Handling your first season in charge

You’ve just taken over a new club, now what do you do? In this article I will explain my views on what to to do during your first season in charge to set you up for the future. In my opinion it is all about building the infrastructure of the club as a whole. Everything you do has an impact on the club long term and short term, personally I work more on a long term basis.

In my experience, most football manager players I talk to tend to quit in their first season. I feel like people rely on having a successful first season, when really the focus should be building your squad and the club in general. So this is my take on how to handle your first season in charge.

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Making Even More Money In Pre-Season

In an earlier article I described how you could turn your pre-season friendlies into a way to make some serious money. As I mentioned in the closing paragraph of that article, I was experimenting with earning some serious money. Over the past few seasons in FM14, I have experimented with two tours in various countries, but I never yielded serious results.

Eventually, I opted to try touring three different countries in pre-season, which did rake in the kind of money I was hoping for. Besides a good million in gate receipts, my merchandise income has increased from 75 million to 86 million, which means a cool 11 million in extra revenue.

merchandise001

Whilst it’s not an obscene amount of money, in fact you can only buy Gareth Bale’s right leg with it, it’s still a decent wad of cash to add to your war chest for the summer.

 

How To Turn Your Pre-Season Into A Money-making Scheme

Pre-season is good for a great many things. It can help you raise tactical familiarity, you get the chance to assess your squad and new signings, raise the overall fitness level of your players, boost morale in time for the new league campaign and there’s the opportunity to make some serious cash during pre-season.

Whilst I find all of these aspects to be equally important, I do find that I often overlook the financial aspect of the pre-season. However, the commercial and financial impact of the right pre-season friendlies can be immense. Allow me to show you with just a single screenshot.

The end of season commercial update.
The end of season commercial update.

That’s 34 million from non-domestic merchandise sales. True, I am in charge of what is now a world class club, but the message also indicated the sales have risen due to a tour through China. This means that the right set of friendlies can not only help you raise tactical familiarity, allow you to assess your squad and new signings, raise the overall fitness level of your players, boost morale in time for the new league campaign. No, there’s the actual possibility to raise enough money to sign one or two extra players.

Again, I realise that the team I have taken under my wing is one of the best in the world in terms of players and reputation and the amount of money made in pre-season will be considerably less for lower level clubs, but just cut that number in half or divide it six ways. For a League 2 side for example, you’d still be able to raise roughly 5.5 million.

In terms of the money-making scheme, let me first distinguish two forms of income influenced by the pre-season friendlies. First of all, you can gain money from the sale of match tickets. Secondly, the right pre-season games influence your commercial sales, both domestically and abroad.

The sale of match tickets is easy enough to explain. You play a game, people visit the game and have to buy a ticket for the match. The money gained from this match is shared between the two sides playing the match, though not always evenly.

This leads me to my next point. There are guides out there saying you should always, at all costs, play friendlies in your own stadium. I disagree with this statement. During home-games, you have to pay a sum to your opponent to show up. Depending on the reputation of your opponent and your own reputation, both the sum you have to pay as well as the projected income tend to vary. When the income you make is not a lot more than the sum you have to pay your opponent, a home-game is just not profitable.

Again, allow me to show you with a simple example. I want to play a match versus the best team in the world in terms of reputation, which is FC Barcelona. Let’s see what we can expect from a home game against Barça.

The data for a Barça home game.
The data for a Barça home game.

A home game against Barcelona in our 64k stadium would bring in 1.4 million. Of that sum, we’d lose 750k to Barça as a sort of participation fee, which means our profit would be around 650k. Not too shabby, but let’s look at the potential revenue for an away game against the same opponent.

The data for a Barça away game.
The data for a Barça away game.

As you can clearly see, an away game will earn us a cool, clean 1.1 million. Barça will obviously make a similar fee, but that would be the participation fee we’d receive for just showing up. When you are arranging friendlies, experiment a bit with home and away games to see which games yield maximum financial results.

