Football never felt this good
I don’t think it should come as a surprise that I returned to Torino. That club’s grip on me is greater than West Bromwich Albion ever was. The season started like any new save on FM – an absorbing period of analysis and planning. I find that getting to know your club is usually a good thing when a new game comes out. So my first act was rather impetuous. I decided to go to the board and ask for more coaches, the audacity! Naturally, they gave me a quizzical look and told me to get the hell out of their offices. “You haven’t even played your first friendly yet!, you may not even last a month”. I could sense the putrid smell of disgust emerging from the room as I left. Sometimes we forget that this game has a massive restart every season…we need to prove ourselves over and over and over again.
That Chievo testimonial, was the only blip. I opted for a narrow 4231 to see what kind of quality I had in the team. It’s good to try out these 2 man midfield systems just to find out if your side can hack it or not. In midfield we had Marco Benassi and Joel Obi. I deployed Daniele Baselli in advanced midfield since he seemed like the only player in the club who could do some magic with the ball. 3 shots out of 7 on target seemed to suggest we were still some way from being ready for the season.The 61% possession numbers really didn’t mean anything at all. For this friendly I kept what I thought were the best 11 on the pitch for as long as possible and only really made 1 change after the break. This group of 11 weren’t my best. It was time now to apply myself. Out came the notebook and a cup of coffee, let’s go all analytical with the squad.
We needed a plan and you can’t make a plan, if you don’t know what your starting point is. My professional project management and leadership skills would need to be deployed. Who was I kidding, I ain’t a football manager. I am just good with numbers. So we popped a list up and filled it quick. – Pace, Acceleration, Concentration, Decisions, Composure, Crossing, Finishing, Passing, First Touch, Off the Ball, Teamwork. I then added match statistics like Interceptions, Key Passes, and Passes Attempted per 90 mins. At a glance I wanted to find out what my club was like. Were they fast? Could I play a system which allowed my players to break behind a defensive line? Could they hold the ball under pressure? I needed to know if I had good crossers in the group and whether these boys would die for each other. We were going to play friendlies so I figured it would be good to start tracking interception numbers. If our interception numbers were going up then I knew that our system was improving. I rather we intercept a ball than tackle a player with it. If you intercept you break the horse even before you need to get up into the saddle. Tackling numbers were not important. That’s just a reactive stat. It’s like finding out how many fires you were able to put out last week. I rather find out how many fires never even got started. That’s the real secret behind football management. Not being a fireman, silly, but about breaking a team’s attack before it even has a chance to settle. That way you can hit em and hit them hard, cos they will always be out of position.
It was time now to go deeper into my team. We needed to sort the players out by destroyers, creators and scorers. Its my favorite way of looking at a side, because ultimately thats how you play. You have some players to destroy the team’s attack, you have others you depend on carving out chances and finally you need those ever-reliable boys that make you go “Woot!”.
It’s the first match of the season, and I can sense the boys don’t trust my methods yet.
Chievo again. This time they almost peppered us out of existence. 27 shots on our goal, we only had 10, but wait. We had 6 on target compared to their 9. So we performed a heck of a lot better. We could have won the game had it not been for a lucky equaliser in the 83rd min. Final score 3-3. Our next match – a home match so I went back to the system I know best – the 4312. Could Torino pull it off?
It’s not really an easy system to play. You need a solid hardworking group of players and a properly set up defensive and midfield group. To top it off I had no faith in my strikers. Final score 1-0 win, 61% possession. We were doing well. A 433 in the first game, a 4312 in our second. It took 3 matches in the opening season before we kicked into a stride. The Lazio defeat seemed to suggest we had the players for a 433DM, I was still not convinced. It’s a system that demands 2 world class attacking midfielders who can dribble, beat players, cut inside, score and they have to be fast. You just don’t pick out Barcelona’s tactic in the game and play with it. Come on people! Furthermore, you need some Houdini in that midfield who can unlock defences.
We weren’t that good. I kept reverting to my 4312 because I felt that playing with a triangular strike pattern upfront was more efficient if you have a side that’s average. If you want to go with a split attack like a wider 433DM then those 3 boys better be really good. We just don’t have that. So I formed a plan. Lets play with a narrow 4231 and a 4312. I had the midfielders, I just needed more players to be upfront to score, it sounded like a plan, but I knew it was going to be dangerous. So along the way I remembered how Arrigo Sacchi used to play with tougher European opposition – he isolated the opposition.
So in came a new plan. Continue playing with the High Block but start looking at dropping the Defensive Line so we could isolate any wide 433 attacking us. It worked a treat. Every 433 that came up against us, got swatted away. Few if any sides in Italy were playing Fluid, they were all so structured. You could see it on the pitch, clear as daylight. The fullbacks took an eternity to move into wide areas on transitions and the forwards would seem to hold up the ball that bit longer while support came. What if we kept them waiting longer? Wicked. Thank you SI for allowing me to play like Sacchi. We had a great run, only some arrogant management by me allowed Napoli to slam 3 past us as we went unbeaten into November.
And then just when I am smoking my cigar and sipping my whiskey Inter and Juventus come knocking. We only take a point. And then Valdifiori gets injured and with that my 4312 goes out the window. He is central to the way I play the system. In my 4312 with the way we press, if need a quick lock picked, there is only one player with all the keys – Valdi. His injury forced us into a mini crisis. We could only play the 433DM wide now. It wasn’t a system that suited us, but as long as he was out, it was a system with a defensive midfielder. That would mean that we could hold out better teams with their mobile attacks with our static defence. Maybe we don’t win so many games, but we needed not to lose. Juventus weren’t far away on the table.
The Juventus match would be Valdi’s last game for a while, we sought to right the ship with our 433 but even then I could sense frustration. On came Joel Obi in his place. His attributes, well they weren’t staggeringly good. He had anticipation, but what I really needed was Acceleration, Stamina and teamwork.
Stamina and Teamwork, at least he could run around and do some damage. he would go on to play 13 games for us that season. He joined Benassi and Baselli in midfield and averaged 7.22 as a central midfielder. It would have to do. We would need to see out December, January and maybe February now without Valdi. Lazio reinforced his absence when they knocked us out of the Italian Cup in February. It was a sorry defeat, but I was smiling. Valdi was back in training. And with him back we went on a run like no other. We never tasted defeat again. Juventus would have to try again next season.
By the time our season ended, we were a picture of consistency. Gone were the doubts about who to field. All I had to do was revert to a system I loved. We used a lot of good common sense in building this side together, but there was one denominator. If
you didn’t have teamwork of at least 12, you weren’t even considered for the bench. Our reserve list of players was piling up. It was going to be a new plan for 2017. Our 4312 is the same 4312 you will find me talking since forever. Maybe I am not using BWM in the side midfield slots but you may as well call them that. The only reason why they are CM(S) is because I can make them pass the way I want from the Player Instructions. You see I like to go all mental with things like that. Next season will be a different matter entirely. We don’t have Belotti anymore, I now need to plan on how to play like Klopp! I can’t use Sacchi as my muse anymore.