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[FM24] Returning Serve- an AFC Wimbledon save


Lestri
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FM24 - Bringing the new Crazy Gang back to the top

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An introduction

They say the best stories have some truth to them, and my inspiration for my Football Manager 2024 save is no different. I grew up on the south coast of England in a lovely village near Bournemouth. Now my school was a bit fancy with about 25 acres, or just over 10 hectares of sports field. It had tennis, basketball, netball courts, as well as an indoor centre/gym.  It also used to host groups in the school holidays, and as my mum was the school’s cook, I used to spend my summers roaming around the school taking advantage of all these resources, while she cooked for them. One of these groups was Wimbeldon’s youth academy, when it was run by a lovely fella who ended up being the Head of Education & Welfare at the Premier League. The staff and the players were lovely, so for three years, I used to join them in their training sessions and a couple times, played for them when they played local teams in friendlies. 

While being a Crystal Palace fan, even though they were local rivals and sharing Selhurst Park as a home ground, I have a bit of a soft spot for Wimbledon because of this. During this time, its financial issues were coming to their peak, and the final year they came down to my old school was when they had become Milton Keynes Dons, which while was needed, was very sad to see. But I look back on that time fondly, running around with them, helping my mum cook for them, and seeing some of the players I spent summers with becoming professional footballers, with a bunch having Premier League appearances. 

Since moving to Australia, I haven’t lost my passion for football, even with the horrific time differences. And while my focus has been watching Palace stabilise as a Premier League team, I have watched with interest the birth and rise of AFC Wimbledon, and particularly enjoyed them ending up back at their spiritual home at Plough Lane. It didn’t surprise me seeing them get up to the professional tier of English football and develop a pretty fierce rivalry with MK Dons. So it is a very appealing save for FM24. So let’s get to it.

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It’s been a long time since I played a save in the English leagues. In fact, it was FM20 where I did an unemployed save that took me from Curzon Ashton in Vanarama League South to Norwich in the Championship after a season. So it was a good time to take stock of how AFC Wimbledon are faring. 

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So things could be much worse, but it isn’t great. We don’t have much to play with on the transfer and wage budget front and we narrowly missed relegation last year, with the media predicting us to be around the bottom of League Two again. Our finances are okay, so I don’t think there will be any quick improvements on the facilities front.

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Develop players using the club’s youth system is something I always strive for in a FM save, and with my link to the old Wimbledon youth team in my introduction, this is something I will definitely prioritise in this save. The Do Not sign players over the age of 32 aim is something I will look to remove when I gain some favour with Mick and the rest of the board, as I have come to appreciate the elder statesman more and more as I become one in real life. The Sign players from the lower levels of the domestic game is one I haven’t seen before, so this gives me an incentive to focus on getting a keen eye on finding the next Jamie Vardy from the non-leagues. The rest regarding balancing the books makes sense for a team with okay finances, so I’m not expecting anything too scary there.

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Now this is interesting and potentially problematic. The team barely survived last season and now the board requires us to reach the playoffs? Rightio. It seems we will tick the FA Cup requirement automatically as we will enter in the first round of the cup, and the EFL cup objective will be dependent on who we draw. But needless to say, that league objective will be a pain in the backside to meet. Our supporters have less to say regarding our performance in competitions, however it has a high influence on the board, so I will take their direct and attacking football preference very seriously. Fortunately for them, I have a reputation to uphold with Wangball, so I will ensure it’ll be high octane football at Cherry Red Records Stadium under my stewardship.

Save Objectives

  1. Get AFC Wimbledon back into the Premier League
    • It is important to get AFC Wimbledon back to their origins, an established Premier League side, becoming cult figures in English football. Through the Wangball approach, I hope to entertain first, win second.
  2. Take a Youth-Centric approach
    • As mentioned in the introduction above, I have a strong affinity to the old Wimbledon youth team, so I want to pay homage to it by putting youth at the centre of everything I do. Whether it's prioritising my youth team, recruitment or investment, everything will be done with one central question "is this going to improve the quality of our youth players?" If I can't answer that easily, then it goes in the bin. 
  3. Be always better than MK Dons
    • Nice and simple here, we start in the same league with MK Dons, who at all levels are better than usThis is unacceptable, and will be remedied. 
  4. Win the FA Cup to match the Crazy Gang win of 1988.
    • Wimbledon's greatest moment, beating the overwhelming favourites Liverpool 1-0 thanks to Lawrie Sanchez's goal, which caused John Motson to deliver one of his most famous lines "The Crazy Gang have beaten the Culture Club". I want to match this, to give this new generation of the Crazy Gang its moment in history.

