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Published on September 25th, 2014 | by Kevin Lawson

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How to get even better at Football Manager

If you’re reading this guide, I’m sure you’re doing so out of pure curiosity. After all you’ve been playing Football Manager for years right? You know how you like you’re teams to play and you’ve managed to lead teams to plenty of virtual Premier League titles and Champions League successes (all without ever having to restart). So what do you need with a guide to success on Sports Interactive’s Football Manager series?

Well after playing every version of the football management simulator over the last 20 years – including the ill-faed Football Manager Live – and racked up thousands of hours of playtime, I might know a thing or two that’ll make your next save is a little more successful. Want proof of my methods? See gallery below:

If you fancy having a go with my defensively robust tactic then let me know via email, twitter or facebook and I’ll talk you through how to make it work for your team.

Convinced? Yes well then read on to find some general advice that’ll help you get the most out of even the most mediocre squads.

Become a tactics buff

For those of you who subscribe to the “if I buy the best players, tactics don’t matter” (also known as ‘the Graeme Souness fallacy’) method of playing Football Manager, this section of advice really is not for you. However for those that truly obsess over their FM saves, a full understanding of tactics is where a virtual manager can make a good team great and a great team legendary.

Before I delve any deeper into my own methods I would like offer a warning.I don’t subscribe to the belief that there is such a thing as the perfect tactic. There was a time when Sports Interactive’s franchise was easy to exploit (or cheat) but those days are in the past; frankly the idea that one tactic will fit any set of players is idiotic.

Still with me? Great! Here are my top tips for making the most of the tactical side of Football Manager:

  • Be pragmatic: One of the mistakes I used to make when playing FM in the past was that I tried to impose a style of playing on a team before I had the correct personnel to make it work. For years I was obsessed with playing like Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona – dominating possession, high pressing and a high defensive line – when I had players with mediocre passing, rubbish work rate and defenders with poor pace. It led to lovely football, but seasons in which I would finish 7th instead of 4th or higher. For a real life example of how a talented manager can be undone in this regard look at the difference between how Brendan Rodgers performed at Reading as opposed to Swansea/Liverpool.
  • TTAF 09: The first document that should be read by any FM nut is a 2009 analysis designed by the games community. Called Tactical theorems and frameworks, the document gives a thorough understanding of the levers which can effect the game Match Engine and was so good it was hardcoded into the full game in 2010. Whilst this made the tenets of its principles easier (the selection of player roles; target man, poacher, etc) easier to implement, a good read of this document will only enhance your understanding.
  • Further reading: Whatever your feelings about the papers lefty leanings, the Guardians football tactics section is a great weekly source of analysis about the tactical side of the game. Written chiefly by Michael Cox the section – which also includes contributions from tactics historian Jonathan Wilson (Inverting the Pyramid) – is thought provoking and has genuine lessons which can be applied in FM.
  • Use the games new tactical analysis tools: After you’ve created your first tactics be sure to look at how they’re performing, even when you win. By using FM’s post match analysis tools you can look at average positions, movement, shot positions, scoring chances all of which are expertly outlined in this post, to make sure the vision you have in your head matches the one which happens on the pitch.

The ‘Russell McGowan Team Selection method’179666_10152574139700434_803692049_n

Now I know the guy pictured to the right doesn’t look like a managerial genius, but he is. For this is no mere virtual manager, this is Russell McGowan, a FM player whose obsessive detail to pre-match team selection has to be seen to be believed. I have in one instance – prior to a Champions League semi-final – I witnessed the man take nearly 30 minutes selecting his team. It seemed excessive until the striker (Peter Crouch) he brought back into the team, despite having far more talented attackers at his disposal, bagged a hat-trick. Ever since then I have watched his methods with interest and have distilled he thinking into a few rules:

  • Never play players with fitness below 92%
  • Never play the same team for more than two games in a row
  • Make use of every player in your first team throughout the season
  • Use squad filters excessively (optional)
  • Play ageing, once talented players in big games hoping that they ‘love the big occasion’ (optional – although it does seem to work)

These are only the first of my observations into his voodoo like methods of team selection, but all I’m trying to say is that don’t have a set first 11; rotation is good for squad harmony and even the biggest player needs to feel like he has competition.

Strike a balance between building for the future & this season

Whilst having a team of ‘Wonderkids’ with an average age of 23 is an exciting thought, make sure that retain a strong base of players approaching or in their early 30s. As was suggested earlier in the team selection advice, these players will help you through tougher fixtures much in the same way as Ryan Gigg’s did for Sir Alex Ferguson as his career drew to a close. It sounds a bit silly, after all “if you’re good enough, you’re old enough” right? Well no actually, the problem with a team full of talented youngsters is that they don’t have the status and reputation that other teams fear, ending in more defeats and draws as a result.

Take responsibility for your mistakes

Whilst it is tempting to blame the remaining exploits in the Match Engine or that “the game had it in for you in the last game” the reality is that it probably was your own fault. Whether you’ve sent out too many big name players in an away match against the bottom of the league and fallen foul of complacency or selected a striker who although in form, is in need of a rest there are always reasons for a poor result. The only way you’ll ever improve is by accepting you made a mistake and trying to learn from it, making excuses for a poor performance will do you no good, you only have to look at the current plight of Alan ‘it was the crowds fault’ Pardew to see that.

 

 

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