‘Started from the bottom now we here’ – An FM Guide: Going from Semi-Pro to Pro

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Everyone always has the idea of having their dream football manager save with a team that are down at the bottom of the footballing ladder, this guide will (hopefully) help you convert your team into a force to be reckoned with.

This particular guide will focus on these three components:

  • Money
  • Players
  • Progression & Commitment

This article was inspired by my success with a semi-professional team in the Welsh Premier League, who are known as Connah’s Quay Nomads. I took over Connah’s Quay Nomads as I was tired of TNS winning it absolutely every year in real life and wanted to create a save in which I would challenge myself. I am currently in (July 2025) and have had a large amount of success with this save. I have come to the conclusion my development through the save has came down to three key components. I am going to write about how I turned this team in to a dominant force on and off the pitch at all levels.

This guide can be applied to any team, you just have to think logically and apply it to your own save.


Money

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Everyone wants it, but not everyone gets it on Football Manager. This was by far the most important aspect as how I have converted this team in to a team that fights in Europe. One of the most important factors in making money is selecting a team in which it is achievable in a short period of time, for example picking a team in the Vanamara North League is less likely to boost your income then picking a team in the Welsh Premier League. The reason for this is Europe. This is by far the biggest income you could ever ask for, so ensure you pick a team that you would be able to get some sort of continental championship that you can compete for – unless you want a long winded save. The money you get from Europe is one of the easiest ways to turn your amateur or semi-pro team into a professional team.

Contracts are another way in which you can have a big say in the money you are spending. I will talk about players later on, but for now this is focusing on contracts. It is hard not to give your best player the best possible contract, but it will affect how much you earn. That extra £300 a week can really add up if you’re a smaller club, put it this way 300 multiplied by 52 is equal to £15,600 – if you’re a big club this is nothing, if you happen to be a small club this is a lot. This all adds up, think about if five of your players want an extra £300 a week that reaches a total of £78,000. Now that is serious money and something you should really pay close attention to. I never really paid attention to finances as much as I have with this save, and it’s really benefited me for future saves. I always remember this famous quote by Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish – Image result for kenny dalglish no one bigger than club quote

Kenny is right, if a player doesn’t want to play on the wages you want to pay, look elsewhere. Maybe the next player you find isn’t as good, but just think of the wages that you are saving and the progression you are making in finances. One of the biggest burdens on a players contract for me is their playing fee and unused substitution fee, I always exclude these from contracts, You may think your player is on a basic £1000 a week contract until you look closely and realise he will receive an extra £300 for playing, and £200 for being an unused substitute. You must, and I can’t stress this enough try to get the best deal that benefits you, the club is your best interests.

Don’t worry about cash flow if you are in any continental championship. Below is a graphic of my save and the finances –

Connah's Quay Nomads_ Finances Summary.png

Finances in 2021.

This might look like it spikes in areas, which it does, but this isn’t down to poor cash flow it is solely relying on Europe for the main source of income. In my first season it slowly declines over the season and I was really worried I would liquidate the club if I didn’t have any other income, that season I qualified for European qualification rounds, I didn’t do well but I still got a lot of money for it and that money has kept coming in consecutive seasons meaning that the better I do in Europe the more money I will receive.

Connah's Quay Nomads_ Finances Summary-3.png

Finances in 2025.

If you look at the image from the 2021 season it looks like I was making pennies in comparison to this. This particular season I qualified for the Champions League group stage because of how fortunate the draws were in the qualifying stages, I didn’t do well in the group stages but I still received this amount of money –

Ryan Brown_ Inbox-19

Payment for reaching Champions League group stages.

I don’t think I will get in to the group stages again in the following year but that £11.32 Million has completely revamped the actual club and I don’t mean in terms of personnel. The money has allowed me to continue to develop and grow the club off field in terms of facilities and scouting range, this is something that is massively under rated and often overlooked for smaller clubs.

