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FM 18 Experiment: AI Under Extreme Circumstances


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This is a project I have been tinkering with on-and-off for quite a while. After playing FM (and CM before it) over many years, I've become more and more interested in the game’s AI – its sophistication and limitations. After several years of creating various edited databases, I decided to create an entirely new set of clubs and their own league to play in, almost entirely divorced from the parameters of the real footballing world. Part of the motivation was to create a new league to play in for a bit of change, but it was also a way of seeing how the game would react to such a situation: would it allow this new league to function in the way that it could (i.e., leverage its wealth and resources to become potentially the leading competition in the sport), or would it maintain the status quo, dominated by UEFA competitions and established European leagues? Moreover, it is an opportunity to see how a league unfolds from the very beginning. None of the clubs have history, staff (apart from some basic backroom staff and owners) or any form of legacy: they all need to establish themselves and either sink or swim in their environment using the resources at their disposal.

As a follower of American sports, I took this project down the US ‘franchise’ route: closed leagues, divisional structure, playoffs, vibrant logos and ostentatious team names… I appreciate this is tantamount to heresy to some*, but if you’re interested in something a bit different, read on…

*I’ll state at the outset, this isn’t one for the purists: many, many aspects of the game have been dismantled, altered, tweaked and tinkered with; the in-game editor is on and tools like FM genie scout and FMRTE will also be used to ascertain information and data: I’m not an active manager in the game and won’t be claiming any ‘achievement’ on route – this is solely about setting up a fictional scenario and seeing what happens. All the same, I appreciate that many like the game to be played ‘properly’ and will detest the very notion of this. I like to play the game in it’s traditional format too, but also enjoy having a mess about and being a bit creative. Likewise, I'm a bit of a data nerd, and reports will be, at least in part, focused on analysing data from the game - again, I appreciate that some will find this utterly pointless and an absurd way to 'play' FM...

 

Premise:

·       How will FM’s AI cope under extreme conditions, namely the disruption of the underlying logic and structure of the game ‘world’? This is an experiment to find out, by creating a new league and new teams that will rival the old establishment of world football

·       Based nominally in Canada, a new ‘closed’ league has been created, populated by 32 franchises, spread across the world (although consolidated primarily in more economically realistic nations and cities as would be the case in a real-life situation)

·       Every team is extremely well financed via commercial deals and TV revenue (although relatively evenly financed, much like how US sports use collective revenue sharing), and has state-of-the-art facilities and stadiums. They are the football (soccer) equivalent of the NFL, where the ‘closed’ structure ensures their revenue and status are protected. Club reputations have been set high (between 9000 and 6500 on a ratio'd basis) so as to provide the new league with a surge of interest to kick-start it

·       Teams from the IFF (the Independent Football Federation) do not qualify for any existing continental or world club tournaments. 

 

 

Game Setup:

·       English, Spanish, Italian, German and French top divisions are running on full detail in addition to Canada, which is running the IFF World Championship and IFF Division II (for B Teams)

·       The game has 24,500 players active on a 'medium' sized database

·       All other nations are running as normal at game start-up

 

New League Structure:

·       The IFF season is structured as follows:

 

August – October: The Divisional Series: teams are regionally divided into 4 leagues of 8 teams –

The Pacific Football Conference (PFC);

 

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The North American Football Conference (NFC);

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The European Football Conference (EFC);

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The Atlantic Football Conference (AFC).

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Teams play each-other twice, with winners crowned champions

Additionally, the Pentland-Meisel Invitational Cup runs during August and September. This is a tournament in which the previous year’s IFF champions take on the winners of the continental cups (European Cup, Libertadores etc)

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November – May: The IFF World Championship starts with a group phase, in which all 32 teams are randomly drawn in pools of 8, playing each-other twice. The winners and runners-up in each group qualify for the championship playoffs (single-legged seeded knockout rounds played at the home-team stadium, with a final at a neutral venue)

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Running alongside the World Championship is the Intercontinental Challenge Cup; a 2-legged knockout cup featuring all 32 teams, drawn randomly

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To keep things interesting in these shorter format leagues, 2 points are awarded for a win, 1 for a draw and none for a loss.

 

Initial Questions/thoughts:

·       How will this new league interact with the established game world? Will players and managers be attracted to the upstart league by the prospect of the money on offer? Will the AI recognise other factors such as the draw of the cities that teams are based in (Melbourne, New York, San Diego, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Miami….?) or even the relatively low number of matches they are required to play in per season?

·       Will there be an immediate influx of talent for big money as ambitious owners look to exploit their wealth and grow their empires? How effective will scouting and recruitment be? Will these new clubs, starting from scratch, be to ‘see’ the best players by building a scouting network? How much will this limit their ability to improve quickly?

·       In time, will the IFF grow its own superstars with the vast facilities and resources available to clubs?

·       What kind of competitive dynamic will emerge in the league? Will the ‘traditional’ football nations and regions (i.e., Europe) mimic their domination over this new league, or will North America become dominant? Will this affect the quantity and quality of youth prospects clubs can generate? Likewise, will dominance emerge from within specific regional conferences, or will competition be balanced?

·       Without the restrictions of FFP, will the IFF teams simply be able to outmuscle even the strongest of clubs in the European leagues, or will prestige and tradition ensure the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern always retain their status as the giants?

·       Over time, will the IFF offer a higher standard of football for the world? Will we see a consolidation of talent, with 32 highly tuned, high quality teams going head-to-head each year in the toughest club challenge on the planet, or will it simply become another retirement home for past-it stars of Europe, where lavish salaries are paid to has-beens to see out their twilight playing years in glamourous surrounds? Let's find out...

 

Update Format:

·       Each Season I will do a report on the goings-on in this alternative football universe;

·       I will cover the winners of each tournament and provide some analysis of team strength and development using the in-game editor and Genie Scout to gather background data such as CA, PA, reputation as well as financial information

·       Initially, I will analysing changes to numbers of players with PA and CA bands in each of the major leagues, changes to club values, using a ‘control’ group of clubs from Europe and tracking the transfer spending of the IFF clubs and the ‘control group’ clubs. As the game evolves, there will be additional sections added and developed

 

 

 

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Edited by SebJan
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Season Review: 2017-18

Transfer Roundup:

The biggest early mover was Monaco’s Adama Traore, who was snapped up by The Chicago Wildcats for £23.5m, rising to £35.5m. With a CA of 136 and PA of 152, he’s a strong player for the league at this early stage, and he went on to have a solid season; contributing 5 goals, 5 assists with an average rating of 7.03 in 18 league games. The next biggest deal was a £9.5m transfer of Swansea’s Leroy Fer to the Moscow Jackals for an initial £9.75m. In general, teams played it conservative, and certainly did not go for any headline grabbing moves during the first season: the cumulative spend of all 32 clubs was just over £200 million, resulting in an average of £6.2m spent. The Wildcats bucked the trend significantly, spending a total of £50m, whilst the Munich Steelers didn’t spend a solitary penny. With the huge revenues and start-up cash given all teams, this leaves a cumulative bank balance of £15.4billion spread across the teams, with the Moscow Jackals sitting £1.1billion at the top, with the Knightsbridge Royals just behind on £935million. These teams have some serious firepower if they want to use it.

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Net Transfer Spending Analysis:

Table illustrates the annual gross spend on transfers for each club (in £m) as well as their bank balance as of June 1st at the end of the season (in £bn). For example, the LA Knights spent £13.25m on players in season 2017-18, and on June 1st 2018 have £783m in the bank. This table will be updated each season, with cumulative and average figures updated. 

 

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Season Review 2017-18:

PFC: (Champions: Los Angeles Knights)

LA win their division by 3 points over the joint-placed runners-up Tokyo and Seattle. Seattle’s Suleiman Abdullahi was the star, leading the scoring charts with 6 in addition to 4 POM awards. His CA of 117, and £2m transfer fee from Braunschweig pay testament to the limited quality on show in the first season.

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NFC: (Champions: Chicago Wildcats)

Big spenders Chicago yield dividend on their investment with a division title, finishing 3 points ahead of the New York Titans. 17 year-old goalkeeper Josh Williams (CA 123, PA 171) looks to be star for Chicago, already valued at £29m and averaging 7.49 during the campaign, in addition to a staggering 11 clean sheets in 14 matches.

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EFC (Champions: Moscow Jackals)

Despite only spending £12m of their lavish £1bn budget, Moscow take the EFC by a single point from the Wien Warlocks. The Warlocks’ Tomi Correa (a 33 year-old free transfer from Rapid Vienna whose CA is a paltry 103) top scored in the division with 8. Record signing Leroy Fer was underwhelming for the champions, clocking a dismal average rating of 6.76 during the campaign. 

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AFC (Champions: Catalunya Hawks)

The Barcelona-based club round out the first batch of regional champions, racing away with the AFC – eventually racking up 24 points and finishing 4 ahead of Knightsbridge. Hector Gonzalez  - a 28 year-old Spanish striker generated at Catalunya (valued at £33m despite a CA of only 108) was their absolute star, heading the goal charts (9), the average ratings (7.27) and POM awards (4). Surely a player of his calibre will quickly fall into insignificance as the league standard rises?

 

Pentland-Meisel Invitational Cup (Champions: Real Madrid)

With no previous IFF World Championship, there was no representation from the nascent league. Real Madrid (who else?!) beat Man Utd 3-1 in the final at Old Trafford, with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring twice against his old club.

Intercontinental Challenge Cup (Champions: Los Angeles Knights)

Continuing their trophy-laden first year, LA secured victory in the final over Knightsbridge on penalties after a 1-1 draw in regulation time. 75,000 fans packed into the hot and humid Apple LA Arena to see the home team take away the cup.

IFF World Championship (Champions: Los Angeles Knights)

LA made it a miraculous treble by hoisting aloft the first World’s Championship after a 3-1 win in the final against Moscow. 27 year-old winder Andrea Nalini (valued at £24.5m with a CA 115/PA 121) was POM, scoring twice. A £675k signing from Crotone, Nalini proved a steal, sealing the big prize for his club.

In the group stage, the pattern set by the regional championships was largely born out, with Wien Warlocks, Madrid Toros (group A), Catalunya Hawks and Rome Centurians (group B), Seattle Bears and Knightsbridge Royals (group C) and LA and Moscow (group D) qualifying for the post-season playoffs. The biggest shock was Chicago, winners of the NFC, being edged out in 3rd place in a strong group D.

The quarter finals saw Seattle edge past Catalunya 2-1 in extra time in Spain, LA dispatch Rome 2-0 in Los Angeles, Wien beat Madrid 2-1 at home in Austria whilst Moscow crept past Knightsbridge 1-0 in Moscow in the tie of the round.

The semi finals were again low scoring affairs: LA dismissed Wien 2-0 in LA – making use of their seeded position and retaining home-field advantage throughout the playoffs – with Moscow doing likewise and beating the travelling Seattle 1-0 in a cool evening encounter at the Gazprom Yashin Stadium before 65,000 supporters (836 making the long trip from the Pacific Northwest).

Catalunya’s Jairo Morillas (striker, valued at £37.5m, CA 112/PA 127) led the scorers charts with 8 after a free transfer from Espanyol. Moscow’s winger Mikhail Kryuchkov (28, valued at £30.5, 110/115) racked up 7 assists to finish the league’s top provider. Andrea Nalini  - he of note from the championship final – was named the league’s MVP, with an average rating of 7.59, 8 goals and 6 assists. It will be interesting to see how he fares next season in a potentially tougher league.

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Rest of World Roundup:

Man Utd won the EPL with a whopping 88 points, 15 ahead of second-placed Arsenal in what looked like a return to the late 90s in England. Spain saw an epic title fight with A. Madrid winning the trophy from Barcelona in second, both teams finishing on 89 points, and Madrid scoring just 2 more goals than the Catalans. More routinely, Juventus won Serie A; finish 14 points ahead of Inter, and Bayern did likewise in Germany, retaining the title by 8 points from Leverkusen. Of greater note, Dortmund slumped to 9th in the final reckoning. In another shock, Monaco claimed Ligue 1, finishing level on points with Lyon but outscoring them by 2. PSG had to settle for 3rd, 7 points behind the leaders. Arsenal rounded-off a good season with a 1-0 win over Lazio in the Europa League final, and Jose Mourinho’s Man Utd capped off an immense return to power by defeating Tottenham 1-0 in the Champions’ Cup Final. Alexis Sanchez was absolutely outstanding for Man Utd this season, averaging 7.60 over 56 matches, scoring 15 and providing 21 for his team. Valued at £76m and earning £350k per week, will any IFF team make a move for him? Would he consider jumping ship whilst riding so high?

