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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.

Surprisingly effective player role in Football Manager 2017

There are certain player roles and formations that most FM players feel comfortable using . These go-to tactics tend to change with every new iteration of the game as players realise what works on a consistent basis. On the other hand, there are always tactical options that don’t appeal as much and you might go the whole year without trying them. In this series of articles I will highlight some tactical features that don’t seem popular in FM17 but I’ve found work well.

Half Back

I’ve used this role in previous games but I felt it lost its effectiveness so leaned towards the Deep Lying Playmaker (defend) and Defensive Midfielder (defend) roles as their advantages seemed more obvious and I thought there was less chance they would completely fail. It probably is best to stick to what you know in FM until your team’s doing well enough that there’s an opportunity to experiment. I have Sergi Samper, Kristoffer Ajer and Marouane Fellaini who are happy playing in defensive midfield but Samper tends to be there. Although he can’t tackle or mark very well, he’s pretty competent in that deep midfield position. His high composure, first touch, passing, vision, anticipation and decisions make him excellent at distributing the ball to players ahead of him on the pitch and mean he can keep the ball even when pressed. He also has suitable traits: dictates tempo, comes deep to get ball, likes to switch ball to opposite flank (not sure about this last one).

Sergi Samper the Half Back

Admittedly, it’s early days using a Half Back (HB) in my setup — Samper has played three games in the role, he’s played 15 games as a Deep Lying Playmaker (DLP) — but his best game was in the new role. He made 82 passes out of 88 in a 2-0 win against Hull as a HB. His passing success for the season is 90%. He also has made 76% of tackles he’s attempted, which I’m happy with as his tackling attribute is only 10.

The Half Back is supposed to drop in between the centre backs acting as something ‘between an aggressive sweeper and a defensive midfielder’ and that’s what I saw Samper do. It gave me a greater feeling of security and I enjoyed how he’d collect the ball in a deep position and begin our attacks from a position that was hard to close down. Having someone competent in this role allowed the team to build at our own pace, either gradually through defence and midfield to attack or more directly.

Why not try using a Half Back in FM17 if you haven’t already? You might be pleasantly surprised!

For more on the Half Back role read this article about ‘the return of the sweeper’ at Zonal Marking http://www.zonalmarking.net/2010/04/22/is-the-sweeper-set-for-a-return-to-prominence.

How do you overcome vast inequality in Football Manager?

Everyone’s been there. We like a challenge so we pick a club to manage that needs a lot of work. We like the pain of the challenge of dragging our average players up to a level they never thought they could reach, of toiling for seasons to finally reach a point where you and your charges can go toe-to-toe with the biggest clubs in the country on an equal footing, no longer the doubted underdog.

But in the beginning, when your plan is just a shoot poking its head out of the ground, you look around you and you look up and you see giants. Clubs like Manchester United, City, Chelsea, tower above you an you’re daunted, thinking, “How the hell do I reach their level or even surpass them?”

After two seasons managing Swansea, I’m still a little child in the playground, looking up at much bigger boys, not really demanding much respect. When I come up against the big teams, I see their line-ups, every position filled by a top quality player and I see how much money they spend in the summer on players that barely improve them and I wonder how I’ll ever be able to compete. But then you beat one of them – we just beat Spurs away from home – and it gives you a bit of hope.

As hard as Football Manager can be, I doubt I’m the only one to complain, once you’ve finally got your club where you want it to be, that the game is too easy. But when you’re hundreds of games away from that point, the challenge can seem insurmountable.

Some managers seem to blaze towards their goals, winning the league with what was an average team when they took over, while others find themselves helping established clubs to relegation. It takes luck and perseverance to succeed.

I’m managing Swansea and I’m arguably exceeding expectations by keeping them in the Premier League past the spring of 2017.

I think the only advice I can give anyone who’s really struggling on the game or just can’t visualise your team winning that elusive first league title is just keep going. You only lose when you give up.

 

P.S. Overcoming inequality in FM is a topic I find very interesting so I’d like to revisit it in the near future in another post so keep an eye out for that via my twitter @fmscrapbook

Moussa Dembele at Swansea: progress through the goal machine

dembele

As some of you know I picked Swansea as my first team to manage on FM17. I wrote an introduction piece about my choice but for following posts I wanted to write about my save in an interesting way, motivated by recent criticism of Football Manager blogging. So I’ve come up with the idea to focus each post on a particular player in my squad. Maybe he’s been playing great or maybe he’s caused me trouble. I’ll use his situation to tell the broader story of what’s going on at Swansea and in the Premier League.

Moussa Dembele, the French striker, has been my best signing. I wanted him as soon as I started at Swansea, knowing from following Celtic in real life through my job in journalism, that he was one of the most talented young footballers around. Thankfully, unlike in reality, in FM17 we (Swansea) were the only club to harbour major interest in him and Celtic were happy to sell him to us for the bargain price of £7m. He joined us at the start of the 2017/18 season and it wasn’t long before he hit the back of the net. He scored in his first game, against Watford, and bagged a hat-trick in his second game, against Sunderland. Now, after 18 games for the club, he has 10 goals – not bad for a 21-year-old. Strikers usually take time to find the knack of scoring consistently but I think he’s worked it out already. He still has a lot of room to improve though and his average rating, at 6.96, shows that although he’s scoring, his all-round game needs work. He’s scored against Chester, Watford, Sunderland, Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, Arsenal, Southampton and West Ham. And his goals are important because our defensive record is miserable. We’ve conceded 37 goals in 17 games; only Sunderland can claim to have conceded as many. We’ve conceded three goals or more in eight games this season (my second season in charge) and no matter how many tactical tweaks I try we can’t stem the flow. Maybe my defenders just aren’t good enough? Fabianski in goal can certainly be a burden at times although he does make very good saves. I’ll replace him as soon as I can find someone better. Ben Foster was available but he wanted £63k a week as a rotation option and for rotational players, my limit was about £10k less than that. I didn’t want to guarantee he’d be a first team or key player in case he proved to be more error prone than Fabianski.

