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Catch up with YouTuber Spencer Taylor in his Newport to new Champion series

Spencer, aka BadJokesFM, has been on an exciting journey from the lower leagues to the Premier League. Find out where he’s up to now. Can he find even more success? Watch now.

Spencer: Hey guys. I’m back with the last 2 games of season 5 of Newport to new Champion as my Southampton team take on Burnley and Newcastle. See how I’ve got on in my first half season in the Premier League…

 

Top five players in FM17

After playing (methodically) around six seasons on FM17, I’ve had my fair share of disappointment but I’ve also enjoyed the odd pleasant surprise. Most of these precious moments have involved players I’ve been able to rely on for match-winning performances. Others have always stuck to their job, allowing me peace of mind or just have a special skill. Here are my five favourite players on FM17 so far…

Dusan Tadic

He was loyal to my Southampton until I let Villa prise him away at 32 years old. I regret it now because he was consistent on either wing, best as an inside forward. He’s a composed and able finisher. He’s good at free kicks and penalties. For me, he’s an ideal attacking midfielder; I love his versatility and wide range of skills. I only sold him because I bought a couple of forwards who needed game time. He’s elegant, has flair and he’s one of those players that people describe as seeming to have more time than the players around him on the pitch. A special player.

Harry Arter

I’ve never seen someone close down and tackle like this chap. They say he was refused entry to all nationally-recognised long-distance races as it would be unfair to any competitors: ‘Oi, no professionals.’ That may or may not be a myth but what I know for sure is he NEVER STOPS. This is very reassuring for a manager who can’t stand lazy footballers. He’s a player who’s singlehandedly changed what I want in my teams. Now I won’t go in to a season without this sort of player. Arter actually went on to let me down, asking to leave if I didn’t give him a hefty pay boost, after less than a season under my stewardship. I believe LA Galaxy had unsettled him (infuriating) but they lost interest. He still wanted to leave though and when Atalanta came in with an acceptable bid, he joined them. He’s on less money now than he was with me at Watford!! What is this game sometimes?

Gylfi

Gylfi, formerly known as Gylfi Sigurdsson, has had some fantastic seasons for me. As well as being reliable in possession and resilient to injury, he’s always a danger from freekicks, is great in link-up play and has very good vision and passing. He’s a class act. Like Tadic, he’s a well-rounded player – not amazing defensively, but not awful – he’s a very good team player. As I write this, I’ve played two games on FM17 and Gylfi has scored in each, including a 30-yard freekick.

Marco Asensio

Probably the most talented player I’ve managed so far on FM17. Who needs a right foot when your left is as good as Asensio’s? Apparently that’s what they say in Mallorca, where the Spaniard started his career before coming to greater prominence at Real Madrid. You could do worse than mopping up Real’s sloppy seconds. Although stuck in a dip in form at the moment, he’s scored 19 goals this season by January and notched seven assists. I imagined he’d be primarily a provider of chances so I’m very pleasantly surprised to see him taking the responsibility of putting the ball in the net from long range shots, freekicks, headed goals, penalties and more. He runs a lot with the ball, which can be a deadly weapon to have in my team, however, it can be frustrating when he gives away possession, sometimes putting us on the back foot. Overall though, a great £7.5m signing and only 26 when I signed him.

Moussa Dembele (striker)

Moussa was one of the first players I signed on FM17 in my first job at Swansea City. I’d seen him performing well for Celtic in real life; I copy-edited Scottish newspapers and it was impossible to miss the progress he was making and his goals against Man City in the Champions League this year confirmed he had real talent. He was extremely important for me and my Swansea team after I whisked him away from Celtic for only £7m. Although a ‘streaky’ player, he went on impressive scoring runs and he often created goals for himself. He wasn’t just a fox in the box, he could run at and beat several defenders at a time before smashing the ball home. Moussa has lost his way since I sold him to Arsenal for £25m but I’d be tempted to buy him again.

 

When in doubt let them grow: how to be a better football manager

Nothing good comes from anger… does it? I’m the manager at Newport County, a club with a virtually empty bank account, reliant on striking gold in the loan market. If I can take the club out of League Two and up the divisions, I’ll be a hero but even if I can achieve that dream, I’m probably going to experience many moments of disappointment and frustration.

The authoritarian manager

I grew up supporting and watching Manchester United. Their manager at the time was Sir Alex Ferguson so when I first considered what sort of virtual football manager I should be, I immediately thought I wanted to emulate aspects of his personality: his discipline, high standards, unforgiving nature, stubbornness, his refusal to accept less than 100% effort and commitment on and off the pitch. But Sir Alex was one-of-a-kind and, as player power grows, it’s hard to see another manager juggling almost total control and constant success.

