If you’re new to football, new to Football Manager™, or just fancy a little bit of a refresher on some core game principles and information, this section should provide some assistance on how best to go about your managerial career. It also contains information about some of the more complicated leagues available to manage in as well as a glossary of terms that you’re likely to encounter as you play.
Welcome to Football Manager™ 2020! We’ve created a beginner’s guide to walk newcomers to the series through getting to grips with the various aspects of management, and to hopefully answer any questions that might come up along the way.
Your first step will be to create your managerial profile and begin a new Career. Follow the steps in the Quick Start guide to get stuck right in.
Football Manager™ is, as the name suggests, a football management simulation in which time advances upon clicking the ‘Continue’ button found in the top right corner of the screen. Although time exists as a fundamental concept, whenever the game returns from processing time forward, the ‘clock’ effectively stops for you to go about your business in as much (or as little) depth is required to action the items of the day. ‘Continue’ will move through your calendar incrementally; days become weeks, weeks become months, months become years, and so on.
Football Manager™ 2020 features a host of specifically-tailored in-game tutorials designed to help you better understand some of your more common day-to-day managerial duties. Your Assistant Manager, or an appropriate member of the club hierarchy where an Assistant isn’t in place, will come to you at various junctures in your first few days and weeks on the job (and at appropriate intervals thereafter, should something happen that requires explaining) and guide you through the hows and whys of things like scouting and making transfer offers, getting to know your players, playing your first match, navigating around the game, and more. They are fully immersive and will hopefully improve your level of comfort with everything you need in order to be a success.
Please note that these will only be sent to you if you have selected ‘No’ from the ‘Experienced?’ section during the Create a Manager process. If you selected ‘Yes’, you can find them by clicking on the ‘?’ icon in the title bar.
Your Inbox, Your Home
Your ‘Inbox’ is the central point around which your experience is built. Communication crucial to the management of your chosen team will be delivered to you in a prompt and timely fashion – the game will bring you back from processing whenever your input is required – and the majority of your key decisions and actions will be taken in response to content arriving here.
Look at things that interest you
Whenever you move the mouse cursor around the screen, it will highlight people, clubs, and other entities you can click on and interact with by underlining them. Take some time to do this to familiarise yourself with the layout of various screens and with the scope of what you, as manager, are able to do, and what the consequences – both positive and negative – are.
Become familiar with the look and feel
The sidebar on the left of the screen is the primary navigational tool providing you with quick access to all key areas of your team. Each screen also has a horizontal bar containing tab menus sitting below the ‘menu bar’ at the top of the screen, which features a contextual menu as well as a free text search box for swift navigation around your game world. Please refer to the User Interface section of the manual for a more detailed breakdown.
After reading through the first few items in your Inbox, it makes sense to devise a tactic and pick your first team. This is where the Tactics Tutorial should be of tremendous assistance; it will guide you through picking a playing style, formation, and first team selection.
Taking the time to explore each section of the sidebar, and the many sub-options therein on each screen, will help you become far more acquainted with Football Manager™ and, in turn, increase your enjoyment of playing. There is more integrated assistance in the form of delegation/automation to and from your capable backroom staff team.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
The ‘Responsibilities’ tab on the ‘Staff’ section of the sidebar will allow you to delegate any number of tasks to your responsible and reliable backroom team. It can be advisable to do this in the short-term while getting to grips with the scale of your managerial task, before taking back some of the responsibility when you feel more attuned to handling them.
The more you explore and the more you play, the more comfortable you’ll become with some of the more complicated areas of management, and hopefully your enjoyment will continue to increase!
Keep your players happy
A happy team is a winning team, and very little is more important to your chances of success than ensuring that your players remain happy. Pay close attention to each individual (and therefore the squad’s collective) morale and personality, and be aware of their short- and long-term happiness, details of which can be found on their ‘Information’ screens. They will often come to you directly with their concerns, and how successfully you deal with them will go a long way to determining whether you succeed in your job. The ‘Players’ section of this guide also walks you through everything you need to know about managing them and finding the right approach for you.
