Meet Mikhail Botvinnik, the patriarch of russian chess. He was the chess world champion throughout the 1950's and helped developed the game into the profesional sport it is today. While he is widely regarded as one of the five strongest players to ever live, his main work was as a theorist, from the very first moves on the board to the very last, to outside the board. Many of the routine training methods, both mental and physical used by the world's leading chess players today were devised and promoted by him. He also played a large role in creating the earliest chess computers making him the most influential chess player in history and a true pioneer.
When I was a kid I thought of football as a fairly easy to understand game; 10 players and a keeper, attack, attack and attack again. If we aren't scoring we blame the strikers, if someone scores against us we blame the keeper. I couldn't care less about the part of football outside of the field and had no interest in managers and tactics.
Now, in my early adulthood, after years of watching reading and playing football in an amateur team I have come to realise that things are very different and a proper squad must consist of twenty something players capable of complimenting each other and covering for each other's weaknesses so that a proper challenge can be presented before the opposition throughout the 40 to 50 matches a team plays in a regular season.
Knowing very little about Football Manager I intend to make assessments about the game and develop a pack of free different tactics intended to maximise my club's success. To do so I will tinker with three similar formations, roles and team instructions to find the optimal (that is, the closest to perfection something can reach) combinations for my intended use of them. I will also try to create effective set piece routines and a train my players to get the most out of their ability and potential.
I have chosen Inter Milan as my club for a number of reasons; first, they were the first club I ever admired back in the early 2010s (I feel a whole decade older after writing that) so if I want to make a club succeed I might as well devote my time and energy to my first love. Second, being a big yet not gigantic club there is room for improvement but a fairly respectable base from which to build. Third, the wide array of tactics played in Italy will allow me to approach each game differently, instead of facing the re-skinned clones you can find in other leagues. Last, I happen to like several of Inter's players in real life.
The first team: I will give my general impressions about all my first team players who are currently available for this season, that is everyone who is not out on loan from the first team. For the record I consider all attributes above 15 to be "good enough for first team football" and all important attributes below 12 to be "not good enough for first team football"
Goalkeepers: My first choice keeper is obviously handanovic, he is a great option with 20 reflexes, 17 one-on-ones and 16 handling but this is his 7th season with the club and he is already 34 years old so I must prepare for the future. Neither Padelli or Berni interest me, they are way too old to replace Handanovic and lack the ability to be a first choice keeper. The last man to talk about is therefore Raffaele Di Gennaro, he will never be a first choice goalkeeper but I intend to keep him as the cup keeper if only because I could save money that way.
wing backs/fullbacks: Vrsaljko is my first choice in the right, he seems to be a pool of energy (19 stamina, 16 pace, 15 work rate, 16 fitness) and I can trust him as a defender (15 tackling, 15 aggression, 15 bravery) but I wish he had better offensive attributes (14 crossing, 13 off the ball, 10 dribbling, 10 vision). He is also a perfectionist which I think means I can trust him to give his all during training and he is a great mentoring asset, making him a must sign after his loan is over. D' Ambrossio is simply an inferior version of the same player whose only addition to my team is that he is more aggressive (17>15), naturally playing wider and being able to play on the left side, which makes him an adequate back-up. Asamoah is a tad inferior to Vrsaljko and I can't see him as my long term left winger but I don't feel like selling him just yet. Dalbert is a fast (16 acceleration, 17 pace) wingback but I see little more to him.
Centre Backs: Milan Skriniar is everything I could ask for as a defender (17 marking, 15 anticipation, 16 tackling, 16 concentration, 15 positioning, 16 heading, 16 strength, 15 Jumping reach) plus he is only 23 years old and a perfectionist, I would sooner eat my own right hand that watch him leave. De Vrij is just as good (16 marking, 17 tackling, 16 strength, 15 jumping reach, 16 heading, 17 anticipation) as Skriniar plus he is more technically gifted. I believe I can get a good 4 or 5 years from them as a pair. Miranda is a fairly good option as rotation and at 33 I think he will make an enviable substitute for two more years. Ranocchia is clearly inferior as a complete product but his 6'4 feet height and his 18 heading, 18 jumping reach make him an aerial ace in the hole.
