FC Twente – How to keep a squad together at all costs

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Twente

 

Let’s face it, we completely overachieved last season. Winning the Eredivisie even when put in to the context of our miserable European display was a fantastic way to end the season. The challenge going in to my second season in charge would be to build on that successful first season and show that we can go on to become perennial domestic challengers as well as making progress in our ability to handle European football.

How though should we be going about that? The financial reality of the Eredivisie is that there is little money out with the likes of Ajax and PSV and we will need a prolonged period of years in European competition to get to the stage that we can spend serious money. Let’s not forget as well that I’m trying to loosely follow the Moneyball mantra and therefore I am going in to my first effective pre season planning to spend markedly more on wages than I am on transfer fees this should allow us to attract quality to the club in the short term.

I’m fully expecting the second season to be more of a challenge than the first. Ajax and PSV especially will both strengthen and to an extent we will be re ranked meaning that the AI will adapt their approach to playing us. I did not however expect the shit to start hitting the fan within a couple of days of the end of the season.

There I was sitting in my imaginary managerial office with my feet on my imaginary desk basking in the glow of my success when my Chilean midfield maestro Felipe Gutierrez wandered in to my office spouting some nonsense about my not keeping a promise that I had made him. During the first season Gutierrez had come to me concerned that he wanted to be playing Champions League football for the good of his career. At this point the Chilean was my stand out player and he was one that I really REALLY didn’t want to lose, I managed to work my silver tongue and convinced Felipe to stick around telling him that I would give him the Champions League football he craved and crucially that we had some excellent young players that I was looking to develop to get us there. This appeased Felipe and he agreed to give me a season to get us there. Now, I fully expected that having not only qualified for the Champions League but having qualified directly for the group stages he would be a happy bunny, but no. Felipe was mad that I hadn’t developed the young players sufficiently…..WHAT? Oudh-Chikh and Tapia alone had come on leaps and bounds and a number of other young player had played significant minutes and contributed to the success of the season. What a dick.

This all stems from an apparent interest in the Chilean from Pep Guardiola and Bayern Munich. Let’s be realistic here, if a bid from Bayern was to materialise then could I really justify standing in his way and keeping him at Twente? No I couldn’t. There are two problems here though 1.) THERE WAS NO BID and 2.) He had a chance to show what he could do over two games against Bayern in the Champions League groups stage and he was the worst player on the pitch each time!

Eventually though I was able to appease Gutierrez again along with Hakim Ziyech who was casting envious glances at the likes of Roma, Juventus and……Everton?? This did however reinforce in my mind that I needed a contingency plan for each position and I needed it now. More on that later.

As my second season drew close there were only two significant departures from the first team squad that had done so well the season before. I grew tired of Kasper Kusk throwing his toys out of the pram for one reason or another and he was allowed to leave for Ajax for £3.5M plus assorted add ons. I also sold off the second shadow striker from the first team with Mexican Jesus Corona leaving for Sporting Lisbon for £5M plus add ons again. I took my time in deciding to sell Corona as I really liked his direct style and his ability to beat players but his final product was just too inconsistent so off he went.

This left me in a bit of a bind in terms of squad management as for three attacking players I essentially had Hakim Ziyech, Bilal Oudh-Chikh and at a push the Bosnian Semir Gvodjar to fill the positions. At this point though the Football Manager gods decided to throw me a bone at long last and an email appeared in my inbox from an agent informing me that his client Ibrahim Afellay was available on a free transfer. Even when Afellays notable injury history this was still a no brainer and since there was no transfer fee involved I was happy to pay £16K per week to secure his signature. We were still however light in an attacking sense but this also preceded a tactical change.

In my initial update I showed by slightly unorthodox tactical system with a wide three man defence at the base and a narrow three man attack in the attacking midfield strata. It didn’t feel quite right though and after reading this article by Adin Osmanbasic on positional play and the importance of depth and staggered attacks I changed the system to look like this;

tactic

Sometimes small tweaks can make all the difference and in an attacking sense the player in possession of the ball now has more options at different angles and the AI is finding it increasingly difficult to defend against us whether in transition or in more prolonged attacking periods. Using a False 9 in the striker position means that he is still dropping in to similar areas that the shadow striker occupied, he just has more of an attacking threat when on the ball. The change on the other side of the three AM’s was to switch roles from shadow striker to attacking midfielder with a support duty. Now the attack is fully staggered and marking our players is an extremely difficult task.

