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The Mentality Ladder: Understanding Fluidity and Duty

This Football Manager guide analyzes a practical framework which will help you organize a tactic under different fluidity/mentality combinations and give you tips on applying specific tactical settings.

By on Apr 11, 2014   89608 views   2 comments
Football Manager Guides - The Mentality Ladder: Understanding Fluidity and Duty
This is an 8-part guide into how a tactic can be organized under different fluidity/mentality combinations, and will give you tips on applying specific tactical settings. Created by The Hand of God and spread in multiple posts on the official Sports Interactive forums.

These chapters will cover the following:
  1. The Mentality Ladder
  2. Collective Responsibilities: Very Fluid Mentality Structures
  3. Solid Foundations: Fluid Mentality Structures
  4. Asymmetric Shapes: Balanced Mentality Structures
  5. Gestalt Systems: Rigid Mentality Structures
  6. Production Lines: Very Rigid Mentality Structures
  7. The Mentality Ladder, Duty and Other Settings
  8. Tactical Priorities in Detail

Fluidity is a complex idea, and its effects on tactics are subtle and nuanced. Given the difficulty of succinctly and accurately defining it, some Football Manager players have justifiably questioned whether it should even be present in the game. While I don't share this view, I do agree that most Football Manager players don't really need to overly concern themselves with the effects of the setting. Simply, a change of fluidity will not make or break your tactical approach, and if you stick to the sort of reasonable principles of tactical design outlined in wwfan's excellent introductory guide and llama3's superb commentary on role combinations, you will have all the tools you need to be a successful manager. However, if you're interested in exploring ways to make full use of the powerful and versatile tools that FM14 provides, this project presents a new framework for understanding how the various team settings interact to promote specific behaviours on the pitch. The basic idea is that the different combinations of team mentality and fluidity settings can be interpreted in terms of telling individual players to prioritize specific responsibilities, and through this interpretation, I think fluidity can be presented in a way that more accurately reflects its impact on play.

The idea of fluidity as a game mechanic for Football Manager has its roots in the Tactical Theorems & Frameworks series that preceded and informed the development of the Tactics Creator. This series incorporated a variety of different theoretical perspectives, from critical theory to Karl Popper's scientific epistemology, to approach the slider-based system of classic tactics and develop practical frameworks for tactical design. These frameworks were later refined in terms of concepts developed by the tactical historian Jonathan Wilson to form the basis of the Tactics Creator as we know it today. Since this project is largely an effort at reopening and reconsidering this dialogue from a different perspective, it inevitably addresses and assumes some degree of familiarity with Wilson's concepts, though when possible, I've made a conscious effort to explain the relevant terminology for those who are new to the debate.

If you're looking for tips on applying specific tactical settings, I believe most players will find much of the advice in Section 7 immediately useful while the outlines of player responsibilities in Sections 2-6 will give you a sense of how a tactic will be organized under different fluidity/mentality combinations. Beyond that, some of the more theoretical content here may not be useful or even remotely interesting to a lot of players. Fortunately, as I noted above, a nuanced understanding of fluidity is not a prerequisite to enjoying the game, though I hope the advice and interpretations presented here will help lead to new ideas for making the game more enjoyable for everyone.

Introduction

Philosophy, style, fluidity.

Among both new and experienced Football Manager players, this core concept of the Tactics Creator remains a persistent source of confusion and misconceptions. To some extent, this is an expected consequence of the abstract nature of the idea itself. Designed to provide a coherent framework for setting positions on the infamously vague mentality slider, it operates as an abstraction of an abstraction that circumvents the ambiguity of the parts by attempting to give a clear and accessible sense to the whole.

Yet, as the persistent confusion suggests, important details are still missing from the picture. The organization is there, but there is still no clear sense as to what, exactly, is being organized and how this would translate into an instruction that a manager would actually give his players.

In practice, fluidity is less of a tactical concept than a managerial concept. It does not represent the style of football actually produced by the players on the pitch so much as the way in which the manager goes about getting the players to produce it. In other words, it is not the team's style or philosophy of play but the manager's style and philosophy of management. Unsurprisingly, for many players, it remains unclear how the setting actually affects their team on the pitch while debate continues over the extent to which it should actually dictate the details of tactical design.

