One of the things I’m most excited about with the re-launch of Football Manager Live is that it appears as though the game is being structured people building up to long term success.
This has always been my preferred method and having been in Fowler since the launch originally back in 2008, I was confident I knew how I was going to play the game after re-launch, now I’m not so sure. Let me explain, but first a bit of background.
The Path to Enlightenment
When Fowler launched, it was the first time I’d played Football Manager Live. Unlike some of the guys who’d been in beta, I was a total newbie. Thankfully, I’d read an awful lot about the game mechanics before launch so I was a bit prepared for what I was getting into. My club, Castle Hill FC, struggled through it first six seasons. I was playing with a strategy which was to build a core squad of around 15 players and scrape together enough U21 players to get a team in there for “player development”. I would constantly evaluate my core group and try and improve the pieces one-by-one through transfers, exchanges and wage auctions. By the end of Season Six, I was in the Premiership of my FA, my team was hovering around 120th in GW ranking and I had a half million or so in the bank with a reasonable stadium for my club. I felt that going into Season Seven I would start taking a more serious run at the Premiership.
As the Seventh Season progressed, it was frustrating. I was running a team that was mired in the relegation zone even though in my mind I knew my side was better. So, like any good manager on Football Manager Live would do in this circumstance, I had a tantrum and blamed the match engine. Thankfully, I was talked down from that tree by Millie and Mark Burton who took the time to watch my matches and highlights and point out some obvious flaws in my setup, but also that I didn’t have the right balance of players to play the style I was playing. So for the rest of that season I flipped to a 5-1-2-1-1 type formation where I had a diamond in the midfield but most players bar the AMC and FC were playing defensive roles. I had a massively good run of form and the club came out of the relegation zone into safety.
Heading into Season Eight, again I was optimistic. I kept my same players who’d pulled the side out of relegation with our ultra-defensive counter attacking formation, but added a few as well so that I could get to a more free flowing game. Ultimately, what was happening was against the best sides, sitting back and absorbing the punishment meant that their quality players were getting too many chances and I was losing, so I knew to improve I needed to spend more time in the other team’s half. About a quarter of the way through the season, my team was dead last, hadn’t won a match and nothing was working – I went nuclear.
I sold every player over the age of 19 and decided to go with an all youth side. It was something I had been thinking of for some time, but like most people I didn’t want to see my ranking drop dramatically. However, having played the best part of eight seasons and having never won anything, what did it matter?
Throughout the next three seasons, I struggled. I had one string during Season Eight where my club lost 28 straight matches. My ranking dropped from the 120’s down to a low of about 445 from memory, which was an awesome feat considering that Fowler probably only had about 550 managers. My team was probably the worst active side on Fowler. Apparently, there is no medal for that in FMLive which is a bit wrong in my books.
Climbing Out of the Swamp
Over the next two and a half seasons, I focused on winning official Youth Comps and developing players. By developing players I mean making sure they are playing their natural positions, no green boots and that they are being used in situations where their rankings stayed above 6.8 as best as possible. If a player had success at U17, then I’d promote him to U18/19 and spot him into the lineup until he was achieving a solid game rating. Same again, success at U18/19 meant a promotion to U20/21, from there it was into Reserves and eventually the 1st Grade team. I was careful about watching coaching reports. Is Player X seeing too much First Team, is Player Y ready for First Team – I took those things seriously.
In Season 11, I won my first FA Competition, my U19 side ran away with their competition. More importantly, I had a good group of youngsters in my starting side who were routinely playing 6.8 on average and I’d earned my way back into the Premiership. Unfortunately, it was the same story – mid-table mediocrity. I also noticed that my players’ reputations weren’t going up much at all.
I had built up a pretty solid base of 5* and 4.5* potential youths, at least enough for two teams, so I started to sell some of those. I then used that money to buy a few older players with high reputation who could still play in my starting XI. That was the moment when I really turned the corner.