Clichés become clichés for a reason – there is inherent wisdom in there somewhere – and Rome really wasn’t built in a day. Be ambitious, but remain realistic at the same time, and understand that there is a learning curve involved here. You can enjoy Football Manager™ as a complete novice by heeding some of the advice in this guide, as well as the myriad of helping hands provided in-game, and you can in turn use the experiences you encounter in your fledgling days as a manager to sharpen your skills as you become more knowledgeable and comfortable in your surroundings.
In order to help new Football Manager™ users become more acquainted with the world of football, we’ve put together a glossary of some of the more common terms you might encounter. It is not exhaustive, but it is hopefully comprehensive and will be of assistance should you find yourself wondering about some of the terminology you’ve encountered playing the game.
Administration: A process where a club is unable to fulfil its financial obligations and brings in temporary legal assistance in an attempt to restructure any debt. The act of ‘entering into administration’ usually comes with a punishment in the form of a points deduction or similar.
The Advantage rule: Referees are given scope to allow play to continue despite an infringement if it benefits the team that suffered the transgression more than stopping the game would, thus allowing them an advantage.
Affiliates: Many clubs are increasingly developing networks of multiple entities designed to be mutually beneficial in all aspects of football, ranging from player development to financial rewards. Formal affiliations between two or more teams help achieve this.
Agents: Intermediaries who negotiate with clubs on behalf of players (and vice-versa).
Aggregate (agg): Many competitions use two-legged ties to ensure each team gets an opportunity to play at home. These ties are settled by recording the aggregate score of both matches. If the aggregate score is tied, Away Goals, Extra Time or a Penalty Shootout are the designated tie-breakers in the majority of cases.
Amateur: A player attached to a club under contract but who is not paid a salary and is, in essence, free to leave at any point.
Assist: The decisive offensive act – pass, cross, header or otherwise – in creating a goal.
The Away Goals rule: In some competitions, if the aggregate score is tied after two legs of play, the team that scored more goals away from home is declared the winner.
The Back-pass rule: Goalkeepers are not allowed to handle any intentional pass back to them from a team-mate. If they do, an indirect free kick is awarded to the opposition.
Behind Closed Doors: Any match played where spectators are not present.
The Bosman rule: Allows professional footballers to leave a club as a free agent at the end of their contract. Named after former Belgian footballer Jean-Marc Bosman, who became the first player to successfully claim the right to act as a free agent in the European Court of Justice in 1995.
Board: The people tasked with overseeing the general running of the club at its highest level, including hiring and firing managers. This typically includes the chairman.
Booking (also booked): See yellow card.
Box-to-Box: A player with the ability to contribute at both ends of the pitch and all areas in between; the term ‘box’ is an informal term referring to each penalty area.
Brace: A colloquialism referring to a player scoring two goals in a match.
Byline: The extreme boundaries at each end of the pitch.
Cap(s): A term used to represent an appearance made for an international team. The term originates from the historical issuing of a physical cap to any player who did so.
Captain: A player designated as the team’s leader on the pitch, denoted by wearing the captain’s armband. The vice-captain serves as the captain’s deputy.
Caution: See yellow card.
Chairman: The most senior figure of authority at a club. Tends to hire and fire managers and is a conduit between the football and business sides of the game.
Channel: The space between the central defenders and full-backs; the Player Instruction ‘Moves into Channels’ will ask an attacking player to attempt to exploit this space to his advantage.
Chip: A type of pass or shot, delivered with a stabbing motion underneath the ball to give it a lofted, high trajectory over an opponent.
Clean Sheet: Awarded to a goalkeeper and/or a team for preventing the opposition from scoring against them in a match. Also known as a Shutout.
Clauses: An increasingly common aspect of transfer negotiations, teams will agree on conditional monies that will change hands should a player or club involved in a transfer achieve a particular landmark or milestone. They are also a part of individual contract negotiations along the same lines.
