The importance of a Youth Development Structure – Football Manager Guide

Youth Structure.pngYouth progression and investment is often overlooked in peoples football manager saves. In this article I will discuss the importance of having a structure which can help save money, and really get the best out of your products.

I often overlooked youth and the importance that they could potentially have on your team, however this years football manager has really taught me to trust my youth and give them opportunities. There are so many methods in which youth can be beneficial for you as a player and as a club, I will go in to detail about how youth has helped me and turned my struggling youth club to a team that finishes their season unbeaten.

It is very easy to not concentrate on your youth and allow all your focus to be within your first team, but if you, like me, want a save where you can pick and chose players and think “Wow! Lets give this guy a spell in the team”, instead of worrying about injuries because your best player is injured and your only back up is a 17 year old kid who you haven’t payed any attention to.

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The simple answer, no.

Training & Development

I very rarely take an interest in players personalities – sounds bad, right? But when you are a lower league team who struggles to attract the best players, it really is something you should take less interest in. I take an interest in to their actual attributes and this has paid off for me within my save.

Tutoring is something that is very important, make sure, if possible, you find someone suitable to help the player in whatever way possible. Along with tutoring, praise the player if they have played well, give them a confidence boost, improve their morale.

I will look at one player in particular when it comes to development, this was a regen I had in my second season and now my club captain and my all time favourite Football Manager player, granted he is only 22 – a pretty bold statement.

Adam Taylor_ Overview Profile.png

Adam Taylor at 17 years of age.

This particular player was already worthy of a starting spot in my team, but I didn’t want to overindulge his playing time and overload his training to the point where he would be regularly injured. I monitored him closely and worked on what I thought would improve the player as quick as possible and at the same time not putting too much pressure on him.

Adam Taylor_ Overview Profile-8.png

Adam Taylor at 22 years of age.

As you can tell, the player has had an insane amount of growth. I will explain the steps I have taken to improve Adam and make him into the player he is today.

Adam Taylor_  Training-2.png

Adam Taylor Training Report.

Firstly, look at the graph at the bottom right, that’s an insane amount of growth. The player is still learning at the age of 22, but he will develop at a more steady pace rather than leaps and bounds like he was up until around 20.

Another thing to take into consideration, I am training him to be a Box to Box Midfielder and have done since he joined the academy. He plays as an advanced playmaker for me, so why would I train him to be a Box to Box midfielder? It is a simple answer really. A BBM role trains more attributes than the rest of the roles, I want a well rounded player in every aspect of the game. There is no point bringing in a 16 year old to train him to play in one particular role if you want them to develop to the best they physically can.

Now lets compare the attributes from him being 17 to now, when he’s 22.

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Technical 2020 to 2026 changes.

I have created this table to symbolise the changes. The dark green represents a change of 2 or more, the light green is one, and yellow is zero. As you can see the progression is quite consistent, that the majority have improvements. You have to take into consideration everything such as playing time, facilities, personality etc. I have also highlighted the attributes which are particular for that role, and the majority are already at a reasonable level so I wasn’t expecting to see drastic changes. The key is the development and that’s clearly shown, nothing has gone backwards and that’s the key to all of this.

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Mental 2020 to 2026 changes.

This is slightly more concerning, with the red’s representing a minus difference but on closer inspection his teamwork was 19 and work rate being 16, it’s hardly a massive drop and having such high attributes will unlikely affect the player massively. There is also steady growth in the majority of areas and using the Box to Box Midfielder as a role to learn it really well rounds the player.

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Physical 2020 to 2026 changes.

Naturally with age you will develop these attributes the most, so this particular table is fantastic in seeing the player growth in areas which are important.

Please take in to consideration the club isn’t a massive club, like the greats around the world, this was working with minimal facilities so the progression isn’t as drastic as other clubs or yourself could achieve.

This particular player has now played 250 games for the club with an average rating of 7.36. 

I wanted to bold that particular line, the attributes are fantastic but his achievements on the field and help towards the team are massively underrated and that’s the beauty of risking a youth prospect, you never really know what to expect until you give them game time.

Playing Time

You can’t get better if you aren’t playing, right? I have a slightly different method to some when it comes to playing time and like mentioned previously, in this particular save I have a team unbeaten in the youth team. They are currently on their second season without losing a single game.

I tend not to loan players out for the sole purpose of their morale. Morale is something that I cannot stress the importance of, it’s all well and good going out on loan to a team where you are playing but if your player is in a poor team and losing every game, their morale is going to be pretty low. Keep them at your youth teams and start bringing the glory in, they will develop at a much faster rate, trust me. I only tend to loan players out if they are close to breaking in to the first team, I usually give them a loan from August to January and then assess their chances in the first team. If they don’t look like they are ready for the first team they will either go back on loan or play with the youth teams.

Reserves_ Overview Stages-2

My Reserves/Youth Team with an unbeaten season.

I mean, just look at the image above. To go an entire season and concede ten goals with a goal differences of 81 is absolutely fantastic, and something I really pride myself on. I was slightly disappointed with the fact they’d drew 3 games though, just kiddin’. In the current season they have played 15, won 15 and conceded a mere 4 goals with a goal difference of 55 – they are the future, invest in it.

