A Canadian Abroad
A few notes from the author: The following will be my account of my career progress in Football Manager 2010. I've finally achieved a team and save that I
can be proud to put on display - so far - so the following entries will be the result. I'm using a database downloaded from www.fmnorthamerica.com - the USA and Canada Custom Leagues - v1.0 which includes the USL D1 and D2, PDL, NPSL, CSL (Canadian Soccer League, and it's reserve division), the Pacific Coast Soccer League, NCAA Teams (all of the NCAA Teams are non-playable), as well as Canadian national and regional training centers (which is an incredible idea). Whoever dedicated themselves to doing the research and work for this database deserves a TON of credit. So, the nations that I have loaded are Canada and the US (obviously), England, Italy, Scotland, France, Greece, Portugal, Ireland, North Ireland, Russia, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, Germany, Spain, Croatia, Mexico, and Holland, all of which are loaded and playable from their lowest possible division upwards. Yes - it's a bit of a strain on the PC but very worth it for realism, I find. One of the options in that league is to start in Canada in December of 2008, which I did, and I selected Luton as my first choice. Secondly - there won't be a ton of screen shots - I will when I can, but I hate the windows snipping tool in vista and can't find anything better to screen cap with. Major events will be capped, I'll do a cap of last year's league table (I'll start my account in my second year with Luton Town in the BSP), and major transactions will also be capped when possible.
Lastly, I'll start with a bit of a backstory, although this has proven to be the most vexing, creatively. Most of my best FM success came in FM06 - in which i did 35+ seasons (one continuous save) during which I managed fourteen different club teams, starting with Hereford United and ending with Juventus, and seven different nations (although that's not entirely the case, I managed Canada on 3 different occasions which counted towards the seven). So, onwards, I guess - hope you enjoy the ride as much as I am.==================================================================================================================
In all honesty, where I began is not nearly as important as where I am now, but for the sake of being complete, I wouldn't say that I'd been a soccer fan all my life. In fact, being Canadian, the "football" I paid most of my attention to was of the 3 and 4 down variety. That all changed in early 2003. Something just clicked in my head and I fell in love with what people call "the beautiful game".
Flash forward to early 2005. Completely without any backing of any kind, I made a move to England with a dream to pursue a career in coaching. I hadn't played (fat guys don't tend to do well on the pitch ;-)), but I had watched and I had learned and I had begun to formulate what I felt was a system for success and I wanted to make it happen. By June of that same year, I was employed in sort of an administrative-gofer type job with the Hereford United Bulls. I give all the credit in the world to Graham Turner and most especially John Trewick for taking me, a complete nobody, under their wing and allowing me to learn the game from the inside. After two years of learning, I took all of 2007 to get my UEFA coaching badge, a course which was gruelling and strenuous but I did make it through. I sort of found mentorships in a few different places throughout the next six or eight months, when I had heard that FC Luton were considering a managerial change.
On a whim, I applied. Could I go through some semi pro system and build a reputation there? Sure. But the problem I have with that instinctively is that the players are only (usually) able to devote part of their time to perfecting their skills, and I wanted to be in a place where the board and the players and the fans all collectively understood what it takes to be great, and who have the same desire that I have to be great. Not just "okay" or "average". I don't do things to be "average" - that's not me.
To my shock, Mick Harford called me for an interview. He stated that I was a longshot to get the job, but that he'd heard good things about my work ethic and level of competency, particularly where tactics are concerned, and he wanted to talk. What choice did I have? I said yes.
The interview took place in late November 2008, and over the course of two days I met with the entire organization, non-playing and playing staff alike. I was impressed by what I saw, and my excitement to work with this group only grew. I felt they "got it" on the same level I did. The board made it clear that the expectation was that the team win the Blue Square Premier next season. What can I say? Pressure's motivating, and I love their desire for excellence.
It took a few days for the process to play itself out, as it always does. There were a number of hugely qualified coaches and managers who could have taken the job, so when I got the call from Luton saying I was their guy, and they wanted to talk about a contract, I was ecstatic. The negotiation went quickly. The initial contract I signed was a two year deal worth 42,000 euro p/a, a deal which I felt was more than fair. I was allowed total control over staffing, and I immediately set about finding a group that I could feel completely happy working with. Everyone, even those who I terminated, was exceptional and the situation was handled with a lot of class, even though I had to make some tough decisions and tell some people that they'd be without a job for at least the short term. My first call was to Phil Walker, who I had heard through many different sources was an excellent coach, and his interview proved that. He was smart, valued discipline, mental preparedness, and he had an attacking mentality. It took me about two hours to offer him the job, and he accepted. Job one was done.
Next, it was time to meet the media. This wasn't something I was looking forward to, in all honesty. I'd heard that the media at Luton had a reputation of being extremely difficult to deal with. It seemed, from what I'd heard, that they took great pride in predicting a coach's failure, even when they had no basis for doing so. I stepped to the podium, told the 3 gathered journalists that I would ensure the players would enjoy playing for me and that I had an open door policy, but that I intended to have my hand in every area possible when my time allowed it. They asked me about a couple of players (George Pilkington, for one) and I told the media that I had wanted to give everyone a fair shake and see them play before I made any firm decisions, but that Pilkington was going to be someone I wanted to retain for certain.