My side were competing for the Premiership, I won a Senior FA Cup competition and in Season 13, we won every Youth competition our FA had – the Youth FA Cup, U21, U20, U19, U18 and U17 leagues. My youth team became #1 ranked in Fowler. From Season 13 until the game ended in Season 18, my club won 30 official competitions and stayed in the top 10 in both senior and youth rankings for most of that time, despite myself losing a bit of interest with re-launch coming and not playing as much with other commitments.
So that’s my strategy for club development laid bare. I’m sure for many of you this is not anything new, but what I can say is, I stuck with the plan, executed it and knew it worked. I was keen to bring it across to the re-launched game worlds.
With the re-launch, Castle Hill FC are in Happel and because I’m not moderating there, I get to be a normal player for the most part. The first thing I did was select my side with a view to younger players. I felt that the key was to have some success over the first three seasons so that my reputation level would be good and do ok in prize money. I also felt that I’d build my Youth Academy in a Tier 1B country (I chose Argentina) to avoid the crush in the 1A countries (Brazil, Spain, England). My idea was to have a capable starting side, have a U21 side to just get youth players getting appropriate competition and put together a U17 side over the course of the year with a view to playing in all youth comps in season two. I was aiming for “breaking out” with a great side in season five or six.
Now, I’m not so sure. In Happel there is a very strange premium on youth with almost no concern for player reputation, which is causing inflation in wages and younger player values. Youth Academies are way more numerous than I’d imagined so early in the game – at last check there were 35 academies built or in the process of being built for Brazil, 39 for England and 14 in Argentina. So much for my Tier 1B strategy.
The problem I see for people like me is that per season, most of my youth coming through the Academy in Argentina are going to be hopeless. FML’s database tries to maintain some balance of the number of players from each country at certain quality levels – so in essence there are only so many Messi’s who are ever going to be in the DB, having 14 academies doesn’t mean there will ever be more. Having a 5* Academy means I’ll get more lottery tickets for maybe pulling some of the better players, but its still just a crapshoot. You don’t build a strategy on the basis of a role of the dice.
So the second leg of acquiring youth is through Free Agent acquisition. I’m slightly more optimistic about this strategy and am assessing youngsters now. Ideally, if I can find one or two high potential youth’s per season, that might be enough. What remains to be seen is how this plays out when it comes to youth auctions. One strategy you could use would be to wait and see who “So and So” bids on because he only bids on good youth and try and outbid him. Certainly the change to Judging Potential have made buying youths off the open market much harder.
In last week’s article here, Jordan Cooper said sometimes it makes more sense to go against the grain. That’s got me really thinking about how I’m playing my game. With the changes to signing on fees for teenagers (20x Wages for Agent Fee), the Youth Academies and adjustments in judging potential – is building through youth a good strategy? That style of play is like farming, you’re growing something from almost nothing. It is appealing at a romantic level certainly.
Conversely, if mid-to-late twenties players with decent reputations are going to be available at a comparative discount then perhaps that’s the market I should be going for. I could supplement that with a “harvest strategy” for youth, where I keep running my youth academy, searching for and signing good young players but then rather than develop them, sell them and use the money or exchange for slightly older players with higher reputation. I think this strategy is akin to working with wood. I could go out and cut down a pristine hardwood tree and cut it into pieces – I then have the option of turning that timber into beautiful pieces of furniture or a house or just focusing on selling the raw pieces and acquiring the sawdust and offcuts from the artists and carpenters who want to make beauty. I can then take that very valuable sawdust and those offcuts and make medium-density fiberboard which is more dense than timber at a much cheaper price. Zigging when everyone else is zagging.
Ultimately it will be fun to see how these strategies shake out and evolve over the next couple of seasons.
Sean is active every day discussing Football Manager Live, follow him @SKaye and join the conversation with all of us!
|Written By Sean Kaye
Sean is a chat helper in the Fowler game world as well as a fed org in the CWA. Interested in the game's mechanics, he likes to share his findings with other players to better understand strategy and the inner workings of FML