I have been playing Football Manager, and Championship Manager before it, since 1998. I’ve developed a philosophy of play that’s been quite successful, and I want to share that philosophy with you today.
I came by this philosophy naturally. I’ve always played this way, and indeed I don’t know how to play any other way. The central core of this is the axiom, “Players are People Too”. By this I mean, get to know your players as though they were real people. Treat them like they’re real people. If you wouldn’t get in their face to aggressively tell someone they’re screwing up, don’t do it in the game. You probably wouldn’t praise someone effusively today, if you just did so yesterday. They wouldn’t take it or you as seriously if you did, or if you yell at them every time they aren’t winning by 3 at the half.
In practice, what this looks like is a lot of moderation. Moderating your use of the tools available to you will allow those tools to have greater effect when used. Overuse of a tool weakens its effect. For instance, I rarely use “I have faith in you” team talks or individual talks. Yes, it gives you green, but often that green is “looked happy”, which isn’t as good as “looked motivated”, and doing so every game weakens the effect for some of your players. Not all – some can hear the same thing over and over without a problem.
What this leads to is that, on the rare occasions I need it, I can say “I have faith” and it will lead almost every time to motivation. That’s what I mean by tools being more powerful if used less often. This applies to shouts, praising training or recent form, and team talks, among other things. Criticizing these things is less subject to the problem, but even that can be overused.
I find that this helps me be less confused, too. If I know that most of my players take pressure well, then I won’t be surprised when piling on the pressure makes them play better. If I know the opposite, that they wilt under pressure, well, 1) I need new players, and 2) I need to coddle this group a lot more than the first group. That may not feel natural to you, to care what players think of your management style, but believe me it makes a big difference to them.
All of this is in aid of what became known a couple of years ago as Dynamics. Tracking the social groups and friendship patterns is something I used to do on paper, with the goal of maximising partnerships on field. Now we have the Dynamics tab, with several useful tools available to track your progress in establishing relationships with your players. It is imperative to understand that Dynamics affect everything else you do in the game. They affect how your players will react both individually and in groups. They affect how your team will play overall, with relationships being shown directly to you on the tactics screen.
When I say “get to know your players,” I mean that you should know their personalities, their traits, their preferred positions and roles, their hidden stats (where possible), and their plans. Make sure your customized squad view – we all have one, right? – includes minutes played, and happiness with agreed playing time. This is an invaluable tool in the rotation battle, when trying to balance the minutes that players are expecting.
Everything in the game serves one or both of two purposes. It is there to inform you, or to provide you with a tool to manipulate the game. Team talks, chats, press conferences, tunnel interviews, shouts, all of these things contribute to building your relationship with your players. Take these yourself, at least early in your time with the club. I know they’re very dull after the first few times, but they are tools to communicate with your players, your fans, and your board.
Each answer you give, each shout you make, each question you take from a reporter builds relationships. Leaving them to the AssMan means the AssMan gets the relationship benefits with the players, not you.
Press conferences tell you things, as well as asking you things. The topics reporters are asking about are frequently clues to the issues your team may be facing, and in those clues may be hints as to the passage out of the problem. For example, if there are rumours of discontent in your dressing-room, you’ve got someone there who’s speaking out of turn. Suspects would include people whose media-handling style suggests too much familiarity with reporters.
When your Dynamics are good, you can make any tactic look good, and any opponent look bad. The effect of team cohesion is particularly noticeable. Your team intercepts more, turns play around more, anticipates better, positions better, when team cohesion is high.
When it’s abysmal, the interceptions get missed, the play doesn’t get turned around, and you get scored on more.
After you know your players well, you won’t be surprised when your RB responds to your shout of encouragement with “Frustrated by the feedback” This is because you’ll know that he’s a model citizen, and is already giving everything for the cause. Doesn’t mean don’t use the shout, just means know the effect it will have on your players when you use it.
Lastly, remember you can affect the personalities of your players through mentoring and coaching and by training bad traits out of them. These are again useful tools for knowing exactly who your players are, and what it will take to motivate each of them.
Your job as a manager is to win games. Carefully and knowledgeably managing the mental state of your team will take you a long way toward your goal.