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Football Manager is a game that tests the persons ability to think, the patience the person has and most importantly the persons character. These factors determine how a player enjoys his/her Football Manager.
There are four ways to approach the game:
1- Some prefer immediate dominance through editing the budgets and player’s attributes before starting a game.
2- Others prefer entering as an extra new manager at certain times of the game to get what they want.
3- Some players prefer to bide their time by imposing their style through developing the youngsters and scouting the best talent.
4- Finally, there are others that prefer managing the lower league teams in order to make money or try to reach and establish themselves in higher/premier leagues.
To fully enjoy the game, I favour the last two approaches and will discuss my approach fully as you read on.
Starting the game with a lower league club is a challenge in itself as you don’t have a huge budget, you have mediocre players at best and also lack the depth within the squad to challenge and achieve what is expected of you from the board. However, this approach is the most fulfilling and exciting when well executed. It requires discipline, organisation, slick tactics and essentially, patience from the player.
I’ve used a number of clubs with this approach, and my greatest achievements were with Swindon Town, Football Manager 2010.
During my first season with Swindon, I used pre-season to refine the team, who will be a part of it and who won’t. Before selling/releasing/loaning out players, I signed two experienced free agents and loaned in three from the bigger clubs (this is one of the most useful and helpful methods in Football Manager). The players obviously had to settle but it was important for me to sign them straight after I started the game, to allow them to familiarise themselves with their new colleagues.
Although pre-season is mainly for the conditioning of players, I use it to test my tactics and practice them as much as possible with the line-up and strategy I plan to use during the course of the season. The tactics I use are ultra-defensive and rigid in the first half and change to a fluid attacking system in the second half. With the 4-5-1 formation, I set my teams mentality and that of all players but the striker to a defensive mode during the first half. At half-time, I usually change and set my tactics to a 4-3-3 formation, using a fluid attacking system. This obviously depends on the opposition and the half-time score, but I stick to my defensive strategy more often than not.
It is ideal to play cautious football when managing a lower league club as you facilitate ways to avoid defeat. For example, during my first season, Swindon had a match against Man. Utd in the League Cup. With the ultra-defensive system, the team was able to contain Man. Utd for 120 minutes and knock them out on penalties. I used the same method for the following rounds which lead to Swindon reaching the final only to lose to Man. City 0-1 with Micah Richards scoring in the final minute. During that first season I reached the Quarter-finals of the FA Cup and finished eleventh in League One.
The reason behind the ultra-defensive system in the first-half and the attacking shape in the second-half is to take advantage of the fitness and condition of the opposition. By absorbing the pressure in the first-half, the attacking players and midfielders of the opposing team exhaust their energies, so it is easier to take a chance and go for a win or draw- when losing- in the second-half. Most of my substitutions involve the central midfielders, as they are the players whose fitness decreases most of the time.
The following season I used the same philosophy of being super-cautious in the first-half and being adventurous in the second-half and it payed dividends as I finished fourth and was eliminated in the play-offs on penalties. The cup competitions didn’t go as expected but the league finish attracted more players, albeit on loan, to the club.
The third and fourth season were not as good as I wanted as the club finished eighth on both occasions.
The fifth season was the season where the patient approach and tactical astuteness payed off. After a run of poor results at the beginning of the season, we went on a 20 match unbeaten run including 13 clean-sheets in the process. This lead to us winning the league and gaining promotion to the Championship with
Jonathan Douglas, Sean Morrison and Bill Paynter being our star players. They eventually left, bringing a combined 8.2million pounds to the club. With the money, I bought a defender, defensive midfielder and a striker, all recommended by my scouts.
I was approached by Crystal Palace to take over their managing position but proudly rejected as I had been placed as a favoured person in the club and had ambitions for the Swindon FC.
Our first season in the Championship went perfect as we kept the same philosophy and crucially, most of the squad members were familiar with each other and the system we had been using since the first season of the game. Against all odds, we finished second and gained promotion to the Premier League and reached the semi-finals of both domestic cups with an impressive 19 cleansheets. My reputation helped us get two good players in Kieran Gibbs and Jake Livermore, who is now the captain of the club.
Swindon is well established in the Premier League and have registered a ninth and eleventh place finish. The club is currently fifth after 35 games and is in the final of the FA Cup.
With the “managing a lower league club…” approach, the realism of the game is evident. No cheating, and editing. Simply just enjoying the game as it was made. It is more enjoyable when the challenge is given to you and you accept it by playing the game without the need to edit and/or add new users. Applying your intelligence and tactical ability, and at the same time being patient pays off eventually, just like in real life. The point here is, this approach defines Football Manager.