This post originates from a signing I have already made for my Bayer 04 Leverkusen side. I was appointed as manager of Die Schwarzroten after I was resoundingly sacked by the board at Genoa for starting a striker in a Coppa Italia game against Inter, whom I’d previously promised not to play due to poor form. No, I’m not joking.
Signing a football player is, I imagine, very different to recruitment in most industries. Player identification may share similarities with that of top-end corporate jobs, i.e. head-hunting, but it’s far from the ordinary occupation which still relies on applications and interview process to determine what one hopes is the best candidate. In many ways, football recruitment should be far better – a team can clearly see the past performances of a player, whether live, in the produced data, perhaps supplied by the likes of StatsBomb, or via video scouting packages, such as Wyscout. This should help them to identify a set of players who fit their needs, and via considerable background research/due diligence into a player’s background and personality beyond the white lines.
In Football Manager, it’s possible to do many of the above, to a degree. In my case, I was debating whether to sign a central midfielder – Davide Frattesi. He was transfer listed by Herta Berlin after being deemed surplus to requirements. He looked to be a good option for the central midfielder on attack role that I use on the right-hand side of a two in a regular wide 4231. I ran through my usual, in-depth criteria for going ahead with a signature, and all suggested his signing would be a good idea, helping to provide competition for Connor Gallagher. Yet, I found myself a little conflicted as to whether I actually should sign him.
In the below write-up, I’ll explain the full process I undertook, using an example of a player I’ve identified to potentially fulfil a role, and put across my thinking behind each stage of the identification and recruitment process.
Identifying a gap
When considering a player acquisition, it’s crucial to assess the playing time, age profile and even the expectations of the employed tactic on player workload of your existing squad. If a player is in a key role, then it is anticipated that they will need to make a large number of vertical sprints back and forth when completing attacking and defensive actions. Therefore, each of those energetic actions increases the probability of an injury occurring the more that player plays, because of the stress and strain that he will be putting his body under. Of course, you can mitigate this somewhat by having high quality coaches, sports scientists, physios and training facilities, along with a well-thought-out training program to minimalise this risk, but it nonetheless is a potential problem, especially as a player grows older.
Equally, it’s important to recognise the existing players who are towards the younger age within your squad. What does their current pathway look like? Are they nailed on to be a first-team starter and in need of minutes to develop their potential, or are they more likely to benefit from a loan, in which case they are not a short-term option for your first team squad, and an immediate fix may need to be found? If there is no suitable internal recruit to the potential vacancy you may have within your organisation, and there is no suitable candidate to be retrained, then a club must rely upon external recruitment to achieve its objectives.
With the case of Frattesi, I knew I was relying on Gallagher far too much given the strains of Champions League football and weekend games in the Bundesliga given our high, intensive pressing football and constant travel, with little time to train in between games beyond preparation and feedback/recovery sessions. Yet, I had also been deputising Noël Aséko Nkili, a talented young German whom I’d previously picked up from Bayern München. I was conscious of not blocking his pathway to minutes and, fingers crossed, development, especially as he’d filled in relatively well in terms of chance creation and assists.
However, I still felt a little light in case of any injury, there was no Plan C, or rather a potential improvement on Plan B. The Bayer 04 academy had not provided us with any suitable youth player for this position – so on that basis the first step of making a signing had been reached.
Next, I had to consider the possibility of making a signing.
If you’ve read my previous blogs on football finance, you will know that I go one step further than is available on the user interfaces within Football Manager, utilising amortisation calculations to determine accounting player values and (basic) remaining costs for each member of the first team squad. This can help me, along with the provided transfer and wage budgets available in the finances tab, to decide what I can afford to spend. (It’s worth noting that on the Price of Football podcast, Miles has said that amortisation will never appear to the user in Football Manager, but he did hint that it is there in some form in the background)
At the time, we had over £40m to spend on one or more signings according to the game, but far more using an amortisation approach. Plus, if I was able to sign a player by splitting the cash outlays over three or four years, then I could stretch that budget further still. We were well under our wage budget allocation, so this too wasn’t an issue.
There is one other important consideration – we’re Bayer 04, and whilst we may be playing Champions League football, we do have a rigid wage structure that we try to adhere to. Only club captain, Micky van de Ven, is on more than £100k/week. Our pool of talent to select from is accordingly limited to those who are not already on or above this level of wages.
Existing squad culture and player personality
Whenever talent is recruited, it is important to consider the existing ethos of the organisation that they will be joining – we have a determined squad, so they may not gel well with anyone who doesn’t share their same values.
As you can see from the squad graphic above, I prefer to run a relatively tight-knit squad, with only twenty-one players finishing the season with us in the first-team squad. This is in part due to the lack of high enough quality players having remained with the club having come through the youth system, but also my preferred style to avoid unnecessarily imbalanced squads with players clamouring for playing time and upsetting the squad harmony.
