The Art of Youth Development – Football Manager

Following the release of my previous in “The Art of” series, “The Art of Squad Building“, I had a number of people ask me questions regarding youth recruitment and development, so this post is going to expand further into the approaches which lay the foundations of youth recruitment and development that I look to utilise.

It will guide you through:

  • Internal youth recruitment
  • How I drill down on which scouts to appoint
  • The establishment of scouting assignments
  • What attributes I look when signing youth players
  • When to and when not to loan players out
  • The importance of choosing the ‘right’ loan for a young player
  • Cutting ties with youngsters

I am not saying I always do everything right, indeed this post will highlight some errors that I have made in the development of ‘next up’ players, and I’ll also highlight when to cut ties with those that aren’t going to make it after it becomes clear that that will be the case.

What I will show you is how it is possible to have numerous players who are listed in the NxGn awards, who are young and developing, with the potential to be the stars of the future.

The youth team

The basis for any success in internal youth production lies in having the best youth facilities, coaching and extensive recruitment. I’m fortunate that as I’ve built up my reputation at Leverkusen, the board has trusted in the process I’ve been trying to establish, and have significantly invested in improving the level of youth recruitment and training facilities available to our development age groups.

Also of import is the Head of Youth Development. Until his retirement, Pep Boada ran the youth programme, recommending a series of players to be signed, a couple who were outstanding and plenty who were never going to make the grade in the Bundesliga. His model professional personality is perhaps the best that there is, given a potential for this to pass onto young recruits, and with his top tier judging player potential and ability, he’s arguably the best that there is in this role.

I’ve been lucky enough to have two players come through the academy system at Bayer 04 who have achieved first-team minutes – Christian Priso and the world-class Canpolat Darande. I’ll be talking more about these two players, one a star for the future and one who is already approaching the peak of his powers despite his young age, later in the piece.

Putting together the best team with the best resources available is an important aspect of youth development. It enables players to come into your youth team with the highest current ability and potential ability possible. Clearly, the more ability a player has, the more likely they’ll make into the first-team, assuming it’s a meritocracy.

This also has its financial benefits as well as drawbacks. Any youth setup has a cost attached to it. Over the previous five years at Leverkusen, £30.5m has been spent on the youth team. With this level of cash outflow, some needs to come back into to offset this expenditure – something that teams like Ajax have mastered. This is where the benefits can really be seen – selling on players that either have developed and are ready to move on, or more actively seeking to sell those that don’t have a place in the first-team squad.

The recruitment team

When putting together a recruitment team to identify players who can come into supplement the youth team in areas that our intake has proved weakest in, including the hiring of a Head of Youth Development, I don’t veer from the focus on judging player potential and judging player ability. I know that adaptability is important, but with a large recruitment team, it doesn’t need to be the be-all and end-all because I can have twenty-one scouts in specific locations that they already have a knowledge of, meaning that they have a large number of players that they are already aware of too. This gives them a significant head start when it comes to identifying talents. Note that in the below graphic (which is clickable, opening in a new tab, as with all the graphics in this piece), I’ve only focussed on the countries that the scouts have extensive knowledge of – most have further knowledge of other countries too:

Therefore, more weighting, at least in the hiring of the first handful of scouts, went on ensuring that they have the best available judging player potential and ability, whilst also covering a range of countries to maximise the geographic spread of knowledge. As you can see from the image below, this has been achieved through the twenty-one scouts, six recruitment analysts and various affiliate clubs.

When looking to fill the final open positions within the scouting team, I utilise this map in game to ensure that I’ve built up as much knowledge about markets as possible. I’ve been able to achieve this breadth of knowledge of all these countries without too heavily compromising upon the prerequisites of judging player potential and ability, never dropping below fifteen for either attribute. If I’m searching for a scout with knowledge of a specific country, then I’ll use the in-game tool in the Staff Search to narrow down on scouts that have an understanding of that country, rather than trawling through all of the interested scouts who fulfil the previously stated criteria.

This widespread knowledge of many of the key markets of football for youth development means that we’re well-established to identify young players early in their professional careers. Yet, that alone, is insufficient.

Scouting assignments

The recruitment focus within the player search is something that I look to, if possible, set and forget. Hire the right scouts with the right attributes for judging player potential and ability, and set them up on a focus, or foci, that ideally suits their knowledge base and the type of player I wish to sign.

The countries that are highlighted above in terms of knowledge, crucially isn’t the areas that we scout. These are chosen a little more critically, concentrating on geographic areas with a high youth rating, such that they are more likely to generate high quality youth intakes. Passion4FM have an excellent guide on this, which I will use from time to time to assess where I might be able to add that extra level of scouting should I be allowed to add extra scouts to my recruitment team.

Attention is also given to the playing positions I utilise in my existing tactic, location of country or countries to scout, and critically, the player age range, typically 15-21. Whilst I have scouts casting their net over Central Europe for first-team players who are aged up to 27-years-old, that responsibility only falls on a couple of scouts. My reasoning for taking this approach is that I would typically already have a good idea of likely targets for any first-team replacements from my own knowledge of the top four leagues, and if I did have any gaps, then these can relatively easily and effectively be covered by these small number of scouts – ordinarily, no more than two.

What I won’t look to do, given the age profiles of the players we are typically scouting, is define player roles. With the potential room for development, and also the potential for developmental and resale, I won’t rule a player out just because they play in a role that I don’t currently use within my tactic.

DNA – attribute focus

Something else that I also consider in relation to recruitment to my tactic is specific preferred attributes, which some would call DNA. These are natural fitness, determination, teamwork, work rate and ideally decision-making.

I have adopted a typical gegenpress tactic playing in Germany, and we play two games a week over a considerable number of weeks between the Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal and the Champions League. Therefore, our players have to be able to recover quickly between games, and be ready to train too. The high intensity tactic will regularly mean that players are exhausted during a game, and whilst the five substitute rule helps immensely with this, this is still insufficient when the games stack up, and the season wears on. Therefore, natural fitness is a must.

Determination, teamwork, work rate and decision-making all fall into the same critical area – you must be willing to work and train hard, at high intensity, and be prepared to give your all to help your team achieve its overall goal – victory. Fail to act as a cover shadow because a player is too lazy – unacceptable. A player cannot be allowed to skimp on their defensive duties when our tactic relies on being in the right place, at the right time, all the time. To achieve this, you must be ready to give your all. No questions asked.

This brings me onto something I mentioned in the first post of “The Art of…” series – players who have a personality that would upset the other players in the squad are routinely never signed. No fickle, low ambition, low determination, or mercenary player is welcomed at Bayer 04. Standards have to be met at all levels.

Taking the hard stance on our youth recruitment has seen us miss out on players, some genuine wonderkids. For instance, my scouts have long raved over Serbian goalkeeper, Danilo Zagović. Yet his fickle personality, as well as his remarkable desire to punch the ball at every given opportunity, are red flags when it comes to ever considering him as a potential acquisition target. My scouts love him – I don’t, even with the potential to adapt his personality through mentoring.


If a youth team player with promise comes through and is signed to the U19 team, then I will look to take control of their individual training, putting into place their role and additional focus training. I won’t go as far as planning out the routines for the U19s, and this is definitely something that would add to their improvement, but I don’t have the time and don’t consider it entirely realistic for a first-team manager to also lay out the training programme for the U19s as well. However, by setting out their individualised training programme, I can better focus on the roles and specific attributes that I want players to work on, so that they’re harnessing the targetted areas I’ve identified as needing to be addressed.

For example, new signing, and likely future wonderkid, Filippo Vigna is in the U19 squad after signing from Napoli as a 16-year-old. The U19 manager wanted him to train as an advanced playmaker – a role that I don’t use in my tactic. Therefore, I’ve taken control of his training, switched his role to attacking midfielder on attack to concentrate on those attributes and then added an additional focus on his quickness. Physical attributes develop far better when the player is young, so I’m looking to eke out a little more pace and acceleration to add that burst of speed to help with both sides of the game – closing down in the press and arriving in space vacated by the movement of the complete forward ahead of him.

My youth team coaches at Bayer 04 are also amongst the best in their respective league system, giving every chance for our youngsters to benefit from the best coaching facilities and the best coaches available.

Pathway to the first-team

There are likely three main pathways into the first-team – 1. Be bought specifically for the first-team, i.e. to come straight in and be first-team ready from the get-go, 2. Come through the youth system at Bayer 04 (with the possibility of a loan to receive first-team action) and then progress onto the first-team, or 3. Be bought, head out on loan for first-team football, and then, if deemed good enough, be retained within the first-team squad.

With regard to the initial pathway, Elliot, Buchmann, Pino, Coppola, Noël Aséko Nkili, Mendéz, Juan Manuel Fornals and Jannik Weuthen all trod this path. Some have been sold (Nkili, Buchmann and Mendéz), but the remaining players all still form part of the main squad, and are all, bar Pino, the first choice for their respective positions.

Coming through the youth system and achieving first-team minutes at the club which developed you is a remarkable achievement given the need for results ‘here and now’. This is why the option of the loan out to another club can help give those players the time that they need to mature and improve. Yet it’s also telling that only two players have thus had first-team football at Bayer 04, Canpolat and Priso, and Priso has spent every season out on loan, with only a smattering of minutes in early on in a couple of seasons before going out on loan.

The final pathway, one far more common for players aged 20 or less, is the development through loan(s). A total of ten players have seen their initial playing time away from Bayer 04 having been bought from another club. This includes now first-choice ‘keeper, Høyenhall, second-choice left-back, Børset, club captain, Engibarov, the versatile Filip Bundgaard, club vice-captain, Gabriel Solomon and the world-class, Endrick.

The below graphics show an excellent break-down, position-by-position and year-by-year, of the pathways undertaken by players aged 20 or less between 2024-25 (the season I took over charge of Bayer 04) and the current season. Note that this is excluding youth academy players who have never been promoted into the first-team to avoid too much noise.

Defensive Unit Development Pathways

Central Midfield Unit Development Pathways

Forward Unit Development Pathways

What is really noticeable in many cases is the step-up in class from year-to-year that players sometimes make, which itself can be indicative of player development. If better teams want them on loan than the season prior, they surely must have sufficiently improved their current ability to warrant their interest. This is something to look out for. It’s also worthwhile, at times, considering accepting or even offering to loan players back to the team from which they were bought. Yet there are a very many areas to consider when coming to decide upon loaning a player.

Loaning young players

The initial consideration is, naturally, whether or not to loan the player in the first place – is there space for them in the first-team, and are they ready for this level of challenge? If the answer to either of those is no, then they are far better off going out on loan to develop. Players aged 18 or over stand to develop far more from playing first-team football than training, that it’s vitally important to their development to go out on loan.

If you’ve then made the decision to loan a player, you then need to factor in many different aspects as to where the player should go on loan. These include, but are not exclusive to:

  • The likelihood of first-team football
  • The league that the player will be playing in relative to their ability
  • The preferred tactic of the manager
  • The training facilities of the club the player will go out on loan to

Should a player only be considered a squad option, or even worse, back-up, then there is little point in accepting a loan with the specific intention to develop the player. If the player isn’t wanted, and the club offering the loan is prepared to help with wage payments, then fine, but that’s not the point here, the whole aim is that they play and play regularly.

Equally, the player needs to be playing in a league that merits their ability. Therefore, the club ideally needs to be playing in a league that fits with their current ability – in part to guarantee more minutes (i.e. if a player is out of their depth, they’re not hugely likely to be playing first-team football), but also to make sure that they can play well enough against opponents of a similar capability to have a high enough rating to improve.