The continuing debate itself seems to be an indication that, conceptually, fluidity was not quite rooted in firm ground from the outset. While the Tactics Creator retains a simplistic and misleading emphasis on positional contributions to the various phases of play, the more nuanced analysis of recent guides and discussions reflect considerable evolution in how the theory behind the setting is being interpreted.

A key aspect of this is the scope of the universalist vs. specialist distinction in modern football. This divide between tactical systems that emphasize player versatility and tactical systems that emphasize player mastery of highly specific skill sets is central to the theory underlying the idea of fluidity, but in the broader historical sense, the debate has long been settled. The universalism pioneered by Michels and Lobanovskyi has permeated tactical thinking at virtual every level of play. As Jonathan Wilson recently noted in regards to the holding midfielder, even the nominal specialists are becoming universalists to ever greater degrees. Wilson describes this as "paradoxical," but in fact, it's a natural implication of the near total demise of the overly static, positionally fixed football of bygone eras.

In this sense, the match engine itself has always been a step ahead of the Tactics Creator that set out to explain it, and the all-encompassing, intertwining influence of both universalism and role theory, in which position refers primarily to a vague set of defensive responsibilities, are now the norm in both football and, more-so with FM14 than ever, Football Manager. Accordingly, fluidity has never done exactly what it says on the tin. The effects are certainly significant and crucial to coherent tactical design, but they are subtle and, more importantly, thoroughly rooted in a match engine that seeks to represent the modern game of football in which the lines between the rigid and the fluid can often be imperceptible on the pitch.

This is not to say that there is no distinction between universalism and specialism in either football or Football Manager. There most certainly is, but it is a historically relative distinction that exists within a more generally universalist paradigm. The current prominence of the 4-2-3-1, in which two midfielders are withdrawn to free up a pair of attacking defenders, is an ever present reminder of this, regardless of whether that midfield pair consists of a destroyer/creator partnership or a duo of hybrid controllers.

From this perspective, I think there are reasonable grounds to revisit the foundations of the fluidity setting and reconsider the theory in terms of the relatively mundane managerial instructions being theorized. In other words, in order to better refine and utilize the theory behind the setting, the particular details underlying the setting must be brought into focus.

What is needed, then, is a clear, practical interpretation of what fluidity actually does within the context and vernacular of the Tactics Creator itself. The following document is an exploratory and, hopefully, elucidating attempt at accomplishing this. Using an interpretative framework called the mentality ladder, I have attempted to illustrate the practical basis upon which the concept of fluidity is based.

The fundamental assumption underlying this framework is that fluidity is not, in practice, a team instruction. Rather, it represents the principle by which a set of relatively simple individual instructions are organized. Accordingly, to understand fluidity, it's important to understand how this abstract concept translates into the clearly expressed instructions given to individual players.

The Mentality Ladder

Below, you will find four versions of the mentality ladder: one for attack duty players (excluding advanced playmakers, trequartistas and enganches), one for support duty players and playmakers, one for defend/cover/stopper duty players (excluding deep lying playmakers) and one for goalkeepers.

In each case, the mentality ladder represents a set of general tactical responsibilities listed in descending order from most attacking to most defensive. These responsibilities indicate which task a player will look to carry out when occupying a different position or rung on the mentality ladder.

The rung or task that a player is primarily associated with is his tactical priority. A tactical priority indicates a player's main function and responsibility within a team's specific set of tactical instructions. While the relationship between role, duty and tactical priority will be discussed in detail further on, it should be noted here that the concepts are distinct yet closely connected.

Basically, a role shapes the precise manner in which a player approaches his tactical priority while duty controls his willingness to deviate it from it to join the attack. In this sense, tactical priorities are both general and responsive to other tactical settings. This reflects, as discussed in the introduction, the underlying universalism of modern tactical systems.


