A team is more than the sum of its parts. It is more than just the players on the pitch and the manager. For every Clough there is a Taylor. For every Ferguson a Jackal or a Phelan, or for every Big Sam a suite of analysts and happy looking agents. A club is supported and nurtured by the backroom staff. An even the lowliest coach or physio can contribute to the success of the club, and often for a lot less than a star signing. In this brief guide to the backroom staff, I’m going to outline where I look to improve my backroom staff first, some few of the key roles and how they can improve your club. This isn’t a universal guide, but does outline the approach I take with minnows and underdogs. Your milege might vary.
Backroom Staff Inspiration
When talking about backroom staff I could talk about the boot room and the lineage of coaches and managers that sprang from it. Or I could talk about the mentor-mentee relationships between the likes of Robson and Mourinho. Or Wenger’s focus on fitness and conditioning that was practically unheard of in England when he first arrived. But in truth, I’m drawing my inspiration for this article from Big Sam and his orange devotees (looking at you Phil Brown).
Allardyce remarked upon his pride at ‘what we achieved at Bolton, and the work I did to bring in a “team behind the team”.’Michael Cox, The Mixer
Inspired by what he saw when he did a stint in the US, sharing training and data facilities with an NFL side, Big Sam Allardychio brought on more and more specialised backroom staff. He got data analysts, nutritionists (yeah I know, but pie is still a food group), and built a backroom team that eventually outnumbered the playing staff. Unheard of at the time and often not really given the credit it should have been. It’s easy to belittle Big Sam, I should know as I’ve done it about 3 times already in this article, but it is unfair when we consider how savvy he was with his resources at Bolton and the decent record at almost everywhere else he as gone. We should learn from him.
I think it’s fair to say we often forget or maybe ignore our backroom staff. At least in part. Often there are more exciting parts of Football Manager than signing up the next U21’s physio to your backroom staff line up. But in a game where every element can have an impact sorting out your backroom staff can actually give you an edge. It can squeeze out points and give you the marginal gains you need to get the upper hand. This could be training players better, getting them back to fitness sooner, influencing their personality during youth intake and many other things. Each contributing to something that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Do you manage a team that doesn’t have much money? Are you managing a team outside the top six? Outside the top flight? Have you given yourself something of a challenge? If that’s the case then you need every advantage you can get. And let me be clear here, spending the time to sort out your backroom staff will help you. But don’t expect to suddenly become world-beaters. We are talking about marginal gains that over the course of a season, over a couple of seasons, over the development of a player and the building of a club, that will have an impact.
Knowing your place with Backroom Staff
Just a brief reminder here before we dive into the staff and the areas I tend to look at first. How you start to fill and improve your backroom staff is really going to depend on the level your club is at. If you’re playing in the Vanarama North then you’re probably not going to tripping up over data analysts or sports scientist. You’re going to need to prioritise your recruitment for the level you are at. You have a limited wage budget, and limited space, even for staff. So choose wisely to maximise their impact. For example, I wouldn’t waste money on lots of fantastic technical coaches if my team happens to be a bunch of part-timers with little potential.
It’s not a new role. It’s not a fancy role. But it’s always the coach I add first when playing at a small club. Especially if they are part-time and I have limited space for coaches in my backroom staff.
The reason for this choice all relates to an earlier point I made. If you don’t have many diamonds in the rough. When it’s more tin foil and polished glass, then you don’t need to waste time and effort on squeezing out increases to attributes. If your players are near their peak you’re not going to get value out of a small change in attributes here and there. If the club is a stepping stone for you as well, and you are there for a good time not a long time then again why waste time investing in player growth that is going to be stunted?
At the lower leages though with limited resources and many games to play having your players fit and in good condition is important. In the basement divisions running and playing harder is often more important than being technically gifted. So a good fitness coach can help give your team the edge. It also links to the point about Physio’s below. Tired and unfit players get hurt more. And that costs you money.
In terms of backroom staff this is a newer role, and a fancier role at first glance. But this staff member is your window into data analysis. There’s a lot more data in FM21. Some of it is even bug free (but not all) so you want to be able to get your nerdy hands on it. Like I mentioned with Big Sam and marginal gains, a greater understanding of your strengths and weaknesses can help you make the changes that will lead to success. I’m talking xG, polygons, xG against, efficiency graphs.
