For those of you that have kept up with my stories in the past, and maybe are reading my current one, you know that I pay attention to detail. That attention to detail will now focus on what exactly I do at the helm of my team(s). For this dissertation I will use Newport County as an example. In learning how to be successful at FM, I have learned far more through working my way up from the dregs of the Blue Square North/South than I have at the helm of Man City or the English national team. There is so much more to learn at the lower levels, much of which is swept aside at the highest levels of FM. Not to say that successfully managing a top club or national team is a walk in the park - those teams have their own challenges that are unique to them. But again, for this particular discussion I will focus on lower league management.
At the very least, I hope to cover topics such as training schedules, formations, player roles/tactics, budget/finance management, and anything else that comes to mind. If there is a particular question you'd like to have answered, please feel free to post it as a comment or send me a direct message. Basically, I plan on taking you from the start of my season to the end of my season. Let's get started then!
Let's assume your starting your career where I always do - somewhere no higher than the Blue Square Premier. The biggest hindrance at this low of a level is that your team could very likely be semi-professional. This alone is a huge handicap to overcome because it limits you in several ways. You will be staring at a limited support staff, limited weekly wages (and probably no transfer kitty), and a team full of part-time players. Oh, the joy!
Formation and player settings
My first step? I go into the tactics tab and set up my traditional 442 formation. There are two key reasons that I like using the 442. First, it provides players to play several positions rather effectively. A lot of fullbacks can play center back and a lot of wide midfielders can slide to center mid, for example. When league play limits you to only 5 players on the bench, it's nice to have the utility that a basic 442 allows. Secondly, more exotic formations can be highly effective, but at lower levels you typically don't see someone that can effectively play AMC or DMC, or AML/R.
2 CB - both set to defend
2 FB - both set to defend
1 Right midfielder - set to wide midfielder, auto
1 Center midfielder - set to advanced playmaker, attack
1 Center midfielder - set to center midfielder, defend
1 Left midfielder - set to wide midfielder, auto
1 Striker - set to trequartista, attack
1 Striker - set to poacher, attack
There are a couple of player role changes that I readily use as well, depending on how things are looking on the pitch.
My philosophy is always balanced and 99% of the time I start with a standard strategy. Literally no changes from the default settings. In an attempt to remove the multitude of variables that are in play during any given match, I decided to eliminate the variables I could. That's why I use all default settings under the Playing Style category.
If I'm playing a particularly tough opponent I will sometimes start off with a counter strategy. By tough opponent, I'm talking about a team that is in a league above me or one of the top goal scoring teams in my current league. Those are the only types of teams that I will open play with a slightly negative mentality. Even playing on counter often invites too much offensive pressure on my teams and I don't like that. A lot of times you're better off on standard - playing less reactively to the opponent and forcing them to spend some time and energy defending me instead of just attacking me for minutes at a time.
Attacking free kicks
1 FB - stay back
1 FB - stay back if needed
2 CB - disrupt wall
2 WM - go forward
Defensive MC - stay back if needed
Offensive MC - stand with taker
Taller striker - mark keeper
Shorter striker - go forward
Defending free kicks
2 FB - man mark
2 CB - man mark
2 WM - form wall
Defensive MC - stay back
Offensive MC - form wall
Taller striker - form wall
Shorter striker - stay forward
2 FB - stay back
1 CB - attack far post
1 CB - attack near post
2 WM - go forward
Defensive MC - stay back if needed
Offensive MC - offer short option
Taller striker - challenge keeper
Shorter striker - go forward
2 FB - man mark
2 CB - mark tall player
1 WM - mark near post
1 WM - mark far post
Defensive MC - man mark
Offensive MC - edge of area
Taller striker - close down corner
Shorter striker - stay forward
2 FB - stay back
2 CB - forward
2 WM - near post
Defensive MC - stay back
Offensive MC - come short
Taller striker - forward
Shorter striker - lurk outside area
The second step after setting up tactics is to set up training schedules. I've linked copies of all my current training schedules below except for my part time GK schedule. I forgot to set it up while I was a part time team in my current save and now I can't make it. At any rate, the schedules should be fairly self explanatory and you can tweak the sliders to better suit your team's tactic(s).
