FM13 Tactics Demystified – I hope

Time I guess to talk about how tactics + training + man management = system.

Before that a brief history on how we got here, as far as I remember

In previous iterations of the game Football Manager was essentially very linear, groom or buy the right player, get the right tactic and you’re off. 7 Seasons later you’re at the summit crowned a legend and they adorn your statue with tributes and hail your son as the next great legend to be. That was essentially CM1- FM2009, I can’t speak for 2010-12 because I took a break to concentrate on my career. Now that I have my little corner of happiness, an ex-wife down and 2 boys to the good, I am back, with news.

The boys at SI were right the game has changed. I come back to find training now has a direct knock on effect to attributes and these in turn have a butterfly effect on Current Ability. That is huge. What this means is that training experience and match experience now play a role in a players development. Couple that with match preparation and how it temporarily affects attributes and we now truly have the beginnings of a system.  I used to get bored playing CM, FM and even FMLive, only because it was fundamentally playing three different games in one bigger game. You could specialise  as a manager whose sole purpose was to become a feeder club and get rich that way, you could try and emulate Alex Ferguson and develop your own talent. Or you could be a hero for an unknown club. At its very core, the game was still very modular. You could just experience it differently. I remember developing Scramjet which  turned into a super tactic that ravaged one version of CM, every manager that used it hardly ever lost. I could even go on season long holidays and my assistant manager would romp us to the title. From that day on I took a more active interest in developing systems that would simply exploit, because the linear system of play was incredibly boring and predictable. I hardly ever finished more than 7 seasons. By the time I hit FM2009 I could barely last 2 without being bored.

It was cool being able to groom youngsters into mini maradonas, but it was just simply pure gaming of min maxing attributes by developing training schedules.It was just one big random number generator to me. ‘d just stick players on team schedules and to be perfectly honest I never even bothered to go into detail.  Come 2012 and we have FM2013, training as we know it has become “mystified”.

Now lets talk about tactics, scores of people would come onto the forums armed with spreadsheets and discuss different mentality systems for different kinds of tactical systems. I developed the split mentality system, others came up with the global mentality system, we even had a system where the mentality was staggered by +2 and in other systems there were even systems that weren’t logical. Backline had 1 mentality and the attackers had 20, but to make all this work, everyone would come up with a methodology of play. So we  would link attributes + sliders and then come with various tactics that would:

  • If condition A happens : extend width by x amt and push up
  • If condition B happens : extend width to max, increase passing to last notch of direct for players with Flair and Passing, sub A, B players with Off the ball, Acceleration <15, increase mentality for group A of players but maintain staggered ratio so that gaps don’t occur.
  • Condition A would be just after kick off
  • Condition B would be used when I was down a goal or up against a team that was down a man

There was so much going on in the game that we even had to develop preset templates for people. I had 7 templates up at one point, not unlike what people see as the 6 strategies now in the tactical creator. I even developed templates for entirely different subsystems within those templates. And then I even showed people how they could get into the database and manually change the individual presets in the game for players so that they could define roles and their own systems of play. In the end I was fed up with SI for not releasing default tactics of a satisfactory level, so  took time off from the game to concentrate on work, but before I left, created a whole new set of default tactics anyone could use in the game, and it even came with an  ” instruction manual ” of sorts.

Yeah thats what its like working on custom tactics. There is a lot of information that needs to be understood and then related back to real world football? Somewhere along the way right when presets starting getting really popular, the idea for the tactical creator was mooted, and then it was born. My one concern back then was how people would relate football to strategy and philosophy, In my experience of interviewing managers, I have yet to meet one who told me his system was a string of numbers. That wasn’t their tactical system. What was their system was how they trained players to fit into a specific system of play, and how these then were in turned influenced by roles.

Managers have a philosophy and a strategy. Guardiola’s philosophy was keeping the ball via ball control and his strategy was to contain the opposition as much as possible and try to win the ball back within 9 seconds (I can’t quite remember now). Now when you look at the tactical creator, you need to stop thinking in terms of tactics and start developing a system. Its a system to play a particular brand of football, defined by specific characteristics that you can deploy during the course of the game. The strategy can be adapted for different oppositions and doesn’t require you to change tactics, unless you need to, and even then you should incorporate that into the system to prevent disrupting the teams style.