Please keep in mind that if you are in charge of a lower league side that whilst these money maker games are financially sound, they can be detrimental to squad morale when your players get their collective arses kicked during the matches. For example, when you’re in control of Compostela, challenging Barça or Real may be a smart move financially, but on the pitch, your ass is grass and they’re the lawn-mower. Metaphorically speaking naturally.

This leads me to the next point I wish to make. The importance of commercially interesting friendlies. As you could see in the very first screenshot of this article, it was absolutely a factor to be reckoned with. The Chinese tour during pre-season apparently yielded interesting results in terms of non-domestic merchandise sales.

It makes sense in a way. That trip to China is about much more than the football. In real life, Manchester United were one of the first clubs to go on a big preseason tour, and their worldwide support and sponsorship deals have subsequently given them an advantage over the rest of the league. FM tries to mimick this by making the Asian and North American countries, which traditionally lack a strong domestic league but to boast a large number of football fans, commercially interesting options. From a commercial perspective, playing friendlies all over the world offer a club the chance to expand their brand name and fan base, strengthen brand loyalty, build global partnerships and generally make a large amount of money.

Now in terms of which countries are interesting ones to visit, I must admit I have not tried every available option there is, simply because I don’t have that much spare time on my hands. What I can tell you is that various Asian countries offer interesting possibilities, not only in terms of revenue income, but also in terms of commercial income.

In no particular order, these are countries which have significantly boosted my income when I played there during pre-season.

  • China;
  • Japan;
  • South Korea;
  • USA.

I am sure there are other viable options as well. India, Thailand and Indonesia for example are all viable options in real life, but I have no idea how their economic and commercial ratings are in the game right now. When trying to balance revenue with commercial interest, I can tell you that none of these sides have high reputation clubs you can play to gain some direct revenue income, which is why I have not played pre-season tours there. I can therefore not share any data on the commercial possibilities in other countries. More will follow in the near future.

UPDATE 29-04-2014

I have gone down a second road, by arranging two tours during pre-season. I was curious if I could gain extra commercial income by arranging tours through two different Asian countries. I was actually pretty convinced I could, I was very interested to know how much extra income I could rake in, as this would help me determine what the value for a specific country. I say, see for yourself.

The end of season commercial update after two Asian tours in pre-season
The end of season commercial update after two Asian tours in pre-season

You can see for yourself, two tours equal an extra income of nearly 12 million in terms of non-domestic sales. However, domestic sales appear to have dropped because we haven’t played any domestic friendlies. The amount of friendlies we have played remained the same, we just played them abroad. It’s not extra money we’re making, it’s a re-distribution of our income sources. Next season, I will be looking increasing the income in total.

They Fixed The Exploit; Well Done!

In a previous post, I described an exploit that allowed you to spawn top newgens. With the release of the new patch, I wanted to see if the exploit was still in place or if they had actually bothered to fix it. The method still works, the players that are produced are just crap nowadays. I couldn’t find it in the changelog for 14.3.0, but let me show you what I mean.

You used to organise a friendly against your own reserve squad.

v2ex001

Next, you made all first team players available for reserve team duty.

v2ex002

After that, your first team should look like this.

v2ex003

All the players should be unavailable for your next fixture. One day before the match, the next step should become clear.

v2ex004

Gray players, newgens, have been added to the squad to make sure you can actually play.

v2ex005

 

By right-clicking on one of those players, you can actually offer them a contract.

v2ex006

As you can see, the quality of the newgens has decreased, quite dramatically even. Let me show you some of the players you were able to generate before the 14.3.0 patch.

exploit001

And before you start moaning it’s a different club, the players spawned are based on the quality of your facilities, academy and team reputation. They just fixed the intake issue to make sure you weren’t able to rig the game. SI did listen and they fixed an actual issue properly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moneyball meets FM

I’ll be honest, the title is misleading, because whilst over the course of the last few versions of FM, I’ve been trying to implement the principles of Moneyball into FM, I actually failed to do it properly. True, it makes sense in a way, sabermetrics could work really well in FM, which is mostly about statistics and numbers anyway. Whilst I found the pursuit of knowledge enjoying, I did not end up with a model that actually worked, mostly because football is a much more dynamic game than baseball is. To prevent this from being a total bust, let me share some of the common sense rules to approaching the transfer market and managing my own squad I managed to distill from the Moneyball quest I embarked on.