I want to look at my finances in a bit more depth and I have broken the finances into years –

Connah's Quay Nomads_ Finances Summary-3

I have added a black line in each season as to when it typically starts, so for my case this is August. I have also added a year to each segment, so you can see the progression as well as the maximum amount of money I had at any given time in this time frame.

It is all about patience, you won’t become an overnight billionaire and it wasn’t until the 2020/21 season where I really pushed myself to strive for professional status. I finished third in this season, which was one better than the season before, but I won in the qualification for Europe which meant I could try and earn money for winning in at least one qualifying round. I got to the third qualifying round for the Europa League but that was more than enough. It meant that I received £89k per round and took home an extra £209k which meant just from three qualifying rounds of the Europa league the club would earn approximately £476k. This was the start of the money coming in to the club, because of this money I could sign a couple of players for cash and pay that little bit extra and with better players it meant I could challenge more. That is exactly what I did in the following season where I somehow beat Rangers in the fourth qualifying round in the Europa and placed myself in a group, obviously the team got beat every game but I just wanted the money. This meant with this new money, I had a balance of £2.8 Million – this was the first time the board wanted to go professional and because I had more than £1 Million in the bank it went ahead.

My first season as a professional club I finally took the title of TNS and signed some wonderful talents along the way. The first season as a professional club was fantastic, however, the board upgraded my youth and training facilities which meant I was a bit short for cash in some months but that all changed when I qualified for the Champions league qualifiers, unfortunately losing out to Shaktar in the deciding round but meant I could have a spot in the Europa League.

Europe has really allowed me to blossom and take advantage of the money that you gain from it. In my last season, one round in the Champions League covered the full costings of my wages for an ENTIRE YEAR. That is the kind of money I wanted and will continue to get as I develop the club, but don’t forget to develop the club in different ways.


Players

Image result for football players training

Everyone loves a good new-gen and these lower reputation clubs will relish from another clubs loss. Players get you results with the right management and that’s the mindset I have had throughout this save. I have taken a lot of risks and chances on players who might not look fantastic but play with a consistent rating. In particular I started looking at a mix of youth and experience, but experience definitely won the battle at the time. As the club was semi-professional at the time I could only sign players who had played in Wales before or were Welsh and this was a struggle, but I found some fantastic players along the way. TNS were the only professional club at the time so every time they let go of players I was first on the door offering them contracts. I spent a total of £2.2k in my first year and signed a massive 20 players. That seems a lot but the contracts were so small I wanted to give everyone an opportunity and offered them a year contract or if it was in January a six month contract and then reassess them at the end of the season. I have always had a high turn over of players in my first few years whilst managing a club, and this didn’t change.

I particularly looked for players who suited my formation, I played a simple 4-4-2 and relied on pacey strikers who could beat the last man. I signed about six strikers to fill two roles and looked for players who were fast, I searched specifically for the pace and acceleration before I even considered their finishing or composure and this worked. The league isn’t that great and the defenders struggled to keep up, and it was a case of I want to score as many goals as possible before the opposition exploit my weaknesses. Age really didn’t matter, I am a semi-professional team looking to change the fortunes of the club and I knew that players would only be there for a year and move on or retire.

Use a lot of players or have a larger squad. This was something I did, I always had cover, if my best striker was injured I knew I had someone on the bench who could do the job. I have the most players used in every season so far, and this will never change. I wanted to focus on every competition and give it my all, after all, the prize money is something that was appetising and it also meant I could increase the clubs reputation and attract better players. I always look at the bigger picture and how one trophy can affect the club in the long run.

If they are good enough play them. I always see people have fantastic new-gens and they just let them play in the reserves, I had a couple of new-gens and played them. One is now my best player and captain and is a big part of why I have so many trophies, take a look at him –

Adam Taylor_ Overview Profile.png

17 Years of age and a massive part of the team.

Adam Taylor_ Overview Profile-7.png

22 Years of age and captain.

I mean if you just compare the two and look at how much he has grown in five years, it is quite remarkable. He has went from an outcast who got given an opportunity to the clubs captain. He is also my most paid player, I have a team in the Champions League who I pay £1,400 a week to. Remember Kenny Dalglish’s quote, I stuck by this and never over paid him – I still pay less wages than TNS and I have just completed the quadruple(League, MG cup, IRN BRU cup and Welsh cup).

