Football Manager™ 2021 features a number of leagues which, for many reasons, can be complicated and perhaps rather daunting for those unfamiliar with the intricacies of their individual rules and structures. Below is a beginner’s guide on how things work in some of the more complicated 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.)
Twelve teams play each other a minimum of two times throughout the season – which runs from mid-October until early or mid-April in normal times – to complete a total of 26 fixtures.
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 (Macarthur 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 2020-21 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 clubs are limited to a maximum of one per season.
Teams can name a maximum of seven substitutes on a match day, of which one must be a goalkeeper and only three can be used. There must also be at least two domestic Under-22 players on the bench, and at least three domestic Under-23s in the match day squad.
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 window operating for most of January.
The regular league phase of the Belgian Pro League A is straightforward. Eighteen teams play each other home and away for a 34-game schedule. However, many teams are then involved in a post-season playoff competition.
The top four teams enter the Championship Group. Points attained during the first 34 games are halved, and each team then plays the other three teams home and away for an additional six fixtures. The winner of the Championship Group is declared Belgian champions. Second place qualifies for Champions Cup qualifying round, third gets into the EURO Conference qualifying rounds and 4th place plays off for EURO Conference qualification against the winner of the European Places Playoff.
The same structure applies for places 5-8, the European Places Playoff, with the winning team advancing to play off against the fourth-placed team from the Championship Group.
The side finishing 18th is relegated while 17th contests a playoff against the runners-up of the second tier.
Squad/Player Eligibility Rules
While the league structure is complicated, player eligibility is not. Teams must include at least six players trained in Belgium (for three years before their 23rd birthday) 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 (as above).
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-six teams are split into two conferences (East and West) with a general geographical split to provide friendlier travelling schedules for away teams. Teams play 36 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 is no re-seeding of teams at this stage; 1st plays the winner of the 4th vs 5th match at home, and the winner of the 3rd vs 6th match visits 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 is 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 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$5.2m. The 20 highest-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$650,000 per season (excluding Designated Players, who only affect the salary cap up to this sum). Should a player on the maximum individual salary join midway through the season, his salary cap impact will only be 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 (the amount of money they earn as part of the overall salary cap) 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.
Teams also have Target Allocation Money (TAM) to try to add or retain players that will make an immediate impact on the pitch. For the 2021 season, each MLS team receives $2.72m in TAM, and an additional $1.9m in General Allocation Money (GAM). These funds can then be used to supplement the salary of any player already earning the maximum budget charge, up to a maximum of $1m per year. These funds can also ‘buy down’ the contract of a player, which in effect means to reduce the salary cap impact by the amount of GAM or TAM you wish to commit to it. There are various limitations on how you can do this, however, and you are informed of them in-game when necessary.
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 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 in which 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.
Players may be sold at any time, assuming the buying team are in an active transfer window themselves.
Ahead of the 2021 season, Austin will join MLS. As is traditional, the arrival of a new teams is preceded by an Expansion Draft. Each team protects 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.