Rule #1. Evaluate before you start selling or signing

Evaluating is, in my eyes anyway, a three step process.

Step 1. Look at the players at your disposal, look at their attributes;
In terms of evaluating, don’t be afraid to use coach reports for opinions on individual players, as well as using the assistants report to get a quick overview of the entire squad. Be sure you look at the reserve squad as well, some teams have some nice talents rotting away in the reserve squad.

Step 2. Determine which formation you wish to employ;
Try and envisage how the squad you have is going to score goals. Do you have fast strikers, or big towering lads? The supply should also be considered. Do you have wingers who can cross a ball, or a decent midfield playmaker? Will you be able to play an attacking style of play, or a more controlling, probing style of play?

Other questions you need to ask yourself relate to issues such as keeping possession, winning the ball, defensive stability, the build-up from the back and the transition from defence to attack and vice versa. All these things can and will influence the effectiveness of the formation.

Step 3. Judge the depth of your squad and which positions need bolstering.
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. When you are evaluating the squad at your possession, use the first few friendlies during pre-season to see which parts of your squad need reinforcing, if any at all.

To be fair, steps 1 and 2 can be swapped. If you are in control of a wealthy club, you can simply determine a style of play and sign the players suited for the formation you wish to employ.

Rule #2. Focus on improving weak links first, before focusing on further strengthening other areas

As said before, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. When looking for reinforcements, prioritize the weakest part of the of team, before further strengthening already formidable parts of the team.

Rule #3. If the offer for a player is more than market value, sell the player

Regarding selling players, when a club offers you more than what the player is actually worth, take the money and run, run like the wind before they change their mind. It seems to be pretty difficult to get market value for most of your players, so getting more than what a player is actually worth actually constitutes a pretty good deal.

Rule #4. Don’t get too sentimental; make sure you sell at the right time

I know there is nothing more satisfying than training up a player and making sure he ends his career with your side as well. But if he is no longer good enough, why keep him around? Just for sentimental reasons? Most players, with goalies as the obvious exception, peek at around 30 years of age. Get rid of them around that time, even if they are your favourite players. Having them rot away on the bench is not satisfactory and fielding a sub-par player is just a bad idea.

The same applies to players who have just won you a major title. This tends their values to sky-rocket. If you get a nice offer at or around this inflated value, take it. The money from said deal is often more than enough to find an adequate replacement. I know, said player was instrumental in your epic promotion run, but can he really cut it in a higher division or would it be wiser to cut him loose and take the inflated fee?

Rule #5. Don’t be afraid to spend if you have to

If you actually have the cash and need a certain type of player, just buy him. If that one player is the difference between mid-table obscurity and a title challenge, get the player. Competing for the title means more revenue and prize money, so the transfer basically funds itself. Having said that, free transfer options are always preferable to overpaid options, but when there are no cheaper alternatives and you really do need a certain type of player, just shell out for him.

Rule #6. Wages are more important than a transfer sum 

When you’re strapped for cash, make sure every penny counts. In that case, wages are far more important than a war chest. Increase your wage budget as much and often as you can to re-new contracts or snag targets on a Bosman-deal during the winter break or at the end of a season. Once you get some more money, you can focus on actual transfers where you pay money to another club.

Rule #7. Prepare a shadow squad

Always have possible replacements lined up, for every position and role in the squad. Crazy offers for a player can come in any time and you have to have a list of potential replacements at the ready. I call this list my shadow squad, the players I can try to sign. Be realistic in drafting a shadow squad though. It’s no use placing Messi on such a list when you’re managing a lower level club.

Rule #8. Try to replace any outgoing players before they actually leave the club

It’s a difficult rule to follow, especially when those dead-line-day offers are flooding in. It’s a sensible rule though. Try to replace outgoing players before they leave the club. Try to make the transfer take place at the end of the season or during the winter break, so you have the time to actually replace your lad. In some cases, ask if the player can be loaned back to you for 6 to 12 months, so you have the time to scout around or prepare a bid (remember Rule #7. though, be prepared!).