Using a false nine in my attack though meant a shift of emphasis and although the aforementioned Semir Gvodjar was comfortable in that role I still don’t think he’s quite ready. Cue a loan swoop for the Cameroon striker Jean-Marie Dongou from Barcelona B. Initially I hadn’t planned on using the loan market at all but my own youth team isn’t ready to provide players for the first team so I decided to make use of others youth setups in the short term. I remember hearing an interview with Roberto Martinez once when he was asked about Evertons reliance on the loan system, his point was that if it is a choice between having these players as one year rentals or not having them at all then it’s best to have them for that one year.

I made three other notable moves before the season started with last years player of the season being available on a free transfer as his contract expired I jumped at the chance to sign him up as with Afellay I was happy to pay him slightly higher wages (£13.5k per week) than I would have otherwise because there was no transfer fee. My other main transfer did however come with a fee, and a sizeable one at that with Serbian midfielder Nemanja Gudelj joining from rivals AZ Alkmaar. AZ had initially refused to sell to me but with Gudelj seemingly willing to wait out his contract they eventually sold for a bargain £3.1M. The beauty of the Gudelj signing is that he fits my philosophy of signing universal players and he can fill four different roles within our tactical system although I plan to play him most often in the central midfield role. The third new signing to come in was another loan signing from Barcelona B as Alex Grimaldo came in to add depth at the left back position.

With all those comings and goings I would certainly say that we had strengthened and despite losing the Dutch Super Cup 2-1 to a PSV side led by Memphis Depay we went on an 11 game streak without losing in the league until we came unstuck at home to Groningen losing 1-0. A second defeat in the first half of the season 3-1 away to Vitesse meant that we went in to the winter break trailing Vitesse by 2 points. More pleasingly we managed to defeat Ajax and Feyenoord over the first few months and drew 1-1 away to PSV. We need to stop throwing points away against the ‘smaller sides’ though.

You may remember that we all but disgraced ourselves in the European competition in my first season in charge failing to even progress from a weak Europa League group. This time however things would be very different. We were drawn in a difficult group for my first crack at the Champions League with Bayern Munich, Tottenham and Anderlecht but in the first three games we managed to beat both Anderlecht and Spurs although we completely capitulated in Munich and we were on the end of a 5-0 hiding. Over the course of the second lot of fixtures we drew away to Spurs and once again beat Anderlecht to see us going in to the final group game at the top of the group with the advantage. Unfortunately the team that we faced in the last match were Bayern who were sitting in third spot. In typical Football Manager style we failed gloriously after conceding from an 88th minute penalty we lost 1-0 and the final table saw Spurs and Bayern progress with 10 points each, we finish third…..with 10 points. Bastards, ah well though there is always the Europa League.

At the halfway point I usually evaluate my squad for strenghts and weaknesses although I am always loathe to but in January are there is very rarely any real value in the market. This time though my hand was forced slightly by the ungrateful Samuel Inkoom with my starting right back hearing that Fenerbache were interested he decided to try to force a move. I eventually accepted a bid of £3M plus clauses which for a player that was signed for free and whom seemed to be regressing was a windfall. I also needed cover in the central midfield areas (AP, AM and CM) just to combat tiredness and injury. Both solutions were presented by the side that I put out of European competition with Anderlecht choosing to make Dennis Praet and Chancel Mbemba available for loan and both were brought in until the end of the season.

Over the second half of the season we managed to lose somewhat inexplicably to SC Cambuur (3-1) GA Eagles (3-1) Vitesse (2-1) and Feyenoord (2-0) but somehow we still managed to end the season on top of the table by three points from Vitesse. It was a bizzare stretch of games where no one team seemed to be able to put together any consistent form. I maintain that our form was so poor as a direct result of playing Thursday night football as we progressed in the Europa League. Once again however we managed to beat both Ajax and PSV so there is a positive spin on things. In terms of performance we were only 5th in terms of goals scored but once again we conceded the fewest amount of goals, again showing that the wide three defensive system is much more solid than it appears.

