International management in FM is one of those subjects not many people write about. You could say it’s the Meg Griffin of FM. To be fair, we have always considered it a welcome distraction to get through the summer months in FM, when we were unable to organise friendlies and we had completed our transfer market antics. At best, it was a good way to speed up progression on the leader boards by adding additional silverware to the collection.
It’s the attitude many managers take to international gaming, but it shouldn’t be like this. After all, there is no greater glory than winning a major international tournament for ones country. Men who have decided important international fixtures, be it in a positive or negative way, are forever reminded of this by both fans and pundits. In a glorious career where he has won nearly everything, Andrés Iniesta’s crowning moment was the winning goal in the 2010 World Cup final. Similarly, in a glorious career where he has won nearly everything, David Beckham will forever be haunted by his failure to win any silverware with England.
International management also appears to be unpopular with the Football Manager crowd. Whilst we admit that there are some kinks in the proverbial cable regarding international management, we do feel that international management deserves more attention and we have gathered some useful tips and tricks for you if you decide to give international management a go in Football Manager. So join @FM_Samo from Occasional FM, @diegomendoza1969 from Pass The Bloody Ball and @strikerlessguido in an article to see how you can improve your experience.
Be a visionary
When you take over a nation you need to have a 4/5 year plan as realistically that is how long it is going to take for the nation to play the way you want to play. You need to be looking at the second or third tournament down the line as being the one to make your mark. Yes, you may get lucky and everything click straight away but more often than not a decent International side takes years to really gel. So in order to set up a succesful international team, you need to have some sort of long-term planning in place.
You see, as a manager, your ability to set long-term goals and constantly be thinking about the future of your squad has an inordinate impact on the success of said squad. Most top managers tend to be long-term thinkers. They project forward at least five years and they think about where they want to be and what they will have to be doing at that time in order to achieve their long-term goals.
Now that sounds dreadfully boring and in a way, it is a tedious affair. If you want to achieve success though, meticulous planning is the way forward. The setting of goals isn’t that difficult, the sky is basically the limit. In most cases, you wanted to turn who-ever you are managing into a powerhouse of sorts, initially within your own region and if possible on a global scale. Success would be measured in terms of performances on major tournaments. Winning the tournaments within your own region and actually qualifying for the World Cup, before progressing past round 1 and such would qualify as successes for most smaller nations. What is difficult is actually realising said goals, that takes time and assessing the situation, the threats and opportunities you are facing.
Prepare a tactical Plan B
While we realise it’s definitely better when you you nail the tactics spot on from the get-go, 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.
Squad management and its various intricacies
When building a squad, there are a couple of key aspects we focus on to put myself and the team on the road to success. We tend to focus on the demographic structure of the squad, look at a form of performance-based analysis (player profiling) and worry about our core squad.
The demographic structure defines the capacity of managers to make up a balanced squad from the point of view of age, experience and contract length so as to guarantee sufficient long term stability. Secondly, player profiling refers to the managers’ ability to objectively identify the strengths and weaknesses of their teams in order to find collective and individual solutions to improve results or anticipate eventual problems. Lastly, the core squad policy defines the managers’ capacity to work with a pool of players in order to optimise, or maintain over the long term, group unity, demographic balance and performance levels. Ultimately, the aim is to have a talented squad with sufficient depth to it, without having to deal with too many personalities clashing.
Building a decent national team squad is always tricky. Part of you wants to win every game, focussing on the short term goals, but especially when you’re in it for the long haul, you have to be sure to bleed in youngsters as well, getting to know and see if they fit the bill for your national team. There basically two variables to look at.
- Age (or experience); you need players from different age brackets, the right mix between young talents, players in their prime and a few seasoned veterans;
- Stability; it is important to have a stable squad, with no personality clashes or complaining players and not too many players moving around.
