Football Manager Stories #2 – “Rangers” (2014)

Welcome to Football Manager Stories where we look back at the saves that made us love Sports Interactive’s management sim. We have another from Eion Smith as he details his Rangers save from the previous FM…

Rangers Football Club are a hateful club. I despise everything about them yet for some reason they are an enjoyable team to use on recent editions of Football Manager. My first experience of them was my favourite save of FM12 when they were on the brink of financial meltdown but still had the squad to compete. A couple of seasons and some inspired tranfers (Nigel Hasselbaink was a goalscoring machine for just £800,000) saw me get them back to the top of Scottish football. So, what harm would their be if I started one in FM14? Climbing through the leagues with a squad of overpaid and slightly average players to clear out has never been so much fun.

League One – 2013/14 – Finding Our Feet

I began the save with the cruel realisation that Rangers were under a transfer embargo for the summer window and – to make matters worse – at least half of my squad were ineligible until after deadline day meaning that 3 of my 4 key men I’d identified (Nicky Law, Cammy Bell and Jon Daly). This left me down to the bare bones and with little choice but to play youngsters in the opening games of the season; perhaps softened by the fact they were around Championship quality in League One. The early signs were promising too. August was almost perfect (a League Cup Second Round 1-0 reverse against Dundee United the only blip) as many of the young players performed well above expectations. Callum Gallagher and Junior Ogen scored while Kyle McAusland and Luca Gasparotto proved to be reliable at the back. Further forward there was better news as Andy Little began the season red hot with a hat trick at Stranraer. There was some bad news as young midfielder Lewis McLeod forced a move to Ipswich Town for £150,000 while Liam Kelly joined Clyde on loan for the season as everybody else remained at the club.

September saw the introduction of the big names and immediately they were humiliated 1-0 at East Fife. The next three games were comfortable wins including a 2-0 defeat of Championship side Livingston at Ibrox in the Challenge Cup as the new faces settled in. The turn of the month saw the side hit a rough patch as a 0-0 home draw with Stenhousemuir was followed up by a 4-0 humiliation by Dunfermline to leave us third at the start of October. One thorough dressing down later, we made it to the Challenge Cup final and started to string league wins together (6 in a row following the East End Park debacle) before our first cup final.

In what will go down as the most embarrassing moment in Rangers history, they were stunned 2-0 by Airdrie at Hampden Park despite dominating the game. The League One side defended stoutly then hit us on the break to devastating effect in one of the most beautifully effective game plans ever produced on FM. It was a tough one to swallow especially considering the mismatch between both sides. Yet again though, defeat prompted an immediate response – wins were coming easily with an Andy Little goal an almost certainty in each game and Nicky Law and Fraser Aird coming into their own while young Irishman Eoin Wearen joined on a free to add some depth in the midfield.

As was the way with the season, every two steps forward saw one step back. A 2-0 half time lead was lost at Stenhousemuir for our third defeat of the season and yet another disappointment while there were rumblings of discontent as one of the players of the season, Fraser Aird, was looking for a way out. Still, we recovered and rolled into January with Aird unhappy but grabbing a hat trick in the first game of 2014 (in what would be his last game for Rangers) and we moved into transfer dealings.

January saw continued success with little transfer movement. Aird left for Manchester City in a swap deal for Alex Nimely who was the answer to my striking problems. Jon Daly had only grabbed one goal all season (he would add a brace against Arbroath in February) while Nicky Clark got some goals but had a tendency not to show up on occasions. Nimely was young and determined and gave us something new.

The turn of the year also flipped some kind of switch as the team suddenly began to perform. Young players were the main men with Gasparotto, McAusland and Robbie Crawford all playing starring roles in the side led by Bell, Law, Lee Wallace and top scorer Little as we won 16 of our final 18 games (the other two were defeats to Dunfermline near the end of the season and Dundee United in the Scottish Cup Fifth Round) as we strolled to the League One title and promotion to the Championship.

Andy Little was the League One Player of the Year and Top Scorer with 21 in 29 games as well as making the League One Team of the Year alongside Nicky Law who got 14 goals and 12 assists from midfield. Lee Wallace won Fans Player of the Year with 7.50 rating in 35 appearances while the Best XI read as follows:

Best XI 2013-14

Special mentions go to my three favourite players from the season – Luca Gasparotto, Robbie Crawford and Kyle McAusland. Gasparotto looked like a legend in the making, Crawford was the unstoppable force in midfield while McAusland looked like my right back for years to come.

Championship – 2014/15 – Domination

Wary of second season syndrome, I headed into the Championship campaign expecting tougher tasks ahead. I was happy with the squad overall but needed to remove some deadwood while Barrie McKay returned from an OK loan spell at Morton to much excitement from me. The youth intake had been relatively kind throwing up a couple of interesting prospects such as winger Sandy Weatherston and the two David’s – Martin and Harris – in the centre of the park.

The transfer window opened with the pre-contract arrival of Jermaine Grandison from Shrewsbury who was in to provide over for McAusland while there a number of releases including backup keepers Scott Gallacher and Steve Simonsen youngsters Callum Gallagher and Kristian Gibson and experienced pair Dean Shiels and Richard Foster. A bunch of young player left on loan including Martin to Stranraer as well as a number of our exciting strikers such as Ben Craig and Derek Wilson and last season’s signing Eoin Wearen (whom had not performed at all) shipped out to Burton. The major news came after just one game of the season when Gasparotto announced that he wanted to leave the club. A £1,100,000 bid was accepted from Ligue 1 side Stade Lavallois and the Canadian centre back was gone. Jon Daly was sold on for £100,000 to Sheffield United, Bilel Mohsni went to Danish side Odense for £50,000 while Honduras midfielder Arnold Peralta moved to the Middle East and Saudi side Al-Fateh for £150,000. It was a busy window with many leaving the club but we had a good squad for the season ahead.

The season opened with two cup wins including a revenge win over Airdrie in the Challenge Cup before the first Championship game against relegated Partick Thistle. Anticipating a tough game, I picked a strong team and was surprised to see a 3-0 saunter be the result. The team continued on with this ease – a 7-0 win away at Livingston including David Templeton’s coming out hat trick (a player who has been very, very average throughout) and a 4-1 win at Falkirk the big results. Progress was found in the cups too as we cruised through to the later stages of the Challenge Cup again and progressed to the Fourth Round of the League Cup with a win over Kilmarnock.

Things were going well with an unbeaten start heading into to October and the likes of McKay, Law, Little and Templeton playing superbly and Grandison settling in superbly. Young winger Darren Ramsay had also found himself on the pitch more with each impressive performance while Nimely was threatening to explode. However, Nimely’s promise would be cut short as a broken foot picked up just minutes into the Kilmarnock win ruled him out until after Christmas. It was a huge blow but gave opportunities to youngsters Jamie Burrows and Ben Reilly.