Coach: A member of the manager’s non-playing staff, they are typically specialists in a particular area of football and work with players to improve their game.
Corner Kick: Awarded to the attacking team when a player from the opposing team puts the ball out of play over the byline. A player from the attacking team will then typically deliver the ball from within the corner quadrant, into the penalty area, in an effort to create a goalscoring chance.
Counter Attack: A team will ‘launch’ a counter-attack by taking possession from an opponent and attempting to transition from defence to attack in a swift and, often direct, manner, countering the previous attack with one of their own.
Cross: The act of delivering the ball into the penalty area typically, but not exclusively, from wide areas of the pitch.
Cup (competition): An elimination-style competition where matches might take place over one or two legs (fixtures) or in a group stage format.
Cup (trophy): One of a number of names associated with the trophy lifted by the winning team in a conversation. Also known as silverware.
Cup-tied (Cup): If a player has represented one team in a competition, he is ineligible to represent another team for the remainder of that competition’s iteration.
Derby: A match between two rival teams.
Director of Football (DoF): Also known as the Sporting Director or General Manager, they take responsibility for constructing a squad, leaving the manager to coach the players in a division of duties historically solely assigned to the manager.
Directness: Refers to the type and style of passing adopted by a team. Direct passing involves playing the ball from back to front as quickly as possible rather than adopting a slower and more patient approach in which players move the ball across the pitch from side-to-side.
Diving: A form of simulation where a player exaggerates or fabricates contact from an opponent in an effort to deceive the referee into awarding them a decision. Players found to have dived will be shown a yellow card.
Dribbling: The art of running with the ball under close control.
Equaliser: A goal that restores parity in a contest, e.g. to make it 1-1 from a 1-0 or 0-1 scoreline.
Extra Time (ET): An additional period of thirty minutes, split into two fifteen-minute halves, used in an effort to settle a draw.
Financial Fair Play (FFP): A series of rules introduced in an effort to ensure that clubs can exist on a relatively fair and even financial footing in the interests of competitive balance. Limits are typically imposed on transfer and wage expenditure in line with club income and punishments, where teams break the rules, range from fines to transfer embargoes and points deductions.
Flanks: Wide areas of the pitch. Also known as wings.
Formation: The organisation and structure of the eleven players selected at any given point during a match (formation identifiers do not include the goalkeeper and will hence only total ten, rather than eleven). Common formations involve four defenders, four midfielders and two forwards (4-4-2) or four defenders, three midfielders and three forwards (4-3-3). The midfield is often split into defensive and attacking units when describing formations; for example, the common 4-2-3-1 formation denotes two defensive midfielders and three attacking midfielders behind a single forward.
Forward: An attacking player primarily tasked with scoring or creating goals. Also referred to as Striker (a more typical goalscorer) and Attacker.
Free Agent: An individual without a club.
Free kick: Awarded to a team for a transgression by an opponent outside of the respective penalty areas.
- Indirect: A free kick that cannot directly result in a goal; another player must touch the ball first before a shot can be taken.
- Direct: Can result in a goal by means of the taker immediately finding the back of the net without a touch being required by any other player.
Friendly: A non-competitive match.
Full-Back: The defenders tasked with operating in wide areas at right-back and left-back. Their primary responsibility is to help nullify wide attacking threats but, increasingly in the modern game, they are expected to influence matters going in the other direction too.
Full Time (FT): The end of a match.
Goal-line Technology: An automated camera system that is able to determine whether the ball has fully crossed the line to result in a goal. The referee is informed that the ball has fully crossed the line by way of a notification on a dedicated watch, before fans at home and in the stadium are shown a visual, computer-generated representation of the decision as it actually happened.
Goal Kick: When the ball runs out of bounds at the byline, and is last touched by an opponent, it is returned into play in the form of a goal kick. The goalkeeper must place the ball inside the six-yard area and it cannot be touched by another player on the pitch before it leaves the penalty area.
