The average life expectancy of a football manager might be approaching that of a mosquito, but it still doesn’t half hurt when you get the P45 in the closest thing most of us will ever come to the dugout: Football Manager 2017.
So how do you avoid making small talk with Paul Ince and Alan Curbishley in the job queue? By heeding the sage advice that follows:
Focus on fitness
You might have a squad with more flair than the Bee Gees’ wardrobe department, but if those boys are lacking fitness, they’re about as much use as Donald Trump’s conscience. Pre-season is critical. Arrange plenty of (evenly spaced) friendlies and give those boys some serious game time: four or five matches at the absolute minimum. If you’ve picked your squad for the first game and your assistant is warning that half the team won’t make it to half-time before puking up their Lucozade, you’ve failed.
Obey the 90% rule
Keep an eye on match fitness throughout the season, too. As a rule of thumb, I don’t pick players with a match fitness of less than 90%. If players are coming back from injury, get them up to speed in the reserves or from the substitutes bench, until they’re back above the magic 90% mark. The 90% rule means you’ll almost certainly have to employ squad rotation, so plan carefully for the big games when you’ll need your full-strength side out, especially in periods such as Christmas and Easter, where you’ll often play two or three games in very quick succession.
Don’t buy a name, buy form
You’re rebuilding an unfashionable, success-starved side – Preston, Walsall, Arsenal – and suddenly a big-name player looking for one final pension top-up appears on the radar. You’ll have to smash your remaining wage budget to land Frank Lampard, but it’s Frank Fucking Lampard. This is the football equivalent of Kylie flashing you a glimpse of upper thigh and asking if you fancy a Nando’s.
You try to ignore the fact that Frank now has all the acceleration of a Honda Jazz and the natural fitness of a pork scratching, but six games into the season he’s got a worse average rating than Beirut on TripAdvisor, and the rest of the squad are in open revolt because Frank’s earning £80,000 a week to tell the subs’ bench anecdotes about John Terry’s old man. Still, at least you can add ‘record merchandise sales’ to your CV when applying for your next job.
Look instead for players with pedigree, players who are averaging 7 or above in your division or a near equivalent. Trust the stats over the scouts.
Fit a formation to the players
You might have told the board you were going to play flowing attacking football. You might have told the press that’s what you’re going to do in the imaginary press conference you held in front on the bathroom mirror (come on, we’ve all done it). But words are cheaper than a bag of Lidl pasta if you haven’t got the players for the job.
Study your players’ attributes carefully and match your style to suit. If you’ve got two six-foot-something lumps up top, there’s little point playing on the counter and getting your wingers to whip in low crosses. Don’t play a high line if none of your defenders reach double figures in the pace department. Don’t go all tippy-tappy if your midfield couldn’t roll a snooker ball through an open garage door.
The long ball is surprisingly effective in Football Manager, especially in the lower leagues. It might not do much for your possession percentages, but there’s only one stat that really counts: points.
Play smart with the finances
It’s not wise to push your luck with the budget. You’ll get away with a little largesse if you’re top of the league, but if you’re struggling in mid-table despite a promotion target, you’re just giving the number crunchers another reason to sack you.
Always leave a little wiggle room in the playing budget (at least 10%), because there will come a time in the season when you want to start renewing contracts, and the best players will inevitably want more money. If you’ve maxed out the wage budget, the board will start imposing tighter wage caps, and that may make it impossible to get your 20-goals-a-season man to sign on the dotted line.
If you’ve still got a transfer budget to speak of, then remember you can usually increase the wage budget at the expense of the transfer kitty. Visit the boardroom and fiddle with the sliders.
Asking the board for more money mid-season is always a risky move. Issuing an ultimatum to boost the budget is almost always suicidal.