Image by @NakS

The Mentality Ladder for Attack Duty Players

-------------------------------------------- ATTACKING RESPONSIBILITIES --------------------------------------------
- Bypass Last Defender
- Challenge Defenders
- Overload Defenders
- Draw Off Defenders
- Penetrate Gaps Persistently
- Penetrate Gaps
- Penetrate Gaps Intermittently
- Spearhead Attacking Moves Closer to Defence
- Spearhead Attacking Moves
- Spearhead Attacking Moves from the Hole

--------------------------------------------- CONTROL RESPONSIBILITIES -----------------------------------------------
- Shuttle Ball Through Defence
- Shuttle Ball
- Shuttle Ball Into Space
- Keep Possession Under Pressure
- Keep Possession
- Keep Possession Away From Pressure
- Recover Possession Immediately
- Recover Possession
- Recover Possession After Defensive Transition

-------------------------------------------- DEFENSIVE RESPONSIBILITIES --------------------------------------------
- Disrupt Attacks Quickly
- Disrupt Attacks
- Disrupt Attacks Judiciously
- Restrict Space Aggressively
- Restrict Space
- Restrict Space Cautiously
- Divert Attacking Movement
- Contain Attacking Movement
- Slow Attacking Movement
- Obstruct Shots

The Mentality Ladder for Support Duty Players and Playmakers

-------------------------------------------- ATTACKING RESPONSIBILITIES --------------------------------------------
- Surge Into Box
- Rush Ball Forward
- Test Defence With Power
- Test Defence
- Test Defence With Precision
- Force Half Chances Without Hesitation
- Force Half Chances
- Force Half Chances When Necessary
- Create Chances Urgently
- Create Chances
- Create Chances Patiently

--------------------------------------------- CONTROL RESPONSIBILITIES -----------------------------------------------
- Shuttle Ball Through Defence
- Shuttle Ball
- Shuttle Ball Into Space
- Keep Possession Under Pressure
- Keep Possession
- Keep Possession Away From Pressure
- Recover Possession Immediately
- Recover Possession
- Recover Possession After Defensive Transition

-------------------------------------------- DEFENSIVE RESPONSIBILITIES --------------------------------------------
- Disrupt Attacks Quickly
- Disrupt Attacks
- Disrupt Attacks Judiciously
- Restrict Space Aggressively
- Restrict Space
- Restrict Space Cautiously
- Divert Attacking Movement
- Contain Attacking Movement
- Slow Attacking Movement
- Obstruct Shots

The Mentality Ladder for Defend Duty Players

-------------------------------------------- ATTACKING RESPONSIBILITIES --------------------------------------------
- Join Attack
- Force Clearance
- Hassle Defenders Relentlessly
- Hassle Defenders
- Hassle Dawdling Defenders
- Isolate Holding Midfielders
- Isolate Midfielders
- Isolate Advancing Midfielders
- Suppress Counterattacking Outlets
- Suppress Counterattacks
- Suppress Counterattacking Options

--------------------------------------------- CONTROL RESPONSIBILITIES -----------------------------------------------
- Shuttle Ball Through Defence
- Shuttle Ball
- Shuttle Ball Into Space
- Keep Possession Under Pressure
- Keep Possession
- Keep Possession Away From Pressure
- Recover Possession Immediately
- Recover Possession
- Recover Possession After Defensive Transition

-------------------------------------------- DEFENSIVE RESPONSIBILITIES --------------------------------------------
- Disrupt Attacks Quickly
- Disrupt Attacks
- Disrupt Attacks Judiciously
- Restrict Space Aggressively
- Restrict Space
- Restrict Space Cautiously
- Divert Attacking Movement
- Contain Attacking Movement
- Slow Attacking Movement
- Obstruct Shots

The Mentality Ladder for Goalkeepers

- Support Attacks
- Initiate Attacks
- Cycle Possession
- Distribute Safely
- Limit Pressure
- Shield Goal

While the names of the tasks will hopefully give you a fairly clear sense of what they involve, detailed descriptions of each have been provided in "Part VIII: Tactical Priorities in Detail."

One important aspect of the mentality ladder that should be noted is the duty-based division of priorities that occurs as players assume attacking responsibilities in the opposition half. While defensive and control responsibilities are the same for all outfield players, duty determines the nature of a player's attacking responsibilities as support and defend duty players are less likely to take up responsibilities that necessarily involve getting into the opposition area. This is why there are three, duty-based versions of the mentality ladder for outfield players, though in effect, each operates according to the same principles.

