One of those often overlooked yet absolute crucial parts of Football Manager is the star of part four of Emulating La Masia. In this article we look at determining “how you want to play.” One of the more alluring aspects of football and therefore of Football Manager is the almost infinite number approaches to the games. When executed to perfection, nearly each and every of these approaches can set you on the road to victory and glory. There is no uniform way to play the game and the game is better and more interesting for it.
It is important if not crucial that you choose one clear path to success. If you want to execute a plan to perfection, you need to iron out the details instead of cobbling a concept together and making the details up along the way. Youth development is about long term planning, which means you need to sort out your goals, your philosophy and your means to achieve your set goals. That’s what we will be focussing on in this article.
We will look at creating a tactical identity, a distinctive style and setting long term goals and policies.
Creating a tactical identity
In the ideal situation your academy teams would play in a similar fashion to the first team, making it easier for youth players to break into the senior side because they are already accustomed to the team’s style and tactics. Ideally the academy even becomes the guardian of your tactical identity because it’s such a long-term commitment. Swapping styles often makes running a successful academy a costly and troublesome affair as you have to re-train or possibly release players and hire new staff to suit your needs. Having a good tactical identity and linking this to your academy plans shows a desire for a long-term commitment.
In case you were not aware of how to achieve this continuity throughout the club, look at the staff screen and click on responsebilities. Under the tab youths (or U21’s, U19’s or whatever they are called for your specific club) you can simply tick a box that ensures the first team tactics are emulated by the youth squad. That’s simply the technical side of the matter. If the tactic you are using is a hastily cobbled together piece of shit á la Wilmots or Hodgson, I wouldn’t go as far as calling this a tactical identity though.
This raises the question how would one define a tactical identity? It’s a topic that is quite difficult to answer straight away. All football leagues around the world have teams with different philosophies, a different style of play, and different sub-cultures. Not all teams will have a unique, pinned-down football culture or tactical identity. Some teams will change their approach frequently depending on the philosophy and style of their coach. Others will dabble in various tactics and styles, trying to find their optimal way of playing the beautiful game, either because they need an evolution to take them to the next level, or a revolution to take them back to the level they expect.
When we look at a club with a clear tactical identy, we end up with Barcelona. One of Barça’s ideals is that football must be played skillfully and in an artistic fashion rather than relying on sheer strength and size. According to the club’s stakeholders, that belief lies at the heart of the club’s (tactical) identity. This means a tactical identity is more than just defining a formation the club often relies on, it’s a philosophy on how the goal should be played, translated into a tactical style.
For me personally, establishing a tactical identity isn’t difficult. My blog is called Strikerless for a reason and I have written quite a few articles on how I feel my teams should play. If you’re looking at detailed information, I recommend you revisit this older piece. In case you don’t want to read the entire article, these are the main points that make up my tactical identity.
- We will play a brand of football which focuses on high energy execution of the three P’s, pressing, penetration and possession;
- We will play as a cohesive unit, attacking and defending as a team;
- When we have the ball, we will use technically proficient players to create varied attacks and mixed focal points. We value brains of brawn;
- When we do not have the ball, we will use counter-pressing tactics to win back the ball;
- We will impose ourselves on our opponents first and foremost and be reactive only when strictly necessary. Let our opponents be the ones to react to us.
Creating a distinctive style
I realise my phrasing may lead to some confusion here. Style is not a reference to style of play, as that is covered by the tactical idendity. Whilst style is linked to the tactical identity as in that both contribute to the club DNA, style is used in reference to the kind of players we need and how we go about recruiting them. My tactical ideals translate into a distinctive kind of playing style, which relies on quick, short passes among players who advance as a unit. Passing is more important than shooting; smarts are more relevant than strength. It takes a special kind of player to thrive while using this style. Therefore, we need a special kind of player, with a special skill set.
The desired skill-set
Besides the obvious requirements per position, which is something we will look at in a later post, there are the secondary attributes I like to see in my players, in an effort to create a sort of team spirit. Most of these attributes are supposed to supplement the strikerless pillars that form my tactical identity. These attributes are sometimes part of the role requirements for a player, but definitely attributes I look out for regardless of position. Most of these are mental attributes, brains over brawn.
Aggression – How combative is this player?
If you are looking for an energetic and forceful player, willing to impose his will upon a match, you want a player with high aggression as a low attribute results in a docile and unassertive player. Aggression is not the same as violence, though the two can go hand-in-hand.
Anticipation – Can this player accurately predict the movement of other players?
When you have a tactic heavily reliant on players moving all over the place, you want players who can read the game, predict who moves where and when.
Composure – Can this player perform under pressure?
Pressure means pressure from opposition players, but also pressure to score or pass in an important moment. Can he keep his cool in difficult situations? With players always moving and in tight spaces, you’re going to need players who can keep their nerves under control.
Decisions – Can this player make the right decisions?
For me, this is one of the most important attributes in the game. A player is constantly presented with options, this attribute determines if the player chooses the best option. It also controls how and when an option is performed, in conjunction with attributes like creativity and technique.
Stamina – Decides the rate of decline of the players condition
The higher this attribute is, the longer a player can keep going without getting tired. It’s fully connected to the match condition of the player. All the constant moving takes a lot out of your players, so you’re going to need fit players.
Teamwork – Can this player set his own ego aside to benefit the team?
