Pentagon Challenge update – promotion with Hartlepool

Intro/ Update – I’ve been up and down, round and round with my posts lately so in case you’re lost I’ll update you on where I am in my pentagon challenge. The save has been heavy with learning and dry on cup success. My main achievements are winning the Uruguayan second division with Wanderers, a club with an illustrious past and getting Hartlepool promoted. I’ve also taken charge of Uruguayan giants, Penarol, but things didn’t quite work there or at Leeds United where I felt I was stuck with a lot of dead wood. I’ve managed a remarkable 10 clubs in 10 seasons – can you tell I’m impatient?

manager historyI was in charge of Preston North End before ‘Pools’ and I really enjoyed it there but stood almost still each season and I needed a fresh start. Looking at my pentagon challenge CV above you might argue I’d have more obvious success if I stuck with one club. I felt the two-and-a-half years I’d given PNE was more than enough to realise we weren’t going anywhere fast in that car though. Moreover, when I joined PNE there was an outstanding gift loan (a zero interest loan 146k/per month during periods of profit) of £35m an incredible amount for a League 1 club to attempt to pay off. In my final weeks at the club we still had £19m to pay off. Nevertheless we had a balance of around £3m so was I right to leave? We might never know.

Hartlepool United FC

Check out this short video on Hartlepool’s history.

potted history

Hartlepool is a town on the north east coast of England just north of Middlesborough. It’s first football team was called West Hartlepool Amateur Football Club and was formed in 1881. In 1904/05 they won the FA Amateur Cup beating Clapton at Shepherd’s Bush in London. This inspired the town to form a professional football club and they named it Hartlepools United.

In 1968, just after a little known manager Brian Clough left, the club changed its name to Hartlepool. The club has always sported blue and white.


How I fell in love with Pools on FM14

After quitting Preston I really struggled to get a decent job offer (I’d rejected Championship Middlesborough before resigning from PNE as I just didn’t fancy them)  probably due to the infamous bug holding back journeymen managers in the game at the moment which makes them less attractive prospects (I’m not sure on the ins and outs) so I thought I’d give it a go at Hartlepool. I had nothing to lose.

As soon as I spoke to the board and looked at my squad I had a good feeling. There were plenty of young, decent players and the U18s and U21s looked healthy.

Modest finances and business sense

I actually struggle with having money to burn in Football Manager. It feels dirty giving away millions for a footballer when you could get someone for free and develop youngsters and maybe even sell them for a profit. If you read Soccernomics you might agree with its authors that football clubs can’t be successful if they’re run like a business but when you’re managing a lower league club I feel it’s of primary importance to initially get the club’s finances in a healthy position. If you can get more money coming in from merchandising, prize money, match day income and sponsors among other sources, the club can move forward and buy betters players, better facilities, etc.

Regardless of whether a football club should be run like a corner shop, with success money usually follows so it can be hard to have one without the other, unless you’re a Portsmouth/ Leeds owner! Read this article from 2004 on how Leeds ‘fell so far so quickly’ after spending more than they could afford.

Low expectations

With little money and a dusty trophy cabinet comes low expectations and a freedom to manage the side in the way I wanted. And due to my relatively impressive managerial stature compared to Pools’ as a club, the board were happy to listen to my ideas on how to move the club forward. I didn’t ask for much, just to be able to develop players using the club’s youth system and buy young players. Although I haven’t pursued these goals like a dog after a bone I’ve stuck to them closely. My main worries have been tactical though and I’m still learning my trade.

My vision for Hartlepool United FC

Obviously I want to move up the leagues. I got Pools promoted from League 2 in our second season together which reflects the fun I’ve been having managing them really. I’ve had time to build the side and have found several great youngsters including Gareth McGranaghan. Something KEY that I’ve done differently with Pools is I’ve picked my team on merit. I base my selections on performance not attributes on their profile. Moreover, I give able players time to find their feet. Although naturally impatient, waiting for my lads to fulfill their potential has rewarded me handsomely.


Develop an unbeatable tactic

Okay unbeatable tactics don’t exist. What I want to create is a defensively solid shape and style which also wins games although I won’t panic at the odd draw. I’m a cautious boss but a 1-0 win gets you as many points as a 5-0 win so I’m sure focusing on solidity at the back can lead me to glory.

Cherry-pick professionals

I’ve spent plenty of interested moments reading threads on the SI forums lately and I saw an article about player personalities which encouraged me to concentrate on only signing mentally strong candidates as they will probably develop better than others due to their superior work ethic and professional career/ lifestyle decisions. For example a player described as a ‘model professional’ will be more likely reach his potential than another described as ‘slack’ or ‘spineless’. Pretty obvious really but with so many things to think about as a manager it’s easy to bypass the importance of mentalities.

Cheap as chips

My parents raised me to be smart with money and although my saving ability of real cash is questionable I’m a tight arse on FM. So I will continue looking for bargain buys and will only spend a penny when I feel I really have to. Don’t get me wrong though, if I have to pay a good player another £100-a-week to join I will.

There’s not much to say about my squad. This is how we line-up at the moment in a narrow 4-1-2-1-2 formation. I’m also experimenting with various 3-5-2 shapes as they seem to offer attacking threat as well as closing gaps all over the pitch when in defence.

Something you might notice is I’m using a half back and wing backs. Being cautious it took me a while to risk using wing backs but watching my matches in ‘full game’ mode I noticed my fulls backs just weren’t contributing in the attacking phase hence why I changed them both to wing backs. Moreover, if I start with this 4-1-2-1-2 shape I can easily evolve to a 3-5-2 at any stage of the game by pushing my full backs forward in to the wing back or wide midfielder positions. In that case I would normally pull my half back in to central defence just to be on the safe side, however, those who have used a half back will know he is suppose to drop in to and even behind the initial defensive line anyway so you’re unlikely to be exposed by pushing full backs ahead. I can then just as easily revert to the original, more defensive 4-1-2-1-2 if we go ahead.

As far as my strikers go, almost all of them are so well-rounded I struggle to decide on roles for them. Honestly, I’ve also found it hard to strike on a pairing that works. We score plenty of goals from midfield and set pieces though so it’s not my main concern at the moment.


That’s it for now. I hope you enjoyed my update on Hartlepool.

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