Before I dive in to the main theme of my thread, I'd like to speak a little about myself and Football Manager. I am probably one of the older players who still play the game (hopefully not the oldest) I have been playing since the Championship Manager days, have taken many breaks through the years, but have always found my way back to it. I have always done pretty well, I'm no great player, there have been times where I have done well, and not really been sure why, or cared that much, because winning is fun right? With each new game that comes out, it feels a little bit tougher, sure we have a huge advantage over the AI, but they seem to be adapting better all the time. Along comes FM 18, and I'm not going to lie, I have struggled a bit. I pretty much always start with my team, Walsall, sounds boring, but the connection with my team is something that keeps me interested.
I started a save with Walsall as I usually do, and did really well, back to back promotions, built a team capable of competing at the top of the Premier League, but it felt flat, I had no real plan with what I was trying to do, kept changing tactics, making random changes in the hope that something works (sounds like a few managers we've had at Walsall) and I honestly just got bored. I didn't really have motivation to play any more, I wasn't enjoying it at all, and if it is no fun, then I can't justify wasting so much time on it.
I still kept popping on here, to read what others were up to, and the thing that come across most from the main posters on the site, was having a plan of what you wanted to do. I read it half a dozen times, from some of the best people on the site. It got me thinking, but I still lacked any real inspiration. Then one Saturday night, after another depressing performance by Walsall, was sat in the pub with a mate, talking about Walsall past, trying to dig out some good memories to numb the pain of our current plight. Found ourselves talking about the class of 99. This wont mean anything to anyone who doesn't follow Walsall. To us, right up there with one of the greatest seasons in our history. That was it, I knew what I was going to do. The thread is actually tactics based, and will focus on tactics once the initial posts are set out. The story may not be of much interest to a lot of you, but it will add to what I am trying to do if you give it a chance.
The Class of 99
So you probably opened up the thread to read about Liverpool, or Man United, afraid not, a little story, almost fairy tale about my own little club Walsall.
The summer of 1998. We had narrowly escaped relegation by one point. This doesn't tell the whole story, we had a few fantastic cup runs in that season. We had some very useful players, and when they wanted to play, they could play. Manager Jan Sorenson was pretty clueless tactically, and failed to motivate the team, unless it was a big game, when no motivation was needed. He was relieved of his duties at the end of the season, and some of the better players we had, also left the club. We were left with 8 senior players on the books and no manager, odds on favourites to go down with the bookies. It was also made clear, the playing budget would be drastically reduced, due to the money that had been spent the previous season, quite a mess, and a very worrying time. It was going to be a tough league too, there were some very good 3rd division sides. Preston, Gillingham, Wigan Stoke, Bournemouth, all had good teams, that's not to mention Manchester City were coming down to join us, and big spending Fulham were coming up to join us. Fulham were one of the first big bankrolled clubs, that were without doubt heading to the top flight at some point, they had spending power way beyond anyone else at our level.
Fast forward a little, and Ray Graydon was appointed as first team manager. He had never managed before, but very experienced coach. Didn't really fill anyone with much hope. Bit by bit he started to sign players and build a team, mostly players I'd never heard of, or with records that didn't really fill you with any confidence. Free transfers and cast offs, this is nothing unusual at Walsall, but somehow this seemed even more depressing than usual, especially after the previous season, where we actually had some quality in. We had an awful pre-season, losing to many non league clubs, and looking lost for ideas to be honest. Season began, we won the first game 1-0 away, with an own goal deciding the match, and then for the next month or so it was very unconvincing stuff. What we all thought was our best player hadn't been picked for any of the games, and was finally sold, this was going to be a bad season for sure.
Gradually though, without anyone really taking much notice, we started grinding some wins out , 1-0 was a common scoreline for us, especially away from home. Many managers bemoaned how fortunate we had been, catching them on the break after they had “battered us” It became more apparent that this wasn't happening by chance. We were sucking teams in, and hitting them hard on the break. This team that he had patched together was somehow climbing the table at some rate.
