Real life football is no country for old men and I guess the same applies to FM. Both have always been about getting results. Results are what keep you in a job, allow you to grow the stature of the club, attract better players and keep you from pulling your hair out and breaking things in frustration. Managers look towards players who can make an instant impact, is reliable, preferably cheap and has potential re-sale value. We tend to focus on younger players and pay obscene amounts of money for “the next big thing.” Somehow it’s all about the joy of the new.
That got me thinking. Why do we so often overlook these footballing greats that are in the twilight of their career on FM? Could it be that the “35 year old and over”-generation of footballers actually have a part to play in getting those all-important results? If so, how would you go about making sure that they play to their strengths and benefit the team rather than be the “weak link”? We’ll have a look at the benefits of veteran players, how to use them properly, the main attributes to scout for and some of the (obvious) cons of signing veterans are interwoven with the entire article.
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Veterans; why bother?
Whilst I admit that signing a veteran player on a one year or two year deal might seem like a waste of money, there are actually quite a few good reasons why you should re-consider your stance. One of the main reasons behind signing a veteran player is that most of them are still good players. The ageist approach is in many cases not entirely justified. Whilst older players often decline in terms of their physique, they also often possess excellent mental and technical attributes, often on par or not much lower than when the player was in his prime. I mean, just have a look at 40 year old Alessandro Del Piero over here.
He can’t run to save his life, but the mental and technical attributes he still possesses make him a valuable asset to my team and I reckon to a lot of team. No, he won’t be able to play 90 minutes in an absolute top league, but even for top level sides, he can still be an impact player, even when brought on as a substitute player. After all, there’s no way to physically defend against a player who can pull shots like these out of his hat, is there?
An additional benefit to signing these older players is the value they can have as a tutor for younger talents. These seasoned professionals have many excellent traits they can pass on to the next generation, turning your precious youngsters from prospects into players who actually live up to expectations, unlike so many who buckle under the weight of public expectations. Imagine how good someone like Denilson or Balotelli could have become if a more seasoned collegue had taken them under their wing and shown them the ropes.
Most veteran players possess an excellent mentality and personality, or they wouldn’t have lasted this long in the hard and unforgiving environment of professional football. By having them tutor the youngsters, one can but hope some of these positive traits will rub off on the youngsters, prolonging their career and stimulating their development as professional athletes. I’m not an expert on the benefits of tutoring, but it really is worth your while.
Veteran players also tend to be cheap. Let’s have a look at two players from my own Fortuna Sittard squad. Keep in mind that by 2023, I have transformed them into Champions League contenders.
As we mentioned before with Del Piero, technically and mentally they are still on par with many players in their prime, but since their physique is deteriorating, they know they can’t be overly demanding, both in terms of playing-time and in terms of financial compensation. They are well aware of the fact that they are squad fillers, impact players to be brought off the bench or to step up due to injuries and suspensions and most of the time, they are happy to fulfill that very role. No bitching players on the bench, willing to start a dressing room mutiny over a lack of playing time, but experienced professionals, who know their place and are happy to play a few games every season for modest compensation.
I have no solid evidence for the next reason to play with veteran players, as this is just a feeling I have got, but I feel that my older players are almost always impact players. They are consistent performers, who do not buckle under the pressure of big games. That would suggest high ratings for the hidden attributes “consistency” and “important matches”, which makes sense in a way. If they weren’t consistent performers or if they buckled under pressure, they wouldn’t have been experienced professionals. Whilst they lack the physical presence to excell week in week out, you can use this knowledge and play them in crucial games, when you absolutely need players you can rely on.
The final reason for fielding veteran players is a bit sentimental, but there is also quite a bit of nostalgia attached to veterans, as now many of the 35-40 year old players were just young prospects back in my CM01/02 playing days so they always bring back a lot memories. There is also that chances to give players the taste of glory they never quite had in real life. There is nothing quite as special as a veteran who’s come home to have one final taste of glory.
How do I manage a veteran?
Common sense would dictate that you look at their strengths and their weaknesses and utilise a player accordingly. We’ve already established that their physique is generally not their main asset, so it would make sense to field them in positions and roles where running all over the place is not necessarily their primary contribution to a game. Instead, you want to field your veterans in positions where they can drift into space, safe in the knowledge that they are being covered by their team-mates, using their superior sense of positioning and technical ability to stay out of trouble and make meaningful contributions to our teams efforts.