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Talent Watch (A summary of emerging stars in the IFF)

Yoan Brunet (Paris Eclairage – winger; 101/188, valued at £9.1m)

A 17 year-old French winger from Paris’ academy, Brunet has the potential to be legitimate world star, already loaded with flair, determination and acceleration. He made 9 appearances in the World Championship this season, amassing an average 6.52 rating. He’s getting some football at an early stage, but will he be able to maintain this as his club invests? He also made 8 starts for the B team, scoring 2 and assisting 2 for a 6.85 rating overall.

Pau Martinez (Catalunya Hawks – midfielder; 101/186, valued at £25m)

Already tipped as a star with a high transfer value, the 17 year-old academy prospect can play as either a central midfielder or attacking midfielder. With a great first touch, technique, leadership, decision making and fitness, he looks to have the core ingredients of a midfield orchestrator: he played a total of 25 matches for 1st and B teams this season (20 for the 1st team), recording 2 assists and a goal in the AFC and achieving a 6.92 rating overall.

 

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Analysis

In this section I will assess some of the changes to data within the game, in order to ascertain whether the IFF is growing in strength and how specific teams within the competition are developing over time.

League ‘Strength’:

By running counts of players’ CA and PA within the 6 leagues running in full detail, we can get an indication as to how they are fluctuating in quality.

When counting players who have a CA between 160 and 179, we get a good assessment of how many international standard players are active in these leagues. Between summer 2017 and 2018, the overall number grew by nearly 10%; the EPL and Serie A both saw increases in numbers of players at this level, whilst Germany declined slightly. The IFF as yet, has not registered a single play of this calibre, and looking at some of the leading performers in 2017-18, it may be some time before standards rise to this level. Interestingly, 85 of 88 players operating in this CA bracket were playing in the ‘big’ 5 European leagues (96.5%): now that’s what I call an oligopoly.

The pattern is mirrored in the 180 – 200 CA bracket, although on a smaller scale. With such small numbers there’s not much to assess yet here.

The number of under-21 players with a PA of 170 or more grew significantly in a year, from 72 to 95 (32%). Of course there is no direct link between this group and those who will end up in the CA 180 – 200 bracket, as we know many potential stars do not reach their CA, or anywhere near close to it. In this group though, the IFF has an equitable amount to the 5 European leagues, possibly an indicator of the excellent youth facilities the 32 clubs have. I contract to the CA brackets, only 22 of 95 of these talented youngsters (23%) are based in the 6 active leagues, meaning the vast majority of talent is scattered about the world waiting to be found. It will be interesting to see if IFF teams can become adept at finding any of it.

 

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Team Rating Comparison:

In this section I am using FM Genie Scout’s tool which provides each team a % rating. My understanding is that this is formulated of the quality of players and the tactic they are utilised in, providing a crude measure of how effective/strong they are. I plan to do an annual export of this data for all IFF teams, to adjudge how they are changing, and am using a ‘control’ group of European clubs as a means of comparison. I have also set some formulas to calculate averages for each regional conference, to get a sense as to whether any region in particular is becoming disproportionately stronger or weaker. I have included a running count of titles won by each club also as this will illustrate how impactful this measure is (i.e., logically, teams with better ratings over time on average should be snapping up more silverware, because they’re better…)

In 2018, there is predictably a massive gulf between the control group and the IFF teams, but also a near 10% variance between the best- and worst IFF clubs. From the perspective of this being an accurate tool of analysis, this is promising as The LA Knights do stand out as the best team based on this rating and duly swept up 3 trophies. Aside from these numbers raising in future (or falling!), it will be interesting to see if the IFF teams’ median is reduced or if disparity becomes wider: something for analysis after several years when a bigger sample is available. Also, will the control group teams get better or worse? What is the highest % rating that a team can get to? Barcelona have clearly got a damn fine side, but can they or someone else get above 83?

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Summary:

After 1 season, the IFF could most certainly be classed as ‘bush league’. The standard of players is low and clubs that went out and strengthened to any extent have reaped the rewards. With so much money available, it will be interesting to see if things kick on this summer and we see a few more notable players arrive. With the league likely to be in major flux for the next 2,3 or 4 years it is tricky to predict where the silverware will go, but the likes of Los Angeles, Chicago and Moscow have given themselves a good head start on the rest. The likes of Melbourne with their abysmal team rating already have some work to do, or they could spend next season propping up others again.

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5 hours ago, Dave. said:

Looks interesting! I’m also a big data nerd and often get more enjoyment out of long-term holiday games like this than being an active manager. I’ll be following this.

Thanks Man -

I'll always remember playing champ manager in the family dining room years ago when my older brother's mate wandered through and opined "how can you play a game that's just a load of numbers?" He was missing the whole beauty of it!!

Just doing 2nd season report (they take ages  - mainly because pulling all of the data out the game, Genie Scout etc...). Hope to have it up later or tomorrow

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Season Review: 2018-19

 

Transfer and Finances Roundup:

*As part of this section, I’ve now included salary information for each club so as to offer a further insight into how revenue is being used.

Any predictions of a gradual increase in investment were obliterated, as the IFF embarked on a sensational shopping spree. A combined total of just over £2.5 billion was spent across the league – a more-than 1000% increase on the previous season’s investment. There was a high degree of variance in activity: Knightsbridge led the way, shelling out £314million – including a new league record purchase of Vitola from A. Madrid for £94m – whilst NFC outfit Miami spent a measly £600k. The average spend was £80m – up £74m from the previous year. Cash rich New York Titans appeared to have severely under-invested: sitting on nearly £1bn, they elected to spend only £8.5m on some 17 players – surely these couldn’t be of the quality required to compete? The league was flooded with new talent – but who could gel it together quickly into a cohesive unit?

As with transfer investments, wages were on a sharp rise in the IFF. A 32-team cumulative weekly spend of £11.5m in 2017-18 leapt to £45.5m in 2018-19 (rising 295%), with the weekly average now £1.5m as new players arrived with heightened demands. Six clubs are now spending in excess of £2m per week with Moscow, Tokyo and Knightsbridge edging close to £3m each. As we progress, it will intriguing to see how clubs’ average weekly wage spend evolves: these teams are rich, but year-on-year increases in wage costs like these will be unsustainable for even the deepest-pocketed owners: Knightsbridge’s weekly bill rose by 1300% this season and is now a £145m per annum burden on their revenue.

Despite eye-watering amounts of money going out the door, the clubs of the IFF continued to illustrate that they are financial behemoths: every single team saw an increased end-of-year cash balance, with the average rising to £595m (a rise of 23% from 2017-18). IFF clubs are now sitting on a combined cash pile of just north of £19bn, so there is evidently plenty of room for further growth in talent. Moscow Jackals retained their spot on top of the rich list, marginally increasing their reserves to remain at £1.1bn - despite spending £262m on players and topping up wage payouts to £2.9m per week!

So, it was a year of massive investment – but how impactful was it? Are clubs increasing their quality, and will the big spenders see a return on investment through hoisting some silver aloft?

 

Biggest Deals:

Vitolo (29; attacking midfield; 154/158): A. Madrid to Knightsbridge Royals: £94m

Dele Alli (23; attacking midfield; 173/173): Tottenham to Knightsbridge Royals: £63m (rising to £71m)

Breel Embolo (22; attacking mid/striker; 154/163): Schalke to Tokyo Sabers: £54m (rising to £74m)

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Season Review:

PFC (Champions: Los Angeles Knights)

Los Angeles spent £177m to strengthen their championship winning side, including Cesc Fabregas from Chelsea (32; CM; 148/174) for £13.75m and Ezequil Barco (20; AM; 138/156) from Atlanta United for £18.75. It worked, as they retained their regional title, finishing 2 points ahead of Tokyo. The Knight’s Franco Di Santo topped the goal charts with 10, whilst Tokyo Sabers’ Anthony Knockaert (27; AM; 142/142) – a £29.5m signing from Brighton – amassed a league-high average rating of 7.96. Melbourne Mariners finished rock bottom once more with only 3 points; they’re in danger of falling far behind the pack. They need to spend, and spend wisely.

 

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NFC (Champions: Mexico City Outlaws)

The club based furthest south snatched the NFC title from Chicago, pipping the holders by 2 points. The Outlaws had spent big in the summer – lavishing a conference high £180m on 20 players. Ironically, it was bargain signing Sergio Gomez (26; CD; 135/152) – snapped up for £925k from Celta Vigo – who shone the brightest, with a competition-high average rating of 7.44. Money-bags New York – one of the stellar brand names of the IFF – were 9 points off the pace and need to urgently utilise their near £1bn of funds. Despite spending over £100m, Chicago have to settle for 2nd best, but continue to show ambition: Ajax talent Donny Van De Beek (22; CM; 157/160) was signed for £18.75m midway through the regional phase of the season and is a genuine talent certain to have impact next season.

 

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EFC (Champions: Moscow Jackals)

The Jackals were the 2nd team to make it back-to-back regional titles this season, retaining the EFC by a single point from the Rome Centurians. Moscow players dominated the key metrics, finishing as leading scorer (Simone Zaza – 8), average rating (£43m signing Alessio Romagnoli (24, DC; 160/170) on 7.51 and assists (6, achieved by fellow £15m summer capture Yacine Brahimi; 29, AM; 154/156). Rome had added some 25 new players to their squad this season for a combined £64m – a mixed bag of quality, of whom David Neres (22, AM; 146/146) looks to be the standout  - captured for £10.5, from Ajax. He achieved 3 goals, 2 assists for an average 7.38 from 6 matches in the EFC.

 

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AFC (Champions: Knightsbridge Royals)

Perhaps proving the theory that cash is king, Knightsbridge backed up the mega talent investment immediately by cantering to their first regional title. Without losing a game on route, they clocked up a impressive 8 point gap over 2nd placed Lisbon – most impressive when we remember this is a 14-game campaign with 2 points for a win. Below them, the AFC was the tightest of the regional conferences, with only 4 points separating the 2nd to 6th-placed sides. Last year’s champions Catalunya slumped to 6th  - with Man Utd’s Matteo Darmian (£10.5m fee; 29, FB; 138/150) the underwhelming highlight of their £72m summer spending. They need to respond swiftly to rising standard in this conference. The Royals’ Santi Mina (23, ST; 139/150)  - signed from Valencia for only £6.5m – was leading scorer on 6; he added 4 assists also at a rating of 7.32.Steven Gerrard’s (125/170) Glasgow Eagles hold up the rest for the 2nd year in succession; he will surely be feeling the heat.

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With the autumn drawing to a close, the season moved into the World Championship: would the regional series prove a reliable marker for the big two trophies?

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Pentland-Meisel Invitational Cup (Champions: Man Utd)

Los Angeles became the IFF’s first representatives in this Champions’ cup; sadly for them it was to be a brief affair as they were drawn against English and European champions Man Utd, who had little difficulty dispatching the fledgling team from California on a baking late-August night in Los Angeles in front of 71,000 spectators: 2-0 it ended at the LA Apple Arena with goals from Scott McTominay and Andreas Pereira the scorers. A well contested game, with even possession and chances, provided encouragement for the upstart league, but in reality there is s long way to go to reach Utd’s level.

In the semi-final, Man Utd beat Europa League winners Arsenal 3-2 at the Emirates in a cracker of a match, before Utd beat Libertadores winners Flamengo 2-1 at Old Trafford ten days later to take the title.

Intercontinental Challenge Cup (Champions: Moscow Jackals)

The Jackals snatched their 2nd pot of the season  - and their 3rd overall – with a 1-0 final victory over the Tokyo Sabers at the Tokyo NeonDome. In an evenly contested match, Luan (26, ST; 155/155 – a £17.75 transfer from Gremio) scored the winner on 27 minutes to give the Moscow club their first ‘major’ title.

