up in the centre of the Margate box to put us one up. He grabs his second from an Anthony Pilkington pull-back, before the winger turns from provider to goal scorer less than a minute later as Craig Noone drills a ball across the box.

We go in 3–0 up at half-time and the lads have done exactly what I asked of them. Except for Rickie Lambert, who’s been useless. I decide that the second-half is a chance to give some second string players a chance, so Julian Hoilett, Sol Bamba and Kieran Richardson all come on.

Matt Connolly also replaces Greg Halford in the centre of defence, whilst Peter Whittingham takes Gunnars place as our most forward thinking central-midfielder. Kenneth Zahore gets the nod over Freddy to replace Lambert.

Few impress, as the second half goes without a single goal. We win 3–0 thanks to those who played in the first half, but not a single second-half sub satisfied me with their performance. It was bloody Margate. I don’t care how shit you are; you should be able to do something useful against fucking Margate. No disrespect, Margate.

The positives are that we dominated the match. 58% possession, 12 shots with 8 on target and a man of the match performance from Gunnar.

Copyright: Sports Interactive

Part 2, coming soon. Follow us on Twitter @yddraigHQ

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