Season Seven’s post was titled “Kicking On” because I think there comes a time in every FM save when you need to do just that. Me taking my Stirling side to the next level hasn’t been deliberate and it certainly wasn’t planned to happen this early on. I really should stop coming across as moaning about it. We’ve flown under the radar since gaining promotion to the SPL, overachieving our status and reputation to qualify for Europe in three of my four seasons in the top tier of Scottish football. This culminated in a 2nd place finish last season, taking us into the Champions League qualifiers in my eighth season. Add that to making the 1st knockout round of the Europa League last season and work starting on a brand spanking new stadium for us to move into in the summer ahead of season nine, it’s safe to say we’ve certainly kicked on.
But how could we continue to kick on? The focus of this piece will be on the playing staff side of things. The next phase involves thinking about the future of Stirling. Our reputation has improved to the point that we’re now on a level playing field as some of our league rivals, plus being financially stringent means we’ve quite a bit of room to manoeuvre in the transfer market. There’s homegrown rules we need to keep in mind though. Our 25-man league squad needs to have at least 10 players homegrown to Scotland and our matchday squad has to have six homegrown Scottish players. It’s also worth keeping in mind those homegrown European squad restrictions now we’re consistently qualifying. We’ve got to keep this front and centre and not neglect our responsibility to develop local talent. However, Brexit has been kind to us, players need to apply for work permits but I’ve not had one rejected yet when we’ve been signing a player.
You’ll be well aware that the way scouting works changed for FM18. I’ve yet to fully get to grips with how to work it, and I know there’s plenty that feel similarly. However, there is some having some great joy with it! FMFutbolManager wrote a great guide on the changes if you fancy giving that a read. I’ve read it more than a handful of times and I still feel like I’m absolutely winging it…
I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands. I packed my bags during a few international breaks and went off to watch some young players making strides abroad. Attracting these young players, giving them an environment to develop and a platform to play will benefit the club in the long run. Ensuring we’re sustainable in the future, the Stirling stepping stone.
Youths, reserves, colts, devs, Bs. I’m naming my crop of youngsters the Futures. I feel it’s got the right mix of being trendy and utterly wanky corporate speak.
Dinu hasn’t reacted particularly well to our training regime since joining, but bravery and concentration aside just now, he’s got all the attributes to be a really strong central defender. The plan for him is to spend this season in our u21 side, get adjusted to Scotland and Scottish football. From there, we’ll judge whether he’s ready to make the step up to the first team, or whether he needs to head out on loan next season for some first team football.
Scotland has a long history of Nordic imports doing well in our leagues. Brian Laudrup, Henrik Larsson, Mixu Paatelainen, will the next name on the list be Jóhann Guðmundsson? It’s unlikely, but I’ve got hopes that I can at least give him some gametime, see how he develops and then potentially sell him on for a bit of a profit. He’s got plenty of areas I’d like him to improve in, namely dribbling, passing and getting even faster. He’ll mainly be used as a rotational option on the right hand side of midfield this season.
I was looking for a bit more cover on the left hand side of midfield for the darling of own youth system, Cairnseh. He offers us a safe option, with Sejmenovic joining to provide a bit more of a direct, dynamic option. I want his crossing, dribbling and acceleration to improve, but he has a lot of standout attributes that I really like. Naturally fit, hard working for the team and an abundance of flair. I can’t wait to see how he develops.
Who’s up for some FFA COE hackz!? If you haven’t had a look at the Football Federation Australia’s Centre of Excellence on FM then you might want to have a glance. There’s usually a stand out newgen that you can pick up free of charge. Best be quick though, as the decision was made to dissolve the COE at the end of 2017, which will likely be reflected from FM19 onwards. Balatsos will be a very good option for us in the first team right now, but I’ve decided to give him some gametime with our under 21s for now. It’s highly likely I’ll promote him up to the first team at some point this season. Ideally, he’d be taller, so it’ll be interesting to see if he’s got any literal growth left in him. He might be small, and can’t jump, but boy can he head a ball. It’d be great to see his anticipation and concentration improve too. I really think we’ll make quite a bit of money on Balatsos after he’s been given a run in the first team.
Another Nordic arrival, Kirkuane will be the main man up top this season for our under 21 squad. He’s been put on a complete forward training regime to see if we can improve his overall game. I love his finishing and first touch combo though already, with his personality being hugely positive, we should see some great attribute gains across the next couple of years. Well aware he’ll need some first team football in the very near future. I’ll judge it in January as to whether it makes sense to either get him promoted up to the first team, or send him out on loan.
We needed more strength in depth on the wings. With Guðmundsson joining to provide back up, Stankovic arrives to instantly provide competition for last seasons player of the year, Lewis Vaughan. He’s quick and has bundles of stamina to go along with his high work rate and teamwork attributes. He’s technically sound with an already decent crossing attribute. He’s also aggressive which I quite like too, got a bit of a nasty streak about him. As with all the other imports so far, there’s still a bit of room to develop but it’s safe to say I like him a lot and I think he’ll become a very good player for us.
Horvat had a release clause of £235k at Gorica for which I drove to Slovenia myself with the chairman in the passengers seat holding a suitcase full of banknotes to snap him up. What a player this boy looks. He got a very brief mention in the season seven summary post, as he joined in January 2024 and made an instant impact, rotating with Cairnseh on the left hand side to get him used to Scottish football. Two goals, including that vital winner in the dying seconds against Aberdeen, and five assists from 12 appearances in the league isn’t bad at all for an 18-year-old.
For his first full season at the club he’s been handed the number eight shirt, and he’ll be our first choice attacking central midfielder. He’s already started to improve and even more first team game time should see some of his attributes rocket, alongside his value which looks as though when the time comes to sell him, which it surely will, we’ll make a tidy profit. I’m planning to enjoy managing him while it lasts. I’ve chosen an advanced playmaker role to train him in for now, which covers a number of the mental attributes, and I’m just considering whether to ask him to learn any traits too.
That’s that for our influx of foreign talent to Stirling. It felt kind of dirty to peruse the youth squads of several nations and snap up the talent we have done, but needs must. When your scouts aren’t doing what’s asked of them, what are you going to do? We’ll chart their progress and see how our Futures develop during their time at Stirling.
But what about the homegrown talent? It’s a good question. We’re improving our facilities all the time, but right now, there’s only one homegrown player under the age of 20 that looks capable of making the step up to the first team. Stirling born, 19-year-old central defender, Ryan Wood, will be in and around the first team squad this season. Other than him, our next best hopes are a few years too young to be thinking about making a breakthrough. Cairnseh is still the shining light of the clubs youth development so far and to see one of your own coming through the ranks to go on and play well in European matches is actually quite a weird feeling. He’s been one of the success stories of the save so far.
Which of my Futures stands out for you? Other than Horvat, of course ?