Football Manager™ 2018 features a number of leagues which, for a number of reasons, can be complicated and perhaps rather daunting for those unfamiliar with the intricacies within certain countries. Below is a beginner’s guide on how things work in some of the highest-profile examples.
(Please note; all specific league rules are available from the ‘Rules’ sub-tab on the competition screen. The information provided here is intended to offer a brief and clear overview of how things work.)
Ten teams play each other three times throughout the season – which runs from mid-October until early or mid-April - to complete a total of 27 fixtures. The top six teams advance to the Finals Series. The top two teams receive a bye (allowing them to progress automatically) whilst 3rd plays 6th and 4th plays 5th for the right to advance. The top-ranked team then plays the lowest remaining seed, with the two remaining teams also squaring off as the competition adopts a straightforward Semi Final to Final knockout approach.
The winning team qualifies for the Asian Champions League, as does the team which finishes top of the regular season. If the same team achieves both feats, the runner up in the Grand Final takes the second berth. Wellington Phoenix are ineligible for qualification as New Zealand belongs to the Oceania Confederation, whilst Australia belongs to the Asian Confederation.
Squad/Player Eligibility Rules
Squads are limited to 23 players of which two must be goalkeepers and no more than five can be foreign (i.e. from outside of Australia, or in the case of Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand). No more than twenty Over-20 players may be registered.
A salary cap is in place, enforced in the region of A$2.6m per season.
Teams are also able to utilise the Designated Player rules. Designating a player makes them exempt from salary cap regulations and allows teams to pay them a higher wage to increase their chances of attracting/retaining players of greater quality.
The Designated Player tag can be applied to two players of any type whilst provisions are made for Mature Age Rookies; players playing in the Australian Premier League who can come in on non-contract terms for a limited spell of matches. Similarly, Guest Players may feature for a maximum of ten matches and do not need to be registered as a part of the overall squad. There is no limit on the salary a Guest Player can be paid but club are limited to a maximum of one per season.
Teams can name a maximum of five substitutes on a match day, of which one must be a goalkeeper and only three subs can be used.
The Transfer Market
With the salary cap being relatively low and the Australian league’s reputation not quite at the levels of some of the more prestigious leagues, the transfer market is mostly reserved for identifying Designated Player targets. South American imports have been amongst the favourites of the league, but teams are just as likely to use the Designated Player tag on Australians for both the domestic and international slots. This is typically done when trying to sign a high-profile Australian international footballer who may have plied his trade overseas for much of his career. Guest Players arrive on a higher level still, with no salary restrictions and the short-term contract proving attractive to players of a more substantial worldwide profile.
Otherwise, clubs are encouraged to develop their own talent and not rely on sourcing talent from elsewhere. This is evidenced in the fact that clubs cannot make offers for other players playing within the A-League.
There are two transfer windows, with the main off-season window beginning in late July and closing in late October, whilst there is a short mid-season one operating for most of January.
The regular league phase of the Belgian Pro League is rather basic. Sixteen teams play each other home and away for a 30 game schedule. However, almost every team is then involved in a post-season playoff competition.
The top six teams enter the Championship Group. Points attained during the first 30 games are halved, and each then plays the other five teams home and away for an additional ten fixtures. The winner of the Championship Group is declared Belgian champions. Second place qualifies for Champions Cup qualifying round, third gets into the EURO Cup qualifying rounds and 4th place plays off for EURO Cup qualification against the winner of the European Places Playoff. The team finishing top of the regular season, i.e. before the split, is however assured of a EURO Cup place at worst.
Teams finishing 7th to 15th take part in the European Places Playoff. The teams are split into two groups, and each plays the other home and away. The team that finishes atop each of these groups then play off for the right to face the team which finishes 4th in the Championship Group for entry into the EURO Cup qualifying rounds.
The side finishing 16th is relegated.
Squad/Player Eligibility Rules
Whilst the league structure is complicated, player eligibility is not. Teams must include at least six players trained in Belgium in their match day squad, and three of the seven subs can be used. The overall squad must feature eight players classified as home-grown (developed in Belgium) and a minimum of 22 players on full-time contracts.
The Transfer Market
Belgium operates in the same way as much of Europe in the transfer market, with a traditional buying and selling approach in place to complement the club’s own youth development programme. With transfer budgets generally lower than in many European Leagues, clubs are forced to look further afield for talent and many have found success in South America, Eastern Europe and Africa. The latter has proven so successful that the league issues the Ebony Shoe Award to honour the best African player in the league every season.