league

Our run in the Europa League was equally eventful as we finally proved that we can cut it in European football. The first round saw us drawn against Galatasaray and it took a late goal from Dongou to salvage a 2-1 defeat in Istanbul. In the return leg a second half penalty – Dongou again put us through on away goals. Next up were Newcastle United and I was expecting a stiffer test, I was wrong. A 3-0 win in the home leg and a 2-1 win in the away leg put us through comfortably. This time three of the goals were scored by our promising Bosnian striker Semir Gvodjar. The ties however seemed to be getting progressively harder and in the quarter final we drew Shakhtar Donetsk. In the first leg away from home we went 2-0 down in the first 20 minutes and it looked as though we were going to be hammered. In the second half though two goals from Nemanja Gudelj (his first for the club) and one from Ibrahim Afellay gave us a 3-2 win. In the second leg a last minute goal from our talisman Hakim Ziyech just eased the nerves a little bit. Onwards and upwards then and all that stood between us and a European final was Valencia. In the home leg Dongou scored an early penalty but we couldn’t hold on and eventually they were able to break through and score an equaliser, more importantly it was an away goal. In the second leg from out of nowhere we scored twice through Tyler Blackett and Renato Tapia and even though they scored late on it still wasn’t enough. We were in the final!! and the opponents? Marseille.

Just to put the semi final victory in context this Valencia side won La Liga this season!!

We were clear underdogs in the final although you could argue that in Shakhtar and Valencia we had already beaten two superior sides. Frustratingly my side appeared to forget how to score in the run to the end of the season and no matter how many shots at goal we took in this match the ball would just not go in. Marseille had the ball in the net in the second half but it was disallowed for offside. Eventually the tie went to penalty kicks and then from there on to sudden death. The ignominy of being the player that lost us the match came to right back Chancel Mbemba with the last kick of his loan spell. We lost. It’s hard to be disappointed though since I never thought we had a hope of getting as far as we did.

In terms of players of the season it was difficult to narrow it down to just three. Renato Tapia switched to the halfback role when Gudelj came in and made it his own. Nemanja Gudelj himself was imperious in the midfield and Ibrahim Afellay was in sparkling form for much of the season. I did eventually settle on three though.

3.) Jean-Marie Dongou – In 45 appearances Dongou scored 33 goals and was largely responsible for our run to the final of the Europe League. I thought at one point during the season that I may have had a chance of a permanent transfer as he rejected a new contract from Barcelona. Ultimately I was the victim of his success and he signed an extension. He is still very much on my shortlist for the future though.

2.) Tyler Blackett – For a free transfer to have the kind of season that he had was simply phenomenal. He played 51 games with an average rating of 7.79 and made over 500 interceptions over the course of the season. He also only made 5 mistakes that led to goals over those 51 games and for a role that is isolated in my tactical system that is a great return. English sides have noticed now though and he is being followed by over 10 sides. Can I keep him next season?

1.) Hakim Ziyech – 20 goals and 20 assists over the course of 40 games. Ziyech is the conductor of my orchestra and is imperious in the advanced playmaker role. I’ve lost count of the amount of clubs that have placed a bid for him but as of yet he has been happy to stay here and play his football. Long may it continue.

So what does the future hold? In the short term I will be looking to retain as much of our squad as possible and the immediate aim will be to retain the league title again and progress beyond the group stage of the Champions League. I certainly don’t see myself leaving any time soon. So far I’ve rejected interviews with Malaga, Schalke, Inter, Roma, Milan, Fiorentina and Liverpool. I took an interview with Real Madrid but then when they offered me the job I couldn’t do it.

I spend a significant amount of time creating role specific shortlists for first team players and youth players using ideas gleaned from this excellent article by Chris Darwen (@comeontheoviedo) and I strongly suggest that you give it a read and follow Chris on twitter.

Financially we are in an extremely healthy position for such a relatively small club with £48M in the bank. I have already had the board upgrade our training and youth facilities and will be looking to do so again at some point in the coming season.

In terms of the squad I have one player joining on freedom of contract with versatile German full back Anthony Jung coming from RB Leipzig. I will also be looking to strengthen the defence and midfield throughout the off season and of course we will need to have plans in place to replace any of our stars that do end up leaving. This time though I will be willing to spend….

 

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FC Twente – When Moneyball isn’t quite Moneyball

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Twente

 

It has been far too long since I’ve written anything at all – never mind a career update for the blog – but I feel as though it’s time to get back on the horse so to speak. In Football Manager terms I’ve been hugely inspired recently by the fantastic career articles being written by Alex Stewart for The Set Pieces and by Ed on his excellent blog The Coffeehouse: FM Discussion both of whom are using the hugely popular moneyball model to rebuild their teams on a budget. I wanted to do something similar whilst not copying the model all together, there are certain rules of moneyball that I will be using whilst effectively ignoring others to my own gain, more on that later though. Why though did I choose FC Twente in the Dutch Eredivisie?