It’s amazing Celtic signed Dembele for only £500,000 from Fulham. It’s amazing we signed him for only £7m. It’ll amaze me even more if he’s still in Wales in 2020. But I won’t let him go on the cheap! BREAKING NEWS: As I write this, Dembele has just scored the winner in a 1-2 away win against bottom side Everton (yes they’re struggling in my save too). His winning goal could prove the most important he’ll score all season.

Next time I’ll introduce you to another player in my squad whose story will help explain how the club is doing on and off the pitch. Thanks for reading.

Football Manager 2017: My initial impressions

fm17-image

As sure as the world keeps spinning, Paul Pogba will be described as a waste of money, Mike Ashley will play the role of super villain and it won’t really matter who’s prime minister or president, the approach of winter means the release of a new Football Manager game. But what’s not as predictable is whether Football Manager 2017 will be lacking in any obvious major improvements like the majority of versions released in the last decade.

Having played very little of FM16 compared to previous iterations due to other commitments, I feel I’m coming in to this season with fresh legs and in a position to put my best foot forward. So let me tell to you a few things I like and don’t like as much about the FM17 beta from the short time I’ve played it.

As Miles Jacobson says in the game’s features reveal video, FM17 is the best-looking version ever. It’s a joy to watch matches, even with comprehensive or full match highlights. The game seems to flow better, players move the ball quicker and the ball appears to move more realistically. This gives you the impression you have greater control over in-game events as there will be a lesser element of randomness caused by game mechanic defects.

I’m enjoying seeing my set pieces played out as my players actually seem to be doing what I’ve asked them to. In previous games, I might as well have given up on creating set pieces as it felt like my team did whatever they felt like doing. This could have also been down to weaknesses in previous match engines – I don’t know. And when you’re choosing players to take set pieces, the game automatically orders your squad with the best corner/free-kick/penalty taker at the top of the list, which I’m quite sure is a new feature. This might sound like a small detail but it’s the small, tedious jobs that can make FM more laborious than enjoyable.

It’s only the beta but I’ve noticed we still have to endure the annoying ‘bug’ where goalkeepers catch the ball after it’s gone out of play while they’re stood over the line which no keeper would bother doing in reality.

Another issue I’ve noticed is the press are already asking me what I think of a club’s relegation chances after only a couple of games. Maybe this is just the way football is now. There is always speculation about managers’ jobs and teams are written off almost immediately; many predicted Leicester would be relegated and look what happened. This might be a bug that needs looking at though.

Unfortunately the beta is really slowing my laptop down. Maybe the new game requires a more powerful system to run well on. Maybe it’s just an issue with the beta as I vaguely remember having the issue one year and the game seemed to run easier once the full version was released.

I like that my staff tell me when one of my players on loan is doing well. Before, I would send a player on loan and just hope for the best. It would take too much time and effort to remember to check up on how players out on loan were doing.

I’ve seen people criticise the new social feed in FM17 but I like it. It shows various opinions from fans of the club posted online. Keeping your fans happy is extremely important so it’s great to get this instant feedback about your team’s performances. In previous games, I often had little idea of how I was doing in my job. Of course, you know if you’re losing every game it’s not going to please the board or the fans but these ‘online’ comments give you up-to-date and specific reactions which can either serve as a shot in the arm or welcome encouragement.

I don’t think it’s simply down to me taking an extended break from the game that I’m enjoying the FM17 beta so much. From what I’ve noticed so far, I think small improvements to lots of things have mounted up to make this new game a considerable amount more enjoyable than some of its predecessors, although it’s still early days. It’s a shame we’ve had to wait so long for what seems like an overhaul of so many nagging features but I think patience has paid off for fans who buy the game every year. So what are you waiting for? Go and download the beta from Steam.

You can win a free code for the full game which includes beta access by retweeting my pinned tweet and following me at @fmscrapbook

Is the teamwork attribute the key to success?

I’m starting a save with Swansea because I’m usually put off by managing in the English Premier League in search of something a bit more exotic, so now the prospect has actually become exotic.

It’s sexy and retro to me. It’s also nice to be in familiar surroundings, knowing the domestic players better and which players might be available to buy.

Also, Jamie Carragher’s interview with Ronald Koeman (Everton manager) on Sky, where the Dutchman said he wanted players who found it second nature to fight to win the ball back and generally work hard for the team, inspired me to try something similar with a club at a similar level to the Toffees.

I didn’t want to pick Everton because, for me, they’re a bit too good now to provide a major challenge.

In addition, I talked to my friend Curtis about his current save.

He’s managing Aston Villa and believe or not, he’s signed Emile Heskey.

I didn’t understand why but he said Heskey is a great team player and he really values that in players on FM and in real life.

It got me thinking.

So, I’m going to build a team around a few strengths, including teamwork, work rate and passing.

I feel teamwork and work rate combine to produce a player who works hard for the team and works well with the team.

Swansea’s only philosophy is to play possession football hence the passing attribute leaning.

There is more to keeping the ball than just passing but I want to keep this project as simple as possible because, from experience, that’s what works best and will be fun for longer.

I do have a question about teamwork for you though and I’ll post a poll after this.

The question is, does a player need both high teamwork and work rate attributes to be a good team player?

Thanks for reading.