A brief introduction to my club, Preston North End:
“Preston North End can be traced back to 1863, but at that time it was linked with cricket and the first game of football was fifteen years away. In the early 1860’s cricket was the only organised game of note in the town and the normal venue for this activity was the Marsh, an irregular stop of land on the Ribble Estuary at Ashton and which today is the site for the GEC works. Cricket can be linked with Wellfield Road School.”
Read more here.
150 years on in the real world and Preston are sitting third in Sky Bet League 1 and the major news surrounding the club is that striker, Joe Garner, has had a red card transferred to him post-match after video evidence and Port Vale’s Anthony Gardner’s statement suggested there was a case of mistaken identity when Garner’s team mate, Neil Kilkenny, was sent off for hitting the Vale player. More on that story here.
I joined Preston in 2019 in the latter stages of the season and we finished 10th. The following season my wage budget was slashed from £24k p/w to £20.8k p/w but I was determined to finally find success in a Pentagon Challenge in which I have managed nine clubs in five years!
The stats seem to suggest I have one of the worst squads at my disposal in League 1 yet we sit a proud eighth after 14 games.
As you can see from the graphic above I have the youngest and lowest paid squad in the competition but my lads are defying the odds. We actually have a wage budget of £20,800 so that gives you an idea of the constraints I am working under. The group also have the least experience at international level.
According to the stats my team is one of the worst in terms of technical ability too. Preston North End have the second worst average first touch and passing, are 19th for heading, worst tackling and marking, worst long shots, 20th technique and 22nd for finishing.
Moreover, we are the physically weakest squad in the league, probably because half of my players are not yet fully-grown men.
My assistant’s reports suggest we have plenty of potential in the squad but my youngsters are performing already. Our only experienced striker is Jake Jervis who is so bad he only made five appearances last season (2018/19) so I have given chances to Conor Hewson who showed ability on the pitch straight away.
Hewson has scored 4 in 11 appearances which I am satisfied with, especially as some of his attributes suggest he could not hit a cow’s backside with a banjo. I guess acceleration and pace are always great attributes for a striker to have in Football Manager but I think he is proving attributes are just a guide. I have been guilty of dismissing so many players because their attributes look poor but there are so many more factors you must look in to.
Paul McGrain is another young forward I have been pleased with. I spent £18.75k to get him from Celtic Park to Deepdale and with a great leap he is a handful in and around the box. He made a slow start to his Preston career but scored a brace to secure a 2-1 win against Phil Brown’s Bradford City. A very pleasing result.
At a debt-ridden club I am being forced to think outside my usual lazy box and find undervalued players who can be just as effective as a fancy Brazilian with 20 technique, a big ego and mega wage demands.
Not gonna lie. It does no harm having a fashionable Spaniard in the side though. Canos is not any Spaniard though, he has the second most assists in Sky Bet League 1 (7), and I am amazed I was able to sign him. As much as I am not a fan of Liverpool in real life I cannot thank them enough for selling me my right winger and left winger for £0.
Liverpool are a neighbour club but we’re affiliated with Everton so fair play to The Reds for their generosity. I will definitely be aiming to steal players from them again.
The miracle that is free loans
I joined Preston halfway through the 2018/19 season and two players I subsequently signed permanently, Sergi Canos and Ryan Kent, were on loan from Liverpool, deals that cost our club nothing. Canos made 16 assists that year.
Loans are the life-blood of struggling lower-league clubs and they can really reward a manager who is willing to put the work in finding available players.
There are always talented players available either completely free of charge or for a meagre monthly fee and/ or wage contribution. Most of these youngsters are on less than £500 p/w anyway so £250 is the most you are likely to pay.
In fact I am sure it is possible to put an entire starting 11 together without spending a penny. It has given me an idea for a new Football Manager ‘challenge’. It appears incredibly difficult but the task would be, win any trophy with a squad of loan players you have paid nothing for no wage contribution, no monthly fee, nothing.
Wheelings and dealings
I had less than £100k to buy players and as I mentioned earlier a wage budget just under £21,000. So being the amazing mathematician I am I estimated I could give an average wage of about £1,000 for a squad of around 20 players.
Anyway the fact was we had to bring in relatively unwanted players who would be happy with a modest wage and make the most out of loyal players who are happy to stay for their love of the club.
Here are our ‘Ins’ for the season so far:
As you can see all but two players were/ are completely free and yet they are all very good young players with the exception of Bachirou who is a wily and very useful centre midfielder and well worth a look for any lower league clubs.
I brought in five loanees, only one costs me anything, six free permanent signings who are now all important first team players, and I only paid significant money for McGrain from Celtic who has already paid me back with his goals as far as I am concerned.
It is really enjoyable, even exciting, to know you are overachieving with squad/ club that is damned to fail. In all honestly at the start of this season I thought we would be lucky to beat the drop – we have not yet – but if we keep playing and improving like we have, we even have a chance of making the play-offs.
My long-term and ambitious goal is to make the play-offs next season once my young players have developed. I just hope I can have a higher wage budget but with £20m remaining of a £35m gift loan I find that very unlikely to happen.
Nevertheless, with my young guns, I feel like anything is possible.