I've never done one of these, but this career has been a really fun one and I wanted to share.
Having taken Liverpool and Rangers to their maximum level of success many times over the FM years I wanted a different challenge, one that could still see me attract exciting young players and a wonderkid or two and good senior players. I also wanted a team that would not be limited in growth by a small stadium and fanbase were my revolution to succeed and so I chose VfB Stuttgart.
Stuttgart have won the top German title five times, most recently in 2006–07, and the DFB-Pokal three times. They play in the 60,000 seater Mercedes Benz Arena and they led the league in attendance from the 60's to the late 90's. To me they had all the ingredients of a sleeping giant and I wanted to see what I could do.
As relegation candidates, they had a marginally decent squad at start, but to me it was rather disjointed and poorly put together, I just did not see any inherent fluidity or purpose in the personnel, though they had some really good youth prospects. I had a very clear idea of the type of squad I wanted to build and a way of playing and the existing squad, including the younger players were going to fund that.
The core of the squad leadership was first addressed and so the older and unknown, but highly underrated, Ulrik Saltnes from Bodø/Glimt was brought in for 3.4 million. His stats in this screen are improved over what he had despite being 30 years old. I also believe a couple of them were 1-2 points higher than they had been in a previous Rangers career. I normally do not like midfielders with low pace and acceleration, but I was familiar with Saltnes from that Rangers career in FM22 and 23 and for the money he is a very professional, reliable and intelligent midfielder and fit my model of high work rate, determination and stamina that is essential to make a high line, gegenpressing style work. Far too many folks try to play heavy metal football with milquetoast bubblegum pop players and complain when it doesn't work. No such delusions here. Not to jump ahead, but his commitment to the cause was once again reliable.
I also knew that because of money issues, I could not go after all the hot players that I could with Liverpool, in fact in some cases a Stuttgart move was a harder sell than a move to Rangers, so I really had to be savvy and my knowing that I would be relying on Scandinavian players more than usual soon became a Norwegian revolution at Stuttgart. In no small part due to value for money and squad cohesion. I could not afford an entire season to get players comfortable and coherent.
It's not all about the tactics, I've won with several different formations within the same FM release. It's about team cohesion and player commitment as much as tactics and I knew more than ever I had to build a solid group that worked hard for each other.
Stuttgart's backline and keeper Muller were solid enough to not have my focus there unless I came across a great deal or exciting prospect that was willing to come.
I moved 7 players out for a little over 40m. The biggest single fee in was 15.5m for Sasa Kalajdzic to Wolves
Significant summer transfers in: Ulrik Saltnes CM from Bodø/Glimt for 3.4m
Marcus Holmgren Pedersen RB from Feyenoord for 6.25m
Sivert Mannsverk CM from Molde for 7.25m
August Mikkelsen ST from Tromsø for 4.3m (Holy cow what a signing this has turned out to be. 16 goals and 3 assists in 17 league matches. Though he is supposedly an AM he has excelled in the PF/AF role at the tip of the spear) Andreas Schjelderup from FC Nordsjaelland for 8m (This was a long slog as he had no interest initially, but I worked on him and his club and was making bids I didn't have funds for until certain players were sold, but I got him in on deadline day. Huge boost to the goal threat I wanted Stuttgart to be. I think the other Norwegian players I had already signed helped get it over the line) Gustav Isaksen from FC Midtjylland for 3.5m
Birk Risa from Molde for 1.5m
Grant Hanley from Norwich for 5.5m (I needed more leadership and after an early injury in preseason I needed a dependable CB. I was surprised when he needed no convincing to join) Branco van den Boomen from Toulouse for 2.5m (Really crucial to our good start and gave Mannsverk time to settle. He fell off in performance as soon as Mannsverk started taking some of his game time) Maurits Kjaergaard on loan with future fee from RB Salzburg (This is a player that I thought had a lot of potential and wanted to give him the game time and role to shine and he has not let me down) Ola Solbakken from Bodø/Glimt for 3m (Took my time introducing him, but now has 3 assists in 5 matches, 3 as a sub. Very direct runner, decision making can frustrate sometimes, but he really opens up the right side with his pace and directness)
Oddly in January Union Berlin, who were doing quite well, put Morten Thorsby on the transfer list and as Boomen was starting to have a dip in form whether as a CM or DM I pounced. Thorsby is a work rate-determination monster and Norwegian so it was a no brainer for my project.
The new Stuttgart identity:
I initially tried my trusted 4-3-3, but it wasn't clicking, though the results weren't bad, but when I modified it to a 4-2-3-1 (same high line gegenpress) with Kjaergaard as a SS behind Mikkelsen as an PF/AF the players clicked and the goals started coming in. I soon modified my 3rd tactic to a 4-4-2 to that in reality is a 4-1DM-1CM-2IF-2ST and both of these formations have been my system. Sosa was one existing player I've kept and played a lot, but he is inconsistent, though when he does play well he nearly always gets an assist. Risa has become a very reliable LB and Pedersen's energy and physical ability has seen him lock down the RB slot.
Tobias Gulliksen was a signing for the future, but he was started as the left IF due to sensational preseason form and then went on a tear and scored 3 and assisted 3 in the first 4 league matches before dropping so sharply that Schjelderup was brought in as he was the intended left IF and he has since made that spot his own and Gulliksen is now playing in the reserves to keep his game time going.
Kjaergaard as a SS and Mikkelsen (who alternates as a PF and AF) took a few games to get going but they have really struck up a prolific partnership. Kjaergaard is 6'4 and Mikkelsen is 5'6 and they look like Heskey and Owen at their peak at times. Quite pleased. 24 goals and 6 assists between them in 16 and 19 league matches.
Without going into a lot of detail, my system uses a customized pressing, marking and tacking instructions using the opponents positions. I as my assistant for advice, but I never change how we pressure opposition positions. We especially close down CBs, DMs and CMs and trap inside to force turnovers through superior numbers, hard tackling and a compacted space. The team, which I set up for scoring a lot and regaining possession (not just in tactics but in the way I talk to the press, how I run team talks and how I praise and motivate players) as high up the pitch as possible, is really clicking on all cylinders. My unlikely mostly Norwegian relegation candidates are 3rd in the league after 21 matches and we only just lost out first home match. A goal difference of 31 only behind Bayern's 32 is proof of their embodiment of wanting to outscore opponents. We've let in a few, but we bang them in consistently. I have attacked away from home in every match and only slowed the game down and shortened the passing when there are 10 minutes or less to go. A very, very heavy preseason training schedule, used at a great risk of injury, was crucial to their intense output. The German winter break hasn't hurt either. Here are the rest of the screens detailing the teams performance and system.