Manager preferred tactics is something that I often overlook (and I need to stop doing this). Let’s take an example from the below graphic. This graphic shows the outgoing loans during the 2029-2030 season to a range of clubs in a range of different leagues. The columns to the right of the graphic indicate league quality by ranking, the respective club’s training facilities and the number of minutes that the players played over that respective season.

What sticks out straight away for me is the number of minutes Yohann Gaudry played over the season at rivals 1. FC Köln. Gaudry is considered a wonderkid, and as you can see from the pathways graphic for the forward line, has subsequently earned himself a loan at Borussia Dortmund. So why did he play so relatively few minutes at the lesser Köln? Was he injured? No. He’s a right winger (I aim to retrain him as an inside forward on the left, which is why he’s with the other left-wingers in the aforementioned earlier graphic – more on this later). Why should Gaudry being a winger be a problem? Because Köln’s manager, Steffen Baumgart, preferred not to play any wingers at all, opting for a 41212 diamond formation, and so only played him when he switched to a wide tactic, which wasn’t very often. Gaudry would have played even fewer minutes than this had Baumgart not been sacked in March and replaced by Steven Gerrard, who favours a 433DM formation.

Lastly, the training facilities of the club that they’re going out to is also significant – they need to be training at facilities that are commensurate with their ability to develop. As you can see, just because a club isn’t playing in a top-ranked league doesn’t mean that their training facilities aren’t up to scratch. Those clubs that have had European football from domestic qualification have often had the money and time to develop their training facilities, and Dinamo Kyiv are a great example of this.

Something that you do have to factor in with loans is that you lose the ability to mould their development in terms of specific attributes and player traits. This will be left to the AI, and definitely something that you need to remember to revisit should they return to your playing squad, as that will also need to be reset each time. You also lose the ability to mentor players using your older players, hence why I concentrate my recruitment on players who already have positive mentalities and a high determination attribute. It also means that you can’t train players in positions that you’d like to. The AI isn’t likely to want to play players in positions that they’re not comfortable in. With Gaudry, I’ve gone for him developing his attributes first over learning how to play in a particular position.

Another added touch that I like to use to try to boost player development, though I have no evidence to suggest that it makes any difference, is to routinely talk to players when they are out on loan – either to praise/criticise their development or their performance. Communication often goes a long way in leadership, and I would think that this would help too, to know that the manager who signed you is still monitoring your performance even if you aren’t playing a key part of his squad. It’s easy to monitor how players are performing in the Development Centre on the Loans tab, using the Selection Info drop down option.

Ultimately, should the loan go well then it can help a player to develop much like Canpolat Darande has below, with many of his attributes improving by at least two, if not three notches.

Cutting ties

After a time, the pathway will become clearer for a player. Whilst progression is rarely linear, it will become evident whether or not a youth player will ever make into the first-team squad at some point.

This will inevitably mean that some don’t make it, and will either have their contract lapse, or be sold. What’s important to realise here is that these are not mistakes. They are a fact of life, some are born to make it to the very top level, many are not. The below graphic indicates this well. It takes into account all players who have been bought at or below the age of 18, including those signed from the youth academy who have so far been sold by the club.

Nikolay Kovachev, Willy Ouattara and Josef Vojtíšek are great examples of players who were brought in due to their promise, and, for whatever reason, that promise has either been false or not realised. All three of them have left the club, and two to high profile teams, in the case or Kovachev going to AC Milan, and Vojtíšek signing for Bayern. Having monitored their progress in their current ability, it became apparent that despite their elevated initial abilities relative to their age, they were not going to make sufficient progress in order to achieve first-team football here.

What doesn’t make them mistakes are the fees accrued from their sales. Whilst the majority of the profit comes from Sebastían Méndez’s transfer to Bundesliga rivals Borussia Dortmund, the profits from Vojtíšek and Kovachev are useful towards funding either future transfers of potential ‘next man ups’, or funding the youth academy. Even if you strip out the sales of players that did not come through the youth academy who were brought in at the age of 18 or below, £12.96m was still made in pure profit from the sales of youth academy players over the chosen four-year period. This goes some way to covering the £30m cost of running the youth academy. Realistically, the process I set up with the help of my youth recruitment team will only now start to show fruition in terms of financial payback. The sales of players picked up for relatively low fees have now developed and are at a stage where they may want to move onto achieve regular first-team football elsewhere if there”s a better/more established player in front of them, or that they’ll be picked up by ‘bigger’ clubs who are prepared to offer higher wages than the wage structure allows here at Bayer 04.

Hopefully, this run through has given you ideas about how to develop players through your youth system, whether supplementing that through external recruitment, or through the loan system.

If it has, I’d be keen to know what you’ve learned, or even what you think I should write about next. I have some ideas, but I’m always happy to listen to my audience. Until next time, arrivederci.


The Art of Squad Building – Football Manager

This blog acts as a follow-up, sister piece to my previous entry – The Art of the Signing. In that blog, I went through the various considerations that I undertake when deciding upon bringing someone into my squad. It hinted heavily about the importance of having a strong sense of harmony in a squad, and the benefits that this can bring a side. It is this facet of sports, though focusing within the realms of Football Manager, that this post will investigate.

There is little doubt that having a settled squad, with good relationships between the management and the playing staff goes hand-in-hand with success. Animosity between the two doesn’t drive a cohesive working practice if you are at loggerheads with the players that you want to portray the style of play that you want to instigate. Indeed, it is quite possible that the players themselves could harbour animosity towards one another. To try to minimise this, it’s important to ensure that there is a balance in the squad, which necessarily takes many different forms.

Age range

If a squad is to enjoy a prolonged success, it’s more probable for this success to come with a wide range of player ages, as the more experienced players pass down their knowledge and advice to the younger players in the squad.

The above graphic (click on the image to open for a larger size, as with all my graphics) shows the range of player ages against the number of minutes they played over the previous season, in which we won both the Bundesliga and the Champions League.

If the elder members are sage and capable of passing on their wisdom within general training, during matches and perhaps more critically within mentoring groups to those who have yet to be significantly whetted behind the ears in terms of first team football, then this can significantly aid the latter’s development.

When things get tough, or there is a big run of important games, older players can be a fantastic resource to show the way for younger players, perhaps allowing them to thrive whilst doing more of the grunt work in the background. Yet that calming, guiding influence in the changing room should never be overlooked in the clamour to drive towards ever younger sides in the desperate search for that next wonderkid. Experience has added value to every side.

Playing time

Yet, keeping those at their peak happy requires a recognition that many of these players will want considerable first team football across the course of the season.

It’s important to monitor those in your squad that expect to be playing regularly, or even being marked out as a star player. Failure to ensure their playing time meets with their expectations is a one-way trip to having an unhappy player in your office demanding to have it explained to him why you’re not playing him, and then likely asking to leave when your answer is because an 18-year-old Bolivian wonderkid is in the form of his life, and you don’t want to drop him in favour of this 27-year-old sat in front of you with two years in his contract remaining.

As such, it pays to look at the squad tab to see who is unhappy or concerned about their current playing time, and look to bring the squad status of the player into line with their likely playing time as much as possible.

It isn’t always the case that this works, as it can further frustrate the player, causing another potential meeting with a player that may in all probability end up in a transfer request. Nonetheless, it can have a calming effect by allowing you to communicate that you still value the player and their skills, just perhaps not as much as you previously did.

Looking at the squad view, I have three players who are currently receiving minutes which add up to less than their agreed playing time, yet they aren’t concerned. This might be a sign that I could look to reduce their agreed playing time, and they would accept the decision without being upset and asking to leave.

However, I also have two players, those boxed in red, who are unhappy about their existing playing time. Wirtz is seemingly unhappy about his playing time despite being injured, which is more than a tad unreasonable. Yet Gabriel Solomon is unhappy because I’m only utilising him as a squad player currently, which is beneath what was agreed. This can be explained by the form of home-grown talent, Canpolat Darande, who is in outstanding form in the same position after deputising for Solomon due to injury. I’ll need to play Solomon more to avoid him becoming unsettled going forward. With a campaign across three fronts in Germany and Europe, this should not prove hard with our heavy workload tactic with gegenpress and fast counters.

Wage structure/disparity

With minutes in mind, it’s very much worth then taking into consideration the wage/salary structure at the club against that of the player’s agreed playing time.

Given the player hierarchy of playing time, those who are featuring more regularly for your side would, naturally, expect to be some of, if not the highest earners in your squad. True, you may have some wonderkid in your side who is still a way off your top-earner, but if you were to likely compare their salary of a young player who is achieving minutes in your first-team relative to that of their peers at a similar age, one would expect their salary to be higher, perhaps significantly so at the top level.

Yet what can so often be overlooked is the disparity between players in a squad and then the ructions that this can create.

If a star player is brought in on considerably higher salary than that of his fellow squad members, this has the potential for the original squad members to request new deals themselves, presumably on the basis that if X is worth Y, then why am I not worth Z?

In fact, if you look at the current situation across my wage distribution with my Bayer 04 side, you can see that there might be an issue here. For a regular starter, Moise Kean seems to be substantially overpaid and is someone I either need to move on, or less likely sign to a contract on a lower wage. I’m ruling out the idea of playing him more because of the continued emergence of Endrick, whom I’m trying to bring through.

Fornals is perhaps arguably underpaid for a star player, but he is very young yet at 21, so I’m sure that over time he will sell higher wages to compensate for his considerable talents.

The other player that falls into this category is the world-class talent of Gabriel Solomon. The inverted winger is on a considerably cheaper salary than his peers, given his status is the squad. The vultures of the ‘bigger’ teams in the Premier League and Spain are already circling for him, so it may prove tricky to sign him to a more lucrative deal. This will be a loss given his leadership credentials as our current vice captain.


If you want to have a stable and together team, then this can quite often come from having the right people in leadership roles. In the below graphic, you can see that I’ve been able to seemingly achieve this by giving the captaincy to Engibarov despite his tender age of 21. His leadership qualities shine through on and off the pitch, with his professional personality and reserved media handling style. Whilst he doesn’t have seen to have the ability to quash any dissent in the ranks, he is at least popular and respected amongst them.

Player personalities

When it comes to player personalities, it can be important to ensure that there’s a consistency across their personality types. Too many clashes in this area can lead to disjointed thinking and unhappiness creeping into the changing room, which can affect the discord between players.

There are of course the more sought after personalities, such as model citizen, perfectionist, model professional, etc., but even then, it’s still important to have a spectrum of these across the squad, as they each have something to offer, not to mention the wider benefits of the mentoring of younger, more inexperienced players.

Player communication

Anyone who has studied Business, has any concept of managing people, or has had the fortune/misfortune of working for a good/bad boss will know how important positive communication is to enabling someone to be at their most productive. This is no different in-game.

Praising players during games, at half- and full-time, and with their training/development efforts too is vital to developing a player who feels comfortable under your leadership. Even those that are out on loan shouldn’t be immune to communication, whether that be praising their form, or again, their development.

That isn’t to say that it should be all sunshine and roses – there is a time and a place for admonishment. If a player has had a bad game, they can expect a fine to make it clear that their effort was not in keeping with expectations, and players training efforts and development will be similarly criticised. If a player doesn’t accept their effort is below the minimum required standard consistently, they won’t last long at Bayer 04. This is to maintain what is expected of all players – a willingness to give everything, not just for yourself, but for your teammate alongside you – there is no room for passengers in this side.

Squad dynamics

In an ideal world, squad dynamics would look something like the below, where everyone is part of the same, tight-knit social group.

To achieve this, and have fantastic team cohesion demonstrated below, can take time and a careful accumulation of factors, many of which are laid out above.

A significantly important factor though is winning, and winning often. It builds confidence, improves morale and a positive feedback loop is created from the training field onto the pitch on match day.