Midfielders: Nainggolan is my best central midfielder, a proper box to box player with great tackling and marking for a midfielder (17, 15) that can offer an attacking option from deep with his 16 long shots ,16 off the ball in combination with the traits shoots from distance, shoots with power. He is also a real fighter with (18 aggression, 20 bravery, 18 work rate and 19 determination). His only weakness is his aerial game given that he isn't the tallest and has a lacklustre jumping reach (8). I like Brozovic since I see him as a jack of all trades, slightly more technical than Nainggolan but slightly less physical, for me that will make him an excellent rotation player. I am not sure about Gagliardini he has nice mental attributes (16 bravery, 18 teamwork, 16 work-rate) and is a decent distributor (15 passing, 14 technique, 15, first touch) but the rest is nothing to write home about, I don't see him rising above the role of back-up in the future but he might be of use for a few seasons. I see little place for Vecino in this squad and he will most likely be sold before the season starts. Valero is old but he can do a great job as a playmaker so he will stay for this one season but next season he will most likely be sold or released. Joao Mario is my number 10. Good technique (16 passing, 16 technique, 16 first touch) and good creativity (15 vision, 15 teamwork, 15 decisions) but I can't shake the feeling I must find better options in the future.
Wingers: In the right Candreva can do a solid job with 16 crossing, 15 dribbling and 16 off the ball but even if he has inferior attributes I expect Politano to become the first choice by january. I think FM underestimates Perisic but his pace (17), acceleration (16), off the ball (18) and anticipation (16) make him an incisive option on the left flank. Keita Baldé is almost as technical as Perisic but the 6 year difference shows when comparing mental attributes, I would like to keep him at the club but I think Vrsaljko should be my first priority when it comes to loanees.
Strikers: Icardi is an excellent striker (19 finishing, 19 anticipation, 20 off the ball, 18 heading, 18 composure, 18 decisions, 15 first touch) I know that as long as I manage to create clear cut chances for him he will deliver the goods and at 25 he will be on top for half a decade and he is also a perfectionist. If he ever goes on a dry spell it will be my fault and that is the kind of effectiveness I demand of my strikers. Young Lautaro Martinez is on the path of becoming a second Icardi (16 finishing, 16 first touch, 15 of the ball, 16 anticipation, 17 technique) but he still has a long way to go before I can be satisfied with him, his determination (20) and professional personality should help him develop into a great number 9. Facundo Colidio looks like the kind of player who will develop into a first team striker for the serie A but with Lautaro and Icardi before him I don't think he will find a place in the team.
Conclusions: I have 25 players at my disposal including 4 keepers (way too many) 4 centre-backs (might need a fifth one) 4 full-backs (the sweet spot) 4 midfielders (should be enough) 2 number 10s (again should be enough) 4 wingers (2/2, a good distribution and 3 strikers (which are all the same kind of player, for better or worse). I expect Icardi, Perisic, Nainggolan and Skriniar to be my key men during the season. I will most likely get rid of Padelli and Berni and sign a deep playmaker. I am not sure what I would do with the 25th slot maybe a left fullback.
Understanding my players is key to developing my system and knowing what options I have at my disposal and which ones I lack, for example, I lack a creative striker or Target man which means I should go for a one striker formation and my fullbacks are not the best when it comes to attacking which means I should employ wingers or other wide roles on the flanks to provide goal scoring chances for my strikers. With this information and other observations I can create the set of three formations in a way that they compliment the team I have.
U20: I will comment on every youth with a 3=< star potential, what I expect to see when they develop and their place in the squad.
Pinamonti: yet another goal-hungry striker, he has very good finishing for his age but he will most likely fail to reach the level of Lautaro and Icardi. Develop and sell/keep as back-up.
Bastoni: Tall centre-back who might become a second Ranocchia, I will keep him and try to develop him into a towering defender.
