With the Champions League drawing to a close for the season, I was reminiscing about one of my favourite European stories. No, not Millwall’s run to the first round of the UEFA Cup in 2004/5, but arguably an even more impressive feat from the 60s – the Lisbon Lions.
For those of you who don’t know, the Lisbon Lions are the Celtic team that won the 1967 European Cup in Lisbon, defeating Inter 2-1.
The amazing thing about that Celtic team is that 14 of the 15-man squad was born within 10 miles of Celtic Park. The other one, Bobby Lennox, was born an astronomical 30 miles away.
It got me thinking if this could happen nowadays, with the global appeal of football, particularly in the Premier League. So there was only one thing for it, I had to give it a go!
The first thing I had to figure out was which club to use. I wanted a big, metropolitan city like Manchester or London, but I need a team that’s going to be happy with me going through a rebuild and offloading a lot of the big names that have been accrued.
I also need a team with an established youth setup because I’m going to be relying heavily on it in the coming seasons, and I need to be able to attract the biggest players from that city so reputation is another thing to consider.
I eventually decided on Spurs, mainly due to the big man up top and the fans’ love of the “One of our own” chant.
Now for some rules. Obviously, I can’t come in and immediately offload all my best players – I’ll struggle to see the end of August – however, I cannot offer a new contract to anyone born more than 40 miles away from the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, so I’ll have to keep a close eye on that as they begin to wind down.
In terms of signing players, again, the 40 miles rule applies. The reason I opted for 40 miles is that this distance excludes players born in the likes of Brighton, Oxford and Cambridge, forcing me to focus my attention on Greater London.
The first thing I had to do was identify which players I would be heavily leaning on who are already in the squad.
Obviously, Harry Kane is the main man, but thankfully Dele Alli was born in Milton Keynes so that’s my dynamic duo! Looking towards the future, Harry Winks and Ollie Skipp are going to be key in my midfield double pivot – I’ve had Skipp on loan at Millwall and he performed admirably, so I have high hopes.
Defensively, Japhet Tanganga looks like a top quality prospect and will be in my team from the word go, another good youngster who’s just signed is Ryan Sessegnon who will definitely be used as both a left winger and a left back, just like he was at Fulham.
After analysing the squad, I started to look into contracts, and one in particular was staring me in the face. Jan Vertonghen, a club legend, was on a contract which expired at the end of 2020. That left me in a tricky position.
When I was plotting this challenge, I had high hopes of who I wanted to buy. Wonderkids Jadon Sancho and Joe Gomez were at the very top of the list. That was before I started, and before Daniel Levy *ahem* generously gave me a transfer budget of £15m. The best laid plans…
With the top tier out of reach for the time being, I decided to do a bit of scouting to see which players I could covet. Declan Rice is one to go after, as is Max Aarons, who I have enjoyed watching immensely this season. When he finishes his trip to Rome, Chris Smalling will provide an experienced head with which to guide my young talent, but before any of that, I had to find some cash.
The first to go was Vertonghen. I can’t have £25m worth of player winding his contract down to then leave on a free, no matter how popular he is. Especially with a Chinese club swimming around. Guangzhou came in with a bid of £29m and I gleefully accepted. The fans would understand, right?
Anyway, next on departure board was a whole list of names. Sissoko, Dier, Lamela, Gazzaniga. All surplus to requirements, but all with one major flaw – no interest. After continually lowering Dier’s asking price, eventually someone nibbled and he moved back to Portugal, this time to Benfica. Controversial. Sissoko was loaned to Leicester with a view to them paying me £30m at the end of his spell there, and a disgruntled Gazzaniga nipped off to Championship promotion hopefuls Derby.
Finally, I had money.
What I didn’t have was full backs. Aurier and Davies were both injured, and both needed replacing anyway. I was eyeing up Luke Shaw but Utd were having none of it, then Ryan Bertrand caught my eye. He could easily provide stability while I bring through the likes of Sessegnon and the wonderfully named Brooklyn Lyons-Foster, and £20m is a not unreasonable price.
Next I picked up a couple of young talents, with Ebere Eze and Karamoko Dembele joining from QPR and Celtic respectively. Eze could produce from the word go but Dembele, at just 16, is definitely a work in progress. £23m for a pair of players who could sit in my attacking 3 for years to come.
Next, I needed a keeper, however, a search for young prospects proved largely fruitless. Instead, I spotted Alex McCarthy, who I picked up on transfer deadline day for £12m. A Guildford-born replacement for Gazzaniga.
I still needed a right back, but as the window wound down, Norwich wanted £104m for Max Aarons, Fulham wanted £35m for Steven Sessegnon, and James Justin point blank refused to speak to me (harsh!).
So, a right back will have to wait until January.
On the pitch, I went through pre-season unbeaten, scoring 19 goals in 6 games and conceding just 3. Not the greatest of opposition, I’ll readily admit, but I did have a fair few players missing for the majority.
I’ll provide a look at my tactics in my next update, in which I will also let you know how I’ve done in my first half of the season, and if I’ve managed to perform in the January transfer window.
As a reward for making it to the end of the article, here’s a look at how my London Lads are shaping up ahead of my season opener at home to Man City.
If you know of any young London talent you think I should be looking at, or if you fancy having a crack at this sort of challenge yourself, let me know in the comments.
For anyone considering a Northern challenge, have a little look at Erling Haaland’s place of birth…