Full time schedules
GK - http://www.fmscout.com/datas/users/gk_6713.tsh
DC - http://www.fmscout.com/datas/users/dc_6713.tsh
FB - http://www.fmscout.com/datas/users/fb_6713.tsh
MC - http://www.fmscout.com/datas/users/mc_6713.tsh
WM - http://www.fmscout.com/datas/users/wm_6713.tsh
FC - http://www.fmscout.com/datas/users/fc_6713.tsh
Part time schedules
GK - n/a
DC - http://www.fmscout.com/datas/users/dc_part_time_6713.tsh
FB - http://www.fmscout.com/datas/users/fb_part_time_6713.tsh
MC - http://www.fmscout.com/datas/users/mc_part_time_6713.tsh
WM - http://www.fmscout.com/datas/users/wm_part_time_6713.tsh
FC - http://www.fmscout.com/datas/users/fc_part_time_6713.tsh
GK - http://www.fmscout.com/datas/users/gk_youth_6713.tsh
DC - http://www.fmscout.com/datas/users/dc_youth_6713.tsh
FB - http://www.fmscout.com/datas/users/fb_youth_6713.tsh
MC - http://www.fmscout.com/datas/users/mc_youth_6713.tsh
WM - http://www.fmscout.com/datas/users/wm_youth_6713.tsh
FC - http://www.fmscout.com/datas/users/fc_youth_6713.tsh
Phew! With all of the boring foundation stuff done, it's time to move on to something a little more exciting and a little closer to actual play on the pitch. The best tactics in the world will only get you half way to your goal. The other half is having the talent to execute those tactics. Below is what I value at each position in my 442 tactic in rough order of importance. There are certain mental attributes that I use as a tiebreaker between two players that are technically and/or physically similar - Concentration, Anticipation, Decisions, Teamwork, Work Rate. Lastly, I tend to stay away from any player that has questionable stamina or natural fitness. Those players tend to wear down too quickly during matches or not recover quickly enough between matches.
GK - Reflexes, Command of area, Handling, Aerial ability, Agility
CB - Strength, Marking, Tackling, Heading, Jumping, Bravery
FB - Pace, Marking, Bravery, Crossing, Tackling
MR - Pace, Crossing, Technique, Dribbling, Off the ball
MCd - Marking, Tackling, Passing, Long Shots, Technique
MCa - Creativity, Flair, Passing, Technique, First Touch
ML - Pace, Crossing, Technique, Dribbling, Off the ball
ST - Finishing, First Touch, Technique, Composure, Off the ball
ST - Creativity, First Touch, Technique, Flair, Off the ball, Passing, Finishing
Of course, at the lowest levels of competition you can't expect to achieve good ratings in all of these areas. One of my biggest philosophies at these levels is to focus on two things - pace and stamina. I like to be able to outpace my opponents when attacking because even if your players aren't sound enough to set up a beautiful attack, raw speed really helps to put opposing defenses on their back foot. Defensively, speed can help erase poor positioning or missed interceptions/tackles. Stamina, meanwhile, helps keep your best players on the pitch and performing at higher levels while your opposition is sucking wind or has to sub in a lesser player.
I found this handy dandy calculator that stam linked - http://bonzollm.net.tc/
This makes things nice and easy.
Regardless of what level I'm coaching at, I set the bar at a 3 star minimum rating for all areas. I also want only coaches, rather than first or youth coaches, to minimize my wage bill. Starting in lower leagues you will have issues with restrictions on the number of staff you can hire, so you have to be selective at first with your hires.
First and foremost, I look for the best fitness coach I can hire and I have that person pull double duty coaching both strength and aerobic. Second, I look for the best assistant manager type. I like someone with good ratings in current ability (for starting 11 suggestions) and working with youngsters (for coaching the reserves and u18s) to go along with good overall ratings in the other technical areas. Remember that beggars can't be choosers early on, so just try to get the best you can at first. Once you can hire more coaches, that's when I start to specialize. I get one coach for every training category and then have my assistant manager train every category to make sure all coaches have a light training load.
It's hard to say what aspect of scouting is the most important when comparing advance scouting against your upcoming opponents vs scouting for players you could potentially sign. When faced with the limitations at lower levels I think it's more important to scout your upcoming opponents.
First off, I think scouting your opponent gives you a wealth of information that is critical in putting together a winning tactic - length/width of the pitch you will play on, strengths/weaknesses of a team's attack/defense, etc. If I'm playing on a big pitch I pay close attention to how fast my opponent is. The faster they are, the more cautiously I'll play. If I'm playing on a smaller pitch, I don't worry so much from the onset but I watch how my players are holding up. If we're under duress I'll try to slow down the game, for example. Likewise, if my scout tells me that a team is succeptible to a fast attack, I tend to play a little more aggressively than I normally would. Even against stronger overall teams, if I see an advantage I will do my best to attack it.
Second off, I don't find much reason to scout for talent when you're limited in terms of your scout's ability and your team's lack of finances. Chances are you'll have scouts that have average (~10) at best ratings in current and/or potential ability. I'm not trusting someone with that kind of rating to project the abilities of a player, especially for players that are still young and developing. More than likely, that 4 star potential player will wind up to be a 2 star player at best. If the player is in their mid-20s and has most of their development behind them, then the story is a little different because you can get a more accurate gauge on talent when comparing potential new players with ones that are currently on your squad.
