Winning international silverware is regarded as a great achievement. In fact, some would argue that it is the apex of one’s professional accomplishments. It is possible to elevate one’s career to legendary status by leading a team to a World Cup, European Championship, or Copa América victory. Just ask people like Maradona, Van Basten, or Zidane, all of whom were outstanding players who will be remembered for their international achievements for the rest of their lives.
So, why is it that the international management aspect of Football Manager appears to be so dysfunctional, as it appears to be? It should be the pinnacle of a manager’s career to win a World Cup or any other international trophy. But in FM, managing a national team is a tedious chore instead of an exciting challenge. It’s often not enjoyable because the game’s approach to international football has some obvious flaws and shortcomings, which make it difficult to enjoy this particular avenue of management fully.
Given this, I may appear to you like a bit of a grouch, a grumpy old man who moans and complains about everything that is wrong with the world these days. While I may no longer be able to identify myself to be a young man, I have had quite a wealth of experience with the international game during my time with FM21.
My international management career
I started my international management adventure managing Ay-Yıldızlılar or The Crescent-Stars. Turkey, the nation I was planning to manage in on a domestic level after my Milan odyssey had come to an end. A country with tremendous potential, both in terms of underdeveloped local talent, cast aside in favour of second and third rate foreign players and in terms of finding Turkish diaspora players to recruit to the cause.
After winning just about every trophy we contested, I figured it was time to move on. Bosnia offered an interesting opportunity. I don’t just hop aboard any train that passes by, I tend to make sure to potential to win silverware is present. While the domestic league is at a woeful level and generally does not produce many noteworthy players, you do get talented Bosnian players from academies in Croatia and Serbia. The Bosnian diaspore is also renowned for spawning intriguing prospects, usually through the academies of Bundesliga clubs.
Where my previous adventure on the banks of the Bosporus allowed for some reliance on the domestic league and its underdeveloped youngsters, the Bosnian national side saw me pull out all the stops to uncover and then persuade dual-nationality players to don the blue-and-gold jersey of the Bosnian national side.
After our surprise win at the 2032 Euro’s, I left Bosnia, mostly because the task of constantly tapping up (mostly) German-born Bosnians, only to get turned down routinely, was becoming tedious fast. Plus my actual Bosnian core was getting old. In short, we wouldn’t be able to keep up this level for much longer, so when a new opportunity presented itself, I spread my wings like the majestic butterfly I am deep down and fucked off faster than Sebastian Abreu when a new club comes calling.
The Argentina job was a relatively simple one. The sheer volume of talent Argentina (and Brazil, and to an extent Colombia) produces is simply staggering, even mindblowing. Injuries are never a problem, for every player unable to compete, you can easily find two or three worthy replacements, barring perhaps the truly world-class, elite stars. The challenge with Argentina was mostly keeping track of which player transferred to which side, who was on form and who wasn’t and who was recovering from injuries.
So yeah, I feel like I have earned my spurs in terms of international management in FM21. Based on these experiences, let me show you what I’d like to see changed, updated or added to make the international experience far more enjoyable.
I reckon this would be easy to implement since the feature is already in the game on a club level. Create a national identity by creating a country version of the club vision feature already in the game.
Countries like Brazil and The Netherlands care about more than just winning; you have to win in style. Some successful national teams were chastised for playing boring, unattractive football. Ask anyone on the street in either country what they think about the performance of their team, and you’re likely to get a detailed answer of how they’re doing, and suggestions for improvement. During a major international tournament, everyone is a football coach.
It, therefore, makes no sense that the style aspect is ignored during job interviews. Managers like Dunga for Brazil and Bert van Marwijk were chastised and criticized for their tendency to play a brand of football not considered typical for the respective nation they were managing. I believe such aspects ought to be part of the job interview, play a certain brand of football.
I will stick with the Dutch national team in this example, as it’s the one I am most familiar with. When Louis van Gaal and Ronald Koeman fielded a 5-3-2 formation, the entire country was up in arms initially, as the quintessential Dutch style is a 4-3-3 formation with actual wingers. The typical style of play involves short passing combinations but with plenty of penetration, akin to a vertical tiki-taka style. None of these requirements are included in FM when you apply for the job of managing the national team, while I reckon it should be.
