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Playing time and player development on FM20 – Part 3

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 third and final part of this series. Part one looking at 16-year-olds can be found here and part two looking at 24-year-olds 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 a series of experiments 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 these experiments. They ran for one season each 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. The second experiment involving 24-year-olds suggested that for them playing time is absolutely pivotal when it comes to player development. Just training with top class coaches and state of the art facilities isn’t enough at 24, not even with a PA of 200.

Experiment number three – 17/18-year-olds and 21-year-olds

The third and final experiment examines players on opposite sides of the alleged cutoff point of age 18. Players aged younger than 18 are said to rely heavily on training, while players older than that mostly need game time to develop. The results from the 16-year-olds compared to the 24-year-olds certainly highlights a difference. Is there an actual cut-off or is it a gradual change of importance from training to game time though? In this experiment one 66 man squad filled with players aged 17 (they turned 18 during the season) and one 66 man squad filled with 21-year-olds were compared.


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 for each experiment. One change 66 times.


For the first experiment all players were made 17 years old and for the second one 21 years old . 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 each of the tow squads 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?

With the 21-year-olds I encountered a similar issue as with the 24-year-olds in the previous experiment. By being older than 18 they became ineligible for the U18s. This meant that all the 22 players in the U18s squad didn’t play at all. They just trained all season.

Intra-squad comparisons

In the below tables you have the average total attribute point improvement of the outfield players of the three squads divided into two groups by number of starts.


In all three squads eleven players started all games while the other eleven players started no games. The players starting games in the U23s averaged the highest total attribute point improvement with a 40,8 improvement. The players starting games for the first team averaged an improvement of 39,8. The lowest improvement was seen in the group of players starting all games for the U18s with an average improvement of 31,5. The players not starting any games improved between 32,1 and 35,5 points in average.


For the 21-year-olds results were different. The players starting all games for the first team improved the most with an average 19,4 point improvement. The players starting games for the U23s improved slightly less. Their average improvement was 13,8 points. The remaining 44 players didn’t start any games and therefore only showed a minimal average improvement between 0,2 and 1,3 points.

Inter squad comparisons

Looking at each individual training result only strengthens the trends seen in the intra-squad comparisons.


All the individual 17/18-year-olds improved a lot regardless of game time. The most improved players were found among players who started all games for the first squad (53), no games for the first squad (48) and all games for the U23s (50, 47). The least improved players was one of the central defenders who didn’t start for the first squad (11).


Among the 21-year-olds, only players who started games improved. The three most improved players were all players starting all games for the first squad (27, 26, 24).

Final summary

With the addition of 17/18-year-olds and 21-year-olds, it’s time for a final summary. In the table below you see the mean improvement for each age and group.

By just quickly glancing at this, one thing stands out. Playing time is really important for players aged 21 and older. Training alone will not improve these players more than slightly, regardless of potential, coaches and facilities. They need to play and the need to play a lot. There is also a significant difference to how much they improve, based on the level of games. The higher the better.

For the younger players, there’s a different story. Both the 16- and the 17/18-year-olds improve mostly through training, which is along the lines of what we’ve been told by Sports Interactive.


No real revelations here then, huh!? Well, one thing actually stands out, at least to me. It appears that the best strategy when it comes to developing young players is that it seems beneficial to promote them from the U18s! This surprised me, since I tend to want to move slowly, only moving the most talented/oldest players to other squads. Giving players the occasional chance in unimportant cup games etc. Slowly bleeding them in. According to these experiments that approach is wrong. The data suggest that you should always promote your U18 players to the U23s/reserves or the first team squad! Another benefit of doing this is that they become eligible to be mentored from a very early age!

Discussion – What’s next?

After conducting experiments with four different ages (16, 17/18, 21, 24) we see a clear difference. 16-year-olds and 18-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 21- and 24-year-olds they need to play regularly to improve. To get more statistical certainty and perhaps more insights into this the experiments would need to be run several times, which is a very time consuming task. With FM21 on the horizon I will not conduct anymore FM20 experiments, but if anyone wants the save file to conduct experiments of their own, just let us know!

I hope you enjoyed these playing time experiments. 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. Excellent coverage as always. Mikaelinho does all the heavy lifting and we just get to read the fruits of his hard labour. All’s I need now is a decent youth player to develop.

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