This in itself is the key point. There are a multitude of approaches required to have a happy and settled squad who are ready to go out to win a game of football. Each of them must be addressed, to a greater or lesser degree, depending upon the needs of the squad and individual personalities within it.

So how do you build a settled squad?

Cutting ties, contract renewals and player pathways

It is necessary, when the time is right, to go separate ways and move a player on from his contract, or choose not to renew a deal. This is something that cannot be overlooked when looking to recycle a team, and avoid a ‘reset’. It is better to evolve when you are playing well rather than fix a broken roof due to weakened, rotting stanchions.

Knowing when is the right time to let a player go is a key part of achieving a good squad balance. It might be the case that you need the funds to reallocate that transfer fee into other areas of the squad to address weaknesses, or that you’ve had a deal for a player that you simply cannot turn down. The situation may even be taken out of your hands by the triggering of a minimum release clause or the board accepting an offer on behalf of the club. Nevertheless, it is a necessary process – whether for financial reasons or otherwise, players do need to be evolved out of the playing squad.

Of course how you choose to do this, assuming you do have a choice, is down to the individual manager. However, there are more optimal solutions.

If you know you want to sell a player, it’s far better to do it with two or more years left on the player’s contract. This is because his transfer value will be higher than after this point because of the fact that he will be available to sign on a free transfer in less than twenty-four months. It’s a significant point to look to sell these players for maximum value because, assuming you can use this cash for transfer incomings, you’re providing yourself with greater budgets in doing so. As such, it’s important to recognise who these players are and identify them early before the transfer window opens, either to offer them out when the window opens, or to know that you would accept bids from other clubs for the player.

Equally, if you don’t wish to cut ties with a player, and they have less than two years remaining on their contract, then a negotiation needs to take place with their agent to ascertain initially their wants, and then if these are acceptable, agree upon a deal to extend their time with you.

When extending a deal, it has become an increased focus of well run clubs to consider the players age at both time of offer and also upon the end date of the contract. In part, this is to identify whether or not there would be any resale value left in the player towards the end of their contract, as discussed above.

However, it is also because clubs, at least those clubs that are well run, do not wish to become tied to a contract where the player is on a heavy pecuniarily beneficial deal where they are reluctant to leave. For instance, Moise Kean is now 29 and with two years left on his deal. With Endrick coming through, and Bundegaard being a more than able backup option, the summer transfer window represents an ideal chance to move Kean on and free up his salary to redistribute into new contracts for younger players to lock them into longer deals at prime times in their careers. Especially given that I also have other more junior players ready to step up to being the number two option.

The ‘second’ squad

To ensure that there’s sufficient strength in depth, and, should we receive an offer for a player that we simply cannot refuse, I like to have a ‘next man up’ strategy. As the graphic below nicely explains, for each position, there will be (at least) two players in the first-team squad who are natural in the position and role that I want to play within my implemented tactic. Yet, there is also often a player already registered with the club that I have signed to be the ‘next man’ up – a ready-made replacement, or a player that is developing, typically out on loan so as to receive first-team football to aid his progression.

Looking at the squad in this way helps to recognise future gaps – where we’d be short if a player did want to leave, for instance. This has led me to signing Charles and Matthew Bevis, both right-sided centre backs. Charles has returned to Sporting CP on loan to receive first-team football as he would not yet displace Diego Coppola, and Matthew Bevis will join us from Southampton in the window after turning 18-years-old. Neither of these players are cheap given their age, but it is a measure of future proofing. To replace a player like Coppola like-for-like would cost in excess of £70m, before the wage demands are even required. We’re not really in a place to be regularly able to afford such a player of that level. As such, it’s better to spend £28m and £32m (with add-ons on top) for the two new signings respectively.

Scouting and recruitment

Both of these signings were identified via our scouting network. Neither of these players appear in the graphics of the maps of Europe (ex-Germany), Germany itself and South America, which has been the focus of the majority of our recruitment. You can see from these signings how diverse the signings are, not just in terms of the countries that we’re looking to scout and recruit from, but also the clubs that we’re targetting too. The fees are also wide-ranging. Some of these came in as ready-made first-team players, like Simon Walde, Juan Manuel Fornals, Benoît Badiashile and Rafael Luís, but many are also part of our development approach, and looking to break through into first-team football here at Die Werkself. A player that has made such a leap is the aforementioned Gabriel Solomon. One look at his profile will give you an idea of how easy it could be to turn a significant profit on the net spend. It’s early days still in the progress of many of these players, but there is certainly hope that a handful more will earn minutes playing in the black and red of Bayer 04. If they do, expect them to also turn a profit for the club.

To achieve such a recruitment pathway, it’s vital to have a number of scouts with the appropriate knowledge of countries. Below is the current scouting knowledge that we have of all countries – you’ll see straight away there’s a focus towards Europe and South America. Europe for first-team ready players and youngsters, and South America for a focus on those that are ones for the future, but at bargain fees compared to their European counterparts, particularly those in the ‘Big Five’ leagues.

You’ll note that we didn’t make a single development signing from Germany, Spain, Italy, nor England until we signed Bevis from Southampton. The only signing that was with a view to development from France was that of Yohann Gaudry from Sochaux, a team famed for their academy in Ligue 2. This decision is simply because of the fees involved against the potential risk of the downside should the player not make the necessary progress that the scouts initially believed that they could.

If a player comes in under the age of 18 (those from within the EU only given labour movement regulations), they will remain within the U-19 team, getting used to youth level football in the tactical system, and learning the language. If they are over that age, they will go out on loan with the specific agreement that they are going out to play, not warm the bench. Will all of the signings that I lay out above work? No, of course not, but I only need maybe a couple, with others being sold to help fund the next youth prospect. If our own academy can supplement these like they have done with Canpolat Darande and Christian Priso, then all the better – they’re not free, given the costs involved in the youth set-up, but they do have a £0 book cost in the accounts – so if I do set them, then they’re pure profit.

This may be a long-read, and it is, undoubtably, but there’s a reason – management and good management at that, isn’t easy. It is meant to be hard. Yet, if you take various steps, and take these consider actions seriously, without trying to take shortcuts, then you will likely be rewarded with success, and be able to put yourself into a situation where winning begets more winning.

Whilst there is no doubt that it is easier in a big club, due largely to the appeal to bring in players of higher quality, and a better coaching team/training facilities, etc., but there are many tips within this piece that can help anyone to achieve success at any level.

I hope that you enjoyed reading this piece, and, until next time, auf Wiedersehen!

The Art of the Signing – Football Manager

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.

Attribute requirements

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.

Scouting reports

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.

Player traits

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!

Football Manager 2023 – Genoa CFC: Mister (2)

Ad Maiora Semper

Ciao, and welcome back to the second half of the first season at Genoa CFC. In this piece, you’ll read about the winter transfers, see how we finished off the second half of Serie B, and the financial impact of being in Serie B alongside my transfer business.

Winter transfers

After the defeat to Frosinone, Albert Guðmundsson had the temerity to come to me and challenge me on how I spoke to the team during my team talks. I didn’t appreciate his tone, so he went straight on the transfer list, offered for sale, and put into the Under-18s for good measure. A number of teams came in for the Icelandic international, but it was Mainz that sealed his signature for £2m. As you’ll see below, this netted us a net positive financial return on his time are the club given his remaining book value, as well as a very useful £2m in cash to help support our haemorrhaging of cash.

For similar financial purposes, I looked to sell Milan Badelj. At 33-years of age, and about to turn 34 in February, I wanted to extract any value I could from him. Aware I was going to take a hit on his book value, I didn’t care, given he was on £43k/week. Selling him saved £1.2m purely in his basic wage. The fact I only receive £86k from Cruz Azul, the equivalent of just two weeks wages for Badelj, is neither here nor there – I removed an unhappy player who wasn’t playing and wasn’t going to be offered another contract to add to the one that was expiring at the end of the season. On balance, this sale made financial sense.

The other player to leave was Caleb Ekuban. He’d been back up to Yeboah, but whenever he’d been given the chance to experience some minutes in his place, he looked like he’d struggle to score in a vacated goal. His shooting was wayward, and it wasn’t like we weren’t creating the same quality of chances for him. When he came to me asking to go out on loan, this seemed a good idea for both parties. Hopefully in his time at Sturm Graz, he’s able to put together a run of form to rebuild his confidence.

Despite the aforementioned financial difficulties,  I did consider bringing in a signing as cover for Yeboah on a permanent basis, I realised that if we could continue our existing form, we were likely to achieve promotion to Serie A. As such, I didn’t want to sign someone to a permanent contract who might be a good fit now, but in six months time be left with someone lacking the necessary quality to compete in Serie A. Consequently, I decided it better to look into the loan market, and add to our loanees. The search for a target didn’t take long once I spotted the name of Ezequiel Ponce. The 25-year-old Argentinian striker was unloved at Elche, and a deal was quickly agreed to bring him to the Luigi Ferraris stadium.

This meant that the squad looked like this after our Winter transfers:

League update

In truth, we won Serie B at something of a canter – the league was wrapped up with four games to go and promotion had been obtained two games prior to that. We dominated the league, going on a twenty-four game unbeaten streak, as we barely had to rotate beyond suspensions and relatively minor injuries, except Alessandro Vogliacco who broke his ankle. Our relative goal difference tells you the story of our superiority over our peers – in only four games did we have a negative xG-xGA difference.

Player analysis

This achievement, as stated in the mid-season review, is in no small part down to the form of Kelvin Yeboah, but also Mattia Aramu, Aldo Florenzi, and Henrique Pereira – my front four (after the sale of Guðmundsson). It’s only right that we take the time to investigate just how good they performances were.

In the below player analysis, rather than just copying across the in-game graphic of his spider chart to show how good each was in Serie B, I’m going to look at how well they did relative to that of other, comparative leagues. The reason for doing this is that there could, for example, be a relatively small number of players with sufficient minutes playing as a wide forward in a single league, so utilising other leagues to make a comparison makes it somewhat more reliable. The leagues I’ve chosen are 2. Bundesliga (Germany), PKO Bank Polski Ekstraklasa (Poland), Fortuna Liga (Slovakia), Ligue 2 BKT (France) and of course Serie B. The reason behind choosing these leagues is that they are all European league, with the same calendar for their respective sessions, and who are roughly comparable with Serie B given their league rankings. All players who have had their data gathered have all completed 1,000 minutes or more to avoid any small sample size of minutes skewing the data.

Kelvin Yeboah – Capocannonieri Serie B winner

Yeboah typically played with tremendous freedom, utilising his fantastic pace to run in behind defences when they had pushed up, resulting in him having a number of one-on-ones which he calmly finished on a pretty regular basis. I’m not going to pretend that he scored every week – he did, despite his fantastic figures, have some barren spells. Yet it was so often his goals which separated us from our opposition – his speed, composure, off the ball movement, and his finishing ability saw him finish the season as Serie B’s top goalscorer.

Aldo Florenzi

As the first signing I negotiated after I took on the role of Genoa manager, it was fantastic to see Aldo Florenzi perform to the standard that he achieved over the course of the season. Playing as an advanced playmaking 10, he demonstrated the ability to play the killer pass and to hit the back of the net all in one shirt. His radars show just how brilliant he was in front of goal, taking the burden away from Yeboah, whilst also nearly topping out (5th out of 109) of the assist makers per ninety across the five chosen leagues.

Henrique Pereira – Miglior calciatore giovane winner

The other new signing at the start of the season under my stewardship, when Pereira received his chance to have a run in the side, boy did he take it. He became the creator in chief of our side, laying on multiple opportunities for Yeboah and Aramu to score. You can see from the radar on the left in the below graphics just how elite his chance creation was for our side, whilst also not being shy in shot creation too (right-hand radar). For reference, the rankings are out of a total of 182 players.

