(yeah, I couldn’t fit my customary exclamation mark into the title; I’m sorry, okay)
It is now the first weekend of the half-term holidays, meaning that this is my only opportunity to crash and not do work for the next four months or so; and instead of going to see family or hanging out with friends, I have spent these two days marathonning Football Manager 2014, as any self-respecting individual would do.
Having taken York from League Two to the Premier League on the 2013 game, winning an FA Cup in the process, and getting Salisbury promoted into League Two, before finishing a point above the drop one season, and pushing for promotion in the next, current, one, I feel I have learned a few things about lower-league management in the series; my exploits are by no means unheard of, or even that spectacular, but I have a blog dammit, and so my ideas are going to be written up.
1) Determination, Work Rate and Stamina are the most important attributes
If you scout these traits for every position on your team, you’ll end up with a squad full of players that are mentally, and physically, indestructible; while Work Rate and Stamina are fairly self-explanatory, Determination is best defined as ‘how well a player reacts to adversity’, be it a short-term setback such as conceding an early goal, or going on a three-month streak of defeats, as my Salisbury side did. Having a team of determined players will means they can bounce back from such problems easily.
Also, having a full eleven of determined players means you’re not relying on any one position or player to spark a revival: you might have a determined striker, but if the opposition are weak on corners, it’ll be a lot more beneficial to have a determined defender, who’s got the balls to charge into the near post to score your first goal in a month and start the great revival. Furthermore, having these characteristics in depth means you’ll never have to rotate our Determination or Work Rate as players get tired, injured, or suffer bad runs; you’ll always have an eleven of potential match-winners.
2) Creativity is overrated
As a football idealist, in which I dream of playing a 4-4-1-1 with an Enganche as the ‘one’, in front of a Box-to-box midfielder and Advanced playmaker, I always try to build my teams around Creativity: my midfielders must have it, I argue, to start attacks; my strikers must have it to unlock defences.
However, the lack of, especially Positioning and Concentration, quality in the lower leagues means that any idiot with 4 Passing and 6 Teamwork will be able to find shedloads of space to exploit; my playmaking central midfielder, with 13 Creativity, had no assists and an average rating of 6.6a this year, while my Enganche, with 7 Creativity, has eights assists and a rating of 7.13.
3) Limited Full Backs all the way!
Part of my Salisbury side’s great revival was sparked by my change from supporting Full Backs to defending Limited Full Backs; my Premiership experiences with York on the previous game had made me accustomed to the former kind of defender, but there I had quick centre-halves who could cover the ground, and the entire back 4 was positionally aware enough to operate a high line.
In League Two, however, the prevalence of the long ball, and the previously-established unimportance of Creativity, means that any player on the opposing team can whack it towards my corner flag on the counter attack, and overload my stranded centre-halves and rookie Goalkeeper; ultra-defensive Full Backs prevents this problem, as little is lost offensively, as 99% of League Two Full Backs are totally ineffective going forward anyway.
4) One-year contracts all the way!
The lower leagues are treacherously changeable every season: my 22-goal-a-season striker one year in the Skrill Premier scored 3 in 42 games the next year, despite no changes in team formation and actual increases in his attributes, meaning the three-year deal I gave him after his breakout season left me with an overpaid, under-performing loser, which is a great problem when your wage budget consists of seventeen pence a year anyway.
Also, any team could get promoted or relegated in any given year – Crawley got double-relegated into the Skrill Premier, despite having a budget double the size of every other team – and so if you give your crappy League Two players two-year deals, and get promoted totally unexpectedly that season, your wage budget will be too stretched fro you to bring in any League One-quality players to help avoid the drop the next season.
5) Set your second nationality to Russian
The Russian Leagues are a great place to manage (especially glorious ball-club SC Rotor Volgograd of personal 2007 legend), as they are high in reputation, but low in quality; the Russian First Division often hovers around the 40th most popular league in the world, but the quality is around that of League Two, the eightieth in the list. The league is therefore a great place to go to quickly rebuild your reputation if you’re struggling in your home country.
However, Russian clubs are very unlikely to hire anyone who can’t speak Russian at least on a basic level, and Russia’s rules on foreign players means 90% of your squad will be Russian; you can’t just fill the team with players from your home country that you can actually talk to. Setting Russian as your second nationality will give you basic knowledge of the Russian language, helping you get a job, and manage, there, without having to be a world-renowned super-manager, to the extent that you’re the wet dreams of every club on the planet.