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.