How to keep winning in Football Manager

BECOMING successful in sport usually takes years of hard work, ability, skill and luck. Many coaches and sporting greats will say maintaining that success is even harder.

For example, no football club has retained the UEFA Champions League since its re-naming in 1992/93.

But even staying at the top of whatever sport you play takes something special; determination, a winner’s attitude, a refusal to accept second place, funding.

The greatest are usually mentally strong as well as physically and technically gifted but no-one’s perfect and we all have weak moments.

On Football Manager a trap you can easily fall in to, and I have numerous times, is becoming a complacent, overconfident, maybe arrogant, manager.

It’s happened to me recently. I did so well with Wrexham and started to find the game relatively easy and I thought I could continue to cruise along and still enjoy the same level of success. I had forgotten how I got where I was.

I needed to remind myself how I started to achieve success. I got off to an incredible start with Wrexham and I defied the odds from the word ‘go’.

I found a winning formula and progress came consistently but with hard work and close consideration.

Once I became a ‘successful’ manager though, I only wanted the success, I didn’t want to know how I’d achieved it. Yes, I’d created a method that worked for me, but without the less glamourous and glorious aspects that got the Dragons from the Vanarama Conference in to the Championship, everything started to crumble around me.

Top managers – I’ve heard Jose Mourinho say it – are always telling us they are only focussing on the next game and no further. I think it’s so important to take one game at a time on FM. Just because you’re on a five-game winning streak it doesn’t mean you can assume you’ll win the next five games. You must put effort and thought in to each game or, chances are, you’ll come unstuck.

Implementing a winning strategy at a club takes time. I make the mistake, time and again, of thinking because I’ve created a tactic and style of play that works for one team, I can simply achieve the same level of success by introducing the exact same system at a new club.

Recently, I left York to join Brighton, and they could afford to offer much higher wages, so I just took it for granted the players would perform better. I should not have assumed – it makes an ass of you and me.

For one, the players at your new club might not suit your play style or vice versa. Also, it’s incredibly important to know your players’ strengths and weaknesses, physical, technical and mental.

You can then tailor your tactic to your best eleven’s abilities, add player instructions and think about roles and mentality.

Furthermore, players take time to understand what you want them to do. You might realise a player who appears ‘on paper’ like he’d be adept in a certain role/position is actually completely ineffective there. After all’s said and done, I don’t think you can truly know if a player will perform well, until you see them play for you.

As I mentioned, I’m in charge of Brighton, and it’s not been the plain sailing I expected. For some reason, I have a penchant for Thorgan Hazard, and he’s my player now. We’re just much better on paper than my previous side, York, but we’re not performing anywhere near as well.

So I’m going to take a step back to the approach I started with at Wrexham. It was all about giving my players all the time they needed to prove themselves and only signing players if we really needed them. It worked great there so I’m hoping I can replicate that.

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