You’ve just taken over a new club, now what do you do? In this article I will explain my views on what to to do during your first season in charge to set you up for the future. In my opinion it is all about building the infrastructure of the club as a whole. Everything you do has an impact on the club long term and short term, personally I work more on a long term basis.
In my experience, most football manager players I talk to tend to quit in their first season. I feel like people rely on having a successful first season, when really the focus should be building your squad and the club in general. So this is my take on how to handle your first season in charge.
Finding your feet
Your first day should be spent reviewing your squad – not only just ability wise but you should be taking a look through contracts, does anyone need an extension? Does anyone have any low release clauses or any other clauses that could cost you? You’ll want to identify your highest earners and analyse whether they merit such a wage. Also you can tie up players with a contract nice and early before the vultures swoop in for them.
Once I’ve analysed my squad, I like to build my tactic. I am a firm believer in building a squad around a tactic, as opposed to building a tactic around your squad. Your philosophy will define who you sign and give your club an identity, whether you’re a striker-less hipster or a classic 4-4-2 man, you need your own identity. Once you’ve built a tactic you should slot in the players you believe will fit into your team, this will define where you need to strengthen and where you don’t.
Pre-season is all about fitness and team cohesion, preparing your squad for the upcoming season. To get fitness levels to as good as they will get you’ll want to arrange 10-14 friendlys against weaker teams. This is to get your whole squads match fitness level up, also as they are weaker teams in theory you will win them comfortably which will be great for your squads morale.
Training is very over-looked in football manager and it’s one of the key features, it can do anything from develop your players to improving your squads fitness, the correct training creates a good atmosphere around the club, which has a very positive effect on your results. Do not do any individual training pre-season, you will want to get your squad training fitness on the heavy option for around a month. Then change to team cohesion until just before your first game.
Of course – a key part of pre-season, but many people make so many mistakes without even realising. Finances are a huge part of your club and must be looked after correctly. I am a firm believer in buying young, I don’t agree with getting a good 31 year-old who will do a job, but has no sell-on value, high wages, and huge signing on fee’s. Buying over X amount of months I am not a fan of either, but sometimes we have to do it. I will only do this if I am also selling players over X amount of months. If possible, you’ll want to be sending scouts out to scour the world for players for you as well, there is plenty of hidden gems in this game. One thing what catches a lot of people out is agent and signing on fee’s, you can end up spending 12M out of your budget on a player you’ve payed 8M for, so be wary of this, unless of course, you’re Man City or anybody like that!
Once you’ve identified all your transfer targets, you’ll want to start transfer listing your unwanted players and trying to cut your wage bill down as much as possible. Finances have to be the most important thing to your club, they are what will allow you to progress whether it be buying players or improving facilities. In one of my games, I was AC Milan, the first season I was in the red by almost 10M, spending 2M a week on wages, had ageing players on ridiculous contracts. I then managed to not only improve my squad and inject it with youth, but my salary went from 2M per week down to 1.3M!
Personally, I don’t mess with too many backroom staff during my first year in-charge as it’s not a good idea to disrupt the whole club. But you will want to many replace one or two, get a few scouts in to give you wider scouting options. Assistant manager is one I will change if the current one does not cut it as it’s the most important role to me. If your assistant manager has good tactical knowledge (preferably 15+) they will be able to do your opposition instructions effectively.
Getting into it
By now you will be approaching your first game as gaffer, you’ve filled your squad, finished pre-season games and become fluid in your tactic. Now you will want to set everyone in your squad some individual training and start your tutoring, putting your general training on balance and light.
Your tactic will still take time to settle into competitive football so don’t expect miracles from your first month or two in charge, it needs time, give it chance. Too many people expect to take over and have instant success. Through the whole season you should be scouting everywhere you possibly can to pick up the best young talents before anybody else has chance.
Come January, you will know who isn’t working for you and is the perfect chance to offload said players. If players have been complaining – sell them. You can not afford players disrupting the harmony of your squad. If you will be selling a number of players, make sure you have replacements lined up because February comes round very fast and you could be forced into a panic buy.
You should have been scouting for the last 5/6 months, therefore you’ll have players lined up and potentially already joining you. It’s a chance to check the transfer list too as you can sometimes find a cheap gem available. My favorite part of January is searching for players who’s contracts are due to expire in 6 months and snapping them up on free’s. That way you’re strengthening your squad for the coming season without disrupting your current team. Making too many signings can massively effect your team so I do not recommend doing this in January, unless they are all for the future.
Approaching the end
You’ve cut your wage bill, your squad is gelling, these are two of the main things are your first season. By now your finances should be starting to look healthy. You have (potentially) have players joining you in the summer so now it’s a good idea to re-asses your squad again and look towards the coming season – who do you need, who is a waste of wages.
Depending on how you are doing, you could be considering a new tactic. A lot of the time I am tinkering my tactics a lot by this point as teams tend to figure you out, but also you have figured out by now where your tactic has flaws and you’ll be finding out how they are fixed. A slight change in shape can sometimes have a massively good effect this late on as it’s a curve ball to your opponents scouts and they may not know how to deal with it.
Overall your first season should have consisted of starting to build your squad and the infrastructure of the club. By managing your finances well in the first season it will set you up for your second season with a much better budget. Your squad should be taking shape and recognizing your tactics, your reputation should have been built up much higher as well (presuming you didn’t have an awful season) which opens the door to many more players. Now you should be ready to finish up and go into your second year with a firm grip on what direction your club is going in.