Welcome back to #HaarlemGlobetrotting, where I have recreated the famous old side from Holland. HFC Haarlem used to be the kings of Eredivisie back in the 1940’s but slipped out of the top flight and ended up going bust in 2010 with debts of only €1.5m. As a fan of footballing nostalgia and history I decided to reform the club as an amateur side in the 4th tier of Dutch football with the aim of bringing them back to the top in a Moneyball-stylee. I am now mid-way through season three so felt it was time for a proper review of what has happened so far!
Why the title? Simply, we have just been knocked out the Dutch FA Cup, the KNVB-beker, by a side I would have backed my reputation on beating. Hey ho! It was the 4th round which was the furthest we have been, but I really wanted a crack at a bigger club at home. Anyway, we weren’t going to win the thing so it is pretty irrelevant.
Most of my updates on this save so far have been about the journey, a story as such – today I am going to try and be a little more analytical and look at all the different parts of the save and try to explain in a little more detail. I’m going to look at the following things, philosophies if you will (even though I hate that word).
- Club philosophy
- Tactical approach
- How training fits into all this
- Current performance
So firstly, the club and what I am trying to do. I am a sucker for a romantic story, and Haarlem ticks the box for me. One of older clubs in the Netherlands they won the top flight back in 1946, the Second Division in 1972, 1976 and 1981 and even the FA Cup in way, way back in 1902 and 1912. Their one trip into Europe was the UEFA Cup in 1982, which ended in the 2nd Round. Some very famous Dutch names played for the original club, Ruud Gullit being the standout name but others like former Forest midfielder Johnny Metgod and his brother Edward, Cornelious Pot, Johnny Rep, Luc Nijholt and current PSG player Gregory van der Wiel also pulled on the blue and red jersey. Current Sunderland caretaker Dick Advocaat managed the club 1987-89.
Still, I learned of their demise through the book “Soccernomics” by Simon Kuper, which explained the “Moneyball” concept devised by Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland A’s baseball team in the USA. Therefore I decided to try and employ some of the “Moneyball” rules to this save and see where it took me:
- Only sign Dutch players on free transfers (this has since changed since getting promoted from the 4th tier – I am now signing any nationality, as most I am picking up have been released by top Dutch clubs)
- These players must be U23 on the day of signing
- If anyone makes an offer that exceeds the value of a player, sell them
- Always have a replacement lined up for players that are wanted by other clubs – this replacement, ideally, will come from the U18’s
- Always replace a player with a better player if he becomes available and fits the criteria
I am creating the culture that I want – the club currently has an average squad age of 22, and all bar two are Dutch nationals. I have not received an offer for a player that exceeds their value yet, but last season (when we were still amateur, we are now semi-pro) I was losing a lot of players to higher ranked clubs for nothing as they were able to offer part-time contracts. However, this allowed me to practise the “replacements” rule to great effect, and although we had a massive turnover of playing staff in season two, we still won the division and got promoted to the third tier – I will cover replacements a lot more in the “scouting” part of this. I have also practised the “better player” rule where possible, although I am now pretty satisfied with my squad, I guess until the next “better player” appears.
When I took over, the club had £25k in the bank – you can see below what our finances look like today, 17th December 2006.
There isn’t a great deal to talk about in this bit, other than what I look for in my staff I guess. When I took over I was only allowed an assistant and one coach, so it was looking quite tough to get specialists across the board. My profile started as a semi-pro player with the first coaching badge, which is true to life. Ideally I was looking for people with at least one specialised area, so a rating of 15+ with a bit of determination and motivation thrown in. I managed to get ex-Leeds coach Bobby Davidson to come in as my assistant. He has 16 for attack coaching, 12 for determination and 14 for motivating. The other coach I brought in during the first week was Peter den Otter, 18 for goalkeepers with some determination, discipline and motivating thrown in for good measure. As the seasons have gone by I have managed to convince the board to allow me to increase the numbers of coaches and scouts, so I have two more coaches working with the first team – both are fitness specialists that can also cover tactics and technical.
