Guest Post: Playing the Long Game

After a couple of months of pestering, I’ve finally been able to persuade my good friend ZeGermanFM to write up something on his Schalke save he’s been posting updates about on Twitter, and I’m delighted to say he’s chosen to give Occasional FM the inside scoop. Without further ado…

Introduction

Last year, I wanted to write about my long-term FC Schalke 04 save on FM15; not because I had done anything miraculous or crazy, more so because I had played for about six in-game years and really “went the distance” as far as doing as many things the game allows you to do. A draft never really got off the ground but I’ve decided to return to the article and give it a FM16 twist. You see, I’m fairly new into another FC Schalke 04 save and my principles, goals and motivation are all the same.

The purpose of this standalone article is to demonstrate all the little things I do during a save to give me maximum involvement and, ultimately, satisfaction. I call this method “playing the long game.” I’m talking about things like:

  • creating your manager’s personality
  • establishing a club philosophy (not just a playing style)
  • hiring the right staff (attributes etc)
  • controlling your u19 and reserve/B teams
  • recruitment (of prospects and first-teamers)
  • training (team and individual)
  • tactics (and the detail you watch games in)

So the first place we’ll start is all about the manager profile/personality that I create.

My Manager

Long Game 1

This is Olaf Thon. A veteran of 471 Bundesliga games, Thon turned out 323 times for FC Schalke 04 (the rest with FC Bayern Munchen). He scored 96 goals during his career scoring a further 3 goals in 52 appearances for the German national team. Olaf Thon is a Schalke legend and was named to the Team of the Century in 2000; he is a man with a rich Schalke pedigree and the perfect character to take charge of the team for the 15/16 season.

I always create a manager who exists in real life but is not yet represented in-game. Using the playing and/or managing history of the character helps me justify the ratings allocation, coaching badges as well as dictating where I might start be that employed or otherwise. As I have a penchant for the German leagues, my manager is invariably German but I’ve also had Dutch, Belgian and Norwegian managers in the past.

For most people, I believe that once they have created their manager profile (which is generally of themselves) not another thought is given to the personality they’ve just added to the database. By that I mean the decisions they go on to make are not reflective of a particular manager profile but simply of their own feelings at the time. I, on the other hand, use the phrase WWOD (What Would Olaf Do). Remember, I’m creating a save for maximum involvement so taking a few extra seconds to think what a 49/yo former German International and Schalke legend would do as opposed to the whims of a 31y/o Australian who can’t even speak German gives me a touch more depth!

So what sort of things does my manager profile affect?

  • tactical setup
  • player recruitment
  • contract negotiations
  • team and individual player talks
  • staff hiring
  • decisions on other job opportunities in the future

In terms of how I have justified Thon’s appointment at Schalke, my take is that it could be rather feasible. At the conclusion of the 14/15 season, Roberto di Matteo was sacked and a recruitment drive was undertaken by Horst Heldt, the Director of Football. While the details of that process are obviously unknown I would expect that a number of actual managers as well as coaches/employees of the club may have been considered. As Thon is a Schalke legend, has his coaching badges and has also been an employee of the club in the past, it seemed possible. Further, Schalke was looking for a fresh start and didn’t necessarily need to hire some very experienced (they obviously ended up with Breitenreiter).

Establishing a Club Philosophy

A club philosophy can mean many things to many different people. For me, it is basically like a set of business rules that govern all the functions of the club. We play this way. We train like that. We only sign this type of player/staff member. We seek success in this or that competition. While I don’t really have these rules written down or anything, they do bubble away inside my head and I run through the relevant ones before I click “continue” each (in-game) day. A really great article on this philosophy idea can be found on this site actually. FMSamo talks about his “2020 Vision” for Greenock Morton and in a subsequent article talks about the characteristics that make up a ‘Ton player.

I guess tactics is the core of the business as this can inform a number of follow-on duties such as buying & selling players. I will always have three tactics on the go; the differences in them will generally be limited to team instructions though. I found it crazy to be signing players to fill a position in only one of the three tactics I have loaded; thus my tactics are commonly the same shape. I also, unashamedly, download tactics from the various sharing sites around the community. I’m a terrible tactician – I struggle to convert thoughts and drawings into a sensible tactic within the FM match engine. Some players may find greater satisfaction from developing their own tactic but this does not necessarily come into for me.

Regardless of how you get your tactic, it still very much forms the heart of your philosophy. The way you play, the speed at which you do it and how you to react to various scenarios demonstrates such. FM aficionados like Cleon and Rashidi will tell you that its important to understand how you want to play before trying to create your tactic – in this way you also establishing your philosophy. Think about the words you would use to describe Stoke under Pulis, Dortmund under Klopp, Barcelona & FC Bayern under Guardiola – this is your playing philosophy!

Delving deeper into this tactical aspect of the philosophy and referring to Samo’s ‘Ton articles once more, the type of players you sign for your tactic are also an indicator of your philosophy. Rashidi also talks about this idea in his WBA save from Football Manager 2015 – that is the set of attributes that make up the players in your team. Work Rate, Passing, Pace, Teamwork, Technique etc etc. The attributes make the players who make the tactic. Personality also contributes highly here. Football Manager 2016 now gives you a “Squad Personality” on your Squad page which is reflective of the average of the player personalities in your first team. Signing like-players further enhances the sense of philosophy in your club.

Coupled with the type of tactics I employ, I find it sensible that we have coaches who match who playing style. Whilst it can be difficult in the initial stages whilst you are building your manager’s and/or your club’s reputation, you should always strive to have coaches that coach in the same way you play. Their preferred tactic, personality, coaching style etc will all impact on the way your squad trains and then execute your tactical ideas on the pitch. Of course, you can probably get away with coaches with differing ideas (and you certainly will have to early on) but this is just another opportunity to dive-deep into your save by constantly reviewing the coaching setup and making changes where you can.