Finally, it should be noted that duty does not affect playmaker roles in the same manner they affect other roles. All playmakers will look to stay behind the forefront of the attack and look for space from which to play dangerous balls forward. To reflect this, all playmaker roles (i.e., the Deep Lying Playmaker, Advanced Playmaker, Enganche and Trequartista), regardless of assigned duty, are interpreted as following the "Support Duty" path.

TACTICAL PRIORITY AND THE TASK AT HAND

As I will explain in more detail below, a player's effective position on the mentality ladder is dynamic and responsive to how play is developing. While a player's tactical priority certainly influences and informs the mentality and decision-making with which he approaches the task at hand, no player is ever constrained to just one task and all players respond in some manner to the current phase of play. In other words, a player's tactical priority represents what task the player will primarily be focused on carrying out as well as the point at which a player will typically look to get directly involved in play, but all outfield players will move up and down the ladder in response to what's actually happening on the pitch.

Generally, players will attempt to find a balance between successfully carrying out the current task and carrying out that task in a way that serves their tactical priority. Again, a tactical priority is not a constraint but a guiding point of reference to which a player gravitates while taking up and carrying out a multitude of responsibilities during the match.

Of course, much depends on how well your players play. When your players decisively outplay your opponent, they will spend much or most of their time carrying out their tactical priority, but if they struggle, they will spend more time being forced to carry out tasks further down the mentality ladder. Thus, a very fluid overload tactic may direct nearly all of your team to get into or around the opposition penalty area, but ultimately, they still need to play well enough to carry out such an ambitious objective. In this sense, outplaying your opponent or nullifying their tactics can be thought of as the extent to which you force them to deviate from their tactical priorities.

Accordingly, it's important to keep in mind that a player's position on the mentality ladder does not necessarily correspond to a player's current physical location on the pitch. Rather, it represents a player's mental orientation, and while each position on the ladder does direct a player towards playing the ball in a certain area of the pitch, there will be points in a match where a player is focused on moving either himself or the ball into another area of the pitch. This may mean the player is simply out of position or transitioning to a new phase of play, but it could also mean that the player is setting himself up to quickly perform a task in anticipation of the progression of play or has been asked to play a tactical function that involves playing the ball back to teammates advancing from deeper positions.

If you're not averse to mixing metaphors, you can think of players as having a sort of imaginary elastic cord that attaches them (in a mental sense) to the rung representing their tactical priority. Thus, while all players will move up and down the ladder (i.e., take up different responsibilities in response to the present situation), the further they stretch the cord, the more the cord will pull back and noticeably influence their decision-making.

MENTALITY STRUCTURE

A mentality structure is the way a team is organized by individual players' tactical priorities. It is shaped by a tactic's formation, fluidity, mentality, roles and duties, and it fundamentally determines how your team operates in attack and defence. In the following sections, I've listed the various fluidity/mentality combinations along with the tactical priorities for each position (and relevant roles and duties) under that combination. This will allow you to determine a given tactic's mentality structure and give you a better sense of how it will operate.

FORMATION, POSITION AND TACTICAL PRIORITY

A player's position also partially determines their tactical priority. Within the framework of the Tactics Creator, fluidity has mainly been thought of in terms of the team's overall strategic focus (or as it's now called, mentality), but here, the concept of a player's tactical priority makes a finer distinction on an individual level.

Therefore, even in a very fluid system, a centreback and striker typically aren't going to share the exact same tactical priority. There is, rather, an inherent division of responsibilities established by the formation itself. This is plainly evident when watching a very fluid tactic in action. While a very fluid tactic will usually cause a team to collectively focus on a smaller number of tasks, the team doesn't all focus on the same task at once. Strikers will still tend to operate as the more advanced players while centrebacks will still be the ones holding the defensive line.

With this in mind, a formation can be thought of as establishing a baseline mentality structure that fluidity modfies. In this baseline structure, players positioned further from their goal have a slightly more attacking orientation than those positioned directly behind them while wide players of a given positional stratum (e.g., defensive midfield, midfield, attacking midfield, etc.) have a slightly more attacking orientation than their central counterparts. In the following outlines of the various mentality structures, I've attempted to reflect this to provide a better sense of how the mentality structures actually operate in practice as well as emphasizing the effect of formation.

