COUNTER-ATTACKING CORPORATE FOOTBALL
Football is no stranger to commercialism but corporate interests have slowly taken over the game, and in some cases, taken over our clubs. We now find ourselves in an era of ridiculous transfer fees, wage bills, and other escalating costs that are ultimately passed onto the fans. In some cases, the fans have taken it upon themselves and established community-owned clubs run by supporters trusts as an alternative to the City Groups, PSG, Man United, and Red Bulls of the corporate football world.
Having fan-owned and fiscally responsible clubs is an excellent alternative, but given the difference in spending power, they can only go so far. We need something bigger than singular clubs trying to take on the money men.
Welcome to the RED STAR ALLIANCE.
Similar to the collective strength of the Red Bull Sporting Group or City Group who have established a global network on aligned clubs for marketing, recruitment and development purposes, the Red Star Alliance is an alternative collective made up of community-owned clubs that have existing fan affiliations and are ideologically aligned.
Each club within the Alliance continues to celebrate its own rich history and traditions but is now owned by supporter trusts. FC St Pauli has led the way for decades as a club with a set of financial and social principles that form the perfect manifesto for all Alliance teams.
The founding members are AEK Athens, Besiktas, Olympique de Marseille, Rayo Vallecano, Celtic FC, AS Livorno, and one other club that we’ll get to shortly. These clubs weren’t selected at random, there have been long-standing friendships between most of these clubs for socio-political or ideological reasons which makes sense to bring them together as an interesting experiment to see how things pan out as we progress from season to season.
The concept came about because I’m a long-standing Manchester United supporter since the early 80s and a former season ticket holder who is disgusted at what the club has become under the Glazer family. They are basically little more than a commercial entity these days with many other clubs following suit. I was also a fan of Melbourne Heart who the City group decided to purchase several years ago leaving me without a local team I could stomach supporting. Disillusioned with where the game is heading, I found myself reading and following St Pauli and other community-owned clubs, inspiring this idea for FM20.
A wrote a series called the 4-4-2 Diaries last year that demonstrated different variations on that formation using a North East Journeyman save as the vehicle. The Red Star Alliance aims to provide similar context for my writing this year in which to explore different topics, experiments and guides.
Anyway, to kick things off the Red Star Alliance needs another member…
RED STAR WREXHAM
As the Red Star Alliance lacked a presence in the English leagues, Wrexham was identified as the perfect club to join the network: it is community-owned and in the 5th tier of its domestic league. Given that our aim is to compete with the likes of Red Bull, we have the perfect club to demonstrate that community-owned team can replicate RB Leipzig’s success by qualifying for the champions league within a decade, but this time without a corporate sugar daddy.
RS Wrexham has the benefit of being able to loan players from its affiliates and shared scouting knowledge and seeks to offer itself as a future home for those players deemed surplus to requirements at the other RSA clubs. Should RS Wrexham be successful and progress up through the leagues, we aim to return the favour and loan out our own talents to the affiliates.
Any revolution needs a defining ideology, especially a football revolution.
Pretty football might be entertaining but unless you have that sugar daddy cash bankrolling the purchase of elite talent, pretty football fails more often than it succeeds. Mourinho, Simeone, Van Gaal, Herrera, Ancelotti, Big Sam and even Tony Pulis have demonstrated that pragmatism is a more likely path to success if you have lesser talent than your opponents at their disposal. It may be an ugly duckling to some, but a beautiful swan to others…
Pragmatism is our football philosophy. This isn’t simply “hoof ball”. It is the “the dark arts” of analysing your opponent and constructing a strategy to beat them while playing with intelligence, physicality and discipline. Our philosophy is more “Art of War” than “Stick It In The Mixer”.
SEASON ONE TACTICS
My tactical approach is usually inspired by the masters. I wrote a series of blogs last season demonstrating the diversity of the 4-4-2 formation inspired by a number of different managers and for FM20, I imagine I’ll take a similar approach.
For the first season at Wrexham, I wanted to challenge the RB Sporting Group’s “RalfBall” with something that is almost the complete opposite: “RafaBall”.
At Newcastle, Rafa utilised two system counter-attacking formations, a 4-2-3-1 and before transitioning to the 5-4-1 system in the Premier League that Steve Bruce is still using since he took over. As a pragmatist, Rafa understood the talent deficiency of his team so rather than the current trend of aggressive pressing of defending, he used an approach that relies on deeper positioning with 9 players behind the ball, maintaining team shape, and patience. They simply absorb pressure and wait for opportunities to win the ball back and counter-attack. It’s very simple, but effective. Newcastle’s 2-1 win against Man City showed the 5-4-1 is probably the toughest system to break down when played with intelligence and discipline.
“Doing things this way, you can win against anyone.”Rafa Benitez, following Newcastle’s 2-1 win against Manchester City.
Our RafaBall used both of the following 4-2-3-1 and 5-4-1 systems based on the relative strength of the opponent and their formation:
RECRUITMENT & DEVELOPMENT
As a community-owned club, strict adherence to budgets is essential. With that in mind, a decision was made to not investment in our youth academy or coaching for now. Development can be facilitated via the use of loans to/from our affiliates.
Christos Giousis came in on loan from AEK and gave us 16 goals, 3 assists, 8 POM awards and played like a non-league Totti. We were very proud to aid in his development for AEK and shall watch his progress closely moving forward. He is a fine first example of the mutual benefits of the Red Star Alliance.
Overall, the squad was transitional in our first season with players deemed surplus to requirements being moved out. I will likely produce a more comprehensive post regarding the evolution of our squad in future.
Coaching is one area we invested in by setting the tone with the signing of Edgar Davids. He will definitely take no shit from the players and should also develop as we (hopefully) rise up through the divisions.
SEASON ONE RESULTS
A revolution starts with a whisper but can quickly become a scream…
The whisper was a mediocre start to the season before inspiration hit and RafaBall was implemented and we managed to grind out enough results to scrape into the playoffs. To be honest, I didn’t think our play merited it but we got there and our opponents made the mistake of tactical arrogance which was perfect for counter-attacking football and we beat Barrow, Aldershot and Chesterfield to secure a very unexpected promotion to the Football League.
ELSEWHERE IN THE ALLIANCE
Aside from our own promotion, there were some other excellent results across the Red Star Alliance:
Besiktas: Won Spor Toto Super Lig, Qualified for Champions League
Celtic: Won the Scottish Premiership, Qualified for Champions League
Olympique Marseille: 2nd behind PSG in Ligue 1, qualified for Champions League
AEK Athens: 3rd in Greek Superleague, qualified for Europa League
Rayo Vallecano: Won LaLiga Smartbank gaining promotion to LaLiga Santander
Unfortunately, there were also two poor outcomes:
St Pauli: Finished 11th in 2. Bundesliga
Livorno: Finished 19th in Serie B, Relegated to Serie C.
So our journey into the football league starts, I have a number of ideas that I’ll explore using the RSA save as context for these. I already have a couple of ideas jotted down and I know that for next season when it comes to tactics I’m already considering something Big….