Aug 13

Four Six and “Zero”?


In amongst an argument over whether Sir Alex Ferguson uses a 4-4-2, a debate broke out about the “4-6-0” in FML. Or was it the other way round? Either way, it did raise some questions about whether the 4-6-0 is a cheat formation. The examples in the following two paragraphs are both taken from Fowler. The one on the left is used by Wisla Warriors, and the other by Athletico.

Wisla Warriors in Fowler use this 4-6-0. I'm yet to see a side play this version of the 4-6-0, and it certainly doesn't fit the Ferguson or Spalletti model.Athletico in Fowler use this version of the 4-6-0. This perhaps is closest to the Spalletti 4-6-0, but I have yet to see it in action to see if style matches form.

I’m going to put my cards on the table from the start – I do not think the “decapitated” 4-6-0 in use in FML currently is a realistic tactic. Does that make it a cheat? No. I am very much of the opinion that you can play any tactic you want to. Anything that can be countered is not a cheat. And the 4-6-0 can be countered. Is it a little overpowered in the ME? I would say yes. But that does not a cheat make. Briefly, I want to sketch out my conception of the 4-6-0. I’m sure, as it has on the SIG forums, this will spark plenty of debate. If only about whether Teddy Sherringham was a striker or not.

Most people in support of the formation do one of two things. Either they link to the two well thumbed pieces (if indeed internet articles can be thumbed) on the evolution of football tactics, or they say nothing at all. 4-6-0 is played by Spalletti and Ferguson. Therefore it is a real tactic.

However, this is a result of mistranslation, and partly that’s the fault of Football Manager, partly it’s the fault of the media’s use of the term “4-6-0”, and partly it’s the fault of individual users.

Formation notation used to be seen as an exact science, certainly in the British Isles where tactics were (and sadly for many still are) simply a discussion of whether Gerrard and Lampard should play in a diamond 4-4-2 or a “normal” 4-4-2. When someone says “4-6-0” the immediate reaction is “ooh, no strikers”, and ignores the subtleties of roles and duties within that framework. Sir Alex Ferguson’s 4-2-3-1 may well have played without a striker. So did Everton for a while last season. And, obviously, Spalletti’s AS Roma side. But did they play without any forwards? No.

So, perhaps this stage is the user’s fault. It’s an honest mistake, and not a cheat. “4-6-0” does indeed imply no forwards, despite the actual play being more subtle than that. So why did the press call it a “4-6-0” in the first place? Well, partly it was an extension of the death of the striker. In the very first international, England lined up 1-2-7, though Scotland were more forward thinking in playing (ironically) fewer forwards. They set up a quick passing game using a 2-2-6, a formation eventually adopted in England. This gave way later to a 2-3-5. Then the game developed to more of a 4-2-4. Then 4-4-2. Then 4-5-1. Next logical step?

At all points, there had been a “number 9”, the goal scorer, the striker; and a “number 10”. The 10 had dropped deeper to act as the link man, the creator. In some formations, he played just behind the number 9 (Teddy Sherringham, Roberto Baggio). In others, he dropped back completely to the midfield (more akin to Lampard at Chelsea). What Spalletti did was drop the number 9, but kept the number 10. The result of this was, logically, no striker – no number 9 – and therefore no traditional strikers. The 4-6-0.

What this ignores, however, is that the number 10 is still a forward. He is still ahead of the rest of the players, it’s just that in FML terms he is probably regarded as an AMC. You can do this in FML (and in real life), because the number 9 stays forward. Once you lose the 9, however, you still need the 10 to be playing in an FC position and dropping deeper to pick up the ball and create things – he still is the spearhead of the attack, he just isn’t a number 9.

By now, you are probably familiar with how the system works. There is no centre forward. Francesco Totti is nominally the farthest player up the pitch, but he has licence to roam and, in fact, often doubles back to hit passes out to the wings. This leaves the opposition central defenders with a dilemma. If they track Totti, an injury doubt for tomorrow’s match, they leave a gap that a runner from the midfield can exploit; if they stay where they are, Roma have a man advantage in midfield and “in the hole”.
Gabriele Marcotti, The Times, London, 31 March 2008

How Roma actually played in the 2006-07 season.The Manchester United team that won the Champions League final in Moscow, 2008.