The Rangers train kept on rolling though and kept on winning too. Only four points were dropped in the league until mid-November when we had what would be our last chance to win the Challenge Cup. We faced old foes Dunfermline but were way too strong for the side who had missed out on promotion last season and ran out 4-0 winners for the first silverware of the season. And the run kept going after hitting 2015 undefeated with only three league draws all season.

The undeafeated streak had gathered pace as teams were being steamrolled with ease. The first game of 2015 saw another demolition trip to Livingston as they were destroyed 6-0 and we progressed through the cups with ease too. After a transfer window of nothingness, we’d reached the League Cup final against Celtic after a 3-1 semis win our first season foe Dundee United but before we faced Celtic at Hampden, we had to travel to Parkhead for the Scottish Cup quarter finals. Missing Bell through injury, we succumbed 5-2 in the end but still gave Celtic enough of a fright to be encouraged.

Two weeks later though, all would change. A tight League Cup final saw the Old Firm clash with Rangers holding firm until the 86th minute when Ian Black’s penalty put us a goal up. Emilio Izaguirre equalised almost immediately and the game went to penalties where everyone apart from Celtic’s Raul Meireles scored to crown Rangers the League Cup winners of 2015. It was an incredible win and, for the first time that season, totally undeserved.

The title had been secured by that point too which made the 3-2 defeat to Raith that much more disappointing as it proved to be our only defeat of the season as we finished top of the Championship by a whole 35 points. We had 93 in total with only 15 goals conceded in the league. It was a remarkable season and one which we might not repeat again but we had done what we needed to do.

Lee Wallace was again Fans Player of the Year while Nicky Law was the Championship Player of the Year with 10 goals and 14 assists in his 31 games. There was still no Manager of the Year though as the other promoted side’s boss got the award again while Team of the Year only contained Law, Little and Barrie McKay. Our Best XI looked like this:

Best XI 2014-15

The star men from last season were not as prominent with McAusland now usurped by the superb Grandison who had proved to be a revelation at right back. Ian Black began running the show in midfield while Faure, Law and Little were superb as always. The best player for me was Barrie McKay who returned from a loan spell and really kept David Templeton out of the side and improved drastically too.

Premiership – 2015/16 – Glory

The step up in class saw a lot of players and especially young players shifted on and better quality lined up to replace them. Winger Wellington Silva was brought in on a pre-contract from Arsenal and he was quickly followed by Belgian centre back Christian Kabasele from Genk for the first fee I’d splashed out (only £86,000).  The youth intake did not contain as high a quality with only striker Ian Lumsden really piquing my interest. Many were shifted out on loan including exciting prospects such as defender George Lindsay, Steven Bonar and Tom Walsh while Eoin Wearen was sent on loan to Dundee and Darren Ramsay to Cowdenbeath. Squad players Ross Perry, Stevie Smith and Alan Smith were the only permanent departures as their contracts ended.

Our return to the top tier began with a 3-0 win away at St. Mirren and we remained undefeated through the first few games but drew too many. Nicky Law had been superb while young midfielder Andy Murdoch began to break into the side and Wellington Silva was showing promise. One man who was on the way out was Alex Nimely who now could barely put together a decent performance while Kyle McAusland had begun to show the ill discipline that would make him a liability.

The concerns grew deeper after losing at Celtic 3-1 then crashing out of the League Cup on penalties in the Third Round to Hibernian. The step up was showing and after Ross County outplayed us at Ibrox, words were needed and another dressing down was needed. The players responded magnificently, winning 8 in a row (7 in the league) before another defeat to Celtic on Boxing Day. The midfield was covering for our strikers as the goals were spread around as Nimely and Nicky Clark struggled to score consistently (or at all in Nimely’s case). Little, Law, McKay, Templeton and Silva were our main goal threats while Kabasele had proven lethal from the penalty spot.

The good form was also in part to the personnel changes made in the team. The squad was energized by the promotion of young players – Jordan Hamill (an all action English midfielder); Andy Murdoch (the deep playmaker); Danny Stoney (free scoring attacking midfielder); Jamie Mills (younger Lee Wallace) and Greg Pascazio (Scottish centre back) – and the freedom and confidence with which they played. We got to the turn of the year near the top and looked to strengthen the squad in January making the free tranfer signings of Portugese playmaker Marcos Lopes and English striker Matt Smith while losing the incredibly talented young midfielder Jamie Moore to Chelsea for £5,000,000.

Both played only bit parts in the run-in from January as we began winning games apart from the odd slips here and there (third defeat to Celtic included) but we benefited from better consistency than Celtic as we battled at the top. Matt Smith proved to be more useless than Nimely up front while Lopes’ signing angered Danny Stoney who had been an impact player campaigning for more time. A 7 game winning streak from the beginning of March won us the title and was culminated by a 3-1 Old Firm win at Ibrox to secure the title – avenging the penalties defeat in the Scottish Cup semi finals. It was a glorious end to the season ruined by the two defeats in the last two games thanks to youngsters playing including a 7-2 hammering at St. Mirren.

Lee Wallace was Fans Player of the Year for the third year running while Nicky Law picked up Football Writer’s Player of the Year and left back Jamie Mills was named Under 19 Player of the Year. I was named Premiership and Writer’s Manager of the Year too while David Templeton (who had his only good season), Law and Sebastian Faure were in Team of the Year. Here is our Best XI for the season:


Special mentions for this season go to Andy Murdoch, Jordan Hamill and Jermaine Grandison. Murdoch and Hamill came in a third of the way through the season and completely took over from Crawford and Black, an upgrade in just their formative senior careers. They were incredible in high pressure situations and helped us win the title while Grandison was out of this world at right back especially as McAusland struggled at Premiership level.

2016/17 – Second Season Syndrome

Champions. Still without huge piles of cash though and a huge wage bill thanks to a grand total of nearly 90 players across all teams. Ruthlessness was the order of business as people were shunted out the door to make way for better players. Youngster Bob Pearce had been released for being rubbish and complaining about first team football so there was no sentimentality going into the season. Exciting prospects Jamie Burrows, Ben Reilly and Charlie Telfer had not progressed so were released. Eoin Wearen and Alex Nimely were let go too along with squad player Kyle Hutton. Ian Black – the man who was key to many successes – was released as well. Young players with OK potential were let go – Craig Halkett, David Brownlie, Jamie Wilson. Danny Stoney joined Motherwell on a free while Junior Ogen (of first season fame) was loaned out for being not good enough. Matt Smith was loaned out to Crystal Palace because nobody would buy him as was Kyle McAusland to Dunfermline (even despite his first season heroics). Scot Whiteside wasn’t good enough and brought in £5,500 from Inverness while Hearts paid £115,000 for Christian Kabasele as he was fifth choice despite a brilliant season. The saddest departure was Jermaine Grandison’s however who joined Verona for £1,500,000 while Wellington Silva joined Wigan on deadline day for £210,000.