The cocktail of no money and sparse talent at Newport could make a saint swear and that’s what I feel like doing at some or all of my players after half of our games but it doesn’t work and it just makes me more frustrated. So I’m going to take a different approach. I think I’ll enjoy managing Newport and playing the game if I take a less hands-on approach. I’m going to:

  • Focus on developing an attractive play style and not worry too much about results
  • Work on helping my players improve even if I don’t see a long-term future for them at the club
  • Favour Welsh players
  • Keep all players 25 and younger unless they come to the end of their contract and they’re deemed not good enough
  • Only sign a new player when another leaves

How do you manage your team? Which managers do you take inspiration from? I think the management style you choose is so important and it would be interesting to learn what works for you. Tweet me @fmscrapbook

Aiming for marvellous football in League Two: progress report

In the first part of this series, Bringing Attractive Football to League Two Newport County, I outlined how I would measure my success. The end goal was to play beautiful football but we have to build up to that point. What exactly beautiful football is is subjective so I listed the statistics I would aim for:

  • Achieve the best pass completion ratio over a season
  • Achieve the best average possession percentage over a season
  • Be in the top 10 for goals scored over a season
  • At least one player in the top five for dribbles per game for a season

After seven competitive games, let’s see if Newport fans are any closer to exclaiming, ‘It’s like watching Brazil!’

The League Two campaign begins

We’re expected to struggle to stay up so a 0-1 loss after a late goal in our first league game didn’t worry me too much. It’s very early days in terms of developing our play style but it was at least an entertaining affair.

Stats League TwoWe just shaded the possession and had a good number of shots but failed to score. Our Josh Sheehan was joint second for dribbles. We only completed 65% of our passes but that’s unsurprising as our best passer only has a 13 rating. That player, Mark Randall, completed 64 passes out of 78 attempts. Randall has an average pass completion percentage of 82%. And, although we played a 4-1-2-2-1 with a DLPD and two IFS’, we have used a 4-4-2 in most games. This is partly due to my general lack of goals in FM17 when using one up front. Also, I think 4-4-2 might be better-suited to lower league football. Another reason is I don’t have a striker I trust to be a lone ranger. Jon Parkin lacks mobility and Rhys Healey is quite weak.

Average possession

Hartlepool lead League Two for average possession and pass completion ratio, however they’re languishing in 22nd. Newport are 22nd for average possession with 46.40% so I’m probably going to have to make some adjustments or just get better passers, even though I’m quite happy with the way the team is playing and creating chances. We’re 11th for pass completion percentage, which is reassuring and, although this wasn’t one of my targets, we have the best cross completion at 16%.

Goals scored

We’re joint 16th for goals scored in League Two, with five in five. I imagined being the top scoring team would be the most difficult target to reach and I still think that. Scoring a goal is surely the hardest thing to do in a football match, while anyone can pass the ball from side to side in midfield and have 60+% possession … can’t they?

Dribbles per game

We haven’t a single player in League Two’s top 20 for dribbles per game (players must have played at least four games). However, Jennison Myrie-Williams has made an average 6.92 dribbles per game, which is pretty impressive but that’s out of only two appearances. Let’s see if he can break in to the top five once he’s played more games.

I predict it will be extremely difficult to achieve every target I’ve set for Newport County but I feel we’re going in the right direction. Tracking certain statistics is giving me a clearer picture of any progress we’re making which is satisfying. For now, we dream of the day we treat the Newport fans to sexy football.

How to transfer a tactical plan from your mind to the pitch

After spending the sum of two years playing Football Manager I still really struggle to translate my ideas for playstyles into the game’s tactics creator. I often lean towards a formation partly because it’s symmetrical and its shape is pleasing on the eye – a ridiculous reason probably. But the game allows us to make a complex mix of choices and I find it very difficult to visualise how my team will play just by looking at the tactics menu. What’s more, for every player you move around the pitch to strengthen your attack or defence, you weaken the area he was moved from and it can be difficult to accept this. But I think I might have worked out how to put my plan in to action…