Rule #9. Past performances are not a sure-fire way to predict future performances

If you are going to sign a player, don’t look at his past performances. These are not an indication of how this player will perform for your side. A player may have been fielded in a different role, in a different style of tactic or in an entirely different league, with a different style of play. Look at the attributes a player has and see if they fit the role you want a player to play, don’t look at past performances.

Rule #10. You don’t know everything; get second opinions from scouts and coaches

When you are trying to gauge a players potential, use the scouts you have. They are, provided you have good scouts, better at it than you are. They can also help you out with the roles a player is suited for and give you an indication regarding costs for signing a specific player. Get the opinions of your scouts to back up your own judgement.

Rule #11. Don’t buy overvalued players

This rule has two sub-rules. I try to avoid signing players from overrated nations for starters. This means that English, Brazilian and Dutch players are often overrated in terms of value. Especially English players tend to have inflated transfer-values. It probably has something to do with the home-grown rules, but you have to play excessive amounts for decent English players. The same rule applies to Dutch and Brazilian players, albeit to a lesser extent. Certain positions are also overrated, mostly forwards. A good forward costs you two to three times more than a defender of a similar level. Whilst I have taken this last bit to the extreme as in not signing or fielding forwards at all, it could also mean you focus loaning or Bosman-signing forwards to get more value for your money.

Rule #12. Don’t buy if you don’t have to, developing your own talents is always better

Always focus on improving training facilities and youth facilities. Home-grown players are by definition cheaper and any chance you get to improve the quality of your own intake as well the progression of the existing youth squad should be pounced upon. Initially, it may seem like you are throwing away money, but one or two home-grown players breaking into first team will be enough to re-coup your investment.

Rule #13. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure; raid the transfer list, loaned players and B-teams

A bit of a no-brainer really. Especially when managing smaller squads, see what you can scavenge off the transfer lists and B-squads. There are often players in there who are deemed not needed by their clubs, but who are instant impact reinforcements for your own squad. Often, clubs are willing to part ways with these players for a sum considerably less than their market value, so you could make a nice profit with such deals.

Loaned players are a different story altogether. I have noticed that whilst players continue to progress whilst on loan to a different club, their values tend to drop or remain stagnant. That means that at the end of their loan deals, such players are severely undervalued. A bargain-deal can be struck quickly, if you know where and when to pounce. Ideally, you want to pounce a week or two before the loan deal expires.

Negotiating a good deal

Another important part of wheeling and dealing is the pure and simple negotiating a deal. Several factors come into play here. First of all, you have to know what a player is actually worth. I’m not talking about the value displayed in-game, I’m talking about actual value in terms of the market. Is this is one-of-a-kind type of player, unique to this generation, is this a wonderkid with the potential to be the next Messi or is this a run-of-the-mill type of player?

I’m going to use a prime example of the last category here, seeing as you won’t be likely to sell the first two types of players. Say hello to Japanese wing-back Shinpei Mizunaga.

Mizunaga is an average wing-back. Decent and solid, but nothing spectacular. There are probably dozens of players like him out there, but Mizunaga is one of the few who is now for sale. Whilst he is not transfer listed, he has been placed in the reserve squad, signaling to AI clubs my willingness to sell. I hardly ever transfer list players, as that tends to attract ludicrously low offers.

In terms of value, I’d like to get between 6 and 7.5 million for the lad. That is more than what FM says he is actually worth, but I see a player almost in his prime, with good enough attributes for most top division sides in Europe, low wages, a senior international for his country and the added bonus of extra merchandising revenue from Japan.

With a 15k a week wage, Mizunaga has costed me at least 780k so far, not taking bonuses into account. If I add that sum on top of his market value of 5.25 million, I’m at the 6 million minimum I want for Mizunaga. The lad came in for free, so I don’t have to throw a transfer sum into the equation.