The title win did ensure that we could bring a lot more quality thanks to Champions League football. Danish striker Yussuf Poulsen cost us £1,100,000 from RB Leipzig in Germany while young striker Roy Evans cost £31,000 from non-league Canvey Island. James Tomkins and young Liam Donnelly were brought on free transfers while Dutch striker Guyon Philips was brought in on loan from Go Ahead Eagles as cover.  Hopes were high then for the Champions League after a qualifying win over Slovan Bratislava (7-1 aggregate) but they were crushed in the play-offs as we were done on away goals by Rapid Vienna. The defence of the title also began with a defeat at Hearts and a home draw with St. Mirren.

Euro Cup qualification was easily completed against Sturm Graz and a win against Celtic gave hope but three defeats in a row to Hibs, Dundee United and Monaco left us struggling again. It was a tough start but we again righted ourselves and got back on track in the league and in Europe with a home draw against Hannover before doing the double over Stoke and beating Monaco at Ibrox to send us through with a game to spare.

A weakened team won in Hannover to win the group but goals were hard to come by in the league as we continued to eek out results without playing incredibly. This was not the team of the last three years with confidence and freedom and another defeat to Celtic showed that. We were out of the League Cup in the quarter finals to St. Mirren but were still near the top of the league although Hearts had become our bogey team beating us three times by January. January also saw the arrivals of Geoffrey Mujangi Bia for £600,000 from Standard Liege and Algerian defender Ismail Bouzar from French side Le Puy Foot on a free while youngster Ian Lumsden joined Stoke for £245,000.

After the third defeat to Hearts we embarked on a 13 game unbeaten run, knocking out AZ and Legia Warsaw in Europe but drawing too many to get top of the league. Then came the self destruct moment. A routine trip to newly promoted Queen of the South saw the Dumfries side win 2-0 and shatter our confidence. We lost in the Euro Cup quarter finals by the odd goal in 9 to Monaco before a defeat and a draw gave Celtic the chance to win the title in the derby like we did the previous season. They proceeded to spank us 5-0 with Jordan Hamill getting a 4.4 match rating and everyone being truly embarrassed. It was a shambles. The only positive of the season was the European run and the Scottish Cup win (beat Celtic in the semis then St. Mirren 3-0 in the final).

Nicky Law’s unbelievable season earned him Fans Player of the Season while Barrie McKay won Football Writer’s Player of the Season. McKay and Law were joined in Team of the Year by Lee Wallace while Marcos Lopes earned himself Young Player of the Year. Here is our Best XI:


Special mentions this season go to Nicky Law and Nicky Law only. Everyone else had OK to good seasons but Law stood out for so many reasons. 23 goals in 51 games from midfield is a phenomenal record and, at points, single handedly won us games. Some changes were needed…

2017/18 – Who Knows?

So, we’re up to the current point. 2017/18. A big season with some big changes. The ruthlessness of last summer was doubled as five were released at the end of their deals including Kyle McAusland, Junior Ogen and Steven Chatterton (a centre back who performed well but wasn’t quite good enough). Young Ismail Bouzar went on loan to Omonia in Cyprus to get game time while the youth squad got a huge clear out seeing 19 players released from the club in the space of 3 weeks. Matt Smith’s loan at Crystal Palace was made permanent for no fee while Nicky Clark joined him in the Championship with Blackpool for £100,000. Darren Ramsay was the biggest name amongst the loanees as he looks set to leave the club next summer at the latest.

The arrivals at Ibrox showed real promise and ambition from the club. Guyon Philips had a solid season as a squad player on loan and was brought in on a pre-contract along with young Scottish midfielder Bobby Smith who had been ignored and neglected by Hibernian despite his clear talent. Former Manchester United right back Saidy Janko was brought in for nothing too allowing James Tomkins to play in the centre of the defence. The marquee singing though came from Premier League side Huddersfield as their star man Jose Baxter wanted out. £4,500,000 later and he was in Glasgow signing a deal to become a Rangers player.

Our second place last season got us Euro Cup playoff action which saw Stromsgodset destroyed 10-1 over two legs while only newly promoted Aberdeen have beaten us in the league and AC Milan have won at Ibrox in Europe while Kilmarnock ended our League Cup run at the quarter finals thanks to penalties. We’re top of the league by mid November and almost certainly going to qualify from our Euro Cup group with two games to go thanks to wins in our opening three games – a hammering of Heerenveen at Ibrox, a late 2-1 win at Sporting Lisbon and a superb 3-1 win over Milan in the San Siro. We’ve also won the Old Firm Derby as the side is playing superbly. Marcos Lopes is having a breakout season while Saidy Janko has been imperious at full back and James Tomkins outstanding in the heart of the defence. There is some concern over the future of Jordan Hamill who was looking to leave for bigger and better things (obviously aware of Nottingham Forest’s interest) but he has been convinced to stay for the rest of the season while Fulham have been sniffing around Yussuf Poulsen.

So, the save rolls on into the middle of what is now the fifth season and it’s been some ride along the way. If this save has shown me anything about Football Manager, it’s that the game has this strangely incredible way of making unknown, unheard of or unheralded players heroes in your eyes thanks to little moments every now and again when you needed a goal or a clean sheet. The likes of Nicky Law, Guyon Philips, Andy Little, Jermaine Grandison, Luca Gasparotto, Jordan Hammil and Andy Murdoch are all players that I have an affinity for thanks to this save. The power of FM is incredible isn’t it?

If you have your own Football Manager Story to share then get in touch on Twitter by tweeting @LongBallFoot or sending an email to with the subject ‘FM Story’. Stay tuned for more on The Long Ball very soon.


Football Manager Stories #1 – “Spain” (2008)

Welcome to Football Manager Stories where we look back at the saves that made us love Sports Interactive’s management sim. Up first is Eion Smith with a FM2008 save entitled “Spain” which begins with a national team’s dominance before some strange pit stops in Argentina and Korea on the road to Valencia…

The Beginning

Searching for a save and fancying some international management, I decided to see how much fun a Spain save would be. This was pre-Euro 2008 Spain, pre-tiki taka Spain. They were not massive favourites for the Euros and only months before had been put to the sword by a David Healy hat-trick at Windsor Park so there was room to improve. And improvements looked to be easy to come by as we pummeled the puny Danes 5-1 thanks to a David Villa quadruple. This was gonna be easy, right? Nope. Iceland turned us over 2-0 and everything was already not good. The team needed a fresh kick. Something to spark it into life. A man who could lead us through qualification and onto European glory. Then one day, out of nowhere, an email arrived…