Glance: A deft touch applied to a pass or a cross – usually but not exclusively associated with headers – to use the ball with subtlety and accuracy.
Goal Difference: A common tie-breaker in league standings where goals conceded are subtracted from goals scored.
Group (Group Stages): Some knockout cup competitions will include a group stage where teams are separated into smaller groups and play against each other in an elimination format. The remaining teams eventually advance to a straight knockout stage.
Half Time (HT): The end of the first half.
Half-volley: The act of striking a ball just after it has struck the ground. See also Volley.
Hat-trick: The common term celebrating a player’s achievement in scoring three goals in a single match.
Head-to-Head: A term describing a contest between two players or two teams. It can reflect a single incident or an ongoing series.
Header: Using the head to connect with the ball rather than the foot or any other body part.
Home-Grown (HG): The specifics of the rule will vary from competition to competition but, generally speaking, the Home-Grown rule intends to ensure that clubs include a certain number of players developed within their own country in their overall first-team squad.
Injury Time: Time added onto the scheduled ninety minutes for injuries and other stoppages to play, most commonly displayed by a “+<number>” marker on the clock/in references to match time. Also known as Stoppage Time or Additional Time.
League: A competition where teams are ranked by the accumulation of points from fixtures played against one another over the course of a season.
Loan: A temporary transfer of a player between clubs, with him returning to the club owning his registration at the end of the deal. The loaning club can, and often do, pay for the player’s services through loan fees and wage contributions, and can negotiate the option to purchase the player outright as part of the deal too.
Lob: A type of pass or shot, similar to a chip, with a high trajectory over an opponent, but delivered in a defter fashion and usually from a bouncing ball.
Manager: The person responsible for the day-to-day stewardship of the players in a given team. The Assistant Manager is their second-in-command and can be delegated any number of tasks to make the manager’s job easier.
Marking: A defender pays close attention to an opponent by ‘marking’ him and trying to prevent him from scoring. Man-to-Man marking involves assigning each defender a specific opponent for which they are responsible, while Zonal marking involves defenders being assigned areas of space for which they are responsible, whether opponents venture into it or not.
Near Post (also Far Post): A concept borne of positional referencing in relation to the goalposts. Incidents occurring in or around the post nearest to the action can be referred to as happening at the near post, whereas incidents on the other side of play (for example, a player arriving to meet a cross on the opposite side of the pitch to where it was delivered) are said to involve the far post.
Offside: A player is deemed to be offside if there is only one opponent (including the goalkeeper) between him and the opposition’s goal when a pass is played to them. A player cannot be offside in their own half of the pitch or if they are behind the ball when it is played. They can, however, also be flagged for offside if they are deemed to be interfering with an opponent despite not playing the ball.
Offside Trap: A tactic whereby the defensive team looks to play in such a way that lures attacking opponents into straying offside, often through moving the defensive line higher up the pitch at the right time.
One-two: A passing move between two players where the first player both gives and then immediately receives the ball back from a team-mate.
Overlap: When one player runs, from deep, around the outside of a team-mate in an attacking position to advantageous effect. See also underlap.
Own Goal (OG): Happens when a player accidentally scores past his own goalkeeper.
Part-Time: See Semi-Professional.
Penalty Area: The rectangular area drawn out in front of each goal. Goalkeepers are only permitted to handle the ball in this area, while any fouls committed by the defending team result in a penalty kick.
Penalty Kick: A penalty kick is a free shot at goal, with only the goalkeeper to beat from twelve yards out, awarded when a foul punishable by a free kick happens inside the penalty area.
Penalty Shootout: If a cup or knockout competition match, in an elimination scenario, is all-square at the end of all designated playing time (extra time or not), the contest will be decided by a penalty shootout. Each team must nominate a minimum of five players to take penalty kicks in alternating order, until a team misses enough that they can no longer out-score their opponents. If five rounds of penalties are not sufficient to decide a winner, players will continue to take in a sudden-death fashion until one team misses and the other scores.