His form saw him pick up the ‘Best Young Football’ award for Serie B. It’s no surprise that when he became available to speak to on a pre-contract agreement, I leapt at the chance, and was delighted that he wanted to extend his time with us beyond his initial loan.

Mattia Aramu

If Pereira was the master creator, Aramu was the master swordsman – an incredible inside forward with an eye for goal. League-leading across Serie B, and just as good if not better than anyone else playing on either side as a wide forward, it will be a shame when his loan with us end. I looked into being able to sign him on a pre-contract, but the wages he demanded would have smashed the existing wage structure. Whilst he is definitely good enough for Serie A, I couldn’t risk financial ruin and meet his £40k+ basic weekly wage.

The below graphics combine Pereira and Aramu’s metrics together into a bar chart, and compare them against the same players across the five leagues. I’ve also added the metrics for Güven Yalçın, who played in the inverted winger role that Pereira made his own following an injury to Yalçın. This gives you some idea of the level that Pereira and Aramu were able to operate at in the same side as Yalçın.

If you wish to see further graphics on the performances of the side, you can click here for the central defenders’ metrics; here for the full backs defensive metrics and here for their attacking metrics (this is well worth a look); and here for the defensive metrics of our central midfielders, here for their creativity and here for their goal-scoring actions.

Finance analysis

With the promotion that came with the form that these players achieved, which yielded the corresponding £2.15m prize money, and some careful cost-cutting, one would be forgiven for thinking that things would see growth for the financial side at Genoa CFC too, but sadly far from it.

Despite the player trading and collecting over £8m in incoming transfer fees, the player sales (those in red) and amortisation charge of this year’s incoming transfers alone led to an annual net loss of £5,626,667 in player trading alone, before the taking into consideration the cost of amortising the remaining book value of the entire team, including those out on loan (purple in colour).

The total amortisation charge for the year is £20.3m, which will go against any potential profits from trading over the year:

Safe to say, there were no booked profits for the financial year 2022-23, of which there is further evidence in the year-end cash flow analysis below:

This graphic highlights the high level of spending on player wages, bonuses and loyalty payments as a proportion of income:

The rate of spending on players being over 80% is uncomfortable and a sign that were we not to have achieved promotion, we would have been in dire straits as a club, but it can’t be taken for granted that life in Serie A is a path paved with gold either. I will need to be careful with our spending, assessing and addressing gaps in the squad, both in terms of numbers and quality, so that we can look to improve sufficiently enough to stay up and not put into trouble with the bank. It will be a tricky tightrope to walk and find that balance between pushing to avoid relegation and also pushing the club too far into the red with a potential that any transfers don’t pay off.

Yet all that, and our first games in Serie A will have to wait until next time. Will Yeboah make the step-up to the big time? Will Henrique Pereira continue to turn provider, or will that fall to some other new, as yet unknown signing? And just who will Genoa CFC bring in to replace the previous RB Leipzig loanee goalkeeper, Josep Martínez?

For that, and more, tune in next time, but until then – arrivederci!

Football Manager 2023 – Genoa CFC: Mister (1)

Nuovi inizi

Ciao, and welcome back to my first review of my time as Genoa CFC Mister. Below, you’ll read of the nuovi inizi (new beginnings) and how I’ve already begun to assert my way on the club both on and off the field.

Staff and Transfer Dealings

Assessing a new club is never easy. Taking the time to consider your options tactically given the make up of the squad, how that tactic will inform the training schedule, considering the positions and ages of players you want your scouts to be looking for, not to mention the locations you wish to send your scouts to are all lengthy and considered tasks. One thing at Genoa, however, was a simple task – one look at our coaches and I realised quickly what needed to be done – every one of them bar the assistant manager was dismissed. They were well below the standard I wished for to help improve my players on the training field, and certainly not good enough to be offering me advice on the qualities of my playing squad. In came Dennis Bergkamp (Coach), Glynn Snodin (Coach), Grégory Coupet (Goalkeeping Coach), Alberto Andorlini (Fitness Coach), Giorgio Bianchi (Goalkeeping Coach), Massimo Lo Monaco (Coach), and Roberto De Bellis (Fitness Coach), and various other members of the backroom staff to help fill appropriate gaps within our organisational structure.

If evaluating the coaching staff was relatively easy, then assessing an unfamiliar squad that is new to the league it finds itself in, and with low squad morale as a result is considerably harder. With no clear idea as to how good, or otherwise the squad is, there will need to be an initial period of establishing who is right to help this club return to Serie A and who needs to move on. Having said this, I do have the advantage of knowing who some of the players are through their reputation.

Kevin Strootman for example is a fine Dutch footballer – if prone to cruciate ligament injuries. He is with us on loan from Marseille. Yet at £49k/week I questioned whether or not to keep him around given the potential ~£2.3m saving that could be made by cancelling his loan spell. It’s not as if we are short of players for the central midfield berth either. With other options for the same position including Stefan Ilsanker, Abdoulaye Touré, Stefano Sturaro and Milan Badelj, all players I’ve had dealings with in squads in previous teams I’ve managed, there is a need for rebalancing. This list doesn’t even include Manolo Portonova, Pablo Ignacio Galdames and Morten Frendrup who also play in the same central positions.

Taking this into consideration, and with the opportunity to operate within the initial Summer transfer window, I set about putting my stamp on the side and began to look at offloading some players, and bringing in players who I felt we could develop and then sell on for a profit, as per one of the objectives the board have for the club.

Transfers Out

Out went Abdoulaye Touré, who was already transfer listed on my arrival. As were Galdames and Filip Jagiełło, yet another central midfielder, so they both left too, after being deemed not sufficiently skilled enough to operate in my side.

The other big outgoing transfer was that of ex-Juventus player Stefano Sturaro. On very high wages for someone in Serie B, and not being a first-team regular when his squad status was that of an important player, he was as keen to leave as I was for him to go. The £500k we received for him resulted in a booked loss given his remaining book value, but it was worth it to shift his big wages off our books, and to claw back some value on him rather than see him leave on a free and have to entirely write off his remaining accounting value.

Transfers In

Three midfielders having left, including two of my (relatively) younger players in this side, investing some of the received transfer fees back into buying young talent was required. I was keen to ensure that it would be for players we could provide playing time to, and offer them mentoring by the remaining experienced players within the team to help bolster their existing skills and personality.

From the get-go, my scouts were really keen on Aldo Florenzi, a 20-year-old at Cosenza, a rival of ours in Serie B. It’s not hard on first look to see why they would like him. A good price point, a range of technical and physical abilities, with the scope to improve further with the right training, game time and luck. A fee and contract was swiftly agreed, once we’d checked with his agent that he was interested in joining us.

My scouts had also highlighted 20-year-old Tim Breithaupt at Karlsruher SC very early on after I switched our focus away from just Southern Europe to include all of Europe. Whilst far from the finished article, he looks as though he could be highly mouldable into a dependable midfielder who can break up opposition attacks, whilst also being a threat in both boxes given his 6’4″ height. Breithaupt looks to be a similar player to Frendrup, in age and ability, so the two could be starting midfielders for a while to come, or more likely until a bigger club comes calling.

In analysing my squad’s depth, I also recognised how it lacked enough depth at centre back and on both wings. With deep concerns about cash flow over the rest of the season, I was keen not to spend any more cash on transfers, so I took to the loan market.

First in was Henrique Pereira, a tricky inverted winger from Benfica B, who would play a rotational option to Güven Yalçın. His general pace and technical abilities would make him a good understudy should we need him. With his contract up at the end of the year, if he’s successful here, we may well be able to bring him in permanently should we wish to.

Going back onto the loan list, I spotted someone I immediately wanted to act as back up to the central attacking midfielder and on the right wing, Samuele Vignato, who was at Monza. The 18-year-old is younger brother to Emanuele, who is a similarly talented footballer I had managed before, so I had high hopes that Vignato would prove to be an effective, cheap and versatile squad option.

Lastly, to provide cover at centre back, Parma’s 19-year-old, Alessandro Circati, was loaned in to slot into the roster behind Bani, Vogliacco and Drăgușin.

Squad Depth & Accounting Costs

After completing the player trading, the close of the transfer window saw the squad look like this (light blue means on loan with us at Genoa):

In terms of accounting costs, and a reminder there’s a focus on this because of the issues around the finances going forward this season, this sees us have a total accounting cost of £20,667,849 on player amortisation, including an additional £1,391,667 from the players purchased above, and £24,885,900 in expected basic wage expenditure over the course of the season. Net transfer expenditure, taking into consideration the remaining player book values of players sold, was -£2,516,667. A negative net transfer spend is not what we need, but the player sales did clear £3,328,000 a year from the wage costs. A more detailed overview is provided below, with out on loan players in purple and on loan at Genoa in light blue again (click the image for a new window to open and a chance to take a look at the player amortisation and basic wage costs in more detail – in fact, all images in this post are clickable):

It’s worth remembering that the accounting period is not yet over, so hopefully I can recoup more from player sales during the transfer window and resist any acquisitions, whilst also using this to consider who is worthy of retaining at Genoa. With a large number of outward and inward loans, and with more players under contract with Genoa into their final year, it will need careful consideration in the allocation of wage budget remaining as to who is retained/put up for sale/released from their contract.

Tactical adaptations

With the number of defensive midfield players available at the start of preseason, it was clear sense to play with a double pivot in front of the defence. Once this was decided, I then had to choose between 424 and 4231DM. With Florenzi coming in, and Portonova and Aramu who can play in the hole in behind the striker, 4231DM seemed the obvious choice. Kelvin Yeboah showed his potential and his sheer pace in the friendly matches, so he was going to be my starting lone striker. Güven Yalçın and Albert Guðmundsson would be the initial starting choices on either flank, as an inverted winger and winger respectively.

Yet when the season began, it became obvious that this tactic wasn’t insufficiently creative, and not attacking enough – which is relatively obvious given the roles and mentality I had adopted. The xG figures were low, with a combined 3.97 xG across the first four games, and we didn’t look like we were ever going to be in a position to score goals on a regular basis. With one win, two draws and a defeat, we were too passive and too negative in our approach for a team that is odds on favourite to win the league. I had already tweaked the roles and team instructions in these games, but to no avail, so I took the decision to abandon the two deep-lying midfielders and move them up to standard central midfield players. I also made some further tactical adjustments with the team instructions, including moving our approach from ‘balanced’ to ‘positive’. If we are better than our opponents according to the bookmakers, then it was time to start playing like it – adaptation was the way forward to go forward.

The impact was immediate, and poor F.C. Südtirol felt the full force of our new tactical approach, as we galloped to a 4-0 victory. In fact, the next four games resulted in victory, with a significant spike in xG, which rose from an average of 0.99 xG/90 to 1.95 xG/90, and whilst the xgA/90 rose from 0.6 to 0.92, the net xG-xGA rose by 0.65, making it far more likely that we would be claiming the three-point win.

The main contributor to our on-field success in this period was Kelvin Yeboah. His 12 goals against an xG of 11 accounted for 41.38% of our 29 team goals. As you can see from the (clickable) graphic below, he’s far out performed his attacking peers in Serie B when it comes to xG/90 and goals/90, with only two players having a higher goals/90. Whilst not a creative attacker, I haven’t set him up to be, he’s the fulcrum of our attack – the finisher. It’s fair to say we wouldn’t be where we are without him and you’ll notice from the amortisation graphic above that he has been rewarded with a fresh contract at the club after becoming unsettled due to feeling undervalued. Given not a single other pure striker has a goal to their name yet this season, with Coda, Pușcaș and Ekuban all failing to hit the back of the net when deputising for Yeboah, I had no option but to increase his wages and provide him with specific targets which trigger bonuses. With metrics like this, I hope he stays fit, triggers these achievable targets and gains the rewards for doing so because if he does, then it’s likely we’ll be doing well in the league as a result.