After a few more clicheed questions about tactics and my staff, the media conference ended. I then set about filling out the rest of my staff. I brought on a Canadian, Michael Smith, who impressed me with his mental skills and man-management abilities. John O'Boyle and Mick Gooding would be in charge of attack and defense coaching respectively, and Dmitry Kharin would coach my keepers (he was the only holdover from Nick Money's regime). My entire scouting staff would be replaced, as would my physio staff. My new scouts are Glyn Chamberlain, Ian Salter and Malcom Shotton, and my physiotherapist is Scottsman Andy Caldwell.
To recap my first season on the pitch is to recap a season mixed with both exhilleration and disappointment. We finished 2nd in the Blue Square Premier, five
points behind Oxford, with a record of 29 wins with 3 losses and 14 draws. We scored 93 goals, the most in the league, and only surrendered 42 in 46 league games. Tom Craddock won Top Goalscorer with 32. We didn't win a single FA Cup match, and only one in the FA Trophy competition. The most crushing blow was losing in the league semi final to York 3-2 on aggregate. York finished 5th in the regular season. York and Cambridge would be the teams that saw promotion to League 2.
Off the pitch, things were VERY stable, until nearly the very end of the season. Perhaps the biggest high point off the pitch from a team standpoint was the relationship we formed with Chelsea, who is currently our parent club. I nabbed one long-term loan player from them, attacking left midfielder Gael Kakuta who made nineteen first team appearances, scoring four goals, assisting on seven others and winning one man of the match. Sam Hewson, our other long term loan of the year was an attacking center midfielder from Manchester United who made 28 first team appearances for me, scoring six goals, assisting on seven others and winning five man-of-the-match awards. He was also shortlisted for the Blue Square Premier player of the year award (which ultimately went to Tom Craddock), and winning the BSP Young Player Of The Month one time.
Personally, I'm not sure things could have gone better. Clearly I was doing things right. I had given over my team talks to my assistant who I felt was a better motivator than I was (and am), I won manager of the month on 3 different occasions, and finished second in Manager Of The Year voting. Shortly after the season ended, I was offered a one year extension on my original two year contract, which I appreciated, but I requested that we sit down and talk about adding a second year on to the extension, which they granted. Within a few days, a two year extension to the original agreement was finalized, which makes me the manager here at Luton Town through June of 2013.
Unfortunately, not all was good off the pitch. The club lost money, and in spite of a fairly exceptional record, we could not fill the stands at all. The board had arranged no fewer than three seperate fan days, we averaged approximately 6600 fans per game (in a park that seats just over 10,000 at capacity), and I had to cut my captain with less than a month remaining in the campaign.
Kevin Nicholls had a discipline problem, plain and simple. He was suspended for the first 4 league games due to excessive yellow cards at the end of last season. I decided, though, that to keep a sense of consistency within a time of upheaval, I would retain him in the captaincy, which he held before I arrived. I was never sure what I was going to get from him when he played. He was either wildly agressive or complacent. He was suspended on 3 different occasions for both red and yellow cards, and the situation came to a head in early April when he skipped a training session without notifying anyone on the staff.
I'd had enough at that point and immediately stripped him of his captaincy (well, what would YOU have done?). I'd already fined him for the numerous suspensions, and apparently losing the captaincy, which he deemed "unfair treatment" was too much for him to handle. He went on a tirade in the media stating in no uncertain terms his dislike for me as a person and a manager, and so with one very short call to his agent, I offered him a mutual termination
worth 35,000 euros, and he (apparently happily) accepted.
Last I heard, he was out of football. Nobody had called me after I released him to see whether he'd be worth taking on. Shocking, really. He's a talented midfielder with alot to contribute in the right situation, with the right people to keep him focused on the task at hand. Not to mention that he's still relatively young . He's only 31, which makes his retirement all the more disappointing, but I can't dwell on people who don't want to be a part of what we're trying to do, and clearly he didn't.
Now here we sit in the offseason. It's July 24, 2010 as I type this. I have a new assistant manager in Ian Banks, who has been impressive on multiple levels, particularly in his tactical knowledge and man management. Just a wealth of knowledge there. Thankfully Phil Walker also restructured his contract to stay on as coach. He didn't have to do that, and I would have understood if he said no, but I'm glad he did. We won a pre-season league, which I scheduled really as a means of getting the new players together and used to the way we play. I scheduled some incredibly easy opponents (Ronse, a Belgian side, Berwick and Potton). In the three games, one of which actually went to friggin penalties, (Berwick) we scored sixteen goals and surrendered only two. Our biggest win was 10-0 over Potton.
As I sit here, I'm stewing over squad numbers and who will get the disappointment of not being a part of our starting XI. We'll run 3 seperate tactics, a fairly straightforward, yet creative and flowing 4-4-2 (which I ran for the majority of last season), a diamond 4-4-2 and a 4-5-1 (which I'm a REALLY big fan of). When it works it's beautiful to watch. It looks so much like a 4-3-3 when it comes forward on the attack it's almost scary). The diamond and the 4-5-1 rely on a certain number of "specialist" players, which I'm lucky to have, but there's still a little bit of time yet to figure out who exactly will fit where and when and how.
Blue Square Premier Final Standings 2009-2010