To cut a very long story short, we ended up finishing 2nd and getting promoted, finishing above Manchester City with 2 games to spare, but quite a way behind big spending Fulham. It was a miracle of sorts, in any given season, this would have been a massive achievement for us, but in this season, it was beyond anyone's dreams that we could actually get promoted. I was fortunate enough to talk to Ray Graydon about football, on several occasion's and he revealed a lot about how they achieved it, the philosophies he had about football, which I will talk about in a moment, and those philosophies are what I am going to base my save on.
Sir Ray's Philosophies
As I said above, I was fortunate enough to speak to Ray Graydon about football on several occasion's. When he spoke, you just wanted to listen more and more, he made it very clear to me, he is no tactical genius, he even indicated that no such thing existed. The first thing he wanted to do on arriving at Walsall was set up a simple game plan, that everyone understood. I think he kind of indicated that footballers aren't always the brightest people :-) He would never say such a thing, as he is a gentleman, but anyway, he wanted to have game plan that everyone knew there role, everyone had specific duties in the team, and were fully accountable for mistakes this way. He went on to say, he wanted every player to be doing a role doing something they were good at. In modern football, you see so often square pegs trying to be fit in to round holes, he didn't want this. He knew he couldn't sign top class players even at our level, what he wanted was to sign players with specific attributes to fill a certain role/duty within the team. Sounds simple right? Well that's what he wanted, simple.
It was always going to be 4-4-2, he made that clear, there wasn't really any 4231, 4123 etc etc kind formations then, 4-4-2. 4-5-1 the odd 5-3-2 were the basis of most teams set ups. He had several ideas of what he expected from the 4-4-2, a few things I can remember him talking about, and several things I can remember from memory of how he set up.
Two banks of 4 when defending
Every player bar one (Poacher type player) Expected to contribute to defensive phase
If one full back overlapped, the other side had to stay back
Usually a deep defensive line to draw teams out
Big Man (hard working) Small quick man combo upfront
One attack minded winger/wide man was key to a lot of counter attacks
Further to this, the real key to the success I believe was some key attributes that pretty much all of his players had. Even if they didn't before he arrived, they soon got it.
I can still picture some of the games from that season, with players literally throwing their lives on the line, to block a shot, or a cross. Busting a gut to get on the end of a ball, and so on. It was in some ways an extremely structured set up, but somehow he moulded this structured set up, with different cogs making a well oiled machine, that you could also have seen as a very fluid set up, without the creative freedom.
He also talked a lot about the discipline he installed in the dressing room. The respect he commanded from his players, not just from himself, but for the club. They all had to wear suits to travel to away games in. No mobile phones allowed in the dressing rooms, he even made several players have hair cuts and a shave ! He wouldn't tolerate players arguing with refs, he in fact substituted several who defied him, and a few players got pushed in to the cold for getting needlessly red carded. This is all very nice for me to talk about, probably could talk all day, but I want to get on to how I am going to implement some of this in to my game.
Before I outline my tactical plans, I want to set out some rules that will help me achieve the things I want to achieve. All part of having a plan, rather than aimlessly playing a long, chopping and changing all the time, without any consistency, leaving it hard to measure where you are at. Obviously these can be flexible over time, and open to change, if it is for a good reason. Mostly based on all I talked about above, with a little bit of my own input in certain areas, as I am planning on being Walsall manager for many years, so can think a little bit more long term, than Graydon could.
4-4-2. Non negotiable, it was what the success was based on, this simple formation, that seemed to almost disappear at one point, but notably has made a bit of a comeback over the past few years. Will be a proper flat 4-4-2 to begin with definitely, I reserve the right to use 4-4-2 with one or two defensive midfielders in the future, I actually thought about this from the start, but no I am going with 4-4-2. I also may use 4-4-1-1 in the future, keeping the 4-4-2 shape though. The main point is, to keep it simple, but giving it room to evolve is also important too I feel.
