Player development: the skills he must have

I’ve just read a very interesting interview with a Liverpool youth coach, Tim Lees, about his career, what he looks for in players and how he has a certain idea of how he wants his teams to play.

Lees has worked under Roberto Martinez at Wigan and now works under Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool so you can see what school of thought he comes from.

Lees reveals he didn’t quite make it as a professional footballer partly due to his lack of size and strength but claims he was a late developer and this has shaped his approach giving him more patience with young players.

This sort of patience, is especially important, as I saw in the Southampton documentary, with clubs who can’t just go out and pay £30m for who they want. And I’m in a similar situation at Wrexham. I have to work extra hard and become very good at finding talented players we can afford to sign and pay.

In this article I’m going to describe what I look for in my ideal ‘Wrexham FC’ player and this sort of player will help create the identity of the club, just like Xavi and Iniesta have at Barcelona.

I’ll go through my team instructions and explain how my players fit in to our style of play.

I’ve been playing the exact same way since I took over Wrexham in the Vanarama Conference. A high line, possession football, lots of closing down. And I’ve always used two attacking midfield players (although I’m experimenting with something different) which I think has been key to the large number of goals we’ve scored.


Contains some ex-first teamers

In my attacking midfielders, I always look for certain skills, such as dribbling, passing, technique, finishing, long shots and vision, flair and composure.

That’s what we’re about and it’s generally our attacking midfielders who will attract fans to The Racecourse Ground.

profileHere’s our new experimental formation for those of you intrigued:

new form

My team instructions are pretty much the skeleton of my philosophy. I know it’s not revolutionary any more, if it ever was, but I love possession football, although at a quick pace, with attacking players who can dribble (Sterling, Messi, Neymar) and strikers with technical skills (Ibrahimovic, Baggio, Brazilian Ronaldo).

As I mentioned before, my team are all about the attacking midfielders. Last year, on FM14, I was obsessed with the deep lying playmaker and later, the half back. Both were great for me. With a new game, attacking midfielders seem more effective, even in the English lower leagues. You can still find some quality creative players.

Team instructions are (always under review):

  • retain possession
  • shorter passing
  • work ball in to box
  • run at defence
  • exploit the middle
  • play narrower
  • much higher defensive line
  • close down much more
  • get stuck in
  • use offside trap
  • prevent short goalkeeper distribution
  • higher tempo

To retain possession I obviously need at least one player in my team to be decent at passing. He’ll always needs other high attributes in things like composure, off the ball, decisions, vision and first touch. I’ll look for some of these skills in most of my future signings and youth products, even in centre backs.

Shorter passing and work back in to box go hand in hand with keeping the ball of course and affect the way we create chances. And although we have a patient style we rarely struggle to open up opposition defences and I’m often pleasantly surprised at some of the well-worked goals we score.

I’d never used the ‘run at defence’ shout until FM14 I think (I don’t know when it was introduced). Liverpool with Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling gave me the idea. I wondered if I could also create the havoc they did (Marco Reus does the same thing as do Ronaldo and Messi) by sprinting with the ball directly at defenders who don’t know where to put their feet, whether to dive in or wait and risk letting the dribbler past. It was the key ingredient that made Liverpool so dangerous in my opinion.

Unfortunately I don’t see a lot of direct running from my players. That could be due to a lack of pace or maybe it’s other instructions working against it such as ‘retain possession’. Players might be more inclined to carefully pick out a pass than dribble with the ball and risk losing it. I don’t know.

As all of our midfield and attack is positioned towards the centre of the pitch it seemed natural to tell my players to exploit the middle and play narrower. We put pressure on the opposition’s defence with sheer numbers in one narrow area and produce our version of Barcelona’s ‘carousel’ of short passing that Sir Alex Ferguson was so mesmerised by.

Thankfully attacking this way works for us and could work for you too! We often score well-worked goals after spells of short passing on the edge of the opponent’s area.

Here are a couple of examples of well-worked goals we’ve scored. I probably have better examples but it might take me all night to find the perfect goal.

Here’s a quick one-touch passing move finished off with a vicious strike:

Another nicely-worked goal

Not all of our goals are patiently-worked though (at 35 seconds)

A patient, probing move finished off with aplomb

We always play with a high line as it is so important in defining us. I like how it allows us to quickly turn defence in to attack. However, I’ve not analysed its use yet and sometimes worry it could leave us vulnerable. We rarely concede to goals from players who’ve got behind our defence or beaten our offside trap though.

The high line contributes to ‘closing down much more’ and ‘get stuck in’. I wouldn’t say closing down is something I notice hugely with our team from front to back, maybe we have a few players on the lazy side. We do close down but not with great intensity. On the other hand, this could be a failing of the game.

I used to always instruct my players to play at a lower tempo to enable them to retain the ball, however, I realised moving the ball quicker moved the opposition around and made it harder for them to pick up all of my attacking players.

The further we move up the leagues, the better players we’ll be able to sign and produce, and the better the coaches we will have so our play style will develop and mature like a fine wine.

Nevertheless, I’m regularly amazed at the quality football you can produce on Football Manager outside of the Premier League, if you have a style in mind and get suitable players.

Follow my Wrexham journey here, on facebook and on twitter @fmscrapbook.

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