There were few surprises in round 1 with the hapless Glasgow Eagles eliminated by the Manchester Metros 3-1 on aggregate and Melbourne exited 5-3 by Vienna’s Warlocks. The 2nd round did see bigger surprises though as both past and present AFC champions Catalunya and Knightsbridge were dumped out by Sao Paulo and Tokyo respectively – The Sabers securing a comfortable 4-2 aggregate triumph over Knightsbridge’s expensive side. In the Quarters, Moscow continued their steady climb with a neat 4-1 win over the Metros, as Tokyo advanced with a 4-2 margin over Sao Paulo. The semi finals pitted Sao Paulo against Moscow, with the eventual winners edging this one 3-2, whilst Tokyo beat surprise team Auckland 3-1. After spending £120m in the summer, amongst the biggest investors, the Rams had shown considerable improvement in the PFC – rising from 6th to 4th – and now added a strong cup run to boost their supporters.

Following the great tradition of knock-out cup competitions, the ICC was proving to be war of attrition as teams managed this alongside the World Championship schedule. With a reputation close to the Championship, this cup is clearly being taken seriously (as planned) by all, and in two consecutive years, a team that has won their regional title has gone on to win it – an indicator of consistency and contiguous reasoning by the AI; will there ever be a genuine ‘shock’ winner from lower down the pecking order?

IFF World Championship (Champions: Knightsbridge Royals)

You get what you pay for, and Manuel Pellegrini’s (148/170) Royals side of 2018-19 delivered on every bit of that humongous player recruitment drive, sealing their first world’s title with a 2-1 win over the holders Los Angeles at Toronto’s BMO Field. New star Vitolo was POM, scoring the opener and creating 3 clear-cut chances for his team – a veritable bargain at nearly £100m and £220k per week!

No huge surprises in the group phase, but the random drawing of this stage will always mean someone loses out, with only 8 teams making the championship playoffs. Los Angeles took group A, with Lisbon 1 point behind in second, 3 ahead of the Washington Colts in 3rd. Despite now shelling-out £2.6m per week in wages, the Munich Steelers were absolutely lost here, finishing 5th. The Tokyo Sabers strode through group B, finishing 5 points ahead of Vienna on 25 points and not losing a game. Vienna finished with 3-points of daylight between them and 3rd placed Sao Paulo Wolves. As with the NFC, this was a disaster for the New York Titans as they limped home in 7th, accruing only 6 points from 14 games. This franchise is in serious trouble and needs an overhaul. Group C was this year’s ‘group of death’, featuring the Royals, the Jackals and 2017-18s NFC champs the Chicago Wildcats. In the end, money talked again as the Royals took top spot with 21 points – 3 ahead of Moscow who grabbed 2nd, just a single point ahead of Chicago. A real scare for the soon-to-be ICC winners. The Milan Pacers sat rock bottom in group C with a pathetic 2 points: another team who badly need to access their £600m+ of finance this summer. In group D, Catalunya won-out with 23 points, with the impressive NFC champs Mexico City 2nd and 3 points behind. The Mariners preserved their standards, coming bottom with 4 points.

In the playoff quarter finals, home seed Los Angeles needed penalties to see of spirited Vienna after a 1-1 draw. Fellow group members Catalunya and Mexico City were drawn together, with the Hawks making the most of their home-field advantage for a 2-1 win. The Royals dispatched fellow AFC outfit Lisbon 3-1 in London, whilst in the tie of the round, Tokyo edged past Moscow 2-1 in the evening showdown at the 79,000 capacity NeonDome. Midfield duo Ander Herrera and Gylfi Sigurdsson (£26m and £36m summer arrivals respectively) bossed the game, forcing out the EFC holders and one of the favourites.

In the semis, Los Angeles overcame the disadvantage of losing home-field seeding to Catalunya by travelling to Spain and snatching a 2-1 win with Fabregas scoring and making one in 7.3 rating game of real quality. Likewise, The Royals cared not for daunting prospect of the Sabers’ backyard, travelling to Tokyo and securing a 2-1 win. Herrera and Sigurdsson were overmatched here (both rating 6.6) by the Royals’ Deli Alli (7.3 and 1 assist) and Vitolo again (7.9 and 1 goal).

The Jackals’ Simone Zaza (27, ST; 151/157) won the competition’s golden shoe, notching 13 goals. A £30m capture from Valencia, Zaza had an impressive season, scoring 21 goals in all competitions and hitting a 7.44 average rating. Vitolo of the Royals won MVP with an average rating of 7.52, 7 goals and 3 assists.

 

Rest of World Roundup:

Man Utd solidified their return to power, winning the EPL with a brilliant 96 points, 14 points ahead of Liverpool and Man City on 82 in 2nd and 3rd. Roberto Firmino (27, ST; 172/172) was highest rated on 7.80 in addition to 12 POM awards – he’s valued at £72, and is ‘wanted’ by the Royals and Sabers… In Spain, Real Madrid were back on top, winning La Liga with 90 points, 3 ahead of city rivals A. Madrid and 7 ahead of Barcelona. Interestingly, Lionel Messi failed to chart in the top 3 in any of the league’s key metrics (goals, POMs, assists, average rating). At 31, is he in early decline? In Italy, Juventus marched to their 8th straight league title, finishing 13 points above 2nd placed Milan. Torino finished 3rd, with Inter (7th) and Roma (10th) miles off the pace. Massive shake-up in Germany, as RBL claimed the title from Leverkusen, with the mighty Bayern slumping into 3rd, 2 points off the leaders. Dortmund recovered from their low last season to finish 4th. In Ligue 1, Monaco made it back-to-back wins, holding off PSG by 3 points. Despite topping the goal charts (Cavani, 27), the assists (Verratti, 15) and the average ratings (Neymar, 7.66), the PSG project seems to be foundering. Some new names featured in the Europa League final as Bilbao took on Fiorentina  - the Italians coming out 1-0 winners to take their place in August’s Pentland-Miesel Invitational. They’ll be joined there by Man Utd, who won the 2nd consecutive all-English Champions’ Cup final, beating Chelsea 1-0 in Madrid. Paul Pogba was the star of the final, scoring the winner and amassing an 8.3 rating.

 

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Talent Watch

Stars and Flops:

In this section, we take a look at some big names and big transfers to see how they fared this season:

Vitolo: Knightsbridge Royals (29, WM; 154/158): the record deal for the league, earning £220k per week, the Spaniard proved value for every penny as the Royals won the AFC and World title. On route, the winger scored 12, provided 5, won 5 POM awards and created 37 clean-cut chances for an average 0f 7.43 in all competitions. He added to his team glory with the prestigious IFF MVP award.

Thiago Maia: Mexico City Outlaws (22, CM; 143/164). The biggest deal in the Outlaws’ £180m summer spree, the Brazilian  - signed for a deal worth nearly £50m and £105k pw  - probably under-delivered despite Mexico City claiming the NFC and having a playoff run: averaging only 6.90, with only 2 assists and 1 clean-cut chance provided, the talented midfielder surely has a bigger impact to offer his team next term.

 

Youth Prospects:

Joao Felipe: Vienna Warlocks (17, Brazil, CM; 116/190). A tall, technically gifted midfielder who already possesses strong leadership, decision-making and determination, Felipe has the potential to amongst the absolute best. Present in Brazil’s U20 World Cup team, he made only 3 senior appearances this year, contributing 1 assist.

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Ciro Pavesi: Milan Pacers (17, Italy, AM; 115/178). In a dire year for his club, the youngster – already rated at £19.5m – found himself thrust into the 1st team, taking part in 10 World Championship games, 3 EFC matches and 2 ICC ties. Failing to score, assist or create a chance and rating at only 6.47, he has a lot to do next year, but unless the Pacers are overhauled, he may get more game time

 

Past Prospect Watch:

Yoan Brunet: Paris Eclairage (18, winger; 122/188, valued at £27m). Jumping up 20 CA points and his value rocketing, the Frenchman again featured in 12 AFC and WC matches (albeit 10 as sub) scoring 2 and creating 2 clear-cut chances for a 6.72, up from 6.62 in as many games in 2017-18. Still on the fringes, the 18 year-old needs to kick on again next term.

Pau Martinez: Catalunya Hawks – (18, CM; 123/186, valued at £33m). Also racing up more than 20 CA points, Martinez followed a similar path to Brunet: 11 games (8 as sub) with 1 assist and a 6.78 rating in the WC, and 7 sub appearances in the AFC. With Catalunya adding to their squad, he was limited to a bit-part role. Needs more expose to Division II football next year to get games under his belt. Sitting on 1st team bench may be holding him up.

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Analysis

League ‘Strength’:

The volume of players in the game with a CA of between 160 and 179 rose again by 5.7%, up to 93. 83 of these (89%) are based in the ‘big’ 5 European leagues, down from 97% last season and 100% in summer 2017 at game setup. This is significant redistribution of talent occurring, but the IFF has only a small impact with 2% of this bracket of player now playing their trade in that league (Deli Alli of Knightsbridge and Alessio Romagnoli of Moscow). The others are spread around Holland, Portugal and Brazil.

The number of 180-200 CA players grew again also, rising by 2 as Serie A (Paul Dybala, Juventus  - 183/185) and La Liga (Marc Andre Ter Stegen, Barcelona  - 182/183) joined the elite group. The big 5 still hold 100% of this category of player, which, along with the analysis of 160-179 CA players, leads us to question how well IFF clubs are using their money. Having now spent a total of £2.78bn on players in 2 seasons, the league only has 2 players who are banded as legitimate world-calibre talents, and none who are top-bracket stars.

With regard to up-and-coming talent, the world number grew again also , up to 105 (a 10.5% increase). The IFF share is 10% , whilst the share playing in the big 5 bounced back this year to 19% (20 players).

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Team Rating Comparison:

Despite failing to attract many players of the highest calibre, the standard of the IFF undoubtably improved in 2018-19, with the average team rating rising from 61.02 in June 18 to 68.79 in June 19 – 12.7%. For context, the average rating of the 6 control group clubs fell marginally from 81.67 to 81.23 in the same period, emphasising the vastly different stages of development these contrasting clubs are in. The AFC remains the strongest conference, with an average rating of 70.74 (up from 61.64), with the NFC now the weakest regional competition at an average of 67.

Moscow overtook Los Angeles as statistically the strongest outfit at 75.7, and their EFC and ICC competition wins help support this assessment. AFC and World champions the Royals are rated as 2nd best on 74.5, again giving credence to the accuracy of this tool. PFC winners and WC runners-up Los Angeles (74.3), ICC finalists Tokyo (73.8) and NFC winners Mexico City (73.2) all support a view that a higher rating increases chances of success. At the opposite end, the Mariners lose their tag as the worst team (by this measure at least), as they improve to 62.8 whilst San Diego only edge forward marginally from 57.8 to 62. Every single IFF club made improvements to their rating this season, with Auckland and Washington leaping forward by more than 12 points.

The gap between the control group and the best of the IFF has closed hugely in a single year, with only 3.6 points now separating the worst of the best (Man Utd) from the best of the IFF (Moscow). With another summer anything like the one just gone, there will surely be parity, as all of the control group teams slipped fractionally this year. They need their own forward investment to hold off the upstart league.

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Summary

An intriguing season: club investment went way beyond what was predicted, but there is evidently a chasm already opening between the haves and have-nots of the IFF, with an oligopoly emerging comprising the Royals, the Jackals and the Knights  - with the Sabers not too far behind. So many clubs have big, big money to spend, so there’s no reason why they can’t strike back – but do they have the ambition, or does a ‘closed’ league lead to complacency from its mediocre teams?

Generally, the competition level has been good though; many games have close-run scores with only 1-2 goals being enough for victory. The small group/league format and 2-points per win system looks to be making things tight and relevant too.

So what will next season bring? Will the spending continue? How well will the Royals do in the Pentland-Meisel cup? Can they hang on to their trophies? Will any new forces emerge?

