International management in FM is one of those subjects not many people write about. To be fair, I have always considered it a welcome distraction to get through the summer months in FM, when I was unable to organise friendlies and I had completed my transfer market antics. At best, it was a good way to speed up my progression on the leader boards by adding additional silverware to my collection.
When the guys at Clear Cut Chance offered me the chance to write about the subject, I tried to be more methodical in my approach to international management and these are the main ideas I have come up with to try and help you improve your performances on the international stage.
Setting up your backroom staff
Managing a national team generally means you have a plethora of talent available to you. Whilst this sounds ideal, it’s not necessarily easier than managing a club team. You have to select the right players to get the job done, which is generally a lot harder than just selecting the supposedly best players a nation has to offer. The first step is always evaluating the players at your disposal, looking at their attributes and getting your scouts to file reports on the players you could potentially call up. In terms of evaluating, don’t be afraid to use scout reports for opinions on individual players, as well as using the assistants report to get a quick overview of current squad. What many people tend to forget is that a national team’s manager can assign scouts scower the ends of the earth to find players for the national teams or assess the current status of potential internationals. Whilst the national team can generally only sign one or two scouts, you are able to circumvent this restriction by signing a bunch of coaches and sending them out to scout potential internationals. Sending them out is basically a form of crowd-sourcing. 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. Get the opinions of your staff to back up your own judgement. The second benefit to an extensive backroom staff is that they can help you with preparing a so-called shadow squad. Always have possible replacements lined up, for every position and role in the squad. Injuries to key players can happen at 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 call upon when needed.
Player selection dilemmas, do’s and don’ts
One of the important lessons I have learned when preparing shadow squads lists is don’t look at his past performances. These are not an indication of how this player will perform for your national side. A player may have been fielded in a different role, in a different style of tactic. 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, as they can be deceptive.
When managing the Dutch national side, I once suffered an injury blow to both of my intended central midfielders, Strootman and De Jong. Whilst the former was easily replaced by moving De Guzman back a line, I struggled to replace the latter. Ebecilio, Van Ginkel and Clasie were all in contention for the spot. Instead of focussing on attributes, I was persuaded by Clasie’s sublime season at Juventus, where he was absolutely instrumental. On the pitch how-ever, he was no ball-winning, defensive-minded midfielder, which was what my team desperately needed.
Instead of looking at attributes, I got blinded by reputation and performances for a club team, where Clasie filled an entirely different role. Also, I know there is nothing more satisfying than giving a youngster his debut and ensuring he stays in the team until he retires, especially when this youngster is one from your own club side. 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.
Friendlies; or why tactical familiarity is a big thing
An important part of your preparation for a big international tournament consists of the friendlies right before the tournament. You should really play as many friendlies as you can to raise the tactical familiarity of the side. The reason why my teams tend to struggle early on in a campaign is, in my eyes, tactical familiarity.
As we progress through the season, the tactical familiarity improves, which is needed to best the ever-increasing opponents we generally face. Early on, during the lower stages of tactical familiarity, you can often see crappy passes into no man’s land, players running around like headless chickens and players making silly mistakes under pressure.
As tactical familiarity improves, the passing is improves, the movement is more fluid and better timed, and players seem more aware of the locations of their team-mates. Generally speaking, tactical familiarity is going to be a problem for any national side, as you only see the players for a week or so before they go back to their clubs.
Right before a major international tournament, you get the chance to work with the squad for a full month, so use that precious time to get the tactical familiarity up. Especially when you are managing a smaller side, with limited resources and often tactically unimpressive players, it’s absolutely crucial to raise tactical awareness. It may sound counter-intuitive, but I prefer a fluid style of play as well for poorer teams, as it forces the team to work together instead of having two or three bands of players acting independent of each other.
Morale Manager 14
A player’s morale is quite important for his on-pitch performances. The higher his morale, the more likely he is to play to the fullest of his ability. With limited training time and short campaigns, it’s absolutely crucial you keep your squad in high spirits. There are several ways to maintain high spirits during a tournament.
During a major tournament, you need to keep winning, or at least keep defying the odds to do so. In preparation of a major tournament, you can use the last few friendlies to raise morale. A good start is half the battle won, s0 you better get the morale as high as you can using the final friendlies to record big and easy wins to get spirits soaring. Typically, I set up the friendlies in preparation in a particular order, something like this.
The first few games are generally against decent opponents to test out some tactics and maybe see if specific player pairings actually work the way I think they will. The last few games are all about creating confidence and raising morale. By setting them up with easy, guaranteed victories, I try to get their morale as high as I can before the start of my actual tournament campaign.
One of the other options you can use to great effect to make sure your players are properly motivated is the team talks menu during the matches. Generally speaking, and please note that this is my personal opinion, the pre-game talk is a load of bollocks. I haven’t really found any use for it, I never seem to get any effect out of it.
What does seem to work is the half-time talk. As a true disciple of the sergeant Hartmann (geek alert for movie reference!) style of team talks, I only use the aggressive half-time talk or none at all. This works in most scenarios, for me anyway. Whether I am two goals up, tied or one or more goals down, that’s the team-talk for me. Upto a three goal lead, it seems to work wonderfully, beyond such a lead, I generally say it best by saying nothing at all. No complacency, but full-blown dedication to the cause.
This may sound counter-intuitive. Yelling at your own players, despite a lead, really Guido? Yep. I’ve been hit by a second half slump often enough to be annoyed by players slacking off. What you want to look for in the effects of a team-talk at half time is some sort of riling up effect. The last thing I want to see is players who are pleased. Pleased players are complacent players. Ideally, this is what you’re looking for.
The last option you can use regarding the morale is the Team Meeting button, which can be located on the top right hand corner of your screen. You have to click on Interaction first. Team Meeting is the only option you can select.
It’s basically the FM equivalent to playing a game of Cluedo. Instead of gathering everyone to the study to discuss who may have killed Dr. Black, you discuss the oncoming tournament with the lads, set the goals you wish to achieve and just interact with the squad. If done correctly, it can greatly enhance the team spirit. There aren’t any real guide-lines to this, just go with your gut instinct. Failing that, save before you do this and see what works and doesn’t work with the squad you have.
Prepare a Plan B
Having a good style of play works, but you need to be able to mix things up, or you may end up lacking in flexibility and variation tactics-wise. Take Barcelona under Guardiola and Villanova for example. They have redefined the passing game that is ingrained in the club’s DNA, staking a legitimate claim as the greatest club side ever. But can you remember what happened when Barcelona played teams that managed to negate their passing game? The side seemed lost, unable to cope with these opponents, because they lacked a Plan B.
One of the risks you run when you have found a working style of play is your own tendency to be one-dimensional. When something works out well, why bother to change it? Sure, you will tweak it and try to perfect it, but it will be more of the same. When the going gets tough and strong opponents have figured out your game, what can you bring to the fore to actually change your fortunes around? That’s where a Plan B comes in.
In situations where the chips are down and your regular approach is proving ineffectful, you need to be able to try a different approach, make a tactical shift. With tactical familiarity being as important as it is, this basically means you need to have three tactics at the ready at all time, preferably not three variations of the same tactic, but at least two very different styles of play, allowing you the freedom to alternate between styles of play without taking a direct hit to tactical familiarity when you do switch things around.