I didn’t bother writing up an end of season review for the 2017/18 Napier City Rovers season. Why bother? As usual, we dominated the league, with most of the first team having 7.00+ ratings at the end. We won the Chatham Cup in convincing fashion, and we won the title with 13 points to spare. I will, however, point out that I finally have my invincible season! It was almost a given, considering the gap that exists in the quality between my side and the others, but it’s thrilling to say that it happened! With 14 wins, 4 draws, and no losses, we concluded the 2017/18 Central League season with 46 points.
I do want to take time to muse a bit and point out that I’m a mediocre tactician. This Pentagon save is actually the first one where I’ve exclusively used my own tactical genius (or lack of) to make my own tactics and use trial and error to improve, rather than falling back on other tactics people that aren’t me made.
One of the most difficult things for me, going through the last three seasons with Napier City, was wondering when it was time for a change and how to change it. The quality of opposition player wasn’t a threat to me, but even a bunch of incompetent coached can watch a consistent performance and pick out how I play and who to mark, and this past season, while convincing (particularly with the 7-3 victory over Wellington Olympic), was not the same as the last season, and the teams had clearly adapted to my play style and fought to slow me down. This has made me realise that, while an effective tactic, it wouldn’t work forever, and eventually I’d have to adapt. The struggle is just knowing when or how it would be appropriate to do so, which only time and practice would give me the experience to determine.
Another drawback to the season was my insistence on using youth. It doesn’t take a star player to be competitive in the Central League, and all three youth intakes that I had with Napier City produced multiple young lads who were technically proficient enough to play ball with the first team. The problem is that as my average age fell, my overall player experience dropped as more senior players fell out of favour to make way for young kids who had a future ahead of them.
Ever since I started playing Football Manager with FM14, I’ve used and developed youth, owing to my tenure with my beloved Oxford United, who insisted on youth development in that version. It’s carried into newer games, and youth development has just become a cornerstone of my philosophy as a manager. The problem is I need to strike a balance between youth and older players, which was hard when you had only 18 fixtures in the Central League and 6 if you made it to the Chatham Cup final, for a grand total of 24 games. That’s half of a League 2 season, and I have a bunch of players who want game time. In my semi-professional Napier City side, I could only sign Key Player, First Team, and Youth players. There was no signing backups, no rotation options, etc. Everyone who wasn’t on a youth contract wanted ball, and as my players hit 17-18 and wanted senior contracts, that became more people who’d fall unhappy if they went more than a few games without a starting place in the team, which made me reluctant to sign the finished article to help my young lads out and provide experience. Again, probably just something I’d learn over time to balance right.
Now, on to the biggest news of this post, which I saved for last… I’m no longer the manager of the Napier City Rovers. I decided that I was bored of dominating league that wasn’t competitive enough to be a challenge. I had wanted to resign two seasons ago, but ended up sticking around for three years. I wanted to move to the ASB Premiership, the top flight of New Zealand football that would enable me to have Oceanic Champions League football, but compared to other divisions, sackings were few and far between. Seriously. Nobody was sacked in three years in the save. Considering I couldn’t promote into the league, and I couldn’t get in from a sacking, it felt like they were just a few steps short of putting up a sign that said “Top Flight Club House – Members Only”. I clearly wasn’t a member. So, I decided to look elsewhere…
My contract expired on 30 June 2018 after I declined numerous contract meetings, and I resigned on 1 July when it became a month-to-month contract. I enjoyed my time with the club, but it was time to move on with my tough challenge known as the Pentagon. I can return to NZ in the future if I see a good opening to the Premiership and I’m not already preoccupied.
I applied at a couple of places. Wrexham in England on a punt, just because it would be an experience gathering job and it was open (and nobody said I had to go from lowest to highest rep leagues, just that it would be easier that way). Rejected. I wasn’t the man for the job, despite my three double-winning seasons that showed I could manage a small team.
I also applied at Ancona in the Serie C/B… They laughed at me despite it having a similar looking rep to Wrexham, who thought me to be a leading candidate. Fine, suck it, Italy, I just won’t go back when I hit it big!
Next was Jomo Cosmo in the South African Premiership. They were in a place at the end of the previous season to have challenged for African Champions League football. Like with Wrexham, I had a good interview, but was ultimately not selected for the job.
Then, I applied for the Tuks, the University of Pretoria, also in the South African top flight. Bingo! My goal is to avoid a relegation battle this season, which I think is a fair challenge! I was hired on 18 August 2018. A month and a half after I left Napier City and my invincible season behind me to advance in the Pentagon challenge.
I missed the friendlies, which were 2 wins and 2 losses, and the day after my hire is our first match of the season, against Orlando Pirates. Luckily, the team is mostly comfortable with my Napier City 4-4-2, which I’m going to use as a starting point before tweaking to suit the Tuks’s particular needs.
It’s time for the next chapter in Mr Ryan Hope’s life as a football manager!