 

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In the next update, I want to start looking in more detail at how efficiently IFF clubs are using their resources and managing their clubs. We're seeing that its easy to find correlation between high spending and success, but what is it costing these teams versus those around them? To do this, I'm working on a sheet that maps the number of league points each club earns per season (conference and world champ group), highlighting if they are champs, playoff teams or finish bottom of leagues/groups. It will look at average and cumulative points won by clubs over time, assess average points accumulated in each conference (so as to further compare relative strength of these regions) and, crucially, calculate the cost of each league point for all clubs, drawing on the expenditure data being collected... Hopefully, this section will provide some insight into how AI 'manages' the game scenario...

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7 hours ago, Muttley84 said:

Wonder if the transfers go the other way round? Sorry if you covered this and I missed it, but wondered where do your franchises sell their players to?

This is definitely something to look at in detail in the future... Agreed it will be interesting to see what sort of players leave and where they go... Up to this point (end of 2019-20 as I'm currently writing report for) there's not been a great deal to say as the IFF teams have been almost solely focused on building a team from scratch - and no-one would have wanted to buy much of the dross on their rosters anyway! (reference those abysmal team ratings from 2017-18!)

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Thanks everyone who's following this or taken a look in - new report coming tomorrow, and it's going to be a bit of an epic, with a couple of new sections being introduced. Things are getting interesting now as the data-set grows and trends start emerging 

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Season Review: 2019-20

 

Transfer and Finances Roundup:

Transfers:

Following on from the lavish £2.5bn spending of 2018-19, the IFF upped the ante again this season, splashing out a combined total of £4.1bn on new players (a rise of 64%). The average per club spend was up to nearly £129m, from £80.1m the previous season. Total transfer spending in the league is up 1900% in 3 seasons – a quite remarkable, and terrifying, figure. IFF clubs have now spent a combined £6.9bn in 3 seasons on transfer fees alone.

The Los Angeles Knights led the charge this year (no pun intended), sanctioning £280m worth of deals, which included stellar captures Eden Hazard (29, AM; 177/185) from Chelsea for an initial £54 million and Torino’s Andrea Belotti (26, ST; 165/170) for £52m (rising to £59m): big names, big fees – but would they add the value needed to push the Knights back to top spot? The biggest deal of the year was Knightsbridge’s capture of Barcelona shot-stopper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen (28, GK; 182/183) for a mind-warping £160m. He is doubtless one of the best ‘keepers on the planet, but this is an extraordinary level of investment in this position. In what may be the coup of the year however, the Royals enticed an out-of-contract Luis Suarez (33, ST; 179/188) to join them. Despite paying out £250k per week, and with him past his prime, he was still an asset of immense ability. Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino (28, ST; 172/173) nabbed himself £225k pw as he joined the Tokyo Sabers for £83m – adding genuine quality to their front line as part of a £217m spree from the Asia-based outfit. By contrast to this exuberance, the Stockholm Pirates were the lowest spenders, with only £28m being prised from the miserly wallets of their owners. The lacklustre New York Titans were again, well, lacklustre, as they shelled-out a total of £88m on 21 players with 34 year-old Ashley Young (108/155) being the biggest name to pitch up in Manhattan. The gap between them and the other ‘marque’ franchises is becoming a chasm that will be harder to close as each year rolls by.

Biggest Deals:

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Wages:

Note: for the purposes of further cost analysis, I have converted wage figures into annualised totals, on a simple 52-week multiplication formula.

Wage growth outpaced even transfers this year across the IFF, with the total amounts being put in players’ pockets climbing by 74% compared to last season - £4.08bn compared to £2.3bn in 2018-19. The average annual player salary bill in the league is now nearly £128m with the Sabers accruing the highest expenses here at £209m per annum. Moscow (£203m), the Royals (£196m) and the Knights (£193) aren’t far behind. The average club added £53m to their wage bill this year with the league in totality now having spent £6.9bn on wages since summer 2017. Salomon Rondon (133/148) is the best paid player in the IFF on £296k pw(!), but this still pales in comparison to the world’s top earners, with Messi, Neymar and Ronaldo all taking home north of £600k for a week’s graft. When considering how Rondon ended up on such money, added to the spiralling wage bills, there is a stronger argument being made that IFF teams are vastly overpaying in order to get their hands on better players. An agent’s paradise, but what will the long term consequences be?

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Balances and Costs:

IFF clubs now have a cumulative cash balance of £20.6bn, up 7.3% in a year, but a significant slow down in growth from the previous year as spending has increased again. 4 clubs (The Knights, the Royals, the Jackals and the Titans) sit on nearly 30% of this wealth, each having a cash reserve of just over £1bn. In the case of the Knights, Royals and Jackals this is impressive given their rising expenditure, and for the Titans it is another reminder of the muscle they possess but don’t seem interested in using; their shareholders must be pleased with the dividend they’re receiving every year (is this a symptom of a closed league? Without relegation, has one of the drivers of expenditure disappeared?). IFF clubs have now spent £13.9bn in 3 years on transfers and wages, at an average of £434m per club. It is worth noting that this was the first season in which some clubs’ balances fell (Pacers, Centurians, Metros and Renegades), perhaps foretelling of a tipping point being reached in regard to ongoing spending and how financially bullet-proof the IFF clubs have looked so far.

So, we are seeing some incredible numbers being put up here both in-terms of transfers and wages, but are clubs actually getting any value for money? Is the AI using this resource effectively and efficiently to be more productive (i.e., win more games, accrue more points and thus win stuff at the end of the season)? In the following section and later, we will look at this in more detail.

In terms of spending behaviour, we are definitely seeing the emergence of a 3-tiered society: a small elite number of clubs are beginning to vastly outstrip their rivals year-on-year, with a large ‘middle class’ of approximately 20-23 who are investing at a reasonably equitable level as well as sitting on, by-and-large, similar bank balances. Then there is a ‘precariat’ of 4-6 clubs who are now starting to tail-off at the rear: they’re spending less and have balances that are now roughly one third the size of the biggest teams, meaning they don’t have the resource to catch up even if they wanted to. This is a piece of analysis worth revisiting in detail in a year or two. 

   

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Transfer ROI Analysis:

As part of a deeper assessment of how the AI invests and uses resources, I have developed a couple of quick tools to help understand how ‘value’ is attained in the transfer market. In this first table I have put together a simple ROI (return on investment) formula which, at this initial stage, has captured 3 of the largest transfer-fee paying deals in each of the first 3 seasons, and tested whether they delivered a return for their clubs. When defining ‘return’ in regard to ‘return on investment’, we’re focusing strictly on players’ productivity on the pitch, using the metrics the game provides. I recognise that the game does flag up that big names/transfers have commercial benefits, but these are difficult to find and track in a systematic way, so I’m sticking to things that can be equally measured and contribute, more importantly, to how a team performs.

The formula used for this analysis is:

Average rating across all club matches that season (excl. friendlies, B Team or Internationals)

+ goals (or clean sheets for goalkeepers) + assists

(Divided By)

Transfer Fee Paid

X 100  = ROI%

 

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Adama Traore, signed by the Wildcats back in 2017-18, has offered diminishing returns on his club’s £23.5m outlay, with a healthy return of 76.5% in his debut year, dropping to 50.4% and then again to 27.4%: he’s averaged a 51% return over 3 years, so not great value for money. Leroy Fer was an absolute star buy for Moscow in 2017-18, offering a 195% return on the paltry £9.75m they invested in him with his tally of goals, assists and match ratings – why they sold him on to Atlanta Falcons for only £13.5m makes little sense, and perhaps underscores where clubs cannot ‘see’ value in the game. The strange signing of Nathan Rutherford by the Knights statistically looked okay in season 1 – with a 65% return due to a low fee, but as he quickly fell out of favour and didn’t play (because he isn’t very good), his average return dropped to 21% and will fall further for every year he’s sitting around doing nothing. Marcelo Bozovic is a similar scenario: arriving in 2018-19 and doing well - yielding a 40% return on his £44.5m fee – his lack of playing time has dropped his overall return to 20%. What we can see immediately is that to maximise ‘value’, clubs must use their acquisitions or get rid, or they’re simply sitting on dead money. Incredibly, Ter Stegen’s mega-money move hasn’t yielded too low of a return at 17% after only a single season. Knightsbridge will have recouped their outlay in another 8-9 years at this rate! This example does illustrate how expensive these deals are to clubs: Ter Stegen has had a very good season for a ‘keeper – exceptional in-fact with 20 clean sheets; but he needs to reproduce this for a nearly a decade in order to justify a return on his transfer fee alone. Eden Hazard looks to be an absolute steal at £54m. In his first season he’s returned 68% of his transfer fee, so likely to prove good value with only one further season at anywhere near a similar level, which is more than realistic given he is 29 years-old.

This section will be added to each year in order to fully evaluate how good value some of these deals are to their clubs. Two early pointers: teams need to use the players they buy or sell them on, and large fees will require consistency over a long period of time to offer any sort of on-field value for money.

 

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Season Review:

PFC (Champions: Los Angeles Knights)

Backing up on a busy transfer window, the Knights absolutely cruised to victory in the PFC, winning their 3rd straight title with a record high 27 points without losing a match. 2nd placed Seattle were 8 points behind at the finish, joint on points with Tokyo, who were embarrassed to have been left so far behind by their regional rivals. It was another grim campaign for Sydney who finished with a record of their own – the lowest points total yet in the Pacific Conference. Unsurprisingly, new big-name arrivals dominated the box scores, with the Knights’ Belotti leading Firmino (8) in the scorers, as well as in the average ratings (7.79 and 7.53 respectively), whilst Joe Hart (132/163) of the Bears set the bar for clean sheets with 9.  An impressive Los Angeles canter into the World Championship.

 

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NFC (Champions: Mexico City Outlaws)

Rodolfo Arruabarrena’s (149/165) outfit chalked up back-to-back North American championships with a 2 point margin over Montreal Dragons. The Outlaws dominated the metrics, with their players coming top of every category (goals – Smolov – 10; rating and assists – Ruben Neves – 7.41 and 7). In a competition where the winners achieved 4 fewer points than a year prior, the bottom side ended with a point fewer also; the beleaguered Miami Rays making it a hattrick of basement finishes on 4 points. Despite an average attendance of over 71,000, the New York Titans were again MIA, finishing a lifeless 6th in another campaign for their supporters to forget quickly.

 

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EFC (Champions: Moscow Jackals)

3, they say, is the magic number, an aphorism most appropriate to this year’s regional series as Moscow also made it as thrice champions of the European Conference. Last season’s World Championship top scorer Simone Zaza was bang at it again for the Jackals, knocking in 9 to lead the charts. Starlet and bargain £16.75m capture Rodrygo (19, ST; 156/180) made a good start for new club Vienna Warlocks, turning in a 7.32 rating and 3 POM awards: a world-beater in the making? Despite £143m spent on new players and a wage bill rising by nearly £50m this summer, Munich were again a huge disappointment, finishing 6th and some 11 points behind the winners. The memory of that single EFC championship win is starting to fade into the distant past. Domenico Tedesco (151/180) is a talented manager, but his time must be running out.

 

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AFC (Champions: Knightsbridge Royals)

The World Champions tightened their grip on the AFC by retaining their title and priming themselves for another world title tilt in the new year: here they finished 6 points ahead of Catalunya with Luis Suarez laying waste to all around him as he top scored (11), had most POMs (7) and an average rating of 8.16 – an extraordinary campaign when we consider that he played in 13 of 14 matches, meaning he was best player on the pitch in over half of the games he played in… The Sentinels saved The Eagles from holding the rest up this year, finishing 1 point below their British rivals on 7 points. Only 10 points separated the teams finishing 2nd to 8th – making the Atlantic Conference a pitiless place.

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Pentland-Meisel Invitational Cup (Champions: Knightsbridge Royals)

When you’re hot, you’re hot… Invited into this champions’ cup for the first time, the Royals made themselves right at home, nonchalantly brushing Europa League winners Fiorentina aside 4-0 in the final, in what could firmly be classified as a watershed moment: an IFF representative beating a club from Europe’s ‘big 5’ leagues for the first time in a competitive match. Manuel Pellegrini celebrated his and his team’s 4th major trophy, capping a formidable 12 months.

In the quarter final, the Royals had dismantled Al-Ahli (KSA) 0-3; the big shock was Man Utd  - European champions – exiting 3-1 to Cruz Alul in Mexico. In the semi-final another 3-0 win was lodged by Knightsbridge against Al-Ahly of Egypt  - now both champions of Asia and Africa had been beaten. It may not be the most prestigious of tournaments, but now the best of the IFF had taken on the world… and won.