General Notes

I have decided to fancy up my FM experience, using a real name fix, stadium pack, kits, player faces and logos that you can find on sortitoutsi. I am also using @keysi's exceptional skin that can be found at https://coffeehousefm.com/fmrensieblog/fm24-rensie-custom-skin and using @FMStag's brilliant views that can be found at https://fmstag.com/fm-stags-custom-views-megapack-for-fm24/. As always I am a bit of a magpie when it comes to ideas, so I will ensure wherever I have used someone else's work, a credit will be listed.

Join me next time for how we went during pre-season, our tactical approach and the start of League Two. Until Next Time. 

Edited by Lestri
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POST #2 - PRESEASON, SQUAD AND OPENING GAMES FOR THE CRAZY GANG

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For those who didn't grow up with English TV, above are some members of the Wombles. They live in burrows on Wimbledon Common, where they aim to help the environment by collecting and recycling rubbish in creative ways. They also had a catchy song called “The Wombling Song” which has become a regular melody used for football chants. The wonderful lyrics of “Underground, overground, wombling free The wombles of Wimbledon Common are we” hangs behind our manager at his desk in Wimbledon as he looks towards the preseason. 

Today we will look at the tactical approach we are taking at Plough Lane as well as our squad, before we look at our preseason games before the opening stanza of League Two. 

TACTICAL APPROACH WITH OUR WOMBLES aka squad

We go back to our opening post to see that our very influential fanbase demands direct and attacking football, and fortunately for the Wimbledon fans, that is what our manager is all about; high octane, crazy, Wangball. What a great opportunity to test out whether we can turn Wimbledon into Wangledon (shamelessly stolen from @Oaky-FM on FM Slack). 

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As you can see, it doesn’t really scream tight at the back. Direct forward with our bombing wing backs in the Complete Wing Back roles, and three up top, our plan is to move fast, suffocate the opposition in their defensive third, and cause chaos. I am also using the opportunity to play a Libero in the centre of a back three, so when we attack, we should be playing a 2-1-7, with our Mezzala and Segundo Volante joining the front three late, and the Libero sitting in front of the back two to stop any quick breaks. Seems reasonable in theory, but we will need the players to make it work in practice. Speaking of players…..

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Overall, according to our Assistant Manager, we have a pretty solid squad on paper, though our best player, forward Zach Robinson, according to him is out on loan, which bemused me. But more about him later. I am a recent convert to disabling the first transfer window, so this team is what I have to work with until 1 January 2024. Now for those who have followed me on FMSlack (look for #fmlestri), one of the tools in my armoury/arsenal is a calculator I use to rate a player’s role suitability by their attributes. There are many on the web now that are much cleaner and better usability, so just do a google for it. I plugged in the inputs and identified the positions I want my players to train and play in.

A few players of note are our captain Alex Pearce, who is vastly experienced and a strong leader, his pace could be a worry though, so it may be a short stint with me. Ali Al-Hamadi will be our main threat up front as he is both quick and tall, something that comes in handy with the way I play. While injured with a long term injury, Jack Currie will be our mauranding left wing back when he comes back in, does need a bit of work in the gym though, but I am very excited to see how he goes.

Pre-season

I usually take a two game a week approach to pre-season, and although I saw some very different and intriguing approaches, especially the one from @danielgear in his Sporting Lisbon save (link bolded), I stuck to my tried and testing, of two games a week, and building match fitness and tactical familiarity throughout this time. So how did we go?