The squad needs to be balanced in terms of age. This permits young footballers to develop alongside more experienced players and progressively replace them as pillars of the team, maintaining a sort of conveyor-belt of first team-ready players bleeding into the starting line-up as others are sold or retire. A balanced structure in age to achieve this flow of talent is a necessary prerequisite to maintain a satisfactory level of stability over the long term. From this point of view, it is necessary to maintain a core squad by privileging the recruitment of young talents who can potentially become part of the team project over the long term. Within this framework of stability, that favours the integration of new recruits is generally beneficial on a sporting level.
Unlike club teams, the national team generally just calls up the best players available. They generally don’t care much about youngsters, unless they are good enough. That is a shame, as we feel a national team should consist of some young players, who are given the time and conditions to succeed, a core of players in their prime and a few top veterans, who are kept around to lend continuity and carry the culture of the nation forward. In other words, the squad consisted of a balanced mix between all ages. The majority of the players ought to be in their mid-twenties to late twenties, which is the prime age for most players. Whilst it can be difficult to let go of older players who have always served you in a loyal way, it is sometimes for the better of the entire team that you do let them go instead of calling them up as the footballing equivalent of drunk texts to your ex, begging for one more time for old times sake.
In order to achieve a properly balanced team setup, it is important that you also realise when players are coming into their prime. For most field players, their prime comes between their mid-twenties and late-twenties, for a goalkeeper, this prime period generally starts a few years later but extends well into his thirties. An ideal squad setup age-wise would look a little like this, and yes, we do realise an international squad consists 0f 23 players maximum, but you can always tweak the numbers a bit and leave one or two guys out due to injuries, mostly from the U20 and veterans categories.
Again, this is hardly a cardinal rule set in stone, but it gives you an estimate of the numbers we are working with. This is also the spread in an ideal scenario, which is not always a possibility. A lack of funds or a shortage of suitable players can lead to a more unbalanced squad, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but could lead to friction or a lack of possibilities for some age categories.
The second factor to take into account has to do with the stability of a team, team chemistry if you will. It’s a term that is rather all-encompassing, as it focusses on a number of variables within the FM universe. To be more exact, stability looks at the following factors.
- Adaptability; players need to adjust to new surroundings and a new tactical approach when brought in from other clubs, especially if they are foreign;
- Tactical familiarity; the entire team takes a hit to its tactical fluency when too many new players are introduced at the same time, a steady and stable environment suits the team better;
- Personalities; players with the same personalities go well together, clashing personalities tend to cause trouble.
The first factor we want to examine is the adaptability, which is a major contributor to the overal stability of your squad. This factor is a hidden attribute which kicks in when you bring in new players, either domestic or foreign. The higher this hidden attribute is, the faster new team members manage to integrate into the squad. Ofcourse, there are ways to help speed up this integration process. Foreign players can be send on language courses or can be helped out by having a countryman present in the squad or even by being tutored by a more seasoned player.
Tactical familiarity is the next factor we examine and it is probably the most important thing to concentrate on for me. It determines how well your squad executes the tactic on the pitch, so you want to get this as fluid as possible. When you bring in a lot of new players or the players in the squad aren’t gelling, tactical familiarity suffers as a result. Again, it’s important to get the team as stable as possible to make sure the familiarity doesn’t go down.
Player personalities are a vital part of Football Manager and sometimes are overlooked by people, but you really ought to pay attention to them. Squads with personalities which don’t match properly can go down in a fiery ball of epic failure Mourinho and Van Gaal would be proud of. The coach reports will generally indicate if a player suits the overall dressing room atmosphere or not.
Any club with the ambition to grow and improve must have a manager who is capable of objectively evaluating both individual and collective performances and requirements. Individual performance depends on the capacity of clubs to bring together players with complimentary characteristics, as well as on the matching of footballers’ profile with the mental, physical, technical and tactical skills requested to play in a given position with respect to the style of play performed. Moreover, individual performance is influenced by team configuration in general.
As highlighted above, stability plays a central role in the production of performance. Aside from the sporting characteristics of players, their personalities are also important in optimising the collective effort. The demographic structure of a squad also has a decisive influence on the level of performance of a football team. For example, it is much easier for a footballer to be competitive in a stable, harmonious environment, than in an unstable and conflictual context.
