I took over at Lazio with the club in a perilous position of 16th in the standings. The club was in an average shape off the field, with a balance of £10m in the red, and the squad required extensive rebuilding.
In this post I will look at:
- How I evaluate a club after taking over
- An overhaul of the backroom staff
- Full evaluation of the playing squad
- Results through to the end of the season
- Planning for next season
The club was in excellent condition off the field, with a large stadium, and state of the art training and youth facilities:
I immediately requested an improvement to the data analysis facilities but aside from that, the infrastructure was excellent.
Naturally an assessment of the playing staff is the obvious place to start when taking over a new club, but I prefer to focus on the backroom staff to try and get the best possible team in place.
My objective here is to ensure that the pool of staff is as large and specialised as possible, rather than hire coaches who have a range of general but average skills. I was impressed with the Director of Football, who I mainly used to find new clubs for unwanted players. I never rely on a DoF to negotiate contracts, sign youth players or handle contract renewals. I was faced with a very poor youth squad at Trieste and I did not want to face the same situation again.
I saw that there were a number of unfulfilled slots, so I set about making some immediate recruits. In total I hired 20 new members of staff, and fired 9 existing staff members. I won’t go into each one, but here are some important additions:
Jesus Perez joined as my new Assistant Manager from Espanyol, as I was impressed with his strict disciplinarian nature, as well as excellent motivational and man management skills.
The staff was lacking in Attacking coaching, so I brought in Palladino from Trieste to improve in that area.
Javier Telechea was hired to improve tactical coaching in all areas. The incumbent DoF Igil Tare had an impressive skillset, so I was happy for him to remain with us:
I find that initial squad evaluation is really helped by borrowing a view from FM Scout:
The view uses the new “divider” tool which helps to break up and categorise the data that is shown on screen.
What struck me immediately is how little youth talent there was, how the squad was quite old but of most concern was the very high wages paid for players who would have no future with us. I immediately set about identifying these players, but thankfully there were only 2:
Javi Martinez is clearly a talented footballer but at the age of 34 and earning £93k p/w he had to be disposed of. Upoin joining, he told me that he was homesick, so I arranged a deal for him to go back to Spain. This was an easy deal to do but unfortunately we would be subsidising his wage for another 12 months. However a fee of £4m and a £60k p/w saving in wages was good business.
At 36, Lucas Leiva was one of the team leaders in the squad, but I felt that he had little to offer us. I was able to secure a free transfer for him to save the full amount on wages of £70k p/w. There was some unrest in the squad when this deal went through, but I was able to justify it to the players eventually.
There was a good core of players remaining, but it was either approaching or the wrong side of 30. Taking into account a limited transfer budget of £2m, I would have to rebuild the squad over time rather than during one or two transfer windows.
When assessing a squad for the first time, I am not thinking too far ahead in terms of the tactics that I want to employ. Instead, I look for a core set of attributes which I highlighted in an early post after joining Trieste. As a reminder these are:
Goalkeeping skills: Handling, Positioning, Reflexes, Bravery, Aerial Reach, Command Of Area
Defensive skills: Tackling, Marking, Positioning, Speed (Pace and Acceleration), Heading
Midfield skills: Passing, Vision, Off The Ball, Tackling, Stamina, Technique
Attacking skills: Finishing, Composure, Off The Ball, Anticipation
Mental skills (all squad members): Bravery, Determination, Teamwork, Work Rate
A good coverage of these skills will then allow me to develop a tactical framework with the remaining squad members. With these attributes in mind, I then try and group players into one of three categories:
- Sell as soon as possible (in our case one or two players, Leiva and Martinez as above)
- Keep but don’t renew their contract (the majority)
- Retain and offer a new contract if possible (about five or six players)
I’ll now at the second category of players who would form the bulk of the squad over the next couple of seasons:
Luis Alberto is a superb option in either central or attacking midfield but only has one year left on his deal and being 30, I would soon have a very difficult decision to make. All aspects of his game are superb, so I would be loathe to lose him on a free transfer. His new contract demands are an extra £30k p/w which I am not willing to pay. Nevertheless, I had earmarked him for mentoring duties because of his high Determination and Teamwork skills.
Tin Jedvaj is an excellent option across the back four and his flexibility certainly helped me out in early games. At 27 he has a further three years on his contract, so I didn’t feel that he merited a new one as his current deal will expire when he is 30. However it would take an extremely generous offer to tempt me into selling.
Tomas Soucek also has versatility and I deployed him as a central defender after taking over. He is tall and has excellent physical attributes, whilst central midfield was an area where we already had good options. He is earning only £28k p/w and therefore offers excellent value for us, although I wasn’t in a rush to offer a new deal.
One of our highest earners, Adam Marusic is a very good option down the right hand side. I felt that he would be best initially at right back, but he can play further forward due to good Crossing, Off The Ball and Technique. His deal expires in one year therefore I would have a difficult choice to make. I am very loathe to give a bumper new deal to players aged over thirty.
Jordan Lukaku was the first choice left-back and has excellent physical attributes, although I feel he is lacking defensively and can be often found out of position. He is attracting some interest from Newcastle, and would be happy to sell if I could get a fee close to his valuation.
The highest earner at the club, Michy Bashuayi no doubt has very good attributes for a forward. Whether or not these skills merit £190k p/w is a matter for debate, but he would be my first choice striker. He would definitely not be offered a new deal, so I would most likely retain him for one more season.
Shkodran Mustafi is a very good central defensive option but at 31 would not be the long-term future of the club. His deal has two more years to run on his deal and would most likely stay with us for one more season because he has very good defensive attributes.
Sebastian Druissi is an another excellent option in attack, and the challenge for me will be to see if I can build a tactic to accommodate him and Batshuayi. He is being targeted by Bournemouth and if I can get an excessive offer, I may be tempted to sell.
Alberto Grassi would provide cover in central midfield although I would certainly be looking to upgrade him over the next couple of seasons.
The final part of squad evaluation is to identify those I want to retain at the club for the long-term. Unfortunately, there are not too many in this category:
Fabien Chapuis was out on loan when I arrived, but I felt that he had the nucleus of attributes to develop into an excellent striker in the long-term, especially due to his explosive pace and good Finishing skills.
I have identified Tiziano Fratena as the long-term replacement for Luis Alberto. He has fantastic technique and is almost like-for-like with Alberto in a technical sense. I have asked Alberto to mentor Fratena to pass on his mental skills, although they are already excellent. Fratena would certainly become the cornerstone of the team and would represent Lazio’s future.
Pedro Neto was transfer-listed when I arrived, but I felt that he had plenty to offer us in a creative sense. He is a good age and has time on his side at 23 to improve further. I believe that left attacking midfield would be his best position, and I was also impressive by his excellent mental attributes.
Season progress and planning for next season
A reminder of the league table when I took over after 26 games:
The Board gave me the objective of avoiding a relegation battle, and this is how the matches played out:
I started my spell with two wins against Palermo and Cagliari, but the inconsistency is plain to see with very mixed results. This is down to the imbalanced nature of the squad, along with low tactical familiarity. I mainly used my defensive 4-1-4-1 system, but I was only focused on accumulating enough points to avoid a relegation battle, which I did by ending the season in 13th place.
Now that the season has ended I can begin the rebuilding process, and in the next post I will outline the tactical systems that I plan to use for the 2023/24 campaign.
Now that the backroom staff overhaul and squad evaluation was complete, my Summer plans for Lazio in the transfer market are:
- Bringing down the wage bill and average age
- A possible replacement for Jordan Lukaku
- A long-term goalkeeper
- More youth signings for the U20 squad
Thanks for reading.
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