Even if you nab a scout that has above average (15+) ratings in current and/or potential ability you still have to worry about the accuracy of ratings when you're looking at younger players. And beyond that, do you have the training facilities and coaches in place to get a given player to grow into their potential? I'll give you an example. I have two primary scouts that I send out looking for players that are 18 or younger. One has a 19 potential rating and one has a 20 potential rating. I've brought in several players in the past that were rated 4 stars or higher and have only had one or two approach that potential rating. It's not a lack of ability on the side of the player or the scout, or in my case my coaching staff (4+ star ratings across the board) - I have average training facilities and therefore get average results.
I'll finish out this topic later with the areas that I like to scout when I'm trying to unearth young talent.
One of the more subtle tactical differences between lower leagues and upper leagues is the number of players you can bring with you on match day, with lower leagues allowing you to bring two fewer subs to each game. To reiterate a point I made earlier when talking about formations - this is why I like to go with a more vanilla formation that allows for players that can play multiple positions. You'll give yourself more flexibility during matches and throughout the course of a season to deal with suspensions, poor runs of form, injuries, etc., if you have players that are interchangeable.
When I'm limited to 5 subs, I typically bring 2 midfielders, 2 strikers, and 1 full/center back. Your midfielders should be able to pull double duty as both center mids as well as being able to play out wide on at least one side of the pitch. This lets you cover 4 positions with two players. I like to bring two strikers because my guys play distinct roles with one being a setup man and the other being the finisher. Lastly I bring one defender that can play multiple positions on my back line. This mix typically lets you make key substitutions as needed, whether you need to apply some offensive pressure at the end of a game or if you need to park the bus.
Once you can start employing 7 subs, things get a little easier in terms of roster management. My 7 man bench includes a sub for every midfielder and striker and one full/center back. The same concept applies as earlier, with your bench giving you the ability to flex toward offense or defense if needed. With two extra bodies, however, I know look to push my players a little more during attacks since I know I can easily sub in a set of fresh legs toward the end of a game.
Overall, I shape my first team roster as follows:
1 GK - I no longer keep my backup keeper on the first team, as I'd rather have him getting minutes by playing on reserves.
(1 player that can play a combination of DR/L/C)
Given a decent amount of stamina (10+ for my style of play) for your players, this mixture lets you run with pretty much the same group of guys week in and week out. You may need to do some substituting with your midfielders and strikers if/when you hit stretches where you play 2 games in 6 days or worse, but other than that your rotation should stay pretty much the same. I think being able to achieve this type of rotation helps your players develop a level of familiarity that translates to positive results on the pitch. The results in my Newport County story are proof in my eyes of this. When our offense outclasses a superior defense and vice versa, I think it's due to our players being very familiar with one another.
Admittedly, this is an area that I have yet to really dive into. I haven't gotten to the point yet where I have an 'organic' team. By that, I mean a team that can rely almost solely on cultivating their youth talent into first team stars. When I get to that point, however, I can see where loans can be put to use.
The current extent that I use loans is when I need to get a developing player time on a first team somewhere. I like to arrange my reserves and U18s at the start of every month to make sure that my highest PA players are all starting. The few times where I've had too many players to give everyone a starting spot, I'll put a player out on loan. When loan offers come in I look at the prospective teams and tend to accept only teams with at least average training facilities and teams that say they're looking at my player(s) as a first team option. My line of thinking here is that I don't want my player to go to a shittier training situation and I don't want him to leave my bench for another team's bench.
As for being on the receiving end of loans, I've never had a lot of parent teams. And even when I've had a parent team, I usually don't get handed players that are worth starting. They're usually of the 17-18 y/o variety that either aren't developed physically or mentally enough to contribute in much more than a late sub role. That said, I still take on whatever loan offers come my way since they're a free way to add depth to your squad. This is key for a lower level team when any additional bodies comes in handy, no matter how mediocre they may be.
Someone just PM'd me about how I handle team talks, so here's a quick rundown.
Pre-match - I usually just stick with 'for the fans' against most teams and then for much weaker teams I will 'expect a win'.
Half time - If I'm losing I'll remind them that they can win the game. If I'm winning I'll tell them I'm pleased if performances are good (lots of 7+ ratings); if performances are ok I may not say anything; if performances are bad (some low 6s) I'll tell them not to get complacent.
Full time - I'm 'pleased' with anyone with a 7.5-7.9 rating and 'delighted' with anyone with an 8+ rating.
Post-game presser - If my player gets man of the match, he gets highest praise.
Scouting - both tactically and for talent
Roster - makeup, transfers, loans, etc.
Boardroom - tell them who's boss