The Baiano Days

A Brazilian striker by the name of Fernando Baiano had just gotten Spanish citizenship and I, the manager of Spain, was being informed of this. Being a novice of FM at the time, I just naturally assumed that he was the greatest player of all time and picked him for my next squad. And boy was I rewarded. Not with fountains of goals (he did weigh in with 4 in 7) but with consistent performances. He was a nightmare – big and strong, drawing defenders so Torres or Villa could grab goals all while giving an outlet to Xavi, Alonso and Alberto Zapater on the right of the very basic 4-4-2. Baiano lead us to Euro 2008 and through to a tense final against the Portuguese. Baiano scored before David Silva got a second and despite constant Portuguese pressure, we held on for the 2-1 win and the European Championships. Oh to be Spanish…

del Bosque Squad Selection

We won Euro 2008 with a good squad and had a core of outstanding players – Casillas, Puyol, Ramos, Alonso, Xavi, Villa, Torres and one of the players of Euro 2008: Pablo Ibanez (that guy who played for Birmingham). So we moved forward, looking towards 2010 and the World Cup where we wanted to win. Qualifying was a breeze and the team was humming nicely. Baiano was getting on a bit and his form wasn’t as good but I didn’t care. We were winning. Spurred on by my random selections and hunting, I made my second bold choice – a call-up for second tier right back Manuel Ruz. The same Manuel Ruz who hadn’t even played for the Under 21s. The same Manuel Ruz who could barely get a game in the second tier. Made total sense. Still, it was roughly the same team every game barring injuries or suspension which caused Guti to refuse a call-up and Andres Iniesta to rot on the bench with Cesc Fabregas. Still winning though…

Confederations Cup 2009

We headed to South Africa full of hope and expectation, buoyed by the fact we were Europe’s finest. The group stage pitted us against Brazil and after an opening game victory, we faced the mighty Brazilians. A tight and tense game sat at 1-1 when, in stoppage time, nobody right back Manuel Ruz pops up on the edge of the area and pings one in the bottom corner to send us through. Cue jubilation in game and in real life as my boy had scored the goal of dreams. After making it 3 from 3 in the groups, we edged past Argentina 4-2 before we beat the Brazilians again to lift our second trophy in two years. No mean feat and better than the Spanish did in real life. Missing some Manuel Ruz…

World Cup 2010

With qualification sorted early, pointless friendlies were organised to give garbage players caps – ex-West Ham striker Kepa scored a bunch of goals in those games while Dani Pacheco got 2 against Djibouti despite playing zero games of senior football. Still, we made it to the World Cup with ease sans Andres Iniesta whom had dropped out of the squad due to injury then simply been forgotten about (not even kidding either). Still, we cruised through to the final where the Dutch awaited. A tight game ended 2-1 to the Spaniards and the success continued onwards. But glances were being made elsewhere post-tournament…

Moving Into Clubs

Towards the end of 2010, Boca Juniors sacked their boss and without a thought, I stuck my name in the hat. And instantly got the job. And success was easy to come by early on. With Juan Riquelme still at a ridiculous level and a solid spine, we were able to climb the table and finish third overall behind only River (who had kept Falcao and Diego Buonnanotte) and San Lorenzo (who scored a million goals). Strengthened by the summer signings of Gustavo Oberman for an extortionate fee and an Uzbeki goalkeeper because I could, we romped to the top of the table and secured the Apertura title with a game to spare, undefeated. Then, we played the last game before the break at River. And lost 1-0. Falcao. Then we sold our midfield enforcer Pablo Ledesma for nearly £8 million to PSV and immediately started dropping points. Oberman didn’t produce and was gone by the end of the season and we finished third overall. Reinforcements were needed especially since star centre back Gustavo Cabral was looking to leave so my main signing was naturally Victor Anichebe. The Copa Sudamericana was won too but domestically, the campaign was mixed and by the start of the following season (after some awful business), I left.

Spanish Swansong

Things were becoming grinding with Spain too as qualification was too easy and there was too much of a legacy to lose if we messed up the Euros. Plus, Puyol and Xavi had retired which meant the side showed a couple of weaknesses it hadn’t before. Still, we cruised to the final where France waited and another tight victory was secured but it was all over for me as I quit not long after the win. It was club management for me now. Big mistake…

The Down Years

I applied for every job after leaving Boca. A short stint at Recreativo was frustrating as the players did not perform for me while a 39 day stint with Jeju United was notable for the signing of an Uzbeki defender (wooo Uzbekistan). Then there was Atletico Madrid who in true Atleti style managed to be consistently inconsistent despite having Jovetic, Reyes, Banega and Quagliarella amongst their ranks. There was also a dour spell as Argentina boss where a number of players were given games and nobody performed. Fortunately, it all was turned around by a small club struggling…


Coming off the Atletico job, I thought the save had run its course. Nothing to do. A total mess. Write it off and keep the memories. Fortunately, I found the perfect job just in time. Elche were struggling near the foot of La Liga and needed me to save the day with a few months to go. I did, thanks in part to Abel Aguilar (who was wanting to leave but still performed) and the magic combination of Neymar and Johan Vonlanthen up front. A 5-4 derby win over Valencia was remarkable considering the only signings I could make were a Greek winger on a free and Denis Cherysev who was garbage. Still, we made it and the future looked promising with the signings of Lauturo Acosta, Jonathan Reis, Portuguese winger Hugo Monteiro and a number of others on pre-contracts to rebuild a side lacking in masses of quality. And it worked for what I was trying to achieve. Every player contributed something with Acosta the star man as we stayed comfortably just above the relegation zone. However, despite achieving everything asked of me and winning every derby I was involved in, I still didn’t get to see the season out as I was sacked – 16th deemed not good enough for a side tipped for the drop. Still, my reputation had been repaired somewhat and a new challenge awaited…

Current Days

Valencia came at the beginning of the 2016/17 season, boasting an under performing squad littered with name players like Silva, Cavani, Navas, Veloso and goal scoring machine Daniel Novak (a Czech regen who gets injured a lot). It was a solid squad that needed a little bit more so a quick trip to Italy saw attacking midfielder Roberto Cocco brought in from Champions League chasing Empoli alongside young Italian playmaker Gaetano Coccia from Elche (whom I had picked up in my spell at the club). They were the stand out signings in an average season, finishing fifth in a hugely competitive league where Getafe dominated led by Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting and Samuel. Player performance was good with Cocco coming up with 18 assists in the league alone and a smattering of excellent wins over Barcelona and Real Madrid while right back Saad Al-Inezi was sold in January for £30,000,000 to Manchester United. The 2017/18 season looks promising with a solid start at home and in Europe as the new signings bed in well – Aussie Branko Wells is an excellent solution at right back while Coutinho offers midfield depth, Ulises Davila versatility and Imanol Mendez gives us some exciting potential for only £4 million (and a winning goal against his old club Real Madrid). The future looks good in Valencia… if only Getafe weren’t so bloody good.

Star Men

Fernando Baiano

A brute. Goalscoring brute. He only got 16 caps for Spain but got nine goals and was the difference maker at Euro 2008. His memory is ruined by the fact that I signed him right before I left Boca when he was 35 and past it.

Manuel Ruz

The Cinderella story of this save as Ruz was plucked from Granada to play for Spain and score the winner against Brazil (his only international goal too). Got 25 caps for Spain in total and earned a move to Villarreal in the process. He’s retired in real life at just 28 but in FM, he’s my cult hero.

Victor Anichebe

A free agent in the summer of 2011 and willing to join Boca, Anichebe was the best thing to happen to the club. Lacking consistent strikers was letting us down and with River and San Lorenzo boasting Falcao and Barrales respectively, I needed goals. Fortunately, Anichebe provided them and in a big way with his number never dropping below 15 in the league.