Its a system that can define what you do with the ball and without the ball. The tactical creator doesn’t pretend to offer you every possible passing system in the world and thats where the Classic Tactic Creator comes in. However all this plays out within a match engine that is made to “understand” and simulate what footballers try to do on the pitch. How well they play on the pitch is governed by their individual attribute and your instructions. How well they listen to your instructions is a function of some hidden attributes as well as those that you can see including motivation. Collision physics have been introduced to add a dose of reality, and this affects how you approach the game. For example on a wet pitch, towards the latter half of the game when your players are spent, how likely they are to go in for the lunging tackle is a function of their bravery, determination and anticipation. Thats a lot to take in, so I always recommend using the tactical creator without customising it via ticks and adjusting sliders.

Tactics and training are now inter-linked as well. How well your players perform in training affect their ability on the pitch to some extent. How well they do on the pitch then in turn affects how well they train. You can now train players for specific roles in your formation and you can also elect to make them focus on certain key traits. Whilst the training module may seem to have taken a bit of shine off min maxing young talent, it has added a whole new dimension to tactical systems and managing your team. Your performance off the pitch affects your training and your training now affects your performance on the pitch.

Now that I have established, albeit simply the relationship of tactics and training, its time to focus briefly on the tactical creator. I have no plans on explaining every slider for the Classic Creator in detail. If people are keen, then search the forums at SI. There are a heckuva lot of threads. Look for SFrasers, wwfans, Guido had a few here, Smac if i am not mistaken, Cleon too or even mine. You might even find my old spreadsheets. A lot of what was said about the sliders is still relevant now, the interplay between the sliders may have changed somewhat but thats largely down to the knock on effect of slight changes to mentality and creative freedom.

What the *&^K is the Tactical Creator?

Tbh the first time I saw it, I was like wth! I didn’t even want to embrace the damn thing. I was steadfastly against it, so i stuck to my custom ones. FMLive changed that cos I wanted to play fast and beat people fast before they knew what happened. So i started getting involved with it, and in a short while, I was immersed in how simple it was as a template for the more advanced players. For the novice player it was and still is the best way for them to approach the game. All they need is a decent knowledge of football, a large dose of common sense and a willingness to approach it objectively.

When you look at the tactical creator, the philosophy is self explanatory. It really defines the gaps in your team. The rigid philosophy basically tells your team to work to defined roles. Essentially it has 3 distinct mentality setups. Now remember that mentality now governs both position and behaviour, so the rigid philosophy just makes sure that distinct groups exist when you choose a strategy. On the other extreme  you have very fluid which is global mentality system that tells the whole team to behave the same way. You attack as a group you defend as a group ( when you change strategy)

Now what about strategy. Well simply put, the first two which are defensive and counterattacking are essentially defensive tactics defined by how players behave on the pitch. Essentially both employ a system where the defences priority is to clear the ball to specific players on the pitch or anywhere on the pitch, so they employ direct passing, and since its a defensive strategy, the attacking group’s job is to ease pressure by playing short passes so they keep possession higher up the pitch.

The Balanced and Control strategies are more continental in nature where teams as defined by their mentalities, they just risk/reward and play shorter passes to keep possession and probe play. There will be more lateral passing with this setup, hence the 30 passes before a goal which is unrealistic.

Finally we have the last two attacking and overload, both of these have traits that encourage defenders not to waste possession, and/or support and attacks play direct passing so they can do quicker attacks.

You can use one tactic during a game, but this isn’t a tactic discussion its a system discussion, so before i go to link tactics, training and man management, let us look at player roles:

A tactical system sets up how you are supposed to behave, how you play is affected by who you put on the pitch. So one needs to be very clear on their player roles. In my tikanaccio system I have 3 pivots. And these are my very basic fulcrums in my formation. I know that within my system, these 3 are the most important players on the pitch cos everything revolves around them. My tactical system embodies short passing, with possession. The most important attribute I am looking for is determination, because we are a relegation bound team and my plan is to get promoted. So qualities within my system MUST include determination. Within my system I need my pivots to have at least 9 in key attributes for their roles. When we lose the ball I expect my team to hunt the ball down when they can without jeopardising our tactical shape otherwise because of our average skill we will be exposed.

