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Football Manager Experiment: Episode 5

Our virtual experiment with a mega rich Wanderers continues with the Whites' first ever foray into the Champions League in 2017/18

At the tender age of 22, Zach Clough is the key man at Bolton and worth £38m in our Football Manager Experiment
At the tender age of 22, Zach Clough is the key man at Bolton and worth £38m in our Football Manager Experiment
Paul Thomas/Getty Images

Our cash-rich Bolton Wanderers side has risen to heights that have never previously - and never realistically will - been met by any Whites squad. A fourth placed finish in 2016/17 of our Football Manager Experiment saw Bolton qualify for the Champions League for the first time, so lets see how they fared.

Summer Transfer Window

Wanderers' free spending policy of 2016/17 seemingly caught up with them ahead of their battle with Europe's elite, as the club did not sign a single player. We can only assume the footballing powers that be imposed a transfer embargo upon Bolton as they must have failed Financial Fair Play rules.

The club did move to trim the ever-growing first team squad, allowing a host of players leave on free transfers and farming even more out on loan - Wanderers saw 16 players go through the exit door at a profit of just £10m.

Early Season Form

First up in the season was a Community Shield clash against Liverpool, which saw the Scousers come out victorious at Wembley by a scoreline of 2-1, with the winner scored by Raheem Sterling after Zach Clough had brought the Whites level.

But Wanderers didn't let that defeat affect them, and got off to an excellent start to the season with six wins in their first ten matches. They also scraped through to the Champions League group stages on away goals against Borussia Monchengladbach, and got a decent draw against Schalke, Basel and Paris St Germain.

Wanderers headed into December on the cusp of the top four in the Premier League, then went on a superb ten match unbeaten run that would have had fans dreaming of a possible title challenge moving into 2018. The side also performed excellently in the Champions League, winning all three of their home ties and earning a draw in Paris to qualify for the knockout stages at the first time of asking.

Winter Transfer Window

Heading into 2018, Wanderers were seemingly still afflicted by an imposed transfer embargo, as they yet again did not purchase a single player in January.

The exit door was again active, with a further ten surplus players shipped out of the club including big money signings Eugene Khacheridi and Gary Hooper.

End of Season

Wanderers endured a January of draws, drawing every single league match they played and losing traction with the teams at the top of the league. Having won the FA Cup for the previous two seasons, Wanderers progressed from the Third Round against , only to be dumped out in the next round with a 3-1 defeat at Crystal Palace. Four days later they were also exited the Carling Cup, with a 3-1 Semi Final second leg defeat at Liverpool.

Wanderers only lost two league matches through 2018 - another 3-1 defeat at Liverpool in early April and a 1-0 defeat at Manchester United in February - but their downfall was failing to find a cutting edge to defeat teams and stumbling to draws far too frequently.

Having made their way into the knockout stages of the Champions League, Wanderers were handed a daunting looking First Round clash with Bayern Munich. They performed well in the home leg to defeat Bayern 3-2, with goals from Clough, Memphis Depay and Danny Welbeck, then rolled back the years to knock the German giants out of Europe on their own turf with a 2-1 win in Munich, with goals from Ogenyi Onazi and Depay.

The reward for the victory over Bayern was a Quarter Final clash against Barcelona. Once again drawn at home in the first leg, Wanderers earned a 2-2 draw with Clough and Welbeck responding to goals from two unknown strikers Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi. The return leg at Camp Nou was a tight affair, and Barca stole into the semi finals with a single goal from Suarez.

Now free of the distractions of any cup competitions the focus was fully on the league but Wanderers drew three of their five remaining fixtures to finish fifth in the Premier League.Wanderers finished the season having lost the same amount of matches as the champions Manchester City, but were made to pay for their total of 12 drawn matches - the second most draws in the league. Their 69 points matches the total that saw them qualify for the Champions League the previous season and was just three points off third place, ten points behind City and ten points ahead of sixth placed Sunderland.

Player Performances

That man Clough was again Bolton's best performer, winning the Young Player of the Season and making the Premier League team of the season after scoring 12 goals in 30 appearances with an average rating of 7.74. Two months out with a hip injury before Christmas set him back a step, but Clough has now racked up 40 caps for England, scoring 29 times and is still valued at an impressive £38m.

Winger Depay was also a key performer, finishing as the team's top league goalscorer with 14 goals in 38 appearances.

Youngster Progression

Has gone from bad to worse, with Clough still the only Wanderers produced player to feature in the first team. Indeed, Bolton's squad lacks any real youth, with just four players aged 23 or under in the senior squad.

Up and coming youngster Connor Matthews has progressed to the Under 21 squad and looks a real star of the future, valued at £850k at just 17 years of age. Wanderers have also got another star in the making in 15-year-old Hayden Peters, and time will tell whether he gets an opportunity in the first team.

In our next epidose we will fast forward through two seasons to the summer of 2020, to see how Bolton have progressed and whether their transfer embargo ever gets lifted.