Evaluating performances goes a lot further than just looking at which players are playing well for either my own team or other teams. These are the variables I take into consideration for my player profiling:
- Versatility in roles;
- Versatility in positions.
When we assess the performance of my players, be it current players or potential signings, I have learned the hard way to look past their 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. 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.
For example, when Guido was managing the Dutch national side, he 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, he struggled to replace the latter. Ebecilio, Van Ginkel and Clasie were all in contention for the spot. Instead of focussing on attributes, he 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 his team desperately needed. Instead of looking at attributes, he got blinded by reputation and performances for a club team, where Clasie filled an entirely different role.
Versatility in roles
Tying in nicely with the assessment of the attributes a player possesses, is the fact that I want my players to be capable of fulfilling multiple roles within the same position. Let me show you an example of what we mean by that.
This player can play in central midfield and he can effectively play in almost any role as well. His profile is rather well-rounded, so he possesses a nice blend of attacking flair and defensive grit, making him a versatile player to have on board, since he can fulfil several roles within the squad. Whilst he is primarily an offensive player, he can deputise in the defensive department when needed. Let’s have a look at the player in question.
Leandro Correa is a prime example of a player scouted because he is versatile in terms of roles. When you limit your squad to a maximum of 25 or so players, you want players on board who can play in more than one role. This is mostly a useful trait for players in central positions.
Versatility in positions
Besides the versatility in roles, you also want players who are versatile in terms of their positions. Often, those two forms of versatility go hand in hand, but I do want to mention the difference between the two. You want players who are capable to play in multiple positions either horizontally or vertically on the pitch. Leandro Correa is an example of a player who is versatile position-wise in a vertical way. His coach report indicates the following.
Now let’s use a second example of a player who is versatile in his positions in a more horizontal way. Alfredo Benítez is capable of playing in a central role as well as a wide role. He has the pace to be an effective threat in either position.
When you limit your squad to a maximum of 25 or so players, you want players on board who can play in more than one position. Unlike with the roles, it doesn’t matter if these players are fielded in a central or wide position.
A core squad is more important than form of the day
We tend to spend the first few sets of friendlies giving players a chance to impress. They tend to get a couple of games to make an impression before we decide whether or not to include them in the core squad. We see this as being similar to how in cricket they use central contracts for the main international players and then only change a few players throughout the year. The ultimate aim is to have a squad of at least 15, but preferably 25 or so players who, unless injured, will be picked in every international squad for the next 5 years. That then gives a number of spaces available for those players that are either in the twilight of their career or for emerging talents that are maybe not evident at the start of my time in charge.
Keeping these players around for most games helps you keep tactical familiarity high. With such limited time to work with your players, tactical fluency tends to suffer. If you call up lots of different players, it actually barely ever rises. By keeping the squad consistent, you tend to maintain a decent(ish) level of tactical familiarity, despite not seeing the players often.
A fair few friendlies in the run-up to international tournaments
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.
This is especially important if you are playing in Europe as it can influence the quality of qualifying group or tournament group you end up in. Make sure that you only arrange friendlies against sides that are in the top 20/30 in the world but that you believe you can beat. My advice is to keep an eye on the South American teams as often a few lucky results against Argentina or Brazil can see them creep into the top 20. If you manage this properly then it should then hopefully make it easier for you to qualify for the later round of international tournaments.
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 we 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.
Use and pool your resources
As we mentioned in the introduction, we like to think of international management as the Meg Griffin of Football Manager, treated badly and almost completely forgotten about. There are, however, some resources you can turn to similar to if you were in charge of a club side. Here is how we feel you should use the resources at your disposal.
Crowdsourcing is the practice of engaging a “crowd” or group for a common goal — often innovation, problem solving, or efficiency. This phenomenon can provide organizations with access to new ideas and solutions. You basically pool all your resources and hire as many staff members as you can get in order to get the job done. There are several resources you have at your disposal:
- The scouting screen;
- The backroom staff;
- Your own eyes.