It’s also worth including analysis on Breithaupt and Florenzi, as to just how well our season is doing thus far in settling in these youngsters. They’ve benefitted from game time and have been recording high scores from coaches in training, along with the other new signing, Pereira.

Playing in the central midfield role with a defensive mindset, Breithaupt was never likely to have a flurry of goals and assists to his name. However, what is both expected and pleasing in equal measure is his defensive actions in terms of his interceptions, tackles, blocks and even fouls to break up play. What is outstanding though is his progressive passing per 90 – he’s second in Serie A, second only to our left-back Czyborra. His height of 6’4″ means it’s not suprising that he’s winning plenty of headers.

Florenzi, on the other hand, has been playing in behind the Yeboah for most of the season this, so he is expected to have a greater goal involvement. 0.28 npG/90, with an additional 0.28 assists/90 (above his 0.14 xA/90 – giving you some idea how good Yeboah’s finishing has been) mean that he’s been a valuable goal contributor. Making 1.39 key passes/90, and a relatively impressive 2.63 progressive passes/90 given that he’s been part of the leading pack for attacking midfielders.

With the team second in the league at the break, behind an impressive Cagliari team, time will tell if we can sustain our run at immediate return to Serie A. Hopefully the new players continue to adapt to each other and the team in general to try to claw back the lead that Cagliari have establish. It’s been a productive few months in charge, and I hope to continue to bring about more success in forming a greater team ethic, whilst trimming off more of the unwanted players as I settle on a core squad.

That will be left for review the next episode in this series to reveal, where I will look to dive deeper into our player performances and the impact of our team on our finances – both good and bad.

I hope you enjoyed reading the latest update on fortunes on and off the playing field at the Statio Luigi Ferraris – and, until next time, arrivederci!

Football Manager 2023 – Genoa CFC

Coming to decide upon a Football Manager save is typically never an easy process, especially given the amount of teams that are available to manage straight ‘out of the box’. Though, I guess that should really be straight from download these days…. However, for me, this year wasn’t that much of a challenge at all. I had been missing the calcio life I’d had in my AC Milan save back in Football Manager 2020, and so I took a quick look around Serie A and B and soon realised that it was Genoa CFC that was the standout option for me.

Why? Well during the Summer months, I can be found on Saturdays playing cricket for my local team, so the cricketing history of the club appealed to me. Equally, the club was relegated last season to Serie B, so there’s something of a rebuild to be done. It also has an impending financial disaster coming its way – Serie B prize money is only available for those that are promoted to Serie A, and even then it’s only £2.15m. The TV prize money is also similarly meagre. Combine this with still paying some players Serie A-level wages (and Serie A wages towards the top of the league at that), there’s a need to carefully monitor finances throughout this save even if I do achieve a swift promotion back to Serie A. For the record, the media make us 1/10 on, so no pressure there then. The club also have £45.5m of debt to repay, up until 2039, at the rate of £215k/month, some £2.58m/year. There goes that prize money and more for achieving any promotion.

To help me track the financial progress, I’ll be utilising the same Football Manager Finance Spreadsheet (FMFS™), I created and wrote about for Football Manager 2022 (see the below graphic (click the image for an enlarged view)). Fingers crossed, using this to determine whether I should be looking to move players on using their amortisation values based upon their remaining book values against any incoming transfer bids, and spotting those players who are not earning their keep with exorbitant contracts, I’ll be able to first minimalise the damage, and then seek to use it to inform my decision-making over how much I can actually afford to spend, irrespective of the transfer budget I’m given by the club board.

Southampton FC Finances 2027-28

Speaking of the club board, the owners of Genoa CFC are 777 Partners, a US investment firm. This has a strong echo of the reason I chose to take up the aforementioned AC Milan save, who until fairly recently were owned by Elliott Management, before bought by RedBird. 777 Partners, alongside full ownership of Genoa, have a minor stake in Sevilla, have full control over Paris-based Red Star FC (a Championnat National side), Standard Liège in Belgium, and a 70% stake in Vasco de Gama in Brazil. Genoa were the latest club to be added to the ranks, bought in September 2021, but given its relegation last season, it’s fair to say that things hadn’t gone as planned for 777 Partners. I’ll be looking to utilise the connections between the clubs – Standard Liège are already affiliated, with the ability for Genoa’s players to head out on loan there. The other clubs aren’t currently directly linked through affiliation, so I’ll look to agree deals with these teams if at all possible during the ownership of 777 Partners. If 777 Partners leave and there’s a takeover that isn’t a board takeover, I’ll likely look to terminate these agreements. However, being able to agree any more affiliations could be a little tricky as the club already has more than forty affiliates (yes, you did read that right).

The club board also expects a swift return to Serie A, though they only expect promotion rather than winning Serie B. The other board objectives include signing players to sell for a profit, signing young players to develop and sell for a profit, and to work within the wage budget. All excellent objectives. For the fans, they demand high-pressing and defensively solid football. Again, a good fit for my management style, though I may look to dial up the possession a little more given our supposed dominance in Serie B. Having only won four games and scored only twenty-seven goals all season in their relegation year, there will need to be a change in mentality and approach.

The final cherry on the metaphorical cake was that one of Genoa CFC’s managers in their early existence was a fellow North-West Englishman – William Garbutt. He immigrated to Genoa in search of work as a dockworker, after being forced to retire from his playing career due to injury. He brought about revolutionary training schemes, worked on player fitness, and concentrated on tactics, resulting in Genoa transitioning from a semi-amateur side into an all-conquering side, winning three championships in fifteen years. The clincher is that Garbutt is died in Warwick, not too far away from where I live, to not much heraldry. He was the original Mister for the Genoese, the father of football to Italy, and a man who believed that training with the ball was a necessity to improve players, according to the book “Mister: The Men Who Gave the World the Game”, by Rory Smith. I hope to become the latest Mister and join the pantheon of these figures by applying my own style, whilst staying true to past masters, including in modern methods of training.

William Thomas Garbutt, “Mister Pipetta”

I would like to be able to do justice to this history and put the side back into Serie A, before establishing them as a top-ten side. This could be a little different to more recent saves, despite the parallels, thanks in part to the new recruitment model within Football Manager 2023. For the most part, my intention is to set up/adjust the recruitment strategies/foci, and then leave my scouts alone. There’s an expectation to sign players from the lower leagues, which tends not to fit with my model of player acquisitions because, well, they’re normally rubbish. What I expect is the reality here is that they want to continue with the ludicrous number of players that are in the youth teams. Equally, there’s an expectation to sign high profile players – a clash of objectives if ever I heard one. So much for working inside the wage budget.

The additional benefit of choosing Genoa is that my good Football Manager amico, FM Stag, has chosen Sampdoria as his team for his main save. As such, at the end of each in-game year, we’ll be playing our own Derby della Lanterna against one another to build an extra bit of interest into our saves. It’s certainly made me think carefully about how to go about player recruitment and retention. Given the quality in our respective squads, I expect to lose heavily until I am able to make Genoa a force in Serie A. That said, I’ll be giving up some ground to Stag if he’s able to work his magic and achieve European football early on into his save with the financial power that this will unlock. I just hope that Stag doesn’t go the same way that Sampdoria are going in real life.

I trust that you enjoyed this introduction to my return to calcio – and until next time, arrivederci!

Finances in Football Manager – Southampton 2026-27 Quadruple Review

Having completed a season in which Southampton FC won (almost) everything, missing out only on the European Super Cup, I thought it worth a blog post to see how this affected the finances of the club, and what this could enable the club to achieve with regard to infrastructure, player recruitment and improvements within the backroom staff with these funds.

Club Finances

Prize money unsurprisingly saw the largest growth by nominal value – a jump of £71.4m on the previous year, when we’d won the UEFA Europa League. Winning the Champions League and Premier League had a significant positive impact across just about all areas – including a boost to sponsorship revenues, as success on the pitch enabled the marketing team to bargain for more cash-generative deals.

The growth in revenue across match days can be best seen in the graph below – significant jumps in gate receipts thanks to the additional revenues from Champions League fixtures and the increased ticket prices, coupled with a big jump in merchandising as shirt sales rose dramatically with fans seeking to purchase their own piece of memorabilia of the momentous season.

Understandably, the increase in games combined with the success on the field meant that there were negative impacts upon cash outflows.

Bonuses rose by more than 50% on the back of contractual player performance targets being met, including team of the year, goals/assists, trophies, and general squad objectives. Player wages also rose as they met triggers for appearances, and due to general wage increases as player/agent demands grew as a direct result of the string of wins the side were able to put together. Given a broad view amongst club officials that there could be little if any improvement made by selling these players for viable alternative incomings, the decision was made to reward these players.

The large profits made over the financial year meant that HMRC took over £45m in tax, significantly higher than in any other year, taking away a large proportion of the additional revenues generated from the various trophies that were accumulated over the season.

That said, net cash flow for the financial year remained strongly positive, with a growth of over £62.8m.

This saw the closing balance, i.e. cash held on account, rise to just shy of £228.6m.

The above cash inflows also highlight the sharp drop in player sales compared to the previous financial year. Whilst some fees were still being paid in instalments for deals agreed in previous years, there was a marked drop-off in sales completed in this financial year, in both financial value and in volume. A fall of just less than £122m in cash received from player sales meant cash inflows actually fell despite the club’s trophy haul.

This was balanced out by a reduction in transfer expenditure, as seen in the cash outflows. At the start of the season, there was a determination to keep a settled side. Accordingly, the only transfer that was sanctioned for the first team was that of Nicolò Rovella from Borussia Dortmund for his minimum release fee of £32m, and this took place in the January transfer window when an incoming bid for Nicolás Domínguez was accepted. Other incoming deals were for youth team players, with the remainder of the expenditure accounted for by instalments on prior purchases in previous financial years.

The lower level of player acquisition costs compared to transfer outgoings receipts meant that the net transfer spending for the club kept at a healthy -£60.87m after last year’s bonanza year of £134.77m.

As of the end of the financial year the following prior transfer deals still had payments yet to be received (debtors to Southampton FC) or paid by the club (creditors to Southampton FC).

With a net £44.9m in transfer debt still owed to the club, and a very healthy cash balance, the club finds itself in rude health both on and off the field. Time to make hay whilst the sun shines with some prudent investments.


During the season, I approached the board of directors to request an increase in capacity as Saint Mary’s. They agreed, and so set about agreeing plans with the local council to extend the size of the ground. A total of 16,000 seats are to be added with a completion date of June 2028, though it will mean a move to the 40,600 all-seater Southampton Community Arena at the start of next season whilst building work is completed.

All other aspects of the club are already maximised when it comes to facilities and the board have been rejecting requests for further affiliates, so it’s a case of waiting for the stadium to be expanded before any other plans are put into place. These plans would also be reliant upon continued qualification to European, and realistically, Champions League, football and the cash inflows that come with this achievement.

Backroom staff

With a number of staff contracts up for renewal in key positions, the opportunity was taken to review all areas.

Out went assistant manager, the technical director, director of football, and head of youth development who had been in place since the start of my contract with Southampton. All were deemed to be good but there was potential for improvement across the board in these roles. There were also changes in more minor staffing roles at youth levels too with fresh analysts and coaches brought in to replace those whose contracts were to expire.


