The Clapton kits I designed for the season
I don’t often start at the bottom. This is not to say I usually start at the very top, but in my regular playing past I recall that I would usually choose either a sleeping giant or a mid-range Premier League side and see what I could do with them. This is the first time I have had a database available to me that takes me down to a level that I used to, and still think, I could even play in – County League football management, it actually feels real to me.
Before I finally made my choice of Clapton FC I did some research into lower league management across various FM forums. The advice seemed to be the same across the board – don’t try anything fancy, use a simple 442, don’t try and pass the ball and sign plenty of experience, kids won’t get you promoted at that level of football. Well, that didn’t sound like much fun to me.
Since returning to FM, I have been fascinated by the dedication and tactical creation of @merryguido and his interpretations of strikerless formations have really impressed me. I want my Clapton side not just to get promoted up the divisions, but to do so playing a certain style, a brand of football that you wouldn’t normally get in the Essex Senior League. Sides at that level, and trust me I have watched enough of it to know, typically line up with two banks of four, two massive centre halves, a big lad and a quick lad up front. If they are really good, they might have a tricky winger and a lad in the middle of the park that can play a bit. Those managers that fancy themselves a little might dabble in a 433. Oh, and you are guaranteed to still get a game in your late thirties if you have a reputation at that level.
None of this really fits in to what I want to do, so this is the perfect opportunity to take @guidomerry’s strikerless, 4-3-3-0 and make it part of the Clapton Culture. It’s attacking, it’s fluid, it involves high tempo pressing, quick passing and intelligent movement – the Clapton Ultras will have not seen anything like this, I am sure. Of course, it might all go completely wrong and I might have to resort to signing a couple of lumps to defend at the back!
I’m actually quite excited, this is going to be a massive challenge. Without even looking at the squad, I have a few ideas about what I want to do. We are predicted to come 9th in the division, which tells me the squad will need some strengthening straight away and I doubt my backroom staff are up to much. Fortunately, my squad does appear to have some midfielders that are capable of attacking – 26 year old Kieron Osborne has some energy and can play central and attacking midfield, which is a plus for this formation. 16 year old Daniel Moloney can also play in both positions so will do a job for me as a central winger. Another option I have is Mark Blake, who seems to favour playing as a shadow striker, but I think I will train into being more comfortable as a centre-midfielder. Midfield-wise I am lacking a deep lying playmaker as Ryan Willsmer is only good enough as a back-up. For the attacking midfield trio, which has two shadow strikers alongside a trequartista I have nothing. Jerome Martelli is the only attacker of note so I will re-train him into a attacking midfielder who can play as a shadow striker, but I am going to have to hit the free-transfer market and find me some players that can play or be trained into these roles. At the back, I have a 16 year old goalkeeper called Stuart Coote that I will give a run to and see how he turns out. I like the look of the right back, Junior Pulford, who can tackle and has some natural fitness so could well become a decent wing back. The centre backs are all much of muchness, nobody stands out as excellent and I need a left back.
So the shopping list looks like this:
1x centre back
1x left back
1x deep lying playmaker
1x central midfielder
4x strikers/attacking midfielders (I will convert strikers into attacking midfielders)
Luckily I haven’t sacked my scout yet, so I am able to see the players who could be interested in a move to Clapton – so I put offers out to a centre back called Stuart Axton and a left back called Chris Herron. Axten impressed me as he had a decent number for concentration, which I think could be important in this formation as we will have a lot of the ball so attacks against us might be rare. He can also head it reasonably well and is quite strong. Chris Herron was the stand out left back for me as he had a bit of pace and natural fitness, so should get up and down the line quite well. I struck gold in the deep lying midfielder search! Ex-Brighton midfielder, Agustin Battipieldi, was available on a sensible wage and can pass it with vision, so I was delighted that I was able to get him ahead of the chasing pack of Braintree and London Bari! I also picked up an Irish lad called Daryn Hennessy who will provide competition for one of the central midfielder roles – naturally fit, good technique and work-rate so will hopefully fit in. It was for the attacking midfield roles where I did my best work. I decided to look for pace over anything else, as this formation is going to involve players bursting from deep positions. I was able to find Ross Gilfedder, Lee Barney, Ronnie Green and Raphael Nade all with 15+ for pace. All other than Gilfedder were strikers that can also play in an attacking midfield role, so only Gilfedder will need complete re-training. Good work all round I felt.
Backroom wise, out went my assistant manager, head physio and chief scout and in came Brian McDonnell, a Scot with good stats for judging ability and potential as my assistant. I found it impossible to find someone who could do a bit of coaching as well as judge players, so I decided to use my own coaching stats to boost the teams ability. I also brought in a guy called Warren Evans with a 14 for defence coaching as a coach, my old mate from down the road, Steve Snelling, as physio and an experienced man called Mal Liptrott as scout – good stats for this level with 10 and 10 for judging ability and potential. All the lads were offered amateur contracts so I have saved a bit on the wage budget as well.
Having done all this, I met with the chairman, told him I wanted to be allowed to play attacking football and bring young players through and approved the pre-season friendlies.
The side will go into the run of pre-season games looking to become comfortable with this style of play:
Let’s do this!
Author of the “Johnny Cooper, Championship Manager” series