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Playing time and player development on FM20 – Part 2

To play or not to play, that is the question for many FM20 managers. Especially when it comes to developing young players. U18 players highly value training, while older players need playing time to keep developing. Playing time alone isn’t enough though, as a manager you need to provide your player with games at the right level. The level needs to be challenging, but not too difficult. The optimal level will vary based on age, current ability and potential ability. Therefore I created a series of experiments to test the importance of playing time on player development on FM20. This is the NREsecond part of a three part series. Part one can be found here.

Aim – Effect of playing time on FM20 player development

Ten years ago, Shrewnaldo did a series of tests to help unravel the mysteries of Football Manager. This article is very much in the spirit of his work. The aim was to create an experiment that isolated the variable of playing time and its effect on player development, by making all other variables as identical and/or static as possible. I spent countless hours in the editor before launching the experiment. The experiment ran for one season in which I manually took control of almost all aspects of it.

Lessons learned so far

In the first experiment 66 16-year-olds with 200 PA were divided into first, U23 and U18 squad. Half of the players played a lot and half of them played very little. The results of the experiment suggested that playing time seemed to have an impact on FM20 player development, at least for these 16-year-olds. It also appears to be better to play games in a higher reputation league/team, even at age 16.

Experiment number two – 24-year-olds

This time around I’m looking at players at the other end of the age spectrum. 24-year-olds are rarely considered talents. They are usually getting close to their prime, where they are supposed to perform to the maximum of their ability. At 24 players getting close to reaching their potential. So, what happens if I fill the squads with players aged 24? Will I get the same results as with the 16-year-olds?


Just like in the first experiment I used the “Training Experiment” club that has replaced Arsenal in the Premier League. The coaching staff, training schedules and tactics were all left untouched. Only one change was made. One change 66 times.


24-year-old player

Each player was made 8 years older, going from 16 to 24. They all still had a 200 PA and a CA equal to their RCA based on position.

The strategy was to play the no1 choice in each position (no1 and 2 for the positions with two players in the starting eleven) as much as possible, and the other player(s) in the same position as little as possible.


The experiment was carried out over one season. I manually set the starting eleven for every game to make sure that the right players started the games. I didn’t actually play the games so my assistant manager was in charge of. The in-game editor was used to remove any injuries along the way.


A one season experiment where the effect of playing time on FM20 player development will be assessed. The 66 players in the experiment were all created identical except for preferred position. Half of the players would play as much as possible and half of the players as little as possible.

Results – Does playing time matter on FM20?

I encountered one issue that made this experiment different to the first one. By making players 24 years old, they became ineligible for the U23s and U18s. This meant that the only squad where I could compare playing and not playing was the first squad. I still left 22 players each in the U23s and U18s, they just didn’t play at all.

Intra-squad comparison

In the below table you have the outfield players of the three squads divided into two groups by number of starts. In the first squad eleven players started all games while the other eleven players started no games. The players starting games averaged a 19,45 total attribute point improvement, while the players not starting any games had close to no improvement.

In the other two squads all players had no starts. They also didn’t improve at all.

Inter squad comparisons


The only relevant squad to compare the two groups within is the first squad. One single player from the “No starts” group improved one point while the rest of them didn’t improve at all. In the “All starts” group the least improved player (DR) improved by 11 points, while the most improved player (ML) improved by 27 points.


Playing time is absolutely pivotal to a 24-year-old when it comes to player development. Just compare the two left midfielders from the first squad below.

ML1 started every single game over the season and improved quite a bit, while ML2 who didn’t start a single game didn’t improve at all. Just training with top class coaches and state of the art facilities isn’t enough at 24, not even with a PA of 200.

Discussion – What’s next?

After conducting experiments with the two different ends of the spectrum, 16-year-olds and 24-year-olds we see a clear difference. 16-year-olds develop nicely just by training, even though it seems like a bit of playing time makes them improve even more. When it comes to 24-year-olds they need to play regularly to improve. For the third and final experiment I’ll look at 18- and 21-year-olds to investigate the relationship between playing time and development is for these ages. Can I find a cut-off age or is the importance of playing time progressively increasing with age?

I hope you enjoyed this playing time experiment. If you have any questions please comment below, or let us know via our social media channels. You can follow our twitter here. Alternatively, like our Facebook page here. Other articles you may enjoy:
How Crucial are Assistant Managers?
Expected Assists (xA) and Received Passes in FM20
Unsung Heroes: Complete Wing Back

Written by mikaelinhofm


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  1. Superb experiment Mikael. Really interesting to compare 16 year old and 24 year olds. Looking forward to the concluding instalment.

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