Juan Roman Riquelme

The difference maker in so many Boca games, Riquelme was a class above the Argentinean league and saved us on multiple occasions. Without him, who knows how bad the slump would have been?

Roberto Cocco

Playmaking machine and already a hero in my eyes, Cocco was totally worth the £18,000,000 I paid. Amazing regen.

So that is the story of my “Spain” save. A rollercoaster that has featured World Cups and skint Korean clubs but is still going strong with plenty more to do.

If you have a Football Manager story to share then get in touch and it could be featured on here. Information is here or alternatively send @LongBallFoot a tweet or direct message and we’ll go from there.


Historical Football #13 – Football In The Protectorate

Historical Football returns to The Long Ball with a look at the interesting history of football in the Saar – a small region on the German border with France that for six years was a FIFA recognised country…

The world and politics of it post World War 2 was a complex and strange time when looked at now. Germany split in two, Israel was in its infancy and a small German region on the French border became a protectorate (essentially an independent state that got protection from a larger country in exchange for something else). Saar was a small industrial region of Germany that was partitioned off after the war and occupied by the French thus forming their own country of sorts – because they didn’t want to be part of France – with its own currency, nationality and, naturally, sporting credentials (Saar had a team at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki). So began the story of football in the protectorate of Saar and the series of issues they would have…

The main team in Saar was FC Saarbrucken whom, like all other Saar based sides, were forced out of German football after the war. However, unlike the rest of the Saar sides, Saarbrucken were a quality side so rather than play in the newly formed Saar league (the Ehrenliga) they played as guests in Ligue 2 in France as FC Sarrebruck for the 1948-49 season. However, the guests were infinitely better than the French sides and romped to the Ligue 2 title (racking up some scores more akin to rugby along the way) which caused much embarrassment amongst the French teams. Naturally Saarbrucken expected to join the French Football Federation and play in Ligue 1 the following season but were unanimously rejected by the French teams and banned from Ligue 1 to avoid a German side winning the French league.

Without a challenge and barred from the two places they could get one, Saarbrucken turned to friendlies against other sides from around Europe in the short-lived Internationaler Saarlandpokal. Saarbrucken were eventually allowed to return to German football along with the other Saar sides in 1952 where they were one of the top sides. Saarbrucken actually represented Saar in the initial European Cup in 1955, drawing an AC Milan side boasting world class stars. The Saar side recovered from 3-1 down in the San Siro to win 4-3 beforre, after holding Milan for 75 minutes, collapsing in the home leg 4-1 to crash out in their only European appearance.

The Saarland national side came along three years after becoming a protectorate when FIFA accepted them as an independent footballing nation in 1950. They weren’t given membership until two weeks before the World Cup in Brazil ruling that tournament out and with no European Championships until 1960 they had to wait until 1953 for their first competitive international – a World Cup qualifier in Norway. The visitors started poorly, going down 2-0  as well as having to make an early substitute due to injury and having Theodor Puff playing with a broken fibula but managed to turn it around into a 3-2 victory. It was an excellent start but their next trip was to Stuttgart to face West Germany.

The Germans refused to fly the Saar flag then proceeded to beat them 3-0 which, after Saar’s 0-0 home draw with Norway and West Germany’s emphatic win over them, meant that the winner of the return match in Saarbrucken would go to Switzerland. The mostly FC Saarbrucken side played well in front of 53,000 but were undone by some poor refereeing – Saar had a goal incorrectly ruled out, a clear handball turned away and a foul on their keeper ignored for the third German goal – and went down 3-1 to the eventual world champions. In truth, the result mattered little to the Saarland players whom all felt German at heart with wing half Kurt Clemens (the only one to play abroad and whom would have played for West Germany at the World Cup if he wasn’t ineligible because of playing for Saarland) saying,

“…I wasn’t really unhappy with both results. I felt that I was German and didn’t want to prevent the team that I had supported as a little boy from getting to Switzerland. We wouldn’t have had a chance at the World Cup anyway…”

Saarland lining up pre-match

Saarland lining up pre-match

 The Saar produced a good side during the protectorate era. The strike pairing of Herbert Martin and Herbert Binkert both scored 6 goals for Saarland (the record) and were a fearsome pair. Both also played for Saarbrucken with Binkert scoring a hat trick when Saarbrucken defeated Liverpool 4-1 in a 1951 friendly. Defender Waldemar Philippi played in all but one of Saarland’s 19 internationals which is a record while Franz Imming was a former German international. Three Saarland players actually went on to play for Germany after their vote to rejoin in 1955 – Karl Ringel (1 cap), Gerhard Siedl (6 caps, 3 goals) and Heinz Vollmar (12 caps, 3 goals). The most notable Saarland alumni was none other than their boss, Helmut Schon who just happens to be the same one whom led West Germany to second in the 1966 World Cup, third in 1970 and winning in 1974 plus the European Championships in 1972.

Saar rejoined West Germany on 1 January 1957 which consequently brought an end to one of the more interesting and curious times in footballing history. Gone was the protectorate of Saar and so too the quality of footballers produced. Saarbrucken have flirted with the top flight a few times but are languishing in the lower reached and while others have reached the top tier in the past, no Saar side is setting the world on fire. It’s a long way from the heady days of the post-war years when a small German region became one of football’s most interesting stories. And that was football in the Saar protectorate.

That wraps up another Historical Football. Stay tuned for more coming soon on The Long Ball.


Further Reading

Azerbaijan's Qarabag (black) are the Europa League's unknown quantity this season

The Stereotypes of European Football

With the Champions League and Europa League group stages now fully underway, Eion Smith takes a look at the types of sides to watch out for when watching continental football this season…

The Big Guns

What To Expect

Always considered amongst the favourites for European success, the big guns are sides bred to win at all costs and generally win their respective country’s league. Expect to see comfortable group progression, big name players and managers and intense scrutiny surrounding their games. The football will have moments of extreme quality but be aware of petulance and aggression in the later stages of competitions as the pressure grows.


Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid

The Dangers

What To Expect

The dangers are sides that are top teams but not near the superteam level of the big guns. They are packed full of players hungry and eager to succeed and impress and are usually coached by coaches with the same mentality. They are generally solid defensively, tough to break down away from home and full of lethal attacking players whom shine in their fearsome home ground that is considered to be a “good point if you can get it”.


Porto, Benfica, Atletico Madrid, Napoli

The Constant Champions


Anderlecht (purple) have found the going tough in Europe over the last few years

What To Expect

The dominant force domestically, the constant champions are always in the Champions League and will either make it through to the groups or fall meekly in qualifying. Their sides are filled with a mixture of exciting young, domestic talents; established veterans who are solid and some foreign imports who had a touch of class about everything. Occasionally, they will progress out of the groups but for the most part they are there to make up the numbers.