As time goes by, look at your youth and really take time out to see what you can do to make them better. What I did was create a team where there was at least two players in every position on the pitch and left them to it, granted some were good and others weren’t but it gave the club stability and I worked on this a lot. I believe that if you’re winning games you are typically happy, if you’re happy you want to play, if you want to play you are going to learn and that’s exactly why I focus on my youth recruitment and have the most successful youth team who have just completed their season winning the league unbeaten and drawing two out of a possible 22.

Keep it simple. I see no point in trying to replicate how Barcelona play with their Tiki-Taka, keep it simple. I started out with a direct passing system which I try to exploit the flanks and then play early crosses for my fast strikers to latch on to. I won’t discuss tactics in depth in this article as there are more important factors to turning your club professional.


Progression & Commitment

Image result for Progression graph art

A little step backwards to go a big step forward is good. At any club you want to progress through the ranks, and this is no different. Even if one season you don’t do as well as expected you can always leap back the next season. There are far too many people who will play the game and then give up after four years because they haven’t won the Champions League with a Sunday league standard team. If you are wanting to challenge yourself with a lesser team, make sure you are committed, a lot of people give up at the first hurdle. I didn’t and I have had the most fun I have ever had on Football Manager, I have a team in the Welsh Premier League who lost one game in all competitions apart from the Champions League and a Reserve team that has just won the title unbeaten.

The aim of using a lesser team is to progress, but that doesn’t always have to be on the pitch. You may have a bad season but your finances are good or you have a player who will break in to the first team who will really change your fortunes. There are always positives to take from any situation when being a lesser team, and that’s something I have learnt throughout this save. I lost one of my best players to Atlanta United and only got around £10k, but it freed up a position and the replacement I got didn’t look at all good, but he ended up being the leagues top goal scorer in the season we finished third.

When talking about progression, always keep an eye out on some of the other teams players, there are some incredible players who don’t look as good as they play. I often look at the leagues best average ratings and look at players in which you can use as your own, if things don’t work out with the particular player at least another team aren’t benefiting from his tremendous performances.

Spend time on the finer things. This is something I can’t stress enough, look at your team, analyse what’s been going right, look at what’s been going wrong and create a solution to prevent the wrong things from happening again. It’s important, there are so many details that people ignore and then wonder why they are struggling, if your team is conceding the majority of goals from through balls look at what your defenders might be lacking in, if it’s pace get them to drop deeper, or if it’s their off the ball intelligence, look at players who bring more to the table. Always look to improve the team, there are some gems you can find in Amateur teams that will really help you. Don’t just think because they play for an amateur team they are rubbish.

Progress off the field is something that needs to be done. Sign better staff, I always look to improve my staff every year and because I play on FM Touch it means each contract is a year rolling contract so they can be released upon their contract ending. I always look to improve each member of staff – what’s the point in making your team better if the coaches aren’t. Other things to focus on progressing is definitely your training and youth facilities, mine are the best in the league now, but I’d focus on making yourself professional first as players on professional contracts train more than a semi-professional. The youth facilities are also important, you want your youth teams to improve year upon year and giving them a platform where they can develop is essential. Finally, scouting, make sure you try and increase your scouting range, you will seriously find some incredible players from overseas if you do this. Obviously this is all money dependant but because this subject is about progression, you should actively look how you can improve the team in more ways than one.


Ultimately the idea of the game is to have fun, enjoy yourself, take risks and look for hidden gems where you can. The hidden gems can really shape your future. I hope this guide will either help you or give you inspiration for a future save you may have in mind, I have thoroughly enjoyed writing this and struggled to fit in everything that I could think of about how these little elements can create a team that really fight for their trophies and progress as each year comes by.


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