Us Football Manager fanatics are an easily influenced bunch. Almost anything can inspire us to take over and start a new save with a team. It might be an individual player we like, the history of a team or their lack of success in recent years. Heck, even the colour of their kits or what the club badge looks like might persuade us to go them in the game. The thing that makes me want to start a new save the most is reading, and as I mentioned on episode 109 of the podcast, over the last couple of weeks I’ve been reading Dan Fieldsend’s brilliant book, The European Game.
In the book, Dan charts his journey, by train, through Europe and gives us a brilliant in-depth insider account of some of the top clubs in European football. By default, most of the time when I read anything around the non-FM world of football, my FM brain goes into overdrive with ideas. In this piece I’m going to run through a few of the chapters from the book, and how you can relate them to your potential new FM saves in the coming months.
Creating a Superclub
We’re all hopefully well aware of the PSG story by now. The book was written and released before Neymar and Mbappe made their mega, Qatar-bankrolled, moves to the French capital, but both transfers sync up beautifully with one of PSG’s main facets of their strategy outlined in the book, investing in famous players.
In a lot of ways, FM is a fairly good reflection of world football these days. One of the many ways it is is in creating a superclub. If you were to take over at PSG, one of the Manchester clubs, Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich on FM, you’d of course have a pretty good headstart in your quest. Continually upgrading the youth, training and stadium facilities, supplementing those star players being brought in for big money with prospects from your own academy (a Zidanes y Pavones approach as George mentioned on the French focus pod) and playing an attractive style of football are all ways PSG have propelled themselves into Europe’s elite, and they’re the ways you can try to continually compete with your superclub at the top on FM too.
Another of the ways PSG have become a superclub in a much quicker timeframe than some of the other clubs mentioned is the way the football media landscape is these days. Times have changed, and FM maybe isn’t as reflective of this yet, but you can still continually talk up and portray your club in the best possible light through your interactions with the media on the game.
There’s countless nods to some of the unbelievable player development that happens on the continent throughout the book. The two that struck me the most was Lyon and Austria Vienna. The night Dan visited Lyon for the book, they ended PSG’s 36-game unbeaten run with nine academy graduates in the squad, which would have been 12 injuries aside. They are the light to PSG’s dark, according to fans. With the just under 60,000 seater Parc OL to play in, and owner Jean-Michel Aulas behind you, you have everything you need to “have faith in local ingredients”. Will you be able to bring through the next Benzema, bred on the street football pitches of the city?
The picture Dan paints of Vienna is one that just instantly makes me want to visit there and/or start a new FM save with Austria Vienna. He speaks with their academy director, Ralf Muhr, on the philosophy that helped shape the player that David Alaba is today. While the approach of encouraging players to be as versatile as Alaba is might not work on FM’s structured way of set attributes, retraining players to play in at least one other position is still an under-utilised aspect of the game I feel. It’s a tricky one to spot and get right, but it can be a hugely cost-effective, future-proof method of stocking your FM team full of talent.
Signing to Sell
In a brief intermission chapter from his journey through Europe, Dan takes us through Financial Investment in Potential Growth (FIPG). It’s defined as “a refusal to spend beyond ones means, whilst ensuring a profit can be made”. In European football, think Porto, Benfica, Sevilla and Udinese. Think Southampton as an English example.
I’d argue that this is one of the most popular ways people set out to play Football Manager, and is often (wrongly) classed as a Moneyball approach. Sevilla, as outlined in the book, bought players for a total of £46m and sold them on for £259.5m. Porto made a £372m profit from selling players of an average age of 24, with Benfica making £275.8m from selling players averagely aged at 22. Filling your club on FM with top class scouts and sending them to countries you know you can pick up a gem or two at a good price will stand you in good stead on the game to make big sums of money.
I’ve named this section club culture, but really it’s all about Athletic. I’ll be majorly disappointed if I don’t see an FM18 Athletic save with the title of “3+4=1”. That’s the graffiti on the walls across the three French Basque regions, the four Spanish ones, adding them together to make one Basque Country.