Totti is a FC in FML parlance. He’s just a deep-lying forward. At a push, he’s an AMC with attack duties and a trequartista role (coming to 1.3, ladies and gentlemen!). But if you do that, you have to push all the other midfielders to the “M” strata – and that’s not how the FML 4-6-0 is played.

So. The press were to blame slightly for the taxonomy. It was then mistranslated. And finally, the problem of FML. Where does Totti play? Probably somewhere between AMC and FC. He isn’t an AMC. But to play him in, traditionally, the “strikers” position isn’t right either. With roles and duties we can modify his behaviour to drop from FC or push on from AMC, but neither is really an accurate reflection. He must be further forward than the AMCs. In essence, he should be in the FC position.

As for Ferguson’s “4-6-0” – this was actually an asymmetric 4-2-3-1. One holding midfielder and another central midfielder dropping a bit deeper. A left midfielder tucking in and holding to keep cover. And finally a front “4” of a left midfielder dropping deeper to cover the wing, a right winger pushing hard to support the forwards, a support forward dropped deep to play “in the hole”, and a forward pushed on as the focal point for the attacks. All four could overlap with each other. Therefore, they were all midfielders, and all forwards. None were “strikers” in the traditional sense. Yet, despite this 4-2-1-3-0 sort of shape, the fact remains that there was a FC. However, who actually performed this function changed as the match went on.

For much of the season just finished, United deployed Wayne Rooney as the nominal front man. He constantly foraged deep and perhaps he has, as Ferguson suggested, been ‘too unselfish’. But it was Rooney’s movement, and the intelligence of his interchanges with Carlos Tevez, that created much of the space for Cristiano Ronaldo, who profited with 42 goals. United’s system was, in effect, 4-2-4-0. At times, particularly in Europe, Ferguson fielded an extra holder in midfield, which usually meant Ronaldo central in the Totti role (4-3-3-0).
Jonathan Wilson, Guardian, London, 8 June, 2008

If we say Roma did play a 4-6-0, this is more the shape they played, with the central player, Totti, playing in the most advanced and attacking role.As for Manchester United, the FC would drop back and the midfield would need a little logical shuffling. However, neither of these shapes really follows the examples at the very top of this article.

Above are how you could conceive of the 4-6-0s of AS Roma and Manchester United in FML.

Now. If we are to accept that Totti or Rooney were playing in midfield and, yes, therefore Roma and Manchester United were playing 4-6-0, then we would expect to see these shapes in FML. Do we? No. We see all sorts of weird and wonderful 4-6-0s, few of which have any bearing in reality. A mistranslation of the original design.

But is any of this cheating? No. Not by a long shot. Is it realistic? Again, no. But it is possible to be one and not the other. The 4-6-0 is counterable. Just as in beta when the 4-1-3-2 was “unbeatable”, then in the original live worlds the flat 4-5-1, and now the 4-6-0. This is the fashionable tactic. In a few month’s time it will be something else which is a “cheat”. But because it can beat you doesn’t make it a cheat. The teams at the top may be using 4-6-0 in your gameworld, but they also have the money and the best players. To be honest, they could play a whole host of formations and still be towards the top – that doesn’t make it a cheat.

The 4-6-0 in FML is a result of mistranslation and misunderstanding of the game. Some success for some bigger sides has led people to use it and then claim it is undefeatable. It isn’t. And it isn’t a cheat either. Herbert Chapman bemoaned that people translated the W-M as a defensive and game killing formation. And people said the same of 3-5-2. And of 4-5-1. It isn’t the formation which makes the tactic – it’s all the instructions contained within. This FML 4-6-0 is a Frankenstein tactic, created by those who don’t understand the subtleties of the Spalletti system. And much like Frankenstein, I’m sure it will get lost on an iceberg sometime in the near future.