Once you have an understanding of your system its time to look at constraints. You are as strong as your weakest link, so I need to continuously monitor my team in the early days of my career to determine the weakest link. It either needs to be replaced or strengthened.

Having done all that. I define roles looking for constraints.

These are the roles I want in my formation, because i want to have Tikanaccio, I need to have a deep lying playmaker an advanced playmaker, 2 inside forwards, one deep lying forward, two full backs who can attack and defend, a box to box midfielder cos my defines will need the extra support plus i want to provide headaches on one side of the pitch where I will launch most of my attacks, and a bog basic ball winning midfielder who will win the ball and lay off the odd simple pass to the players who are more creative and adjacent to me.

This entirely tactical system will now fall under the quadrant for Athletic Performance now that I have identified all the elements that go there, let me study how I will get the right player for the job. Now people say let the manager adapt to the team, yeah thats usually the short term fix. The long term solution must always be about your system, which needs to be sustainable over the long run, hence the need to tie this up with training.

Now here are the roles and the attributes as listed in the game, one caveat I will not debate the relative merits/demerits of these choices, these are key attributes only. Furthermore with my fluid positional play role swapping will be natural.

Goalkeeper : Aerial Ability, Command of area, handling, one on ones, reflexes, composure, concentration, decisions, positioning, agility

Defender (Stopper): Heading, marking, tackling, concentration, determination, jumping, aggression, bravery, composure, decisions, positioning, strength –  

Used in more attacking setups to ensure we keep the ball, he will commit first to the challenge by leaving the defensive line

Defender (limited): Heading, marking,determination, tackling,positioning, jumping strength – 

Stands in line with the other defender, breaks up attacks, marks player tries not to give up fouls on the edge of the box

Defender (Cover): Heading, marking, tackling, anticipation, composure,concentration, decisions, determination, positioning, acceleration, jumping strength

Used in more attacking setups he sits a bit deeper than the dline, commits just as hard with the objective of maintaining possession

Fullback Support: Crossing, marking, tackling, positioning, acceleration, anticipation, concentration, work-rate, teamwork stamina 

Does overlaps and through balls when opportunities present themselves apart from other defensive duties

Fullback Attack: Crossing, dribbling, anticipation, off the ball, team-work, acceleration, marking, passing, concentration, positioning, work-rate, stamina 

Does overlapping as often as its possible, but does not do any through balls, waits for chances to run from deep

Ball Winning Midfielder: Marking, tackling, aggression, bravery, determination, positioning, team-work, work-rate, stamina, strength 

Priority is to tackle and to lay off passes to more creative players when on defend

Defensive Midfielder (defend): Heading,marking,tackling,determination, positioning, jumping, strength  

Priority is to tackle and to lay off passes to more creative players when on defend

Box to Box Midfielder:  Dribbling, finishing, first touch, heading, long shots, marking, passing, technique, stamina, strength, acceleration, work-rate, positioning, off the ball, determination, decisions, bravery , anticipation

Responsible to act as another pivot, that defends/attacks and looks for chances to do long shots

Deep Lying Playmaker defend: first touch, passing, tackling, strength, composure, creativity, decisions, positioning, off the ball, teamwork  

 Creates chances from deep with pinpoint passing and also a competent tackler of the ball, PIVOT

Advanced Playmaker attack : Dribbling, creativity, first touch, decisions, flair, off the ball, technique, anticipation and teamwork  

In attack mode he has license to roam to create chances on to drop through channels of defenders to make himself available to lay off forwards, also has license to run at opposition defensive line from deep to fashion chances for others or himself

Inside Forward attack: Crossing,dribbling,finishing,passing,acceleration,decisions,flair, off the ball, teamwork, pace

Job is to run inside and behind or through from the flanks towards goal, he’s best when a left footed player is cutting in from the right and vice versa

Deep lying forward Support: Dribbling, first touch, long shots, passing, technique, creativity, decisions, off the ball, teamwork, strength

Drops deep to link up players to the attack, can switch mode of attack to other flank and also lay others off before making a run for the penalty box himself

In any system I employ these will be the roles that will be used, if my players cant fit into the system I will try an help reduce the failure point tactically or I will just find another player.

