Hello and welcome back to Football Manager Ambition.
I have to tell you, I'm not in the best mood at the moment regarding football. There are a few reasons for my grumpiness. It doesn't help that SWFC have just been trounced at Birmingham (in real life, not on my save). And it really doesn't help that I've had an unexpected - an annoying - response on the FM19 bugs forum at Sports Interactive. But I think the biggest reason I'm on a downer is that this morning I was watching BT Sport, and saw Glenn Hoddle - on his 61st birthday - arsing around with Robbie Savage and looking as fit as a fiddle, laughing and joking. And then shortly after, I hear that Hoddle has been rushed into hospital, seriously ill.
In keeping with football fan tradition when something happens to someone not directly associated with your own team, I'll start with a disclaimer... I'm no Spurs or Chelsea fan but... I really hope the guy recovers okay. Dodgy religious beliefs aside, Hoddle was an awesome player, and a very underrated manager. And he's a human being. Get well soon, Glenn.
Okay, I've got a couple of things I want to talk about today, but first of all - as always - here's one of our...
GREAT FOOTBALL MANAGER QUOTES
You can always rely on the bloke for a humorous turn of phrase, and this one is good because I'm going to be talking about alternatives today; the alternatives FM19 has given us. Such as they are.
I've now completed three run-throughs of the FM19 beta, working through preseason with SWFC, and going up to fifteen league games in the first season. I think I'm getting to know the game pretty well. But there are some elements I'm not happy with, and they are pivoting on tactics. So let's look at the issues, shall we?
Match plans were introduced in FM18, and quickly became a hot topic on the bugs forum. Like me, many gamers found the match plans were doing very strange things. My issue was this: I had three tactics, but unlike many gamers, all my three tactics had the same formation; a 4-3-3 wide, and in all three versions, the players had the same roles. The differences between the three were quite subtle, reflecting whether I wanted to control the match, park the bus, or go full kitchen sink. When I set up a match plan to switch from my 'control' tactic to 'kitchen sink' if I was losing, I found that the game changed my formation to 4-4-2. WTF? It also made uncalled-for substitutions for me. I had some curt exchanges with some of the people on the forum, but after many months, was told the issue was 'under review' by the developers. But it was never solved for FM18, and I just stopped using match plans. Of course, I hoped it would be solved for FM19, and that it would be an element of the game I could enjoy.
You can guess what happened. On FM19 beta, the match plans didn't change my formation for me, but they did still make unwanted substitutions for me. So I raised it on the bugs forum. Unlike last year, I didn't have to wait months for an update. Infuriatingly, I had this conversation:
So, it turns out that having automated substitutions is an actual design choice by the developers. Holy crap! How can anyone think this is a good idea? Can you imagine how this would work in real life? You know, Pep giving the city lads one of his pre-match talks:
"Listen lads, we're going with our 4-5-1, and really going to attack. If we're comfortably in front in the last few minutes, have a breather and keep possession. But listen, if we're one or more goals down after seventy minutes, David, sub yourself, and Raheem you come on. If we're two or more goals down at any point, Sadio you take yourself off, and Jesus you bring yourself on, okay?"
Seriously, you can't have automated substitutions. Or rather, you can on a game, but you have to make it an option within the match plans - not a default. I don't know if I even believe it really is a developers choice. It's hard to imagine a game designer making this decision.
We all know that the guys at Football manager get expert advice from top football professionals. I'm not going to pretend I know more about football than these professionals. But I'm going to stick my neck out and say that sometimes pros disagree on things, and even more importantly, I think it would be very easy for game designers - even ones who are football fans - to misunderstand or misinterpret what football professionals tell them, and to misrepresent things on the game. And nowhere is this more evident than in the player role choices within tactics.
Some of the most important things to understand about how players perform in any tactical set up are these questions: How much is a player shoehorned into a system by a manager, as opposed to how much is a player selected selected because his natural way of playing fits directly into a manager's system? Another question is How much of an individual player's style of play is his own natural style, and how much is down to a manager's instruction? Fans will sometimes say things like, "We need someone who can tackle in midfield, we should buy [insert name]." But if they had that player, it might not necessarily solve the team's tackling problem if the manager told that player to go easy on tackles. That's a really oversimplified example, but it doesn't take much imagination to see how misunderstanding the issue could really undermine your ability to understand the tactical side of football.
Sometimes, no amount of instruction (IE, a designated player role) given by a manager is going to get the desired effect from a player, because that player's individual style and ability are either limited or too deeply ingrained. When Jurgen Klopp arrived at Liverpool, the writing was always going to be on the wall for Christian Benteke, for example.
In Football Manager there is huge confusion about player roles. Let me explain by illustrating with a few screenshots from my beta save. We'll start with Gary Hooper...
We can see that Hooper's most suitable role on FM is as an Advanced Forward. We can also see he has certain player traits; he likes to come deep to get the ball. But look at this:
On FM's tactics pitch, the Advanced Forward is the most, erm, advanced position. And we see from the popup on the above graphic that an AF is the spearhead for attacking moves. But wait...
We know that Hooper likes to drop deep (true in real life too - I've seen him play often). Hooper's style of play definitely fits with the Deep Lying Forward description, shown above. I can't imagine how an Advanced Forward can be the most suitable role for a striker whose whole game is about dropping deep, making layoffs, and linking play.
So let's have a look at Lucas Joao...
FM has the lad as a Complete Forward. Not sure I'd agree with that assessment, but let's go on...
According to the popup, the Complete Forward transcends tactical instruction and should be allowed to just do his own thing. Hmm, well okay but...
As you can see, on FM, the Complete Forward, whether on support or attack duty, comes with preset instructions that you cannot override. Hardly being allowed to do his own thing.
Have a look at Sam Winnall...
A Poacher, and yet he comes deep to get the ball...
Even though the popup says a Poacher sits on the shoulder of the last defender! In real life, this is actually more true of an Advanced Forward than a Poacher, but in any case, it doesn't fit with dropping deep to collect the ball!
Having thought about it, things have actually become more confused with the introduction of the Pressing Forward. Can a Complete Forward press if that is 'his own thing' that he chooses to do? If so, does he become a Pressing forward? If your Complete Forward is allowed to do his own thing in a very direct side, does he not become a Target Man?
In real life, getting a striker to press is an additional instruction, not a role in and of itself. Being a Complete Forward is not a role, but a measure of the outstanding ability and versatility of the player. Deep Lying Forwards often started out as attacking midfielders of wingers (Messi, anyone?) and were moved into centre forward positions to make tactical use of their deep lying skills in that area. In other words, they weren't given a set of role instructions, but just told to play their own game but more centrally forward. This is not to say that players are never given restrictive instructions. And sometimes, it's half-and-half: Jamie Vardy flourished at Leicester because Claudio Ranieri saw someone who enjoyed pressing, and encouraged more of it because it fit with the tactical plan. But FM has totally confused player roles with natural player inclinations. There should not be a role of, for example, Complete Forward, although it would be a fair description of someone like Ronaldo. This whole area of the game needs a rethink.
There we have it. Two areas of Football Manager that are getting my goat. And yet, I'll continue to play the game, and even enjoy it immensely. Despite the fact I will completely ignore match plans!
Next time, I'll have started my save on the full release of FM19. I'll be talking about tactics in a very different way, as the system I had hoped to use has flopped in my beta saves. Until then, may your game never crash unsaved.