Category Archives: Career Updates

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.

Swansea

Swansea City: The value of a ‘selling club’ in Football Manager 2017

I’m managing Swansea in Football Manager 2017 and as you can imagine, building a quality team is a challenge. It’s October 12, 2020, so I’ve had four seasons to improve the Swans on and off the pitch and in terms of league positions, we haven’t finished higher than 15th which we achieved in 2016/17, my first season at the club. It’s been a frustrating journey and there have been times I was close to quitting but I’m not the sort to give up after so much effort.

Despite the team’s struggles, I can take positives from my time on the South West Walian coast so far. The relative lack of wealth at the club and our modest reputation compared to the Liverpools and Chelseas of the world mean I have to be imaginative when signing new players. I often have to compromise. I sign lots of young players who need development, because they’re cheaper. Once they’re at the club I have to be patient with them and nurture them, hoping they’ll become good enough to play for the first team. Players I sign will generally end up in one of three situations:

  • Some are so precocious they’re good enough to play in the first team almost immediately.
  • Some show great promise and, after some growth, they are ready for first team football.
  • Others show lots of talent but don’t develop, never play for the first team and are released or sold.

Even the guys who never play for the first team have the chance to develop their games at Swansea and the majority are sold to good clubs in the Premier League or the Championship or their foreign equivalents, rarely lower. Some of the players I sign would never have had the opportunity to move to the Premier League if I had not signed them and even if it doesn’t work out for them at Swansea, they will probably go on to have good careers at a high level.

Spend it wisely, mate

My highest fee spent on a player is £14.5m which, I think,  demonstrates the sort of financial restraint I’ve had to exercise. That’s very low for a Premier League club. The highest Swansea have ever paid for a player is £15.5m for Borja Baston in 2016. This was three days after they’d sold Andre Ayew to West Ham for £20.5m (good business?). Bournemouth’s highest fee spent in real life is £15m on Jordan Ibe and while they’re generally shrewd spenders in FM17, they did spend £23.5m on one player.

You could argue I’m continuing with Swansea’s traditions of selling before I can buy or at least making smart business decisions. If I can spend wisely, I should be able to get rid of unwanted players and replace them with players for less money who are a better fit. I might even be able to buy two players for the price of the one I’ve sold.

The role of ‘selling clubs’

So-called selling clubs surely fulfill a key role in football, and while no-one wants their club to be a selling club forever, they give players the ‘stepping stone’ they need to get better and potentially one day play for a club at the highest level, as well as their countries. This function worked perfectly with the Argentinian winger, Cristian Pavon. I signed him (you might argue I poached him) from Boca Juniors for £5m in 2019. One year later, Real Madrid swooped in to buy him from us for £27.5m. By bringing Pavon to Europe, I gave him the platform to show Real Madrid and others how good he was. He contributed some good performances, helping us to stay in the Premier League, and left Swansea a ‘world class winger’.

Not every player I buy is a huge success. I signed Gianluca Gaudino, a midfielder, at the end of his contract with Bayern for free. He was only 19/20 years old and wasn’t ready to play for our first team so I sent him on loan to Koln for a season and then Freiburg the season after. He made 28 appearances for Freiburg and returned to Swansea. I judged that he wasn’t good enough to play for our first team so put him for sale and Wolfsburg, obviously a big club in Germany, bought him for £500k. Although he didn’t make it with us he now has a chance of success in Germany and that makes me happy.

I can’t get no satisfaction

In terms of results on the pitch, I’ve not achieved the progress I planned and hoped for but it’s satisfying to know I’m helping players to improve and achieve their goals and I want to continue this. I won’t stop a player leaving, no matter how good he is, if a bigger and better club wants to sign him. However, I hope to keep hold of talented players long enough to build Swansea’s reputation and gradually move up the Premier League table.

Before FM 2017 I don’t think I got such pleasure from helping players move up in the sport but I’ve been able to enjoy success in the game not directly linked to winning trophies, which is a welcome discovery for me. Do you try to develop players with more than your own interests in mind? If not, try it; it could add an extra dimension to your FM saves and give greater meaning to the job of a virtual football manager.

Sampdoria career update: buying and selling for profit

It’s fitting that as I write this follow-up piece, I’m watching the team that inspired the transfer policy at my club: Leicester City.

