Table of Contents
I wanted to put the references for this piece at the beginning (I can hear my lecturer at university wince in agony as I do it) as they all explain, at great length, the concepts behind the overall theory of Relationism. I’ve also included work from View From The Touchline, who pieced together a Twitter thread/documents adapting Fernando Diniz’s tactical approach in Football Manager, which I used as an early reference when creating the tactic, as well as acknowledging Guido from Strikerless.com as this is a strikerless tactic. Both are sources of constant FM influence, and I implore you to take in and support their work.
Clarissa Barcala (2023). Así gana el Madrid: the tactical identity of the greatest club in the world. Medium. Available at: https://medium.com/@clarissabarcala/as%C3%AD-gana-el-madrid-the-tactical-identity-of-the-greatest-club-in-the-world-988f7a49bbb4
Jamie Hamilton (2023). DICE GAMES. Medium. Available at: https://medium.com/@stirlingj1982/dice-games-e05bded72596
Jamie Hamilton (2023). THE MUTANTS. Medium. Available at: https://medium.com/@stirlingj1982/the-mutants-1fc8cad1efe4
Jamie Hamilton (2023). WHAT IS RELATIONISM? Medium. Available at: https://medium.com/@stirlingj1982/what-is-relationism-c98d6233d9c2
The Purist Football (2023). Brazilian football tactics have made it to Europe… and it’s weird| Malmö FF analysis. www.youtube.com. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UqIzAmSadd0
The Purist Football (2023). Fluminense have the WEIRDEST tactics in the world!| The philosophy of Fernando Diniz. www.youtube.com. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IevycgbLct0
View From The Touchline (2023). https://twitter.com/ViewFTTouchline/status/1680268451154108416. Twitter. Available at: https://twitter.com/ViewFTTouchline/status/1680268451154108416
Additional Acknowledgement: Guido (2023). Strikerless. Available at: https://strikerless.com/
What is relationism?
In short, Relationism is the theoretical concept of building a tactical system based on the players, their roles, and their relationships with one another rather than a rigid position-focused structure. Although given roles within the team, the players are free to move wherever they see fit to perform their duties. It starkly contrasts positional play (dubbed Positionist/Positionism by Jamie Hamilton), which follows automation, forcing players into certain pitch areas predefined by the coach. Positionism is not one tactical approach or style as Pep Guardiola, Thomas Tuchel, and Antonio Conte would all be considered positional coaches yet have vastly different methods. This is the same for the Relationist as Fernando Diniz, arguably its greatest advocate, with his style of play being labelled ‘Dinizismo,’ Henrik Rydstrom of Malmo FF and Carlo Ancelotti all use aspects of the concept in unique ways. Although simplistic, you could argue that it is control .vs. chaos. This would highlight the most challenging part of applying this approach to Football Manager: how do we use the theory practically? How do we make the machine a living, breathing, fallible conductor of chaos?
Relationism in Football Manager
Before we define and apply this approach in game, it’s worth noting the limitations placed on us by Football Manager. The game’s very nature is Positionist, as it uses predetermined movements within a set structure of formations. Going deeper, no piece of software can be truly random. “In fact, such machines are specifically and carefully programmed to eliminate randomness in results. They do this by following rules and relying on algorithms when they compute” says Steve Ward, Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at MIT. As such, we can never truly replicate the moment when Ganso, Fluminense’s mercurial number 10, drops all the way from his advanced position into the left wing back position to start dictating the game. Pseudorandom must do, but Football Manager does do a good job of making things feel a certain way, even if positions and movements are predetermined. In addition, the aim here is to help you start to think differently when constructing a tactic rather than making an authentic replication. “Cogito, ergo sum”, “I think like a Relationist, therefore I am a Relationist” said some French bloke in the 1700’s…sort of.
So we know the limitations, but what actions define our approach? Clarissa Barcala does a brilliant job outlining what makes Real Madrid Real Madrid in “Así gana el Madrid: the tactical identity of the greatest club in the world“, and, with some adaption, they can help us create some guidelines.
This is how I set my teams up on the tactics page. We will get onto the roles later, but the most notable thing is the very dramatic tilt/placement of the players on the 4-1-2-3-0 shape. In order to keep this piece focused and useable, I’m going to look at two main aspects, tilting and escadinhas. Asymmetry is a fundamental aspect of this approach and is used for several reasons. It’s worth noting that this grouping of players in one area of a pitch is also used in positional systems, yet the intentions of application vary. First, for the Relationist, players need to be in close proximity to each other to build relationships with one another. In this claustrophobic state, they can progress the ball with short sharp passing and constant movement. Jamie Hamilton captures an example of Fluminense showcasing this in his “WHAT IS RELATIONISM?” article.
This passage of play is our building block and a couple of common patterns can be seen here, mainly “toco y me voy” and “escadinhas”. Toco y me voy translates to “I play, and I go” and is essential when progressing the play in such a narrow space. Whereas when used in positional play, this movement allows the ball and player progression in their destinated zones, a toco y me voy in this system encourages exploration, a journey that only the players know the destination of. It’s down to how the players interrupt the space and play around them more naturally. If you keep your eyes on the player positioned in the central channel (Martinelli – number 8), on two occasions, they play the ball back into a congested space while moving vertically. I can envision Pep gesticulating wildly at the lack of coherent spacing. What Martinelli is doing here is building an offensive bridge (puentes ofensiva) or an “escadinha” (stepladder). The aim is to quickly move the team up the pitch in a diagonal fashion. Doing so allows us to get into the opponent’s half with low stake passing. When using this approach, I routinely see between 65%-70% possession for my sides. Numerical superiority on one side of the pitch helps me achieve this. It’s noteworthy that possession is crucial to this tactic as we are at our most vulnerable without the ball. Finally, in most positional teams, the aim when overloading one side is to quickly switch the ball to the other flank to displace the opposing team or isolate a defender one on one with one of their key players. While it’s our player’s responsibility to decide whether a switch of play is the right option, our preference is to have those weak-sided players, the Shadow Striker, and the right-sided Full Back, join our collective from that space rather than play into that space. We are stronger together than apart.