 

Intercontinental Challenge Cup (Champions: Chicago Wildcats)

Proving that you can’t have things all your own way, all of the time, the Wildcats  - fresh off a summer where they invested £152m in new players – upset the odds to beat favourites Knightsbridge to win their 2nd piece of silverware. A 49,000 sellout was recorded at the Wildcats’ Michigan Lake Field as the home-team edged a close final 2-1. Dele Alli had put the Royals ahead after 15 minutes, but an equaliser from POM Cristian Pavon (24, AM; 155/156) on 39 minutes was added to in the 70th minute by Orbelin Pineda (24, MC; 142/162) to seal the match and the cup. The ICC still alludes the Royals as they look to complete the grand slam of IFF titles. For the Wildcats this was truly a moment to savour as they won 1 of the IFF’s big two titles.

The two stand-out 1st round clashes saw PFC rivals Tokyo and Los Angeles clash, as well as a cross-Atlantic showdown between Knightsbridge and New York. In the former the Knights dumped out the Sabers 4-3 on aggregate, leaving Tokyo fans glad to see the back of the Californians for a few months. In the latter, the Royals sent the Titans out early with a 4-2 win over the two legs. Chicago squeezed past NFC champs Mexico City 4-3.

In round 2, a war of patience and resolve (mostly for the fans) Chicago nudged past Houston 1-0 over two stale matches, and the tie of the round saw the Royals eliminate Los Angeles 4-3 – a 3-1 win in London in the first leg giving them the decisive edge.

The Quarters saw the Royals (3-1 over Auckland), Chicago (4-3 over Newcastle), the Hawks (penalties after a 3-3 tie) and the Toros (dumping out the holders Moscow with a fine 1-0 2nd leg win in Russia) advance.

The semis saw the Royals go over the Hawks 3-2 in a thrilling tie which culminated in a tense 2-2 2nd leg draw at London’s Samsung Battersea Park. Chicago were too good for Madrid, winning 5-2 overall in a tie which the Toros never really got a foothold in.

 

IFF World Championship (Champions: Los Angeles Knights)

In a final that nobody would have predicted (well 50% of it at least), the Knights came up trumps at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on a sunny evening in front of 49,000 against shock finalists Auckland Rams – who prior to this season, hadn’t even made the WC playoffs. In a match where Los Angeles had the edge in both possession and shots, Geoffrey Kondogbia gave Auckland a suprise lead on 40 minutes, only for POM Eden Hazard to fire back ten minutes later for LA. Again Auckland came back though, and on 78 minutes they threatened a proper upset when Congolose striker Silvere Gangoula (23; 122/132) restored their advantage. It took only 3 minutes for LA to restore parity through sub striker Gregoire Defrel, taking the game into a fruitless period of extra time before a penalty shoot-out win gave the Knights the win and prestigious title of world’s champions for the 2nd time in 3 years. Boss Clarence Seedorf (162/180) has now presided over 6 titles in 3 years.

Earlier, the widening gulf in class was exposed in group A as group winners Moscow (26 points) and runners-up Auckland (25) finished 9 points ahead of the pack, headed up by Milan. Sydney maintained consistency, finishing bottom, and New York cemented another regrettable year by finishing 7th with just 8 points. In group B, Knightsbridge maintained their AFC form, finishing top with a record 27-point haul that left them 11 points above runners-up Chicago. The Steelers improved, finishing 3rd, also on 16 points, whilst the Eagles recorded their 3rd last-place finish in conferences and WC groups, a record that would see the end of boss Steven Gerrard in May, replaced by Daniele Baldini (56; 150/155). Group C was a much closer affair, with just 6 points separating 1st to 4th. Los Angeles came on top of this pack, with Sentinels backing them up into the playoffs in 2nd. It had become a bizarre season for the Newcastle-based side, from finishing rock-bottom in the AFC in November to a playoff spot in March! Group D followed suit, with little to split  the sides vying for a title challenge: The Hawks came top with 20 points, 2 ahead of a group of 3 – Tokyo, Paris and Rome – who all amassed 18 points. Tokyo took the playoff spot by a single goal in the ‘goal difference’ separator – a cruel blow for the other two who would have to start all over again for a try at the big prize next year.

The shocks started early in the playoffs as champions and favourites Knightsbridge were dumped out at home 2-1 by the Chicago Wildcats  - on route to their ICC win; two early goals from the visitors couldn’t be countered and the former NFC champions progressed to the final four. With home advantage, Los Angeles made short work of Catalunya 3-0, with 61% of possession. Drawn as the home team, Moscow squeezed past Tokyo in the battle of the big spenders - Luan nicking the only goal of the game on 7 minutes on a damp evening in the Russian capital with new manager Pep Guardiola now at the helm having taken over from Marcelo Lippi at the end of January. Auckland made up the semi-final line-up with a 2-1 over fellow surprise package Newcastle at the Kiwi Stadium, Oliver Giroud  - a £13.25m summer signing from Chelsea – was POM with 2 assists.

In the semi finals one week later, LA again made the most of home-field advantage by beating a spirited Chicago 3-2 in a game where the visitors had twice held the lead. Hazard was on fine form for his team, scoring and assisting for an 8.4 and POM. Believing that this could be their moment, Auckland travelled to Russia where they came out on top in an excellent match that had to be settled by penalties after a ebbing and flowing 2-2 draw. After 30 had fallen, the final 2 remained…

Auckland’s Giroud won the golden shoe with 13 goals (the same total as Zaza last season) and Eden Hazard with 10 assists, 6 goals and a 7.79 rating from 17 matches. We saw earlier that he was good a strong return on investment and this award reaffirms what a piece of business this was.

Rest of World Roundup:

Jose Mourinho bagged a hattrick of titles as Man Utd won the EPL with 91 points, again finishing miles ahead of the rest with rivals City 2nd on 77 points. Burnley finished fourth, displacing Chelsea, Spurs and Liverpool below them. In Spain, A. Madrid were back on top: they finished on 86 points – 10 ahead of Barcelona. Real Madrid suffered the indignity of slipping to 4th, as Real Sociedad finished 3rd on 73 points. AC Milan ended Juventus’ dynastic ascent by claiming their first title in 11 years. Juve had to settle for 2nd, with Inter 3rd. Borussia Dortmund’s rehabilitation was completed as they won their first domestic title for 8 years. Leverkusen were runner’s up whilst Bayern were again disappointing in 3rd. After 3 seasons of Monaco dominance, Lyon returned to top in France, with PSG 2nd and Monaco 3rd. A team still embossed with talent, the stars are becoming restless in the French capital: Neymar has requested a transfer…

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Champions' Profile:

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Talent Watch

I have now tabulated this information so as to keep a simpler track year-to-year of how this sample of youngsters progresses.

Sadly, not too much to say this year: our current crop are still around at their clubs, still playing a bit, with rising CAs and values, but they’re not really doing much in the way of having an impact. The first crop – Martinez and Brunet – really need to kick on next year as they’ll be 20 years-old by next summer and therefore entering the window where they need to be becoming part of a first-team picture, or risk falling into obscurity.

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Analysis

League ‘Strength’:

2019-20 was a significant year with regards to the balance of high quality players and where in the world they ply their trade: overall, the number of 160-179 CA players in the game rose again, 5% up to 98. The number of this bracket of player has risen 21% since the first data capture in June 2017; that’s a lot, and it will be interesting to see if it plateaus off soon, or the game could become unbalanced with too many ‘good’ players affecting the competition level and economics of this ‘world’. Two major changes have occurred though: firstly, the number of 160-179 CA players in the IFF took a big jump, rising by 11  - meaning that 13% of this bracket are now in that league. Secondly, the number playing in the big 5 leagues fell sharply again with 10% fewer than last year. Now only 79% play in these leagues; remember that this percentage was 100% only 4 summers ago, so this is an alarming drop-off.

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Conversely, the number of 180-200 players – those true giants of the game – fell this year by 1 to a total of 9. It is interesting that the game’s engine seems to regulate this level much more judiciously so far, and this is encouraging as it seems unrealistic for this group to continue growing each year (has there ever been an era of football with more than about 10 players at any given time who you would call ‘world class’?). This being stable should keep a premium price on such talent and, as such, ensure that it remains relatively inaccessible to the vast majority of clubs, as it should. Again however, the big 5 lost their monopoly on this group this year, with their share dropping to 89% as the IFF scooped up its first talent of this order  - although it cost Knightsbridge £160m to get it in the shape of Ter Stegen.

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The pattern of U21s with PA 170+ is more unstable: we have seen growth here again, with numbers up to 120 from 105 (14%), with a total growth of 67% since summer 2017. This too is a little troubling as expansion at this rate could result in far too many ‘wonderkid’ prospects in the game’s pool of players; an analysis of how many in this bracket convert into international class players could be a line of enquiry to follow at some stage. It is difficult to get a read on the trends in this group as the big 5 league increased their % again this year after a 2 year slump, whilst the IFF has remained fairly consistent. We need to maybe look at a larger sample – say 2 or 3 more years – before really being able to make any judgements about what this data may be telling us about AI and the engine.

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Team Rating Comparison:

Note: I have amended this table so that teams who reached the WC playoffs, were the champion or finished bottom of their WC group are highlighted in order to provide a more detailed insight into how this rating correlates with performance.

 

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With teams highlighted it is easier to identify over- and under-performance, as we can compare where teams are finishing in relation to the season’s average team rating. For example, in 2017-18, there was little deviation from what would have been expected: teams with ratings on or above the average are qualifying for the playoffs and those under are candidates for bottom-placed finishes. In 2018-19, this correlation becomes stronger, with every team who qualified for the playoffs having a rating of at least 70, against a higher average of 68.79 that year. We can see that the Milan Pacers were badly mismanaged in this season, with 5 teams having higher team ratings than they, but all avoiding a bottom finish.

This season the playoff teams conformed to this pattern of being above average, with this figure rising again to 73.2. Of the teams missing out on post-season football, Mexico City were the most egregious with their 77.1 rating significantly above the average and underpinned by their NFC win. It is evident that there are a larger number of teams rising to a similar standard this year with 9 teams between 74 and 76: that’s 28% of all teams separated by such a small margin. In terms of those finishing bottom placed this season, Glasgow were the ‘best’ by this rating system at 70.8, with 9 teams worse than them; this probably justifies the sacking of Gerrard – the team clearly aren’t that poor, but they weren’t being utilised properly.

Looking at the average ratings of each team over 3 years, once more it’s hard to argue at the moment with the accuracy of this tool: the two best average-rated teams (Los Angeles and Moscow) have won 10 of 19 available trophies (52%). The AFC has retained its status as the strongest conference, and there was certainly some evidence to support this via the league table, where it was a much closer battle in the mid-pack compared to some of the others. The NFC is starting to be cut adrift, now weakest for 2 seasons and lacking any ‘giant’ to hold its average up (the PFC has the Knights and Sabers, the EFC has Moscow and the AFC has the Royals for example).

More broadly, the gap between the IFF and the control group is closing fast: the two top IFF teams (the Royals and Jackals) are both rated at 78.3 with the worst of the best (Man Utd, the EPL champions for 3 years straight no-less) are only 0.7 ahead on 78.7. Scary stuff in such a short amount of time. It is not unreasonable to forecast that at this rate, at least 5 IFF teams could be better than the control group by next summer. That these teams aren’t moving forward themselves is also very interesting and requires further investigation next time out.

 

  

Club Management Efficiency:

In this new section I have created a breakdown of all the league points won by each IFF club each season, categorised as conference and world championship, with a total for the season. Teams are colour-coded to indicate their finishing positions that season. On the left is a running total of average points won by each club, as well as a cumulative total of points – an ‘all time’ leader-board of sorts. I have also created a calculation that pulls through total club expenditure data from the finances sheet and divides this by the cumulative number of points won by each team, creating a ‘cost per point’ figure. This is a crucial new piece of data to analyse, as it helps illustrate the value for money that each team is offering, regardless of their overall ‘success’ (i.e., trophies won). We can now ascertain which clubs are possibly outperforming others relative to the money they are spending and judge how efficiently a club is being managed. At the bottom of the table is a calculation that shows points averages each season in each competition, as well as average costs per point for each conference.

