I sometimes wonder I keep talking about Stafford Rangers, a non-league side who’re now European Champions. The reason’s pretty simple actually. Understanding how to play the game isn’t really easy, but when you take the perspective of a lower league side it allows you to share your entire experience. I’ve played a lot of games, been paid to play a lot of games and have also commentated on my experiences. Understanding what makes a game tick allows you to appreciate the complexities of a challenge, and once you get the basics right you can manage any side. Its then that you can go manage Barcelona or Manchester United.
If someone new to the game were to pick Manchester United, the board expectations will be high. The cost of not reaching Europe could be too expensive for you to experiment and understand the match engine, this would force managers to adopt less risky approaches and this won’t teach you much. Picking a non league side is very challenging, but as you experience their rise your knowledge of the game grows. You begin to appreciate the little nuances in the engine and thats when you start picking things out. Approaches that engender legacies allow you to develop structures and systems that last. You will get a strong idea of a system of play and how to incorporate searches for talents, setting youth training and senior training up. I guarantee you that once you get that experience the game of Football Manager becomes a walk in the park. Last season we made a profit of 40 million quid, so I was keen to keep the bankroll going and targeted 400million as a figure I wanted to achieve quickly. With that in mind we sold off 3 key players. And this season I paid the price with my league performance.
After the high of last season, I decided to sell off some of my best players. We started off the season really well, and then injuries hit. Our 3-1 European Supercup win came with 3 key injuries 🙁 As the season progressed that number soon climbed to 6.
That forced me to enter the January transfer market looking for 3 players that could fit into the first team but had to come cheap. Whatever happened, I was not going to exceed my revenue. So I worked out a budget of 20 million and set out to get 3 players for that. The 3 ended up being bit players who could come in for the league matches I was also forced into turning to my youth, handing out starts to several 17 year olds in an effort to identify some options, we managed to unearth one such future champion, who ended up having the distinction of coming in for very tough matches and forcing our “maradona” Guido Jansen to the bench.
This season we just didn’t have the depth to challenge and keep up with Manchester City. We lost the same number of games with 7 matches left but we dropped a lot of points when we couldn’t finish off a lotta teams in the first half of the season. The 11 draws were expensive as City only drew 2 the whole season.
In December my total squad strength including reserves was barely 20, with 6 out injured we were struggling. By the end of the season we were 30, but I will still need to consider some players futures next season. Our policy of selling players will continue as we embark on our plan to build a new stadium.
Domestic Cup update
The lack of depth forced me to use the reserves for all our cup matches, as I had to save my main team for the league and champions league. Needless to say sending in your second stringers against Spurs at White Hart Lane isn’t wise, we lost that match 2-0 and were sent packing out in the 5th Round. News that we drew Manchester City in the 4th Rd of the FA Cup didn’t sit well with me, as I resigned myself to watching my youth succumb 4-0 away. it was a choice I had to make as our Champions League campaign required fresh legs.
Our group featured Fiorentina, Lyon, and Stuttgart. Lyon were former semifinalists and the Italians were having a good run at home. We managed to beat Fiorentina 3-0 at home, but our trip to France saw us struggle to hold them to a goaless draw. The Germans came calling next, and we couldn’t break their defense as they forced us into another goaless stalemate. Lyon on the other hand battered the Italians 3-0. Our return trip to Germany was more successful as we escaped there with a 2-1 win. We then travelled to the home of the Italians and again couldn’t pull off a win, we were saving our players for Europe and dropping points there and at home. I was getting increasingly worried, but Fiorentina were now surprising everyone with their late surge as they beat the French away. The group was now wide open, 3 teams could advance. With two games left, all the teams drew their next match. This would go down to the wire, we had to win or get a point and if Fiorentina won their last game, the French were out. We held the French away from home and the Italians joined us in the next round when they narrowly beat Stuttgart. It was a wild group ride.
My team was getting so used to dropping points we started doing it in England, and the Club World Cup was looming, we went there and swept everyone aside and then the newly crowned World Champions came home brimming with confidence and smashed Villa 7-1.
