It’s truly amazing that the strategy we employ for Football Manager is portable across every version, including the latest one FM16. Fact is, when you begin playing any version of FM, you need to follow a simple methodology. Some people are waiting for an intrepid author to write a substantial discovery piece on FM16, I guarantee a long wait. Most articles will be revisions of earlier work, so the goal you need to adopt is having a standard approach for the game. I assure you if you do, then you will nail each version every time it comes out within a few games of the season. Some things on the forum never fail to surprise me.
There I was again, reading another forum thread, and the same issue keeps being replayed in every iteration of the game. Managers have all the right intentions and then they go out set up a tactic and have issues. You then get people like Hunter, myself, Cleon, THOG, wwwfan who go in and try to help – the result is either revelation, which we are thrilled about or despair.
Fact is this is such an easy game its really hard to get it wrong. The only time we do is when we let our personal attachments to players get in the way, and this is especially so when we take a team where we have current stars in the side, and then we expect this side to play like world beaters. If they were world beaters they would win every game. This game is all about numbers. When I started out with WBA, we had a tough first season, and then I started to plan. It took me a while: 2 seasons prior to my unbeaten streaks. During that time, I did say I had plans on using a 4312, but I had to get the right players first. The system looked fairly solid in my head, but I knew the issue was always going to be the players. It took me 5 seasons to get the right players and then the 300 streak started. I think it was sometime in the 2021-2 season that the boys started to string together unbelievable runs. How did we do this? When I started managing lower league sides I realized how hard it was to set the team up right. And I want to share this with you now.
The first thing I did was excise emotion from player selection. I brutally went through the side and looked at pace. If you were less than 12, the player had to prove that he was right for the position, if he had less than 12 for bravery, he was out. I didn’t’ care who the player was. The only players who were excused were the strikers. I knew my system would only work with a fully functional midfield screen, and it was these players who got a serious look-in. Any player who fell below the threshold for pace and bravery was on the slow boat to China.
I can’t overstate how important this was, players would be shortlisted as candidates for sale, simply based on these two characteristics, I knew stuff like composure, first touch and passing could be trained, but bravery – no way. Things got even more brutal for my defensive lynchpin, whether they were the ball winners in midfield or the defenders, if they had no anticipation or concentration and poor first touch, these guys also got the ticket to board the boat. Then it was time for the fullbacks. I knew this lot had to beat the man, and get in the cross. For this group, bravery was important, but acceleration was doubly important. For the way I played, if they couldn’t beat the man for a cross, they may as well stay on the bench, or get a ticket to board the boat.
The midfield screen. Oh my god, how many times do I need to see pkms. This is almost a plea to people. If your defenders have a poor screen in front of them they will always step up and out of your line. Its basic, even if you take to the field and play football, if you find that the defensive midfielder has been late to go in, and you see a potential threat unfolding you will step up. Its second nature. So get the screen right and know your system. If you want to play a 4231 you have NO screen. Those 2 better be able to tackle in midfield and the back four better be top class. If you are playing with 5 at the back, you need to make sure your backs can get up and down the flanks. Its so easy.
Get these 2 basic steps right and I can assure you, you will win more than you lose, but first you need to discard any emotional attachment to the players. Trying to fit a player into a system can sometimes be as frustrating as fitting a square peg into a round hole. Ask Brendan Rodgers that, he may quickly become the premier leagues leading proponent of that.
ALWAYS start with FMT, if you need to come to grips with the match engine. Trust me a day or two on FMT and you will have your tactics sorted, it took me 10 games to nail a 4312 out for FM16, now I am working on a 4141 and then the Defiant, and a few other asymmetric systems. I want to focus more of my time on writing interesting stories about the game on the blog, and not waste precious time “testing”. I used to spend entire seasons testing out one tactic after another, today I don’t have the time. So if you start with FMT, you will spend your time more efficiently. In fact, I always have an FMT save lying around, if someone on the forums asks me a question about a tactic, and I need to replicate an improved version, I’d test it there before explaining it. That usually takes like 20-40 minutes of testing.
Baseline your players. Establish a DNA for your club based on the kind of football you want to play. I think I was reading a thread on the forums, where someone wanted to play a Direct, possession based game. In itself that sounds like a contradiction. How do you achieve direct passing with a possession-centric game? You might see 51-49% splits, or even 52-53, but you won’t be seeing 60-40 splits. Direct passing aims to get the ball quickly up the pitch. So know your players, find out if they can play the type of game you want. And most importantly, find out where they stand against the rest of the league.
Say for example your fullbacks have 13 for passing, check and see if the other team has players who can intercept the ball. Their work rate, off the ball, decisions and teamwork will be important attributes to look out. If your side has low teamwork, remember how that affects your team. Low teamwork affects defensive postures a lot. It means player have a tendency of being selfish. So if I have low teamwork, and my midfielder is in trouble, do I abandon my instructions to look for space and go forward? Or do I assist him by giving him an easy outlet? Teamwork will affect this, and so will a few more attributes. And if you don’t know your DNA you don’t know your team. If you don’t know how you stack up to the opposition, then you could have issues.
KISS, I see a lot of bad assumptions when it comes to Shape settings, to this day this is one of the features I want to see binned. People are still assuming certain states for each shape. If you know for a fact how shapes affect your teams ability to move up and down, then go ahead and be experimental, if you don’t, either stick to structured or flex, or just spend a few hours on FMT testing things out.
What have we learnt about FM16? Well, its not so much different from FM15, 14, 13, 12 …the approach is the same. Understand a basic football shape, set it up to be as balanced as you can. Understand where its weaknesses are and adapt. In this season’s FM16, there are ever so slight changes to closing down and defensive lines, but these aren’t game-breakers. Just have fun.