It is this previous failing that forms part of the reason to recruit for the central midfield position. Brazilian André, was signed as a squad player during a complete overhaul of the Bayer 04 team in the first summer transfer window I was in charge. He very quickly became upset at his lack of minutes he played and started to unsettle the rest of the squad. I took the decision to jettison him to the U19s to remove him from the first-team squad, and transfer list him before selling him for a minor profit to Real Sociedad.
With this new recruit, being able to speak German was seen as important, but not essential skill, given the spread of other nationalities and first languages, as this would help the player settle earlier. The existing squad is relatively young, with an average age around 24. As such, an older head could be useful to guide these players, though this isn’t a deal-breaker.
The important thing here is that they need to have a positive mentality and approach to the game/training. As many leaders have said, including Ole Gunnar Solsjkær, it’s better to have a hole in your organisation than an a***hole who upsets everyone else (it’s admittedly odd that Ole seems not to have followed his own guidance with one particular signing, and it’s certainly notable just how well MUFC are doing now that he’s gone). Managing someone out of an organisation can be even more expensive than the initial recruitment in the first place – it’s far better to recruit once and recruit well.
Plus, this can be a more considered signing than when I was ripping apart the squad that I inherited. I don’t need to rush into making a signing here. I hope to have learned my lesson from the signing and near immediate sale of André.
As I was looking for a first-team player, they needed to have the ability to play Champions League football. A high level physical ability is also critical – our energy intensive nature of our gegenpress means that the player needs to be able to both make high intensity sprints and do so over and over, or risk seeing holes for the opposition to exploit. As such, a premium is placed on natural fitness, teamwork, work rate and stamina.
The player’s mentality and ability to perform under pressure, being able to be consistently operating at the best of their abilities in the toughest of matches, was also high on the list of requirements. As such, it wasn’t just the technical and physical attributes that were being assessed, but his persona and cognitive abilities too.
To identify the potential recruit’s physical capabilities, just looking at their actual aforementioned attributes is insufficient. Their injury history also needs to be considered. It’s all very well having a great ability to be everywhere on the pitch if they’re only capable of doing that for 90 minutes of a potential 270 or more because you require rest or treatment on the injury table. Therefore, looking at their history of knocks and injuries will be a key step in the recruitment process.
Having already previously set up my scouting team to scour all of Europe and South America for talent, there had already been a plethora of reports for central midfielders. I’d chosen to take control over the assignments, so that I could have say over who my team were running the rule over. Whilst the majority of scouts are looking for the upcoming talents, I have assigned some to look at players who are in the prime of their career in case I ever need a ‘here and now’ signing. It will be these scout reports that I will be relying upon to inform my decision as to who to sign.
When receiving scout reports, there are a few obvious things to look for, the minimum standards, the instant red flags. If a player is going to be playing Champions League football, and in games against Bayern München, they need to be mentally prepared for the big game atmospheres. They can’t be too nervous to make a decision/rush to make a decision, which can then negatively affect the outcome of the game due to their mistake(s).
Equally, they need to be at least reasonably consistent in their delivery of their abilities on the pitch – their teammates need to be able to rely on them to perform their duty – as legendary NFL coach Bill Belichick is quoted as saying, “do your job”. This effectively means everyone else can concentrate on doing theirs rather than having to cover for you too, causing problems in the team’s shape and structure, leaving gaps for the opposition to exploit no matter what shape the ball. A central midfield cannot afford to be constantly out of position, nor operating outside the confines of the team plan – if they are, it’s a recipe for being cut open time and time again – against high quality opposition, this will likely prove fatal.
Although not strictly necessary given they can be taught through coaching, there are some traits that could be a concern and there are others which could be more useful given the playing role/position.
As the central midfielder, potentially on support of attack duty, and using a gegenpress tactical style, dives into tackles would be a red flag. A player who opts to go off their feet both increases the likelihood of the player picking up cards, suspensions, and therefore potentially result in putting their teammates down to 10. What’s just as concerning is that if the player misses both ball and man due to some technical flair shown by the opposing player, the tackler is then out of position and out of the game if, as is often the way in the Bundesliga, they choose to rapidly counter-attack.
Other traits that would be viewed negatively would be: argues with officials, dwells on the ball, stops play, plays no through balls and plays short simple passes.
Far more attractive traits are arrives late in the box, looks to switch play to the flanks, looks to play one-twos, gets forward whenever possible.
Now that I’ve identified what I’m looking for, it’s time to run Davide Frattesi through my self-imposed checklist.
The run down
Frattesi had been signed by Herta Berlin from Italian side US Sassuollo for £26m by Brendan Rodgers. Yet despite signing over the Summer transfer window, he had already been transfer-listed on the grounds of being surplus to requirements following the appointment of the new Head Coach, Leonardo Jardim in December 2025 following the sacking of Rodgers.
