Hello again, and welcome back to Football Manager Ambition.
Yes, I am managing Aston Villa. We are now in the 2020/21 season, and so far things are looking good. But as always, there is plenty to talk about.
GREAT FOOTBALL MANAGER QUOTES
THE JOB CENTRE
Having succeeded in my promise to the Villa chairman to not apply for other jobs for a while, it's time to start thinking about the next step in achieving my daft ambition. I'm in a good position with the current chairman, with my job apparently secure, had an okay start to the season (better than okay considering the severe overhaul of playing staff), and I'm probably a decent prospect for another club. But, as you can see, there's nothing happening in the Premier League...
I may have to play the long game for a while.
RESULTS, NOT EXCUSES!
So what happened with Norwich?
Things went pretty well, actually. Although my form did get a little patchy, I was well in contention for winning the league and gaining promotion.
When Villa became available in March, they were 13th in the Premier League, but worried about relegation. In line with my ambition, it would have been rude not to apply for the job.
Here's how things went...
My first win in charge of Villa was against my old enemy, the Blades. That was a pretty satisfying match.
The win against the Blades came after defeats in my first two games, as I settled in. The Villa squad was horrendously imbalanced, and I was really having to put square pegs in round holes, but managed to finished ten points clear of the relegation zone, although admittedly still in 13th position. However, the last match of the season, a 1-0 win at Spurs, showed me I could take the club forward.
So, onto season 2020/21. I overhauled the squad (more on that shortly), and went into preseason fixtures full of confidence, while aware that my new team might take a while to get to know each other.
The team looked to be gelling well, and I was happy to start the league fixtures...
This was frustrating. The draws against Arsenal were not flukes, as the team played brilliantly. I could just about accept defeat at Old Trafford against a very strong Man U side. But the defeat to Burnley was a horrible capitulation. And I had planned on taking the League Cup very seriously, as - if I ended up staying at Villa for a while - it might be my best chance of silverware.
I hadn't been helped by my club captain Joe Worrall behaving like a bit of an arse, and refusing to accept a telling off with good grace. I don't put up with that so Worrall was transfer listed, sent to the Under 23s, and is currently on loan at Ajax, who are paying all his wages as well as paying me £170k a month for the privilege.
It took a few days for things to settle down, during which I suffered the defeats to Burnley and Derby. But the 3-0 win at Brighton was great for morale.
And that win left me in a very healthy 8th position, at a club that just wants me to steer clear of any relegations issues. The players, meanwhile, agreed with my suggestion of targeting the top half. But actually, if I stay at Villa, we will qualify for Europe this season, guaranteed.
So, now seems like a really good time for the latest...
MATCH OF THE BLOG
The big headline in the boardroom is still the 1-0 win over Spurs at the end of last season, which secured the Premier League future of the club (until I leave, at least).
Staying up in the Premier League is a big deal for a club like Villa, and so it still plays a part in board confidence...
As for the next bit of news, I'm sure the board will have concerns of some kind or another, but considering the terms of my ambition, I don't see it being a long-term issue for me...
THE TRANSFER WINDOW
This is where the fun happened! Oh boy, did I need to overhaul the Villa squad!
At the end of the 2019/20 season, I decided to transfer list all the players who weren't good enough, and stick them in the Under 23s just to get them out of my face. My remaining senior squad, who I laughingly called my remainers, was this...
That's it. Five players. But it gets worse. Moutinho, at age 33, had to be transfer listed. He was worth £13.5m, but I got over £21m from Everton for him. Furthermore, a few games into the season, Grealish and Rodrigues were behaving a bit petulantly. I have zero tolerance for it, so Grealish is now transfer listed and in the Under 18s, while Rodrigues is out on loan. Neither will play another game for Villa while I'm in charge. As a result of this, I ended up bringing James Chester back into the senior fold. As you can imagine, to be able to put in place a squad with my preferred balance of 24 players, I had some work to do in the transfer market.
I had a few quick successes getting players in...
But shifting players out looked like it might be a challenge...
After some hard work, this is what happened:
With all that occurring, it was no surprise to see this flash up on the news...
THE BOOT ROOM
I've been contacted by an FM gamer and asked if I'd share my thoughts on organising non-playing staff on the game. Personally, I put a huge amount of effort into the non-playing staff. It's a part of the game I really enjoy. So let me share my somewhat idiosyncratic thoughts with you...
As I've mentioned in previous blogs, I treat Football Manager like a role-playing game. In other words, I try to imagine what I'd do in real life if I was manager at a football club, and then try to find the options on the game that come closest to reflecting those choices.
I also regularly point out that I am not one of those FM gamers who claims to know how the game works under the hood. I do actually have some experience in game design, though. Not computer games, however. I don't know how to, erm, code? But one thing I know about game design is that there is a golden rule. And that rule is Nothing goes in without a reason. Nothing in game design or game rules should be there without a purpose. If it doesn't affect the outcome of the game (and to be fair, where immersive computer games are concerned, what is considered an outcome may not always be initially clear), then it shouldn't be in the game. There should be no window dressing in game mechanics. So with that in mind, I give the people at Sports Interactive the benefit of the doubt, and assume that if something is in the game that I don't understand, that doesn't mean it doesn't do anything.
In other words, the non-playing staff should, in theory, be critical to your success on the game, so ignore them at your peril.
Okay, then. Bearing the above in mind, let's just have a quick look at what the game makes obvious for you regarding staff.