  • Start by brainstorming everything you want your tactic to include. Maybe you want marauding wing backs, a Pirlo-esque playmaker or a sweeper keeper. Do you want supporting wingers who prefer to cross than get in to the box or do you want them to run at defenders and try to beat them with skill a la Bolasie? You might like the idea of using a big target man. Get all of your ideas on paper and work from there.
  • Arrange a friendly to get an idea of how your new tactic will work but remember it takes time for your players to become familiar with a tactic. You can do this at any point in the season. I find Nike Academy are usually available for a game and they’re not great so it’s also a confidence booster.
  • Start with the basics. I’m a perfectionist so it’s very tempting to try to add every team and player instruction before I play a game. It might be better to start with a few simple team instructions and add more, plus player instructions, as you come to understand your tactic. Choose a formation, a mentality and a team shape. Your team instructions will be at their default settings, such as ‘normal’ defensive line and it shouldn’t be too risky to leave them alone for the first few games. If one of your key philosophies is to play possession football then choose ‘retain possession’, sure, but try not to overcomplicate matters at this early stage.
  • Decide if you’ll be an attacking or defensive team. Ultimately, every team is one or the other. Consider what your choice will mean. To what extent will you be offensive or defensive? There are numerous ways you can gain a defensive advantage, such as using a ball winning midfielder, defending deep, closing down or not closing down to keep your shape. Maybe you’ll use ball retention as a way to prevent the opposition from scoring. If they don’t have the ball, they can’t score.
  • People say Marouane Fellaini isn’t ‘a Man United player’. If there was a certain player, who played a certain way, who personifies the sort of football you want to encourage, who would it be or how would they play? Then look for these qualities in all of the players you buy. Maybe aggression is important to you or you might want a team of very technically-gifted players.
  • Find a template you can work from. Chances are, if you’ve had an idea for a tactic, it will have been done before to some extent, so use it to build your new system. uMAXit Football on YouTube make some easy-to-follow explanations of the way well-known teams play. It’s exciting to try to make your team play in a completely original way without using any examples but it’s much more difficult to pull off. I’ve chosen Chelsea’s 3-4-3 (calling it this as you all know what I mean) as inspiration, because I haven’t used a three-man defence for a while and it’s clearly a strong gameplan when using the right players.

If you take anything away from this article, I’d suggest remembering that you can’t make a successful tactic just by tinkering in the tactics creator. You should use external resources too and use other areas of the game, such as matches and match analyses, to decipher what is and isn’t working so you can continue to sculpt your ideal system. Everyone plays the game differently though so however you set your team up, keep having fun.

Bringing attractive football to League Two Newport County

I’ve only been to one Newport County match (in the 2015/16 season) but once was enough. I also saw fellow League Two sides Plymouth Argyle and Exeter City play in the 2015/16 season and it was a similarly scrappy story where physical strengths seemed more important than technical skills. I thought Exeter played comparatively decent football though. Shrewsbury, in League One, weren’t a lot better, however, they did have one or two players whose quality in attacking areas highlighted their teams’ slight superiority.

The brutal-ful game

It’s not easy playing beautiful football at that level. Players are on the whole not as gifted and pitches are usually harder to play on. Trying to pass the ball out from the back would be a particularly risky strategy as defenders are unlikely to have the technical and mental attributes for it and the ball could bobble horribly and fall to an opposing striker. That isn’t to say no players at this level are good passers or there aren’t any great playing surfaces – there are always exceptions; for example, semi-professional Nantwich Town FC always have a fine pitch – but for the most part, you notice a difference between Premier League football matches and matches in lower leagues.

It’s like watching Brazil

So, I’m not criticizing these teams, it’s just unrealistic for them to aim to play like Arsenal or Barcelona and still win games in largely physical, pragmatic divisions. Having said all that, I’m going to try to achieve what I think is almost impossible. I want to get League Two Newport County playing attractive football in FM17. But what is attractive football? Isn’t it subjective? To know if I’ve succeeded in my attempt, I must set measurable targets. So, as a club we must endeavour to (if you think there’s more to beautiful football, let me know):

  • Achieve the best pass completion ratio over a season
  • Achieve the best average possession percentage over a season
  • Score more goals than the average number of goals scored over a season
  • At least one player in the top five for dribbles per game for a season

To achieve these targets, I will need the right players, system and some luck.

The Players

mark randall

Our best passer is Mark Randall with a 13 rating. At this level, it’s decent but we’re going to need more players at least as good a passer as Randall if we’re to play attractive football.

reece grego-coxOur best dribbler is Reece Grego-Cox – on loan from QPR – so we’ll need someone better who can be relied on to run at defenders at almost every opportunity.

john parkin newportI’m excited to have a folk hero among us. John Parkin is well-known in English football after playing for nearly 20 years at a high level. He started at Barnsley before playing for the likes of York, Hartlepool, Hull and Stoke. Parkin is our second best finisher after Grego-Cox and I expect him to bag a few goals for us. I’m not convinced he can be relied on to bang them in consistently over a season though so I’ll be looking for another striker to chip in. We also have Rhys Healey, on loan from Cardiff. He has 12 finishing and, at only 21, he can improve.

Well, I’m keen to get stuck in to this challenge. It could be the most difficult test I’ve set myself yet on Football Manager. Follow me on Twitter @fmscrapbook to find out how Newport’s season progresses and if we can play ‘like Brazil’.