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The good news is that we went unbeaten, winning six games and drawing two. But unfortunately we lost a couple of players to injuries that when we were about to play our opening game of the season, we got this lovely message

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Fortunately we were able to recall Zach Robinson from loan who has the potential to play Championship level football so I hope he can be our star striker I also took the opportunity to have a look at the state of my staff, which to be fair wasn’t too bad. I brought in two first team coaches, in former Crewe manager and Gibraltarian  international David Artell and former English international and short time Hull manager Nick Barmby. Thanks to these, I have the highest coaching levels for all the training except for goalkeeping distribution, which I’m sure I’ll remedy very soon. I also had this ex-Football Manager wonderkid pop up as an option, who became my Under 21 manager. 

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How often can you say you have an ex-Premier League, FA Cup, Europa League winner in your League Two staff aye?

Opening games

Now just a reminder, the media has predicted us to be 19th, while our board has a required goal of reaching the playoffs. So needless to say, our board is expecting something magical that the media can't see. Click on the photos for full match statistics.

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Our first game of the season saw us head to Grimsby, which my dad said had “the best fish and chips I’ve ever had in England”. Good intel which was taken as we left Blundell Park with a 3-2 win with Josh Davison having goal involvements for all three of our goals (1 goal and 2 assists). While we just lost the xG battle, we won on Wangball metrics of Progressive Passes, High Intensity Sprints and Opposition Passes per Defensive Action (OPPDA). Three days later we hosted Championship team QPR, where we fell behind early. But we swarmed all over QPR, dominating the possession, which in turn gave us more shots on goal, and more importantly more shots on target. We left it late, but two late goals by Robinson and James Tilley made a 3-1 win. Wangball is up and running! We followed up the glamour of Championship standard opposition with entertaining Hollywood owned Wrexham at home. This game pretty much nailed what Wangball is all about, loads of shots, tonnes of Progressive Passes, aka how vertical we pass the ball, and a bundle of goals, with AFC Wimbledon taking the three points with a 4-2 win. Player of the match was our retrained Right Wing Back Morgan Williams with the three assists. 

SUMMARY

So it's early days but I am excited at where we are going, the players have bought into the system, and although we are leaky, we are scoring more than we are conceding, which can only mean wins. 

I wanted this to be a little shorter from actual games as I wanted to provide some information about how I set up for the season ahead. The next update will cover the rest of 2023 and take a stock at our expiring contracts and any recruitment focus.

Until next time - Remember You’re A Womble.

Edited by Lestri
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  • 1 month later...

POST #3 - AUGUST TO DECEMBER 2023 - RESULTS, SIGNING & MURDER ON SUTTON'S FLOOR

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I must admit, this update took a lot longer than I expected, however sometimes life gets in the way, and since the last update I have changed jobs, started some renovations at my house, and now within six months until my wedding day, so I haven’t had much time to come up for air. I left you all with the foundations of my save, being a youth-centric save where we take AFC Wimbledon back to the top level playing a high octane tactic dubbed ‘Wangledon”, which is a 3-4-3 of sorts that when in possession is a 2-1-7. We also finished our pre-season and won our first three games, though with a number of injuries. This update will take us to the end of 2023 and will have a look at how we are going and what signings we have made.

REST OF AUGUST - click on the image to see the match stats, FYI - left to right for chronological order on desktop view

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We started off knowing that our last game against Wrexham broke our attendance record, which I’m putting down to rumours that Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney were in attendance, more than anything football related. Our next game was away to Colchester, where we were passed off the pitch, however we scored a lovely headed goal by Omar Bugiel to give us the win. We followed that up with a 2-1 win away to our rivals Sutton, where we had half the shots at goal, and were doubled in the xG battle by Sutton, but goals from Zach Robinson and Omar Bugiel did enough to get over the line. We had a week off, and the rest was exactly what we needed, dispatching Forest Green 5-0, with five different goalscorers, and all the starting XI averaging more than 7.3. Nicely done indeed. We finished August with an absolute bonker match against Crawley Town where we came from 2-0 down, to 3-2 ahead, to 4-3 down with 8 minutes to go, only for Zach Robinson to equalise in injury time. Drama over? No chance, with our goalkeeper scoring on the 11th penalty kick to take a 10-9 win on penalties

We finished off August with Morgan Williams taking the Young Player of the Month with five assists in four games. We also picked up Manager of the Month, which is always good for the reputation boost.