A bonus for cheapskates like me is that the Performance analyst can be sent to scout as well. Normally the look inward at your team and performance. But you can make them work a double shift and help out with scouting.
In my personal Dafuge and Data series the second thing I did after grabbing a fitness coach was getting a performance analyst. So I could make the most of the new data like xG that exists in the game.
Head of Youth Development
A good HoYD can be worth their weight in gold. But a functional HoYD can also do a job. At the level I tend to play at I know that my HoYD isn’t going to be setting up his version of La Masia. But I can still use him to have a key and positive influence on my youth intake. Even if his attributes are poor.
The personality and preferred formation of your HoYD can have an impact on some of the players that arrive through your youth intake. Having a model citizen or professional personality in your HoYD could lead to more players with similar personalities appearing at your club.
This is huge. Personality has the potential to change games, and to change development. And the HoYD is the only staff member to my knowledge who influences personality in such a way. Once a player is at a club the staff no longer have that direct influence.
Players however in mentoring groups can. So if you can get enough positive personalities in, using the HoYD to bump the odds up, you can gradually shift the entire personality of your squad. Going from ambitious mercenaries to model professionals. As a result I’d rather have a HoYD with a useful personality than a HoYD with decent attributes. I’d take both, but I can’t afford that.
There are different ways to deal with injuries and the impact they have on your club. One is to get a big squad and rotate, to bring in cover. But that costs and assumes you have the luxury of players just wanting to come to you to cover. The other is to invest in the more medical areas of your backroom staff.
Physio’s at the lower end of the league system can seem like a bit of a luxury. To my shame I’ve sometimes forgotten to hire them. Or when I’ve struggled to get someone decent I’ve just pumped the money into a coach instead. But Physio’s aren’t for show.
They can help reduce the impact of injuries. They are both preventative and curative. Better Physio support means your players spend more time on the pitch. And less time being rubbed down with the magic sponge. It means your small squad has a better chance of riding out injuries and tough intense periods on the schedule. You don’t need the expense of a huge (and mediocre) squad if you can keep your small talented one healthy.
Let me be an extreme penny pincher for a second. Ever day, every week, out injured is a day or week a player is being paid to do nothing. It’s a financial drain that not only has no reward but if they have a bad injury their value in the long run can go down. In fact in a very practical boring sense every week injured is also a week less of their contract. Driving their value down further.
Go a step further if you like and work out the actual wage cost of a player being off injured. A good physio set up can not only reduce the chance of them being injured in the first place but reduce the length of that injury. Getting them back on the pitch earlier. All usually for a fraction of the financial cost of a new player or the cost of a player being injured. This is especially apparent at the upper ends of the footballing world. Even a small (5%) reduction in injuries could save hundreds of thousands over a season. In the example above the £10k the injuries have cost me is significant. I only started with 200k in the bank.
Honourable Backroom Staff Mention: Director of Football
Generally speaking I think DoF’s are absolute wasters. I prefer to do the majory of my transfers and contracts, both staff and player. Plus it is hard getting a DoF who you would actually trust with access to the club bank account.
But they can be a wild card scout for you. As can the HoYD. If you set their responsibilities to make offers for players, but keep the contracts and confirmation to yourself then there’s potential gems to be found. They will turn up with offers made for players you are not aware of, that aren’t on your shortlist. They might bring you George Weah’s cousin. But when your scouting is limited they could present some new options for you.
It might be worth getting a DoF with good player/country knowledge in the hopes they uncover a useful player or two. Treat them like a scout that lacks house training.
Fancier Backroom Staff?
But FMTahiti I hear you say, I manage a considerably better team than you. My stadium has real seats, prawn sandwiches and doesn’t leak. If you’re wanting something a little more high brow and fancy to fit your backroom staffing needs consider some of the guides we have here at Dictate the Game already. Such as guides on the technical director and assistant managers.
At the higher levels you might get a lot more bang for your buck out of them. Remember you should be addressing you backroom staffing issues relative to your stature in the game. If you have become the new Man City or Chelsea and have begun hoarding wonderkids then getting a loan manager in might actually be of benefit.
Likewise if you actually have bigger youth squads then fleshing out the youth staff is going to reap you some rewards. If you can actually scout further than the end of the road the investment in staff for your scouting network will pay off. Especially if you can find the next Alan Shearer rather than the next Andy Booth.
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