Here's to Football Manager. Here's to escaping the everyday, pacing up and down your bedroom mid-match. Here's to suiting up for cup finals. Here's to my favourite signings...
Timo Horn (Hertha 2017)
The signing of Horn plugged a gap in the Hertha line-up and helped to push the team to the next level. Thomas Kraft had performed admirably to help them to a 4th place finish and Champions League playoff qualification, but to compete at the higher level a top class goalkeeper was required. Horn’s introduction saw him produce an inspired performance to help keep Chelsea at bay in the Champions League two-legged playoff and set the platform for a Per Cilian Skjelbred injury time winner at Stamford Bridge to send Hertha through on away goals. A Bundesliga title followed that year and three years on came Hertha’s first Champions League title as Die Alte Dame saw off Inter Milan on penalties following a tense 1-1 draw.
Ilsinho (Wigan Athletic 2010)
An early summer signing for Wigan Athletic, the marauding full back created and scored a number of goals during his stay in the North West of England, making it easy to see why Shakhtar often utilised him as a right winger. His first season saw him help Wigan to a 7th place finish and their first FA Cup win, achieved after a 3-3 draw with Manchester United in the semi finals saw Latics win on penalties. This was then followed by an unprecedented quadruple (domestic treble and Europa league) the following year that took all by surprise. He proved almost irreplaceable and his role in Wigan’s insurgence can not be understated.
Vincent Kompany (Liverpool 2005)
Kompany was signed as a long-term replacement for Sami Hyypia from Anderlecht, regularly featuring alongside the big Finn and Carragher when the Reds reverted to a back three in the title winning side of 2005. By 2012, Kompany was the defensive foundation for a Reds team that had won a further three European cups, featuring the likes of Andres D’Alessandro, Martin Liguera and Chris Eagles alongside Gerrard, Carragher and Xabi Alonso.
Eder Alvarez Balanta (Hertha 2017)
Like many of you, Alvarez Balanta found his place in innumerable football manager saves over the years, such was his affordability and level of potential, but his profound impact on the Hertha Berlin side of 2017 cannot be underestimated. At the centre of a back three, regularly flanked by custodians Badstuber and Subotic he proved an immovable force, contributing immeasurably to Hertha’s growth to being a European footballing powerhouse.
Leonel Bontempo (Hibernian 2018)
One of Connelly’s first signings during a highly successful tenure in Edinburgh, Bontempo joined the Hibees on a free transfer during the summer of 2017, His signing was a revelation and he proved to be a consistent marauding presence on the left hand side of Hibernian’s attack and defence as the club went on to consistently win and challenge for domestic and European honours. One of the club’s top and most consistent performers into the 2020’s, he remains a cult figure at Hibernian.
Ralf (Gela 2009)
Following successive promotions from the fourth tier of Italian football, Gela started their inaugural Serie B campaign by signing Corinthians holding midfielder Ralf. They never looked back. Ralf provided ample grit and legs to allow for the more creative talents of Dani Pacheco and Daniele Petrucci to flourish. The goals didn’t stop and, perhaps more importantly, few were let in at the other end. An unprecedented promotion to Serie A was secured and the Sicilians continued to exhibit the football that earned them continental renown as Europe’s most exciting and fastest growing club.
Josip Ilicic (Wigan Athletic 2010)
Joining the Latics in the summer of 2009, the Slovene was instrumental in Wigan’s FA Cup win during his first season in English football. The next year, forming a potent midfield trio with Will Hughes and loanee Javi García, his goals, assists and driving midfield runs made Wigan one of the most attractive teams to watch in Europe and helped deliver the unprecented quadruple of the 2010-11 season, scoring Wigan’s second in a 2-0 Europa League Final win over Tottenham in Dublin.
Yoann Gourcuff (Cassino FM 2008)
Many had written off little Cassino and their 3,000 capacity stadium, following their unexpected promotion to Serie A for the 11/12 season, but those detractors had underestimated the efficacy of their transfer market activity. Signed on a free transfer following release from Bordeaux in the summer, Yoann Gourcuff returned to Serie A and became the creative focal point of the team that season, donning the number 10 shirt and helping the club to exceed their wildest expectations in qualifying for the Champions League in their inaugural season in Italy’s top flight.