Physio(therapist): A member of a team’s medical staff tasked with providing both immediate and long-term physical treatment to a player.
Playmaker: One individual in a team who is the conduit for the majority of the attacking play. He is responsible for taking charge of possession, creating chances for his team-mates, and looking to affect the match in as many ways as possible.
Playoff(s): An additional stage to (typically) a league competition where a select number of teams in specified finishing positions ‘play off’ in a series of fixtures to determine an outcome, for example a league title or a promotion.
Points (Pts): Three points are typically awarded for a win, with one for a draw and none for a defeat. Some leagues may operate differently; please refer to the Rules screen in-game for full clarification for each competition.
Professional: A player under contract with a club and who receives a salary. See also Semi-Professional.
Promotion: When a team moves up from one group or league to the next one up the hierarchical ladder due to on-field results.
Red Card: A player is shown a red card and is dismissed from the field of play for seriously or persistently flouting the rules. A player who is shown a red card is said to have been sent off and will usually face a suspension.
Referee: An independent arbiter assigned to enforce the rules in a match. Assistant Referees are found on each touchline; previously known as linesmen, their duties consist of judging offside decisions, whether the ball has left the bounds of play, and advising the referee on incidents he or she may not have been in position to see.
Released (contracts): A player is released when his club decide that they no longer require his services and he becomes a free agent.
Relegation: When a team moves down from one group or league to the next one lower down on the hierarchical ladder due to on-field results.
Reserves: A team’s secondary squad, used in several ways. Some teams will use the Reserve team as a first-team squad overspill, while others will promote their best young players and use it as a bridge between the Youth Team and the first team.
Route One: The art of getting the ball forward into the opposition’s defensive areas in the quickest and most efficient manner possible; playing long, high passes from back to front.
Sacked: Also referred to as fired, refers to when an individual – usually a manager, but can and does occur to everyone – has their contract terminated with immediate effect.
Scout: A non-playing member of staff responsible for watching and reporting on players from other teams, either for upcoming opponents or for potential transfer targets. Also used as a verb to describe this act.
Season: The period of time over which a league campaign takes place.
Semi-Professional: A player under contract with a club and who receives a salary but only on a part-time basis. Such players typically hold down another career outside of football and have limited time to dedicate towards training and their football career overall.
Set Piece: Any situation where play restarts with a dead ball (as opposed to a live ball in open play). The nature of a dead ball allows teams to set up specific routines devised to exploit the situation.
Silverware: Refers to trophies awarded for success.
Substitute: A player who is brought onto the pitch to replace another player.
Tactics: The manner in which a team sets itself up to play a match. The formation is the foundation of a tactic, upon which team and player instructions are issued to give a team the best possible chance of winning.
Team Talk: A brief talk given by the manager to his or her players before, after, and during half time in each match. The talk typically involves motivational encouragement alongside tactical direction.
Terrace: An area of a stadium which does not have seats and has room for standing supporters only.
Testimonial: A friendly match played out in honour of a long-serving or notable player, often featuring former colleagues and an appropriate opposition. Originally held to boost the honoured players’ finances, these occasions more commonly see charity donations occur nowadays.
Through-ball: A type of pass played by the attacking team that goes straight through the opposition’s defence to a team-mate. Some teams will deploy an offside trap in an effort to catch the attacking team offside.
Throw-in: A common method of restarting play; when the ball is cleared out over the touchline it is returned by means of a player using both hands to throw it from above his head back into the field of play.
Transfer: The change of a player’s permanent registration between clubs. Players are often transferred for money (transfer fees) with negotiations also including clauses, bonuses and staggered payment periods.
Touchline: The extreme boundaries at each edge of the pitch.
Underlap: When one player runs, from deep, inside of a team-mate in an attacking position to advantageous effect. See also overlap.