Bargain signings, like Leicester’s Riyad Mahrez, are what I’m aiming for in my ‘Profit Challenge’ (introduction post here).

Since I took over at Sampdoria in Serie A, I’ve made four signings, a conservative number for me, and I’ve done quite well at sticking to my one self-imposed rule of spending no more than £1m on a player to make selling for a profit easier until we have a balance of at least £50m. It is currently £19.4m.

Signings

daniel

Daniel Sampaio Simoes

I love skillful, technical players. Danielzinho has skill in abundance with 16 technique and 16 dribbling. Maybe he could even show his hero, Ronaldinho, a thing or two. He cost us exactly £1m after each fee was added up and he’s 19 so has plenty of time to improve to a point where he could be sold for a big profit.

He’s physically weak but we can work on that. I’m concerned about his lacklustre work rate and teamwork but with 16 flair he will surely entertain the fans.

eron

Eronildo dos Santos Rocha

Eron was picked up by my director of football so I don’t know a lot about him. He looks like your typical talented young Brazilian striker (although he’s not very fast) so let’s hope he fulfills his promise.

He only cost us 300k so we have little to lose and he could make us a lot of money.

Eron interview and goals

svensson

Svensson is a versatile Norwegian player who can play at right back and right wing back and centre midfield. He cost us £1.1m so I broke the £1m rule by a fraction. He’s only 22 though and looks like a solid investment.

andrade

Victor Andrade dos Santos

I’ve broken the £1m rule by quite a bit here but I couldn’t say no to the chance to sign Victor Andrade for £3.5m. He’s only 20 and he was one of the resulting players from a search based on Riyad Mahrez’s key attributes. He looks like he could become absolutely class and I knew of him when he used to play for Santos in his teens. 16 technique, 17 flair, 15 dribbling and he’s quick! I can see Andrade fetching upwards of £20m in a few years if I can help him develop. I couldn’t believe it when Benfica said they’d accept a lump sum of £3.5m for him.

On the pitch

In terms of results we are doing quite well. We qualified for the group stage of the Europa League and then made the first qualifying round for which we await the draw.

In Serie A we’re 11th at the end of November 2015 after a poor start but we’re on good form having lost only two of our last eight while winning five.

Transfers

Spurs have been sniffing round my Italian striker, Eder, 29, who’s valued at £12.25m. We only paid £3m for him in 2012 so it might be the right time to sell him despite the fact he’s our top goalscorer. It’s a dilemma! The youngsters I’ve signed won’t arrive until summer 2016 but Svensson will in January 2016 so he will give us cover and we can start to try to boost his market value.

In the next article, after about a year in-game, I will hopefully be able to tell you my signings are playing well and improving and I’ll have a better idea if I can succeed at buying and selling players for a big profit. Until then, thanks for reading.

Profit challenge with Sampdoria

I’ve started a career at Sampdoria, inspired by the will to manage Italian football legend, Antonio Cassano. He recently returned to Sampdoria at a time when he must have wondered if he’d ever play football again. I’ve not got far yet but I’ve had a cheeky idea for a project which could make this venture interesting.

Sampdoria is one of several Italian clubs with a history of importing South American, especially Brazilian, talent and this was the catalyst for my idea to buy and sell Brazilians. However, Italian clubs can only buy two non-EU players from abroad per season so I’ll look for bargains elsewhere too.

I’ve been amazed by Leicester’s value-for-money signing, Riyad Mahrez, who only cost them £375,000. He’s probably worth fifty times that now.

I want to find other Mahrez’s out there. Porto have had continued success buying South American players and selling them for massive profits.

The only rules I need to abide by for this challenge are:

  • Pay no more than £1m for any player until we have a balance of £50m (currently £16m)
  • Concentrate on signing Brazilians, however other cheap players are allowed

It’s as simple as that really. I find the financial side of FM fascinating; it always provides an extra dimension to a game but I’ve never really focused on making profit for profit’s sake before. Can I do what I’ve never done before?

Bibliography

http://www.theguardian.com/football/2015/mar/31/antonio-cassano-retirment-football-parma-roma-bari

http://www.football-italia.net/78622/cassano-career-my-own-fault

http://www.thenational.ae/sport/football/cassano-is-showing-signs-of-maturity

Southport career update including FA Cup 2nd Round draw

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The Sandgrounders – favourites for the title – start to get their act together after a bad start to the season

It’s November 6, 2016 and Southport sit 13th in the Vanarama North after 16 games on 21 points, 10 behind first-place Worcester and five behind the fifth and final play-off place.