This is more of my own making than anything Graydon did. Looking long term here, I want to look sign young players I can improve, and sell on for a profit. Walsall are a selling club, always have been, it's pretty much how we have existed, by selling on players. Pretty much every club bar an elite few are selling clubs to be honest, if you look at the Coutinho saga, a club like Liverpool never had a chance of keeping him, once one of the big guns came in for him. I don't want to be rebuilding a full squad every year, but have to accept that if players do well for us, other teams will want them, and providing they will pay what I think they are worth, then all is good. I want players that want to play for the shirt, when they begin to have their heads turned, then their days are going to be numbered.
Add to this I want a mix of youth and experience, this is so I can tutor young players, and give them the desired personalities where possible. Looking for certain attributes in my signings, which I will discuss further shortly.
Setting a wage structure is difficult from the off, Walsall pay poor wages in real life, and this is reflected in FM, so for now it is more a case of doing the best I can with what I am given. Hopefully in time I will be able to dictate my own wage structure. Bear in mind, I don't want or possibly need is a better term, a team full of well rounded players, I want players with key attributes to do specific jobs. With success though, they will demand more money, just some thoughts for the future.
Closely connected to transfer policy, key attributes that I will be looking for when signing players. That doesn't mean I will turn down the chance of signing a good player, if he lacks some of these attributes, but I want the team to be made up largely with these attributes.
These are fundamental to what I want to try and do. It is what the whole thing was built on in my opinion. A team that will bust a gut for each other, no one player is worth any more than any other. A team that is never beaten until that final whistle has blown. A team that will work hard for each other from the first whistle until the last.
Speed (Pace and Acceleration)
Not all players will need all of these, but they are attributes for certain positions I will be looking for. Bravery, I don't want a team of players that bottle out of challenges, I want players that are going to go in full on when trying to win the ball back. Aggression isn't required for all positions, in fact some positions it could be harmful, I'm not sure I want all my defenders going crazy, but I want a certain amount of steel with in the side, Strength goes hand in hand with this. Speed, I want to catch teams on the break a lot, so speed is going to be needed, I like players that get around the pitch quickly.
Obviously, this leaves a little bit of a creativity void, I will need one or two players within the team in carefully selected roles, that may or may not compromise on a few of the above for a little more guile. It's going to be tough in the beginning, to an extent I am going to have to go with what I have got, but this is a plan to pursue over the coming seasons.
As described above, 4-4-2 is my formation of choice, that is just the outline though, how am I going to add my style to it?
I thought long and hard about Team Shape, I feel that the large amounts of creative freedom mean that Fluid or Very Fluid shapes are a no no. I feel it probably was something like a structured set up, but possibly flexible, allowing the roles to dictate. Still undecided, and may change at any given time between Structured and flexible.
I don't want to be pressing like crazy, sucking teams in and then hitting them on the break is high on the order, so possibly going to be counter, with normal D-Line, and pressing, with selected roles that will add extra pressing in some areas.
I want to stick to very simple set of roles and duties, no playmaker roles, no player is more important than any other remember, I don't want one player attracting the ball all the time, although it can have it's advantages at certain times. This is about me learning too, if I can see how these roles work , by sticking to simple set of roles, I can gradually begin to understand what I am doing, and how to change things as I go.
As for the actual roles and duties, I will set those out shortly, based loosely around how that team of 99 set up, with what I have got to start with.
Maybe not the most important part of Football Manger, but something I want to take a bit more of an interest in now. Being able to manager multiple personalities is important to get the best out of a team. Morale still plays a part in results on the pitch too. Graydon was very much the disciplinarian, as I mentioned earlier. No player is bigger than the team, I want to follow this the best I can, without going crazy and losing key players, and upsetting everyone, which does happen.
Players that get sent off needlessly will be fined, not warned. Players that complain about contracts and moves to other clubs constantly, will be sold at my earliest convenience. Training will be tough as I can make it, without inducing needless injuries. Graydon had the players in doing fitness work on afternoons, whilst other teams players just trained in a morning. I can't push it too hard or I will just upset everyone and have a bunch of injuries. But training will be based around a mix of Fitness and Tactics.
That's enough ramblings, on with the plan.
