It was a solemn moment for me recently, when in my Jahn Regensburg FM21 save I had to let go of my first wonderkid.
Jung Jun-Seok – or The Kid, as he was affectionately known at JR – arrived in 2023/24 for my record transfer fee of £4.1m. He wasn’t old enough to order a pint, couldn’t speak a word of German and took a strange dislike to my centre-back, but none of this mattered. He belched out goals: 66 in 88 appearances to be precise.
But in the pre-season of 25/26, things soured. Having driven us to within a gnat’s testicle of the league title, The Kid decided he wanted out. We agreed he could go for his release fee (£88m) and when nobody stumped up, he batted on for another transfer window, but his heart wasn’t in it. He still scored goals, but his training performances slumped, he didn’t respond to praise, his morale cratered – and so did the team’s. By Christmas, we were dicing with relegation.
Here, then, are the lessons I’ve learned, and how to create your own wonderkid production line.
1. Know when to let go
I made the classic mistake: I hung on to an unhappy player for too long. Had I sold The Kid in the summer, even for less than his release fee, I’d have had time to find replacements and not screw up the first half of my season. Instead, I told myself he’d snap out of it, that playing in a stadium not much bigger than my nan’s back garden would keep him happy. I was in denial. When a wonderkid wants out and you haven’t got the resources to match his ambition, snip the apron strings…
2. Do a deal that pays twice
Even if the mercenary little sod wants out, you still need to drive hard for a good deal. I’ve written before about how to maximise incoming transfer fees, but with wonderkids you definitely want to be double-dipping! By that I mean you must insist on clauses that give you a decent chance of money in the future too.
The ideal clause is a percentage of the next transfer fee. If you can’t get that, a percentage of the profit from the next transfer is the next best thing.
It’s likely that after six months or so, your board will have negotiated a chance to sell those clauses, so you might be able to get a few million quid extra without the player even having to be sold. (Go to Transfers and Clauses to see what you can buy and sell.)
In the end, I sold The Kid for £61m, plus £4m extra after 20 international appearances and a 30% of the profit deal. Not bad for a player signed for £4.1m two-and-a-half years previous.
3. Reinvest in wonderkids
Now you’ve got tens of millions burning a hole in your sky rocket, don’t waste it on a player in his prime whose value will only go south. Re-invest in wonderkids.
This does, of course, depend on having identified targets from your scouting network. You have got the scouts working hard in wonderkid-rich regions such as South America, eastern Europe and the Ajax youth team, haven’t you?
Avoid wonderkids already at big clubs. They will be harder and much more expensive to lure, and they will likely not react well to the lesser training conditions at your dump.
I spent The Kid profits on three more wonderkids, including a replacement striker who’s banged in five in five. He’s called Remi Bell. We’re already thinking of renaming the south stand ‘The Bell End’.
4. Invest in facilities
You can’t spend transfer budget directly on new facilities. But if your club has good wedge in the bank, the board will be more open to requests to improve facilities.
The two key ones in terms of bringing your own wonderkids through is tranining facilities and youth recruitment. Press the board to get these as high as possible, and when your next wonderkid decides the grass is greener at PSG, you might have a ready-made replacement in The Academy, which will save money in the long term.