Dimarco: a young fullback who could become an offensive asset for the team, since he is 20 years old I will make a decision on his future once he is back from loan.
Emmers: a young playmaker with time to improve, I think it is too early for me to take anything for granted regarding his future.
Merola: With so many young talented strikers he just won't make it big with us. Develop and sell
Ryan Nolan: Could become a decent centre-back but he will most likely be overtaken by another youngster by the time he has a chance with the first team. Develop and sell.
Rey Manaj: see Merola above.
Vanheusden: his determination and technique may earn him a chance in the future as a ball-playing defender.
U18: Every player with a potential above three stars gets a mention
Esposito: being only 16 and already having ridiculous technical attributes for his age(14 finishing, 14 first touch, 14 dribbling, 13 technique) I expect Esposito to become the pride and joy of Inter's academy. I will immediately move him to the first team so that he gets better training and be mentored by Icardi while he plays with the U18s. He is my blue chip prospect.
Salcedo: another 16 year old, while he is not as technically gifted as Esposito he has good mental and physical stats. He could really become a more second striker kind of player, something the club currently lacks so I will train him as a number 10. He might be on loan from Genoa but I fully intend on signing him permanently.
Squizzato: Good first touch (12) good passing (13) good decisions (13). being also 16 years old there are a lot of possible paths to take but his attribute spread seems to lean towards a holding midfielder.
Lorenzo Pirola: Promising centre-back (13 heading, 13 marking, 13 positioning, 11 tackling) he lacks great mental attributes but being 16 I expect him to gain those by the team he is ready for first team football, I will train him as a Non Nonsense defender because he doesn't have good technical attributes.
Eduardo Alcides Dias: 15 years old full-back. With 14 first touch and 14 technique along with a relatively good pace I will retrain him for a more attacking role further up the flank. since he is quite short and he has a low jumping reach (6) I don't trust him as a defender so I will convert him into a winger where it shouldn't be that much of an issue.
Kevin Rossi: 16, a number 10, nothing to write home about. Develop and sell.
Matias fonseca: He might be a winger but he is 6'3 feet tall and has decent finishing (13) pace (13) and jumping reach (14) so I will make a Target man out of him just to have a different kind of striker up front.
Van Den Eyden: he has several promising attributes for a centre-back (14 marking, 14 tackling, 14 acceleration, 14 pace, 13 positioning, 12 heading 14, agility) meaning he is already superior to the two years older Nolan and his team mate Pirola. He is already faster than any of my first team centre-backs and under Skriniar's mentoring he could develop into a solid defender, a cover to Bastoni's stopper. The defender I am most interested in from my academy.
Felice D' Amico: I don't entirely believe in him: with some interesting attributes (18 flair, 13 dribbling, 14 agility, 13, technique) he might become an explosive and entertaining number 10 but his low work rate (9) composure (6) concentration (8) and decisions (8) might hold him back and see him become a Quaresma, a cautionary tale about wasted talent. If I can curve those attributes he could become an interesting player but I don't think he will be as good as Salcedo.
Conclussion: Esposito, Van Den Eyden, Salcedo, Bastoni and Fonseca are the players I am most interested about, I have a clear vision for them and will promote them to the first team so they all get properly mentored but they will be playing with their respective teams until they are good enough to deserve chances at first team football. The five of them should end up being my first team options in the years to come, because Bastoni and Van Den Eyden are two very promising centre-backs I know I don't need to sign any new one. Esposito and Fonseca will both play a part in the future as strikers alongside Icardi and Lautaro, it is now clear that Facundo will leave Inter in the future. This means that my main concerns in the transfer market are the midfield and the flanks. None of my Goalkeepers is good enough which makes finding a heir to Handanovic one my priorities in the market.
Having young prospects so alike my first team is great news since I can know start thinking about the system without worrying too much about acquiring the right talent for the future.
In future posts I will be discussing the three tactics I have chosen and how they ought to work. If at any point while reading this you find I have made a mistake or said something which was factually wrong please post an answer correcting me since I happen to be new to the game and this is little more than a didactic experiment.