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FM20 Challenges: (3) Fallen Giants

As leagues across Europe tentatively edge back towards action, fans are likely to be a notable absence from games for quite some time yet. Empty stands filled with little more than artificial crowd noise and advertising boards cast an eerie disconnected atmosphere.

It may well take some time before football as we know it returns to make more powerful memories, but in the meantime why not indulge in our nostalgic set of FM20 challenges? Drag back famous names to the top and restore former glories – if you have what it takes.

AS Saint Etienne (France, Ligue 1)

We start off in France with AS Saint Etienne who, despite the recent domination of French football by Paris Saint Germain, still hold the record for most Ligue 1 titles with a total of 10. Their glory era was the 1960s and 1970s when they won eight of their 10 league titles and all of their six Coupes de France. 

However, since the 1980/81 Ligue 1 triumph, Les Verts’ success has dried up. Watching hated rivals Olympique Lyonnais win seven titles in a row between 2001 and 2008 was a classic case of salt being rubbed into the wounds of Saint Etienne’s trophy-starved supporters.

Can you return Saint Etienne to the top of French football? Expectations for your first season are a ninth-placed finish. You have a transfer budget of £6,890,492, but with only £1,000 per week spare on your weekly wage budget. Your Stade Geoffroy-Guichard stadium is owned by the local council and rent costs £689,000 a year. 

Hamburger SV (Germany, 2. Bundesliga)

The next fallen giant in need of restoration is Hamburger SV. HSV’s international profile skyrocketed in 1977 when the then star of the English national team, Kevin Keegan, signed for them from Liverpool. Keegan’s arrival kick-started the club’s golden era between 1977 and 1983 which led to three Bundesliga titles and a European Cup win in 1983.

Even if HSV fell on hard times after the European Cup triumph, Hamburg did have the proud tradition of never having been relegated from Germany’s top flight to hold onto. That was until 2018 of course, when after a few seasons of narrowly avoiding relegation by the skin of their teeth, a 17th placed finish confirmed their first ever relegation.

Can you return HSV back to the top of German football? Pre-season expectations are a third-placed finish and expect huge average attendances of around 50,000 packing your 57,000 capacity Volksparkstadion ground each home game, highlighting the club’s potential. Just short of £2.6 million is available for transfers with just under £12,000 per week spare to spend on wages.

Grasshoppers Club Zurich (Switzerland, Challenge League)

It’s a common mistake to think FC Basel are Switzerland’s most successful club in terms of trophies won. However, that honour goes to Grasshoppers Club Zurich. Founded in 1886, GCZ have 27 Swiss league titles and 19 Swiss Cup triumphs to their name compared to the 20 leagues and 13 cups won by FC Basel.

However, Grasshoppers’ last league title was in 2002/03 and the last cup victory was in 2012/13 with Basel and Young Boys Bern now Swiss football’s dominant forces. The 2018/19 Swiss Super League will go down as a season of mourning for GCZ as an unbroken 68-year presence in Switzerland’s top flight was ended as the club was relegated.

Can you follow in the footsteps of famous former managers Ottmar Hitzfeld and Roy Hodgson to make this grasshopper jump again? In the Swiss second tier Grasshoppers are only expected to finish second behind Lausanne Sport, a club owned by British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe. Only one automatic promotion spot exists for the league winners. Your balance is minus £450,602 and renting your stadium from the council costs £3.9 million per year.

FC Dinamo Bucharest (Romania, Liga 1)

Think of Romanian football, and Steaua Bucharest, the only Romanian club to win European football’s top prize, comes to mind. Nevertheless, Steaua’s hated rivals Dinamo Bucharest have a long and proud history. Founded in 1948, Dinamo have 18 Romanian league titles and 13 Romanian cup triumphs to their name, second in rank only to Steaua.

Two years prior to Steaua’s 1986 European Cup triumph, Dinamo Bucharest themselves reached the semi-finals of the European Cup, a fine run which was only halted by Liverpool, the eventual winners. Dinamo and Steaua, linked to the Romanian Police and Romanian Army respectively in Nicolae Ceaucescu’s era, contest the Eternal Derby, one of fiercest outside of Western Europe.

Dinamo, or Cainii Rosi (The Red Dogs) last won the league in 2006/07 and their last cup triumph came in 2011/12. Despite zero money for transfers, you are around £8,000 per week under your £28,394 per week wage budget. Can you dominate with Dinamo and humiliate Steaua much like Dinamo’s fans famously managed to do to their hated rivals in their own stadium four years ago?

Deportivo de la Coruña (Spain, Segunda División)

Next up is Deportivo de la Coruña. The Galician outfit famously won their only La Liga title in 1999/00 in the middle of their greatest period between 1992-2004. A key figure and symbol of this Super Depor era was one of the club’s greatest players, Juan Carlos Valeron.

Alas, Depor are now a shadow of that side. The 2010s saw the Galicians flitter in yo-yo fashion between La Liga and Segunda division. Once frequent participation in the Champions League no longer occurred, money dried up and their decline began.

Can you bring the domestic and continental glory days back for the Riazor faithful? A transfer budget of £1,382,144 is at your disposal and the media are predicting a second-place finish in Segunda for Depor. However, the club is currently spending over its weekly wage budget. 

FC Dynamo Moscow (Russia, Premier Liga)

Next we head to Russia and to Dynamo Moscow. The White-Blues were affiliated to the Ministry of Internal Affairs (including the KGB) during the Soviet Union era. With 11 titles and 7 cups to their name, Dynamo were a dominant force in Soviet football.