SEPTEMBER

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We started September dropping our first points of the season, where our 24 shots on goal and a late penalty by Harry Pell was only good enough for a 2-2 draw against Newport County. A heavily rotated side dispatched Colchester 4-2 three days later in our first Pizza Cup, aka the EFL Trophy game, aka the Papa John’s Trophy where Aron Sasu became our youngest goalscorer with a brace. We then had put five past Stockport, with James Tilley scoring a hattrick and the first perfect ten rating of the season.

I had the first transfer window closed, so with September, comes the free transfer window coming open. We were lacking some quality in the Libero and Mezzala roles, so using an attribute calculator, I identified a range of players that fit the criteria, and after a trial where I was able to get both a coach rating on them, I picked up three signings throughout September.

Signing #1 

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We picked up Jack Simpson on a free who was last at Cardiff. A good signing right? Well after signing him, I googled him and realised he was left by mutual consent because amongst other things, he racially slurred a teammate in preseason, leading to a FA charge, a ban and a fine after he left. So although he looks handy, I will get rid of them at the end of the season because I don’t want that at my club. Lesson? Do your research offline as well.

Signing #2

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We picked up the younger of the Longstaff brothers for free after he was released from Newcastle to play in the Mezzala role. Although he will need some TLC as he recently recovered from an ACL, so if I get him firing, I expect he will play a major role in our push up to the Premier League.

Signing #3

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Our third signing was Jamie Bowden who was released from Tottenham. He looks pretty capable to play in the Segundo Volante role, but he may be handy in the Libero role if I can get those heading numbers up.

Our first two games with the new players didn’t disrupt our form with a late winner against Crewe being followed by Longstaff scoring a hattrick in his first start at the club in a 4-2 win against Walsall. We went into our third round League Cup game against Championship’s Leicester in good form and were 2-0 up after 40 minutes with Jake Reeves having a blinder. However we conceded a goal late in each half, leading us to penalties. Again. Thankfully this was done in regulation, winning 4-2 on penalties with Reeves scoring a cheeky paneka to take us into the fourth round against Liverpool. We finished off September unbeaten where we struggled, probably because we were still in party mode, and got lucky against Tranmere, with a hattrick from Josh Davison dragging the team to a 3-2 win.

OCTOBER

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Seven games, seven wins. Can’t get better than that. We had Josh Neufville to thank for a 1-0 win against Harrogate, and followed it up with a 3-2 win against Mansfield where we made it closer than it deserved. We continued our good form in the pizza cup aka the EFL Trophy with a 4-3 win against Northampton with Ali-Hamadi getting the second perfect ten rating. Jack Simpson scored his first for the club with a long range deflected strike as we cruised to a 3-0 win at home against Bradford City, getting us a rare clean sheet. Josh Davison led the comeback with a brace in a 2-1 win away to Barrow, before two consecutive 3-0 wins against Accrington Stanley and Morecambe rounded off the month, with Huseyin Biler scoring his first of the season after coming back from a long term injury. 

NOVEMBER

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Our first game of November was also our first loss of the season, where unsurprisingly we were outclassed by Liverpool, losing 3-1 at Anfield, which was very flattering for us. A fourth round run in the League Cup is nothing to frown about though, and what better way to make up for it than the first round of the FA Cup, where we went to Doncaster and battered them 4-1 with a heavily rotated team. Unfortunately for them, they then had to then travel to our home ground against our first team who decided to make up for the loss to Liverpool by putting six past Doncaster in the first half, with five different scorers. We were then back to the pizza cup where a rotated side beat Ange’s Spurs Under 21s 4-2 at home in a proper tale of two halves, where we were 2-0 at half time, and a right old bollocking galvanised the team to score four in the second half. 

We then went to Milton Keynes to play our arch rivals MK Dons, and you could tell our players were nervous with a scoreless first half where there wasn’t much on offer from our side and were lucky MK Dons couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net. An encouraging half time team talk allowed our players to relax and start to play the football that’s been working all season, and three goals in the second half led us to a 3-1 win, causing chaos for MK Dons who were seeing themselves stuck in the mid table as we took a bigger lead at the top. We finished November with two 5-1 wins against Notts County and Gillingham, where we saw two hat tricks for Robinson and Neufville, who produced our third perfect ten of the season. This game also produced the Goal of the Month, with Matty Longstaff scoring a belter in injury time.