Scouting wise, this was vital to me. I’ll go through what I have them doing in the “scouting section” but naturally I was looking for scouts with the highest rating for judging – nothing incredible there!
Both the physiotherapists I have employed (one retired) have had 18 and 20 for fitness training as well as good physio stats. I have no idea if that helps, but I am sure it cannot hurt.
This part of the save has been great fun. Due to the way I have set up the save I have some very strict criteria that the scouts must follow – namely Dutch, under 23 and not going to cost me a penny. Each of my scouts is now set up to search for “hot prospects” with the age moved up from 21 to 23, nationality Dutch and value = £0. In the assignment I set the current ability to 0.5 of a star, and the potential to 5 star. I want them to find me everyone out there, and then I will filter it down later (see below).
As you would expect, this brings back quite a few players once the reports start coming in so I filter them down in the following way. I am only interested in new scout reports, because if I see someone I like I will take the next steps quickly. If I haven’t taken the next steps than I am unlikely to be interested in six months time – simply, if I see someone available that is better than what I already have (“better player” rule) or could be a potential replacement for a player that another club is sniffing around (“replacements rule”) then I will do the following next steps:
- Get another report card from the same scout
- If I am still interested, get another scout to give me a report card (second opinion)
- If that report looks good, I send the Head of Youth Development (Johnny Rep) to watch them for 2 weeks or a month depending on the urgency.
If we are all still happy, then I will bring the lad in on trial if he is a free agent and then decide, or if they are with another club make the move or put them on the shortlist for when my player moves on.
I digressed a little – how do I filter my scout reports? See below, but I want them less than 90 days old, maximum age 23, value = £0 and the scouted current ability to be at least “superb”.
This seems to have worked so far, I don’t feel as though I have made too many shocking decisions in terms of recruitment – up until this season it didn’t matter if I had as they were amatuers, I could just release them. This season they are on part-time deals so it would cost me if I got it wrong. As I said earlier, the bigger challenge has been keeping the talent when bigger clubs come sniffing, hence it being important that I have a strong shortlist of potential replacements.
I have posted about my 3313 before – you can read it here. That was how I started the save with Haarlem, and as those of you that have followed this will know, I nearly threw it out of the window by the end of the first season as we were truly inconsistent. The 3313 in that form had won a double double with US Soregno in Mateliano, and got us into the 2nd Qualifying Round of the Champions League beating a far bigger club, got me promoted in my first season in AR Crimea with Gvardiets and got me promoted three seasons in a row with Padova in Italy. So, I was confident it worked. With about six games left in the first season I was losing patience with it and was prepared to give up and go strikerless or something. I am glad I didn’t, I made a couple of tweaks which I am pleased about. I cannot remember completely what I did, as in I am not sure what PI’s I changed, but I made the BBM a CM/A and suddenly we started winning again. Now, I am not sure if that is what made the difference as I also brought back in a player called Nigel Burleson who I had dropped for a long while and he ended up scoring in the final five games in that CM/A position and I also shifted the match training from “match tactics” to “defensive positioning” – either way we won the last few matches and then started season two by winning eight or nine in a row as well. I am still using the modified 3313 (see below) and have also got a second version (control) that I flick in and out of during the matches. When do I flick? First and foremost, if we are looking to shut up shop in the last ten minutes of a match or just before half time to ensure we take a narrow lead in – if you can shut up shop with a 3313! Secondly, if I feel that we are under a little bit of pressure and we might benefit from trying to keep the ball a little more rather than attack at every opportunity. Thirdly, if the initial strategy of all hell, fire and fury attacking hasn’t broken through (it can sometimes draw the opposition out a little and give us space to attack into) and finally, if I feel we might benefit from starting the game in “control mode” as it might be a tough away fixture – I very rarely do that however. Sometimes I can flick between the two several times in a match – see below for both versions of the tactic.
Oh, I have also shamelessly borrowed @merryguido’s set piece strategy from corners that works a treat. Defensively, I don’t bother with players on the posts, I have five guys lining up zonally marking the six yard box, two marking tall players, one on the edge of the box and one staying up front – whoever is left is set to “go back.”