Anderlecht, FC Copenhagen, Olympiacos

The Eastern Europeans

What To Expect

Formerly the “Behind The Iron Curtains”, the Eastern Europeans are (in some cases) similar to the Constant Champions. They are generally built on good, technical passing from their Brazilian/Portuguese/Premier League reject front line and a  rock solid, tough as nails local defense. They too fall in the tough away game category but for the most part, do not travel that well. With a bit of luck, they can have a solid run in the knockouts.


Shakhtar Donetsk, Zenit

The Regulars

What To Expect

Not a whole lot. Mostly there to make up the numbers, they struggle against the big guns and have a tendency to be embarrassed by unknown/smaller clubs. Full of good players, they consistently qualify for Europe yet never win anything while being solid and unspectacular in their play. Knockouts are the minimum and maximum ambition.


Lille, Schalke, Bayer Leverkusen

The Unknowns

Azerbaijan's Qarabag (black) are the Europa League's unknown quantity this season

Azerbaijan’s Qarabag (black) are the Europa League’s unknown quantity this season

What To Expect

The unexpected to be frank. Usually the side that makes it through all the qualifying rounds with some kind of remarkable story, they dumbfound pundits with impossible names and random location. Terms like “biggest match in their history” and “dream tie” get thrown around a lot as do cricket score predictions. These are usually wrong as the side goes on to put on a good show with their core of good, local players and ragtag bunch of foreigners that only gets this one chance at the big time. Generally the hipster favourite.


Qarabag, Ludogorets

 That sums up what types of teams you can find in Europe this season. Do you agree with these stereotypes? Have there been any that have been missed? Let us know in the comments or over on Twitter (links are next to this). Stay tuned for more coming from The Long Ball (honest!) in the near future.



Magnificent Seven – Marvelous Moustaches

Inspired by a conversation I somehow found myself in on Twitter (found here if you’re curious), Magnificent Seven returns looking at the greatest moustaches in footballing history of which zero of them are Movember attempts…

7. Frank Rijkaard (suggested by @NachikethRamesh)

UEFA European Championship 1988 - VI Archive

Squeezing into the list at number seven is Dutch legend Rijkaard – more well known by the younger fan for gobbing on fellow moustachioed footballer Rudi Voller and managing Barcelona than for any of his playing accomplishments (of which there are many). He has opted for the smooth, Lionel Richie look and managed to pull it off to a point that people remember it to this day. Very suave.

 6. Graeme Souness


Souness rocked the 70s TV cop/pornstar moustache right the way through the 70s and well into the 80s because he was Graeme Souness and nobody dare challenge him. Still, it was magnificent and added to the manliness of Souness who was possibly the one player in history never to be scared of anything. It’s just a shame he shaved it off as he’s only now known for being angry on TV.

5. Vicente del Bosque


The one man in world football who is still holding on to the moustache despite the rise of beards, del Bosque’s has not changed since he was around 6 years old*. Even as his hair greys and disappears from the top of his head and despite the World Cup wins and surprise sackings, del Bosque has steadfastly stuck with his moustache. A marvelous effort sir.

*not factually accurate

4. Henry Mowbray (suggested by @TheSkyStrikers)


A big, burly Scottish centre half in the 60s, it was only natural for Mowbray to have a moustache. And boy did he embrace that. Mowbray embraced the Hulk Hogan look before Hulk Hogan was even a thing and turned a solid yet unspectacular player into someone that would be remembered by a few moustache enthusiasts (and some people with too much time on their hands and a blog).

3. Ronald Spelbos

Soccer - World Cup Qualifier - Group Two - Ireland v Holland

The Dutch are known for introducing some of football’s most beautiful sights (Cruyff, Total Football etc.) but one Dutchman created something so beautiful that it had to be immortalised on a random football blog. Spelbos’ moustache is an incredible feat of manliness, grooming and cojones to pull it off. It’s remarkable he actually had the time to play any football with all the effort that must have took to maintain. Sadly for Spelbos though he’s not the highest Dutchman on this list…

2. Abe van den Ban

van den Ban

Little known Dutch footballer may not have had a spectacular career but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have a spectacular moustache. That’s exactly what Abe did, making his upper lip look like a bike and making him in the process look like a 1930s cartoon strongman. Amazingly, he still has the moustache and is a bit of cult hero because of it.

1. Antonio Borges (suggested by @TheSkyStrikers)


Borges’ moustache philosophy was simple – forget styling and looking fancy, just grow as much hair as you can on your upper lip. It was a pretty successful one too as Borges grew simply the greatest moustache in football history. It beggars belief that the small gap between nose and upper lip is capable of holding that much hair without suffocating him or having small birds nest inside it. Antonio Borges, we salute you and your wonderful moustache.

Special Mention

How about this effort from ex-France boss Raymond Domenech?

How about this effort from ex-France boss Raymond Domenech?

Who possesses your favourite football moustache? Let us know either here or over on Twitter (link on the left) and give @NachikethRamesh and @TheSkyStrikers a follow for their helpful suggestions. Stay tuned for more from The Long Ball too.



Where Are They Now? #20 – Premier League’s First Weekend Foreigners

With the new Premier League season just around the corner, it’s time to look back with “Where Are They Now?”. We look back to the first weekend of the first Premier League season where only 13 foreigners played over the entire weekend. Let’s see what happened to them…

Arsenal 2-4 Norwich

John Jensen – Arsenal


Fresh off his goalscoring heroics in the European Championship final for Denmark, Jensen was signed not long before the Norwich game as a replacement for David Rocastle in midfield. Despite Arsenal’s poor start, Jensen continued to feature in the first team and his hard working style in the middle of the park helped the club to a FA and League Cup double at the end of the season. Jensen stay in the Arsenal midfield over the next few seasons (helping the club to the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1994) and became a cult hero for his inability to score a goal regardless of how many times he tried. Eventually, Jensen did score for the club and it turned out to be his only goal too before he departed in 1996 to return to Brondby. His third spell at Brondby lasted three years before he joined Herfolge as player-manager in 1999 winning the league title in his first season before being relegated in 2001. He retired completely from playing in 2001 and in 2002 returned to Brondby as Michael Laudrup’s assistant. He followed Laudrup to Spanish side Getafe in 2007 but his time in Spain only lasted a season before he left with Laudrup. He had short stints as Danish side Randers’ manager and Blackburn assistant mannager in 2011 before being named a footballing consultant at Brondby in 2012. Jensen was recently appointed manager of Fremad Amager in his homeland.

Anders Limpar – Arsenal

Anders Limpar

A Swedish international, Limpar had already won the league at Arsenal in 1991 and was in and out of the side under George Graham. He would go on to play 23 times in 1992/93 but only 12 of those were starts and he notched two goals. However, he was out of favour by the end of 1993 and in March 1994 he was sold to Everton. Limpar became a key member of the Everton side and helped the club to the FA Cup in 1995 but he was again out of favour so was sold on to Birmingham in January of 1997. Limpar’s spell in the Midlands was a failure and his contract was cancelled in April after just four appearances. He returned to Sweden in the summer and joined AIK, helping the club to the league title in 1998 before having a short spell with Colorado Rapids in the US in 1999. He returned to Sweden in 2000 with Djurgardens but retired before he could make an appearance for them. He moved straight into coaching with their youth teams before moving to his current role as assistant coach Sollentuna United in 2008. He is also the CEO of a betting website as well.