Similarly, losses in major derbies or against underdogs ought to be considered more severely during your performance assessment. We’ve seen plenty of managers meet their Waterloo over a lost derby or a disappointing result versus a perceived underdog. FM does not reflect this aspect of real-life international football here.
Finally, I would like to see long term goals added beyond just performances. I’d like to take the Belgian national team as an example here. As its Golden Generation is getting old(er), its manager is focussing on preparing the next generation to bleed into the starting line-up. Replacing certain key players, focussing on rebuilding or on growth ought to be included as long term goals. I can even imagine an FA demanding a radical rejuvenation course after a particularly disastrous tournament performance, where they insist certain players are no longer called up or slowly faded out of the team.
Adding such goals and incentives would be akin to adding sidequests to the game. It would give the player additional targets to aim for besides winning silverware or qualifying for a tournament, which in turn would spice things up. While I am aware that for narrative’s sake, we, as managers, could add such conditions ourselves, it’s just not the same as the game telling us we ought to do so.
If the game told us to drop a certain key player after a disastrous showing, you are faced with a diabolical conundrum. Ignore the board and compensate by winning, thus forging an alliance with the player in question, or dropping the player faster than a strippers’ G-string when money is involved.
Dynamics. It wasn’t long ago that we witnessed team dynamics being introduced into our beloved series. Regrettably, it’s still missing in international football, despite the fact that it is possibly even more meaningful there. Team dynamics could make the rather stale international football loads more interesting.
Consider the following scenario: Steven Berghuis is a wonderful gentleman who used to ply his trade for Feyenoord. Upon transferring to Ajax, his former teammates were and are not very pleased with Steven Berghuis and his conduct up and around the transfer. For his team dynamics at a club level, this is not a big deal. At the national team, where he shares a dressing room with a few of his former Feyenoord colleagues, this could make for a very interesting dynamic.
Similarly, players who are a big shot at a smaller club but have to play second fiddle for the national team would have a major impact. Take for instance someone like Ollie Watkins, who is an undisputed starter for Aston Villa but on the fringes of the national team squad. This should have an impact on the squad dynamics, especially if said player is particularly driven and ambitious. Managing and massaging those egos is a major factor at club level and it ought to be a factor internationally. Sadly, it is lacking there.
Another scenario where team dynamics could make international football more interesting is if you call up players who are not regularly active for their club in favour of players who are regular starters for their respective clubs. Again, I look at the often troubled team dynamics surrounding the Dutch national team. Donny van de Beek, despite not being a starter for Man Utd (understatement of the century…), was regularly called up by Frank de Boer. I imagine this would have an impact on a dressing room and the team dynamics.
A final occurrence to consider is the disruption of the dressing room due to injuries to talismanic players. Again, I will refer to the Dutch national team. Virgil van Dijk was undoubtedly one of the leaders of the national side. When he suffered a severe injury, the national side lacked a leader. I imagine that would have an impact on the pitch. International football in FM does not offer such depth.
Dynamic youth ratings
I was going to type a whole paragraph on dynamic youth ratings. Then, real-life caught up.
I believe the rating system should be dynamic, but in order to be remotely realistic, it should be based on generational differences. In order to make any kind of significant difference, it should take decades of consistent success. Even in the best of circumstances, national football is cyclical. If Scotland, for example, were to win the World Cup, I believe football would become even more popular in the country as a result. But, given the fact that it is unlikely that a dynasty will be established, do the children who have flocked to the game become disinterested in it before reaching their full potential?
I realise that training for a national team can and will never have the same level of impact as on club level. There simply isn’t enough time to train. I get that. On the other hand, we could use the training module to focus on specific tactical aspects. I imagine that an extra set pieces training session could be quite useful. Or an additional training focussing on penalties prior to a match during the knockout stages could make the difference between elimination and progressing to the next round. Give us the option to add maybe one training session a day or use it as a resting day to help players recover their overal fitness. This adds a bit of a risk-and-reward strategy to training.