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How crucial are Assistant Managers?| FM20 Experiment

Whether you want to manage your local team or childhood dream, to create the world’s most dominant club or simply test out your wildest football ideas, Football Manager offers you endless opportunities. In this FM20 Experiment, we take a look at two different Assistant Manager, one is a high quality, the other being a low quality.

Having recently watched the ‘All or Nothing: Manchester City’ sports documentary, the sheer complexity around the day-to-day operations of a football club blew my mind. Although Football Manager gives us the freedom and time to tweak every single detail of a club from top to bottom. In reality managers often rely on other staff members’ support and expertise to achieve the club’s ambitions.

Despite being a relatively hands-on Football Manager player, I tend to leave certain duties to my assistant manager such as press conferences.

Having developed a new-found appreciation towards a football club’s staff members from the aforementioned documentary, it got me thinking. What would happen if I delegated greater responsibility to my assistant manager? In particular, how would a high-quality assistant manager perform and run the club in comparison to a low-quality assistant manager?

According to Football Manager, there are three most important attributes that a high-quality assistant manager should excel in. These are man management, judging player ability, and judging player potential.

The Experiment Parameters

In order to gain a better understanding on the value and impact of assistant managers within the game, I decided to run two separate FM20 experiments. The same football club was used, but each run by a different calibre assistant manager. BoOne thing to bear in mind is that this experiment merely aims to discover the outcome of delegating all the responsibilities to the assistant manager. Should the club perform below expectations, it’s still the manager’s position (myself) that will be in jeopardy.

Watford was the club chosen to run the two simulations. According to the season preview, a middle to lower-table Premier League team, a relatively injury-free squad, and a comparatively less demanding club culture. This was to ensure that both the high and low-quality assistant manager had equal opportunity to manage a team with slightly more room to manoeuvre in areas such as their starting eleven and playing style.

The Chosen Ones

Step aside Craig Shakespeare (Watford’s current assistant manager).

  • Simulation A: Bryan Klug – the high-quality assistant manager
  • Simulation B: Tony Meola – the low-quality assistant manager

At the end of the season, each assistant manager’s performance will be looked into and examined in areas. These include transfers, player ratings, match results and overall league table. Ultimately, if simulation A outperforms simulation B by a substantial amount, this experiment should give us a clearer understanding on the impact of having a high-quality assistant manager in the game. Let the simulations begin!

Simulation A

Throughout the season, a net profit of just over £15m pounds was made (excluding bonuses and add-ons).

The first notable signing was Joe Rodon – a home-grown centre back that started in most Premier League games for Watford this season.

Santiago Arias was the second big-money signing for The Hornets, taking place during Deadline Day of the January transfer window. The Columbian international brought experience as well as friendly competition to Daryl Janmaat, Watford’s alternative starting right-back option.

In terms of players sold, Tom Cleverley didn’t seem to be in Bryan Klug’s plans as he secured an early summer transfer to Leicester City for just shy of £10m.

With the assistant manager’s faith in goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann, goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes moved back to his home country as he was signed by SC Internacional for £1m. However, the two biggest sales for Watford occurred in February. Both Abdoulaye Doucouré and Etienne Capoue moved to China and have hit the ground running at Guangzhou Evergrande (£21.5m) and Shandong Luneng Taishan (£10.5m) respectively.

Squad Overview

Sorting by most appearances, Bryan Klug was relatively consistent with his starting eleven. Unsurprisingly, Gerard Deulofeu – The Hornets’ most valuable player – sustained the highest average rating at 7.06. Other players worth mentioning for above-average performances include attackers Danny Welbeck and João Pedro who also featured heavily throughout the season. However, beyond the significant reliance of assists from Deulofeu, whose performances have gained the interest of Man United. Another concern for Watford was their underutilization of influential players such as Nathaniel Chalobah, Craig Dawson, Christian Kabasele, and team leader Troy Deeney. From this list of players, only Deeney was the victim of a major injury that put him out of football for five months from the start of the season. Hence, the three other undervalued players have expressed discontent through their lower morale; this could be the start to further dressing room complications.

Match Results

Despite a mediocre August, September was definitely the month to forget. Though Watford were able to find the net in both home games, their leaky defence prevented them from picking up a single point in four games.

December was better as The Hornets held their own in home matches, securing five out of the possible nine points. They also were able to score in every single game despite the busy period. However, their substandard away performances persist as they continued to concede two or more goals against bottom-half Premier League teams.

An anticlimactic april provided an accurate representation of Watford’s season. Being able to put up a fight and earn the odd point here and there, but eventually falling short and failing to generate any promising momentum due to their shaky defence.

The Bigger Picture

Watford eventually concluded the season with the fourth and fifth worst goals for and goals against respectively. They managed to avoid relegation and only finish two positions below their pre-season prediction of 14th place. Bryan Klug failed to meet this season’s requirements of finishing mid-table as displayed below.