Chelsea 1-1 Oldham Athletic

Gunnar Halle – Oldham Athletic


Joining Oldham from Lillestrom in 1991, Halle is regarded as one of the better players from Oldham’s short run in the Premier League. He went on to play all but three of Oldham’s games in the first Premier League season and bagged himself 5 goals including the crucial fourth in a final day 4-3 win over Southampton that kept Oldham up. Bar a very short loan spell with Lillestrom in 1994, Halle was a regular with Oldham until 1996, making over 200 appearances before returning to the Premier League with Leeds United. He was with Leeds for three seasons before joining newly promoted Bradford in 1999. He stayed with the club after their relegation in 2001 but left as finances became strecthed in 2002 for a short spell with Wolves. He returned to Lillestrom in 2002 before becoming player-manager at third tier side Aurskog/Finstadbru in 2004. Halle retired from playing in 2005 and became Uwe Rosler’s assistant at Lillestrom and Viking before joining Lyn in 2009 as first assistant before becoming manager the same year. He couldn’t keep the club up before the club declared itself bankrupt in 2010. Halle reunited with Rosler at Molde in 2010 for a short spell there. He became assistant of the Norwegian women’s side in 2012 before moving on to his current job in 2013 – assistant manager at Strommen IF.

Everton 1-1 Sheffield Wednesday

Robert Warzycha – Everton


A mustachioed Polish winger, Warzycha appeared as a substitute on the opening day of the season. He is perhaps best remembered for his role in Everton’s second game of the season – a 3-0 thumping of Manchester United at Old Trafford – where Warzycha became the first player from mainland Europe to score in the Premier League. Sadly, that was the high point of his season as Warzycha never scored again for the club and was sold at the end of the following season to Hungarian side Pecsi Mecsek. He spent a season with Pecsi before a season at Honved lead to him moving to Colorado Rapids in 1996 for the inaugural MLS season. He was key member of the Rapids side for the next six years before retiring in 2002 at which point he became assistant manager of the Rapids. He served as assistant right up until 2009 when he became the boss of the Rapids leading them to the Supporter’s Shield that year. He left Colorado at the end of the 2013 season and took his current job as manager of Polish side Gornik Zabrze earlier this year. If you want to read more on Warzycha then check out this piece on his time at Everton from Rightbankwarsaw.

Roland Nilsson – Sheffield Wednesday


Considered by many to be Wednesday’s best right back ever, Swede Nilsson was a regular during his time in Sheffield. He would end his 5 year association with the club in 1994 to return to Sweden with Helsingborg after starring at the 1994 World Cup where Sweden finished third. He returned to the Premier League in 1997 with Coventry City where he spent two seasons before again returning to Helsingborg for another two seasons. Nilsson was brought back to Coventry as player-manager in 2001 but, despite a promising start, he was sacked in April 2002. He was not out of work for long as he was appointed manager of GAIS in his homeland the same year and led them to the top tier of Swedish football for the first time in six years before leaving for Malmo in 2007. He led Malmo to the league title in 2010 before departing for the FC Copenhagen job in 2011. He was sacked in 2012 and has been out of work since.

Ipswich 1-1 Aston Villa

Craig Forrest – Ipswich Town


Craig Forrest must surely be English right? Nope. He was Canadian. Yet spent the entirety of his playing career in England. Forrest played over 200 times for Town but will mostly be remembered by neutrals for being the keeper that conceded nine at Old Trafford (a Premier League record) in 1995. Forrest stayed with Ipswich until 1997 (he did have a three game loan spell with Chelsea during the 96/97 season too) to join West Ham but his time at the Boleyn Ground never saw be the undisputed number one. He retired from football in 2002 for health reasons and can now be seen doing ambassadorial work as well as being one of the main football pundits on Canadian TV.

Leeds United 2-1 Wimbledon

Eric Cantona – Leeds United


Instrumental in Leeds’ title win in 1992, Cantona was the scorer of the first ever Premier League hat trick. His time at Leeds would not last into 1993 as he was sold to Manchester United in November. This proved to be a massive move as Cantona’s presence inspired United on to the league title. Cantona’s great form continued and he was named PFA Player of the Year in 1994 before being banned for eight months for that infamous kung-fu kick on a fan. When he returned in 1995, he inspired United to another title and the FA Cup before he retired at just 30 in 1997. Following his retirement he went into a number of different areas including acting, beach football and appearing in adverts. He was also director of football at New York Cosmos between 2010 and 2012.

Hans Segers – Wimbledon


Wimbledon’s replacement for FA Cup hero Dave Beasant, Dutchman Segers played more than 250 games for the club before his departure in 1996. His later years at Selhurst Park were marred by his match fixing trial (he was eventually cleared) but he continued to play through it. He left Wimbledon for spells with Wolves (with a brief stint at non-league Woking sandwiched in between) before joining Tottenham in 1998 as a backup. He played just once in three seasons before retiring in 2001. He moved straight into coaching after his retirement and was a goalkeeping coach at Spurs until 2007 when Martin Jol was sacked. He reunited with Jol in 2011 when he was appointed to his current job as goalkeeping coach at Fulham.

Sheffield United 2-1 Manchester United

Peter Schmeichel – Manchester United


Fresh off his starring role in Denmark’s Euro 92 triumph, Schmeichel kept 22 clean sheets as United won the inaugural Premier League title. He would go on to help United win four more league titles in his spell there as well as three FA Cups and the Champions League in 1999. He left United after the Champions League final in 1999 and moved to Portuguese side Sporting where he helped the club to the league title in his first season. He returned to England in 2001 with Aston Villa where he even managed to score a goal in the Premier League before making a surprise move to Manchester City in 2002. Schmeichel retired from football in 2003. He has since made TV appearances and done some punditry work.

Andrei Kanchelskis – Manchester United


The Russian winger was fresh off playing for the CIS side at Euro 92 and was a vital part of United’s early Premier League success. It took him a while to establish himself in English football but by 94/95, Kanchelskis was one of the most dangerous players in the league and was actually United’s top scorer that season. However, he had fallen out with Alex Ferguson and was sold to Everton in 1995 where he continued his sparkling form and earned himself hero status with a brace in the Merseyside derby. However, before he could make an even bigger impression at Goodison, he was sold to Italian side Fiorentina in January 1997. His impact in Italy was minimal and he was sold in the summer of 1998 to Scottish giants Rangers where he featured regularly but never really set the world alight and, after a short loan spell with Manchester City in 2001, he was allowed to join Southampton in 2002. It was clear Kanchelskis’ career was winding down and his spell at Southampton was disappointing and he left shortly after signing. Poor spells with Saudi side Al-Hilal and Russian sides Saturn Moscow and Krylia Sovetov followed before he retired in February 2007.