Twenty-two teams are split into two conferences (East and West) with a general geographical split to provide friendlier travelling schedules for away teams. Teams play 34 matches in an unbalanced schedule; each team plays an intra-conference opponent once, whilst they play teams within their own conference home and away, with the remaining fixtures ‘unbalanced’ but again versus own-conference opposition.
The top two teams in each conference qualify automatically for the MLS Cup Semi Finals, whilst teams from 3rd to 6th play off for the two remaining spots; 3rd plays 6th and 4th plays 5th with the higher seed hosting for the right to continue into the post-season.
From here, each conference adopts a higher vs lower seed draw. For example, if teams in 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th all qualify, 1st would play 4th and 2nd would play 3rd. These matches are two-legged affairs with the higher seed getting to play the second leg at home.
This continues until each Conference has a champion, and they go head to head in the MLS Cup Final. The game will be hosted by the team with the higher regular season points total, rather than at a pre-determined (typically neutral, but not always) location.
The two finalists qualify for the North American Champions League, alongside the winner of the MLS Supporters’ Shield (the team which finishes with the most points in the regular season) and the winner of the US Open Cup. If one team fills more than one of these berths, the qualification spot goes to the next best team in the MLS standings.
Squad/Player Eligibility Rules
Squads are limited to a maximum of 28 players, but within this there are a number of intricacies:
- A maximum of three Designated Players.
- A maximum of two non-Young Designated Players.
- A maximum of eight Internationals.
- A maximum of eight Off-Budget players.
- A maximum of six players in the squad can be marked as ‘Reserve’, i.e. younger players that count towards the salary cap.
The MLS operates under a salary cap system, set at an annual total of around USD$3.845m. The top 20 paid players count towards the cap (although slots 19 and 20 do not have to be filled), and the maximum any one individual can be paid is roughly USD$480000 per season (excluding Designated Players, who only affect the salary cap up to this sum). There is a discounted salary cap impact should a player on the maximum individual salary join midway through the season, to the tune of roughly half of the usual maximum individual salary.
Teams are allowed to have up to three Designated Players. These players are typically of higher profile and are largely exempt from salary cap restrictions (as above, their cap hit is equal to the maximum senior salary, depending on age) allowing teams to offer a more enticing wage in order to acquire or retain their services.
Players on Generation Adidas contracts are also salary cap exempt. These are home-grown players sourced from areas local to each team and have come through their youth academy. Generation Adidas contracts can be given to as many eligible players as you want, but only two (non-Young Designated Players) may be in the first team squad at any time.
When starting a game in MLS, pay particular attention to the ‘MLS contract rules information’ – in particular the Salary Cap section - news item for even more detail on the intricacies of the contract system in use.
Please note that all values are as of the game’s start date and are prone to fluctuations throughout the course of a saved game.
The Transfer Market
There are as many as twelve ways in which an MLS team can acquire a player. Typically, European-style transfers rarely happen within the MLS itself, although teams are increasingly likely to source talent from overseas both on Senior and Designated Player contracts. These are referred to as ‘Discovery Signings’ and such deals are limited to a maximum of six players per club per season (ten for expansion teams in their debut year).
The most common method of intra-league movement is trading. For more information on Trading within Football Manager™, please refer to that section of this manual.
Each off-season, teams congregate at the MLS SuperDraft for the annual selection of talented collegiate footballers embarking upon their professional careers. Teams pick in reverse order of the previous season’s standings, meaning the worst teams get the greater selection of players in an attempt to aid competitive parity. For more information on Drafting within Football Manager™, please refer to the section on it elsewhere in this manual by using the search functionality.
Domestic transfers can be completed almost year-round, with only a two-month gap between September and December where deals are prohibited. There are also two much shorter windows for foreign transfers in, between mid-February and mid-May and between early July and early August respectively.
Players may be sold at any time, assuming the buying team are in an active transfer window themselves.
Ahead of the 2018 season, Los Angeles FC will join MLS. As is traditional, the arrival of a new team will be preceded by an Expansion Draft. Each team will protect a number of players, leaving the remainder to be available for selection by the new club throughout ten rounds of drafting as they build their roster.