It might sound strange to speak of prudence when the club has won an unprecedented (in real life) quadruple and when the club is going from strength in its books too, but there’s a good reason for saying this. One look at the club’s combined expenditure on the squad, and you’ll see that this side was not put together by splashing significant piles of money on transfer fees, agent fees, loyalty bonuses, and player wages. The apple cart needs not to be rocked – but the orchard might need a bit of pruning here and there and some new trees planted.

The below shows the players in the first team squad at the start of the quadruple season, and any player in red was sold at some point during that season. Equally, any player that was added to the playing squad was included in the spreadsheet and then indicated as a new purchase to help calculate the total cost of player acquisitions in that financial year according to accounting laws, i.e. amortisation. The current record transfer is that of Alexis Mac Allister from South coast rivals, Brighton & Hove Albion for £73m. Whilst we are in a position to match such a fee again, with more proof of this below, do we need to?

To further prove that there is a sufficient transfer war chest, here, you can see that Nicolás Domínguez and Omar Alderete were both sold and that five players were signed, including the aforementioned Nicolò Rovella. The remaining signings were all (newgen) youth team players.

To calculate the profit for the financial year from player trading, then the difference in accounting terms between player sales (regardless of when actual payment is received) and player purchases (again, regardless of when actual payment is made) needs to be worked out. The below graphic shows how the remaining book value of the two players sold (literally how much of their transfer fee was still to be amortised across the rest of their contract) has to be deducted from the agreed transfer fee. Once this is done, this needs to be summed, and then the first year of the amortised value of the newly acquired players is taken away to reveal a profit of £34.9m in player trading for the year.

Now to the ‘should we?’ part of the question. The below graphic lays out the entire first team squad, their age relative to that of the peak age for that position in the Premier League as calculated by The Athletic’s (former) writer Tom Worville, and next to it their respective minutes played across all competitions.

GK – An ageing goalkeeper in Çakir, though not old for a goalkeeper by any means, and a young replacement in (newgen) Antonio López, tells me we’re relatively well stocked in net, and there is another (newgen) goalkeeper playing for the U23s, so no cover is needed here, but something to think on in a year or twos time.

CD – both Pérez and Struijk are at the absolute prime age for centre-backs, and newgen’s Morgan and Bentancourt have seen good minutes to aid their development. Morgan is already an England international despite being a 21-year-old centre-back, but does lack in natural fitness to be able to play back-to-back games, with cup and continental fixtures regularly falling into midweek. Here is a position where another player could be brought in to act as a backup to avoid any possible availability crisis in a crucial position. To maintain potential future sale value and maximize any future player trading profits, a young player is preferred, but age doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker given the current age profile in this position.

FBs – Livramento is the only player in this position to be at peak age according to minutes played by Premier League players in this position in real life. The rest are all older. This is clearly a concern given that Malacia has made it clear he wishes to leave, threatening to run down his contract if he’s unsold and demanding a replacement is signed to enable his departure. Livramento is also unsettled at the club, believing he’s deserving of a bigger club – clearly our trophy cabinet isn’t resplendent enough for him after this year’s haul(!). Here, my scouts will need to do some work and investigate if any wide defensive players of a suitable age are capable of playing as the sole wide player in my 4312 tactic. I suspect their work may be hard graft from previous reports.

CMs – After adding Rovella into the central midfield pack, there looks to be a nice balance across players available for the midfield three. Two players for each player role, and Morten Thorsby, a model citizen, to provide versatility across all three roles, as well as (newgen) Ricardo who received a handful of minutes across cup games. We could add more depth here to replace Thorsby, but this isn’t a priority – Thorsby is a valuable mentor to players given his personality.

AMs – A nice blend of youthfulness in Schjelderup and the more experienced Mac Allister means there’s nothing to be done here, with both Satriano, Lomelí and Esposito able to drop into this role if necessary. Equally, three of the five players acquired for the youth team over the course of the season specialise in the advanced midfield position. Already well-stocked and good to go for the future here.

STs – Similar story in the forward line – all players are below the prime age for Premier League minutes according to the number of minutes played by players. Only Satriano and Lucca are entering their peak years. This makes their 98 goals and 44 assists all the more impressive for a group so relatively young. I do have my doubts that (newgen) Ben Wilson is of the required standard for the Premier League, I could seek to loan him out, but he’s a home-grown player, albeit through being at Southampton for more than three years prior to the age of 21 rather than coming through our youth system, so he’s useful for qualification.

So to surmise, a new centre back to add more depth given the number of games the team could potentially play this season, and anything else isn’t a priority barring any sales, though again none of these are necessary given the balance of the team.


First target was to land the centre back happy enough to be a squad option at best, and when Burnley were relegated, a bid matching Kaiky’s relegation release clause was submitted for £34m. This was after first checking with his agent that he would be happy to come in on the aforementioned playing terms. Other options were clear that they would want more substantial minutes, which I was not prepared to offer after being relatively happy with both Morgan’s, Pérez’s and Struijk’s numbers last year. Getting in before Manchester City bid on Kaiky meant that signing number one was in the bag before the Summer transfer window had even opened.

The next transfer was the sale of Lomelí to Borussia Dortmund for £29m, netting a booked profit of £25.4m on the player. Never likely to be a first choice option for us, and with two years left on his contract, I decided to cash in on the player now but know that Dortmund were very likely to put in place a very reasonable minimum fee release clause should I decide to buy him back again. As it happened, Dortmund signed another forward shortly after Lomelí, who then immediately took a dislike to this and asked to leave. Wolfsburg came in for the Mexican international, but he must have rejected their terms and remained unhappy at Dortmund. No forward option was considered given the lack of players that were of satisfactory quality and happy to be back up.

There were attempts to resolve Malacia’s desire to leave by trying to sign Vasilis Zagaritis from Parma for a ridiculous release fee of £4.5m. Zagaritis and his agent stated that he was happy to come in as a back-up option to Mykolenko during contract negotiations, but he ultimately chose to sign a new deal with Parma. There was a new £9.6m minimum fee release clause, which I tried to trigger, but he had no interest in speaking to the club.

Livramento also remains at the club despite handing in a transfer request. No bid was forthcoming, despite rumoured loan interest from Man UFC, Real Madrid and potentially Barcelona. Clearly though, no club had the transfer funds to meet his minimum release clause of £120m.

Instead, the only other incoming was a wonderkid midfielder, Kevin Mensink, signed from AZ Alkmaar for his £71m release fee. Liverpool were rumoured to be interested in him, and I realised after intense scrutiny in his attributes, stats for the previous season, and consideration of what he could bring to our side in the present and the future – I couldn’t see him go to Premier League rival. I chose note to sell any other midfielders, despite my own concerns about how this might impact upon playing time and happiness. I was keen for Thorsby to mentor Mensink, but both he and Kaiky had already played too much first team football for any mentoring to have any impact upon them. This is something I need to consider – for top-level wonderkids, it’s a short window when they can be mentored.

Beyond that, the only other signature was that of Netherlands U21 central defender René Udenhout (a newgen) from Sparta Rotterdam for an initial £7m, rising to £10.5m depending upon various targets with a loan back to Sparta also contained within the deal.

Sales of two homegrown youth prospects were also sanctioned, along with that of Francisco Conceição, and new deals were agreed with a number of first-team players, leaving the contract situation looking like this:

I hope this blog post gave you an idea as to how the funds were generated from the tremendous success in the 2026-27 season, and how, hopefully, I’ve used it to build the club for further future success. Time will only tell on that one.

If you liked the above post, then please leave a like and feel free to share on Twitter too, and if you aren’t already following me on there, you can do so here.

Finances & Football Manager

Those readers who follow me on Twitter (@afmoldtimer) will possibly already know that I’ve been keeping a record of the finances in my Southampton save. As someone with a background in finance and a degree in Economics, it’s probably no surprise to anyone that I have focussed on and enjoyed writing about player/team data within Football Manager, and now finances.

The Twitter threads that I posted for 2022-23, 2023-24, 2024-25, 2025-26 are here on the excellent Thread Reader app site. The latter thread is particularly detailed, as evidenced by some of the charts below, where I went into a deeper dive across a five-year timeframe to compare, essentially how it started and how it’s going. If you are interested in how to collate this data, keep reading:

You might be wondering why I’ve gone to this level of trouble taking note of all this data. Well, have you ever wondered just how much your club is spending on its youth academy to generate its (so-called) talent? If each and every one of the youth intake for a number of years isn’t good enough for your first team, using a data-driven approach to support this might be indicative that you may need to encourage the board to spend more on youth coaching or youth facilities to improve the quality of youngsters you can attract and their current/potential abilities. Or, more likely, you need to sack your Head of Youth Development and replace them with a better candidate.

Perhaps you’re curious as to just how much cash you’ve generated in net transfer spend by signing wonderkids and selling them for a profit? Many of us take this approach when playing the game, taking on a smaller team to sign talents before developing them and selling them on. Just how good at this are you? And how much extra are you able to generate in gate receipts, season ticket sales, merchandising, and match day income as the crowds flock to see your side play?

Convinced? I thought so.

Cash is king…

I made a decision at the end of the first year of my save to record the cash inflows and outflows of the club on a spreadsheet so I could track the impacts of the player trading and the side effects of any improvements in onfield developments. I then played ahead for another year and did the same at the end of the next season. I purposefully recorded this at the end of the season, when the finance period ended, so that I had a direct comparison between full financial years, comparing like-for-like. This happens in Football Manager when the inbox comes up with the new sponsorship deals, best shirt sales, etc.

At this point, should you wish to do the same, you need to record the cash inflows and outflows of the now previous season as the game will have ticked over into the new financial year.

This is rather simple – if you use a dual-screen setup, simply type across the inflows/outflows into the cash inflow/outflow list under the relevant title/year. Should you, like me, use a laptop, you’ll need to tab in and out of Football Manager to your spreadsheet.

To make this easier for you, I’ve created a base template using Google Sheets that is free to use. Click here for the Google Sheet, click ‘File’, ‘Download’ and then select the option to download it as a ‘Microsoft Excel’ file, where you will be able to edit it (once enabling this option in Excel). Should you prefer to work in Google Sheets, you’ll need to download as per the above and then re-upload the Excel sheet into Google Sheets.

The first thing you will need to do at the very start of your save (or if you so choose, at the end of a financial year in a save you’ve already started) is to record the opening bank balance that you find in the Finances tab. Put this into the Opening Balance. It’s imperative that you do this to record the amount of the cash that your club started with at the end of the season. Miss this – everything else won’t work. If you do choose to use this part way through your save, only record the Opening Balance at the start of the new financial year and wait another twelve months to record all the inflows and outflows that have happened over that time in the same column in the relevant constituent part.

It’s worth noting that the various different elements of cash inflows and outflows vary across league systems. I know for a fact that Germany’s finance page differs from that of the Premier League. Therefore, you will need to adjust the titles of the various elements of the cash flow to reflect what’s relevant to your team/league. For reference, the provided Google Sheet is set up for the Premier League.

The spreadsheet is set up to automatically calculate the percentage change for the first two years and the changes in the actual sums for the first two years. However, you’ll need to adjust those formulae in those columns as the years progress to show the change year on year.

The same isn’t true of the far end of this tab – this section calculates the percentage of the specific cash inflow/outflow relative to that of the total cash inflows/outflows. This is a good tool to see how reliant your club is on player sales for cash generation, or how much you’re spending on player acquisitions relative to your other inflows.

