I’ll be honest, the title is misleading, because whilst over the course of the last few versions of FM, I’ve been trying to implement the principles of Moneyball into FM, I actually failed to do it properly. True, it makes sense in a way, sabermetrics could work really well in FM, which is mostly about statistics and numbers anyway. Whilst I found the pursuit of knowledge enjoying, I did not end up with a model that actually worked, mostly because football is a much more dynamic game than baseball is. To prevent this from being a total bust, let me share some of the common sense rules to approaching the transfer market and managing my own squad I managed to distill from the Moneyball quest I embarked on.
Rule #1. Evaluate before you start selling or signing
Evaluating is, in my eyes anyway, a three step process.
Step 1. Look at the players at your disposal, look at their attributes;
In terms of evaluating, don’t be afraid to use coach reports for opinions on individual players, as well as using the assistants report to get a quick overview of the entire squad. Be sure you look at the reserve squad as well, some teams have some nice talents rotting away in the reserve squad.
Step 2. Determine which formation you wish to employ;
Try and envisage how the squad you have is going to score goals. Do you have fast strikers, or big towering lads? The supply should also be considered. Do you have wingers who can cross a ball, or a decent midfield playmaker? Will you be able to play an attacking style of play, or a more controlling, probing style of play?
Other questions you need to ask yourself relate to issues such as keeping possession, winning the ball, defensive stability, the build-up from the back and the transition from defence to attack and vice versa. All these things can and will influence the effectiveness of the formation.
Step 3. Judge the depth of your squad and which positions need bolstering.
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. When you are evaluating the squad at your possession, use the first few friendlies during pre-season to see which parts of your squad need reinforcing, if any at all.
To be fair, steps 1 and 2 can be swapped. If you are in control of a wealthy club, you can simply determine a style of play and sign the players suited for the formation you wish to employ.
Rule #2. Focus on improving weak links first, before focusing on further strengthening other areas
As said before, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. When looking for reinforcements, prioritize the weakest part of the of team, before further strengthening already formidable parts of the team.
Rule #3. If the offer for a player is more than market value, sell the player
Regarding selling players, when a club offers you more than what the player is actually worth, take the money and run, run like the wind before they change their mind. It seems to be pretty difficult to get market value for most of your players, so getting more than what a player is actually worth actually constitutes a pretty good deal.
Rule #4. Don’t get too sentimental; make sure you sell at the right time
I know there is nothing more satisfying than training up a player and making sure he ends his career with your side as well. But if he is no longer good enough, why keep him around? Just for sentimental reasons? Most players, with goalies as the obvious exception, peek at around 30 years of age. Get rid of them around that time, even if they are your favourite players. Having them rot away on the bench is not satisfactory and fielding a sub-par player is just a bad idea.
The same applies to players who have just won you a major title. This tends their values to sky-rocket. If you get a nice offer at or around this inflated value, take it. The money from said deal is often more than enough to find an adequate replacement. I know, said player was instrumental in your epic promotion run, but can he really cut it in a higher division or would it be wiser to cut him loose and take the inflated fee?
Rule #5. Don’t be afraid to spend if you have to
If you actually have the cash and need a certain type of player, just buy him. If that one player is the difference between mid-table obscurity and a title challenge, get the player. Competing for the title means more revenue and prize money, so the transfer basically funds itself. Having said that, free transfer options are always preferable to overpaid options, but when there are no cheaper alternatives and you really do need a certain type of player, just shell out for him.
Rule #6. Wages are more important than a transfer sum
When you’re strapped for cash, make sure every penny counts. In that case, wages are far more important than a war chest. Increase your wage budget as much and often as you can to re-new contracts or snag targets on a Bosman-deal during the winter break or at the end of a season. Once you get some more money, you can focus on actual transfers where you pay money to another club.
Rule #7. Prepare a shadow squad
Always have possible replacements lined up, for every position and role in the squad. Crazy offers for a player can come in any time and you have to have a list of potential replacements at the ready. I call this list my shadow squad, the players I can try to sign. Be realistic in drafting a shadow squad though. It’s no use placing Messi on such a list when you’re managing a lower level club.
Rule #8. Try to replace any outgoing players before they actually leave the club
It’s a difficult rule to follow, especially when those dead-line-day offers are flooding in. It’s a sensible rule though. Try to replace outgoing players before they leave the club. Try to make the transfer take place at the end of the season or during the winter break, so you have the time to actually replace your lad. In some cases, ask if the player can be loaned back to you for 6 to 12 months, so you have the time to scout around or prepare a bid (remember Rule #7. though, be prepared!).
Rule #9. Past performances are not a sure-fire way to predict future performances
If you are going to sign a player, don’t look at his past performances. These are not an indication of how this player will perform for your side. A player may have been fielded in a different role, in a different style of tactic or in an entirely different league, with a different style of play. Look at the attributes a player has and see if they fit the role you want a player to play, don’t look at past performances.
Rule #10. You don’t know everything; get second opinions from scouts and coaches
When you are trying to gauge a players potential, use the scouts you have. They are, provided you have good scouts, better at it than you are. They can also help you out with the roles a player is suited for and give you an indication regarding costs for signing a specific player. Get the opinions of your scouts to back up your own judgement.
Rule #11. Don’t buy overvalued players
This rule has two sub-rules. I try to avoid signing players from overrated nations for starters. This means that English, Brazilian and Dutch players are often overrated in terms of value. Especially English players tend to have inflated transfer-values. It probably has something to do with the home-grown rules, but you have to play excessive amounts for decent English players. The same rule applies to Dutch and Brazilian players, albeit to a lesser extent. Certain positions are also overrated, mostly forwards. A good forward costs you two to three times more than a defender of a similar level. Whilst I have taken this last bit to the extreme as in not signing or fielding forwards at all, it could also mean you focus loaning or Bosman-signing forwards to get more value for your money.
Rule #12. Don’t buy if you don’t have to, developing your own talents is always better
Always focus on improving training facilities and youth facilities. Home-grown players are by definition cheaper and any chance you get to improve the quality of your own intake as well the progression of the existing youth squad should be pounced upon. Initially, it may seem like you are throwing away money, but one or two home-grown players breaking into first team will be enough to re-coup your investment.
Rule #13. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure; raid the transfer list, loaned players and B-teams
A bit of a no-brainer really. Especially when managing smaller squads, see what you can scavenge off the transfer lists and B-squads. There are often players in there who are deemed not needed by their clubs, but who are instant impact reinforcements for your own squad. Often, clubs are willing to part ways with these players for a sum considerably less than their market value, so you could make a nice profit with such deals.
Loaned players are a different story altogether. I have noticed that whilst players continue to progress whilst on loan to a different club, their values tend to drop or remain stagnant. That means that at the end of their loan deals, such players are severely undervalued. A bargain-deal can be struck quickly, if you know where and when to pounce. Ideally, you want to pounce a week or two before the loan deal expires.