The big day has arrived, I finally have my copy of Football Manager 2017! Time to put aside all my worries, all my doubts and just get on with the game, right? Right? Uh oh…
I had this vision in my mind of the ‘perfect’ game of FM.
With my storied history of OCD-tinged rage quits and restarts, this was the year I said to myself that I would get it right from the start. Boot it up, play the game and never look back. Good, bad or indifferent I would chart it all in my blog so it didn’t really matter what happened, it was all experience to draw from.
Within the first 30 minutes of loading up, I wanted to restart because I had got it ‘wrong.’
Let’s wind back a bit. Having not played for a couple of years I feel like somewhat of a newbie and there are some features that caught me off guard. First up was creating a digital representation of myself in game based on a real life photo. What a great idea! I dropped myself into the game, chose to add glasses and…does the colour look right? Are my glasses gunmetal grey or black? Let’s hold them up to EVERY LIGHT IN THE HOUSE until I grudgingly accept what I already knew; they’re grey. But in-game they look too grey. Maybe I should have said black. Maybe I should start again and see what they look like in black.
Okay, let’s move on. Favourite formation. No, no, no Little Englander, I’m not choosing 442 no matter how much of a whimsical pull it may have. I’m a Rafa man which means that my allegiance has firmly shifted to 4231. I like it, I understand it and I keep coming back to it. Second favourite formation? Pfft, who needs that? (can you guess..?)
Good grief, what’s this now? Manager attributes. Coaching styles. Is this a wind up? It’s like the developers read my last blog and thought, ‘Hmm, how can we add more anxiety triggers for this guy?’ Okay, let’s think this through. Much as I enjoy a game of Tracksuit Manager, I’m very much of the tactical, cerebral approach. Arsene Wenger rather than Tim Sherwood, if you like. So I’ll give myself a weighting towards this end of the spectrum whilst retaining a foot in the other camp. Extremes are for losers. There are far too many attributes here for me to pretend I have any idea what I’m doing or influencing so let’s just say I’m a tactical manager, rather than a motivator, disciplinarian etc.
But wait! Remember that second preferred formation from earlier? You know, the one I said didn’t matter? Well it turns out that it matters to me. Now when I click on my profile in game it says 2nd preferred formation ‘unknown’ and that just seems dumb. I’ve got it wrong again! Wrong coloured glasses and wrong profile set up. With no in game profile editor there is only one choice; start again.
But dammit, no. This is stupid, rigid, inflexible thinking. Fine, I’ll exorcise the demon by creating a new ‘test’ game. And oh look, when I change the colour of my glasses to black they just look wrong. And 2nd formation? I’m not planning to use one. Presumably when I do my profile will update automatically to reflect that, just like with marking preferences et al. So no, I will not be starting again. Let’s just get on with it.
Alright, that’s the nonsense dealt with. And after the pleasantries of meeting the chairman and staff are dispensed with (some things really haven’t changed from FM14) it’s into the meat and drink of the game; the squad and tactics.
Here’s my band of merry men;
Unlike with my old Sutton save, I have a fair idea of who is who and their best positions, but it will be interesting to see who the game rates and how they interpret the players strengths.
I’m keen to avoid any Gerrard-esque reliance on individuals but with that said there are some obvious names that jump out as important. Coutinho is the creative force of the side and I envisaged him playing as an AP in the AMC slot. Colour me surprised then when I find that the game places his best role as an AP from the AML slot. Conversely Adam Lallana, who I intended to deploy at AML, is a natural at CM or AMC.
Elsewhere Daniel Sturridge is likely to be my main goal threat, although if his real life injury record has carried over he is not someone to risk building around. Origi and Firmino will undoubtedly have roles to play. I like Matip and Sakho at the back, despite the latter’s real world issues, and I like Mane on the right. Beyond that, there appears to be a lot of room for improvement. The goalie situation has been well publicised this season and whilst Karius may come good in time, I have little patience with Mignolet. Clyne is adequate at right back but the left side of defence is a big worry.
Moving into midfield and things get a little more complicated. I’ll get into the combination of roles in a moment but I’m no fan of Henderson or Milner. Wijnaldum looks decent although I’m not sure how to utilise him and Can is a beast.The subs bench is okay but doesn’t exactly scream champions. The under 23s and under 18s are relatively unknown to me.
On the whole then a big step down from the heyday of Torres, Suarez, Alonso et al but a pretty decent group and with a £40m transfer kitty, some room to make improvements.