Jardim’s preferred formation involves a double deep pivot as a central midfield partnership, which isn’t Frattesi’s natural position, but one that he can play. Both Toni Kroos and Salvatore Esposito held the starting births, and it seems Frattesi wasn’t wanted by the new manager. Given his asking price of £22.5m, he looked to be a relative bargain.
Having played sixteen league games, with two of those coming from the bench, as of the last week of the January transfer window, the fall-out with Jardim must have been rapid following his appointment in December 2025. Whilst it could be useful to look at Frattesi’s performances so far for Hertha given he’s playing in the Bundesliga, it’s also useful to look back at how he performed last year to gain a greater understanding at his metrics over an entire season.
In his last full season with Sassuolo, before his transfer to Herta Berlin, he played 89% of all minutes over the course of their Serie A campaign – he more than ticks the box for his availability. This statistic shouldn’t be overlooked, but how does he stack up on a deeper level rather than just being ready to step over the white touchline?
Over the course of the 2024-25 season, compared against other central midfielders across the top five leagues, with 1,000+ minutes, his metrics looked like this:
Clearly not used as a creative outlet for Sassuolo, Frattesi looks to be someone who is more adept at recycling the ball. He’s barely made an assist all season, and it’s not as though his teammates have been missing clear-cut chances he created, because he didn’t make them very often at all. This is an area of the game that would clearly need to change, as the central midfield role is one that does need to chip in with the occasional through ball for the likes of Moise Kean and Florian Wirtz. He didn’t even make that many progressive passes, so this is a concern.
As for his defensive metrics – he’s a pressing monster – so could suit well into our gegenpress. He also seems to match that with his ability to read the game well, winning back possession at a consistently high level, and then he didn’t give the ball away cheaply either. His tackles are also not to be ignored, though his success rate isn’t good, so he may give away a high number of fouls, but if that breaks up a rapid counterattack from the opposition, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
A relatively trigger-happy shooter, judging by his high frequency of shots per 90 and his xG per shot, he also comes well below average when it comes to his xG over performance. Yet he also finds himself above the 25th percentile for goals scored per game, and in the top quintile for his xG. If his shot choice can be refined through his decision-making, or perhaps better quality passing options ahead of him, he could look to reduce his wastefulness with the ball.
His scouting report actually highlights that his passing ability is underlined by his technical prowess, so it’s curious that he’s not utilised this, or been playing in a role that has looked to utilise this skill. He’s also apparently relatively quick, and a consistent performer, both fantastic traits for my tactical approach. My scouts also highlight that, despite his transfer-listing, he’s a leading player for any Bundesliga side, would be a fairly good social fit into the side, and enjoys big games. It’s a very positive scouting report, besides his penchant for a competitive streak which can lead to him bending the rules.
With his suppressed value and the information contained in his scout report, it looks a reasonable decision to sign him – particularly given his age of 26, giving us potential re-sale value should we need it, plus he would nicely fit into the mix in terms of players being of a similar age profile already in the squad.
His spirited personality, whilst not being top of the preferred list, isn’t a bad one. What really is in his favour though is his player traits of runs with the ball through the centre, gets forward whenever possible and runs with the ball often. All of these could help to split a defence open if he attracts the opposition towards him and laying off the ball to a teammate in space, or taking on a shot when ghosting into the box as a third-man run.
His scout report also highlighted his considerable technical, mental and physical attributes that were hinted at in his pros and cons.
The decision is made to advance the acquisition by submitting a bid at the asking price of £22m. This is swiftly agreed, and so we quickly progress to contract discussions. Frattesi wants to be a regular starter within the first team, which doesn’t come as a shock given his skill level and age, combined with the fact that he wasn’t going to be seemingly seeing much first-team action at Hertha.
We manage to agree to a deal with his agent for £72,000/wk, and a four-and-a-half year deal, with additional bonuses kept to a minium of an appearance fee and an unused substitute fee. The weekly wage makes him a relatively mid-ranked paid player, so this isn’t anywhere close to disturbing our existing salary structure.
The length of the contract means that the annual amortisation value of Frattesi will be exactly £5m. His book value, including his wages, totals £39,348,000, or £8,744,000 per year. This seems relatively shrewd given his indicative transfer value rises to £52-57m upon joining us at the close of the January transfer window. This is well within our budget, and leaves me with plenty of room to make any necessary adjustments to the squad in the Summer should we need to.
I hope that you enjoyed reading the thought-process that goes into transfers when I look to sign players in Football Manager. This, of course, doesn’t have to be the way for everyone, but hopefully it might make you think about areas of transfers that you’ve missed, or perhaps could look into further.
If you have any questions around this topic, or those that I allude to, please don’t hesitate to contact me @afmoldtimer on Twitter. Until next time – auf weidersehen!
3 thoughts on “The Art of the Signing – Football Manager”
Very interesting article how to get started as a soccer manager.
I just recently started to play the game 🙂