Whenever we hear the word “Kampfgeist” the mind almost instinctively wanders back to the days of the German national football team of the 1990s, before the now-famous reboot. Players like Oliver Kahn, Jürgen Kohler, Jens Jeremies, and Stefan Effenberg were not known for their silky technique or tiki-taka play. No, they were primarily known for one thing: Kampfgeist (fighting spirit). One of the best showings of this almost mythical quality came during the Euro 96 final against the Czech Republic when they called upon Kampfgeist to come back from going 1-0 behind to win it 1-2 in the last fifteen minutes of the game and sudden death. This was but one example of a game the Germans managed to turn around based on their fighting spirit. Another famous and fitting quote here belongs, one that can be attributed to Gary Lineker.
Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.
Even though the German national football team has transformed immensely since these days and has indeed become the hipsters’ favourite for the 2018 World Cup, not every team can put Mesut Özil, Leroy Sané, and Toni Kroos on the pitch. There are quite a few times where you will manage a club on FM which cannot call upon the immense qualities of a hugely talented pool of players. In such situations, Kampfgeist could be your ticket to success. @LeonTrotsema of RouteOneFM and @MerryGuido of Strikerless investigate this fascinating, intriguing concept and look at how you can apply it within the confines of the FM18 match engine.
The central tenets of Kampfgeist
The main question this article seeks to answer is one of functionality and practical use: how can you use Kampfgeist within Football Manager? How can you introduce it into your squad and what do you need to pay attention to? It is important to note Kampfgeist does not imply you fill your squad with Dirk Kuyt clones and holiday your way to success. Kampfgeist is a multi-layered concept which aims to use the specific strengths of your players in a particular way. Before we descend into talk about qualities we are looking for in the specific type of players, we want to discuss the central tenets of Kampfgeist.
These tenets contain a number of attributes which form the core of the concept. It doesn’t matter which position or role your player performs if you want to instil a measure of Kampfgeist within your team all of your players should have decent amounts of these essential attributes:
Your players should never run out of the will to fight. That means going the full 90 minutes without giving up. Concentration is all about mental focus and in a squad full of kampfgeist that focus is aimed at one thing and one thing only: three points. Having players with a lot of concentration transforms your squad into a well-oiled machine whose sole purpose is to win.
Kampfgeist contains the word “Kampf” which means “fight” in German. And without having players with decent amounts of aggression that fight is going to be pretty tame. Players like Markus Babbel or the aforementioned Kohler were willing to get stuck in all day long and do the dirty work. Sure, that means an increase in the number of fouls committed. But a player with kampfgeist would gladly receive a red card any day if that means the win is secured.
A no-brainer really when talking about Kampfgeist. Without the determination to win there can be no fighting spirit, no will to win, and no fighting until the bitter end. The will to do his very best forms the core of Kampfgeist. A player with fighting spirit will never simply give up when faced with going behind. As long as the referee hasn’t blown his whistle, he will continue to battle for three points.
Or translated into FM terms; how much a player is willing to risk injury in order to win the ball back, or put his life on the line for the cause. Will he hold back in the 50:50 challenge or will he dive in? Is he going to slide in to clear a ball off the line, risking life and limbs? Or will he just let it go in? When we are looking for players to play their heart out for the team, this is definitely of added value.
The last two elements that form the core of kampfgeist are work rate and teamwork. Just like I wrote in the introduction, the German national football team in the 1990s did not stand out for its flawless technique. But they were willing to work together to get a result. Every player knew their task and was willing to perform it. There is no room for Balotelli-esque prima donna’s who put their own glory above that of the team. That’s why all your players should be willing to work hard and put the team above their own ambitions.
A creator, a worker, and an enforcer walk into a bar…
As we have established (or at the very least, we tried to establish this) in the previous paragraph, it is important to remember that the concept of Kampfgeist is not only about working hard. Players also have to bring a specific skill-set to the table. In order to further refine the theory of Kampfgeist, we have tried to divide our players into three categories: the enforcer, the creator and the worker. You can view the build-up of Kampfgeist in your squad like pillars supporting the roof of a Greek temple, with the central tenets forming the foundation beneath it all:
The central tenets form the foundation and the three player categories build upon these attributes and form their own version of it. Together they form the whole Kampfgeist concept. We will now elaborate on each of the three categories.