To tie all of this together, we use the following team instructions. Apart from the choice of Pass Into Space, there’s nothing too surprising here. Although I want my side to retain the ball as much as possible, I also want them to be conscious of the runs ahead of them. Using a strikerless formation can help to generate a lot of movement off the ball and we want to take advantage of that. If I’m leading a game, I sometimes unselect this option in the hope of not carelessly giving the ball away. You’ll see in the clips later that our final ball usually looks to find someone in space diagonally away from the tilted side. In addition, Counter being selected might raise an eyebrow, but I will refer to Clarissa’s article discussing Real Madrid again. “counterattack as a weapon, not a guide”. The only difference in regards to team instructions between the shapes is that the 4-2-4-0 has focus down the flanks on both sides to maximise the structure we’ve put in place.
I’ve used quite an exaggerated shapes but feel free to set the team up how you see fit. For example, a classic 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-2 diamond can work just as effectively. For clarity, the general principles outlined above are as follows.
- Players in close proximity to each other.
- Short sharp passing.
- Stagger your build up diagonally.
- Make the most of one-twos and movement.
- Tilt the pitch to gain numerical superiority and create escadinhas.
Role/Player Driven Attack
“The best mechanism for enhancing talent, which allows the team to organize itself around the roles of each player.”
The term “role” here can be misleading when talking about FM. In the context of real football, it can mean something as simple as “goalscorer” or “playmaker” rather than Advanced Forward or Deep Lying Playmaker in game. Focusing on the player then is preferable as that’s really what we’re doing.
Here we have Gavi, a key piece of my 2032 Inter side. The game flags his best role as an Advanced Playmaker, but for me, although I see him as a playmaker, does that AP role fit into my tactical setup?
When mapping out the structure, I look at what movement patterns the role on the tactics page gives me before considering how a player will behave in that position. That’s why many of the roles I’ve selected are relatively basic. I’m thinking about how the team moves collectively when transitioning into the attacking phase or while in the attacking phase.
Very basic example of where the team is when moving into/playing in the attacking phase.
After we’ve established where the player will operate on the pitch, I next consider the player’s behaviour and how that impacts their relationship with the players around them. Gavi has the following traits: comes deep to get the ball, plays one-twos, moves into channels, and tires killer balls often. These traits will impact his behaviour, as will any player instructions I add. I could play Gavi in two positions, the Attacking Midfielder role or the Deep Lying Playmaker role. In the more advanced position he could drop deep and link with the rest of the team while moving into the channels or in the deeper position, he could drop deep to receive the ball, linking with the Ball Playing Defender who as a dribble more player instruction on, and/or play a killer ball from deep. I’ve chosen the latter as I prefer to have my most dangerous passer in a deeper position. I noticed that my DLP received the ball in a forward-facing dangerous position more often than when in the AM slot. For my Attacking Midfielder I would prefer an agile dribbler who can also finish.
I hope this passage highlights the decisions that can and should be made when analysing your side, thinking of the player first. I could go through the team and explain each choice I’ve made on a micro level, although that would defeat the object of this whole piece. This is your team and your players. Understanding who they are, what they can do, and what relationships they can create is the key to everything. I will, however, highlight the basic idea of what each player is expected to do in the 4-2-4-0 to give you an idea of my thought process.
So let’s take a look at this in action. I’ve selected six clips that show the variety of goals that have been scored using the two tactics. They hopefully highlight that this isn’t just a possession for possessions sake approach.
First, let’s focus on Vancouver and the 4-2-4-0. Below we can see the Shadow Striker, Cristian Dajome, link up beautifully with the Attacking Midfielder, Pedro Vite. This highlights that we don’t always have to build in the flanks and those exchanges can happen in area of the pitch.
Next we see how a counter attack can look. This is where the pass into space instruction can help us slice through teams.
The final clip shows us at our best. Back to front build up finished beautifully.
Moving onto Inter and the 4-1-2-3-0, we first see a counter then the team in a high position on the attack with our full back scoring before finally watching a through ball cutting open the defence.
I have used this tactic, always a slight variation each time, with Inter, Vancouver, and Guillermo Brown PM to various degrees of success. As Inter, we dominated and won everything; in Canada, we overperformed, winning the MLS Cup, Canadian Championship, and the North American Champions League in a season and a half, while in Argentina, we are pushing toward the top of the table with Guillermo Brown, a team earmarked for relegation at the beginning of the season. To focus purely on results, though, feels wrong, crass even. Relationism is the spirit of La Nuestra and O Jogo Bonito, the beautiful, the creative. It’s a way of playing because it brings joy to those participating and watching. It’s ingrained in cultures, and it’s an idealism, far removed from the reality of everyday life. For me, it helped me enjoy playing Football Manager again. I did not play the game for almost three months as I tried to connect with it by completing challenges such as the Pentagon. It felt empty; it felt samey and was, for me, not why I love FM. I hope that this reenergises you in your Football Manager journey. Forget about your league position and rebuild that relationship with the beautiful game.