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Barrowcelona- Finishing What Ian Evatt Started (FM21)


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Barrow A.F.C.

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I'm sure most of you have no idea who Ian Evatt is, so here is a brief summary. At 38 years of age, Ian Evatt is a very young and inexperienced manager. He first began his career in the sport as a central defender for Derby County. Rising through their youth system, he would eventually make his senior debut for the club at age 20. Most people familiar with his long playing career probably know him best from his time with Blackpool, where he made 204 league appearances and played under Ian Holloway during their less than impressive 2010-11 Premier League season. His time in management began at Chesterfield where he was hired as caretaker. Roughly 2 months later he took over as Barrow manager and so began the introduction to what fans dubbed "Barrowcelona".

He has only been in management for the past two years, but has already made something of a name for himself around the football world. In his second season in charge of Barrow, he guided them back into the Football league for the first time in 48 years, finishing top of the National League table. Let's look at how he did it.  

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Ian Evatt considers himself a student of the game. I get the impression that he idolizes Pep Guardiola and his philosophies, hence the name "Barrowcelona". Fans who watched Barrow play were witnessing a play style they have never seen in Non league football, let alone Barrow. They watched their team play out from the back, control possession, relentlessly press and have success playing pass and move football. He also learned a lot from playing under Ian Holloway at Blackpool. He bought into his mentality of not accepting low standards, regardless of what team you play for. For anyone who would rather watch a more detailed video of what Ian Evatt achieved at Barrow watch this:

What could have been?

Whether their success was an anomaly, it absolutely inspired me and got me interested in the Non-league, something I've always had a hard time with. Their success last season got them promoted to League 2 even though they cut the season short because of COVID-19. That's not all that cut Barrow's success short. In June, Bolton recognized what Evatt was doing and brought him in to be their manager, taking the ideals and philosophies that helped guide them to League football with him. David Dunn then came in and took over as manager and no disrespect to him, but I was really looking forward to watching Evatt manage Barrow in League 2 and see if he could also be successful there. Although, with Evatt leaving, I don't feel as bad when I take over Barrow to manage them in FM21.

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The question is, what could have been? I'm hoping to answer that question by bringing success to Barrow and their supporters by winning the Premier League and Champions League.

How Barrow Play

Fans found it difficult when they were first introduced to the new style Evatt implemented. Fans were used to the traditional 'route one' style of play, which took less intelligent footballers and mostly relied on physical traits rather than mental and technical. There are definitely technically talented players in the National League, but Barrow opened the door to those players being able to showcase their talents and show a non-league team could play possession football. Their average possession last season was 59% and the most they had in a single game was 81%. So clearly possession is an important part of their style of play I need to implement in FM. It was also one of Evatts 'non-negotiable' rules that the players show for the ball on goal kicks, meaning they play out from the back and don't give away the ball cheaply. High possession, ball recovery and lots of passes. These are the core fundamentals of Barrow and how I aim to play with them. 

In order to play this way, we have to recruit the right players, obviously. I'm focusing mostly on finding intelligent players for the central midfielders and central defense. In terms of wide players, I want them to be hardworking and quick but also able to control the ball to maintain possession. I don't want wide players who run around the pitch like a headless chicken. The players we bring in have to have a specific personality if we are going to be fighting to win the ball back immediately. Players who are not easily discouraged. Since we are in the lower leagues of England, it isn't easy to find the right players, and I have noticed that pretty much instantly. 

Finances

Desperate. I'll have to bring in mostly loans which is definitely going to make this a lot more challenging. But hey if its easy is it really worth doing?

I have been playing this save for a few days already, heres how the first season went:

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26 minutes ago, Domoboy23 said:

No point posting the rest without the TI/PI's. This isn't a novel, it's not Eastenders, we don't need cliff hangers. It's not the story thread. It's a tactic thread

I understand you might be excited by what I’m going to create but have some patience please. Cheers. 

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@Pattric_b Personally I would be more interested to see your instructions for your League Two campaign now you've said you haven't fully embraced the style due to the quality of your players. My style has always been to just set a tactic I know works, adapt a couple of roles, play some nice attacking football then buy better players (mostly play top flight which helps) so I'm curious how you build on your playing style year-on-year. 

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The Gameplan

It was a tale of two halves of the season. I waited until Mr. Dunn was sacked before I was going to take over because I wanted it to be natural. And sure enough, a defeat to Crawley on December 12th was the nail in the coffin. When I took over we were 22nd on the table. The board only expected us to bravely fight against relegation. Our own board didn't give us a chance! My early plan was to use a 5-3-2 similar to how Barrow played last season. However, I felt we had too many attacking players that would be of no use using that formation, so I decided to use the 4-2-3-1 for my first time in FM history. We started strongly with the new tactic and kept it up to the end of the season, just barely missing out on automatic promotion. 

