So the first season at City is over, time to review what has happened in this historical year at The Spectrum.
As you hopefully already know, we have been promoted from the Combined Counties Premier Division as Champions, winning the league by twenty points. This means we should be playing our football in the Ryman Division One South next season, though we might end up in the Southern League, not sure yet.
In this update I will quickly go over the highlights of the season, then talk about;
• Club philosophy
• Scouting & Recruitment
• Tactical approach
But first, the highlights. Sadly we lost the last game of the season against Horley, meaning our unbeaten run ended on 24 matches. In there was a personal best of seven clean sheets in a row, not bad for a very attack minded side. We scored 106 goals and only conceded 36, my best season in a long time defensively. Nearly all my first choice starting line up were in the top 12 places for average ratings, led by Josh Blackburn at 7.57 – the only lad to miss out was Browney, my goalkeeper, at 6.99 which was easily the best rating for a goalkeeper in the division. Ossie and Reecey topped the goal scoring charts with 27 and 20 goals respectively. Wardy’s 11 had him in sixth place. We smashed the assists stats as well, seven lads in the top ten led by Blakey. As expected, Browney kept the most clean sheets in the league. Absolute domination!
Elsewhere in the football world:
Premier League Winners: Chelsea
Champions League Places: Man City, Man Utd, Arsenal
Relegated: Southampton, Hull, Aston Villa
Top Scorer: Falcao (27)
Champions League Winners:
FA Cup Winners: Newcastle, beating Leicester
League Cup Winners: Bournemouth, beating Manchester United
Championship Winners: Reading
Promoted: Fulham, Watford (play offs)
Relegated: Brentford, Rotherham, Blackpool
So on to the areas I want to discuss!
I always tend to go into new clubs with the same philosophy, built around “Soccernomics” and “Moneyball” – that is, for me, to sign players on free transfers under the age of 23, ideally of the nationality of the league I am playing in, though not exclusively, then develop and train them into players worth something. If someone puts in a bid for more than they are worth, I sell. If I feel they are likely to attract a bid, I try and have a replacement already lined up to minimise the impact. If my scouts find me a better option, I try and sign them without fail.
I started at Guildford City with a completely blank canvas as they had no players, so I was able to sign my players and stamp my mark on the club from day one. I wanted young, hungry, ambitious players as I felt they will help us move through the leagues quickly. I also wanted a small, versatile squad – so for the whole season I have had a squad of 15 outfield players and 2 goalkeepers. We won the title using only 16 players all season, and one of the 16 only made 4 appearances as substitute. I want a club that preaches stability, both on the technical side and financial side. The philosophy is standing us in good stead, and will not change as we progress through the leagues and as a result I will be making minimal changes to the playing and coaching staff over the summer.
Scouting & Recruitment
With the philosophy I employ at the club, scouting and recruitment is vital. I have two scouts, and they are both set up scouting in the following way:
• Hot prospects
• Aged 15-23
• Value = 0
• Current star = 0.5, Potential star = 5 (I don’t want them to miss anyone)
This then brings back quite a few players, so I view my scout reports with the filters below:
• Value = 0
• Age = max 23
• Scout recommendation = star
• Age of scouting report = 90 days max
I then filter this report in date order and check it once a week to see if there is anyone of interest. If someone catches my eye then I send the other scout to look at the player for a second opinion. If I still like him after that, and there is no urgency to make a move I will then send my preferred scout to watch them for two weeks or a month. If it is urgent, and they are a free agent, I will offer a two week trial and make my mind up, or if they are under contract elsewhere I will trust my gut and the stats in front of me and make a move or not. I am very, very risk averse in my signings now – if I have any doubts I do not make the move, there are enough key indicators that I look for outside of the attributes that help me make up my mind – personality is key, and some of their %’s around performance are more important to me than some of their technical skills as we can train them.
I only made one further signing after the season started, bringing in Reecey as I hadn’t found a decent left footed striker in my initial recruitment drive. Over the summer I might replace my 5th choice striker, but that could well be my only recruit unless anyone decides to leave.
As my players have been successful this season they were likely to attract interest from clubs at a higher level. Just before it was clear we were going to win the league I secured everyone I definitely wanted to keep on 1 or 2 year deals, many on less or the same money as they were already on. Reecey was the only one that stalled, and once we won promotion his demands trebled, but I managed to talk him down to just double his money. This means I can now reject most advances and keep a stable squad.
When I first started playing Champ Man in 92/93 I always played 3313 and won everything. In FM15 I tried to recreate the tactic and I believe I have succeeded.
I’ll try and break down how it works and why I play it that way.
Firstly the team instructions, as I feel these are more important than the player roles:
Mentality: Control – I am looking to dominate possession of the ball where possible, I used to play this formation in overload and just attack all the time, but conceded a lot of goals being hit on the break. Since switching to control during my Haarlem save, I haven’t looked back.
Team Shape: Very Fluid – this formation involves players switching between positions all the time, so very fluid just seemed to make sense to me.
Possession: Retain possession, shorter passing, pass into space, work the ball into the box – for me these four instructions go hand in hand with how I like to play. Firstly, I want us to keep the ball and be patient, but not possession for the hell of it. I also would prefer us to play short, sharp passes where possible and with the way the team lines up there should always be a short option. Pass into space, well I do prefer a player to receive the ball on the move rather than being static, and with the movement of the front three creating space and angles all the time the clever pass in behind the opposition defence is always an option. Work into the box is selected to try and keep an element of patience in our play, wait for the movement to kick in and play the right ball into the attacking zone. Finally, run at the defence speaks for itself. I don’t have play out of the defence as an instruction as I see that we get a lot of joy from a straight, vertical ball from the lateral central defenders to the F9 who often runs in behind and gets a cross in.