The manager of a national team cannot hire scouts. This does not mean you cannot use the scouting system however. That sounds counter-intuitive at best, yet it’s entirely true. When you access the scouting menu as a national team manager, you can still set scouting assignments as you are able to do as a club manager. We highly recommend you use these scouting options as much as you can.
Scouting the next opposition is always a good idea. Your assistant manager will generally take care of this assignment and he will provide you with a detailed team report on yout next opponent. It will show you their strengths and their weaknesses and depending on the quality of your assistant, might provide you with the occassional nugget of useful information.
You can also scout various international tournaments and leagues. We highly recommend you scout your own domestic league, to unearth potentially good newgens coming through the ranks. It’s always a good idea to have them on the radar as young as possible, especially in case of dual nationalities. You’d hate yourself if that once-in-a-lifetime-talent opted for a career with a different nation because you got to him a bit too late.
Use your coaches and physio
We highly recommend hiring coaches and physiotherapists to help out with tactical familiarity and injuries. Besides these obvious functions, you can also use them as scouts. Whilst this is generally not their area of expertise, you have no other options if you want scout reports on your squad members and trust me, you want those reports to see what their personalities and hidden attributes are like. When you click on a player eligible for your national team, you can request a national report.
Much like an actual scout, one of the coaches, the assistant or maybe even the physio will compile a report on the player you want to further examine. It takes a few days for these reports to be compiled, so try a bit of patience. All in all, it’s not quite that different from managing a club, you just can’t hire specialist staff to do the job.
As we mentioned earlier, we highly recommend scouting every player in your core squad. These reports will unearth some hidden attributes and personality quirks you may want to take into consideration when compiling your squad. Nervous players, players afraid of big games and volatile, confrontational characters are negative traits you may want to be wary of including in your squad selection.
Another option you have is the option to actually ask the staff for their advice on the squad. You can have the staff member of your choosing compile his ideal squad. Simply click on the staff members profile and ask them for a recommendation on the next national team squad.
Don’t expect brilliant epiphanies or unexpected revelations from these reports, but they do come up with the odd bit of brilliance. It is a very good way to keep track of suspended and injured players and occassionally discover which players in form and can supplement your core squad.
Sit in the stands
Your assistant will generally come up with suggestions for games you can attend in person to have a look at potential internationals and current internationals. We’re not saying you have to do this on a weekly basis, but it doesn’t hurt to look at the odd game, especially in the domestic league. Who knows which players you might find whilst you are on your scouting missions. Just give it a go, take your notepad with you and get out there.
Fill up the B team
You take over your chosen national side, and you spot your B team. You think great, I’ll take over them too to keep things consistent or you offer out the B team manager role to a great staff member you’ve come across. Think again, we have never been able to successfully arrange a match for my B team to play. That being said, it doesn’t mean that the B team can’t be utilised in-game. Think of them as your reserve squad, that never actually plays any matches. Fill it with players!
Is there a 22 year old that’s done well at under 21 level, but isn’t quite ready to make the step up to your senior squad? B team him.
A couple of players that wouldn’t necessarily be in your first choice 23 man squad, but you fancy calling them up in-case of an injury or suspension? B team them.
What about that stalwart that’s served you well, he’s not retired from international football yet but he’s just on the fringe of your thinking? You know what to do.
You have noticed a foreign player who has taken up a double nationality but isn’t quite ready for inclusion in your illustrious main team? There you go, you got it now.
We have compared international management in FM16 to Meg Griffin before. Yes, it is limited and flawed in some ways, but it can actually be a challenging and enjoyable experience on FM. You shouldn’t treat national team management the same as managing a club team however. In order to enjoy it thoroughly, you have to approach it with a different mindset. It will be difficult and at times very frustrating at first, maybe even tedious because of the large breaks in between games, but by using the tips we’ve shared above you will gradually start to reap the rewards and as Guido has shown with a bit of patience even the Indonesians can win the World Cup. Now what better feeling could you have than lifting the World Cup?