The article below was written for, and published on, FMMobile.
Congratulations. You’ve just been appointed manager. You know what the board expects and you’ve agreed to it. Maybe it’s winning a competition. Perhaps it’s just surviving. Whatever it is, a strategy is needed otherwise your club will be looking for your replacement so that they can achieve their goals. Below are the steps I take in establishing success at a club.
Step 1 – Your squad
Ultimately, your squad is going to be key to a winning strategy. After taking charge, check out the squad; I look for which players will be key and which are expendable. I also identify which areas are strong and which need reinforcements (staff reports on squad depth and the team report help with this). Don’t forget to check the reserve squad to see if there is anyone there who can play a regular role for you.
After looking at the squad, it’s time to put eleven players onto the pitch in a formation. The formation is likely to depend on the players at your disposal. When the game was still Championship Manager, I always favoured a 5-3-2 with wing-backs. It brought me little success as I didn’t have the players for it. The basic tactic guide goes contains greater depth about player roles and the instructions that can be given to the team.
Of course, having assessed the squad and decided on your tactics, a little strengthening is likely…
Step 2 – Transfers
If players will play no part at the club moving forwards, I look to offer them to clubs. I offer them at their value or below. As they have no role at the club, I’m not too concerned about making money from them, with the focus being on freeing up wage budget.
Transfer policy may also depend on how long you plan on staying at the club. I tend to pick a club to play as and want to stay there for the game. As a result, my signings tend to be younger players who I can either bring through to the first team or be able to sell. They also need to be able to play a first team role fairly soon.
When bringing in players, the first focus has to be on any requirements for the formation you will be playing. After that, focus for me moves to strengthening weak areas of the squad. I’m currently managing AFC Telford United and when I took them over, I was looking at playing a 4-2-3-1 formation as they had been. They were lacking in attacking midfielders on the left and right, so this is where my transfer focus started. After bringing in wingers, our weakest area was the left-hand side; I signed a left back and found another left winger.
A further tip for managing in the lower leagues is to adjust the budgets; move the transfer budget to the wage budget. There are plenty of excellent players on free transfers that can be signed, so give yourself the maximum amount of wage budget to sign them. The left back I signed on a free transfer is worth £325,000; I could never have afforded to buy him, but was able to offer him a good wage and sign him.
If the players you need can’t be found or signed, check who is available for loan. The benefit of this is bringing in a player of a quality you would otherwise be unable to have at the club for (potentially) nothing (there may not even be a requirement to make a wage contribution). The drawback is they they will not be staying at the club.
With a team (including players you wanted to bring in) and tactics selected, it’s time to take to the field…
Step 3 – Pre-Season
Pre-Season is time to bring players up to fitness. It’s also the time to assess your squad and tactics. I look to start what I think my starting XI will be for matches and make substitutions within 15 minutes of the second half at the latest. Empty the bench. This is the time to see who can do what and whether a formation will work. It’s worth trying different formations so that there is a Plan B (and maybe even a Plan C) if required for competitive games. Better to do it now than when you have the board putting pressure on you for results.
Step 4 – Don’t panic
I’d had a very good pre-season with AFC Telford United; 3 wins and a draw. I was feeling quite confident ahead of the opening game of the season at York. Seven minutes in, we were 2-0 down. What to do. Make a change? Alter the formation? Both? Actually, neither. It was a bad start. We were able to get ourselves in the game and ultimately left with a point. There was temptation to change, but any team can have a bad ten minutes or even game.
Step 5 – Re-assess
I look to keep my starting XI for the first three or four games. After that, I start taking a closer look at how things have been going. If players have not been playing well, it’s time to see who can replace them. I give my preferred starting XI a few games because, as mentioned in step 4, anyone can have a bad game; a few bad games in a row is the time to be making a change. The formation or player roles may also need adjusting.
What changes should be made when re-assessing? Well, that’s why the board identified you as the man for the job!