FM15 Legends Interview: Guido of www.strikerless.com

Guys, I am delighted to launch a new section of the blog today.  Since starting to get into this whole blogging thing following the success of the “Johnny Cooper, Championship Manager” books I wrote I have wanted to learn more about the folks who are already leading the way in this field.  For me, Guido is one of the reasons I wanted to give it a go.  I find his articles and tactical creativity really interesting, and something that I am aspiring to.  So, I was delighted when he agreed to answer a few questions!

Q: Hey Guido, thanks for giving up some time to speak to me today.  Straight off the bat mate, tell my followers who you are….

A: My name is Guido and I am 31 years old. I am a teacher on a secondary school, where I teach 12-16 year olds the finer intricacies of the Dutch language. 

Q: With your leading edge blog www.strikerless.com you very much qualify as an FM Legend, but tell us when you started playing the game?

A: I started playing when I fished an old version of Championship Manager out of a bargain bin at the local toy-store. My younger brother and I were instantly hooked and a few weeks later, we actually bought the up-to-date version of Championship Manager for that season. I think we started out with CM2 and we’ve played every instalment since. It was just an exciting time for us, as Dutch football supporters. Louis van Gaal had his Ajax-side playing amazing football, PSV had a very young Ronaldo upfront and Feyenoord also impressed in Europe and here was this game, giving us the chance to emulate and perhaps even surpass the real-life achievements of these teams.

Q: What made you want to start blogging about it?

A: I have been writing about Football Manager for nearly fifteen years now. Initially, it was just scribbling down names of amazing players I had scouted into a notebook. Next came sharing these lists with people online. I loved the idea of exchanging ideas and thoughts about a game I enjoyed playing. I was one of those kids who scribbled line-ups and scouting lists in the sideline of his school notebooks.

After a while, I just moved on to other topics besides just scouting players. Initially, I just mucked around tactically and relied on signing superior players to win matches, which was a strategy that paid off pretty well. I got into tactics more and more and figured I should try and my thoughts on paper. It turned out some of my ideas worked out particularly well in the games, which stimulated me to write more and try to refine my style.

After writing for several websites, both in English and in my native tongue, which is Dutch, I eventually got a bit fed up with deadlines and admins telling me my ideas were too far-fetched to ever lead to proper articles and hits for the website, I took a two year sabbatical, which coincided with the release of FM Live. That game was truly amazing, it had everything. Real name players, random squads, a vivid in-game economy and you played live against other human managers. 

During my FM Live tenure, I barely touched FM. I did start with blogging. I just ranted regarding the various flaws I encountered in the game and shared some of the strategies I used to be successful. After FM Live was shut down, I tried going back to writing for websites, but I never really got into it. I enjoyed the freedom my own blog offered. When FM14 came out, I decided I had enough ideas left I wanted to share, so I started Strikerless, after the style of play I enjoyed the most.

Q: What started your fascination with strikerless formations?

Have you perhaps played FM Live? (I have not – Chris) Probably not and the game, despite all of its brilliant potential, is now as dead as Joey Barton’s career prospects for England. During its existence however, I was introduced to the dreaded 4-6-0 tactic, or as it was known in many GameWorlds, “a fucking cheat” or “an unrealistic, negative, exploiting piece of crap.” Yep, it was pretty much deemed the bane of normal gamers, a formation exploiting some sort of loophole in the match engine.

I have to admit I initially shared these sentiments. I had grown up watching football clubs play in a 4-3-3 in the Netherlands, whilst English clubs often played in a 4-4-2 and German clubs fielded a 5-3-2/3-5-2 hybrid formation. This tactic was so far out of my comfort zone, it was almost blasphemous in a way. And yet it worked… The clever minds who came up with this tactic were dominating their Gameworlds, often with very average players (read: not the expensive real-life stars everyone else splashed their cash on).

After overcoming my initial shock, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and have a closer look at this tactic. After all, if it made otherwise average players over-achieve tremendously, as well as scoring a shit load of goals, it had to be doing something right. 

I spent some time learning the various forms of 4-6-0 there were. You could play with decapitated 4-5-1, where the striker dropped back into an AM-slot, flanked by two wingers. Then there was the 4-6-0 where instead of a wide attacking line, you fielded a narrow forward line, focussing on flooding the center of the pitch. After a while, the strikerless formations evolved, mostly because people knew how to combat them. The most-used formation of these “second generation” tactics was a 4-1-2-3-0, where an extra defensive midfielder had to provide much needed cover for the sometimes stretched defense, as well as providing an extra passing outlet.

What I quickly discovered, is that not every variation of 4-6-0 was equally effective. In fact, some people just copied a formation, without knowing what actually made it tick. As a result, they got massacred by more experienced managers, who by now knew how to fight a strikerless formation. Other strikerless teams seemed uneffected by peoples efforts to fight their strikerless formations.