Another automated part of the spreadsheet is the net transfer spend for each of the first five years, along with cumulate net transfer spend for the first five years too. This is set up to read the relevant information from the right cells, so there should be nothing to do here but enter the raw data into the cash inflow and outflows. I’ve also popped in another automated calculation for player spending as a proportion of total income – I’ve taken player wages, bonuses, and loyalty bonuses. This is useful to track to ensure that you have a balance between wage expenditure and income to ensure that you don’t end up like Bournemouth, Leicester, and QPR who have all been clubs with wage expenditure greater than income. To give you some idea of what to look out for, UEFA recommends a ratio of no more than 70% wages/income.

If you do decide to download the Google Sheet and use it as an Excel spreadsheet, after at least two years of data collection, you could create a PivotChart (Inset, PivotChart, Enter) (note that a PivotTable option isn’t available in Google Sheets, although PivotCharts are). The set-up you’d need to have to make the PivotChart work is shown below:

You can use the provided filter to select the area that you want to directly highlight, as shown by the graphs I provided above to show the youth setup and merchandising.

Player Amortisation

You’ll also notice that there’s an additional set of tabs available for you, one of which says ‘Amortisation’.

This tab enables you to calculate the player amortisation for any player acquisitions you make on your save, or indeed of the squad you’ve inherited. If you want to stick to a realistic approach as to how football finance actually works, then this is the tab for you.

Amortisation is an accounting term that is how assets are written down over time, similar to depreciation. In the case of player acquisitions (i.e. buying a player), the cost is (typically) broken down over the duration of a player’s contract.

For example, Liverpool signed Kostas Tsimikas from Olympiakos for a reported £11m. That £11m fee will have been amortised over his five-year contract – effectively, the cost of the transfer fee will be divided by five since that’s how many years he could be expected to be at Liverpool. Liverpool will book the amortisation charge of £2.2m each year in their accounts either until his contract expires (at which point his book value would be £0), he’s sold (where they will take the value of the sale and minus this from his remaining book value (literally the accounting value to the club that’s left)), or when he signs a new deal (more on how this works below).

If at any stage, a new contract were to be agreed upon, the amortisation charge needs to be adjusted to reflect the length of the new deal. This is taken care of by some calculations in some hidden columns, and by entering in the details of the year in which the new contract was agreed and the number of years that the new contract is to span over. Thanks to Ben Philip on Twitter for helping me solve an issue I had with this.

To give you an idea of what a completed Amortisation tab should look like, I’ve provided a completed version below for my Southampton save:

Profit is prince…

In the next part, working out the remaining book value of the squad is also taken care of for you in the next tab ‘Squad Book Value’. This takes the data you’ve entered into the Amortisation tab and brings across the player’s name and remaining book value. The reason this is important is that this helps you to calculate the true accounting profit/loss of your player trading. This is what team clubs really care about, not net transfer spending. The reason they care about this is that this helps drive the available transfer funds that a club can offer its manager to spend in the market, helping to explain why Everton could only afford to bring in one player on a fee last year in real life (Demarai Gray – ~£1.8m) – they had to take huge player amortisation charges, and also write-downs (where an asset is declared less valuable than it was previously recorded as, usually because of an issue with that asset, which in Everton’s case was that their players weren’t as good as they had originally thought they were).

When a club amortises, this is reflected in its balance sheet. At this point, I’d love to be able to show you how balance sheets work in Football Manager, but I’m afraid there are huge gaps of knowledge, e.g. in terms of values of fixed assets and equity to be able to put one together, so this is not possible to replicate.

However, tracking the remaining squad book value is useful, especially when considering who to sell to help balance the books with regard to FFP (or Profit and Sustainability rules in real life). This is because if you sell a player for more than his remaining book value, that will be the profit that will go into the club’s accounts. Sell a player for less than their remaining book value and you’ll be recording a loss on your profit and loss account (again, not possible to show in Football Manager).

If your club is set to fail FFP, it’s important to know which player could be sold to tip the balance to avoid fines/being banned from European football. This is why I’ve created this final tab. You will need to have the remaining book value of each of the players in your squad (including any youth players). Any players that have come through your youth intake will have a book value of £0 (or equivalent currency) as they have directly cost your club nothing in player transfer fees. This is why for ‘Man UFC’, both Marcus Rashford and Scott McTominay have a £0 book value – not because they’re worthless to the club, but because they have a £0 acquisition value.

Once you’ve inputted the players in your squad into the Amortisation tab, it will then automatically populate the remaining book values into the second column. To calculate the potential profit for the club, you will need to input the bid that’s been made for your player into the third column which will then see the fourth column automatically populate the book profit for your club. The bottom of this column will then self-populate the total profit from player sales. Note – this is not the profit from player trading – after all, it does not take into account the player acquisition costs.

Instead, I’ve added an extra column in the Amortisation tab for you to identify the new signings you have made for your club within the financial year. A simple Y in that column will suffice, which triggers a sum of all base transfer fees that you have spent on players in that year and then deducts the booked profit that you have made from selling players. This is the true reflection of profits from player trading.

Again, to give you an idea of what this will look like once you’ve inputted your player data, here is my Southampton save again:

After that financial year has ended, record the profit/loss from player trading (by all means create another tab for this), and then go back to the Amortisation tab to delete any players that you’ve since sold, so that you can reset your spreadsheet, and update any new contracts as you go along. This will have the spreadsheet ready to go for the next financial year when you can start adding in new players that you’ve acquired.

If you have any questions about any of the above – and I suspect quite a few will – feel free to contact me on Twitter – @afmoldtimer – or leave a comment on this post.

Football Manager 2022: 4-3-1-2 – Third-man runs

I made an early decision to take a break from the Football Manager blogging scene, besides my guest blogging piece for FM Grasshopper where I took a deep dive into his trequartista using the available data to show just how well he had played. I’ve chosen not to diarise my save largely down to time commitments at work, so this way I could at least play when time allowed between a heavy workload.

Previous blogs I’ve written have typically focussed on looking at the save I was playing through from a data perspective too – using data analysis to back up scout reports and an overview of the player attributes to outline my reasonings for signing players. This was true of both my AC Milan save in FM20 and in my (much-missed from my perspective) Le Havre save in FM21.

Tactical writing

My work, and my over-ambition with the number of players I’ve loaded up into my save, has meant I’m only four and a half seasons into my save with Southampton in FM22. Curiously, despite my penchant for data, I’ve rarely used the data analysis information that’s available to managers in the game, and I’ve not created a single spreadsheet/extracted any of the data from the game itself (though I did for the write up for FM Grasshopper). So it should therefore be of no surprise for you to read that this blog is not about data (if you’ll excuse one pie chart), but a tactical write-up of the recent transition to a 4-3-1-2 that I have made with Southampton, and the third-man runs that this has enabled within the tactical setup.

I decided to transition to a two-striker system, away from the typical 4-3-3DM system I tend to favour for a couple of reasons. The European giants were placing bids on my players – Karim Adeyemi was picked up by Man UFC for an unrefusable £90m; Yusuf Demir was sold to PSG for £70m; Arthur Theate went to Arsenal for £65m; Benjamin Šeško left for Borussia Dortmund in a £54m deal; Kiril Despardov joined Serie A’s Atalanta for £38m, and Keane Lewis-Potter headed to Premier League rivals Leicester for £36m. Four of these were the main wide plays that I’d been playing as inside forwards/inverted wingers, so there was something of a necessity to make a switch. However, I was also conscious that I often felt that the lone striker was too isolated when opposition teams sat deep.

This led to me going for a 4312 system, with a ‘flat’ central midfield in terms of their starting positions in the tactical line-up. My original thought was to have Šeško as one of those forwards, but as Southampton, I’m not in a position to turn down big deals for my players when a Champions League club comes calling, so off he went.

Many before me have written about this already, but it’s important to think about a tactical set-up not in isolation of the roles but as part of a larger picture, a jigsaw. Pieces have to fit and work together. For a balanced tactic, and for overloads to be created without being completely wide open at the back, it’s necessary to find harmony between different tactical player roles. With a central midfield trio, there is always room for a runner, a playmaker, and a more defensively minded player. This is precisely the method I typically favour, regardless of whether they are in a line, or whether the player in the defensive hole is a playmaker, like a Pirlo, or a play-stopper, such as Fabinho.

As such, I have taken to using Ivan Ilić as a left-footed mezzalla on the left of the trio, with Monchu typically playing the deep-lying midfield role in the centre (swapping out with Nicolás Domínguez), and then a carrilero on the right-hand side, with Pobega often taking up this starting berth. The mezzalla is the runner, with the wing-back on his side set to support, joining the attack when it is pertinent to do so, but not at too greater risk. Conversely, the carrilero is the shuttler, acting as a defensive cover for Livramento bombing down the right-hand flank as a wing-back on attack, who is told via player instructions to stick to the touchline given his pace and crossing ability. This leaves my formation and player roles looking like this:

The front line trio consists of an attacking midfielder, who is just that – set to attack – with Schjelderup typically playing in this position, although I have just signed Alexi Mac Allister from Brighton to come in as a specialist attacking midfielder. The idea is that this player can drive into the space between the two forwards as they look to drag opposing defenders out of position via their movement either with or without the ball. Alternatively, he can drift into space toward either flank, in between defensive lines to over an overload, before making a forward run.

The two strikers in this system are designed to stretch defenders both vertically and laterally. The left-sided striker is an advanced forward, who looks to move into channels – this is filled by the frankly magnificent Lorenzo Lucca, a genuine man mountain. The right-sided striker is a deep-lying forward on attack (Sebastiano Esposito) looks to drop into space between the defensive and midfield lines of the opponents, trying to bring a defender out with him, but failing that, to turn and offer a pass either behind the lines to the onrushing attacking midfielder, mezzalla, or the advanced forward who is playing more on the shoulder of the defenders, or out wide to Livramento who can then whip in a cross to the aforementioned teammates. This is the art of what I look to establish within build-up play, and a hypothetical example is shown below:

Here, the ball starts with the carrielo, who has drifted out wide as the right-wing back has bombed on ahead of him. This is something that the carrielo is designed to do, although at times they too can be quite vertical/progressive in their runs depending upon the play at the time. The carrielo plays the pass into the deep-lying forward who has his back to goal and can immediately lay off the pass to the attacking midfielder, who, in turn, can then play a pass behind the lines of the opponents for the advanced forward to run on to meet to have a one-on-one against the goalkeeper if not tracked by his marker.

If you look more closely at the hypothetical example, you can see how this tactical style has its advantages in the build-up. The carrielo has an option to play a pass in behind the opposition left winger to his right-back teammate who could also hit the advanced forward with an immediate pass as the opposition left-back is too tied up with supporting the left-sided centre back with the deep-lying forward who has drifted towards the left-flank to open up the passing lane for the attacking midfielder. There is also the option to go back to the deep-lying midfielder who is in space and unmarked, who could spread the ball out to the left where there is a potential overload on the opposing right-back. All these approaches could be used to unpick what, on the face of it, could have been seen as a good defensive set-up from the opposition. Yet the carrielo most likely could not have played a successful pass into the advanced forward because in all likelihood it would have either been over hit and collected by the goalkeeper or intercepted by a defender who had time to adjust their body position given the distance that the ball has to travel.

Whilst Southampton score a number of goals from this tactic, including quite a few from set-pieces thanks to the height and strength of Lucca, what I have chosen to isolate within this approach though is the third-man run. The art of a player running off the ball into space, but found after an interchange of passes between two (or more) players. The above hypothetical example would technically be a fourth-man run, but it still is seen as a third-man run. The deep-lying forward cannot make the pass behind the defensive line as it is blocked by the defender behind him. However, the attacking midfielder can – one swift touch of leather on leather (or whatever boots and balls are made of these days) unlocks the central defence through a quick exchange of passes and an off-the-ball movement of a third player not involved in the initial set of passes.