Below is a screenshot of the details of one of my coaches, Alan Steele.
Looking at the bottom left, you'll see a dropdown menu for important attributes, which is currently selecting overall. You can click the menu to filter against a particular set of attributes...
I'm going to select Attacking - Technical for Mr Steele.
You can see that now, the attributes Attacking, Technical, Determination, Level of Discipline and Motivating have all been highlighted. These are, then, the most important attributes for a coach specialising in the Attacking - Technical part of the game. Below is a screenshot from training, that shows Alan Steele has a respectable four-star rating on that area of training. Easy, innit?
You can use this drop down to menu to select the most important attributes for all non-playing roles, on any staff member, so you know what attributes to filter on the staff search screen when you're looking to hire someone. Below is a screenshot of shot of a member of staff not employed by my club, Iddo Roscher:
The job that Iddo is most interested in doing in Head of Youth Development. Notice that there's no drop down filter as there is for coaches, because there's only one type of HoYD; there are no specialisms. So the screen automatically highlight the key attributes for that role: Working With Youngsters, Judging Player Ability, and Judging Player Potential. Iddo makes a pretty good HoYD. Let's see how good he is at some of the other roles...
He'd make a pretty good scout, although the below average Adaptability attribute might mean he wasn't at his best when travelling abroad. And another:
Yeah, I probably wouldn't employ Iddo as a Data Analyst.
The main point here is that because the game highlights the most appropriate attributes for given roles, you can pretty much see at a glance how good a given individual is likely to be in a particular role. So far, so straightforward.
At this point, I should say that the staff search screen have an option to highlight key attributes for roles in the search fields, but there's a bug in the system which SI are currently looking into.
So we now know it's pretty simple on the face of it to identify good staff. Bear in mind that, as far as coaches go, no matter what field of coaching they specialise in, all coaches will need to have healthy scores in the attributes for Determination, Level of Discipline, and Motivation. There's no getting away from it; those attributes are essential in any coaching role.
The next thing to consider is: Do you need to have staff in all these roles?
This is where I fall back on trusting that the game designers have obeyed the aforementioned golden rule of game design. All those staff should serve a purpose, so if the board is allowing you to employ six data analysts, I would advise you to fill all those vacancies. This philosophy is key for me: I will fill all staff vacancies with the best possible candidates I can find:
I'm pretty relentless with this. I can't be happy until I've got the best possible people in all positions. But what happens, for example, if you're trying to fill a position and all the candidates have an equal level of the key attributes? How can you be sure you're getting the best out of that pool?
Let's say we're looking for a Head Physio. According to the search screen, the key attributes for Head Physio are exactly the same as for a physio: It's just the Physiotherapy attribute:
So we set the Physiotherapy attribute to at least 20, and hit OK.
Whoa. There are a lot of physios with a physiotherapy attribute of 20. Are they all as good as each other? I dunno. Physiotherapy might be the key attribute, but again falling back on the golden rule, I would suggest some of the other attributes could well have a bearing. Otherwise, why even bother giving a physio a Determination attribute, for example?
So, you might want to employ a Head Physio who also has a good Level of Discipline attribute:
Or alternatively, a physio with good Level of Discipline and Motivating:
The choice is yours, and I suspect your decision will have some impact on your performance in the game.
Now, let's have a look at something that I find rather annoying. Here's a screenshot of my assistant manager:
According to the highlights, the ket attributes for an assistant manager are Man Management, Judging Player Ability, and Judging Player Potential. Hmm. But the AM also has to be involved in coaching the players. Thus, if you ignore attributes such as Determination, Level of Discipline, and Motivating, not to mention one or more coaching attributes, you do so at your peril. The same can be said for your U23 and U18 managers and assistant managers, and, very importantly, your Head of Youth Development, which is a coaching role after all. Furthermore, don't neglect the Working With Youngsters for any staff in the U23s and U18s. The Working With Youngsters attribute is a great way of sorting out physios, sports scientists and data analysts in the U23s and U18s who might have equal key attributes.
If you're employing a member of staff from another country, you will also need to consider the Adaptability attribute. Usually, a rating of 10 or higher will be good enough if it works on the same basis as other staff attributes in the game. Less than 10 and, presumably, the staff member's performance will be impacted.
Should you consider anything else besides attributes?
Based on the golden rule principle, you'd have to say that things like a coach's preferred formation, playing style and pressing mentality should have an effect on their performance within your setup. I don't know. In an ideal world, based on my role-playing approach, I'd have all my coaching staff with the same preferences as myself. But it's not realistic to expect that. Rarely, if ever, have I had an assistant manager who has the same preferred formation as myself. And I get a lot of success on the game. So I'm going to assume that these preferences are a nice to have rather than a must have.
When looking for new coaches, I don't pay too much attention to their coaching qualifications. By that I mean I'd take a coach with great attributes but a lower qualification over a coach with poor attributes but who has a Continental Pro Licence any day. But I will always be happy if my staff can go on to get further qualifications, as I believe that will have a positive impact on their effectiveness.
So, the way I work is:
I hope that's been some help, or at least interesting.
Moving forward, although I will now be looking for a move to a big Premier League club, which will be my last club change while pursuing the ambition, I will still do my best to turn Villa into a force. Having crashed out of the League Cup, I'll have to target the FA Cup instead. And I aim to finish in the top 6. This should be fun.
That's all for this time. Thank you for stopping by, and may your game never crash unsaved!