DECEMBER

We started December with another free signing! 

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We picked up Matt Lowton on a free after he had been released from Burnley. With Biler coming back from his injury well, it allowed me to push Isaac Ogundere out on loan for more regular football, so getting in an experienced head at the Right Wingback role was deemed beneficial. He comes in on a seven month contract so it is low risk.

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Our first game of December was away to Conference South team St. Albans with an absolute bonkers game where we were 7-0 up, turned off the engine and ended up winning 7-3, with Jake Reeves having our fourth perfect 10 of the season. A heavily rotated team three days later stumbled to a 3-2 win against Forest Green, where we conceded a goal in both half’s injury time, and we were gifted with arguably the most bizarre goal I’ve seen.

A 5-0 demolition at home against Swindon helped take our winning streak in the league to 15 games, with Omar Bugiel scoring a hattrick and providing us with our fifth perfect ten of the season. Our winning streak ended with two back-to-back draws against Salford and second placed Grimsby. Both were disappointing, considering Salford played with 10 men for 30 minutes and Grimsby scored with their only shot on target. But regular programming came back into fruition, with a 3-1 win away to Crawley, a 4-0 home win to rivals Sutton and closing out 2023 with a 5-1 win at home to Colchester, with Matt Lowton scoring a brace. Unfortunately this game left us with Neufville with a broken ankle, out for nearly the rest of the season, and Joe Lewis with a twisted ankle, out for January. We also lose Omar Bugiel to the Asian Cup, so we have lost a bit of our depth for January. Huseyin Biler claimed the Player of the Month   with one goal and four assists in the five games played over the month.

HOW WE ARE GOING

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Very nicely. Nearly averaging four goals at home, and 22 points ahead of second place.

I'll follow up this update with an analytical take on these four months, and how we plan to approach our signings. Until next time, and as always, remember you’re a Womble. 

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It sucks when life gets in the way of FM. I’m feeling that way right now. Squeezing the most out of my day off and the 1 hour a day I have to spare! 
 

Started brilliant, unbeaten at this stage already you look like a serious promotion contender. 

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On 26/01/2024 at 14:06, SixPointer said:

It sucks when life gets in the way of FM. I’m feeling that way right now. Squeezing the most out of my day off and the 1 hour a day I have to spare! 
 

Started brilliant, unbeaten at this stage already you look like a serious promotion contender. 

Indeed it does!

I think we'll eventually have a correction, but I'm hoping it's in the shape of draws with a few losses rather than the dreaded red circles!

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POST #4 - MID-SEASON ANALYSIS AND TALKING ALL THINGS CONTRACTS

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With 2023 coming to an end in our first season at beautiful Plough Lane, which you can see above, I always find it is a good time to take stock of how my players are going, for a few reasons.

  1. It is often around half way in the season, so it is a natural point to do a check in, to see if our players are performing, underperforming and checking them compared to their wage and squad status.
  2. Time to have a look at my own players whose contracts expire at the end of the season, and making a decision on them
  3. We are close to players becoming available to be signed on a pre-contract when the summer comes about, so this is a great time to check out any potential signings by comparing their attributes and statistical output so far.

So let's get to it!

How my players are going

I go to the legend himself @FMStag's Player Performance Calculator and "What Does Good Like" for my analysis, as it's better than anything I have come up with on a statistical level. While the Player Performance Calculator is for FM23, it still holds well. For this I look at how our players compare to other players in League Two who have played at least 1,000 minutes, which is 11x90mins with some change to spare.

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Overall I am pretty happy with this, we have three players who are in the top five of Creative Output, the best Striking Threat in League Two with Josh Davison, and most of our core 15 players or so in the top 25% of their metric. Ali-Ahamdi usually starts with Robinson and Bugiel in the first team, but with Davison being the leading Striking Threat, I will see how it goes playing him in the first team. 