Take for instance our man Del Piero we mentioned earlier. In a succession-save, I managed to lure him to Parma, in the Serie D. We can all acknowledge that Del Piero had and still has one of the best footballing brains around to the point that it didn’t matter he couldn’t run because actually he didn’t need to. He knew where everyone was so he could receive the ball and had already planned his next move. Similarly, he knew where the gaps were and could drift into the space to either receive the pass or take a shot. Even in a formation as focussed on movement and people interacting off each other and each others movements, there was room for a nearly static player, who could phase in and out of the game like a ghost, but making a deadly impact nevertheless.
How’s that for an impact? As his physique goes, his performances have dropped a bit, but this is still a very impressive return for a 42 year old forward in a strikerless system. I managed to find a role that suited him, that of the Enganche, where he remained the static focal point and could distribute play as he saw fit.
In general, you want to make sure the older players take up roles where they are not forced to run after opponents, but where they can dictate play with smart positioning and intricate passing. It’s perfectly fine for example to field a 36 year old wing-back, as long as he is not up against an actually fast winger or given proper cover. Old central defenders are not a problem, as long as they are not expected to play with a lot of space behind them, which could see them exposed. Use some common sense.
Off the pitch, you probably want to look after your more seasoned players as well. In training for example, there is no need to drive them to the limits of their physical capabilities, or they won’t be fit in time for the actual matches you need to play. You may want to consider setting them to a lighter training schedule, to keep them fit for the matches. They can’t excell every day, so make them peak where it matters, in the matches.
A factor I tend to overlook quite often is the presence of a good medical staff. Whilst the game does not offer the construction of Milan Lab-styled medical facilities, you can get a hold of a couple of excellent physios to help your players when they are injured, whilst the presence of good fitness coaches might stop them from picking up injuries during the training sessions. These may not be major influences, but every little factor can contribute to coaxing the best possible performances from our ageing stars.
Important Attributes of a veteran
Now as I sort of alluded to in the previous alineas, certain attributes are key to making a veteran successful in your side. Firstly, mental attributes are key and dependant on the position you are looking to play them in. Some attributes are more important than others though, these are almost universal attributes that would suit any player, but especially a player who isn’t too mobile.
Anticipation – How accurately can a player predict other player’s movements
In other words, can our Ausputzer “read the game”, can he predict where the ball is going and where is opponents are going to be. A player who can accurately predict the movement of opponents doesn’t need to be fast or ruthless, he compensates with the power of his mind and his speed of thinking.
Composure – How well a player performs under pressure
Pressure means pressure from opposition players, but also pressure to score or pass in an important moment. You don’t want your player to buckle under the pressure, we need cool heads, especially since the body isn’t quite nimble enough to escape tricky situations with ease.
Concentration – How long a player can keep his mind focussed on the game
A players attention tends to fade as the game progresses. We don’t want that, our Ausputzer needs to be focussed for as long as possible, as any mistake he makes can be potentially fatal. A high attribute for Concentration means the player will use his Decisions and Anticipation attributes better throughout the length of a match.
Decisions – Controls the quality of decisions the player makes
A player is constantly presented with options, and the Decisions attribute controls if the player chooses the best option. It also controls how and when an option is performed. Decision is what, when and how. We don’t want our player to be hesitant, when he makes a move, we want him to follow through.
Teamwork – Controls a players selfishness
A low Teamwork attribute means the player will put his own best interest before the best interests of the team, like trying to shoot for goal instead of passing to a team mate, even though the team mate might be in a better position to score. A high attribute means the player would base decisions on what is best for the team, not what is best for himself.
Now depending if this player is an offensive, defensive or hybrid player, he needs one or both of the following attributes as well.
Positioning – The accuracy of a players position
This attribute controls how well a player positions himself, depending on what’s going on around him. Positioning (do I recognise the various options available to me) is linked with Decisions (do I opt for the right position out of the various options available to me) and Anticipation (do I predict the movement of others well enough to read the game). In our eyes, these three attributes make up most of the footballing intelligence our Ausputzer should possess.
Off The Ball – How well the player utilises space when not in possession of the ball
This attribute is not only important for a player to make himself available for a pass or assist, but also for a player to draw opposition players away from their positions, creating space and opportunities for his teammates.
Last but not least, not an absolute prerequisite but definitely handy when looking at older players…
Natural Fitness – Decline and recovery of physical attributes
Long term attribute that controls the level of decline when it comes to the physical attributes. It also controls how well a player returns from injury. Essentially, a high attribute means a longer career and faster recovery from injuries.