Most FMers will be well aware of Athletic’s policy of Basques-only. We’ve seen a fair few saves done with the club over the last few years, but it’s never been one that’s majorly attracted my attention until reading the Bilbao chapter in the book. Where Ajax can drink water from other wells, it really should be Athletic that are widely regarded as the best developers of talent, with their available pool of just 3 million Basques (less actually when discounting women, the elderly and the infirm). You have that necessity to produce quality players when playing as the club, but there’s also the fact you’re representing something wider. Players grow up appreciating the Athletic shirt, learning about Basque history in school. Once players sign for Athletic, they’re cared for in the best possible way, and reminded that playing for Athletic is the best place to be if they want to play in La Liga. The perfect antidote to modern football.
Surrounding Yourself with Legends
It’s not something that will necessarily benefit you when playing the game, but it’s one of those little things that can certainly enhance the story of your save. No matter how their attributes look, it’s always good to have or bring back former players and legends to your clubs playing or backroom staff.
One of the notable examples from the book is Milan, with Maldini, Costacurta, Seedorf and Inzaghi playing until their late 30’s/early 40’s. And of course, you have Ajax, with Bergkamp, Stam, Overmars and van der Saar on the coaching or backroom staff over the last couple of years.
There’s so many little tidbits of tactical information scattered throughout the book. Enough for your head to burst full of ideas to implement with your club on FM. Can you implement Juego de Posicion enough to have more possession than Barcelona in a match like Paco Jemez at Rayo? Keeping the ball for long periods, but also winning it back as soon as you possibly can. What about a Totaalvoetbal approach? Will you follow Michelsianism, Cruyffianism or Van Gaalism? Keeping tight defensively, but widening the pitch in your attack? Or focusing on positioning, overloads and decision-making? Or completely dominating possession in a robotic manner, waiting for the right moment to exploit an advantage?
We’ve mentioned Athletic already, what about trying to implement something along similar lines of their previous style of play that was influenced by the 11 Englishmen that have managed them? La furia is physical with long balls played up to a targetman. How about instilling a tough, hard-working style like the city of Rotterdam. A “we before me” approach like at Feyenoord, not ignoring individuals, but truly promoting teamwork, “while Amsterdam dreams, Rotterdam works.”
Scouting and the Transfer Market
When Red Bull Salzburg came to existence, they didn’t follow the Major League Soccer or Indian Premier League approach of trying to attract fans by signing ageing talents. They made careful, methodical, well researched signings of talent that was going under the radar. Kevin Kampl, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita were all brought in for just over £6m and sold on for good profits. Again, we’re probably all well aware of the Red Bull approach to managing their European clubs by now, scouting players between the 17-23 age range and giving players a stepping stone to develop and move on to clubs with even bigger budgets. The Salzburg, and presumably Red Bull, scouting department is big and it’s revealed in the book they like to be prepared by utilising all different options of scouting before watching a player live. On Football Manager, this way of working is of course possible. Your scouts spotting a young player with potential, bringing him into your club, giving him game time and selling him off has been mentioned by some prominent players of the game that it’s actually too easy.
Juventus’ long term strategy, and reputation for securing players with high potential for good transfer fees, and then selling them on for a profit when the time is right, is one to be admired and attempted to be replicated in-game too. Managing a club like Juve, high profile signings have to be right, and they have to hit the ground running. It’s a few notches up from the Red Bull approach. Refreshing the team and getting rid of players like Iaquinta, Amauri, Krasic and Sissoko, and upgrading them to signings in recent times such as Vidal, Pirlo, Higuain and Pjanic, is what needs to constantly happen at bigger clubs. Juve’s scouting officer reveals in the book that there’s no set “Juve” profile of player they task the scouting department to find. He stresses that it’s important to have a mixture of gut feeling and analytical knowledge when it comes to judging players. Something I’m sure many FMers can attest to as well.
Honved and History
One of my favourite chapters of the book was around Honved and Hungarian football. History is often one of the key reasons why we choose what saves to do in-game, and what better opportunity to follow some history than a save in Hungary. Football has been the one constant through various tragedies and struggles in the country, and Honved have high hopes to be successful once again. The way I interpreted this chapter though, was that it was a club that is currently disconnected. There’s a grand plan, but it’s one that isn’t joined up by everyone at the club. The youth team is developed and they play in an entirely different way currently to the first team. This has to be key for you in Football Manager. Creating that connection, guiding the club to be at the forefront of a rebirth in Hungarian football.