Nottingham Forest 1-0 Liverpool

Ronny Rosenthal – Liverpool


Israeli striker Rosenthal was never quite as good as the early promise he showed during his loan spell and he only ever scored 6 Premier League goals for the club. His Liverpool career is best remembered for his appalling miss against Aston Villa early in the 92/93 season and it’s really what he is best remembered for. He was sold in January 1994 to Tottenham right before Graeme Souness resigned and his time there was not laden with goals. He scored just 11 in 100 games before leaving in 1997 for Watford whom he helped to the Second Division (third tier) title in 1998 before injuries forced him to retire in 1999. He now works as a football consultant.

Manchester City 1-1 QPR

Michel Vonk – Manchester City


Dutchman Vonk was a big defender who was a big success at Maine Road as he played nearly 100 games in just over 3 seasons at the club. He was allowed to leave in 1995 for Oldham where he barely lasted months before joining Sheffield United. His time at Brammall Lane was hampered by injury and he returned to the Netherlands in 1998 with MVV Maastricht. He retired from playing in 2001 and moved straight into coaching by doing some youth coaching at PSV. He was given the manager’s job at Sparta Rotterdam in 2011 and stayed for two years before being fired in 2013. He has been out of work since.

Jan Stejskal – Goalkeeper, QPR


Czech keeper Stejskal was a commanding presence at the back for QPR but he was never the complete first choice in the Premier League. He only played 41 times in two seasons before returning to the Czech Republic in 1994 after 4 years in London. He returned with Slavia Prague where he spent five seasons  before, after a short spell with Viktoria Zizkov, he retired in 1999. Stejskal moved into goalkeeper coaching when he retired and was a coach at Sparta Prague and for the Czech national side. He quit the national team post because of the amount of extra work he had to do with club commitments. He still works as a goalkeeper coach for Sparta to date.

There are the 13 foreigners from the opening weekend of the first Premier League season. There will probably be many, many more this weekend but hopefully the season will be good regardless. Stay tuned for more from The Long Ball coming soon.


Hungary-El Salvador 1

Historical Football #12 – El Salvador’s Humiliation

With Brazil having been thrashed and humiliated in front of their own fans by Germany, it seems fitting to return to Historical Football with a look back at the World Cup’s biggest thrashing – poor El Salvador’s 10-1 humiliation at the hands of Hungary at Spain 1982…

If there was ever a way to turn yourself from a national hero to a national villain in ninety short minutes then getting humiliated at a World Cup is a sure fire way to do it. Just ask El Salvador’s 1982 World Cup squad. 90 minutes was all it took for them to become figures of ridicule in their own country, unable to achieve anything without the stigma of their humiliation follow them around. Yet, it all looked so promising in the beginning…

The early 80s was a tough time to be in El Salvador. A brutal Civil War saw a lot of people murdered by both the military government and guerilla forces on a daily basis as they fought for control of the country. Football, though, proved to be an escape for the country and the national side brought everyone together as they managed to progress through qualifying to make it to Spain. However, this would be the high point of their journey as the reality of the finals soon set in very quickly.

Immediately they were given the unenviable task of trying to get anything from a group containing Hungary, beaten European finalists of 1980 Belgium and the defending World champions Argentina (with a certain Diego Maradona). They were not expected to do well and their preparations certainly did not help in any way either. While rivals Honduras arrived in Spain a month before the tournament to acclimatise, El Salvador were playing a friendly against Gremio of Brazil just over a week before their opener. Their journey to Spain took the best part of three days, their accommodation was shoddy and they had to ask the Hungarians for some balls to train with because their allocation from FIFA had been stolen. Add on the fact that the El Salvador FA had incredibly decided to register only a 20 man squad and morale was not at its highest point in the camp. Hopes were high for their debut though.

After watching a tape of the Hungarians, the El Salvadorians were convinced they could attack their more experienced opponents and catch them by surprise. Their plan was solid enough and for long periods of the first half at the Nuevo Estadio in Elche it worked. The problem was that the Hungarians were superior technically and picked off their naive opponents when they poured men forward. It also did not help that Hungary captain Tibor Nyilasi was allowed to run free at a corner and head home after just three minutes. Their greater quality told when a simple pass took out the entire El Salvador midfield on the halfway line and Gabor Poloskei ran through on goal (after easily hurdling the most desperate of all desperate lunges) to fire past poor Luis Mora in the El Salvador goal.

Hungary's Imre Garaba

Another desperate El Salvador lunge is evaded

It was not all El Salvador naivety however as Laszlo Fazekas was allowed time to turn, run and smash a long range effort into the top corner showing the vast difference in quality between the two sides. The only positive for El Salvador was that they were only three down at half time and had threatened when they got the ball to Jorge Gonzalez (more commonly known as Magico Gonzalez) whose ability gave the Hungarian defenders nightmares. They had a few attempts on goal and remained positive that the game was still a contest. The second half would very quickly change that.

Every time El Salvador lost possession, Hungary swept forward and it was this that led to the fourth, and ultimately killer, goal. Full back Jozsef Toth’s low cross was cut out by a defender but Toth reacted to quickest to squeeze it home. It was uncharted waters for the Salvadorians who had never conceded more than three in a game. Diaz Arevalo who missed the game through injury stated in an interview with FourFourTwo that the fourth goal was when, “we really started losing our nerves”.

It became five on 54 minutes when Fazekas was allowed time on the left wing to come inside and fire a low shot past Mora at his near post. Still, El Salvador poured forward trying to get something from the game. And, after 64 minutes, they got their goal. Gonzalez tricked his way into the area and pulled it back to Norberto Huezo who seemed to panic but managed to stab it to Luis Ramirez Zapata who passed it in and in the process became a precursor to Marco Tardelli.

Hungary coach Kalman Meszoly had reportedly told his players at half time to show no mercy as it was the World Cup and after the El Salvador goal they certainly put his words into practice. Laszlo Kiss, a substitute, was left free at a corner and fired in for number six while fellow sub Lazar Szentes tapped in to make it seven. Kiss’ second goal was a lovely chipped effort from just inside the area before he completed a record breaking hat-trick by firing through a crowd of defenders to become the first substitute to score a World Cup hat-trick as well as the quickest hat-trick in the tournament history. Nyilasi rounded the scoring off with seven minutes left with another header and the humiliation was complete.

El Salvador shut up shop for their next two games which were not as heavy defeats to Belgium and Argentina. The negative vibe continued around the camp as they fell out with hotel staff, fought with Argentina on the pitch and played that game without any official documents as the official in charge forgot them. They were eliminated and regarded as embarrassments to El Salvador.

Mauricio Rodriguez, the coach, never managed another side and left football after the tournament while the majority of the squad were treated as pariahs in the country. Magico Gonzalez remained in Spain where he enjoyed success with Cadiz despite becoming notorious for his partying lifestyle. The members of that squad are still viewed with contempt by the Salvadorian public, proof that ninety minutes is all it takes to become a villain for a lifetime.

All the goals are in the video below:

That wraps up another edition of Historical Football. Stay tuned for more from The Long Ball coming soon.


Further Reading