We (Southport) performed very well last season finishing second after losing momentum at just the wrong time. In 2015/16 we started the campaign as the media’s favourites to be promoted but things haven’t gone to plan.

Unfortunately, our major scorers last season – Sam Hillhouse and Jordan Jowers – don’t look anything like the strikers they were previously, although Jowers has scored his only two goals in the last two games which is promising.

Hillhouse is really struggling, scoring only one goal in 8 (4) appearances.

But we have galvanised and seven wins in 10 in all competitions mean we have moved up in the league and we’ve reached the second round of the FA Cup.

FA Cup draw highlights

It was a tense draw for us, especially with some big names in the pot, and sure enough we were handed a major challenge: a trip to League 1 Scunthorpe. The Iron have one of the deadliest strikers outside the top flight in Paddy Madden. He’s always prolific on FM. I think he could have made it to the Premier League with a bit more luck.

I’m always optimistic but this will be a huge challenge for us and I’m approaching it as a chance to have some fun and sample the magic of a typical cup tie. It’s David against Goliath from our perspective so can we bring the giant crashing to its knees?

Medium-term plans for Southport

I don’t usually put any energy in to national cup competitions but because we seem to be doing so well in the FA Cup this year, I’d like to see how far we can get without putting any pressure on the lads or myself.

Now we’ve built a head of steam in the league we can try to keep picking up wins and approach the play-off spots and who knows – if we can keep it going long enough – we might even have a shot at the title.

Development: We have a young squad with an average age of 22.92. FC United have the youngest squad in our league with 20.76 which seems crazy.

I’ve been a bit unwise forgetting to maintain a level of experience and after 39-year-old Gary Jones left, who I didn’t appreciate until he was gone, we’re short of leaders and cool heads.

But, as Alan Hansen will tell you, never write off kids.

As I was writing this, a couple of disgruntled players managed to get the board against me and I was promptly sacked. We’ll never know if Southport could have won the FA Cup…

Pay a visit next time when I will be posting an article about managing Lincoln, who took me on after Southport, in the Vanarama National League while using FM Genie Scout 2016 to find players and seeing how they develop from such a low level.

Lower league scouting

As you probably know, FM16 has been out for a few months now and I’m sure many of you will be entrenched in one or two careers.

It took me longer than usual to get going with the new game though. I don’t have as much free time as when I was unemployed. In those days I spent all day most days sat playing and watching TV/ applying for jobs.

But the game is never far from my mind. I wanted to recapture my enjoyment of the greatest football management sim and I’ve done it, with… Southport!

Every year I want to get a career going with a big club and enjoy managing top players but I always get bored. I know the players already. I don’t look far for new players; it’s easier just to sign players I’ve heard of. There’s no mystery and it’s harder to create history with a club, such as Manchester United.

So I often turn to the lower leagues where it’s easy to find the simple joy of football. There’s lots of room to develop a team in your own image and a vast pool of young talent to sift through.

So let me tell you about a few players who have impressed me:

Michael West

Michael West is the best!

If you’re managing in any division lower than League 2 sign Michael West! He’s probably one of the most gifted players in the lower leagues and has 11 assists in 20 (2) appearances in the 2016/17 season so far.

Jordan Jowers, the Fox in the Box

Jordan Jowers, the Fox in the Box

I had never heard of Jowers before managing Southport in the Vanarama North but he’s been a revelation. If you put a cross to the back post, sure enough, he’ll be there to knock in a goal. Fourteen goals and seven assists in 25 (5) appearances isn’t a bad return at all and he links up marvelously with his strike partner, Sam Hillhouse.

Hillhouse

Sam Hillhouse

Speaking of Sam, he’s another highlight of a fun first season with recently relegated Southport. He has a fantastic 16 goals and 12 assists in 19 (1) appearances. In truth, he could have 30 goals if he hadn’t missed some sitters. Hillhouse is definitely worth a look. I took him off Halifax’s hands who, incidentally, seem to have a knack of signing good young players.

To be continued…