Whether you call it Hoofball, Longball, Kick and Rush or Route One, as a tactical approach it has had a long history in Football. Sticking it in the mixer might be something you would expect to see more in the lower leagues than in the Premiership or the Champions League but teams like Bolton, Stoke and Wimbledon all claimed plenty of scalps. There’s no reason you can’t play like Big Sam and Pulisball your way to the top in FM20.
Reep and Hughes
When talking about Hoofball I won’t steal completely from Inverting the Pyramid and In the Mixer, excellent though both books are. I will give you a potted history of direct route one football though.
Charles Reep applied (badly) statistics and came to the conclusion that most goals were scored when fewer passes were made. Essentially moves of 4 or more passes were unlikey to be as successful as short direct moves. It was all about getting the ball into positions of maximum opportunity (or POMO’s).
Reep also came up with some horribly flawed theories about teams being overdrawn or in credit for goals scored based on the number of shots/moves made. It was a flawed and misguided precursor to the more modern concept of expected goals or xG.
The idea ultimately that Reep promoted was to get the ball forward, quickly and in as few passes as possible, into dangerous goal scoring positions. Hughes at the English FA took this onboard and promoted it, with examples of success being seen here and there.
Graham Taylor had success with a free scoring direct passing Lincoln City and later Watford side. Egil Olsen did much the same with Norway. Wimbledon managed to catapult themselves up the league pyramid and into an FA Cup final with a very particular Crazy Gang direct approach.
Moving into the Premier League era we have the success of Bolton under Big Sam, Stoke’s set pieces under Pulis with the occasional frustrating of Arsenal, and even some more flirting with europe from unfancied but direct Burnley with Dyche. It’s not mainstream or well loved, but it was often effective.
Long Balls or Long Passes?
Hoofball is much maligned when considering tactical approaches and philosophy. It is only given a cursory coverage in Inverting the Pyramid for example, and is referred to as the “right of the weak”.
Graham Taylor made a great point about the longballs. When did a longball become a long pass? Essentially if it was on target and delivered by a more stylish and popular footballer.
Despite Taylor’s (unfair) international legacy he did have great success on the domestic scene. This was in part because for Taylor route one football was more nuanced than simply kicking it up to the strikers. Balls played to feet and balls played into space can both work in a more direct tactic. That still holds true for FM20 and offers us even more options when creating our own hoofball tactics for football manager.
FM20 and Hoofball
The Default Tactic
When you go to the to the pre-sets on the tactics menu FM20 helpfully gives you the following for route one.
A good start but there are areas we can tweak to get closer to the desired Hoofball style. For Pulisball we need to sort out the fullbacks. If we want to revive the spirit of the Crazy Gang then we need to sort out our tackling. Changes to the passing are potentially needed if we have a soft spot for Taylor’s Watford and Lincoln sides.
This is what I’ve gone for. And this seems to get us playing more long balls, put in heavy tackles and keep solid at the back. At least as solid as a newly promoted semi-professional side can be.
Tweaking Player Instructions & Roles
For my approach I’m trying to bring the crazy gang back. I’ve no Fashanu, Jones, or Wise or my own in my Belfast Celtic but that shouldn’t stop me from playing some all action hoofball. To do that though I need to edit the default settings.
I’ve made a quick change to the Box-to-Box midfielder. A BBM is useful for arriving late in the box and offering support for the 2nd ball but I find under the current (beta) match engine having a BBM is a recipe for excessive one-two’s and long distance shots. I don’t want that so a Deep Lying Playmaker is the alternative I use, with a few tweaks to their instructions. It might seem a little fancy for a kick and rush team but by having a player hold position, sit deeper and be the focal point for passing (assuming the ball hasn’t already been played over the top of midfield by the defence) it encourages more through balls.
Depending on the fullbacks I have available I switch between fullbacks that can support or no-nonsense fullbacks that that will hold position and reduce the amount of space the opposition have on the flanks. The no-nonsense fullbacks fit much more into the Pulisball approach, and mean you don’t need especially talened fullbacks. They aren’t going to get forward as much or support so you can almost treat them like additional centre-backs. In fact when I’m running low on personel that is exactly what I do – slot in a centre-back.