First Day In The Office
So I have had a meeting with Jeff Bonser, and he has assured me, I will be like any other manager at Walsall, and have very little in the way of playing budget. Any money I make on player sales, he will be taking a 50% cut of it. Met my staff, didn't take long, there aren't many of them, but the ones left are on at least 2 year deals, and I can't afford to offload them. Team meeting done, I tell them I think we can avoid the drop, which was the objective set by Mr Bonser. They all seemed okay with this,not over excited, but no real arguments either. I met the media, they seem sceptical of me, and the questions were somewhat boring, when I have other matters to tend to. I probably need to make some friends in the media, but I don't want to be the kind that just rolls over to them either.
First job, I got in some staff in areas that I had spaces, mainly medical staff, had room for a couple of fitness coaches, I got the best I could, they aren't great, but they are not awful either. Then I set my staff responsibilities, it made me wonder a little what I employ them for, as I am set to do most of the work. That's fine, ultimately, the buck stops with me, if I fail, I get the sack. I set up pre- season training, largely based on Cleon's guide, I'm okay with copying him, he knows what he is doing, I'm not going to argue. I also set up a bunch of friendlies, mostly against really poor teams, with the odd one against similar teams to us, so I could have a little gauge at how we really are doing. Mostly it is about fitness and team bonding, and making the tactic as fluid as possible. I will be watching the games closely, even though you can't take too much out of friendlies you can see how the movement of your team is working, and that is what I am going to be looking at.
Analysing the squad
Okay, as you may or may not know, our manager in real life has recently had the sack, he has left quite a mess behind. The team is very different with the winter transer update, we had a couple of decent strikers on half season loans, that killed it for me in my last save. They are gone now, I also had a decent winger on loan, that is now also not in the squad. That's the downside of things. There are a few positives. Firstly despite being left with a bit of a mess of a squad, it is largely built up of strong , aggressive players, decent amount of work rate among them, lacking a little in creativity, but that's okay, there are a couple of options in that area, one of whom is probably our best player.
Added to that, there are a few new loans in the squad, one was a center back, that I have immediately sent back, he's played okay for us actually, but on FM his attributes are awful, and I had the option to terminate the loan, so that is what I have done, I can't justify paying him, as I see no place in the squad.
We have a tidy center back on loan from Arsenal, that actually hasn't played a game for us, but he looks very useful, and I know he did really well at Birmingham in the Championship last season ,so I am expecting him to be a key player. We also have a speed demon striker/wide forward from Stoke on loan, I am looking to utilise him as one of our key players, even though he is lacking in some attributes, I feel his speed will compensate a lot for that.
I could spend hours, adding screen shots of all of my players, and descriptions, but I feel it isn't really needed, we have a pretty poor squad, possibly one of the worst I have ever started a Walsall save on any version of FM with. I will add a few screenshots of a few key players, and talk about what I am hoping for from them.
I have high hopes for this lad, looks real quality for League 1, could possibly play in the Championship with those attributes. Ticks a lot of key attributes from the club DNA.
Pretty awful defensive stats for a full back, would like to possibly use him in the left midfield slot at some point, but for now he is probably going to be an attacking full back, and just hope we can cover for him.
He will be my Defensive Forward / Target Man. I actually sold him sharpish in my last save, but he has pretty ideal stats for what I am looking for. Great Work Rate and Team Work, Strong , Aggressive. Would have liked a better first touch, but can't have everything.
My Poacher. He doesn't actually have the stats I want in a poacher, his off the ball stats could do with being much better, Composure and Finishing aren't great either, but we are in League 1, I am hoping his speed is going to compensate for a lot. I am expecting him to miss quite a few chances, but hopefully he will be able to do a good job for us. I don't have anyone else, my next Poacher is a 17 year old prospect, which I will probably have to use.
The meat and gravy, and the main focus of the thread from now on. In the words of Mike Bassett “ We are playing 4 4 flipping 2, or words to that effect :-)
Before I begin a few words. The tactics will be loosely based on a team that gave me a lot of pleasure to watch. A team that over achieved by some distance, based on a simple plan, hard work and determination. I will be making mistakes tactically, I am no genius at this game, I am trying to learn to be better, whilst hoping to get a lot of fun out of it too. I am open to questions, advice, criticism, whatever you want to say, feel free.
