My Approach to Youth Development on FM21

A news article appeared online over the festive period that outlined FC Midtjylland’s aim of developing a Ballon d’Or winning talent by 2030. FCM aren’t strangers of setting out lofty aims for themselves but this one certainly caught the attention of many.

Firstly, I don’t think it’s something that’s ever been set out as a public aim for a club before. Secondly, it was just a sensationalist headline (it was the Daily Mail after all). The real aim here was to create something that could rival La Masia or De Toekomst in the future.

The name of FCM’s new school also stood out for me, Goldmine. Midtjylland chairman, and Brentford Director of Football, Rasmus Ankersen, is the author of the book, The Gold Mine Effect.

Ankersen travelled the world visiting various “gold mines”, areas which produce a disproportionate amount of talent. Think Jamaica and sprinters. Ethiopia and distance runners. Kenya and marathon runners. I love the book and would recommend you read it if you haven’t already. This is exactly what FCM are trying to emulate. Ankersen is using his experience and trying to put it all into creating an environment that will enable the development of footballing stars of tomorrow, one that encourages footballers to be the best they can be.

It’s exactly what I want to do at Vålerenga on FM21. While I can’t ensure that my young players are all participating in a multi-sport programme up until a certain age to broaden their skillset, for example, there are some things I can try and control. This is how I approach it on the game.


Facilities

The facilities on offer at Vålerenga before I joined the club were a big factor in me picking them for my save. I bypassed a few stages ever-so-slightly there. The club has Excellent Youth Facilities, and in a couple of months time this will move up to the next level after a board request was accepted.

The quality of your Youth Facilities will impact how good your newgens are when they appear in your intake. Get your Youth Facilities to State of the Art and there’s a good chance that your newgens will have better Current and Potential Ability than they would have if you had Basic Youth Facilities. It’s still a chance at the end of the day.

I said in my introductory post to the save that I wanted to consistently bring through generation after generation of Oslo youngsters who’re good enough for the first team and beyond. Alongside Youth Facilities, the other starting points of that is in our Junior Coaching and Youth Recruitment. I’ve been able to raise both at Vålerenga, they are now classed as Exceptional.

Although I’ve said I want a focus on young players from Oslo, we’ve won the Eliteserien twice in a row now and are one of the most reputable sides in the country. The net can be cast further afield too. With our Exceptional Youth Recruitment I like to think we’re scouring the entire nation for young talent to bring them into our academy. Maybe even beyond Norway, with Yohana Redie being born in Eritrea but being half-Norwegian.

Our Exceptional Junior Coaching means we’ll have a good number of Junior Coaches who are working with our academy players (before they appear as newgens) to make them even better (in terms of their Current and Potential Ability).

Like I said before, it’s still chance at the end of the day. Even your pre-save decisions come into it. If you’ve picked a country which has a higher Youth Rating than another, you’re increasing your potential of good intakes. I feel like Norway’s Youth Rating must be quite high these days, there’s a lot of talented young players being produced. One of the big reasons why I picked the country for my save this year! Jackpot.


Coaching Staff

One of the areas where I’ve tended to fall down in this development process in the past is in the coaching staff that work with my youth players. I really should focus on it more because it can massively help. Obviously the Junior Coaches have improved the pre-newgen players as much as they can, but once they graduate into your u19 team, they’re your responsibility now.

Here’s a look at my current set up and areas I could improve.

Head of Youth Development

First off it’s a look at my current Head of Youth Development, Thomas Hafstad. He was already in place when I joined and so far I haven’t felt the need to let him go and look for a replacement. His Loyal personality isn’t necessarily one of the most positive but it’s not a negative one by any stretch. It’d be great to bring through some loyal youngsters who didn’t want to leave for one of the bigger clubs across the world at the earliest opportunity.

He favours a 4-4-2 formation, meaning he’s likely to bring through positions that relate to how I currently set up tactically, which is great. The two intakes we’ve had so far there’s been a host of different types of players that have come through, which again points towards it being such a random lottery of what he can influence. His Tactical Style of Control Possession and Playing Style of Direct supposedly might affect aspects of the young players that come through your intake, but I really don’t put too much value behind those.

