Folks, it’s been a while since I did one of these but I am delighted to get one of the most successful FM writers in the game to go through the grilling that I like to subject people to. Ok, it’s not so much a grilling as a gentle tickle behind the ear, but I hope you enjoy the insight into Alex Stewart of Put Niels in Goal and The Set Pieces!Alex, thanks for giving up some time to speak to me today – but for my followers who might not know you yet, please tell them a little bit about you and what you do FM-wise.
Hi Chris and thank you for asking me. I am a freelance sports writer and FM addict. While I’ve written about lots of different sports, some of my most popular pieces have been about the game. I have written a series for Iain Macintosh’s new website The Set Pieces, applying Moneyball transfer rules and using stats as a guide for running a club; I’m using Bristol City for this, but I ran a successful series on my own blog putnielsingoal.com with Rangers instead. I also had the pleasure of being the BBC’s Football Manager expert on the recent Transfer Deadline Day, which was entertaining, even though some people on social media didn’t seem to get the point, which was to inject a little levity into proceedings. I also do book reviews, including, of course, your first one!
With giving me such a nice review you definitely qualify as an FM legend in my eyes, but tell us when and how you started playing the game?
I started at school when I was 15, playing what was then Championship Manager ‘96/97. I honestly can’t remember how I came across the game, but while most of my friends were into RPs and shoot-em-ups, I was immediately hooked by CM. I wasn’t a very good real-life footballer, but I seemed to have a knack for the game. This was in the days before internet scouting lists and so on, so it was all one’s own work. I think it appealed to my obsessive nature and my love of lists and detail; it still does!
What made you want to start writing about it?
I was already writing about sports and football specifically, and it seemed a natural adjunct to write about the game. I played it a lot and read Iain’s book and figured there was an appetite for my slightly niche take on things.
Can you remember your first article, and what was it on?
My first article on Football Manager was the beginning of the Moneyball series, using Rangers. It got retweeted by Iain and several other of the big FM writers and got thousands of hits in its first few days. I figured I was on to a winner and it gave me great pleasure to play and write up my save.
What has been your greatest ever save?
My greatest ever is probably a Napoli save from that first CM 96 version. It ran for about thirty years and we won everything going. I remember becoming ridiculously expert in Serie A that year. I’ve also had a few other saves with teams like Anderlecht and Atalanta where I’ve taken very young squads and dominated without really buying in new players. I always enjoy that, and it’s the basis of one of my current saves with Juventus; I use Olympic competition rules and, having bought up loads of ‘wonderkids’, I’m trying to win everything and develop the new talent.
Equally, what has been your biggest disaster?
My biggest disaster occurred without doubt last year: I was running a fantastic Manchester United save which I’d started to write a piece for Pickles, a sort of fictionalised account of the Moyes era but simulated on FM, to see if I could do better. I wrote it in the style of David Peace and was looking to continue it and develop it into a full series. My game crashed and I lost all my saved games. I was genuinely bereft.
How would you describe your playing style, tactics wise?
My playing style varies. It depends massively on whether I’m playing for fun or for a piece: my articles are always themed and so I will tend to play according to whatever sort of rule I’m using, be it youth, Moneyball, or whatever. Generally, I like to play quick, short passing football, with pressing. I am a big fan of the Roaming Playmaker in the new game and so I like to have them. Recently, I’ve been playing a lot with a wing-back-employing 5-3-2, but I also love a narrow 4-2-3-1 with overlapping wing-backs. I definitely try to play a style that suits the players I have available, rather than sticking resolutely to one style and trying to shoe-horn my squad into it.
Tell us your greatest ever FM signing?
My greatest ever signing was probably Sergey Nikiforenko, a Belarusian striker who averaged a goal a game for my Napoli save over seven seasons. I picked him up for probably no more than £250k and he was astonishing. I also remember Andri Sigþórsson, who was another ridiculously cheap goal-machine. In my current save, Luke Freeman, who I didn’t sign but have nurtured, is an amazing player.
What has been your favourite addition to FM15?
As I said above, my favourite addition to the newest version of the game is the Roaming Playmaker. If used well, they can be the basis on every team, very dynamic and explosive, but with a good sense of position as well.
What has been the worst addition to FM15?
I don’t think any additions have been bad, but the player mentality changes have had a real impact. Players often don’t listen or respond sensibly to promises, or state things that have not happened. They also get into slumps off the back of a run of poor form and it can be murder to get them going again. It just doesn’t seem realistic. I also think there are far too many injuries; I know this is not something I’m alone in noticing!
What are you hoping to see in FM16?
I think some serious adjustments need to be with shot ratio successes and the ironing out of goalkeeping errors. I’m not sure new things need to be brought in, just existing things tweaked and made less over-the-top.
If you were in charge of SI for a day, what would you do?
If I were in charge of SI for the day, I’d give myself a longer contract so I could stay there.
Alex, thank you again for speaking to me – for anyone that hasn’t read your excellent Moneyball series and also the pieces on The Set Pieces then I hope they take my advice and go and check them out now! They can also follow you on twitter by finding @AFHStewart