Top 10 Football Manager 2016 Tips
The Football Manager series continues to gather momentum year on year, and as someone who is a keen player of the franchise, I thought I would share with you my top ten tips for all aspiring managers out there.
This article will have points that will correlate to the 2015 edition, however these tips mainly apply to 2016 . With the following tips in this article, I guided York City from League Two to the Premier League, winning two Johnstone’s Paint Trophies in the process. Here – in no particular order - are some of the ways I managed to build a sustainable, successful club.
Utilise free transfers and the loan market.
For me, this is one of the most important pieces of advice for succeeding in the lower divisions. Two of the key benefits of the free transfer are that agent fees are either non-existent or extremely cheap, and players are likely to demand a lesser wage. When I was struggling with York City in League One, I needed someone who could come in on a low-end contract and score the goals to take York City to the next division. Within the close season transfer window, Shaquile Coulthirst was snapped up on a free transfer, and Carlton Morris – a player I loaned from my senior affiliate, (more on that further down) Norwich City. The pair were a formidable duo, and they became the Suarez and Sturridge of League One if you like, as their goals and assists contributed to over 50 league goals between them as York City finished first.
What this proves is that you can have a solid base in your team with little flair or creativity, but if you have strikers who can supply you goals, then you can succeed.
Don’t always listen to your scout reports.
There will be occasions where you discover a player who appears to fit the bill. He is exactly what your team needs, perhaps that dominating centre back, or the ball-playing midfield maestro who can elevate you to the next level – but your scout informs you that signing this player will be a waste of time. It’s a heart-wrenching moment, especially if you've spent a considerable amount of time scouting the player. However, from my experience, your scouts aren’t always right. It is worth bearing in mind that players aren’t the only variables in the game that are ranked from 1-20; your staff are as well. If your scout ranks 8 out of 20 for judging player ability, and 6 out of 20 for judging player potential, then invariably they are going to miss a trick when it comes to judging a player.
Yes, sometimes they are right when they scout a player, but it is best to rely on your own gut instinct and take the plunge. What's the worst that could happen, selling the player on the following season?
In the lower divisions, play with two strikers.
Now, while two strikers can work in the top flight, I often like my midfield to be packed and to play on the counter-attack. But, goals are essential in the lower leagues, as highlighted in the first tip – and playing an orthodox 4-4-2 or a 4-4-2 diamond can be the best way to climbing the football ladder. I secured promotion in my first season in League Two after clinching the last automatic promotion spot, but York’s great run of form came once I switched from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2. The stats for your more defensive players will be fairly low – apart from their mental stats, and unless you cherry pick the very best coaches (at a considerable price) your defence can only improve so much. Offensively, players can still have finishing stats of 15 or above, with rapid pace on top of that. Having two strikers who complement each other’s game is a huge bonus and an essential tip of mine.
Play to the strengths of your players.
Everyone wants to play like Barcelona – fluid movement, technical prowess and one-touch passing. However, it isn’t going to be like that. A lot of sides like to play direct football and whip crosses into the box – so it is important you have a powerful defence, a commanding goalkeeper and a team fit for purpose. Mental stats are still quite underrated in Football Manager, but allow your more experienced players to drag you through a tough game to a 1-0 away win. Sometimes, those scrappy wins can be the most satisfying. Furthermore, to secure that one-goal victory it is useful to try playing away games on the counter-attack and set your team up to be structured or flexible. There are other tactical options; highly structured, fluid, or very fluid - but those approaches are perhaps best suited to separate gameplans. Bear in mind that other sides won’t necessarily have the best defence going and you should look to exploit that, so playing with quick wingers and utilising the space out wide are essential for countering successfully.
Find a senior affiliate.
The importance of this next point is one that I cannot stress enough. Finding a senior affiliate is a key tip of mine to helping you succeed in the short term. Getting one gives your club a little extra income per year, but chiefly, it usually allows you to take players on loan without incurring the cost of wages. However, be careful when selecting your affiliate – being a League Two or League One side, you won’t necessarily be able to attract players from clubs like Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea. My most successful senior affiliate was Norwich City where I secured the loan signings of players such as Carlton Morris and Jon Toral, as well as some of their regens.
These players were added to my squad over a couple of seasons and I didn’t pay a penny to get them. Because of that, my side York City were able to make a greater profit as expenditure went down, and all of the players made a huge contribution to the team. Sometimes, finding an affiliate in the Championship is a viable option, because they often have good youth players who you can take to bolster your squad, or more experienced reserve players who are ready to join your first team.
Look to promote youth players from the system/youth intake.
