For Football Manager 2021, I’ve decided upon AC Le Havre. Given the addition of xG to the Football Manager series, this save and indeed this blog was going to continue the focus on team and player metrics as per the approach I adopted for FM20. However, as FM Stag has documented in FM Slack, metrics appear to be very much broken to the point of being rendered useless when comparing against players against leagues without human managers. Even within human manager leagues, data is wrong with tackles attempted and key tackles not being registered across any games whatsoever.
I will likely still use some metrics to compare across the league that I manage in, largely relying upon the player radars that are in game, but beyond that it’s going to be impossible to use metrics for recruitment purposes. This does rather makes you wonder what the point is for recruitment analysts in the game if SI can’t get the metrics to be simulated properly.
Why AC Le Havre?
My reasoning for choosing AC Le Havre was because of their famed youth academy. There are a number of high profile past academy graduates that have come through and out of Le Havre – including but not limited to Paul Pogba, Lassana Diarra, Dimitri Payet, and current Manchester City pairing Riyad Mahrez and Benjamin Mendy. Throughout FM20, I did not see any youth graduates come through that were even close to ever pushing for first team football despite playing for over a combined ten seasons at both AC Milan and Liverpool. My hope is that by taking over at Le Havre, their patience towards demands for promotion to Ligue 1 and their youth academy should enable me to develop youth prospects from their youth academy.
As you can see from the above screenshot, the youth facilities are listed as ‘great’, as is the training facilities. This should, with a lot of luck, see high quality youth prospects being generated through our youth recruitment. Fingers crossed they will be prospects that will find themselves in the first team in coming years.
AC Le Havre start the game with some youth prospects in their youth squad with Daylam Meddah, Josué Casimir, Ylan Gomes and Abdoullah Ba. Back-up goalkeeper Yahia Fofana also looks to be a player with reasonable potential. Their training will be bespoke, rather than left to the AI and their progress monitored throughout the season. Ba and Meddah are shown for your own viewing.
Taking data from transfermarkt.com on the minutes played by AC Le Havre players during the Ligue 2 2019-20 season, we also see that AC Le Havre aren’t afraid to play youth players, with a number of them playing more than 50% of the minutes available over the course of the league season. It’s noticeable how few ‘prime’ age players played considerable minutes for the team – this is likely because these types of players are either fully developed and asking for wages above a level that AC Le Havre can afford, or because they have been replaced by younger options that the club could develop. The latter definitely appears to be the case at Le Havre, with the former being more difficult to prove.
The issue in taking on this team? Only three of the six youth prospects remain. In truth, the club only owned four of the players that played more than 50% of the available minutes. Both Éric Ebimbe and Tino Kadewere have returned to their parent clubs following loans. The bigger problem is the departure of players like Pape Gueye, who left on a free transfer to Olympique Marseille. In fact, AC Le Havre recouped exactly zero euros from transfer fees in the off-season. Of course, this is entirely unsurprising given the financial impact of the pandemic, but this is also something to take into consideration given AC Le Havre’s business model evolves around developing younger players and selling them on to fund the running of club. Without the incoming transfer fees; no prize money on offer in Ligue 2; only £2.5m being generated in sponsorship money by the club and French football in a financial crisis following the collapse of the MediaPro TV deal, finances are going to tight in the extreme. Therefore, development of the youth prospects is going to be crucial if the club is going to make any money going forwards. Equally, any incomings are likely to do so on free transfer only – the club isn’t in a position to be spending money on transfer fees.
Note that the club also released players who did to play many minutes – this shows a ruthlessness to the club and an inability in the current situation to carry any excess wage. Ayman Ben Mohamed looks to have failed in terms of the number of minutes played – as such, his ability will be reviewed upon taking over. With regards to Victor Lekhal, he had a long-term injury, which explains his lack of minutes. The other problem that crops up from the above graphic – Tino Kadawere scored 20 goals over last season, with Jamal Thiaré scoring 8 goals from a not dissimilar number of minutes. Time will tell if Thiaré can up his scoring efforts.
Under the previous managerial incumbent, Paul Le Guen, Le Havre have sought to utilise markets beyond France to bring players in at a transfer fee below the levels expected from teams in Ligue 1 and Ligue 2. Using Le Guen’s contacts from his time in Turkey, two Turkish players have previously been brought into Le Havre – Umut Meraş and Ertugrul Ersoy. Given the link, Yilmaz Burul was recruited to help fill the gaps in the recruitment team, which were considerable given AC Le Havre start with only a Chief Scout. It helps that Burul has some excellent scouting attributes, although he is a more than little blinkered to Turkey, so he won’t significantly increase our world knowledge when it comes to player knowledge. Hopefully his fantastic adaptability rating will help him to adjust to other countries when assigned scouting assignments by Chief Scout, Bernard Pascual.
To supplement Burul’s appointment, a Director of Football, Jean-Michel Vandamme was brought in. Formerly at Lille, his experience at a top Ligue 1 club should help the club to progress. Jeannot, Brisson and N’Kongue have also signed contracts as scouts to expand the recruitment team, alongside two recruitment analysts.
Decisions with regards to recruitment cannot be taken lightly given the lack of funds to spend on players, so it’s important that mistakes are minimised. Data on player personality, past injuries and naturally their player ability will all be gathered and analysed when potential incomings are reviewed.
With regards to tactical set up, a 4-2-3-1 will be the formation of choosing, with a focus on dominating possession. With the aim of breaking teams down slowly, distribution from the goalkeeper assigned to be given to the defenders to build up the attack. Shorter passing will be adopted, instructions to dribble less and playing at a low tempo are all designed to maintain control of the ball and limit the frequency of opposition attacks. The players will hold shape if the ball is won back, but counter-press when the ball is lost, with a more urgent approach towards pressing intensity. The team is well-balanced when it comes to right and left-footed, which means that even in central midfield, left-footed Basque can play on the left hand-side of the midfield slot. Player recruitment will be required to provide more options for this shape, but as explained earlier, these will need to be constrained to free transfers only.
The next update will come at the half-way point to the season – with a focus on player trading and progress of the team with regards to results and expected points.