On every new version of Football Manager I tend to have a save in Holland with Ajax and look to develop my own superstars and take them back to European glory. This time though Ajax didn’t quite suit what I wanted to do and so I turned my attention to my ‘second’ Dutch side, FC Twente. Part of the attraction to Twente is that they have a number of very promising young players through the spine of the side, players like Hakim Ziyech and Felipe Gutierrez suit my technical style of play perfectly and Kamohelo Mokotjo is a perfect insurance policy for my slightly insane tactical system. Since we are still in Holland we don’t have to worry about restrictions on foreign players and as such I can send my scouts roving around South America and Africa looking to bring the next big thing in to the academy at an early age but at the same time there will be enough quality Dutch youngsters to mean that I can add domestic talent throughout the squad. Having said that however I don’t plan to fill my squad with young newgens from abroad, my recruitment strategy is slightly more nuanced than that.

As Alex Stewart is showing with his Bristol City Moneyball save there is a huge benefit in targeting players between the ages of 21 and 25 that are undervalued by their clubs for one reason or another. As a result my recruitment strategy for first team replacements will be to filter my searches by these age values and target players that I believe I can sign for value. In part I’m doing this because it makes good sense but I also have to be realistic in terms of my financial capacity especially given the relative financial strength domestically of Ajax and PSV, our stadium holds just over 30,000 and we’ll need to sell out almost every week to hope to develop financially. I don’t plan to pay extortionate transfer fees but I will have a fairly flexible wage structure as again we can see from Alex’s save there is value in paying higher wages to attract the right player to the club. Recruitment for the youth team is slightly different and here we will target players from Africa and South America as well as players from Scandinavia and Belgium all of these areas will yield quality young players for exceptional value. My plan is to mix players from these locations with my own youth products and to offer them all quality coaching with the occasional foray to join with the first team. I will then use the best of these to add depth and quality to the first team in time whilst the rest will be sold on for a profit to fund my moves to strengthen the first team. I plan to expand slightly on these ideas as we go.

Tactically I have a set idea of how I want to play and it is slightly unorthodox but the theory behind it appears to be sound (in my head at least) I plan to write a follow up post to this one – two posts in short order!!! – breaking down exactly how my tactical system works and where its strengths and weaknesses lie but for the time being I’ll give you a short description;

Twente

 

Initially I had two players in the defensive midfield strata and two central midfielders but there seemed to be a real defensive imbalance so I switched the structure slightly to use two half backs to shield the space between the lone centre back and the full backs. The effect should be to have a high defensive line that functions in the same way as two centre backs and a sweeper would with the half backs playing the role of the centre backs and the lone centre back acting as a sweeper. It also goes well with our overall plan to play in a very compact shape high up the field to hopefully make us hard to break down. In the attacking phase we should see the roaming playmaker and central midfielder combine to offer a base behind the three central attacking players and this will hopefully lead to a lot of attacking interplay. You’ll be able to infer to a large degree whether or not this has worked from the season review below but for more specific examples and illustrations I’m afraid you’ll have to wait.

Before I write the review of my first season I’ll have to apologise. I meant to update after the first six months of the season and indeed that is how I plan to structure things going forward, I got slightly carried away however and January suddenly turned in to March and the youth intake and then that has become May and the end of the season, the review below will be slightly longer than I had initially intended it to be.

2014/15

My first season in charge and I was met with the board outlining my initial budgets. Normally I all but ignore these as I don’t tend to buy any players in the first season, I prefer to let players already at the club develop and identify potential weaknesses that way. I was also however met with a news item that I didn’t expect, apparently I have Manchester United as a parent club and they were looking to send young centre back Tyler Blackett and attacking midfielder Andreas Pereira over to Holland for some experience. I accepted both deals purely to provide some squad depth. I didn’t for a minute expect either player to become a regular but one of the two was to prove me wrong in spectacular fashion.

Other than the players I’d already mentioned we have some nice options. In defence Bjelland and Bengtsson offer experience and versatility whilst in midfield Mokotjo and Gutierrez are joined by the likes of Kyle Ebecilio and Eghan Shadrach giving us depth. Joining Ziyech in offering attacking options are a multi cultural lot in Dane Kasper Kusk, Mexican Jesus Corona and the extremely talented young Dutchman Bilal Oudh-Chikh. Strangely though as the first half of the season unfolded all of those players were massively overshadowed by unheralded Peruvian midfielder Renato Tapia whose well timed bursts from midfield were eerily reminiscent of Frank Lampard, Tapia is only 19 years old and could become almost scarily good. It’s always a nice surprise to find a player like that hidden away in your reserves.