One thing is painfully clear to me, is that my conditioning and my defense aren’t my strong points. So I go for intensive training at the start of the season and i focus on team cohesion. Since my overall strategy is fluid and control, this requires that my team be able to work together as a unit. I will also need to work on defensive movement in match preparation because we look weak in those areas. ( As it turned out, my preseason training was a disaster, I should have gone for less intensity, the players got injured a bit too early and now they are jaded).

(wisdom through hindsight)Another areas where I was to make a mistake was in defence;turns out i needed a cover and a stopper as well. I will explain that later when i evaluate performance of my players in a game and how i adjusted.

Your roles within your tactical system now govern half your system along with training preparation. The next thing you need to do is to work out what if scenarios:

a. What if I go a goal down?

I switch to attacking, push higher

b. What if i can’t score a goal?

I shout pass into space, if that doesn’t work i go to plan b switch to my more offensive 4231 formation and go narrow stay on control cos i want to probe first to see how we do, if i need to i overlap, if goals are not coming i go narrow and push up higher. Those goals will come.

c. What if i go a goal down to a corner? screw it

d. What if i go a goal down to a free kick..screw it

e. What if i go a goal down to a through ball down the middle. ..this is when i realised i had no plan for cover and limited defender….the old staggered mentality setup for DCs! It was my bleeding idea back then in the first place..nah sox Buxton.

f. What if i go a man down, switch to my false 9 formation, narrow the pitch and go attacking..I will never ever ever go defensive…its my personal philosophy.

The best way to draw up your tactical system, is to keep the first one simple. If it was me, I would choose a formation that is familiar to me, then I would devise a system for it. And, this would include perhaps two strategies from the same tactic, like a balanced one to start off the game with shouts to pass to feet for instance play out of defense and work into box. I may even keep things narrow.

During this time you would have observed how the AI plays, what system it uses, how it defends and where its attacks pivot from

Identify the source of weakness and try and nullify it through shouts. Once you know what you up against, ask yourself what its weaknesses are. If its channelled play through a central midfield playmaker who is in an MC position, I would go narrow and close him down and wrong foot him. If he his deeper like a DMC position I may want to close him down, but once again this all depends on how much time he has.

Sometimes there is no point Opposition Instructioning him if hes too deep, In this case identify where his outlet is. If its on the flanks, set your fullbacks to tightmark. If its in the middle do it to the middle.

At the moment there is a dead zone on the pitch which needs to be addressed through the patch, and in this zone strange things happen. People forget their instructions or mysteriously see an apparition. This will get fixed dont fret, so consider this when you do your system

Once you’ve done all that you will have emerged with a tactical system based on roles. And because you have done that you will have understood the why you are doing it. Since you have to analyze your players vs the attributes you would have identified the constraints and will be prepared in some way. You would need to prepare tactically and through training or recruitment. It may all have been a lot of workb but the the important thing to draw from it all is that you will be able to impose it on any team.

This has been a long post…i may do something on how i train, but i essentially just do targetted training at where i am weak at, otherwise its back to “how the hell do i come back from 2 goals down..” – a look at man management


  1. Great read. Everything makes simple sense and I’m doing something similar although I don’t have the conviction that you have so I tend to 2nd guess myself. Reading stuff like this will help build my confidence/knowledge so I thank you for taking the time to write and post it up! Nice one.

  2. I signed up soley so I could tell you I am a huge fan of your blog. I check it often as I have been playing FM since 01/02 but still absolutely suq at tactics haha. I have always created my own and I like your explanation of implementing a “system”. I am going to use that theory moving forward.

  3. Great read!

    Regarding expanding the roles: Basically the so-called arrows (forward, backwards, to the side) that existed as an option back in Fm06-ish and the late CM’s fulfilled that role. For instance, you could push a def. mid into the backline when defending – transforming a 4-4-2 when in possession/attacking, into a 5-3-2 when defending. As far as I can remember, the developers abandoned these arrows as it became too easy to “beat” the AI when utilising them. Maybe they should consider something similar again – I am sure the AI is now sophisticated enough to cope with it.

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