Luka Jovic (Hertha FM 2017)
An absolute bargain buy from Red Star Belgrade in the summer of 2017, eyebrows were raised when Jovic was given the number nine shirt and the unenviable task of leading the line for the 2017-18 season. However, complemented from midfield by the creative talents of Marc Stendera and Tonny Vilhena, Jovic proved to be a tour de force, topping the Bundesliga scoring charts season after season and, after resisting the interests of Barcelona and Bayern Munich, the European honours started to rack up at the Olympiastadion.
Genero Zeefuik (Cassino 2008)
Off the back of an impressive couple of seasons with PSV, renowned FM08 wonder kid, Genero Zeefuik signed for Serie A new boys Cassino in summer 2011, on the cheap too with only one year left on his contract. From there, the goals didn’t stop. Spearheading the Azzurri’ attack, he led the Capocannoniere consistently throughout the year, the highlight of which was a 5 goal haul in a 5-0 away win at the Olimpico vs Roma. Finishing in the Champions League places was unprecedented for a club the size of Cassino. If it weren’t for Zeefuik in particular, this wouldn’t have been possible.
Dmitry Bulykin (Lokomotiv Moscow 2005)
A memorable story from the 2004-5 Russian Premier League season was Dmitry Bulykin, scoring twice against Lokomotiv the day before the completion of his transfer from crosstown rivals Dinamo. Fortunately for his prospective employers, he couldn’t help Dinamo Moscow avoid a 3-2 defeat that day and he almost immediately struck up a formidable partnership with Dmitry Sychev. They profited from the prodigious midfield play of messrs Loskov, Khokhlov, Izmailov, youngster Bilyaletdinov and Lima, as well as flying wing backs Yevseev and Sennikov, and went on to lead the Railwaymen to the Russian Premier League title of 04-05.
Anton Mitryushkin (Hibernian 2018)
An inspired signing that, despite costing Hibernian the vast majority of their January transfer budget, secured a second Scottish Premier League title in a row. Stayed long enough to help secure a third title but left under the dark cloud of a transfer request prior to the Hibees securing their first European crown, leaving in the January before the 2021 Europa League was won (hence a place on the bench).
Kyle Turner (Hibernian 2018)
Turner epitomises the value of versatility and the intrinsic benefit of signing predominantly young players. He was signed initially as a long-term youth prospect from Stranraer to provide some healthy cover and competition to the Hibs midfield but quickly converted to a right wing back to suit the Hibees 3-4-2-1 formation and later played deeper in a narrow 433 that saw Hibs win the domestic treble and Europa League in 2020. Never an out and out starter but what a bargain for £10k, keeping his place in the squad throughout.
Holger Badstuber (Hertha 2017)
One of Badstuber's biggest problems throughout his career was an ability to avoid injury and keep fit. At Hertha he managed this, combining with Eder Alvarez Balanta and Neven Subotic in a formidable back three which helped guide Hertha to Champions League qualification and then back to back titles.
Jonathan Panzo and Sandro Tonali (Newcastle 2019)
Joining Newcastle mid-season as they languished mid-table in the Championship, Panzo and Tonali were Connelly’s first signings for the club. Promotion followed and a fourth place finish the year after. An extended clear-out of a substantial amount of agEing deadwood bolstered the coffers significantly to allow for the building of a strong and youthful spine to the team, which brought newfound vigour to Tyneside. Initially utilitised in a 4-3-3, the pair later became the crux of a Bielsa-esque 3-3-3-1, starring as the team’s chief defensive and creative forces in libero and deep lying playmaker roles respectively. Free flowing entertaining football on the continental and domestic fronts followed.
Libor Kozak (Wigan 2010)/ Jelle Vossen (Wigan Athletic 2010)
In Jelle Vossen and Libor Kozak, Wigan Athletic had signed and cultivated one of Europe’s most potent strike forces. Seldom used together in the starting eleven initially, their opposing yet complementary respective talents as poacher and target man meant that, for the paltry combined price of £11million, Latics had ability, options and limitless potential to their attack. The more rounded player, Vossen was the more regular starter initially. Unbelievable heading and finishing statistics allowed Kozak to be utilised more as the super sub during his first and second season at the club. Progressively, Vossen adapted to number 10 and inside forward roles to accommodate both players in 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 that went on to take the Premier League and Europe by storm.