As an added bonus, we’re throwing in the search filter we use for the central Kampfgeist tenets. You can download it right here, no need to sign up for anything, no funny business, we don’t require any e-mail addresses and we don’t charge you for it, though if you wish to pay us for it, we won’t turn you down, in which case you can either fund Guido’s Patreon or you can buy us a beer using the option on the main page.
This basic filter can be tweaked of course, values can be lowered or set to and/or in order yield less or more search results. As we said earlier, it is a basic filter.
Looking at our typical German teams from last century, even their creative players could be fierce and tenacious when they needed to be. Your Lothar Matthäus or Stefan Effenberg, for example, were brilliant playmakers during their prime but also controversial and aggressive at times. Even our creative players can do with a bit of Kampfgeist, though it should not overshadow their creative skill-set.
The creators are the typical playmakers. They form the think tank of your team. With a beautiful pass, they can put your striker in front of the opponents’ keeper. Just because you are looking for a team with fighting spirit does not mean you don’t want or need any creativity. On the contrary. You need creators to win. But the creator with kampfgeist is a different creature when compared to a Balotelli-esque player who can create but lack the central tenets to really fight until the end. A Kampfgeist-style creator is a player who still makes a difference come injury time when your side is 2-0 down.
When we’re compiling a profile for our Creators, we take the usual Kampfgeist attributes from the basic filter and add something extra into the mix. Given the creative nature of these players, we are only adding two attributes towards their Kampfgeist setup. The attributes we look out for is the following one:
We want our creative player to make split-second decisions on whether he should get stuck in or hold off and choose a better moment to impose his presence on the match. Remember, these guys are the creative force driving your team forward, they are no good to you sitting in the stands due to suspension or injury because they overcommitted themselves.
When thinking about player roles you can think along the lines of ball playing defender, wide playmaker, deep-lying playmaker, advanced playmaker, roaming playmaker, regista, trequartista, complete forward, and false nine.
As before, we will provide you with our own search filter. Again, we advise you to use common sense. You won’t be able to find a player who excels in all these areas, so find someone who suits your needs. Find someone who suits 6/7 for example or even remove specific attributes if you feel a player does not need them. The ideas we are listing are mostly guidelines and not rules set in stone. We encourage you to use your own ideas to refine them and apply them to your specific situation.
The worker is one of the most underestimated roles in football. Typically, the most attention from fans and pundits alike is given to goalscoring strikers and visionary playmakers while the humble the worker remains in the shadows. But the simple fact is: a team cannot succeed without someone who is willing to run, battle, and close the gaps without getting a special mention by the pundits. Just like in real life, the worker is an essential cog in your FM team. They work hard to shield the back four, to provide extra support during attacks, and to connect different parts of your formation. The real-life pundits may not have a full appreciation for them, but every FM player knows who they are and knows that they’d be lost without them.
When selecting your workers, pay attention to these attributes:
- Off the ball;
- Natural Fitness;
These traits will help you to find tireless players, who are willing to work for the full ninety minutes and then some. Every team needs a few of these guys to carry the team. They are generally not the star players, these are the players whose presence is only missed when they are not on the pitch. They are the cement that holds a team together. These guys will help you grind out wins.
Typical worker roles are the carrilero, anchorman, wide midfielder, central midfielder (support), box to box midfielder, and deep-lying forward.
As before, we will provide you with our own search filter. Again, we advise you to use common sense. You won’t be able to find a player who excels in all these areas, so find someone who suits your needs. Find someone who suits 8/10 for example or even remove specific attributes if you feel a player does not need them. The ideas we are listing are mostly guidelines and not rules set in stone. We encourage you to use your own ideas to refine them and apply them to your specific situation.
Last but not least, the enforcer, also known as the “fighter“, “tough guy“, or “goon“. An enforcer’s job is to deter the opposition and respond to dirty or violent play by the opposition. When such play occurs, the enforcer is expected to respond aggressively in an effort to turn the tide. Enforcers are expected to react particularly harshly to violence against star players or goalies.