What are our strengths playing this way? Well, it is bloody good to watch sometimes – we score come beautiful goals. We overload the opposition defence regularly – playing with two false nines and then two CM/A going past them often confuses the defence. The trequartista then drifts around laterally finding space and the enganche does the same deeper. When we are on form we can open up anyone. The team report (below) shows that we score early, probably due to starting in overload 99 times out of 100, goals come from a pass and we are stronger down the left – that is interesting as my right sided players do score more than the left sided, no idea why as they are set up the same.
What are our weaknesses? Well, we do concede on the cross as expected. I work on the theory that if we keep the ball well enough then the opposition shouldn’t get too many chances to work the ball wide. However, interestingly, when I looked at our team report (below) I saw that we actually concede most of our goals from a pass in the penalty area. I have no idea how to counter this so I will focus on what we are good at!
I’ve also chucked in the stats pic for anyone that is interested.
Credit to my training regime has to go to FM Central and Cleon. I have basically tweaked what I was doing already, which was similar, to pretty much what they advise and the results are good – fewer injuries and players improving. I have the general training set to fitness/low throughout the season (average, high, very high, average, low during a five week pre-season) and once the tactic is fluid I switch from “match tactics” to “defensive positioning”. On the individual side of things, every player is assigned role training depending on how I see him fitting in, and this is always set to heavy. On top of that I look at the position on the pitch and put some thought into what other positions it would benefit a player to be accomplished at. For example, I play a back three. The left sided of the three is going to spend a lot of time in a left back position, so I start training him as a left back as well so he is not out of place in that area of the pitch. My central player of the three often drops deeper as well as moves forward, so I have him training as a sweeper and then, once he is ok as a sweeper, a DM. The right sided central defenders, you guessed it, all train as right backs as well. I feel this gives the back three a lot of confidence in the areas of the pitch they play in. I do the same in midfield. My CM/D is trained to play as a DM as well. My two lateral central midfielders get forward a lot, so they are trained as AMC’s. Once they have completed that I will train them as RM or LM, and then AMR and AML (I haven’t got that far yet though!). The enganche’s will eventually be able to play AMC/R/L, MC/R/L as probably STR too. False nines, STR, AMC/R/L one day (I always start with training them as AMC’s as they drop deep) and I actually leave the trequartista’s alone and let them worry about putting the ball in the back of the net. I don’t focus on PPM’s unless my staff make a sensible recommendation in the weekly meeting.
All this seems to work, I have some talent coming through – ideally I will start keeping them longer now so I can see the benefits.
How is all this working then? Let’s go back to the beginning. Season one, league runners up but ended the season on a high. I unearthed the lad Vanmaris who scored seven in the last six games. We got hammered by NEC in the cup second round. Season two, won the division. Vanmaris scored 27 in 28 games to lead us to the title. This was a great season, mainly because we had 18 players poached from us over the course of the season. Of those 18, at least 11 were playing regularly in the first XI at the time they left. My recruitment strategy found me ten very good replacements however.
So, today. See below. With one more league game to play before the exact half way point we sit top of the table. We are expected to win it by both the board and the media, which was surprising as we have only just gone up. We have scored the most goals, but have conceded more than second bottom, which is a worry! To be fair, we have shipped 4 goals twice – one has a shock 4-0 defeat and the other was our last match, a 4-4 draw with second place.
You can see the player stats below, just to get an idea of how the lads are doing individually.
That’s a slightly more comprehensive write up than I normally do guys – let me know if you prefer ones like this less often, daily updates where I ramble about anything and everything, or a mix of both!
(if you enjoy my writing, why not spend £1.99 of your hard-earned cash on my first book, “Johnny Cooper, Championship Manager” here: http://buff.ly/1G0WNV9 or my second one, “Johnny Cooper, Championship Manager – The Second Season Syndrome” here: http://buff.ly/1NXwJ4r – I also have my own FM blog here: http://buff.ly/1NXwYfY)