ASYMMETRIC PRIORITY ARRANGEMENTS

In some mentality structures, especially balanced mentality structures, a player in an advanced position may have a less aggressive tactical priority than a player in a deeper position. As noted above, a tactical priority does not necessarily correspond to a physical position on the pitch, so this asymmetry between formation and tactical priority does not mean your formation (or to be precise, your defensive formation) will be altered. However, it does mean that the advanced player with the lower tactical priority will be more likely to drop deep to help players positioned much lower on the pitch (including providing positional cover for their forward runs), more cautious in his general decision-making with a greater tendency to hold off on a risky pass or tackle, and notably for playmakers, less urgent in advancing up the pitch and attempting runs deep into the attacking third. For players in deeper positions with more aggressive tactical priorities, the reverse is also true.

Certainly, this may have a significant effect on how your team's shape develops at various points in the match, particularly during the attacking phase, but as discussed above, it's a question of movement and tendencies in decision-making. Again, a player's effective position on the mentality ladder is dynamic in response to the movement of the rest of the team, and in these sort of asymmetric arrangements of tactical priority, it typically means the advanced player with the less aggressive tactical priority will serve as a sort of cautionary check on the urgency of your team's play and look to control the tempo while staving off rash decisions when necessary. Good examples of this include the advanced playmaker who looks to dictate tempo from the hole until midfielders get forward to support the attack and the more aggressively positioned ball-winner who consistently looks to play the ball back to a creative player who initiates attacks from deep.

Accordingly, these asymmetric arrangements should not be seen as somehow counterproductive or contradictory to your formation. On the contrary, such arrangements can be highly effective and useful in modeling certain tactical systems.

THE ORIENTING EFFECT OF TEAM MENTALITY AND FLUIDITY

For all fluidity settings, the team mentality setting defines the core tactical priority around which the mentality structure is based while the fluidity setting determines the degree of differentation between the tactical priorities of individual players. As you will notice when examining the mentality structures, no mentality structure on any fluidity setting will have a massive difference in tactical focus between any two players. This is necessary to prevent the team from becoming overly disconnected and, in effect, having players working against one another's tactical priorities. Ultimately, all mentality structures will sensibly base the team around a core set of tactical priorities in a way that ensures even the most defensive and attacking players are contributing to the team's basic objective in some way.

Of course, this means that much of the in-game descriptions of fluidity and team mentality settings is simply inaccurate. No fluidity setting necessarily restricts any one type of player to any one phase of play nor does a high level of fluidity mean that, for example, an attacker told to go all-out attack will be more inclined to help defend than a striker in a rigid system told to do the same. In fact, team mentality is far more relevant than fluidity in terms of determining a defender's willingness to get forward or an attacker's willingness to track back, and it is simply not true that more fluid settings always increase their willingness to do so while more rigid settings decrease it.

As discussed above, all players respond dynamically to the development of play, and this is true on all mentality and fluidity settings. Fluidity settings merely establish the basic orientation of individual players relative to the team mentality, and the interaction between fluidity and mentality is much more nuanced than the Tactics Creator descriptions seem to suggest.

OUTLINING THE MENTALITY STRUCTURES

The following sections outline the anatomy of the various mentality structures. The outlines are grouped under fluidity settings and presented in order from most defensive to most attacking. The specific tactical priorities in each fluidity/mentality combination are listed by position with unique role or duty exceptions listed in italics under the position.

Hopefully, these outlines will serve as a useful reference point as you set out to put your tactical vision into practice. However, keep in mind that these outlines only present the most basic underlying foundation of a tactic. Subsequent sections will delve into more detail regarding the interaction between tactical priority and duty in various phases of play. Simply, understanding this interaction is essential to understanding how and why a tactic operates in the way it does, so while these outlines are intended to provide a firm basis for tactical design, they merely represent the first step in that process.



Stam's avatar
About Stam

I started FM Scout for fun in the distant 2004. I'm proud of how this place has grown into a vibrant community and I try my best to improve it every year. Husband and father of one.


Discussion: The Mentality Ladder: Understanding Fluidity and Duty

2 comments have been posted so far.

  • paolope83's avatar
    Great job Stam. A useful and perfectly written and shaped guide. Kudos
  • Ziechael's avatar
    As per usual, a world class summary(/detailed breakdown!) of one of FM's vaguer areas.
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