We know what we want, now it’s time to see who wants Mizunaga. When negotiating, it’s also important to see who is offering. Bigger sides are more likely to overpay, clubs from specific nations are more likely to spend big as well. For example, when teams from the Ukraine, Cyprus, Turkey or Greece come knocking, feel free to overcharge a lot more.

This time, it’s Vitesse offering us a deal. Despite being a top Dutch side, they don’t have millions to spend and they want to make a good deal, for them anyway. Quite frankly, I am insulted they are even trying this shit with me. At 2.7 million with no installments or clauses, they are having a piss…

Naturally, I am not going to accept such a low-ball offer. I’m going to show them how much I want. I’m going to counter with a high-end bid of 7.5 million. Vitesse are not likely to accept this, but when negotiating, it’s always a give-and-take approach that pays off. Vitesse raise their bid, I lower my demands until we meet somewhere in the middle.

Vitesse immediately decided to raise their bid. We’re still a long way off what I want for him, but we’re also in the initial stages of the negotiations. Things aren’t looking very bright at the moment, but should the negotiations cave, it does send a signal to other clubs we’re not selling for pea-nuts.

As I mentioned earlier, I am working towards reaching a sort of middle ground. They raised their bid, I lower mine. When asking 7 million, I’m still comfortably in the high end of what I actually want. I can slash half a million to make them more committed to these negotiations.

Vitesse have again raised their bid. We are now at almost a million more than their initial bid. Still a long way off what we actually want, but we’re getting there, slow and steady.

I decided to negotiate again. I kept in the installments for fun.

Vitesse are getting desperate with their next counter-offer, as they are slapping more and more clauses onto their bid. The negotiations are reaching their final stages and I have a bad feeling about the outcome.

I lower my asking price some more.

The next offer is probably the best Vitesse can do, considering all the clauses they have slapped on. They are still a million shy of what I want for this guy, so either I take the million “loss” or I wait for another buyer.

At this point, I decided to check my options. If Vitesse had been the only interested party, I would have probably sold him. It’s still a very decent profit, but as it stands, Lille are also interested and French sides have some more spending money.

I once again go for a high-end counter-bid.

Vitesse are most likely to reject it, which is what happens.

Even when these negotiations broke down in the end, it does show you how to raise the offers on your average players considerably. I could have taken their final offer and not been far off the value FM gives him.

The same concept also applies to big name players, or as I mentioned earlier, the arrived stars, the crème de la crème, the players you don’t actually have to sell. In terms of Pozzo’s Udinese, the Alexis Sanchez’ of the world. They are likely to attract big name clubs and you can make a killing here.

The guy in my example above is an Egyptian international, 23 years old, almost on top of his game and definitely a top player for his position. When a player attracts the attention of clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid, he has game.

Again, I assessed his value. I don’t have to sell Shokry, so there’s no way I am going to go for his market value or a figure anywhere near there. Also, these clubs are loaded and can afford to splash the cash, so I might as well bleed them as dry as I can. I also have to take into consideration that I will face off against them in the Champions League and replacing Shokry would cost me a pretty penny, unless I relied on bleeding in a youth academy graduate. Barcelona’s initial offer of 17 million felt like an insult. They have a lot more to offer .

Using the same method as I mentioned earlier, I started negotiating. The outset was different though. For Mizunaga, I was happy with a value just over his market value. Mizunaga was a run-of-the-mill left-back, Shokry is, at this point in my save-game, one of the best players in his position.

Shokry, in my eyes, was worth nearly twice his actual market value. This took into consideration his relatively young age, low wages, sublime skill-set and the fact that a replacement of similar quality would cost me around 25 million or more. Barcelona, having more than enough money anyway, agreed to my terms quite quickly.

Fortunately for me, I did not have to invest in new players, since I always come prepared for deals like these. I invest in a shadow squad, which means I have young players sitting in the reserves, either waiting for a shot in first team or away on loan to a feeder club. In this case, one of my talents returned from a loan-spell and looked about ready for first team action.

In the end, I gained 35 million for a player who could easily be replaced by a youngster already at the club. When dealing with bigger clubs, don’t be afraid to ask for prices you initially thought would be insane. The big sides will pay crazy money when you ask them to.