For some reason I always associate the month of December with playing Football Manager. Maybe it was because I started my first ever save on FM14 in December 2013. I still remember the glory of promoting Manisaspor out of the gloomy depth of Turkish 2nd division. Maybe by pure luck or some fluke of the plug and play tactics, I was actually able to win the league. I also happened to have a very good youth intake; my first ever golden generation. It was my first taste of that most addictive combination in FM; successful tactics, glory and wonderkids. The first try of an addictive of drug hooks you.
The rest as they say is history, but the memory remains. In my mind, I will always associate December with the fuzzy feeling of winning in football manager. Or discovering homegrown wonderkids, and dreaming of their glory and trophies.
First I’ll start off with some bad news, my first season with Dynamo Kiev did not go exactly as planned. My goal was to win the League, but as the curtain comes down on 2018/2019 season, we stand second, 6 points behind our bitter rivals Shahktar. The feeling is bittersweet because despite not raising the domestic title, we did win the Super Cup and Ukrainian Cup and also qualified for another year in continental football in Champions League. So at least we assured our financial success for another season.
Yet knowing how close we came to winning the league, seeing how it was probably a handful of games that cost us the title, is what is most crushing to morale. During the season we faced Shahktar, a total number of 5 times and only won 2 of those games, incidentally the Super Cup game and Ukrainian Cup semi-final. So we definitely have to learn from our mistakes in the other 3 games and try to improve upon for next season.
After analysing all 5 games which we played against Shahktar, some key observations emerge. Possession was not the problem, as we usually had more possession than them. Next I analyse all the goals that Shahktar scored against us. Here patterns starts to emerge, since the type of goals scored were mostly open, non-set piece goals which caught us on the break in a devastating counterattack. I will definitely need to adjust my tactic for next season so that my defence does not press as much forward, leaving acres of space for Shahktar’s quick forwards to exploit. We also lost in Europe in similar manner to Benfica, Milan and RB Leipzig in the Europa Quarter Final in April.
So I’m looking to drop the defensive line deeper and at the same time make it more compact to hopefully compress the space for our opponents in front of the goal. I think we can win a few more important games against tougher opposition by limiting them to only long shots from outside the penalty area or long low-accuracy crosses. Also I’ll look into making my right fullback into a much more defensive presence. I noticed him making too many forward runs. Putting him on defend instead support should work better, while making the left fullback more attacking to make our attack more varied.
For next season, I’ll try to experiment with two strikers, since I found too many situations where my pressing forward was left isolated and not as involved in the game. I’ve had lots of success with 4-4-2 in FM18 and will hope to transfer some of what I learned into this game. Besides I would like to see what I can do with a more purely attacking poacher-type striker next to my pressing forward. My striker wonderkid Supryaga came back from his loan to Karpaty in June and is looking like he can potentially develop into one of the best Ukrainian strikers since Shevchenko. There is also another exciting reason why I might make a future tactic around a poacher, and that has to do with my first youth intake.
Vladislav Supryaga, is an 18 year old striker prodigy in reality and in the game and has been linked with interest by Manchester City this past summer. Luckily, in my game he has flown under the radar from the big clubs so far. That will probably change once he starts getting more caps from the national team in next couple of seasons and the work permit won’t pose a problem for the Premiership clubs. I see this guy doing very well in the Premiership just like Suarez or Salah, he has the potential to combine impressive physical strength with lightning fast speed to his the clinical eye for goal. In my game, I’m just hoping I can hold on to this guy through his best years and win a few trophies.
In summary, I’m positive that with the previously-mentioned tactical adjustments, we will be able to best Shahktar domestically next season. I think that scoring goals is not a problem for us but if we could become more solid in the back through trying a different tactical shape like 4-4-2, or adding some key instructions to the current tactic or perhaps a combination of the two. This should allow us to come up on top during those all-important derby matches without conceding stupid goals or having catastrophic lapses in discipline that result in reds. That is often the only difference between victory and defeat. I also foresee another tough, hair-close season where having the bigger goal difference, stronger discipline, and better ability to weather the injury attrition creep will mean the difference between the glory of the title versus only being the runner-up.