VAR (Video Assistant Referee): The use of technology to adjudicate controversial incidents during matches. The Video Assistant Referee is allowed to review four types of incident on video replay; goals and whether there was a violation in the build-up to it, penalties (both given and not), direct red cards, and cards issued with mistaken identity. Decisions may only be overturned if there was a clear and obvious mistake.
Volley: The act of striking a ball before it hits the ground.
Wall: An obstacle of players set up by the defending team to make it more difficult for an opponent when taking a free kick.
Whip: To curl the ball with pace.
Winger: A player tasked with operating primarily in and/or from wide areas – wings or flanks – of the pitch.
Woodwork: A colloquialism referring to the goal frame structure of posts and crossbar.
Work Permit: Some competitions require additional checks to be made before allowing players from certain locales to sign for one of its teams. The most common of these is a work permit, which some foreign players will require in order to take a job in a new country and join a new team.
Yellow Card: A player is shown the yellow card (also referred to as a caution or booking) for breaking one of the laws of the game. A player shown two yellow cards in the same match is then shown a red card, and players shown multiple yellow cards in the same season usually face suspensions at incremental landmarks (e.g. 5, 10, 15).
Youth Team: The youngest represented age group in Football Manager™, the youth team is comprised of teenagers aiming to have a career in football. The youth team typically has an upper age limit before the players are expected to move onto the next logical step in the ladder as they develop.
Football Manager™ 2020 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. Please also note that some rules are not used in FM Touch.)
Eleven teams play each other a minimum of two times throughout the season – which runs from mid-October until early or mid-April - to complete a total of 29 fixtures, with each team getting three bye weeks throughout the season to accommodate the odd number of total teams. Some teams will play a third match against each other to account for the remaining matches.
The top six teams advance to the Finals Series. The top two teams receive a bye (allowing them to progress automatically) while 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, while 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$3.2m per season (Western United FC, as an expansion team, are allowed up to A$3.6m). There is a Salary Floor also in place, requiring teams to spend at least 90% of that figure, which is $2.88m for the 2019-20 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 while 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 up to 14 matches in the regular season. They 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 among 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; players may only move in exchange deals.
There are two transfer windows, with the main off-season window beginning in late July and closing in mid- October, while there is a short mid-season one operating for most of January.
The regular league phase of the Belgian Pro League A 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 along with two teams from the second tier. 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 and is replaced by the winner of the second tier’s promotion playoff final, contested between the winner of the Opening tournament and the winner of the Closing tournament. If the same team wins both, the next-best team in the aggregate of both tournaments will contest the final.
Squad/Player Eligibility Rules
While 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-four 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 with home and away fixtures against teams from their own conference, and a single match against teams from the other conference either home or away.
The winner of each conference qualifies automatically for the MLS Cup Semi Finals, while teams from 2nd to 7th play off for the remaining spots. The higher seed hosts the lower seed (2nd vs 7th, 3rd vs 6th, 4th vs 5th) in a single-leg knockout match, with the three winners joining the first-placed team in the conference Semi Finals. There will be no re-seeding of teams at this stage; 1st places the winner of the 4th vs 5th match at home, and the winner of the 3rd vs 6th match hosts the winner of the 2nd vs 7th tie.
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 (or better regular-season winning record if points are equal), 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 30 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 as default; these slots can be traded as commodities between teams.
- A maximum of ten Off-Budget players; only four of these can be non-reserves.
- A maximum of six players in the squad can be marked as ‘Reserve’, i.e. younger players that count towards the salary cap; only four of these can be non-reserves.
MLS operates under a salary cap system, set at an annual total of around USD$4m. 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$530,000 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 and registration information’ inbox message – in particular the Salary Cap section – 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, as well as using Target Allocation Money to help attract some bigger names.
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 2021 season, Miami and Nashville will join MLS. As is traditional, the arrival of new teams 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 five rounds of drafting as they build their roster.