Before starting I had been resolute that I would play 4231 and had an idea of how players would line up. I had some second thoughts after watching a few games and playing a bit of PES on PS4 but I stand by my original prognosis. I think it fits the overall team I have and, just as importantly, it’s a formation I am reasonably comfortable building.
Starting at the back, I’m going with a basic goalie. I like the idea of a sweeper keeper but I’ll hold off on implementing that until I 1) have someone who really excels in the role and 2) have an idea of what I am trying to achieve with it tactically. Going with that instruction now would be to crowbar in something without understanding it, a recipe for disaster.
In my last save I played around with asymmetrical wide roles to try and create overlaps but my preference has always been for full backs on ‘auto’ so that they provide appropriate support based on my tactical aggressiveness. Wing back roles have a place but given the roles to come further forward, these seem like overkill. In the middle, I used to like a stopper / cover combination. Jamie Carragher would be my archetypal stopper with Daniel Agger a covering ball playing defender. According to my coach reports, neither of my preferred pairing of Sakho or Matip suit this approach so I will stick with bog standard defensive roles for now.
The 2 centre mid positions are a challenge. In an attempt to replicate Alonso and Mascherano, I have traditionally looked to implement a defensive ball winner with a supporting playmaker, with limited success. After some surreptitious Googling, I stumbled across some excellent work but FM players with a far greater depth and understanding of tactics than I could hope to achieve (in particular I enjoyed Guide To Football Manager) which, in tandem with knowledge of my own players, helped me to build an understanding of how to construct complimentary roles and duties. Can then will play as a defensive DLP, offering a link to defence and midfield as well as providing a semblance of defensive cover. Next to him Henderson will play box to box, giving me a runner to go beyond the midfield and playing well to Henderson’s strengths. In the AMC slot, Coutinho will be an AP support. I toyed with putting him on attack but I want him in the hole, playing in those around him. Lallana can also play here, indeed the coaches rate him highly in this role, but I favour the little Brazilian magician.
On the right, Mane walks straight into the AMR slot as an attacking winger. I expect him to get past his man and offer both traditional wing play creation as well as goals. On the left, Lallana (again) doesn’t really suit a winger as he lacks the required pace and stamina but I don’t want another playmaker in the side and none of the other roles fit so he’ll have to lump it for now. I like him as a player but he may find himself relegated to the bench as cover for Coutinho if a better option presents itself on the left.
Up top, I’m going with Sturridge in the first instance. With a lone striker I prefer a complete forward but Sturridge lacks some of the attributes for this role. Guide to Football Manager cites the combination of creater / scorer and so I will start with a poacher role. I have reservations as to how involved he will be and had considered a basic Advanced Forward role so we will see how this develops. If and when Firmino or Origi come into the team I will need to alter this role, which may have an impact on Lallana and Coutinho.
Stepping away from the player roles, it is comforting to see that the philosophies and instructions have remained broadly unchanged, save for some improvements to the look and feel.
I often struggled with what team shape to use, usually coming back to Fluid. I have gone with Structured as I want an element of control whilst allowing additional creative freedom for those roles that warrant it. I intend to play a high tempo, high pressing, short passing game with players encouraged to play out from the back and work the ball into the box, all with a baseline attacking mindset.
I go into this eyes wide open, knowing full well that my set up could be demanding on the players and may lead to mistakes. At the same time this is the Premier League, these guys should be capable of moving the ball around and keeping their composure. As with all things though, I remain open to change if experience warrants it.
I have been fairly jocular about it but my self doubt over something as simple as the manager profile is revealing of a deeper lack of confidence.
This seeps into my general first impressions. Despite being a series veteran, I initially felt almost overwhelmed. FM has always been a series that has revelled in detail but after 2 years away, I felt like a little boy lost. I had this underlying sense that I had to get everything ‘right’ as if there was some external force passing judgement on my actions. I have a nice transfer kitty but when it comes to it, I am concerned that I won’t have the conviction to sign anybody for fear that by going against what Klopp has done in real life I will be getting it ‘wrong.’
It is interesting how often this theme of judgement, of right and wrong, echoes through my game time. It is borne of black and white thinking and an underlying lack of self confidence. I fear to walk my own path lest I get lost on the way.
Phew, over two hours of playtime and I haven’t even progressed to the first friendly yet! But after my early wobbles that saw me staring at the manager profile creation screen for over half an hour, I managed to make some reasonable progress.
Next time I’ll take a look at transfer targets and tackle my first few friendlies.