I’ve been relatively happy with my intakes so far so Hafstad will likely stay in place at least until the end of his current deal in December 2023. That means he’s got at least one more intake to bring through so we’ll see how that looks when it happens.

Finally, your Head of Youth Development also acts as a youth coach as well. While Hafstad’s Determination and Discipline are great, he lacks in Motivating and also in any of the coaching attributes really. If you’re in a position to hire an incredible Head of Youth Development I would definitely keep that in mind too.

u19 Coaching Staff

Everyone wants their coaching categories to be maxed out with five stars across the board. Two seasons into a save in Norway is a bit too soon to be getting to that stage though.

My approach is usually about trying to find areas where I can level things up while also keeping the workload balanced across the board. There’s absolutely no question though that the quality of our u19 coaches could be levelled up. You can see that my manager in-game is spread thinly across five of those categories in the top screenshot. That’s not an ideal situation despite me being excellent on the training pitch.

So far I’ve prioritised just getting coaches into the club and ensuring we’re filling out the numbers sanctioned by the board. Going forward in the save it’ll be about improving the quality of those coaches and then asking the board whether we can have more of them.


Training

I love training on FM, it’s no secret. I’ve written about my approaches to training on FM19 and FM20 so far and am planning to do something similar soon for FM21 as well.

Those pieces look at my approach to first team training though. On those versions of the game I didn’t look into youth team training much at all, it wasn’t my priority.

It is for FM21 though. I want to develop my young players into potential first team options.

Team

Is it overkill to take charge of training for the youth team as well as the first team (and reserve team)? Maybe, but it’ll be much more rewarding when you see those green arrows of positive development. Now that I’m two youth intakes into my FM21 save, I’ve decided that it’s time for me to take the reins and put together a schedule for my youth team to follow.

There’s two ways I could approach it. I could go more general and be slightly hands-off or I could take inspiration from my FM19 Tactical Periodisation approach and have two different sets of schedules for attacking and defensive “phases”.

I’ve decided to go for the former, initially anyway.

I think this schedule gives a good breadth of attribute training, tactical cohesion and balance in terms of intensity. Their matchdays are on a Wednesday afternoon and it would just be harsh not to give them a recovery day along with a session with the analyst reviewing the match.

Then it’s back to work with a Physical session. The general Physical module should be enough as opposed to selecting one of the more focused Physical sessions like Endurance or Resistance, especially so with a lot of my u19 players working on Quickness as an individual focus (mentioned further down).

That’s my thought process for the vast majority of the schedule. The general sessions should be enough for the young players rather than going so specific into the other available categories.

That’s until we get to Saturday and Sunday where I’ve added the two Shadow Play sessions that follow on from Tactical sessions on both days. The doubling up of Tactical sessions alongside these additional ones is to work on vital Mental attributes like Composure, Decisions, Off the Ball and Teamwork. From my experience young players do lack in the mental side of their game and this will hopefully stand them in good stead going forward in their careers.

Mentoring

Since the shift away from the old mentoring model, I don’t think I’ve quite got my approach to it nailed yet.

If a young player has made their way into my thinking for the first team and if they don’t have what I deem to be a positive personality, I’ll look to get them into a mentoring group with some of my more senior players with positive personalities. For example, a Balanced 19-year-old could be in a mentoring group with a Resolute 26-year-old and a Professional 30-year-old. That tends to be my approach to them so far.

We had a discussion on FMSlack recently about youth mentoring, and the fact that groups can be set up containing youth players. However, I’ve decided to continue my approach of not putting any young players in mentoring groups. I’m not sure it’ll make a massive amount of difference to their development. I could be wrong and am missing out on huge gains and I’m willing to be proven wrong here by anyone. For now though, that’s how I’ll proceed.

Individual

My approach to individual training is three-fold. Firstly, the player gets assigned a role to train. This could be a role relative to their position, it could be a role that’s broader in attribute coverage (Roaming Playmaker or Complete Forward) or it could be one that’s more focused on a few attributes (Ball Winning Midfielder or Poacher). It could also be a completely different role to their position if their skillset looks to not suit that position or role and I’ll try and shift them away to a more suitable one.

Secondly, the player gets an additional focus thrust upon them. Physical attributes do tend to improve as they get older, but I do like to try and speed that up with an additional Quickness focus. Final Third is also a favourite of mine, why wouldn’t you want your players to have better Composure and Decision making? That will now just layer on to the extra focus on Mental attributes as part of the team training.