Before the season even started our resolve was sorely tested as Ajax and Zenit St Petersburg submitted bids for Gutierrez and Tapia respectively. I was able to turn both down without angering either the boards or the players but the £6.75 Million offered by Ajax for Gutierrez was hugely tempting.

As the season ticked on towards the halfway point the team settled in to the tactical system and we began playing football exactly as I’d envisioned. Over the first half of the league campaign we only lost twice 2-0 away to Ajax in a match in which Davy Klaasen tore us apart and a 2-1 loss away to Feyenoord on the back of some awful refereeing decisions.

Unfortunately though our good form wasn’t continued in Europe despite having been drawn in a relatively easy Europa League group with Dnipro, Partizan and Molde we managed to lose four of the matches winning one and drawing the other. I would love to be able to say that we had rotated our squad for those matches but that simply wasn’t the case, we were just terrible. Going forward one of my biggest aims is to make us competitive in European competition but we are some way off that aim.

It’s at the halfway point that I start to make an initial detailed assessment of my squad and start to plan how to strengthen the team. I’ll be using another of Alex’s ‘rules’ in this regard although this time the rule comes from The Numbers Game and not Soccernomics. They argue that the key to strengthening your squad is identifying which of your players is weakest and replacing them as opposed to adding more players to your stronger positions. The first position of need that I identified is Goalkeeper where I’ve decided that current incumbent Nick Marsman is an excellent option provided that the opposition don’t hit the ball very hard and hit it straight at him. We currently have the promising Joel Drommel in our under 19 team so ideally I was searching for a goalkeeper at the top end of my age spectrum. I was browsing the players with expiring contracts and came across Uruguayan goalkeeper Martin Campana at Defensor Sporting, we quickly came to terms on a contract and he’ll take over as our new number one next season.

Next up I was disappointed with the performances of Cuco Martina at right back and when looking through the African Cup of Nations squads I noticed that Ghanian full back Samuel Inkoom hadn’t extended his contract with DC United and was a free agent. Once again it didn’t take long to agree on a contract and I’d at least have him in place for the second half of the season.

Finally I decided that I wanted to add depth in the central midfield area and again I found the answer in the expiring contracts screen with 25 year old German Danny Latza who had averaged 7.43 so far this season for Bochum and could play all over the field. He should offer a significant upgrade at half back as well as cover in central midfield and both full back positions.

As well as those players we also agreed terms with 7 players from across Africa who will come in to the youth team for next season. I’ll go in to details if any of them develop in to first team quality players.

I also had to let two players leave the club as offers were made that were too good to turn down. First up experienced full back Andreas Bjelland left for Marseille who had offered £4 Million. We had two other players in the squad that were more than capable of filling the left back role. Young Ghanian midfielder Eghan Shadrach also left after having his first team opportunities limited and Bordeaux bid £4.6 Million.

The second half of the season continued along the same lines as the first and again we only lost two matches this time we lost 2-1 away to Utrecht and 2-1 away to PSV. We seemed to pick up win after win and all while the other notable sides were busy either beating one another or drawing. In the end it wasn’t even close and with three games left to play we secured the Eredivisie title.

final table

Winning the title at any time would be pleasing but to do it by 12 points is insane. The challenge however will be to keep the nucleus of our squad together going in to next season and to add enough quality to be able to at least not completely embarrass ourselves in Europe this time. If I had to rank my players of the season it would go like this;

3.) Renato Tapia – He went from strength to strength and ended the season with 15 goals and 12 assists from a position that I had intended to be purely supportive. He also made his senior debut for Peru. So far I’ve refused three bids for his services from Zenit but since AVB appeared to almost have a season ticket at our stadium I expect more interest.

2.) Hakim Ziyech – The attacking fulcrum of my team. Ziyech helped himself to 23 goals and 11 assists whilst averaging 7.70 over the season. He’s another player that I’m expecting serious interest in over the summer. A large part of my pre season will be spent exploring potential back up plans.

1.) Tyler Blackett – Believe me nobody is more surprised by this than I am but Blackett has been imperious and has averaged 7.77 over the season. He rarely seems to make mistakes and always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. I may have to try to tempt him away from United now.