At least this year we tasted a bit of that glory by winning both the Super Cup and Ukraine Cup. In the Ukraine Cup, the highlights included beating Shahktar 3-2 in the Semi Final and then the clinical Final 3-0 victory over the strong Zorya Lugansk team. This was Dynamo’s first Cup trophy since 2014 season. Wrestling it away from Shahktar after their 4 year monopoly, was rather satisfying. Even if its not the most prestigious one, trophy is a trophy and I will be happy to add it to my managerial cabinet.
In continental competition, Dynamo was more successful than expected. We had a good long run in Champions League and Europa combined. Despite losing in both Champions League and Europa League, we still managed to stay in continental competition until April. The Europa Quarter Final against RB Leipzig was a memorable one since we put up a good fight. But just could not overcome the 3 goals that Leipzig scored at home. We won the second game 2-1 but just like with Benfica in Champions League earlier, we lost on aggregate. Even if we ended trophy-less, the players got valuable experience competing against stronger teams. It also highlighted some weaknesses in our tactics, as mentioned above.
Investing into future glory:
Tactics aside, I am hoping to build up the team for the long term through am injection of youth talent. I’m proud to showcase 3 of the best talents of the first youth intake. I was impressed by their quality already, and foresee that Volkov and Piskun, could become key players in two seasons. I plan to give the two 16 year olds as many first team appearances as possible to boost their development. It’s rare for me to gloat over untested talent, so I’ll just show their screenshots to see for yourselves.
The 15 year old Datsyuk is more a diamond in the rough, as his mental attributes still need much work. I am intrigued however by his excellent crossing, acceleration and flair. He can develop into a deadly little winger to service Piskun or Supryaga upfront.
I conclude with a bit of a guide on how I get the best out of every youth intake day. Essentially I implement a similar system in all those saves which I set aside as my homegrown youth development saves. I tend to gravitate towards clubs with rich histories of great footballing academies and developing their own talent. Whether it is Rostock in Germany or Athletic Bibao in Spain, I usually implement these strategies in my saves. My Dynamo Kiev save will be no different. So, if you are waiting for some epic blockbuster transfer deals, you might as well stop reading now. My long-term aim is to develop homegrown, world-class squad of Ukrainians and fellow Eastern Europeans (might come from my feeders).
I look at youth development as a season long process. You cannot wake up in February and realise you need to upgrade your youth facilities and Head of Youth Development. No, you have to start planning for it in July when you first take control of the club.
Firstly, I assess the quality of junior coaching and youth recruitment. If they are not already at the highest level, then you should be able to demand an improvement every month. It helps if you request to develop your own academy talent as a club philosophy. This usually allows you ask for facility improvements earlier and with much greater likelihood of approval. Even if they first refuse, just keep insisting. Use the “…the club will be passed over by its rivals” options. This usually works every time. Thus in my first season I started with adequate junior coaching and above average youth recruitment. By the first week of March (youth intake week) excellent coaching and well established recruitment.
Firstly, having a Head of Youth Development (or General Manager) with excellent personality (eg. Driven, Model Professionals), is important. My next consideration when it comes to intake day, is having many varied affiliated feeder clubs. For the purpose of role-playing, I aim to have as many affiliates from former Soviet Bloc countrie. Expanding our talent poor does not harm either. This is also one less-known way to sidestep the work-permit woes in England. If you have Brazilian or Ukrainian affiliate club, then their most talented youths might come through your intake. No need for permits and often with dual nationalities as well.
In a few seasons my first team should be comprised of Ukrainians, with a sprinkling of Croats, Serbs or Czechs. Through its long history that is how best Dynamo squads looked like. Secondly, some of these nations, such as Croatia, incidentally have a higher football youth ranking in the game than Ukraine. Therefore potentially we have a better chance of getting a truly special world-class wonderkid. Finally, some affiliate club logos are just too cool to pass up. Had I a choice to start another save, I would choose to unleash my inner dragon as Vozdovac of Serbia!
Thank you for reading and continued support. Hope you enjoy your Football Manager saves as much as I do this December. See you all in Season 2 of the ongoing Dynamo Project FM19 series. Cue the pyrotechnics halftime show and… Unleash the Dragon!
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