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We adapted a variation of Gegenpressing.  Which is a risky move, but I wanted to be true to how Barrow play so I took the risk. The only changes I made were a few player roles, and I changed the team passing to 'shorter'. Depending on the game, I made other team instruction changes, but these are the most common. Last season John Rooney was responsible for 16 league goals while playing a deep lying playmaker role in midfield. I knew this would be difficult to replicate this season, so that will remain a long-term goal for now. This season I wanted to allow my attacking players; Quigley, Baker-Richardson, Angus, Kay, Gribbin and James to do our goal scoring. The thing I like most about this group of attacking players is that they are versatile. All the players apart from Quigley and Baker-Richardson can play multiple positions, which allowed me to rotate with ease. 

I did want to leave a playmaker in midfield, which is why I left the AP-S in the CAM position. Someone who would drop deeper into midfield to help keep possession and play through balls to our attackers. 

I left the wingers on different mentalities in order to change it up and try to keep our opponents guessing. 

The striker position was a tough call. I have very capable strikers, but I didn't want to use specialty roles. I just wanted to have my strikers act on their own instinct, all the while playing my way by pressing hard. 

The wingbacks were going to be providing our width in attack. I didn't want them put wasteful crosses into the box, but I didn't want to restrict them too much either. I'm not that much of a dictator. Depending on how the game was going, I would occasionally add the 'work ball into box' team instruction to limit the amount of crosses we put in. 

Unexpected Fortune

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The playoff final was a hard fought match, but we prevailed with our only goal coming from arguably our best player, Yoan Zouma. A player I wasn't aware of until I joined. We played the way I set out the entire way through keeping 62% possession and having 6 shots on target with an xG of 1.46. Evatt would be proud of the way we played. I ended up making a few signings in January to add some extra squad depth, and they were largely successful.   

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Gilmour is a product of Arsenals youth academy and he is a decent, well rounded central midfielder. I was drawn to him because of his strong mental attributes, despite his young age. His high work rate, determination and positive persona were the tipping point, and I signed him.

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Madden was another player I signed in January. What drew me to him was he is also a well-rounded player for this level and he has an outstanding personality. A person you want around the dressing room. I signed these players to add depth to the first team, and they performed well when I called upon them. Gilmour became a starter as soon as he was match fit. 

Karma? 

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I'm not one to gloat in others misfortunes, but it's impossible not to laugh.  

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Small Market Success

Our first season in League one is going a lot better than I had envisioned. I'll share a short tale of the season so far with some screenshots:

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Salary Per Anum

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We are spending only 1.49m a year on player salary, which ranks us 22nd in the league. Grimsby have also been very successful given the amount of money they spend on their players. We are no doubt making the owner feel like a lucky man. I do fear though that we are growing too fast and since we can win on a small budget, the owner may not feel inclined to increase the budget too much next season. We also have a tiny fan base compared to the rest of the league. Even with filling our stadium up to 92% capacity, we still only have 4540k fans showing up on average. That gives us the 20th highest average rating in the league. The teams at the top of the average attendance table have more than double our supporters and are not even filling their stadiums to 70% capacity. 

Overall, it's a little concerning. I fear we may not be capable of growing to become a huge club. Barrow is a small city with a population of 50-100k max. 

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Tactically we have been doing the business. We are keeping possession and passing the ball very well. Punching way above our weight, given the supposed gap in quality the media predicted there was. We currently sit 18 places above where the media estimated we would finish in pre season. 

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We have continued trying to bring intelligent players into the club. Given our lack of transfer funds, all our signings were temporary loan deals. Up to this point, our loans have been playing well for us. No stand out individuals, but they work well within the group and I haven't been dealing with too much complaints about playing time or contracts, etc. Morale is high and I intend on keeping it that way. 

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Best match so far

Our tactics have remained unchanged from last season. We have seen players from our original squad continue to grow such as Hardcastle, Zouma, Platt, Gribben and Quigley. The highlight match that I'd pick to showcase our style of play would be against the Tottenham U23 in the EFL trophy competition. 

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Some might think "its the U23 squad, big deal" and normally I'd agree but you could imagine my surprise when I saw their lineup for the match. 

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I was pretty certain we would get crushed. But we held our own, and we went home with a monumental victory. 

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For some reason when I take a screenshot of the match screen the file size is always too big so I have to make the picture smaller. Apologies, but you can still see what's going on. 

Anyway, here is our last goal By Quigley (9). I moved Madden to central midfield for this match because he is comfortable on the ball and more than capable of handling pressure. As you can see our front three are occupying their back line leaving space on the wings for our fullbacks to attack. Barry is alone on the wing all it takes is a player with vision to find him. 

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Barry gets the ball and holds onto it, which pulls Spurs players over towards him. #15 on Spurs completely abandons his position in midfield, leaving Madden wide open. Barry notices the space Madden is now in again and plays it back to him. Very good pass and vision from Barry. 

*The screenshot I took after this passage of play absolutely will not upload and it says the file size is too small regardless of how small I make the image.*

Essentially, what happens is Madden now has the ball and we create a 4v3 situation for Spurs defenders. #15 attempts to make up for his mistake but is too slow to recover. #4 on Spurs gets put into an uncomfortable position and doesn't know whether to go towards the ball or stay with his marker. He gets caught in limbo and Quigley pulls away and is free in space in between 14 and 4. Madden plays the through ball and Quigley finishes a very nice move. 

Overall, we are playing very attractive possession football. The results have been fantastic and the future looks bright in Barrow. 

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