Upfront I’ve generally kept things the same with the Targetman and the Pressing Forward. One change I occasionally make though is changing the PF to a Poacher. This really depends on the pace and anticipation/off the ball of my strikers. If those 3 attributes are good then it’s time for a poacher, hanging off the shoulder of the defence, to hunt down through balls. Otherwise a PF does the job, sticking close to the defence but also harrasing in a way that would make the Crazy Gang proud.
Everyone who can tackle harder does. In a similar fashion anyone who can cross early and from deep does. Passing tends to be risky, and unless they are a striker they are probably going to hold position to help keep some shape.
Take a look at the fullback’s instructions for example.
All about holding position, sitting deep, crossing often but early and towards the target man. The no-nonsense centre backs have a similar set up. I’ve not had to add much for them.
A few obvious changes here. First of all the mentality is attacking rather than cautious. Cautious works well if you are the underdog as teams will attack you. You can wait, soak up the pressure and then attack. I sometimes revert back to cautious but I like attacking as it makes the team more gung-ho. You can change some of the player roles to stay defensively solid, and as you can see below regrouping rather than counter pressing can help maintain shape. But once you’ve got the ball I finding attacking means we will try and do something with out possession, even if it is something stupid.
The width is altered a little bit. Reduced to encourage more attacks through the centre whilst leaving the wings as an option still.
We don’t waste time as we want to attack quickly, and more importantly I always hate wasting time. I’ve seen too many showboating defendings lose the ball and concede. Get it forward at all times.
One thing to consider though is that if you drift more towards Graham Taylor’s approach you might want to pass into space. Especially if you have strikers who have the pace and anticipation to exploit long passes (not balls!) over the top.
In transition we want to hold our shape and keep our banks of defence. But when we do win it back we want to distrubute quickly, and get it to the targetman to either hold up, lay off or attack themselves.
An alternative for the distrubution if your keeper isn’t the greatest at booting the ball long is to distribute to your defenders who can then hoof it for the GK.
We get stuck in. Tackle harder is a must. I want an all action team, that gets the ball and doesn’t worry about getting some of the player as well in the tackle. I can’t get them to intimidate in quite the same way Wimbledon did but I can at least get them to tackle, break up play.
When we do press we want it to be urgent, with a higher line of engagement for our hard working strikers. Our defensive line is kept quite low though so we can draw the opposition in and hit it over the top when we get the ball back. In theory.
Alternatives to 4-4-2
I’ve gone for 4-4-2 because it is simple, easier for more limited footballers (and managers) to train and allows me to fit in a targetman plus some support. It gives you wingers for support and crosses, and keeps the options open with different midfield pairings.
It doesn’t have to be that way though. Lets go back to Graham Taylor. Are you playing the ball into space? Then set up with more runners.
Still desperate to play a targetman but have no one to be a partner for them up top? Get some players in the AM strata instead that your TM can feed.
Maybe throw in some wide targetmen instead like Crusadertsar does in his article.
Results and Benefits of Hoofball
It is early days for Hoofball in FM20 but in my Belfast Celtic save I’ve managed to get some good results with poor resources.
It wasn’t just in FM20 that hoofball had success. I and many others have applied it in FM19 and earlier. As you can see in the dedicated SI forum thread for route one devotee’s plenty of success has been had on a shoe string budget, with unfashionable sides.
That overperformance is one of the real strengths of a direct approach. A lot of modern tactical approaches (and even some of the older ones like total football) rely on flexibility. They require players that are closer to being all rounders with a range of strengths. In modern beautiful football there’s not much room for one-dimensional players. But there is if you are playing hoofball. And those one-dimensional footballers…they are cheap.
With club vision, club philosophies and most boards keeping a tight reign on the wage budget overperforming and underspending are more important than ever in a Football Manager save.
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