Your Reserve and Youth Squads

How much time do you allocate to reviewing the performances of the players outside the 1st team? Do you watch their match highlights? Check up on average ratings at least every few weeks? In my case, I actually go without an U19s Manager which allows me to manage the team directly. So rather than just instructing them to “play with 1st Team tactics” I actually manage the squad on game days. This gives me a functional and deeper understanding of the skills/tendencies of my youth players and helps me to make decisions on their future.

A positive side effect of this approach is that I develop an attachment to these players early on; rather than them just being a name and a star rating, I feel like I have properly nurtured them and thus it even more rewarding when they graduate into the 1st Team.

My Reserve squad (known as a 2nd Team in Germany) I have a little less to do with. The 2nd Team structure in Germany enables this squad to essentially operate independently from the 1st Team. I can still move players up and down as I see fit but they are able to conduct all their own business if I let them (and I do). I still check in regularly with them but in most cases, Hot Prospects are NOT playing in the 2nd Team as the division is far too low to be beneficial. The only 1st Team players competing in 2nd Team action are those recovering from injury or requiring match fitness.

So while taking this approach can add significant time to your daily FM chores, it does increase the depth of the playability of the save. I love getting to know my prospects as soon as they enter the club and find genuine enjoyment when they win their league and/or tournaments.

Recruitment

Selecting the right player(s) for your squad can be the difference between success and failure. Whilst I will always try and develop from within (see the next section) I will also spend money on the transfer market to bring in three types of players:

  • Difference makers. This is a player who is an immediate upgrade on another player already in my first team. They will generally be German but that is not always the case. The purchase of this player will normally be as a result of noted weakness in the existing player or the imminent of departure of the same. Essentially, I’ll spend whatever I need to to get the right guy. I rarely purchase these players.
  • Profit makers. This is a player that is on the transfer list and is available for a markdown price. They won’t be any older than 25 and they will slot into one of the tactical positions I already have. They are purchased in order to flip them in a year or so time for as much profit as possible! These guys will be any nationality.
  • Youth. As you’ll read on in the next section, occasionally I’ll buy youth players to ensure I have the full quota. I will always try and buy the best possible and my preference is again German but I will expand as wide as I can through Europe. I try not to spend very much but sometimes this isn’t possible.

Long Game 2

So why is all this important to depth and playing the long game? Taking the time to understand your tactic, the flaws or weaknesses in your existing playing staff can be exhausting. By reviewing the key attributes you identified early on, it’ll help you find those weaknesses and make you search harder to find those guys that you need (or can exploit the market for!).

Player Training and Development

I think this next topic is an area that you can truly dive into. Not that I’ve done any research on this but my suspicion is that the majority of FMers allow their Assistant, DoF or HoYD set general, match and individual training for each of their squads. And I can certainly see the appeal; it can take a lot of time, particularly with individual training, to analyse gaps in a player’s ability, set the training and then return to it on a regular basis to amend or otherwise. But for me this is simply another depth experience!

Following on from the Reserve and Youth section, I’m obviously very involved with each of my players from the day they enter the club. By the time they graduate into the 1st Team, I’ve already got three or four years’ worth of individual training and tutoring into them and I’m very familiar with their role in the team as well as their strengths and weaknesses. So my recommendation here is to take charge of all aspects of training for all squads (in my case, U19 & 1st Team). It’ll take time to set up initially but once you have a system in place, it’ll become second nature to revisit the appropriate screens and make the required changes.

In terms of the development of my youngsters I have a few rules that I like to try and abide by. There isn’t really any scope for anomalies here which greatly assists with decision making:

  • I want the home-nation of the team to be the prevalent nationality of the squad players (in my case again, German).
  • The U19 squad will have 2 players for every position my tactic calls for and these players will be drawn predominantly from the annual Youth Intake (regardless of skill).
  • Any shortfalls of positions will be recruited from German clubs first, then expanded to other “Germanic” nations (Austria, Switzerland, Czech Rep and Poland).
  • Players, regardless of skill, will graduate from the U19s at the conclusion of the season in which they turn 18. Players must be under-17 prior to 1 September of each year.
  • If the player is considered a hot prospect (3 potential stars or more) upon graduation, then he will be loaned out for a season (minimum “1st Team player) to the highest available league (preferably within Germany).
  • If the player is not considered a hot prospect, he will move to the 2nd Team and issued a contract for a maximum of four years.
  • Hot prospects, upon return from loan, will either be accepted into the 1st Team or sold (in rare cases they may go on loan for another season).

Conclusion

Playing the long game can be exhausting! And de-motivating! Knowing that you have 1,000 scout reports to go through on a batch of new Argentinean regens can sometimes hold you back from even firing the game up! But at the end of the day, I find this the most rewarding way of playing Football Manager. It genuinely feels more life-like; that more of my sweat, blood and tears has gone into winning the title. This method won’t be for everyone and I certainly respect each to their own. Hopefully this brief write-up gives you some ideas on areas that you can expand into if you think you’re not quite getting as involved as you could be!

Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter if you have any questions; I’m also interested to hear how others potentially play a longer game than I, so get in touch. Thank you for reading!

@ZeGermanFM

2 thoughts on “Guest Post: Playing the Long Game

  1. Well this was f*cling fantastic. Literally, one of the best articles I’ve ever read.
    PS: What skin do you use?

    1. Thanks for the comment; really appreciate that.

      I use the G2 skin which I picked up from the SI Games skinning forum.

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