In the "What Does Good LIke", Stag benchmarked specific statistics based on specific roles after simulating the top five leagues and going through the data. Now of course we are in League Two, so I am not expecting super high levels across the board, but it does help me see how my players are going against benchmarks. After all, to see improvements, you need to baseline.

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Overall we are performing exceptionally well, with a number of our players in the top performing outputs for League Two. I am not surprised to see us in a position where we are first in the league, and should be based on our xG. However it was intriguing to see that we have scored ten goals more than expected, conceded 13 less and are 22 points ahead of where we should be. Is this due to individual player overperforming, or a bit of an ‘overpowered’ formation causing our metrics to be warped a bit. Either way, we’re in the position where we should be, and I can’t be too upset with that.

Contract Renewals and Recruitment Priorities

In the short term, we lose Charlie Lakin whose loan finishes 1 January 2024. His parent team aren’t keen to extend the loan, however his contract is up at the end of the season, so we may be able to get him on a pre-contract. He is currently fourth in Creative Output in League Two playing at the Left Wing Back position, however he is naturally a centre midfielder, so his flexibility and Decent Championship Player potential means it is a no brainer to try to get him permanently. 

We have 11 players out of contract at the end of the season. Using the above statistics, I have categorised them into three groups:

  1. Offer or trigger extension clause
    • Paul Kalambayi - has come back from a significant injury so hasn't played a lot of minutes comparatively to others, but loves a tackle. Pulled the extension clause here.
    • Jack Currie - my starting left back who is ranked #1 for Creative Output in League Two. No brainer.
    • Huseyin Biler - similar to Kalambayi in that he has come back from a significant injury and has started like a house on fire with nine assists in 16 games so far.
    • Ethan Sutcliffe - high potential centre back so it'll be good to keep him around.
    • Omar Bugiel - fourth in Striking Threat in League Two. Highest shot conversation of the strikers. 15 goals in 22 matches. Probably a year until we either outgrow or he starts declining, so worth an extension.
    • Alex Pearce - club captain, past his peak but solid to have around to mentor. Extension clause triggered.
  2. Hold until end of the season
    • Matt Lowton - only picked him up recently so I'll run him down until the end of the season.   
    • Nik Tzanev - back up goalkeeper who hasn't played a minute so far. He is at best League Two quality and doesn't enjoy big matches, so I'll hold for now pending some end of season recruitment.
    • Ryan McLean - similar to Tzanev, hasn't played a minute and doesn't really fit in the squad. Most likely will release.
  3. Set for release
    • Lee Brown - handy utility player who can play Left Wing Back and Centreback, however he doesn't justify his 2.4k/week wage and is on the way down, so he is gone.
    • Armani Little - bit unlucky as he is a good team player and plays in the CDM/CM areas, but much better players infront of him and he won't be better than League Two, so he goes.

I also have three loanees that will leave us at the end of the season, who have contracts at their parent clubs that expire in June 2025, so I will reassess them at the end of the season if I want to keep them. We also receive Will Nightingale back from his loan at Ross County where he has played a grand total of one game so far this season. He is on way too much money for his quality, so I will be looking to ship him out quickly. 

As we are focussing on a youth-centric save, I won’t be shopping in the January window, and I don’t have the funds to go on a pre-contract splurge, so it’ll be a case of taking advantage of the generous approvals of our Youth Facilities and Youth Recruitment, however I do note to make sure you can actually afford it, as I learnt this the hard way with half of my bank balance being spent on it. 

How we set up 

I wanted to end this little update with showing you all how the Wangledon tactic looks like in practice. Below is how it looks on the tactic screen.

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Here you can see roughly the 3-4-3 shape that this tactic essentially sets us up in. In this situation, Alex Pearce in the right sided centre back role picks up the ball as we recover possession, with Libero Jack Simpson pushing up just to his left. We also see Matty Longstaff in the Mezzala role starting to move forward in the left sided centre midfield role, which is exactly what you want from a role that has the Get Further Forward instruction.

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Pearce distributed the ball to our Segundo Volante Jake Reeves, who played the ball past their midfield line to James Tilley in the Deep Lying Forward role who dropped deep. As he pushes up, you see he has five options ahead of him, the two wingbacks, the two forwards and Longstaff who has pushed up into the gap Tilley has left. Reeves and Simpson are also pushing up as well to join the attack, leaving our two centre backs as the last line of defence in a high line.

