Hallo everyone and welcome back to Falkirk. Instead of the usual three episode per season, this time I’ll directly review my whole season as I just happened to go through it so fast and excited about our first ever Champions League participation!
So, where to start? As suggested in the title, the 2020-21 season has left me with a bag of mixed feelings. We started the season as Champions of Scotland, the first club other than the Old Firm to do so since Aberdeen’s title in 1985.
In the light of that success and the improvement of the Scottish Premiership in the UEFA ranking, we were granted a spot to UCL Groups Stage, without having to pass through the dreadful qualifiers since mid-July.
The results were mixed, we did really well in Europe, considering the gulf in money and talent that still separate us from clubs elsewhere in the continent. If I were a real manager, I’d get away by saying “this has been a transition season for”. I normally despise clubs that use the word transition. Were you playing hockey the year before? Transition from where to what? I’d naturally ask. But I guess I see the merit of such answers now. We probably overachieved a bit last year winning the title in the final games of the season and a year to stabilize, get UCL money, and get the experience in playing in the highest competition in the world is only natural.
I probably made some mistakes myself in terms of managing the squad, the demands of playing in four competitions, including the UCL, caught me a little unprepared on that front. We had various injuries at key moments during the season, perhaps due to overplaying certain players.
The main issue though, isn’t the final results or standing, as you will see further below, we finished second in the league and made a good UCL run. The thing is that for the first time since in charge of Falkirk, we didn’t really progress domestically – we finish with less point than last season and fewer victories. That is though, compensated by our great performance in Europe.
Not many movements in this department, actually only one. South Korean defender Lee Sung-Keun join us from Youngsaeng High School for € 1.5M. Having already 10 caps to his name, he was easily granted a work-permit. With the departure of Saito in the summer, I was missing one centre-back and I fancied the idea of having another exotic player on my side.
Nothing of note here, I always play rotational players in the League Cup so no issues on the loss against Hibs in the Semi-Final. The Scottish Cup result though was much more depressing as we went out in the Fourth Round against a mediocre Inverness team.
Here is where it hurts more. A lot of defeats during the first part of the season and a lot of draws in the second part. I explain the former because the majority of those losses came after a UCL match, while the poor draws during Spring were, in my opinion, due to the fact that it was already clear we wouldn’t have won the title this season and hence players’ motivation wasn’t at its highest.
Celtic were unreachable all season. Their tally reached 96 points, it is a record since I’ve been managing in Scotland. The positive thing though is that we consolidate ourselves as the new force in Scottish football and that the Old Firm is being challenged by two teams promoted in the 2017-18 season, us and Hibernian. Perhaps the secret of such success by Celtic is on some unorthodox method by their manager, who is none other than Roy Keane! Opposition players must be just too scared of the guy!
What is encouraging at least, is that Falkirk players dominate individual stats in the Premiership, a testament of the quality of our squad.
UEFA Champions League
The moments of this season were actually those outside Scotland. Considering it was our first ever participation to the competition we made our fans really proud!
We were drawn in a group including Sevilla, Napoli, and CSKA Moscow. Tough games and three long travels in our away matches. But we showed our character throughout and incredibly managed to qualify out of our group as we tranformed Falkirk Stadium into an unprennable fortress.
The best moment of the season was our superb victory over CSKA, we litteraly destroyed them with an amazing 6-1 victory in front of our fans.
Going on in the competition, we would face Arsenal in the First KO Stage, a tough adversary – they were EPL title holders.
As you could see, even by getting a nice 1-1 draw at the Emirates, the difference in talent was too much to overcome. But this will in no way overshadow the great and amazig overall performance of our rookie team in this competition.
An overall bad intake this year. Only two players were deemed good enough to integrate our Academy – and only because they were the best of their crop. Because if they had popped up in another intake, I wouldn’t have signed them probably. Nothing to fear though, our U20 team is full with promising players and I always integrate my intakes by signing very young kids.
As I said before, a mixed bag of feelings after my fifth season in charge of the Bairns. The poor performance in the league has only given me more motivation to put a real title challange next year. The money – a lot! – that we earned for our good European performance will certainly allow me to increase the overall quality of my players, especially among my back-ups as we suffered from being involved in many competitions at once.
I will also made some big changes among my staff, particularly a new DoF, a new HOYD, and better coaches. We need to continue improving and progressing each year passing. If we manage to qualify again for the group stages of the UCL, I’ll ask my Board to invest the money into our facilities as I don’t want that better quality of players translates into a loss of our identity, which is developping youth and recruiting local talent.
That’s all folks!! Thank you for reading and see you soon next season and let’s unthrone Celtic from their Champions’ spot!!