Currently, the Zagreb Rhinos are the best managed club in the IFF, with a per-point cost of £2.86m against an average of £5.08 across the league. They score an average of just 19 points a season and have 2 bottom-place finishes in 3 years (1 conference and 1 WC) but they spend less to get the points they win than anyone else does, so are clearly finding ‘value’ somewhere in their operations, be this the players they buy or how they use them. The Los Angeles Knights are the best team according to average and total points accrued, but they are the 4th least cost-effective team in the IFF spending £6.15m per point – so how good is Clarence Seedorf as a manager; does he win more often because he has more resources available and actually isn’t using them as well as he could? The Royals are the 2nd least efficient team, with each of their 132 points coming at the cost of £6.67m, but they do have the 2nd best points tally of all clubs, so at least this expense is having impact although we should ask the same questions of Pellegrini as Seedorf (we’ve already seen that it will take the Ter Stegen fee nearly a decade of outstanding consistent performance to become a good return on investment, so value for money is currently not a virtue of this club). The worst performing team in the IFF is the Sydney Falcons, whose seasonal average of 11 points and 4 bottom-place finishes have come at a cold-sweat-inducing £7.29m, more than a million more than the Knights with their 3 conference and 2 world’s championships! Referring to the team rating information, the Falcons have put out a team whose rating is significantly below the competition average in every season, and in 2019-20 they had the worst team in the IFF by this measure (66.6). By all accounts this is an appallingly run football club that in any other league structure would be freefalling through the divisions instead of lying on a near £500m cash pile thanks to collective TV and revenue deals of the IFF. We’re going to look closely at the Falcons next season and try to understand what’s going so wrong.

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Summary

A season of further rapid evolution (or is that ‘revolution’ now?) for the IFF: the number of high calibre players is rising, the transfer fees are getting bigger and the standard is escalating. It was another great season for the Los Angeles Knights, who won a 2nd WC title in 3 years, in addition to keeping hold of their regional status. Knightsbridge too are a formidable outfit who will surely kick on this summer with the money at their disposal and be big favourites for a title tilt next year. Their Pentland-Meisel cup win was another line in the sand demonstrating that the IFF is on the charge to being the world’s best football competition.

The new analysis tools introduced this year should help to shine further light on AI game management: we’ve already shed some initial light on the ‘value’ of some big transfers and how we can measure clubs’ performance relative to their expenditure; the next level will be to incorporate to analysis of club decision-making, including hiring of managers, team selections and tactics.

 

 

 

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In the next update I'm going to look even more deeply into how well the AI 'manages' resources. I've put together a couple of additional measures to do this: 

The first takes each club's reputation each season and compares this to their Genie Scout team rating in order to provide a reputation/quality correlation; basically a figure that demonstrates the relationship between these two numbers: are clubs building teams that are commensurate with their reputation?  Are they using their reputation effectively to become better?

The second is a 'return on assets' calculation which takes the total playing squad value of each club each season and divides this by their 'return' (i.e., the amount of league points the team accrues); this figure presents the basic yield that each club is getting out of the assets available to them.

Alongside the 'cost per point' calculations, the total expenditure figures and the individual 'return on investment' analysis of signings, we can start to develop a broad picture of which clubs are performing 'well' and which aren't.

I hope that people who are dipping into this are finding it interesting... I did warn it would be one for the stats nerds!!

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Season Review: 2020-21

 

Transfer and Finances Roundup:

Transfers:

Two £100m+ deals highlighted another record-breaking year of transfer activity in the IFF as Raphael Varane (£151m from Real Madrid) and Leroy Sane (£119m from Man City) joined the ranks of big reputation players joining up with the upstart federation. In a oddly-valued deal, wonderkid Killan Mbappe joined the Seattle Bears for £73m (rising to £82m with add-ons). Why Mbappe  - only 2 years on from a £160m move to PSG – joined a non-elite club for less than half this fee is bizarre; but he is picking up £250k per week in wages which feels more logical despite still being way below the world’s leaders (See below). A total of £4.9bn was spent across all 32 clubs, an increase of 19.6% from 2019-20’s outlay of just over £4.1bn. The previous growth had been nearly 60% (from 2018-19 to 2019-20) so despite the numbers still being gigantic, there was a definite slowdown this season, for the first time. The average club spend was £153.7m, up from £128.5m last season, with the Jackals (£354m) and the Royals (£322m) out in front as the biggest spenders – the first time any clubs had broken the £300m barrier for a single-season spend on new players. Five clubs spent less-than £100m as the gap between the richest and the poorest grew wider: 2-time NFC champions the Outlaws decided they needed to invest only £81m this season – would this prove canny or naive? The all-time transfer spend in the IFF now stands at £11.8bn, with the Jackals and Royals responsible for £1.6bn (14%) of this. So the spending continues, but times might be a-changing…

Biggest Deals:

  

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Asset values:

Drawing down the values of each club’s first-team squad, I have compiled an ‘asset’ value for each club, for each season so far. This is an interesting piece of data as it demonstrates the relationship between transfer fees being paid and their conversion into assets for the club (i.e., what value does the game attribute to players when they’ve been purchased; are clubs under- or over-paying for talent – paying £60m only for their value to instantly drop to £48m when he lands in the squad, an instant £12m loss). Collating this data also allows a ‘return on assets’ calculation to be applied to each club each season as part of a deeper analysis of club performance (more on this in the ‘analysis’ section).

The IFF is currently sitting on nearly £31.8bn of playing assets, a figure that has risen from just under £24.8bn at the end of the 2019-20 season – a rise of 28%. Since the end of 2017-18 when total assets were £7bn, the total value of players registered to IFF teams has risen by 354%. The LA Knights currently have the most valuable playing squad, with a market value of £1.8bn. The Sydney Falcons have the lowest value playing squad at £540m – a discrepancy of £1.2bn to the Californian club. EFC clubs have the largest playing assets, with an average of £1.06bn across its 8 clubs. As an example of the inflationary power of the IFF, the Knights have amassed a cumulative £4.5bn of players over 4 years, in contrast to a total transfer spend of £692m over the same period - therefore adding value to the tune of £3.8bn. As we will see with reputations later, one impact of this ‘closed’ league format is the protectionism it affords its members: player values are outpacing fees being paid (in general), meaning clubs are effectively accumulating capital hand-over-fist: their balance sheets are bulging based on the values the game is attributing to players when purchased. Of course, for any of this capital to be realised, there needs to be someone to purchase and we’re not seeing any signs that teams from the big 5 leagues can or want to buy these IFF-based players for big money, but it’s early days yet.

 

Wages:

Perhaps we can shed some light on this year’s slowdown in transfer spending when examining wage costs. Cumulative annual wage spending in the IFF is now at £5.7bn, with the average £178m across all teams. Total wages are up 39% in a year and up 949% since the 2017-18 season. I noted a couple of reports back that wage costs could become unmanageable, and we’re seeing further evidence that this is becoming the case: IFF teams have spent a collective £24.5bn since 2017. Wages account for £12.6m of this total - 52% - and now outstripping transfer costs for the first time annually. At the head of the snake, Moscow are now spending £276m a year on player wages, with the Royals close behind on £257m. Eight further teams are spending north of £200m per year on wages, with some concerning surprises amongst this group including the Washington Colts who are paying out a whopping £249m. Bear in mind this is a team who have done nothing of note apart from a bottom-place NFC finish last season: how will they justify such elaborate spending this year? And how do these costs stack up against the strength of their squad (we’ll look at that later).

  

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Balances and Costs:

To underpin concerns around rising wage spending, cumulative club balances dropped for the first time this season as the fairytale of endless profitability set atop lavish spending ended for some teams. Total balances now sit at £18.8bn, down from £20bn at this stage a year ago. With such grand sums still laying around, clubs won’t be going begging to their bank managers just yet, but one or two do need to carefully eye their cash trajectories. Tokyo, Seattle, Auckland, Melbourne, Sydney, Atlanta, New York, Miami, Houston, Washington, Moscow, Munich, Zagreb, Milan, Rome, Amsterdam, Knightsbridge, Newcastle, Lisbon and Madrid all saw their cash reserves fall this year, with Auckland’s the steepest  - a drop of more than £100m to £249m. They now have the lowest end-of-year balance for any IFF club since the league’s inception. This precipitous drop cannot be ignored when referenced against their now-£135m annual wage bill.

To call this the end of an era would be an overstatement, but 2020-21 has definitely seen a change in the direction of the wind in the IFF; there is still plenty of money around, but it’s not growing at the almost exponential rate it was a couple of years ago: we will now see how well the AI recognises situational change and responds: some teams need to par back on spending and adjust their recruitment strategy to get these costs under control; but how many are encumbered with mediocre players on long, expensive contracts that they’ll need to grin and bear until they expire?

 

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Transfer ROI Analysis:

Continuing this feature introduced in the last report, three new signings have been added to test their return on the investment from their new clubs, as well as updates to previous years’ entries. Remember, this analysis is about how individual players offer returns on their transfer fees through their on-pitch output. This assessment ignores wider team accomplishments, sell-on fees or other intangible benefits to their club (raised profile etc).

Of the 2017-18 intake, none now remain in scope of analysis after Adama Traore’s transfer to Newcastle United last summer: one of the IFF’s first big-money signings, he returned an average 51.4% for Chicago in his 3 seasons and a cumulative 154% of which the vast majority came in year 1. Overall, a good investment for the Wildcats.

The strange tale of Nathan Rutherford ends with his escape from LA (pardon the pun). He returned 61% of his fee – all in year 1, but averaged 21% over 3 years as he didn’t play any games in either of the final 2 years.

Two of 2018-19’s class continue to offer good returns: Justin Kluivert had another solid season in Seattle, leaving his average ROI at 46%. After 3 years, he has now returned 138% of his fee, and still young, he could add much further to this. Likewise, Breel Embolo took his average return to nearly 41% after 3 seasons and he has also returned his fee and more, sitting on a cumulative 122%. Like Kluivert, he’s young and talented, so there’s plenty of upside on this acquisition.

Underlining the concerns raised last year about his huge fee, Marc-Andre Ter Stegen put in another good season for Knightsbridge but his average ROI is low at 14% and his cumulative just 28%: he has  a long, long way to run to get his club a return on their money.

A big goal haul for Roberto Firmino helped him keep an average ROI of 36% after 2 years. The Brazilian has now returned nearly 73% of his £83m fee. Eden Hazard, despite now turning the corner into his 30s, is proving astonishing value for the Knights. In just two brilliant seasons he has already returned 130% of his £54m fee.

Of the 2020-21 sample, Rafael Varane’s exorbitant move to the Sabers is looking poor value, with the defender returning a paltry 5.9% of his fee in year one. He will need to significantly improve his match performances and chip in goals and/or assists to give his side anything like even a 50% return in the coming seasons. Sadio Mane looked a coup for the Centurians, arriving for just £43.5m, and a fair first season means he has returned just less than half his club’s investment back so far. At 28 he has time, but Rome aren’t currently an elite outfit and this could limit his ability to offer maximum value if they cannot put a team around him of sufficient calibre. Killian Mbappe’s fee looks far too low for a player of his quality – and the Bears have legitimately completed one of the signings of the IFF so far. Turning in a solid first season, he offered a 26% return and being young and extremely talented, he is more-than likely to offer a full return within the next 2-3 seasons as he beds into his team.

 

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Season Review:

PFC (Champions: Los Angeles Knights)

Clarence Seedorf’s men tightened their fist around the Pacific Conference, making it a tidy four from four, finishing 4 points ahead of the Sabers who again had to watch their rivals take the title away. Aside from the mega-signing of Varane, Marcelo Gallardo’s (157/170) summer business in Tokyo was uninspiring. This is a rich club, spending huge, but they’re not reaching expectations. LA added the likes of Matthijs de Ligt (168/168)  - £38m from Sporting – Piotr Zielinski (166/166)  - £34.5m from Napoli  - and Paco Alcacer (152/157)  - £32.5m from Leverkusen - to their already loaded squad this year. It’s tough to see them losing their place at the top of the PFC tree any time soon. Last year’s WC runners-up Auckland came in 3rd – 1 point behind Tokyo – and Melbourne ended the campaign bottom for the 3rd time in 4 years.