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This encapsulates the 2-1-7 I aim to get when we are attacking in possession, with Tilley picking out Robinson who splits between two of their defenders who then slots it on. Simpson slots in front of the two centre backs in the Libero role to aim to get back possession quickly and protect us from the counter attack if we end up losing possession. Yes it is ultra attacking and yes it leaves me very exposed (the amount of 4v2s I have seen when we have been caught on the break is quite high), but this is the plan and it's working so far!

I'll leave you with the fixtures for 2024 with a spoiler or two.

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Until next time and as always, remember you’re a Womble.

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7 minutes ago, SixPointer said:

Nice money spinning replay at Stamford Bridge. ;)

Very interesting tactical shape, a lot of moving parts which I’m sure brings some vibrant attacking moves. 

The overall plan is if that if I have no idea what my players are doing, then how will the opposition?

Stamford Bridge will definitely help out the coffers!

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POST #6 - JANUARY TO THE YOUTH INTAKE

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Bit of a spoiler above - as the end of March saw us be crowned League Two champions with six games in hand! Looks like the keeper Bass is giving the coach a kiss, or is it a flick of his chin? This update will see us head to Stamford Bridge, concede over a goal a game, and see us take on League One teams in the Pizza Cup. Let's get to it shall we?

January

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We had a lovely New Years Day with a 1-0 win against Forest Green where we had Al-Hamadi to thank with a late second half goal, in a game where we had 10 shots on target to two, and won the xG battle 3.32 to 0.51. We then had our FA Cup Third Round tie at the mighty Plough Lane against Premier League powerhouse Chelsea where three penalties were given that if VAR were in play, may have been overturned. Unfortunately for us, one of them was for Chelsea in the 86th minute. Two great goals for us by James Tilley from the spot, and Zach Robinson gave us a plucky 2-2 draw, with a replay at Stamford Bridge which would be very handy for the coffers. We then had a consecutive clean sheet in the league with a 2-0 win against Wycombe with James Tilley continuing his good form and Matt Lowton scoring from the Libero role. Unfortunately we lost our starting Segundo Volante Jake Reeves to a severe injury that will put him out for the rest of the season. A heavily rotated side beat Hollywood's Wrexham 2-1 with backups James Ball and Ryan McLean doing us proud, allowing our first team a good rest before our biggest game of the season. Would be a bad time to accept your physio's recommendation for rest right? Be a fine time to have your best striker go on holiday aye? F**KWe gave it a red hot go, with Huseyin Biler, Ali Al-Hamadi and Josh Davison getting us 3-2 up just after the hour, however Chelsea's bench quality overran us, going down 4-3. I can't be too upset with that. We finished the month unbeaten with a 3-1 win against local Crawley1-1 against Mansfield thanks to a late penalty by Lee Brown, and a 5-2 win in the Pizza Cup against Salford with second string strikers Aron Sasu and Ryan McLean getting on the scoresheet.

January was also busy off the pitch, with two major deals done. One of them was gaining Chelsea as a senior affiliate, which will enable us to take advantage of their very strong youth prospects with little to no charge. Very handy for our rise up the leagues. We also made a free transfer signing.

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Dejan Tetek comes from Reading and looks like a handy pick up, with Championship level potential. He'll has a strong work rate, fairly consistent and a committed player, something I love in a centre midfielder. He'll be our starting Segundo Volante and I have high hopes.

February 

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Dejan Tetek decided to show his stuff against poor Bradford, scoring a hattrick and producing two assists in a perfect ten rating, however he did not get Player of the Match, with Josh Davison's brace and assist getting that in an 8-2 thrashing. Sure 8-2 be a Bradford player that day, soz. We followed that up with a 4-1 win against Barrow were we went down early, but recovered with Tetek scoring his fourth goal for the club, Davison having another brace, and left wing back Jack Currie getting in on the act. We had plenty of chances against Accrington Stanley, however a missed penalty by James Tilley cost us when Stanley scored an injury time equaliser in a 3-3 draw. We finished up the month with three wins on the trot, beating Morecambe 4-2, with Tetek, Robinson and Longstaff doing their magic. Robinson made it scoring two games in a row with a 3-0 win against Gillingham with Al-Hamadi coming in with a brace, and RobinsonDavison and Simpson scoring in a 3-1 win against Doncaster.

