Welcome back readers! Hope everyone had a productive off-season. Some might know me as Crusadertsar over on SI Games forums and Twitter. In short, I’m just another guy who spends a bit too much time playing Football Manager. I also double as a bit a sports history aficionado, and like to sprinkle in my research into my tactical musings. You may recognize my ramblings from Man United-focused series Young Devils which debuted on our site last year. And there was also the more recent globetrotting saga of Total Football Journeyman. After this last dive into the world of Total Football, I took a break from FM20. With FM21, I plan to come back with the same mix of history and tactical guides. This time focusing on sleeping giants, obscure, forgotten football and simpler tactics in simpler times. Those will be the themes for my first FM21 series, titled Non-League Legends.
New Game, New Beginning
Before I embark on my journey with FM21 I would like to start with a sort of statement of intent. To be frank I got more than a little burned out with FM20. And it is largely my own fault. I was so focused on recreating specific football tactics, that I lost track of what drew me to the series back in 2013. With FM14, I was so new to the game (and the sport) that I was content to simply mess around and see some beautiful virtual football along the way. Then as I got more confident with the series, my intent changed to recreating real football tactics on the virtual pitch. I suspect that for many of us, FM veterans, this is the general trajectory of experience with the series. As hours played add up, the more limitations come out.
By the time I realized that my vision of real-life Total Football did not match what I saw in-game, I got more frustrated, and bitter. And sad to say, this bitterness permeated my writing and my recent interactions within the FM community. I admit, I am not a very pleasant person when I don’t get what I want. That is another thing, other than our myopia, that Jurgen and I have in common.
Be it possession with intent, parked buses or one-on-one struggles, I had my share of FM20 complaints. A lot of them probably not the fault of the game, as much as me trying too hard. In general, the more I tried to recreate any specific tactical style, the more the game seemed to struggle against me. And much like real football, it can be very unpredictable. After-all, it is still a game with its fair share of RNG. Although there many things that we as managers can do to skew the numbers our way.
In the end, both the sport and its virtual representation, are a game of probability. The best we can do is to manipulate the factors in a way to favour a positive outcome. But we also have to remember that the opposite manager is also trying to do the same. And might be better at it than us. Or might just be plain lucky that day. The results will not go our way 100% of the time, or even 70%. So even the best-intentioned tactical instructions and world-class players can lose you games.
FM21 Motto – keeping it simple
So with that rant finished, I guess what I am trying to say is that with FM21 I will attempt a kind of fresh slate, tabula rasa approach. Not only in how I play the game, but also in my tactical writing. The ultimate aim is to recapture the simplicity and charm of the FM series as well as the sport, by looking at it from a fresh perspective. And what better way to write a Football Manager Guide series, then from a perspective of a newcomer to the sport. Thus we can document what works and what does not as the tactic evolves with the team over time. I would like for both you as the reader and myself as writer to learn the ins and outs of this virtual world. And not just witness the final result of a tactical recreation experiment.
Along the way, in our tactical journey through football history, I will try to show how very simple tactics can be just as successful as very complex ones. And how sometimes you could get “complex” football out of the simplest formations. Who said that the old, trusty 4-4-2 couldn’t create beautiful possession football? Or can real and virtual managers still be successful without focusing on just the tactical aspects of football? I believe so. Because simply put football is not just about tactics. Football is a way of life.
Last year, I read Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid from cover to cover. Yeah I know it’s rather embarrassing that it took this long to actually complete this “Bible for every FM Player”. But honestly I probably read most of it piece-meal over the years. Be it borrowing friend’s copy, browsing on the shelves of the local bookstore, or through other less legal formats. Then finally the long pandemic confinement gave me enough free time to read this tactical masterpiece more thoroughly. And lets say I was also a little inspired by the book’s surprising cameo in Apple TV’s excellent Ted Lasso.
It got me thinking about topics for the future articles. This time of the year is usually when I am all out of ideas for both new saves and article topics. But curiously both the show and the book, have become a great source for inspiration. So in a way this new FM21 series is a baby of Ted Lasso and the Pyramid.
I know many of you are already familiar with this seminal work by Jonathan Wilson. Perhaps not so much with Ted Lasso, as the show is probably more popular on the western side of the Atlantic. So let me tell you this. If you are a Football Manager fan and still have not checked it out, you are definitely missing out. Heck, even Jose Mourinho knows Ted! By the way, here is a crash course on world football from The Special One himself.
What’s there to learn from Ted?
The Ted Lasso Show is ultimately a love letter to every good sport film ever made. It tells the story of a down on his luck American college football coach Ted Lasso. Just as things are not looking great in his personal life, he gets the job of a lifetime, to coach a fictional English Premier League team, AFC Richmond “Greyhounds”. Not to be confused with Richmond AFC, the club that gave a start to Alan Bennett, former Irish International and AFC Wimbledon first teamer.
And as it turns out the team is doing even worse than Ted’s love life. From the start, it appears that it might take more than Marcelo Bielsa to save this particular club from relegation.
So despite having no experience with the sport, Ted gets this amazing job opportunity. Why? Well, the new owner of AFC Richmond, involved in a messy divorce, wants to stab back at her ex-husband. And to do it by ruining the team he loved more than her. Simple enough premise. And also a great basis for a sports movie. Will team-building and building a real sense of community/togetherness be enough to make the team rise up above the competition? Again wins are secondary while keeping the same players and making them bond and create team chemistry is paramount. Something that FM fans are familiar with.
The Lasso Method of Management
Initially Ted comes off as simply another American who knows nothing about football (just kidding). Or soccer if you will, as we tend to call it here in Canada. But looks can be deceiving and he turns out smarter than he seems. And this is where the show’s hidden quality emerges. It endears us to this seemingly bumbling character who is trying to navigate the complex currents of English football while rediscovering the true essence of the sport. Ted might not know a whole lot about the technical intricacies of the beautiful game but ends up teaching us a whole lot about how human nature influences football. Because in the end it is all about putting player management foremost before the results. People come first, results follow. And we come back to the wise words of super spirited Dani Rojas, “Football is Life!”
I sure wish I had more Danis on my team.
Anyway, lets get down to business. For this guided series I decided to channel my inner Ted Lasso. In a sense I will try to forgo the usual tactical complexities (and accompanying heartbreaks) and instead focus on the game’s human side. As Ted would say, to care more about people than wins. I am hoping that the final result gives a more refreshing perspective on playing Football Manager. And putting the tactics we discuss in the context of the people, both historical managers and players, who influenced the beautiful game throughout its long history.
In the end, my goal is to show that sometimes success can come from a simpler approach. Also I aim to try things I never really attempted in Football Manager before. Managing LLM (Lower League Management) side and focusing more on youth development and building better team unity, whatever that may mean. I am still in the early planning phase but without giving too much away I will probably be taking over a small club at the bottom (or close to) of the English football pyramid. And then bring it on an epic journey from Non-League nobodies to Premiership legends.
Here I will give a little preview of what you can expect from this series in the coming weeks. The general plan is to journey back to the “origins” of English football. In more ways than one. Firstly, I will cover the classic 4-4-2, the most versatile formation in football history. And one that owes its origin further East than you might have thought (the hint of that is in my header image). Much in the way that Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff influenced my FM20 writing, this historic manager’s philosophy will be the driving force behind Non-League Legends Series. You will see more details on this in my next article. And of course secondly, I will unveil my chosen club, a veritable sleeping giant.
So on that note, see you all soon. When FM21 comes out. And in the meantime, Go Greyhounds GO!