Winning international silverware is considered an honour. In fact, some would argue it’s the crowning achievement of one’s career. Carrying a team to a World Cup, European Championship or Copa América can propel one’s career to legendary status. Just ask people like Maradona, Van Basten or Zidane, all of them were great players, who will always be remembered for their international exploits.
So why then is the international management aspect of Football Manager as flawed as it apparently is? Winning a World Cup or any international trophy should be the pinnacle of your managerial career but in FM, managing a national team always feels like a chore. It’s not fun because there are some obvious flaws and shortcomings in the way the game approaches international football.
In this article, @Diego Mendoza, @Daniel Gear and I look at various reasons why the international management component of FM is inherently flawed or lacking depth. In real life, managing a national team is a full-time job. In FM, if you are only managing a national team with no club team on the side, you will soon find yourself bored to death in the hiatus moments between international fixtures. Sure, you can scout players once a week, but watching matches other teams are playing without being able to influence them, becomes rather stale rather quickly. There’s just not much else you can do.
Tactical familiarity is a problem
Tactical familiarity determines how well a team performs when playing in a particular tactic. The bar represents the squad’s understanding of the tactic, its shape and the style of play. The fuller the bar gets, the higher the understanding of the tactic, the formation, the style and all the other tactical intricacies and details.
The problem with international management and this tactical familiarity bar is that it’s impossible to get that bar even halfway full. Tactical familiarity increases when matches are played and by training sessions with the squad. Naturally, due to the very nature of international football and it’s relative rarity on the calendar, this means that progress is slow. This problem increases further if you choose to train three different tactics simultaneously. If you train three tactics at the same time, it slows the progress of all three.
Since any manager worth his salt strives to have at least a Plan B regarding tactics, tactical familiarity increases at a snail’s pace throughout the year.
There is also the problem of regression. Any change you make in your tactics prior to a match will impact the tactical familiarity. Change a few instructions, tactical familiarity drops. Change a player role, tactical familiarity drops. Modify the team shape or fluidity, the same story as before. Depending on the player material at their disposal, most managers tend to change these quite often.
The availability of players also impacts tactical familiarity. As a club manager, you will see that tactical familiarity often takes a severe hit when you buy a lot of new players or when there’s a mass exodus of players. Now imagine the same principle for a national team. Every team a player is removed due to injury or suspension; your tactical familiarity takes a hit. The same applies every time you call up a talented new player; your tactical familiarity takes a hit. To summarise, tactical familiarity goes down quicker than a cold beer on a hot day.
At this rate, it’s nigh impossible to get tactical familiarity up. Injuries and suspensions just happen, they’re a part of football. For a club manager, this is no problem, since they do not have to remove these players from their squads. For an international manager, it means the game forces you to remove these players, messing up tactical familiarity. There’s just no way to increase the players’ understanding of the tactic.
And let me tell you, you want the tactical familiarity up as high as you can. A team with high tactical familiarity performs a lot better on the pitch. In the international arena, where the competition is a cutthroat one, you need every possible advantage you can get. Unfortunately, this potential benefit is more of a major hindrance, because the tactical familiarity setup applies the same factors to international management as to club teams.
Both training and coaches are superfluous
Training is a bit of an encumbrance when you’re managing a national team. It’s not a significant burden by any means. Compare it to hauling groceries up a flight of stairs for your sick nan. It’s an effort, but one you have to make. Sadly, setting up your national teams’ training adds nothing to the entire experience of being an international manager. You cannot set any training regimes or train players in particular roles; you can only focus on various tactical aspects before a game in the hope of gaining a bit of a boost.
Coaches are in the same boat. At club level, they play a vital role in the development of the players. In international management, they’re about as useful as a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest. Since you cannot actually alter or set training, their presence is mostly cosmetic. They are glorified scouts, who help you keep track of current internationals and neo-internationals, which makes little sense because one would hire a scout to do that and not a coach.
While we realise that international coaches should have far less influence than their club counterparts, the way international training is set up right now is just cosmetic. Training does exactly fuck all and the coaches seem content with being ineffectual glorified scouts. That is not the case in real life, so it would be nice if these issues were addressed in the game.
Your staffs’ intellect appears to be rivalled only by garden tools
While the AI in the game is impressive and at times deceptively intelligent, all this perceived intellect flies right out the window when it comes to your assistant manager and the various youth managers at your disposal. Regardless of their quality regarding their attributes, they often form a rather half-witted bunch.
This is not an indiscriminate consideration but rather the product of our observations in the game; the innumerable number of times where the assistant manager or youth team manager made a decision that contravened common sense.
Take the assistant manager, for example. His tasks are a tad limited since he’s usually just asked to do press conferences and maybe team talks and opposition instructions (if we’re feeling generous and/or confident that he won’t fuck it up too badly). He also provides you with unsolicited advice in the form of his squad suggestion. So far, so good, right?
When you look at the average assistants’ report, it becomes quite evident as to why they are the assistant and not actually in charge of the team. Some of the suggestions are quite simply ludicrous. Proposing we call up wingers when the formation we have used has no need for wide men. Proposing we call up 33-year-olds (or older!) who are months away from retiring. Proposing we call up older players past their prime and ignoring the younger guard coming through. The suggestions seem heavily based on a player’s reputation, not his actual attributes or ability, let alone his actual position and role within a formation. It’s like when your aunt who never watches football picks a fantasy football squad, based on players she has heard of on TV.
Which brings us to the youth managers. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. They are slightly more perceptive and resourceful compared to their assistant manager brethren. They usually manage to call up decent-strength youth squads for the fixtures they need to play, emphasis on the word “usually.”
Sadly, they do not give a flying fuck about who you just called up (or had wanted to call up) for your own senior squad, which means that more often that not that precious starlet you had wanted to bleed into the squad is unavailable due to obligations with one of the youth squads. There is no way to rescind such abysmal decisions since the youth squads are generally confirmed one or two days prior to the senior squad. In other cases, the youth managers seem to have taken a page from the book of the assistants, electing to call up average players who happen to play for major clubs and ignoring emerging talents from smaller clubs, who are actually better players already. Either way, they’re generally more of a hindrance than an actual asset to the team.
Viva la revolución! Or not?
As a club manager, you deal with player insurrections on a regular basis. Whether they want a new contract, more playing time or are upset about a rejected transfer bid from a perceived larger club; your squad will always find a reason to complain and start near-mutinies. Player power is a force to be reckoned in FM17. For a club manager, that is.
We understand that some of the reasons for complaining just do not exist for an international manager, but right now the only interaction you get as an international manager is when a player refuses a call-up. In real life, internationals run to the media to voice their concern when they are omitted from the squad or left on the bench, but FM does nothing here. A missed opportunity and one that makes the job of international manager poorer for it.
Another part of the game where we would love more interaction with players is on dual nationalities. Just to take a real life example; Wilfried Zaha. He opted for the Côte d’Ivoire but could have played for England. In real life, managers could have a chat a with a player with more nationalities, explain how he would fit into their plans, hell, they can get down on one knee and profess their undying love to him (or get down on both knees and really… “persuade” him, we suppose…).
Seriously, there is just no way to persuade reluctant dual-nationality players to switch allegiances. When you are managing Morocco, for example, there are plenty of players from the French, Belgian, Dutch, Spanish and German leagues you could call up. All of these players have dual nationalities but many want to hold out and see if they can represent the country they were born. That is fair but again, in real life, a manager could plead his case in a personal conversation, which could prompt a switch, like in the cases of Zakaria Bakkali and Hakim Ziyech. In FM, tough luck… You can wait until the player magically changes his mind, which might never happen.