 

NFC (Champions: Chicago Wildcats)

The Outlaws’ run of back-to-back titles was halted as Chicago claimed their 2nd North American Conference, leading the pack home by 5 points with holders Mexico City in 2nd place. It was a better competition for New York as they finished 3rd and just one point behind the Outlaws. Despite their growing wage bill, Joachim Low’s Washington Colts finished dangerously adrift at the bottom on 3 points, raising serious doubts about his policy and approach in the U.S capital. Veteran full-back Marcelo - signed from Real Madrid for £2.9m - is an archetype of the concerns: earning £190k per week, the 33 year-old contributed a lowly 6.90 rating from 6 matches. The Wildcats’ Cristian Pavon (152/156) was a standout player, averaging 7.41 and scoring 5 goals for the champions.

 

EFC (Champions: Moscow Jackals)

In his first full season, Pep Guardiola bagged his first title as Moscow boss as the club claimed their 4th consecutive European Conference. Despite adding the likes of Harry Kane (27, 184/184; £65m from Spurs), Julian Brandt (25, 167/172; £35m from Leverkusen) and Samuel Umtiti (27, 161/169 - £53m from Barcelona), the Jackals only squeezed home a single point ahead of a much improved Milan however, who finished in their highest placing since the competition began. Munich again disappointed, finishing sixth on 12 points whilst Stockholm finished bottom for the 2nd time in 3 years. Only 10 points separated 7th and 1st place in a competitive league where Moscow’s Kane was the star, leading the scorers with 10, the average ratings with 7.81 and POMs with 5. A genuine star-turn for the Englishman.

 

AFC (Champions: Knightsbridge Royals)

The holders struck again as Pellegrini’s Royals claimed 3 Atlantic Conference titles in a row, this time holding off a galvanised Paris by 5 points. Luis Suarez (7.76 and 4 POM awards) was again brilliant, as new £100m-man Leroy Sane (25, 168/176) hit the ground running with 4 goals, 3 assists, 2 POMs and an average of 7.48 for the London club. The glory of 2017-18 looks a long way off for Catalunya who finished 7th and 11 points behind the champions, whist the Eagles continue to struggle after Steven Gerrard’s departure last season, finishing rock-bottom for the 3rd time in 4 years. The Newcastle Sentinels continue to be an enigma, rising fast to finish 3rd this year – 1 point behind Paris – after finishing a distant 8th last term.

 

Pentland-Meisel Invitational Cup (Champions: Man Utd)

The Empire strikes back. Mourinho’s Man Utd took their 2nd P-M cup in 3 years, beating arch rivals Liverpool 2-1 in the final with goals from Mata and Rashford.

IFF WC champions Los Angeles had started well enough – dispatching North American Champions Chivas 3-1 in Los Angeles in the quarter final, scorers including home-grown 19-year old Canadian midfielder Joey McDonough (126/172). Man Utd beat Auckland City 1-0 in New Zealand, South American champions Gremio beat Africa’s best Es Tunis 1-0 and Liverpool beat South Korea’s Ulsan 3-0, where a soon-to-be-departed Sadio Mane joined Mo Salah and Naby Kieta on the scoresheet.

The first semi final pitted the Knights against Man Utd at Old Trafford in a tie billed as the moment when the IFF confirmed its dominance over the great names of football’s past. In a humbling reality for the fledgling league’s administrators, the 7-time European champions cruised to a 3-0 win in front of 73,000 fans in a match as simple and comprehensive as it was possible to imagine; Pogba, McTominay and Tuanzebe grabbing 1st half goals and Eden Hazard the only Knights player to clock in a rating above 7. An embarrassment for LA and the IFF. In the other semi, Liverpool coolly dismissed Gremio 3-0 at Anfield. English Football is going nowhere just yet…

 

Intercontinental Challenge Cup (Champions: Los Angeles Knights)

Los Angeles won their 2nd ICC in four years with a 3-0 win over former winners Moscow in their own stadium: a reminder to all of the potency and danger of Clarence Seedorf’s outfit. It was again Eden Hazard who silenced the capacity 67,000 crowd in the Russian capital with a scintillating 8.7 rating and 3 assists for goals from Piotr Zielinski (27, 166/166), Andrea Belotti (27, 165/170) and Hakim Ziyech (28, 156/156). The home team simply never got a foothold, registering only a single shot on target in the match; £29.5m summer signing ‘keeper Bernd Leno (29, 159/163) was poor, making a series of bad decisions for a miserable 5.9 rating. Despite the disappointment of the P-M Cup earlier in the season, the Knights scoop up another pot – their 2nd of the season.

The first round saw some big reputations exit meekly: New York, so often a disappointment, were K.Od by the Renegades 3-1 on aggregate, and the Hawks (5-3 losers to Tokyo) and Steelers (4-1 to Los Angeles) joined them on the scrapheap. Moscow avoided a scare, recovering from a surprise defeat at home to beat Auckland 3-2 on aggregate.

The next big shock came a round later when a toughly fought tie between Paris and Knightsbridge ended 3-3, leading to a dramatic penalty-shootout victory for the men from the French capital. Having never won the coveted ICC, the Royals must wait at least another year. Tokyo (beating Washington 3-0), Chicago (penalties to get past Amsterdam), Moscow (5-4 against Sao Paulo), LA (3-1 vs. Houston), Newcastle (5-2 vs AFC rivals Glasgow), Rome (5-2 winners past Atlanta) and Mexico City (3-2 victors against Lisbon) all joined Paris in the quarter finals.

PFC behemoths Tokyo and Los Angeles banged heads once-more in the final eight, with the US-based club needing penalties to edge past the Japanese side following an epic 5-5 aggregate score that had ebbed and flowed over two ties that had encapsulated all of the drama, energy and quality that the IFF founders had envisaged in their dreams. The Sabers were yet again left in the wake of the Knight however as their trophy room would lay unused for a little longer. Elsewhere, Moscow had few problems dumping out the Sentinels 3-1, the Wildcats came out on top in another exciting tie - 5-4 versus the Centurians - and Paris overcame the Outlaws with a brilliant 3-0 win over the hosts in the 2nd leg in Mexico City.

In a competition of high scoring, the semi-final between Chicago and Los Angeles raised the bar again, as the Knights crashed into the final after a 7-4 aggregate win. The first leg had finished 3-2 to LA and in the 2nd leg a 4-2 win sealed the Wildcats’ downfall. In the other semi, Moscow had too much for Paris, beating them 3-1 at home in the 2nd leg after an entertaining 2-2 draw in Paris.

 

IFF World Championship (Champions: Knightsbridge Royals)

Arguably the league’s two most star-studded clubs met in the 4th WC final; a roll-call that included Ter Stegen, Deli Alli, Leroy Sane, Luis Suarez, Kasper Dolberg, Vitolo, Marco Veratti, Bernd Leno, Alessio Romagnoli, Cristian Pulisic, Harry Kane and Julien Brandt. In the final analysis, Moscow were disappointed to lose out; the 0-2 reverse cruelly betraying their superior possession, shots and shots on target. It took the Royals until just before HT to nick a lead – sub for injured Veratti Max Arnold (27, 149/155) doing the favours. On 67 minutes, Knightsbridge again defied the run of play with Quincy Promes (29, 147/153) sealing the game for a sell-out crowd at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. That record signing stopper Ter Stegen was POM tells the true story of a deeply frustrating night for Guardiola’s team, who will surely go away in the summer and plot a swift return to the summit. For the old master Pellegrini it is a 2nd World’s championship and a sixth major title in 4 years – only that Intercontinental Challenge Cup now eluding his grasp.

The Mexico Outlaws finished top of group A, with the Pacers maintaining their improved form to finish 2nd and reach the post-season playoffs for the first time. The Mariners finished bottom, making it a brace of basement positions for the season. Boss Javi Guerrero (120/120) was installed in June 2019 and in 2 years has singularly failed to lift the ailing Melbourne club. Incredibly, he is being courted by the Lisbon Chargers as their next head coach. In group B, last year’s runners-up Auckland were impressive once-more, topping the table, 1 point ahead of Paris (2nd) and Seattle (3rd). Only 4 points split the 5th placed Hawks and the winners the Rams. In the ‘group of Death’ C, The Royals ran away as 7-point winners from the 2nd placed Sabers, who themselves pipped Chicago (3rd) to the playoffs on goals scored, whilst a strangley resurgent Washington finished 4th, only a point behind this squabbling duo on 15 points. Lisbon crashed to finish bottom of the group. Hair-raising stuff indeed. The shock of the season emerged over in group D however as the PFC champions and soon-to-be ICC winners the Knights were dumped out before the playoffs for the 1st time as they came unstuck in a volatile scenario. Surprise package Rome won the group with 22 points, 2 ahead of runners-up Moscow, who ended with a 3-point buffer to LA in 3rd. It could have been even more embarrassing for Seedorf’s side as only 2 further points shielded them from falling as low as 6th place – eventually occupied by improving Miami. Zagreb crashed out at the foot of the table on 4 points. So, with the holders and favourites gone early, the playoffs began.

Tokyo’s miserable season ended early too as they were drawn away to the Outlaws in the quarter finals and were beaten cleanly 3-1 in Mexico. Rome, drawn at home versus Auckland, needed penalties after a 2-2 draw AET, whilst the Royals beat Paris 2-1 in London and Moscow edged out the Pacers 1-0 in Milan.

In the semis, Moscow did it the hard way, drawn as 2nd seeds and ceding home-field advantage to the Outlaws, they came away with a 2-1 win for their troubles. The Royals were too strong for Rome, winning 2-0 in London with barely a glimmer of resistance from their outmatched opponents. Still, a first trip to post-season had made for a most welcome campaign for Albert Ferrer’s (133/135) Centurians.

The Royals’ Marco Veratti (28, 170/171) won MVP with an average rating of 7.30, 1 goal and 9 assists (a marked fall in standard from Eden Hazard’s exceptional performance last season). Luis Suarez won the golden shoe with just 9 goals, perhaps demonstrating the rising standards of defending in the league (the last two seasons’ top scorers have hit 13 each).

 

Rest of World Roundup:

Man Utd were another club to make it four in a row, as they retained the EPL with 80 points – just a point ahead of Man City. Spurs, now shorn of both Delli Ali and Harry Kane, suffered badly, slumping to 9th. They are now under the watchful eye of Steve Bruce (!). In Spain, Real Madrid were back on top, finishing 8 points above 2nd placed Barcelona - who have now failed to win a title in five years. A. Madrid were third, but the biggest shock was Valencia, who were relegated in 18th place. After lending AC Milan the trophy for a year, Juventus were in the ascendancy again, finishing 9 points above the deposed champions in 2nd. Inter fell to 6th, missing out on European football next year. In Germany, Bayern ended a wobbly few years and recaptured the Bundesliga. Leverkusen were 2nd, RBL 3rd and Dortmund 4th. In France Lyon won the league, some 10 points ahead of runners-up Monaco, but the big story was the accelerating collapse of PSG who finished 7th on 60 points – 25 behind the champions. Mbappe has gone, both Unai Emery and his replacement Louis van Gaal have fallen by the wayside: the club have now turned to 57 year-old Belgian Hein Vanhaezebrouck to correct their slide. Strange times for the other Parisian club. The Europa League was won by Chelsea, who defeated German outfit Hoffenheim 1-0 in a dull final. Man Utd made it an incredible 4 Champions’ cups in a row with a 2-1 win over Monaco in the final: Romeu Lukaku grabbed 2 goals and the POM award. Mourinho’s impact on his charges has been unprecedented in his time at the helm: this season, Marcus Rashford scored 33 goals in all competitions, Paul Pogba got 17 goals and 13 assists and Alexis Sanchez achieved an overall rating of 7.47 over 50 matches. Quite remarkable.

N.B: Lukaku (valued at £78m) is ‘wanted’ by the Royals. Watch this space.