The Future

Overall I think you’d have to grade our season as a success, Europe was a complete disaster and our cup performance isn’t even worth mentioning but to win the league by 12 points at the first time of asking is a huge accomplishment. Financially we are in a strong position with £3.8 Million in the bank and a projected balance of £9 Million after the season. Finances have been helped by our attendances as we have averaged 96% capacity over the course of the season.

Interestingly we also had the best defensive record in the league only conceding 25 goals over the course of the season despite our apparently porous tactical system. We also scored 71 goals behind only Ajax and PSV.

Overall we have started extremely well. I’m about to spend the offseason scouting potential replacements for the likes of Ziyech, Tapia and Gutierrez as I’m expecting significant bids for all three.

Well done if you’ve made if through all of that!

Everton – The First Six Months

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After my Southampton save died a premature death I was searching for something new to hold my interest, I considered Italy and Germany but in the end my mind was made up after listening again to a quite superb interview in which Roberto Martinez answered the questions of a group of Everton fans, if you’re interested you can find the podcast of that conversation here.

As such and despite rarely playing in England over the last few years I found myself starting a new save in the North West of England. Part of the problem with my Southampton save though was that I was too successful too quickly, not necessarily in terms of winning the league but rather with winning the Champions League in my fourth season. In retrospect I think that I allowed myself too much freedom in terms of signing players and spending money so for this save I will impose a few restrictions.

  • I won’t allow myself to sign more than three players in one season (summer and winter transfer window)
  • I will only sign one player a year from outside Great Britain per season
  • By the end of my second season I will look to introduce two players to the first team from the youth team.

For the most part these restrictions are self explanatory. I’m looking to build a team with a nucleus of players from within the country as opposed to opening the check book and essentially buying success. The third restriction comes from the afore mentioned interview with Roberto Martinez in which he states that it’s in his opinion a realistic aim to bring through two players a season – this may well prove to be the most challenging.

To this point I have played the first 6 months of the season to January the first, now it’s time to update on progress so far.

The League

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If I’m honest I was surprised in my Southampton save by just how easy it was to be successful in the league – this time I’m not quite as surprised. We sit top and with Newcastle in second as out only real challengers at the moment I fully expect to be able to retain our position. We’ve been excellent against the top sides with out dropped points coming against Swansea (0-1) West Brom (1-1) and Crystal Palace (2-2) although we only squeezed past Manchester City with a last minute goal to win 3-2 having surrendered a 2-0 lead.

We’ve weathered a bit of a storm over the festive period where a congested schedule and injuries stripped our relatively small squad down to the bones. Now that we’ve emerged at the other side we have players coming back to full fitness and they should be ready to push on from here.

The Capital One Cup is the only other competition in which we have played so far this season and it’s been relatively straight forward with wins against Shrewsbury, Reading, Tottenham and Carlisle taking us through to the Semi Final against West Brom, it should leas to a chance for my first piece of silverware for the club.

Players

In terms of players it’s difficult to pick out a star to this point of the season. Ross Barkley has contributed 12 goals and 11 assists from the Enganche position although his 55 key passes so far is also an interesting return. He’s been ably supported by Steven Pienaar playing as one of my two Shadow Strikers with 11 goals so far. Romelu Lukaku could well have been the pick of the bunch had he not missed 11 games through injury so far. He still has 6 goals and 6 assists in 11 games so far.

Beyond those three special mentions have to go to the likes of Gareth Barry. 91% pass completion and 133 interceptions from the Half Back role, and Leighton Baines with 8 assists and 5 goals from left back.

We obviously face the same issue as Roberto Martinez does at the end of this season with Romelu Lukaku, Gareth Barry and Gerard Deulofeu all due to return to their parent clubs at the end of the season. Out of the three I think that we should be able to retain Gareth Barry as his contract is due to expire with Manchester City and they’ve shown no interest in a new deal to this point. If he does sign though he will be 33 next season and after that we will transition to the exciting Ryan Ledson who could go on to become something special. I should note that if I do sign Barry then I will be exercising a little duplicity in not counting him towards my three players that can be signed.

I would ideally like to be able to sign Lukaku to a permanent deal and he now has me listed as favoured personnel but any deal will be very much dependent on our financial situation and Chelsea’s willingness to make a deal. If he is not a realistic option then I have my eye on a couple of potential replacements with one of his Belgian team-mates at the top of the list.

Gerard Deulofeu is not a regular starter although I would be very interested in extending his loan deal as he has been excellent when called upon. If this turns out to not be an option then George Green will step up to fill his playing time from within the club.