Written By Gareth Millward
"Millie" is a long-standing member of the FM community and a co-founder of Gameworld One.Com. As part of FM-Britain, he was a contributor to TT&F and involved with the new tactical interface in FM2010.
Interested in more? Here are some related articles for you!
  • Hi, I've just done a piece on Spallett's 4-6-0 legacy, how it impacted on United and now Barca. It's quite pertinent because under Montella they seem to have, temporarily at least, reverted to this shape.


  • Gareth Millward

    You can also try this:

    And another article will be out in the next couple of weeks about using a libero formation.

  • Guest

    I've been using it for about a season now, having not wanted to play it because I think it is totally unrealistic.  My hand was forced when both my Strikers suffered long term injuries - I got the hump, left my team in a 4-5-1-0 and logged out for 3 days near the end of last season. Despite injuries to two other key players, when i logged back in I was 5th in  the GW and had won my first senior fed trophy. I've since developed to play a "true 4-6-0 with AML and AMR and am 2nd or 3rd in the GW and top of my fed (for the 1st time ever) I will play it for this season, then play "properly" again I think.  It works, but I can't get away from the feeling it's wrong.

    BTW to counter it man mark the AMC with a DMC or DC and leave the DC(s) on zonal with low closing down - not a solution to the problem but probably your best hope of countering this overpowered formation. 

  • Gareth Millward

    Depending on the style, I use the d-line shouts, i.e. "push up" or "drop deeper" and then aim to either play around them "push wide" or through them "play narrower". Beyond that, I use opposition instructions on the players who make the most attempted passes on their team.

    I will be looking at providing more "how do you counter..." articles over the coming weeks. I think this is definitely a part of the game which needs looking at.

  • Carey D

    So, how do you stop this?  I'm most successful stopping it by playing a defensive 4-2-1-3.  i play narrow with both DMs playing defensively, and my WBs attacking aggressively, giving me some semblence of width; a CM with good passing to spray the ball around, and an AMC and two FCs causing problems ahead.  It leaves me exposed a bit, as I have pretty bad WBs, but it works pretty well.  Also, i play with Get the ball forward on the whole time, and with the 'counter' strategy. 

  • Gareth Millward

    Excellent analysis, James, I completely agree. The Austrians also did a similar thing, although in both cases the deep-lying forward had an inside forward and two wing forwards at least playing with them.

    I think we all know that most of the people who use "4-6-0" without any FCs have seen something that works in the ME and have then gone on to try and justify their choice by linking to the two articles I mentioned above.

    A couple (literally a couple - Devil69 and Frootloops, my apologies to everyone else if they get offended) have engaged critically with this. And while I appreciate that there is a debate over how much of an FC or an AMC Totti was in the Roma formation, the fact remains that every 4-6-0 I have played or come across in the Fowler gameworld has a) looked nothing like a "real" 4-6-0 and b) played nothing like a "real" 4-6-0.

    Now, I can cope with people using this formation, and I don't think it's cheating. It would be nice, however, if people were a little bit more honest about why they're playing it and that they have no real clue how a "4-6-0" is supposed to look like and behave like. ;)  

    Is that too harsh? :)

  • James E

    No problem with 4-6-0...

    Just the lack of FCs or FC positional players that some managers are (or arther aren't using) when they deploy this formation.

    Even when Hungary used it in the early part of last century they used a deep lying centre forward.

    So its just lack of realism in the team selection, rather than the team layout that is problematic for me as it represents a schism between reality and game.

  • zeusbheld

    very interesting post. seems to me that it should be possible to design very similar tactics using very different formations in the FM/FML tactical system.

    for example, the 4-3-3-0 460 that's popular in FML, with 3 amcs and side mids rather than wingers, can be thought of as being basically either a 4-3-2-1 with one deep FC, or a 4-3-1-2 with a playmaker AMC and two deep fcs.

    i am very curious as to whether these slightly different formations could be coaxed into producing similar football in FML... but i'm not tactically adept enough to succeed at this experiment.

  • Alan Paterson

    this is an incredible post. I agree completely, finally, someone who realises th truth of 4-6-0. Thank you. I hope the rest of the FML'ers read this and understand how its supposed to look. :) awesome guys !

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