 

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Talent Watch

Another mediocre season for our group of prospects. Brunet and Martinez’s CAs continue to rise steadily, but they are not playing enough for their clubs, and when they do their performance are unremarkable (most of their games are coming as substitutes). I said last season that for these two, they were hitting a key year in 2020-21: they didn’t really grasp their chance and probably need to get away from their clubs now – on loan or otherwise – to play regularly. The story doesn’t get much better for Felipe, Pavesi or Kizmanic either… Is the IFF neglecting its home-made products?

 

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Analysis

League ‘Strength’:

The number of players with CA of 160-179 grew again by 3% to 101, with there now 20 more players of his ability bracket in the game than there was in summer 2017. The proportion of these playing in the big 5 leagues has fallen again by 10% to 69%; that’s a total fall of nearly 30% in 4 seasons; in 2 more seasons on the current flight-path, only half of this group will be spread across those once-dominant divisions (remember, it was a 100% lock-out in 2017). The IFF took a huge leap forward this year with their contingent growing from 13 to 29 (an increase of 128%) - with almost one-third of these high-calibre players now earning a living in the pirate competition. A really significant year in which the critical mass of transfers seems to have opened the flood-gates to a better standard of player.

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Likewise, the picture with CA 180-200 players is shifting too. The total number has remained stable at 9, but the IFF has dramatically increased its cohort from 1 to 3 (equalling 33% with a year-on-year growth of 200%). The big 5’s share has fallen to 67% from 89% this time a year ago, with big names jumping ship. The IFF is finally starting to see the best in the world plying their trade… and it has only cost a mere £24.5bn (and counting…!)

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As noted last season, the u21 PA 170+ group continues to be a tricky one to draw any conclusions from: the total number of this group has grown again to 128 (another 7% rise) with the big 5 growing their contingent to 37%; their highest % yet. Is this because clubs are utilising their academies more as they lose some of their bigger stars, or is this just a random spike of generated players popping up? We’ll have to see next year how his trend moves. The IFF have maintained a similar share (now 13%), but as we’re seeing in the ‘Talent Watch’ section, these kids aren’t exactly bursting onto the scene and lighting the league up…yet.

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Team Rating Comparison:

The Royals end the season with the highest rating, aligning neatly with their WC victory. At 80.5 they are now better (based on this tool) than all of the control group barring Real Madrid whom they are equal to. Moscow have also broken the barrier to go above 80, now rated at 80.2. The LA Knights are the anomaly this year as they were 3rd best rated but failed to make the playoffs (but did win the ICC and PFC). The Lisbon chargers performed appallingly – rated at 75.8 and above the league average of 74.8 – as they bombed and finished bottom of their WC group. Serious management underperformance at the Portuguese outfit. Stockholm are the lowest rated club at 70.4, but although finishing bottom of the EFC, they avoided such a fate in the WC and overperformed to avoid another basement tenancy. The IFF average rating rose again by 2.5%, but the year-on-year increase is slowing (it rose 6% from 2018-19 to 2019-20) as clubs will now find it harder to achieve marginal gains in quality that will bump their ratings up (and these acquisitions will come at potentially massive prices). The AFC is the ‘best’ conference for the 4th year in a row and its average is beginning to pull away from the other 3 conferences.

The control group clubs’ ratings fell gain this year as more of their talent was whisked away. Man Utd proved in the P-M cup however that there’s still life left in them yet. Barcelona are edging off a cliff by this measure, now rated lower than 8 IFF clubs at 76.1. Remember, they were the best in the world for the first 2 seasons of this experiment.

 

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Reputation/Quality Correlation:

This new piece of analysis looks at club reputations and tracks the changes in these each season. Moreover, it compares club reputation to the team rating given by Genie Scout so as to create a ‘reputation/quality correlation’ – expressed as a percentage figure for each club each season. This percentage tells us how closely a team’s reputation marries with their team strength, providing an insight into how the AI utilises reputation to build stronger or weaker teams. A higher percentage figure is desirable as this demonstrates a higher level ‘match’ between rep and team quality, with a 100% figure indicating that the AI management of a club have perfectly aligned the reputation of their club with the team they are putting on the field.

IFF club reputations were set high at the start of season 1 in order to fully test how the AI would respond to these new, powerful entities in the game. For this reason I have stayed clear of reputation analysis for a couple of seasons in order to let the game ‘settle’ and for these to even-out. We can see that at the end of season 2, a number of teams took a big slashing of their reputations which feels very much like a moderation exercise by the AI, with the biggest rep teams all taking a hefty hit. New York took the biggest, partly as a paring down exercise but also because they were frankly rubbish – a double-whammy of sorts.

Due to the relatively poor teams that IFF clubs put on the pitch in 2017-18, their reputation/quality correlation (RQC) is quite low compared to later seasons. The aforementioned New York Titans’ is appalling at not even 60%, representing a big disconnect between the team they should have put out and the one they did. Moving into 2018-19, the average RQC shifts up to 81.6%, so clubs were clearly improving to match their respective reputations (reputations themselves actually went up, so we can say that improved RQC is not a result of reputations getting worse across the board). The Titans again had the worst RQC figure in 2018-19 as they failed to spend and improve.

In 2019-20, reputations again rose on average, suggesting a symptom of this wealthy, ‘closed’ competition format: with no danger of relegation and no fear of major loss of income/revenue, reputations are static within a certain range – this looks to be an entirely reasonable piece of logic by the AI that would realistically resemble a real-world situation (use the NFL analogy here where franchise values are all in the multi-billion $ range due to central TV and revenue sharing). The Auckland Rams pushed their RQC up to a record 91.9% in 2019-20, illustrating the really strong club management that saw them race to a WC final that season. The average figure rose to nearly 85% as team quality increased again.

In 2020-21, the average RQC is up to 86.6% with Auckland again the best performing club and New York still the worst. Interestingly, Melbourne saw the biggest rep rise – interesting because they recorded 2 bottom-placed finishes in conference and WC. As with the team rating section, it is likely that the increases in RQC (if any) will be harder to achieve now as teams have to search wider and spend more to obtain better players and utilise them more effectively in their teams – all of the ‘easy wins’ are gone when it comes to team improvement. We will revisit this section each year to see what it is telling us about the reputation/team building relationship.

 

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Club Management Efficiency:

With the expensive additions to their squad and a mediocre points haul of 35 this year, the Tokyo Sabers become the 2nd least cost-effective club in the IFF, with each of their 148 points now costing just over £9m. With their dire points total of 52 (1 ahead of the worst, Melbourne) and their above average spending, Sydney maintain their status as the IFF’s worst run club (by this measure), spending £9.39m on each league point to-date. The Sao Paulo Wolves are now the thriftiest club around, with each of their 118 points – the thirteenth best total in the league – costing just £4.47m each: this is superb management of costs and player investment in the context of so many others seemingly overpaying on transfers and wages, to little impact on the pitch. Los Angeles and Knightsbridge are tied in first as the best performing teams on raw points accumulation, both having amassed 177. The Knights have reached this milestone - and achieved 1 additional league title in the process – more efficiently at a cost of £7.33m compared to the Royals’ £8.25m. The average IFF cost per point is now £6.87m. The Knights are spending a lot, but it’s clear from this analysis that they are using that money wisely to win points, games and silverware: there are 10 clubs spending more than they are per point, eight of whom haven’t seen sight of a single piece of silverware.

 

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Return on Assets:

This final new section of analysis looks at how effectively clubs are using their playing assets to win matches and accumulate points. Using the collated squad value figures referenced earlier in this report – defined as ‘assets’ for this purpose – we are applying a simple ‘return on assets’ (ROA) calculation wherein the ‘profit’ figure is defined as points accumulated; so we are dividing total assets (value of 1st team squad) by ‘profit’ (points) to provide a % figure each season which illustrates how well clubs are working the assets they have.

As an initial observation, the ROA figures drop significantly for the league after 2017-18, when clubs had much poorer squads which were largely generated at game start-up. The average ROA this season was nearly 54%, which is a huge return in any business market. If we focus on 2018-19, after a year of investment, we see that the total value of assets in the IFF has risen by just over £8bn to £15bn, and resultantly we see ROA collapse to an average of 6%. In this season we can see that Melbourne  - who finished dead last in the PFC and in their WC group – offered the weakest ROA at 3.6%, despite having the lowest valued squad at £193m: their management are basically getting very little out of very little.

In 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20 Montreal offered the best ROA. They did not ‘pull up any trees’ in terms of points accumulation or playoff runs but demonstrated a good balance of investment-to-output. Their RQC figures for this period are also amongst the best in the IFF – averaging 87.4% - as is their cost per point figure at £4.59m (2nd best). Looking at this along with the total club expenditure being 4th lowest in the league at £468.3m and their total points tally being in the middle-third of all teams, we can safely judge that at this time Montreal are the most effectively and efficiently run club in the league: they are making shrewd transfers, using players well and maximising their resources to a better extent than anyone, relatively. Fascinatingly, they have retained 35 year-old Canadian ‘newgen’ manager Justin Rosa since day 1, who has a CA of 111 and PA of 155 with world rep of 5609; so it’s not as if we can attribute this to a phenomenal manager at the helm. As a further inspection, chairman David Sanchez (also Canadian) is 47 with CA 104 and PA 174. He has a ‘business’ attribute of 16, ‘resources’ of 12, ‘determination’ of 16 and ‘level of discipline’ of 15. Otherwise he is quite unremarkable. So where exactly is this outstanding management emerging from? Why are Montreal so good at running a football club (remember, their bank balance has grown each year too and now sits at £802m when so many others are now losing money)? This is fascinating stuff.

 

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Summary:

On the pitch, it was another season that demonstrated the basic football axiom of ‘money equals success’ as all the titles were shared around the small, elite group of big spenders. Chicago and their NFC win are the outlier, although they are in the most transient conference where no-body has staked a dominant claim. Despite this, the competition level is good: conferences and WC groups are becoming regular close-finishes, with a widening array of teams getting a playoff run, and the ICC is chucking in a few surprises with its ‘unseeded’ format. I’ll go ahead and predict a Moscow WC win next season with Pep Guardiola settled in and the star power at their disposal.

Off the pitch, some questions are paramount:

·       How will club balances fare next year?

·       Will wages increase again, and by how much?

·       What will transfer spending look like? Another slow-down?

·       Will we see any of our ‘talents’ actually make a mark?

We’ll also look at all the other key data to assess changing trends in AI management – will Montreal remain the best run IFF club? Will New York always be a mismanaged mess? Wil any new clubs emerge as dark-horses?

 

 

 

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After the interesting findings re Montreal and their manager Justin Rosa, I want to look further at what impact managers' CAs have on team performance.

In the next update I will be starting an analysis of manager CA compared to team performance each season, using points accumulated as a basis to calculate this: is there any correlation between how well a club does and the quality of their manager? If so, how strong is this and does it tally with other measures being used to assess club performance and progress?

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  • 1 month later...

Just finished reading this. Fantastic experiment and equally great analysis. It's fascinating to see how the teams grow year-on-year - I'd be particularly interested to see over the next few years whether any of the lower performing teams rise up to challenge the big guns. Also really interesting to see that home-grown talent has been completely ignored as yet. Perhaps this is to do with youth setups? You may have covered this but are there youth/reserve teams for all clubs? If not I'd suggest this, plus the fact there are no affiliate clubs to loan the players out to, as a major contributing factor to no home-grown talent so far.

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On 12/06/2020 at 09:40, treva said:

Just finished reading this. Fantastic experiment and equally great analysis. It's fascinating to see how the teams grow year-on-year - I'd be particularly interested to see over the next few years whether any of the lower performing teams rise up to challenge the big guns. Also really interesting to see that home-grown talent has been completely ignored as yet. Perhaps this is to do with youth setups? You may have covered this but are there youth/reserve teams for all clubs? If not I'd suggest this, plus the fact there are no affiliate clubs to loan the players out to, as a major contributing factor to no home-grown talent so far.

Cheers, much appreciated. Yes each club has a u21 team and a B team that plays in the IFF Division II, structured directly underneath the WC in the nation's competition hierarchy. 

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3 hours ago, SebJan said:

Cheers, much appreciated. Yes each club has a u21 team and a B team that plays in the IFF Division II, structured directly underneath the WC in the nation's competition hierarchy. 

And have results in Div II mirrored that of the major leagues?

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  • 10 months later...

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