Penetration: Exploit the middle – we overload the central areas in our formation, so I prefer to keep the ball in there. Sometimes we break wide with one of the F9 running wide with the ball, but generally we patiently pass the ball through the middle and rely on our movement to create space.
Shape: Play narrower, much deeper defensive line – the play narrower is fairly self explanatory. We have a very narrow shape to the side, so I want to stay compact. Sure, we get beaten on the flanks from time to time but I would rather crowd the areas nearer the goal than have everyone trying to get into a wide position and play from there. The defensive line was a tweak I made when I move to “control” over “overload” – since then we have conceded fewer goals and it seems to draw teams higher up the pitch against us which suits our attacking style.
Defending: Close down much more, get stuck in, use offside trap, prevent short GK distribution – without sounding all hipster, I am a fan of trying to win the ball back as close to their goal as possible. Pep did not invent this, neither did Mr Klopp. Wimbledon and Watford, thanks to an English guy called Reep, were massive exponents of this in the late 70’s and 80’s. It is not football genius, it is common sense. I like my teams to get stuck in, yet since switching to “control” I have seen our disciplinary rates become some of the best in the divisions. Offside trap with a deep line seems bizarre, but it works. Not sure why! I do like us to try and make their ‘keeper kick it long as it gives us a better chance of recycling the ball.
General: Much higher tempo, be more disciplined – although I want us to control the game I don’t like passing with no zip, so I want us moving the ball with purpose, always. I also want us to be fairly disciplined in our approach, we have a lot of attacking flair in the way we play, the roles chosen and the PI’s, so I don’t need the extra layer of expression.
Let’s look at the player roles and their PI’s:
SK/D (distribute to centre backs, distribute quickly) – there is no real reason why I play the role as a sweeper keeper as the defence sits deep, but I get the feeling it just encourages the ‘keeper to be more comfortable with the ball at his feet. I want him moving the ball to the back three quickly, as few long punts down the field as possible.
CD/D (tackle harder, mark tighter) – I am fairly old school, I like my defenders to let the strikers know they are there. I had forgotten these were the PI’s, so I am amazed how few yellow cards and suspensions the boys have picked up. They are all capable of passing a ball too, as I train them as BPD’s.
CMR/L/A (dribble more, tackle harder, move into channels, close down much more) – I love this position. It gives my midfield such dynamic movement, either side of the more defensive player. They play like central wingers, and their sole aim is to move into the space vacated by the F9’s. These boys should score their fair share of goals, arriving into the box, but they also change the shape of the midfield by persistently carrying the ball through the midfield, a bit like Gascoigne used to.
CM/D (dribble less, close down less) – I ended up with this role being CM/D after testing several versions, and this one just felt right. I don’t want him dribbling, and I don’t want him manically closing people down. His role is to sit in front of the back three and protect as well as being the out ball when the more attacking players cannot find a way through. When recruiting for this position I look for passing, tackling and positioning as the key stats and if recruiting a player from another club (as opposed to a free agent) I will look at pass completion, interceptions and aerial battles won per 90 minutes. For me tackles per game is a false stat, if he is good he shouldn’t need to tackle. I am lucky with Blakey in here as he is also involved in a lot of set-pieces, so picked up 20 assists which is rare for this role.
AMC/Enganche – no PI’s, just let him go and play. He does what it says on the tin, stays fairly static but finds space in between the lines to pull the strings. I don’t know why an enganche works, but it does for me
STR/R/L/F9 (run wide with ball, close down much more) – I love the movement these guys allow the team to have. As F9’s should they come short and create the space for the two CM/A’s to run into or the Treq to drift into. By having a left footed one on the left it allows him to move wide and deliver devastating crosses. When recruiting F9’s I look for off the ball and crossing over anything else. Reecey netted 20 goals and got 15+ assists and Mitch, Eddie and Daisy combined probably did the same from the right hand side.
STR/C/Trequartista (mark tighter, more direct passes, hold up ball) – this is the greatest position in this formation. Every season I have played it the player in this role has scored 20+ goals for me without fail. I have him marking tighter as I actually want him close to the defenders from an attacking perspective, I believe this allows him to be on their shoulders a lot more without needing to be a poacher or advanced forward which then removes him from the build up play. Being a treq he usually looks to get the ball to feet, so I play direct passes off him so he is looking to play the killer ball more often, and holding up the ball to make him try and take time to pick the right one. In terms of stats when recruiting, again off the ball as I want him to be intelligent. Ossie was not my first choice at the start of the season, Daisy had smashed them in in pre-season. However Ossie got a chance early in the season and started scoring for fun!
So that is how we line up, I do have a defensive version to close the games out and I will explain that another time.
As I explained earlier, I am not expecting to have to do a great deal of business in the summer. Milts, Berty and Turns have all decided to move on so I am now looking around all the southern clubs to see if I can pick up some loan signings and save on wages. Other than that, and I am probably looking to bring in a goalkeeper, one defender, one midfielder and one striker, the squad will remain the same.
Pre-season wise I have lined up ten friendlies over the five weeks to try and get the club closer to £0 in the bank rather than the -£50k we currently have on the books. Playing the likes of Bournemouth, Villa, Brentford etc will not boost confidence but it will test us and develop the players (I hope).
The board want promotion again, on a smaller wage budget than last season but I am still well within that, especially as lots of the players took reduced deals before last season ended. The media and bookies have us down for 3rd place but I think we could have a good chance of winning it. We also have the Wey Valley derby to look forward to in the league, against Godalming.
So, that’s it for this time round!
Go on Guildford!
(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)