It’s been a while hasn’t it. My focus in the last few weeks has been split on many fronts as I invest more and more time into my upcoming book. Yes, and I finally figured out what to call it, as ever I won’t apologise for my lack of creativity – Bust the Net – The Football Manager. So there I am knee deep in beta testing, fervently finishing up with FM16 Torino Diaries when lo and behold God decides to hand me a yellow card. I become bed stricken with a series of viruses. And these all come one after another. Now I know what it feels like to be on the end of viral hat-trick. You go deaf and grumpy, but you know what it hasn’t affected my desire to write. So here it is- the evolution of Torino, and this, is probably the best fun I’ve had playing an FM save since I created Scramjet.
Football Manager is a game that’s evolved over the last few years, what I find interesting is that at the highest level of gameplay it’s evolved as well. Back in 2007 I was already writing about strikeless formations. On the forums I was messing with a whole series of systems that had no clear centre forward. For me it was fun to see what was happening in Europe being translated into the game. And then of course, we had Spain romping to a Euro triumph in 2008 in a smashing display of dominance which morphed as the tournament progressed. They may have started out with a clear centre forward, but for each game they played, you could see subtle differences. I had no doubt they would win it. How do teams even play against another that keeps the ball so well? While some observers claimed it was boring, I was amazed at how Rinus Michels’ vision was been interpreted by the Spanish.
My eyes then turned to Spain, Barcelona and Johan Cruyff. This was the son of a fruit seller, fatherless at 12 he was already exposed to Ajax through his mother. The boy idolised Alfredo de Stefano and it seemed almost a matter of destiny that this boy who would lead Ajax to three successive European Cups, would almost certainly be snapped up by one of the Spanish giants. It was easier for Barcelona to snap him up – they had an English manager in Viv Buckingham. They bought him over and the Catalans were never going to be the same again. By 1974 Cruyff was regarded as the best player in the world and he was Rinus Michels’s Total Football prodigy. And guess who learnt from Cruyff? Pep Guardiola. In fact Pep Guardiola learnt from nearly everyone. He traversed the world seeking out knowledge from other coaches before his appointment like a sponge seeking out water, he had one thing in common with the Dutchman – they were moulded in the same place.
Think about it, Spain just outplayed Germany with their brand of total football, and a few years later – Counter Pressing takes hold. Let’s not politely forget that Arrigo Sacchi should be regarded as the first coach to win a major European trophy with a counter pressing system in the late 80s, but the trend was there all along. By the time Spain started playing we were seeing teams play with narrow depths and High and Middle Blocks, packs of players moving as a unit and 11 players all showing perfect positional interchangeability. Not to be outdone, over in Germany, a young manager by the name of Jurgen Klopp was announced as the new manager of Borussia Dortmund. Within 2 years they were champions, playing with a brand of Counter Pressing, unique to them. The only difference between him and Pep’s system was that Klopp’s had a deadly thrust after winning the ball back, whilst the Spaniards Counter Pressing system was more intent on maintaining its tactical shape. That’s principally why Guardiola’s side’s have been labelled boring and Klopp’s swashbuckling. Now, the Germans, victims of the Spanish Counter Press in 2008 quickly turned into marketing genius. They gave the German version a unique name – “Gegen Pressing”, after all Spain had something boring called “Tiki Taka”.
Wait we’re not done yet let’s go across the English Channel near the coast, year 2013. How many of you could honestly put up your hand and name me 3 clubs Maurico Pochettino had played for? This relatively unknown Argentinian, brought his High Block/High Defensive line style of play to England, and Southampton suddenly looked scary. The last time anyone was scared of playing the Saints was when they had legendary Matt Le Tissier in their ranks. Counter Pressing was moving like a virus across Europe. What had started with Johan Cruyff lacing his boots in the 1974 World Cup Final was now being translated into an active vision played in different styles across different nations in Europe. It’s no wonder that Alex Ferguson decided to retire and Arsene Wenger one who had started with a great vision of play, was now a Frenchman lost in an ever changing experiment and without a goal in mind. His Invincibles were the manifestation of a vision, that today, is a victim of his own experiments. Arsenal don’t seem to have coherent style anymore.
Which brings us to my Torino save for 2017. If you have been following BusttheNet, my Youtube channel, you probably are aware that the first season is turning into an epic race for the title. I have to thank every viewer who posted a question about a different tactic. In my attempts to answer these questions, I used Torino to explain. In doing that, I started seeing more and more possibilities. Well my virus has laid me out in a way that’s prevented me from hearing my own voice when I speak, so those videos are on hold, but the save is still going! So this is the plan – 3 of the shows I managed to record will still go out. That will bring us to the end of the season. Season 2 on the other hand will be different. I will have been halfway through or maybe even nearly complete, so there will be a written story showing the tactical evolution of Torino.
We started out playing a 4231 and some 433 variation. My Arrigo Sacchi model of Counter Pressing was how I played the first season. None of you noticed I bet, because I hadn’t perfected it enough to be confident that it was working. Season 2 started a bit on the odd side. I had an offer for Andrea Belotti that I couldn’t very well ignore, so along with a few others he’s off. That kind of forced me into entering the market prematurely. You never shop in a hurry right, so I went and landed Ze Gomes from Portugal. Well he isn’t the same one from 2016 – bummer. Our side experimented yet again with how we played, cos now I gotta go all Klopp and get everyone else to score. I literally played a different system each match, but the principles by which I play always remained the same, so generating results wasn’t much of an issue. What was interesting was how we evolved over time. And that’s what I plan to do. The next episode of the show will condense wherever I am to-date with a “how we got there tactically” which should reveal more than a play-through and to top it off, I will do a more condensed writeup here. I found my evolution interesting, I can only hope you do to.