Thirdly, always set the intensity to double. Always. The players can handle it and if they moan just ignore them.

Here’s a few case studies of what I’ve seen so far in my couple of seasons in Norway on FM21.

A Look At – Oskar Opsahl

When I joined the club, Opsahl was in the reserve team. The first team only had one Left Back and I’d switched the first window off so wasn’t able to bring in any new recruits. I’m not saying Opsahl is a world beater by any stretch but he’s been a dependable member of the first team squad who has filled in for Sam Adekugbe, my Canadian first choice, when he had far too many international commitments in the 2021 season for my liking.

His additional role training has been Full Back on Attack duty with an additional focus of Defensive Positioning. Add that to my list of focuses I love to get defenders working on. It sees them working to improve their Marking, Decisions and Positioning and you can see that Opsahl has been working hard to improve his over the two seasons so far.

He’s still just 20-years-old, he’s tiny (5’6″), his personality could improve (he’s in the first team so he is actually in a mentoring group with two senior players), I could look for an upgrade, but I’m not going to. He’s Oslo through and through.

A Look At – Aaron Andersen

Andersen was part of the first youth intake and was highlighted as the most promising player from the group. He had some standout attributes that went against what I previously said about young players and their Mental attributes.

One thing I’m noticing much more on FM21 is that my young players want to be sent out on loan earlier than I usually like to send them out on loan. That saw Andersen heading to affiliate club, Baerum, for the last few months of the 2021 season, the same season in which he appeared in our intake. That’s far too early in my development plan for him but he did do quite well, scoring five times in eight appearances in the 4th tier. He’ll spend this season playing for Vålerenga 2 (my reserves) who play in the 3rd tier. That shows off the current pathway in place to our first team.

I highlighted him in my previous post and mentioned that I’m not quite sure what he is yet. I know he needs to be something though. For now he’s on a Shadow Striker role focus as I’m looking to improve some of those key Technical attributes like Finishing, Passing and Dribbling. He could be a tasty number 10. His additional focus has been Quickness and he’s shown great progress in his Acceleration so far.

A Look At – Christian Jensen

The 2022 intake was a successful one that brought five three and a half star potential players or above through to the u19 squad. Not a bad haul at all. Jensen is similar to Andersen in that he’s come through with some very high Mental attributes, although I’m not sure how much I value Aggression of 15 on an Attacking Midfielder.

Look at his personality though, just look at it! A 15-year-old Model Citizen. He’s going to approach training which such a good attitude that I’m confident he’ll develop. Let’s face reality, he does need to at the current time. His Technical ability is quite poor along with a few key Mentals. To start off I’ve got him on an Attacking Midfield (A) role training with an additional Final Third focus. Let’s get that Composure and Decision making up.

The issue with both Andersen and Jensen is that I don’t currently play with a player in the AM slot. If they did progress to such a level that they’re knocking down my door for a start, I’d certainly consider a change of formation to slot promising players in.


Winning isn’t the priority when it comes to development, but it’s certainly nice. In season one my u19 squad won the Oslo u19 Championship and in season two they won the National u19 Championship at the first time of asking. Not bad at all.

Developing players on Football Manager can sometimes feel like a lottery, I believe it is one. You can only do so much, you’re at the mercy of the game. That’s why I try and do everything I possibly can do to try and develop players as much as I can. If they develop and turn into a first team player, excellent! If they don’t and they move on without a trace, that’s fine. That’s football. Enjoy the ride.


United to Prevent Suicide

Across FM21 I’ll be shining a light on United to Prevent Suicide. It’s a campaign aimed at breaking down the perceived barriers of talking about suicide, as a means of preventing it. Talking saves lives, and we should be comfortable talking about suicide to ensure we can do our upmost to prevent it. You can find out more information on the below website.

United to Prevent Suicide

3 thoughts on “My Approach to Youth Development on FM21

  1. I thought this was an incredibly thoughtful, well-written and intelligent piece

    I’m currently doing a Youth Only save in Norway with Tromsdalen in the 3rd tier and it is very tough. I took lots of ideas from this article, so thanks!

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