These guys are the real bullies who, through sheer physical strength, are able to prevent any tactical idea that has popped up in the other manager’s head from coming to fruition. Enforcers are not always a part of the starting line-up but they are a weapon any manager loves to have in his arsenal. Compare it to Man Utd’s use of someone like Marouane Fellaini, who is brought on to impose his physical presence on a defence and just scrap out there.
Using enforcers is an ideal way to improve the balance in your squad when regular footballing tactics are no longer sufficient. Sometimes, just playing fancy football isn’t going to cut it and you need guys out there who can focus on destruction instead of creation. You need someone to remain in his spot and disrupt the attacks. This disruption can, of course, take place anywhere on the pitch. A defensive forward will try to disrupt the build-up, a ball winning midfielder will do the same in midfield and a defensive winger will try it out wide. It’s how you set up your team that decides where the enforcing takes place.
When we’re compiling a profile for our Enforcers, we take the usual Kampfgeist attributes from the basic filter and add something extra into the mix. Given the destructive nature of the Enforcers, we are looking towards physical traits and a select few others. The attributes we look out for are the following ones:
- Jumping/jumping reach;
The attributes listed above all help an Enforcer to impose his presence on the pitch. Perhaps you don’t need him to be strong in the air and more of a running, tackling presence, creating an ultra-aggressive version of the Worker-class, in which case it makes sense that you remove some of these attributes, but this is all down to personal preferences and requirements.
Typical enforcers are created by choosing roles such as defensive winger, central midfielder (defend), defensive forward, ball winning midfielder, defensive midfielder, and target man.
Again, we will provide you with our own search filter. Again, we advise you to use common sense. You won’t be able to find a player who excels in all these areas, so find someone who suits your needs. Find someone who suits 10/13 for example or even remove specific attributes if you feel a player does not need them. The ideas we are listing are mostly guidelines and not rules set in stone. We encourage you to use your own ideas to refine them and apply them to your specific situation.
Greater than the sum of its parts
When you combine these attributes you get a rough idea of the type of player you need to introduce and/or improve the amount of Kampfgeist you want in your team. The ideal player you are looking for is not afraid to get stuck in, is able to remain focused for the full 90 minutes, wants to do his best during every game, and works hard. If you look back upon these German teams throughout the last forty or fifty years, it would be rather harsh to condemn them all as workmanlike teams. Besides these mental qualities, most players were also technically and tactically skilled footballers. Some were even world class, like for instance Beckenbauer, Littbarski and Matthäus, yet they all shared that fighting spirit. The teams often became greater than the sum of its parts. The next paragraph will look more in-depth into the recruitment process geared towards Kampfgeist.
However, you cannot win the Champions League with a team filled to the brim with just workmanlike players, the Dirk Kuyt’s of this world in your squad. They will require specific qualities to play in specific roles or positions. The attributes we described earlier are never the leading attributes when scouting for new players. These Kampfgeist attributes are a bonus, like honing an already formidable weapon into something even more lethal.
Initially, you want to assess your needs. Which type of player do I need and which roles or positions is he supposed to fill for my team? If you have established these parameters, you can start by compiling scouting lists and putting your staff to work. Your initial pruning of the list consists of removing players you cannot afford and who do not meet the initial criteria to play the role or position you want them to play in. Your secondary filter removes injury-prone players or players who do not suit your style of play. Finally, and at this point, you have probably narrowed the list down to five or so players, you will see which of them suits your needs best in terms of their Kampfgeist, their fighting spirit. This is the way to create a team that is truly greater than the sum of its parts.
When you combine the specific qualities each of these three categories need with the central tenets of kampfgeist, then you get different versions of these player roles. Even a trequartista, who does little in the defensive phase of the match, will work harder and defend more when infused with the necessary kampfgeist qualities. You’ll see different behaviour than what you are used to from regular players who are given this role.
Getting the balance right between these three roles is the big challenge when trying to implement the kampfgeist strategy. Having too many enforcers will prevent good quality chances being created and having too many workers will open up gaps in your formation. There is no Golden Rule which you have to follow with regards to the number of enforcers, creators, or workers. This all depends on your squad and the emphasis you want to build into your tactic.