This, for me was one of the most exciting features of Football Manager – taking a young player from obscurity and helping them reach above and beyond their potential is a hugely gratifying part of the game. I had a number of young players who were either sold on for a profit, or simply stayed at the club and developed. One player in particular was a regen named Mike Poppleton. He was a 16 year old striker with half decent finishing and physical stats, but largely he was very rough around the edges. However, the reason this young player gave me my most satisfying moment is because he stayed at the club all the way to the Premier League - and although usually he would be backup to my main strikers, in back-to-back games, he came off the bench to win six points late on, one of which was an away game at Southampton. Young players will always develop, even if their potential is low. Persevering with young players can be difficult, but the payoff is hugely rewarding.
Build the foundations of your club one step at a time.
If you are looking to be successful with the purpose of getting a move to a top club, then this next tip isn’t for you. However, this advice is for anyone who is at their club for the long term – and I will share with you how I built York City. First and foremost, I wanted my own stamp on the team. I had an active transfer window without spending over the odds which was key to gaining promotion, mainly through utilising the free transfers and loan market. Off the pitch, the club was planning to move to a new stadium within three years, so I wanted to plan around that. I requested many changes, but the board would often reject my requests, citing lack of finances as the primary reason. Once I brought them success and the books were balanced, the club upgraded the youth facilities, offered me a new contract with the assurance that money would be available for marquee signings, improved relations with smaller clubs by becoming their senior affiliate, allowed for more coaches and other staff to join the club, and expanded the scouting network. The scouting network was a huge factor in gaining back-to-back promotions to the Premier League. I managed to find a player from Marseille’s reserves called Bouna Sarr; a right winger with a keen eye for goal, and he was superb in his first two seasons at the club. That is one example of how these individual changes helped to shape the club and ensured that York City stayed in the black, while being successful on the pitch. This was potentially one of the reasons why York secured a takeover from a local businessman, who took the club higher once more. With the TV money, Premier League money and the local businessman, finances of over £30m in my debut season in England’s top flight were allocated.
Change your tactical approach where necessary.
It perhaps goes without saying, but it is sometimes a forgotten element of Football Manager – understanding and appreciating its realism and level of detail. At York, especially in League One and the Championship where I wanted to dominate games, I would look to be fluid and take the game to lesser sides in the home games, but away from home I would look for an early goal before reverting to a counter-attacking style.
If it was a big away game, I would play structured or flexible, and on the counter-attack. When it came to the pre-match scout report I would evaluate the weaknesses of the opposition and look to exploit it. For example, if they had an injury to a key player or a player with low match sharpness was deputising, I would assign a player to pressurise him. If the opposition conceded a lot of goals from crosses coming from the left, I would instruct my side to exploit the left flank, and my winger would float crosses into the box. In the pre-match opposition instructions page, I would make sure the virtually all of the other team were closed down and shown on to their weaker foot. For me, it was essential to not allow the other team time on the ball. So, don’t be afraid to mix it up, because if you keep your tactics too similar, opposition teams will get wise to your style of play and find ways to adapt to your familiar system.
Ensure your players play in their natural position and role.
This is important for maximising the performance of your players. For example, I had a number of central midfielders, but sometimes only two starting berths available. If I needed to play on the counter-attack I would have one of my midfielders, Russ Penn playing as a ball winning midfielder, and I set him to support – which meant he would look to win the ball back higher up the pitch and quickly get York on the attack. The other midfielder, Luke Summerfield, would complement him tremendously. He would be deployed either as a box-to-box midfielder to give the team energy, or as a deep-lying playmaker, where he could protect the defence and spray passes out to the flanks. However, these players may have struggled to be advanced playmakers, set to attack. The same can be said for strikers – it is no use having a small, quick and mobile striker and setting him to be a target man. When I had Coulthirst and Morris, I noticed that Coulthirst’s best role was in the false nine position and Morris’ was as a poacher. As I alluded to earlier, these two were fantastic for York City when I deployed them in their preferred position and role.
Try to keep your players happy.
The morale of your players is something to keep a close eye on. Morale can be affected by results, lack of first team games, and players being signed who play in their position – as well as other variables. If you have a player who isn’t getting first team football and he comes to you for a chat, don’t guarantee him first team football if you aren’t going to act up on that promise, as this only makes things worse further down the line. There are options to send him out on loan, give him cup games, and you can even tell him to drop the issue. Utilise which option best suits the situation at that present time.
Another tip is not to be aggressive or assertive too often, or at inappropriate times – after a heavy defeat to an in-form side for instance. If results are going against your side over several weeks, don’t be afraid to change your tactical style and have a team meeting with the players. Often, the little bit of confidence you can inspire in a player is enough to trigger a rise in performance level, whereas being aggressive with them runs the risk of them turning on you.
So there you have it, my Top 10 Football Manager tips. Let me know if you agree with my choices, disagree with any, or if there are any tips you have of your own.
Football Manager is a hugely addictive game, but it can be a frustrating one when results aren't going your way – hopefully this article can alleviate any hardships and set you on your way to managerial glory.