One of the main reasons I was able to avoid being fired as manager was down to the board’s acknowledgement of the assistant manager’s efforts in signing young and promising players. That being said, an ‘E’ rating under manager performance indicated that the board are still considerably dissatisfied and that I was on the brink of losing my position as the Watford manager.

Simulation B

Things turned out slightly differently… the low-quality assistant manager Tony Meola had performed inadequately. Let’s take a closer look.

This time round, due to having a much shorter tenure at Watford, there were fewer transfers in and out. The club made a net loss of £250,000 (excluding bonuses and add-ons). Much like simulation A, the club’s value towards giving first-team opportunities to younger players shone through. The ‘oldest’ among the four acquisitions was Watford’s only big-money signing – one of Belgium’s most well-known 18-year old wonderkids Yari Verschaeren.

Much like simulation A, the club’s value towards giving first-team opportunities to younger players shone through. The ‘oldest’ among the four acquisitions was Watford’s only big-money signing – one of Belgium’s most well-known 18-year old wonderkids Yari Verschaeren.

The only player sold was Tom Cleverley, who once again signed for Leicester City but this time for £12.5m.

Squad Overview

Firstly, Tony Meola opted for Ben Foster over Daniel Bachmann and Heurelho Gomes as his first-team goalkeeper. Perhaps without the signing of Joe Roden (the most featured center back under Bryan Klug), this made way for the previously underutilized Christian Kabasele who performed quite consistently well over his 18 Premier League starts. However, both João Pedro and Danny Welbeck performed worse and thus become less favoured by Tony Meola. Nevertheless, despite the considerably fewer goal contributions and slightly lower average rating, Gerard Deulofeu’s quality once again made him one of Watford’s stand-out players.

Match results

So-so September

Despite their only league win coming against Wolves. Watford put up a better fight against Leicester City and Man City than simulation A as they conceded fewer in both matches.

Oh-dear October

Started with a home defeat against relegation-bound Norwich City. They ended the month with a Carabao Cup 4th Round exit against Championship side Nottingham Forest. Yikes!

Neat November

A much brighter start! A massive point against Arsenal before winning two consecutive games including a thrashing against Newcastle. But the awaited defeat finally returned…

Doomsday December

A dull month that ended with being battered at home by Everton – the final nail in the coffin!

The Bigger Picture

After Tony Meola’s 19 games in charge, Watford found themselves in the relegation zone. Although several teams conceded more goals than Watford, The Hornets ranked bottom of the league in terms of goals scored. When comparing both simulations, this simulation saw Watford achieve a points-per-game (total points divided by total matches played) of 0.74, versus 0.84 in simulation A. Interestingly, both simulations showed that Watford were either able to win or draw 42% of their total matches played.

up until this point, I felt that being fired mid-season from simulation B was quite unfair. Tony Meola’s performance didn’t seem poor enough compared to Bryan Klug’s season-long managerial tenure to warrant such a decision. However, once I looked into the club’s past positions of both simulations, my sacking became more understandable.

In simulation A, Watford actually performed adequately in the first half of the season and managed to surpass their season prediction. However, their performances gradually dropped off and only just avoided relegation. In contrast, The Hornets largely remained within the relegation zone in simulation B. They were actually rock bottom of the league between matchday 8 to 12. Despite the slight glimmer of hope that followed, I suspect that the 5-0 home defeat against Everton on matchday 19 was simply inexcusable.

What does this mean?

Previously, my tendency once becoming a club’s manager in Football Manager is to firstly ensure that I have the highest quality coaching, scouting, and physio team. Even if that means having to mutually terminate the contracts of subpar individuals.

Improving these areas lead to notable in-game benefit. I’ve never really witnessed or experienced the substantial advantages of having a better assistant manager. In terms of the starting eleven, in-match alternations, or transfers, areas where an assistant manager would often provide suggestions, I tend to solely make decisions based on my observations, knowledge, and experience of the game.

Although this experiment’s outcome was more or less expected, with the high-quality assistant manager outperforming his fellow competitor.

Limitations and external factors that may have contributed to the end result must be acknowledged. These could include player injuries and booking suspensions at Watford.

Nevertheless, what could be taken from this experiment is that if you’re managing in a lower league with poor quality staff members. It might be better off sticking to your own knowledge and instincts when making decisions. On the contrary, for bigger and more established clubs, by ensuring congruity and alignment between your club’s culture, assistant manager’s preferences, and your own football philosophy, this should maximize your chances of succeeding in your save.

Article written by Nicolas Breant

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Written by Nic


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  1. Hi, while I welcome experiments like this, I believe that this experiment was not a test of an assistant managers skill performing assistant manager duties. This was more a test of him performing like a manager.

    An assistant does not normally control transfers, squad building, matches etc like you let him do in your test. Could you find ways of testing team/player performance on the input an assistant normally gives to a team then that would be much more interesting in my opinion.

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