I needed to find out what the strikerless style of play was. The style of play is clearly more important than the actual formation. If you find the right style of play, you can get almost any formation to work. One of my fellow managers finally helped me out by sharing his tactic with the community. Not just a download, but the actual idea, philosophy if you will, behind the whole thing. Tõnis Lõhmus was kind enough to help me out with my first steps on the strikerless path and one of first things he taught me, is that formation is not that important.

The concept of an absolute formation does not exist. It’s a myth, crammed into our heads by analysts and newspapers, oversimpliying things. There’s no such thing as playing 4-4-2, no 4-4-2 is the same in the way they actually take to the field and move around on the pitch. Every team has at least an attacking shape and a defensive shape. You don’t play with a back four the entire time, you play with three at the back when going forward, as one of your wingbacks joins the midfield, four at the back when transitioning between attack and defence and perhaps five at the back when defending, as a midfielder may drop back to help out the defenders. In conclusion, style is more important than a formation, which can change depending on the players you have on the pitch and the instructions they are issued.

Style is important, but what consistutes a good style for a strikerless formation? Obviously, your players need certain skills to successfully pull this off. In order to find out which skills are required, let’s first look at the philosophy behind strikerless formations. The premisse of a strikerless formation is that instead of a traditional forward, you play a trequartista as your most attacking man on the pitch, position-wise. Trequartista’s tend to move into the space between defence and midfield to receive the ball, thus overloading the central midfield, establishing domination in terms of possession and creating space for surging runs by wingers or other midfielders.

What you see is rapidly moving players, short yet incisive passing and a smooth, silky style of play. When Ruud Gullit was raving on about sexy football, he was full of shit and talking utter bollocks, but the kind of football strikerless can produce can only be described as sexy.

Q: What has your greatest save been to date?

My favourite save was a save in India, it spanned over four decades in-game. I started with East Bengal, mostly because I wanted something new and had never played in India before. It turned out to be pretty fun, short and sweet seasons and pretty challenging due to a lack of resources. In 25 years time, I managed to turn East Bengal into one of the richest clubs in the world, renewing the entire youth setup and setting up an extensive scouting network in Africa. Then I got bored and took up a job as the national team’s manager alongside a club-job with the New Delhi Heroes, mostly because they had a cool name. I played on for another 15 years, actually reaching a World Cup final with India and challenging my own East Bengal dynasty with the New Delhi side. Then the next FM instalment came out and this save-game got scrapped.

These kind of saves are the style of gaming I prefer. Long term saves, trying to build a dynasty with a small side. Every instalment of the game, I have at least one save-game that goes over two decades, whether it’s with a big club like PSG or smaller sides like Melbourne Victory or Fortuna Sittard. I don’t even care when the “real” players start to retire, because the players the game generates have become real to me. A newly generated player from my own setup, who goes on to become the next global superstar, that’s just as rewarding as signing Messi or Ronaldo.

Q: What has been your biggest FM failure so far?

A: Getting knocked out of Europe because I underestimated the opposition, fielded a B-team and got mauled as a result. A really silly mistake, but kind of my own fault, especially since I was playing after coming home from a night out. Just goes to show you that playing drunk isn’t always the best idea haha. Most of my signings during that drunken night turned out awful as well. Not a proud moment.

Q: Who are you managing in FM15, and why?

A: Fortuna Sittard again, they’re my local side and the team I support. In real life, we’ve been performing pretty average to goddamn awful for the past decade, so it’s fun to see them perform really well in the game.

Q: For you, what has been the best addition to FM15 and why?

A: Honestly? It has to be the database. It’s an amazing piece of work, especially when you consider it’s mostly volunteers who provide SI the data, so not professional scouts. They’ve often been spot on regarding certain players, who were household names in Championship Manager and Football Manager, long before they actually became renowned in real life. They sometimes get it wrong of course, but it was good fun seeing some of these CM or FM heroes making their debut in the Champions League years after I signed them in the game.

Q: Equally, what has been the worst?

A: Player power has been overpowered, pardon the pun. Whilst I do realise that a full-blown dressing room uprising would see any manager sacked, I’ve seen people (myself included) get sacked because two or three reserve/youth players, on the fringes of first team football, started to moan. That seems a bit silly.

Q: If you were in charge of SI for a day, what would you change and why?

A: Ideally, I’d try to keep the amount of patches down to a minimum and release a game that was free of glaring bugs. That’s ideally though, I have no clue how to run a company and which problems the team has to deal with to get the game out. 

Guido, again, thank you very much for your time today – your Strikerless formation is powering my Clapton FC side up the lower leagues as we speak, and I look forward to seeing what else you come up with in the near future!

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