Our European journey would now see us face another Italian giant in Inter Milan, whom we held 1-1 away and beat them 3-1 at home. Porto lost 4-0 on aggregate, and thankfully Manchester City was sent crashing out of the competition by Barcelona, who were then defeated in turn by Benfica. We confidently defeated PSG 2-0 on aggregate to line up a date with destiny. It was our second ECC final and this time we were smiling – no MANCHESTER CITY.
At home we were 10 points behind Manchester City without a hope in hell of catching them, so with 3 games to go to the final. I knew it was time to rest up my core group, and sent in my second stringers, who well lost all their matches. It was Europe or bust.
Benfica vs Stafford Rangers
We were considered underdogs for this match, but me in my infinite stupidity decided to ignore the pundits. A lucky penalty in the first few minutes only served to reinforce my misplaced self-confidence. Benfica struck back almost immediately as they took advantage of our high line, and our normally reliant Rui Pedro didn’t help our cause by showing some uncharacteristic nerves at the back, when his horrendous pass gifted Benfica the equaliser.
My reaction was immediate, I dropped to standard and made some changes so that I could unleash my AMC. As Benfica poured forward we showed enough composure to build slowly from the back and like a perfect ticking clock my AMC would switch up the tempo and drive attacks down the flanks. His rapier like thrusts opened them up time and time again. Dropping Rui to the bench and moving Dobson to the right flank was a gamble as I went to the bench to pull up another fullback who was a stronger defender. We shored up our flanks and then Benfica fell apart. The only shout I used in the game was “work ball into box” as I figured a drop in strategy would suffice.
Twas a result that filled me with pride but there were plenty of lessons to be learnt.
Accept the fact that sometimes you need to play defensively, a change in strategy should be enough, but to strengthen your defense you need to make sure some part of your pitch is more secure. My bench was loaded with more defensive minded players who could also attack, not nearly as well as Rui Pedro whos easily one of the most explosive fullbacks in the Premiership now
Sticking with one tactic is great, but once you get your players to learn their ppms. Selling those players off without making sure the new players have all the ppms is risky. Our lack of wins this season showed me how true this was. This season we will continue to sell players, but we will also work on other aspects of our growth to ensure we make the money for our new stadium
Players need to develop, my injury crisis forced me to go to the bench. And I discovered the only way a player from the youth ranks is gonna grow by “leaps and bounds” ( a term used in FM) is when he plays at least 30% of the matches for the senior squad, plus the side needs to win. If you can’t manage that then they won’t grow by leaps and bounds. Winning is great, but not vital. His exposure is.
Nick Dobson ended up playing 21 games for me last season, and I intend to make him play more than that this season. His target will be 25 games this season as I want to see his development continue. Selling Paul Boyham off last season was a huge risk and we paid the price early in the season but I came glad that it gave me the chance to assess Matias Lama.
I like him but he’s not nearly as consistent as Paul Boyham, but he certainly has a better eye for the pass. This season he will be focusing on quickness as his lack of pace worries me, and whilst he has stepped up, his growth will be crucial.
This is the most important lesson I have learnt, and it was something I should never have allowed myself to forget. Continuity. If you don’t have it, you won’t have consistent performances. My biggest problem this season was knowing you my central midfield partnership would be. Half the time one half of that partnership was on the treatment table. Its a big concern for me, and in my rashness, I went and brought in 3 cover players for the same position. At least they all have 2 year contracts. Twas a bad move one I hope never to repeat
Goal for next season
We purchased one up and coming striker who’s too good to pass up, and that will be the last of my purchases, our squad side is now a healthy 35 made up of 16 first teamers. The rest are reserves or youth players. We plan to make an assault on multiple fronts and to ensure that we finish amongst the top three. There is a good chance we can build a title challenge, once I’ve sorted out who my midfield duo are going to be. And thats the most important lesson anyone can learn: If you aren’t even sure what you want, how in the world are gonna move forward. This season we will be more focused and I shall identify my central partnership early.