Graydon's Set Up
As discussed earlier, I feel it was a structured set up, but there could be arguments for a more fluid set up. There was little in the way of creative freedom in this side, they all had their jobs, and wasn't expected to deviate from it too far. Having said that, all players barring maybe one, were expected to help in the defensive phase. This is something I am probably going to struggle with in terms of FM. I am going to settle on Structured for now, and assess at a later date, I don't want to make to much of a chore out of this.
Below is my interpretation of his set up in terms of roles and duties, from memory, and a few looks at the odd video that is still knocking about.
Starting from the back, Sweeper Keeper, I think he could be classed as that. He was very small for a keeper actually, but still managed to pull off saves that defied logic and science that season. He swept up nicely through balls, and his distribution was excellent. Mostly long kicks.
The Center back pairing was a solid one. One player that definitely was a Defensive Center back, his main job was just clearing the ball, he would head anything away, kick anything away, never looked to play any passes as such. On the left side was a bit more of a cultured defender, still willing to block anything, but I have marked him as a Ball Playing defender, more in the sense of how one works on FM than the real life description. I wouldn't say he brought the ball out of defence, but he often launched long diagonal balls to either our right midfielder, or to the target man, or over the top.
The two full backs was difficult to decide, because as I mentioned earlier, one would often wander forwards, and the other side would always stay back. This is impossible to replicate in FM as far as I am aware. Both of them both launched balls forwards from the back at times too. Based on what I remember, our right back played more long balls forwards, either down the wing to our right midfielder, or for the target man, where as the left side would be found putting in crosses more often, so that's how I decided on the roles here.
In center midfield, this was pretty clear cut. We had a ball winning midfielder, and a box to box midfielder. It is possible the the box to box midfielder was at times asked not to enter the attacking phase, but mostly he was an end to end all action type player that linked things up nicely and had a bit of creativity about him.
The wide men, our right midfielder was a key part of this team, from memory he scored something like 15 goals and 17 assists. He was a key outlet to the team, I think he was close on being classed as a winger, but I don't recall him running wide with the ball often, would more often start wide and come inside, although he was right footed. The left side, we had several different types of player play here over the season, but none of them were as attack minded as the right side. Both of them were expected to track back in the defensive phase for sure though.
In attack, I think we definitely had a target man, he won headers, held the ball, and was generally a big battering ram, that would put his head anywhere. Didn't have much in terms of vision, or creativity. Next to him would always be a more nippy striker, who would be the only player excused from the defensive phase.
The main plan was to sit deep, suck teams in, and catch them on the break. Our tactics when not on the counter, were generally direct balls, either up to the target man, or over the top,usually down the right hand side, with the midfield pushing up to pick up the second balls. It really was that simple.
Below are just a couple of videos of that season that are still knocking around. V Oldham when we clinched promotion and then v Title Winners, Kevin Keegan's big spending Fulham after we had already got promoted. They can be a little misleading as we signed a striker on loan for the last few months of the season, that was a little different to the poacher type that played next to our Target Man most the season, but what it does show is how direct we were at times and how deep we defended. The Oldham game, there was little in the way of counter attacks, they were fighting against relegation and came for a draw basically, but the first goal v Fulham shows a little insight to how quickly we broke, although it was through the middle, we often would break down the right hand side.
Translating in to FM
Okay, so now it is time to try and implement some of this in to FM. I have been left in a bit of a mess here by Jon Whitney, but I am confident over time I can build the team I want. For now I may have to adjust certain aspects, with the long term plan still very much in mind. I have to try and mould what I have in to a functioning football team.
So as discussed, a structured , Counter set up. The only team instruction I have added for now, is Higher Tempo. I don't want any dilly dallying with the ball, even when not on a counter attack. I'm interested in possession. I want to get the ball forwards quickly, and despite the fact we are playing a counter mentality, we should always pretty much have the two strikers up field to battle for these balls. I considered more direct passing, but I believe counter mentality gives the defenders slightly more direct passing, and the defensive center back with more direct passing by default. I'm not trying to be 1980s Wimbledon, just a quick transition. I also considered a lower defensive line, but lets see how leaving it as it is works out for now.