Players with a low value for teamwork are players who will put their own best interest before that of the team, whereas a high attribute means the player would base decisions on what is best for the team, not what is best for himself. Since I use a Very Fluid tactical setting and want my team to function as a cohesive unit, I want players with high teamwork ratings.
Technique – What can this player do in terms of technique?
The easiest way to describe technique is that it controls the width of the player’s technical range. The higher the attribute, the more the player can actually do with the ball. Since players in a strikerless formation have to work in tight spaces and in a high tempo, a decent rating for technique is a welcome bonus.
Work Rate – How active is this player?
Players with a low value for work rate would rather not spend too much time in off the ball decisions, which basically means they’re just lazy and only start moving when they have the ball or are involved in a phase of play. Players with a high value for work rate will make themselves available and involve themselves in play as much as possible, which suits our ultra-aggressive, hard-working and mobile style of play far more.
The reason why I included recruitment under style is because of the personal preferences everyone has in this regard. Some of like to keep it realistic and shop only domestically or in neighboring countries, others restrict themselves to what their scouts come up with, whereas others feel anything goes and they use whatever resources at their disposal to unearth as many talented youngsters as possible. I’m fine with any approach you wish to take, as it’s basically your own game. Since it is a highly personal policy, it does fit in nicely with the chapter about style.
Now in terms of recruitment, I would like to differentiate between three different kinds of recruitment.
- Internal recruitment;
- External recruitment;
- Recruitment through feederclubs.
The internal recruitment is the easiest form of recruitment. You hire a good Head of Youth Department, get the junior coaching up to scratch and boost the facilities as much as you can and you’re pretty much done. You don’t select the 16 players who end up coming through the ranks during the annual intake, though you can reject some of them. Like I said, it’s the easiest form of recruitment and the one you have the least amount of control over.
It really is as simple as acquiring the maximum amount of scouts you can get initially. If you can hire 12 scouts, well damn it… Hire 12 scouts! Volume helps, so you should hire as many scouts as the board allows you to. Also, keep badgering the board to get more scouts. The maximum amount of scouts generally lies around 20 for the absolute top clubs.
The scouts you do hire generally need 15+ attributes for Judging Ability and Judging Potential, as you want those scout reports to be as accurate as possible. An aspect people seem to forget when hiring new staff is the scouting knowledge a staff member has. Scouting knowledge is always on a staff members profile page, it shows the country or countries this staff members knows intimately.
The more knowledge a scout has in a specific country, the more players he can find. Not a bad trait if you want to uncover some hidden gems. In that case, it also makes sense to spread the scouts around the world, not just in terms of their assignments, but also in terms of their origins. Sending an English scout to South America can work, as he will slowly increase his scouting knowledge for the region. This takes time though, which means he won’t be operating at maximum efficiency. Hiring a South American scout would speed up the process tremendously, though a scout with a high adaptability rating tends to learn fast as well.
Once you have a decent amount of scouts, you can sort out the assignments, spreading them around the world. You generally start off with one region at a time, starting close to home and moving further away from home as you gain more scouts. You can generally ignore some regions due to the low yield in players and maybe focuss on specific nations once you have the most important regions covered.
Using feeder clubs to recruit
Much like the internal recruitment, you really have but a modicum of influence on which kind of players come in through affiliations with foreign clubs. We’ll start with the basics however. Your club can request to link up with a foreign club to increase the chances of recruiting a foreign talent. You can request this option in a talk with the board.
Once you have selected this option, all you have to do is kick back and wait what the board comes up with. In my case, the board came up with four European clubs. So when the board comes up with a shortlist like that, you get your one and only shot at influencing matters. You get to pick which club to link with, so you better make your choice count.
In order to make an informed decision, you have to look at the important variables in the equation. I’ve taken the liberty of gathering all the data and sticking it into a table. We’ll have a more indepth look at that table.
The first two columns are self-explanatory. The third column displays the youth rating for the nation. The higher this rating, the bigger the chance it produces a talented youngster, which in turn improves your chance of getting one of those talented youngsters in your intake. The game uses a scale of 1 to 200 for its youth rating. I came up with these numbers by checking the FMRTE values. This is a form of cheating and I generally don’t do this, but for the sake of this article, I need to explain how the game works, so I need exact values. If you aren’t using FMRTE, you should check out this article by Passion4FM, which details the youth ratings in terms of stars.
The fourth column displays the city of origin and the number of inhabitants per Wikipedia. The game uses a slightly different scale, grouping cities in clusters expanding per 50k inhabitants, but the amount of inhabitants is a factor when it comes to the quality of the intake. The bigger the city, the bigger the chance of its club producing a high quality youngster. The other two columns describe factors we mentioned before in the Facilities article of this series.
Setting long term goals and policies
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 my case, I want to win as much as I can to raise the clubs profile and gain enough funds to build a new stadium in my name. What is difficult is actually realising said goals, that takes time and assessing the situation, the threats and opportunities, you are facing.
It basically requires you to performs a sort of SWOT-analysis, where you look at the rules of the league and your own club and you try to figure out a course to steer. I wish I could give you some pointers, but this requires some creative thinking at times to circumvent or bend the rules to your advantage. I can give you pointers regarding rules to use in your advantage, but since they tend to vary from league to league, I suggest you ask me in the comments.