February saw us meet our season objective of reaching the Playoffs early, and our youth facilities now becoming adequateFinishing things early and being barely adequate - things we don't want to see often in real life, but a nice thing on FM. We also were designated overachievers of the EFL Cup, and Tetek and Robinson were crowned the best and second best player and young player of the monthWe also had our fifth Manager of the Month award of the year. We also signed a new player from the free transfer market.

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Ex-England International Danny Rose joins after a long stint on our trial list after our back up left back started to decline very substantially. Rose will rotate with our starting left wing back Currie and I'll be surprised if I keep him after the end of the season, mainly based on his age.

MARCH

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March has been eventful, and that's an understatement! On the pitch, we started off confirming our promotion with a dominating 3-1 win against our big rivals MK Dons, with Matt Lowton starting us off nicely in the opening minute, and strikers Omar Bugiel and Zach Robinson finishing things off. With the semi final of the Pizza Cup coming up three days later, I decided to rotate my squad and we met with a very annoyed Notts County who took advantage of our off day, beating us 2-1, to give us our first defeat in the league, only 38 games in. Can't be too upset with that! Our refreshed first team with a ten day break went up against League One side Cheltenham for a place in the Pizza Cup final, where we fell behind early, but got going with some quality finishing by Zach Robinson and a Omar Bugiel brace doing enough to get us over the line with a 3-2 win. Into our first cup final where we will be up against Charlton, a long time rival for my Crystal Palace and a fellow South London team, how poetic. Our last two games of this save were ones for the neutrals, with a 6-3 thrashing to welsh side Newport, and a 5-3 win against Crewe confirming us a League Two Champions!

Off the field however, we were met with this

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Whoops. Thankfully I had already 'Set for Release' two players and after persuading another, who was earning over 2,000 a week and was at best a squad player, I was able to rectify this pretty quickly

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Goodbye Pell, Little and Brown on a very eventful morning. Also you would enjoy Al-Hamadi being annoyed about his game time, when he was injured for a good chunk of this period. Gotta love FM! Only one way to celebrate, by signing another player off the free transfer market!

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I signed this old FM favourite of mine Alex Smithies as my starting keeper Alex Bass for next season was on loan to us, and his parent club were not interested at all at rolling that over to another season, and my current back up was naff. So the intention is for Smithies to hold that role for a couple years, with his determination being handy for any mentoring of future youth keepers. 

With the title wrapped up, we were notified of our budgets for next year, with our wage budget increased by 50% to 75Kp/w and our transfer budget at 784k, which is the first time we've really had some money to play with, which will make the off-season very interesting! We also were able to get the board to improve our Below Average Training Facilities and increase our Youth Level up to Level 2 before our first game of League One next season. Things that go to our long term objectives for this save to be a youth-centric save where we take advantage of our youth squad. 

Youth Intake 

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Golden Generation? Probably overreach there, but I do like the look of four or five of the intake on face value. Alex Jones is the pick of the bunch with his 16 determination, pretty solid techincals and leadership qualities. Sait Dağaltın arguably has the highest ceiling, but his low self belief means he'll need a lot of TLC and mentoring if he gets to the first team level. I took the opportunity to sign 13 of the intake, who have PAs from 2.5-4.5 as this, after the release of all players below 2* in the Under 18s, will give us 16 players - 1 keeper, four centre backs, three wing backs, three centre midfielders and five centre forwards, which fits nicely with our 3-2-2-3 formation. Using the Ajax Way of youth development that was exceptionally written by SteinkelssonFM over at View From The Touchlinebut with a Wangledon twist. 

While the Youth Intake was overall solid, I couldn't help see that my current Head of Youth Development hadn't wowed me with the players he identified, so I went on a search for a new one. I feel I have found a good one as a replacement, with an upgrade in HoYD attributes and personality.

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I'll leave you all with the overview of the table and player stats with six games to go.

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Until next time, and as always, remember you’re a Womble.

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