I always give my youth products an opportunity, I have the youngest team in the league with an average age of 22. I also have the most players used, which is currently 29 in the league. I really like to switch things up and give everyone an opportunity, and with three games a week it really is needed.

All playing time is good though, at whatever level. Just be mindful what you need, a fringe player who might help with squad depth is better kept at the club, but a young striker who’s the fifth best at the club might be best to get a loan spell.

Transfers & Money

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Only Paul Dummett and Gareth Williams are above the age of 21.

I tend to buy a lot of players, and that’s just to add depth to the team and youth team. I don’t just sign anyone, I look at players and think they will be good for the first team, then others I think they might not make it to the first team but would definitely do a job as cover in the youth teams. To put things in to perspective, I have a budget of £12 million to spend. I spent £140k in one season and don’t tend to spend much at all, I much prefer to improve the facilities.

Check the league your youth team is in, look at the players with the highest average rating, look more at them and see if they can offer anything for you. This particular method has transferred my team from a youth team that are inconsistent, to a team that consistently win.

Look at free agents, filter your scouting so you get players up to a certain age and look if they are suitable to help you, the youth teams are a relatively risk free investment. I am currently in the Welsh Premier League, so I try and sign players who are 18 and under and foreigners are at max 19. The English Premier League always let go of absolutely amazing players, but just don’t cut it for the high standard that is expected, they are always the players that you can build your club around.

Look at foreign players, depending on the league rules you might not be able to sign the player until they turn 18 so just be careful what you need and where you see your club in the future. There are some fantastic talents around the world who can really be beneficial for your youth teams and really make a difference, but be mindful, some players may need work permits and if you’re a smaller club and the player isn’t amazing compare to the national team it might be a poor investment.

With regards to money, the financial aspect of the game avoid spending thousands upon thousands on a player who might become a fringe player, look at some of the talents who you think will be an absolute star, that way it is less of a risk and if they don’t work out they can often be sold for profit. Keep an eye on your players wages, often these talented players will demand a lot of money – don’t pay it unless you are certain they will be a star.

Facilities and Staff

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I would much rather spend £4 Million on this then a transfer.

What’s the point of having the best youth players if they aren’t getting the best possible training? If you have the money, or want to save up, ensure you look at improving your facilities. A million pound signing might be fantastic for your club, but that’s one player, think of 25 players improving week by week because of the enhanced facilities – I know what I’d rather.

The same can be said with coaches, always look to improve, as I play on FM Touch and the contracts are year rolling, I always look at improving my staff before the contracts renew, and looking at ways I can help the youth players develop. Often is the case that the staff are suitable, but in the chances you can improve, it’s always good to improve.

When playing Football Manager, ensure that there are enough coaches so that each player is at least satisfied with the coaching they are receiving. I used to just get the bare minimum so that they were coached and just hoped for the best. Look at the best you can get and make sure their work load isn’t too high otherwise the players won’t be getting the attention they need to develop.

Structure

This particular section kind of summarisies everything all in one, and takes everything into consideration. From offering players contracts, moving them to the first team and analysing their development, this is the most important area, having a structure.

In terms of players, I have a minimum of two players for each position in my youth team. This means that if one gets injured the other will fill in, as well as the youth managers giving opportunities to those not playing and resting players who are tired. It is also important that I do this because I often have 3 games a week (Europe, League, Cup)  which means a lot of tired players. I love the fact that I have the ability to rotate the team and give youth a chance, rather than playing the same line up every week, it really helps the progression and development of each individual.

Something that I pride myself on is my average age, it is currently 22. It would probably be lower if I didn’t have a 34 year old Paul Dummett in my team. I am currently in 2026 so the youth has been a real pleasure for me, investing in them is something I prefer. My oldest player I have signed is a 26 year old goalkeeper. I always try and get bargains where I can, but when a player is young they have potential, meaning their value is extortionate and often physically impossible to get a fair deal for all parties.

I like to think of my methods as a ‘conveyor belt method’. Bring them in at the start of the line, train them as much as possible, give them playing time, if they are good enough keep them, if they aren’t move them on. That would summarise the way I look at things in terms of a youth structure, but obviously in a more expansive way. You might not agree with my style on how I work my youth, but if you are stuck with how you can possibly create a youth academy that has the opportunity to give opportunities then be sure to use this as a basis to build from.

I tend not to keen anyone at the club if they are over the age of 21 and still playing at youth level, I believe at that age they should break in to the first team, but that’s down to personal preference.

There are very little problems with having a good youth structure and at the end of the day it is your save, play it how you want to. But be careful, if you have a lot of very good youth players and they aren’t happy about their first team playing experience this can often cause an upset squad, just be mindful of what players you want to develop and bring to your club.

There are also a few other factors which can develop or prevent the player from growing to their potential, for example there are hidden traits such as adaptability, this in particular will prevent a foreign player from adapting to a new life and often prevent their growth from being as expansive as it could be.


I hope this guide can help you transform your youth team into the perfect conveyor belt. This structure is by no means an over night success, this has took me years upon years to build this structure and have a youth system which was effective for all parties. I believe the structure I have used and explained could potentially add a lot more to your team going forward, in particular this save I actually call it my ‘progression save’, where I have taken a lesser team and turned them into a giant in the country and trying to progressively improve year upon year.


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