Recent years have not been kind however. A first ever relegation from the Soviet/Russian top flight happened in 2016, but the White Blues bounced back after just one season in the second tier. They are currently undergoing one of the longest domestic trophy droughts anywhere though; Dynamo’s last league title was the 1976 Soviet league, and their last trophy the 1994/95 Russian Cup.

“Power in Motion” is their motto, so can you get them moving and winning trophies again in their new 26,319-capacity VTB Arena stadium? Over £21 million transfer budget is available alongside a very generous wage budget of £619,555 per week. Russian Premier Liga clubs are capped at a maximum of six non-Russian players on the pitch at any given time. 

DC United (USA, Major League Soccer)

Before the coronavirus intervened, 2020 was set to be a famous year for Major League Soccer (MLS) as it celebrated its 25th season since its foundation in 1996. In the league’s early days, DC United quickly established themselves as the dominant force. Three MLS Cups in the first four seasons (1996, 1997 and 1999) underlined this superiority.

However, the Washington outfit have not tasted MLS Cup success since 2004 and their last trophy of note was the 2013 US Open Cup. DC United have been usurped as the most successful MLS club by Los Angeles Galaxy, who have won five MLS Cups. LA Galaxy’s Californian location helped attract the likes of David Beckham and Zlatan Ibrahimović thus cementing their reputation as the league’s most well-known club.

Now is the time to make the capital the place to be again. Can you turn DC United into the dominant force of MLS and even dethrone the strong Mexican teams in the CONCACAF Champions League? Before starting it could be wise to become accustomed to MLS rules such as salary caps, drafts, designated players and more here

Club Atlético Independiente (Argentina, Primera División)

For the first of two South American fallen giants we head to Argentina with Club Atlético Independiente. One of Argentina’s ‘Big Five’ clubs, Los Diablos Rojos (The Red Devils) are currently ranked fourth in terms of Argentine titles with 16 overall. However, continentally, Independiente shine brightest of all, their seven Copa Libertadores wins remaining a record to this day.

However, Independiente have recently undergone a decline. Their last Argentine title came in the 2002 Apertura Championship, while their last Libertadores triumph came way back in 1984 – a far cry from their golden era of the 1960s and 1970s which included four consecutive Libertadores victories between 1972 and 1975.

Can you oversee a second golden era for Independiente? An immediate objective would be winning three Argentine championships to overcome Independiente’s arch rivals Racing Club’s total of 18 Argentine titles. You have zero transfer budget and barely any spare room under your wage budget to start with, not to mention only being allowed a maximum of five non-Argentines in your squad. Convincing Sergio Agüero to return to his first club may have to wait!

CR Vasco da Gama (Brazil, Serie A)

For our second South American challenge we go to Brazil and Rio de Janeiro. Vasco da Gama are one of Brazilian football’s “Big Twelve” clubs alongside Palmeiras, Santos, Corinthians, Flamengo, Sao Paulo, Cruzeiro, Fluminense, Internacional, Botafogo, Gremio and Atletico Mineiro. With four Brazilian titles won, Vasco are joint-fifth with Fluminense in the overall rankings.

However, Vasco last tasted success in the Brasileiro Serie A in 2000, one of the most controversial seasons in Brazilian football. A legal dispute from the previous season meant the campaign only started in late July 2000. 116 teams across four divisions were split into 3 different round robin groups, after which the top 16 ranked clubs played knockout rounds to decide the title.

Of all the ‘Big Twelve’ clubs, only Atlético Mineiro, Grêmio, Botafogo and Internacional have endured longer title droughts than Vasco. In addition, they have only ever won the Libertadores once, in 1998. Can you dominate domestically and on the continent? Your transfer budget is just short of £1.5 million and you have over £20,000 per week spare on the club’s wage bill. Vasco’s iconic club badge alone makes it worth giving this team a try.

Nottingham Forest (England, EFL Championship)

The final fallen giants challenge is you re-enacting a historic English football fable. In January 1975, the legendary Brian Clough took charge of Nottingham Forest, then a struggling second-tier club. Five and a half seasons later, Clough had brought an English title, two League Cup triumphs and two European Cups to the banks of the River Trent. 

Forest’s success was made even more remarkable by Clough’s ability to take previously underperforming or overlooked players and mould them into a formidable team unit. However, those halcyon days are long behind Forest. Relegated from the Premier League in 1999, the club have yet to return to the top flight, let alone qualify for European competitions once again.

Clough’s success was immortalised in the 2015 film ‘I Believe in Miracles. It is now time for miracles once more. Just how far can you take Forest? Back to the top flight, another league title, domestic cup triumphs or even European glory? Your tools include a transfer budget of £3.5 million and just under £4,000 spare on your wage budget. You must hit the ground running from the off though: pre-season media expectations are a sixth-placed finish.

30 years-old sports fanatic from near Wigan, United Kingdom. Season ticket holder at Wigan Athletic in the second tier English Championship. Alongside Heart of Football, writes for Its Round and Its White. Passionate about all football, English Premier League, English Football League, Spanish La Liga, Italian Serie A and other European and World football leagues, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League and International Football. Favourite Moment: Being at Wembley Stadium in May 2013 to watch Wigan defeat Manchester City in the 2013 FA Cup Final.

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