Tactics

 

During my Southampton save I was asked several times via twitter if I would write about the tactics being used and I always said that I would and never got around to it. As such I thought I would include a sub section here to show the system in use in a little more detail. Let’s start with basic shape.

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In the attacking phase Barry tends to drop in to form a three with the two DC’s giving a base for the attack. Both fullbacks occupy extremely high positions causing overloads and adding a significant attacking threat. The two central midfielders are the pivots around which the play flows as they feed passes to either the wide full backs or to the three advanced players. As always though I feel that it’s best to give a visual representation of this in action.

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The above graphic show a recurring example of our defensive shape. Playing away against Manchester United we are happy to press them in their own half and although we only use a medium block it is very effective with the more passive attacking players cutting out the easy pass backwards and allowing the central players to press the man in possession. The shape of the back four and the fact that the Half Back is shielding so effectively make it very difficult for the AI to pass through us.

I had originally assumed that the system would lead to a high amount of interceptions from the two central players as they harass the man in possession so frequently. I was a little surprised when I checked the statistics,

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Our top 5 players in terms of making interceptions are actually our back five. It wasn’t until I looked a little more closely that I realised the AI were being pressed so effectively in most cases that they were trying to force passes in to areas that were heavily covered leading to a large amount of interceptions for our defensive players.

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Here’s an example of our movement in an attacking action. Gareth Barry has dropped deep to form a back three with the two DC’s this gives us an excellent base to attack from as the ball can come back and be shifted to either side quickly and safely. The fullbacks are very much involved in the attacking action stretching the AI horizontally. When the ball is played in to one of the two wide players he is supported by the strong side Shadow Striker and Playmaker pulling the AI defensive line out of position. As you can see we have very easily mechanised an overload in the central zone with two players isolating one defender and being able to attack space un opposed.

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Here is another example of our vertical movement in attack. In keeping with my relative obsession with Marcelo Bielsa and Jorge Sampaoli I like to have players quickly move forwards to support the man in possession and stretch the AI defence causing overloads. You can clearly see that with so many passing options and the additional option to carry the ball forwards himself the Enganche has the capacity to pick apart the AI at will.

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 Finally here’s an example of the effectiveness of having an out and out striker playing as a deeper Shadow Striker. It’s interplay between the Enganche and the two Shadow Strikers as the AI DC chooses to close down Barkley in possession he leaves a large gap in the defensive line that can be exposed. The ball cycles through Steven Pienaar who is able to angle the ball in to the path of Romelu Lukaku who has isolated the AI RB and is free to drive in to the space and score a relatively easy goal.

That’s just a small example of what makes this system so effective, I am planning a longer and more specific post on these tactics so if there are any elements that you’d like to see explained in more depth then please let me know.

I’ll leave it there for now but I’ll update again at the end of the season and you can keep up to date with the save via twitter.

As ever thanks for reading.

The Start of Something New..

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Why Brentford I hear you ask? A very good question in all honesty. I’ve been thinking recently about playing a save which is out of my comfort zone and this fits very nicely – I can’t remember the last time I played in the English lower leagues. I’ve also been seeing and reading a lot of good things about Brentford and the way they are trying to establish themselves as a force in youth development. I really have no idea what I can hope to achieve here but at least it’ll be fun finding out!

As with so many other new saves I like to go in with a plan – in this case as with so many others that you see reported in the media it’s a 5 year plan. Where this differs though is that it’s not quite as simple as specifying that I want the club to be playing Premier League football within 5 seasons (I do but that’s not the point) Instead I’ve given myself four specific goals that I want to achieve in this time.

1. Promotion to the Premier League.
2. Regular promotion of at least two players from the youth team to the first team
3. Investment in Youth Recruitment and Scouting Network to be maximised.
4. Integration of a fluid possession based 4-3-3 system.

I don’t for a second envision that it will take me 4 years to promote from League One to the Championship and then one season to make the next step. Instead I have broken my expectations down in that I expect it to take a maximum of two seasons to go from League One to the Championship. At this point I think that realistically we have to accept that it will take at least one season to acclimatise and this initial season will be spent trying to maintain a mid table position. The next two seasons we will set out to finish towards the top of the table and eventually to promote to the Premier League, this may be rendered slightly more difficult due to the recruitment strategy that I plan to implement but that just adds to the challenge.