Starting from the back as always.
No distribution instructions yet, considering making him play it long to me strong striker, but am happy to watch how it goes for now. I have to reasonable keepers actually, the younger one having 16 for passing, which seems random, but could be interesting to try a few things with him. He is my second choice though for now.
Center Back (D)
I don't have a player I feel is good enough to play the ball playing defender just yet, I considered two defensive center backs, but my main defender has plays short simple passes player trait, so I will let him do just that for now and see how it goes.
Defensive Center Back (D)
Pretty simple, defend and clear the ball up the pitch, for the strikers to tussle for, run on to , etc etc.
Full Back (A) (Left Side)
I had to make a decision what I was going to do with the full backs, I can't get one to attack and one to cover in rotation, so I had to decide what to do. The best left back at the club has pretty poor defensive attributes, and decent attacking ones, so there is little point making him a defensive full back. May as well play him to his strengths, which is one of the main parts of Graydon's philosophy. It is more than possible I will use this player in the left midfield slot in the future. He looks far more suited for that kind of role. I did sign another left back, that has decent attributes in defence and attack, so it is possible they may both play together at some point. Player Instructions – Stay Wider
Full Back (S) (Right Side)
Considered a Defensive Full Back, but was a little concerned about the gap between him and the wide midfielder. Player Instructions – Hold Position
Ball Winning Midfielder (D)
Could yet become a Center Midfield (D) Will have to keep an eye on the pressing. Main job is to just break up play and lay the ball off. Simples.
This was a tricky one, I am struggling for the kind of player I want here, I'm not certain what exactly I want here, without seeing the rest of it all connect up. I really considered a standard Center midfielder (s) here, that I can easily add Hold Position PI too if needed in game. However I like the idea of a player that gets up and down the pitch. This is the one position that in the future I may be looking for a more rounded player, that can do a bit of everything, including creating. That is just a dream for now though.
Wide Midfielder (S) (Left Side)
What I want here is just a nice simple role, who will support and play balls through for the Poacher sometimes, with the option to his left of the overlapping Full back. I have my key player ear marked for this role. He does unfortunately have the shoots from distance trait, but he is still a creative type player, that should do well. He also has the dictates tempo trait. He is actually an AMC naturally, and only awkward in this position, I'm not going to over worry that. Player Instructions - More Risky Passes. Shoots Less. Often Cross Less often
Wide Midfielder (A) (Right Side)
I want this player to be my attacking outlet from midfield. He is expected to be a a goal threat, and put crosses in. I decided against the winger (for now) Not sure I want him hugging the touch line, and even though I don't mind him putting some crosses in, it's not his main function. No player instructions , for now, until I have assessed how the role works.
Defensive Forward (D)
Really , this should be a Target Man, inline with what Graydon did. However, do I want him to battle for the ball, win headers, be a battering ram, hold the ball up? Yes to all, do I want him to be the main target? No not really, I don't want my Poacher and Wide Midfielder on the right being ignored. So I am hoping he will play kind of a target man role, without being an actual target man. Put him on the Defend Duty, in the hope he will drop deep and put pressure on defensive midfielders when they play those pesky 3 in midfield formations against us, it's not a role I have used much so will have to monitor how it goes.
The simplest of roles, I just want this man to focus on scoring goals, again have little experience of this role, have always favoured the Advanced Forward, but I don't want or need him running out wide, or wasting time trying to create goals.
So that is it, my initial set up. I am certain it is going to need some changes, but I want to focus on how it is working and make small changes. Big changes will only be made, if big changes are really required.
I have completed a full season now, and have a whole more to add sometime in the next 24 hours. Including..
Some Tactical Analysis
Some thoughts on Set Pieces
Pros and Cons of the 4-4-2 Formation
Changes made , based on what I watched
Changes made after key players sold
End of Season Analysis
For now, I just want to get this up on the board, and then finish off editing the rest.
I hope you have enjoyed reading so far. It's a big read, and a lot of it is based on something that may not interest a lot of fans, but hopefully the simple 4-4-2 , going forwards, will appeal to some.