I have very specific ideas regarding squad management that I’m looking to put in place with Brentford. I’ll have a total of 40 players on the books. 20 of those will be in the first team and 20 in the youth team and there will be a degree of flex between the two as youth team players step up to cover injuries and suspensions. I also plan by the start of season three to be controlling the youth team as well as the first team. This will enable me to keep a very close eye on which of my young players are developing properly also make sure that tactically both sides are playing in the same manner. When it comes to the development of players in the youth team I will be taking inspiration from those that write and practice this most extensively, @Cleon81 @Shrewnaldo and @MrEdsFM all three have a much better record than I do over the last few versions of the game and I will be looking to learn from the way that they develop players. I will also look to draw inspiration from a slightly unlikely source in Thomas Tuchel the Coach of German side FSV Mainz. He was interviewed recently in a program on BBC Radio 5 Live that was looking at whether other nations can learn from the lessons of the Germans in terms of creating a new blueprint for youth development (should still be available as a Podcast). Tuchel has a reputation as an excellent developer of talent and was asked whether he developed his players to fit a specific tactical system and his answer was interesting, I’m paraphrasing but Tuchel said that it would be remiss of him to change the intrinsic nature of a player in order to make him fit. Instead Tuchel said that if a hyper talented player came through the youth system and was a natural number 10 then he felt the tactical system should be altered to incorporate that instead of moving the youngster out of position. To enable this I will be drawing inspiration specifically from @Cleon81 and @MrEdsFM and looking to identify early on what I think a young player could become and developing him for that position and role.

The third point is slightly vaguer in that both are largely out of my hand. I really see the value however in successful and structured recruitment. When I first started playing CM/FM as with so many others I was enamoured with signing players and it would not be unusual to see up to 15 come in during a season, now my approach is more nuanced and indeed no players at all will be signed in my first 12 months in charge. I may have been a little bored at work this week and I’ve created an Excel Workbook with three sheets. The first will be used by me to externally rank the top 5 players available in each position. It also holds information such as personality, age, estimated cost, estimated wages, contract expiry, current ability, potential ability, best role and whether the player would be interested in a permanent transfer or a loan. The list will go from 1) the ideal player to play that position for me and will contain more immediately attainable names as we run down to number 5. To give you an example the right back at number one in my sheet is Seamus Coleman whilst the number three right back is Ryan Jack of Aberdeen. The second sheet is in an identical format and will be used to categorise youth players (15-20) and the final sheet again is in the same format except that it runs from 1-10 and will be used to list the best young talent in Europe (and eventually the World) this last sheet will only really be utilised when we reach the Premier League but you never know when a player will become available. I don’t expect the first two sheets to be fully fleshed out until the second season but at that point I will have a more complete idea of potential targets. These lists will also be fluid with players dropping out or moving up the ranking depending on performance and reports. The aim is to have an immediate list of set options when I’m looking to replace a player that has left either the first team or the youth team.

It may seem strange for a blog largely devoted to examining tactics within the game to have left the tactical aspect of the game to last in the 5 year plan but ah well. I’ve stated that I aim to have fully implemented a fluid and possession based 4-3-3 within 5 years, I’ll be honest and say that I considered building a more functional 4-4-2 but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. When I say that I will look to play 4-3-3 I’m also being slightly misleading as those of you that have been paying attention will have noticed. I’ve already said that I will look to develop young players to their strengths as opposed to fit a specific system and as such depending on talent available the formation could well change. The overarching tactical philosophy however will very much stay the same, we are going to look to play possession football in an aggressive attacking manner and we will look to emulate the Swansea model as we move through the leagues.

I think that’s more than enough for now, If you’ve managed to digest all that information then well done.
The next post will be an introduction to the players at the club and the initial tactical system that I’ll be using. Beyond that each update will be structured to show how we are progressing in terms of the plan with points 1-4 discussed in more depth.

I know this is something completely different to the articles I usually post so I’d welcome your feedback either through the comments section or via twitter.

Molde FK – The Beginning

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It’s been a while since I’ve written one of these so please bear with me. Since I ‘grew up’ in FM terms posting on forums writing about my save became second nature and indeed it was a way to make the saves more interesting for me. In recent years though that’s fallen to the wayside. I’ve decided though that for FM13 I will use my blog as a vessel to host my updates to try and show you how I play the game and why I make the decisions that I do. For those that only follow or read the blog for the tactical updates fear not, the career side of my writing will not detract from my tactical output.

So where has FM13 taken me? Well the answer is that it’s taken me to Norway and in to the shoes of one Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as I have taken control of Molde FK, in truth I have also taken charge of the national side as this will be a Club and Country save. The first update though will focus on my plans for the club side.

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