This type of movement has been seen time and time again within my save since switching to the 4312.

As you can see from the below graphic, through balls have been the predominant method of assists for the team over the last forty games. Some fifty-five goals have been scored as a result of this method of assist, with a further forty coming in crosses.

This highlights how often penetrative runs have been found by our players. Not all of these fifty-five assists will have been from third-man runs, but a good number have. To achieve this, the players collectively need a combination of good anticipation, off-the-ball movement, vision, passing, technique, and ideally some player traits, such as ‘arrives late in the box’, ‘gets into opposition area’ and ‘tries killer balls often’.

The below examples are both taken from the same game in the Carabao Cup Semi-Final Second Leg against Everton (in an 8-2 victory).

Starting with the less obvious third-man run, partly because on first inspection it looks like a hopeful long ball from midfield, we see a goal kick from Pickford, which is played down by Nehuén Pérez to Schjelderup who has dropped in to support the midfield.

He plays a quick pass to Pobega, who almost without any thought, hits a first touch pass over the top of the Everton defence who pushed out too far. This is because Ilić has already set off on a run in the space between the right-sided centre back and the right back.

Ilić has timed his run perfectly to spring their offside trap, leaving him with a one-on-one against Pickford, which he duly slots home.

Ilić’s movement off the ball is a third-man run. Schjelderup has his back to the Everton goal after receiving the pass from Nehuén Pérez, and so he could not have played the ball through to Ilić. However, Pobega did have that line of view, vision and ability to play the ball through for the assist to the goal. Several things had to come together for this goal to occur, not just the timing and accuracy of the pass and the off-the-ball run. Everton’s defence had to have pushed up too far too fast, and Pickford had to be slow off his line. Pérez also had to have the composure to knock the ball down to a teammate rather than give away possession.

Take a look at those two images again in more detail and you’ll notice some other subtleties that make this goal possible. With two strikes up front, both of Everton’s central defenders have no option but to go man for man. Both are touch tight when the ball is played through to Ilić, but this in itself causes them a problem. None of the Everton players have seen Ilić’s run off the ball, at least not until it’s too late, and the deep-lying forward has made it impossible for the left-sided centre back to track back because of his movement towards the midfield, drawing him out of position.

The second example also involves Schjelderup, but this time as the goalscorer. Pascal Struijk (23) has won a loose ball and played it into Tommy Doyle (substituted on for Ilić), who lays off a pass to Tyrell Malacia, the left wing-back. Malacia then whips in a deep pass/cross to the on-rushing Schjelderup, who is running through the open gap that is the Everton centre backs who aren’t marking any of the three forward players for Southampton.

Lucca is in effect looking to cheat the Everton defence here by standing in what is just an off-side position, but this may have served to distract the Everton defence, and they have ignored Schjelderup. He bursts through on goal and duly scores by shooting past Pickford. The Everton defending is in general lacklustre, to be polite, with no real pressing, no marking and too much space in which to play the pass and to run into.

Just to prove that it’s not just Everton’s defence that were, in part, exploited by this player movement, here’s Tommy Doyle scoring against Watford courtesy of a third-man run. The play has developed to the point where Pobega has just delivered a pass infield to Monchu. Here you can see the roles of the respective players – Pobega, as the carrielo drifting out wide, dragging the Watford midfielder with him, and Monchu offering himself as the playmaker. Monchu plays the ball forward to substitute attacking midfielder (and stand-in deep-lying forward) Martín Satriano who then plays the ball into the box to meet Doyle’s run through the open gap after the Watford right-back has switched off.

The play requires further inspection again – both of Watford’s central defenders are preoccupied with the two strikers, Esposito (9) and Lucca (19). Doyle is alive enough, despite this being the 87th minute, to make the run into the box past the wide midfielder who doesn’t track him. Monchu is also right to hold back on playing the pass into the box himself – Doyle isn’t yet in a position to receive the pass, so the ball would have been turned over – despite his player traits of ‘tries killer balls often’ and ‘tries long-range passes’. The space that Doyle has is a direct result of the fact that we have dragged Watford towards the ball. Both of their centre backs have been pulled across the field beyond their goalposts, creating the space for Doyle to run into. Space has been created by the distraction of the positioning of the ball itself, and by our strikers coming towards the ball.

For everything a reason

Goals are typically made from a congruence of moments, rarely from individual moments of genius. The number of players who are beyond systems is few and far between these days as coaches have improved their tactical understanding and coaching of these approaches to players. Things are no different in the examples above.

It’s important at this point to dig deeper into the underlying fundamentals behind goals being made by a facet of different inputs. Listening to the excellent “The Football Manager Show” podcast by Iain Macintosh, specifically the episode here on team cohesion where Iain discusses with Russell Hammant how team cohesion plays an important part in players understanding with regards to where their teammates are on the pitch and the runs they’re likely to be making. In order to boost team cohesion and thus maximise performances, within the training schedule, after each game I place both a recovery session, to allow the players to reduce their fatigue and injury risk, and also a match review. This match review sees the players get together and go over the previous day’s game with the backroom staff so that they can see what went well and what could be improved upon. This also has the effect of boosting team cohesion amongst the playing staff, presumably because they’re better able to predict/learn what runs/passes/shapes to utilise both with and without the ball after watching the tape back with analysts.

Equally, before a game, I will make sure that there is a session on match tactics, one for the pre-set match preview and, if it’s a home game and we don’t have the travel issue, then I’ll also schedule attacking movement into the program. Whilst the match preview has no impact on team cohesion, it does boost tactical familiarity. The other two blocks on the other hand give a lift to team cohesion. As such, the team understand their roles and they understand how to perform together as a team. Providing I’ve set them up in a sensible fashion that is relatively balanced across attack and defence, along with a high-quality coaching team and world-class facilities, I’ve maxed out the input I can have towards the players being cognitively able to interpret what is expected of them when they go out to play.

During a week in which there is only one game, which are few and far between given the number of “Englische woches” that occur with European and domestic cup football, I also try to place attacking and defensive shadow play sessions so that players understand their roles, responsibilities and how to move around to provide options for the player on the ball or to close down/mark a player in the defensive phase of the game. These both have a slightly positive impact on team cohesion.

Download link and wider reading

If you are interested in this tactic, one that has scored forty goals in six games in the UEFA Europa League, and wish to download it, you can find it here on Steam. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me on Twitter at @afmoldtimer.

If you want to read further into this area, I can thoroughly recommend this piece from Coaches Voices.

AC Le Havre – 2027-28 Season Review: Ligue 1 Ou Rien?

After last year’s highest ever Ligue 1 finish for Le Havre and a Champions League Final against Chelsea, it was time to see how far this side that I have put together could go. It feels like most of the pieces of the puzzle are there now, we just need to overcome the behemoth that is PSG to make that final step in French football and deliver our coastal side to its first ever top division title.

Transfer update

Given that I did indeed feel like the squad was pretty complete, at least as far as we could reasonably afford with our given wage and transfer budgets, I wasn’t looking to do anything in the transfer window unless my hand was forced, bar two first team players. One who was set to leave on a free and another that wanted first team football.

Summer player sales

Mathieu Goncalves was the latter, seeking to move somewhere were he could be the outright number one left back. He’d not let us down in being a rotational option, and the offer from Toulouse was perfectly reasonable for someone who was good if not outstanding and now behind Augustinsson and Thiago in the left wing back berth. He was allowed to move on with my blessing.

Abdoulaye Touré’s contract was set to expire and, given his age (32) and a recent injury, he was starting to decline physically. As such, it was decided against offering a contract extension and he was allowed to leave on a free transfer, eventually signed by Montpellier. This will leave us with a lack of depth in the central midfielder on defend role, so someone will need to be brought in to fulfil this role alongside Dvunjak.

This was only heightened after another departure in central midfield. Chelsea and Liverpool had been hovering around both Depoorter and Zwane. It was Chelsea that finally pulled the trigger on Zwane. He hadn’t made himself first choice, despite contributing ten goal contributions (two goals and eight assists) in twelve starts and twelve appearances off the bench. Once Chelsea bid for the player, he made it clear that he wasn’t prepared to stay and so a deal for £45m, potentially rising to £50m based upon international appearances, was agreed. The £44.7m booked profit will enable us to recruit for this position and strengthen in other areas too.

Various youth team products also left after they were clearly not going to make the level required to achieve first-team status – Gilles Herbert (Monpellier), Nassim Agounon (Montpellier), Matheo Leroux (Châteauroux), Meddy Reiver (Guingamp). The fact that they have all gone to lesser clubs is a good sign that these were the right sales at the right time for both player and club alike.

We also lost two youth team products thanks to my oversight in not offering them full professional terms in advance of them turning 17 – Junior Yuma left for Monaco whilst Steve Niyonkuru was recruited by Nantes.

After the Summer sales were complete, our squad churn looked like this:

Summer acquisitions

Henrik Bang was the number one target for our Summer transfer window after Zwane had left. Take one look at his attributes as a 17-year old and it’s not hard to see why. He’s an incredible player at a very early stage in his professional career and with the right place to nurture his talents, he could be world leading player. Able to play in pretty much any role throughout the central midfield positions, he offers versatility which guarantees him first team minutes. Already capped four times by Denmark, he is a blank slate when it comes to player traits, but is a natural leader even at a young age. He will be lined up for future captaincy duty, and with a high level of determination and a bit of work on his already strong driven personality, he could be a perfect tutor after a few years of senior football. With only a year left on his deal, and Bang making it plain he wasn’t going to sign a new one at FC Midtjylland, this deal is a bargain.

In order to replace the outgoing Abdoulaye Touré, Elisha Owusu was identified through searching for players with suitable attributes for the defensive roles in central midfield. Seeking someone with a bit of steel about them, but equally not a complete mad man, Owusu’s high level of anticipation marked him out as a good candidate for the role, as well as his work rate and positioning. The fact he’s a good passer, albeit one that prefers to play it short and simple, should mean that he has a calm head on the ball as we look to dominate possession, allowing the more creative players around him to pull strings, but winning the ball back to break up opposition counters using his superior tackling and ability to be in the right place at the right time for interceptions. Initially unwilling to sign for us at the turn of January with six months left on his contract, he eventually agreed to a deal after his release from Club Brugge. With an already very youthful Le Havre side, this signing marked a notable step away from a typical desire to sign players aged 23. With a keenness to add someone to the squad with more game time and experience to lead the way, matched with strong levels of decision-making and leadership, Owusu fills that role well.

However, there was a very busy January transfer window, with plenty of players leaving us, which led to more signatures too.

Winter sales

Thiago Cavaleiro had long been rumoured the top-target of Real Madrid, and so it proved. Their initial offer was negotiated up to £87m, with the potential to rise up to £102m following league appearances. His head turned, this deal was accepted and the player became the latest galáctico. This was financially a deal that we couldn’t turn down, seeing us book a £74m profit, which could go rise further. He’d been a good player for us and had the promise of more, but we’re not in a position to refuse the player a move such as this.

Determined to land a new, lucrative contract, Jens Petter Hauge was beginning to kick up a fuss and trying to unsettle the squad. He wasn’t first choice, behind Núñez on the left-wing and so he was offered out. RB Salzburg came in with an acceptable £19.5m bid which was immediately accepted. Having only made four first team appearances between August and the start of January, this was a great deal for someone seeking to earn well above his perceived value with us.

Having said that Chema Núñez was first-choice, his sale for £40m might come as something of a surprise. Beijing Guo’an tabled a low-ball bid for Núñez, who had recently signed a new deal at the start of the season, so when I bluffed by countering with a price of £40m for Núñez, they called it. Núñez has twenty-three goal contributions last year, and whilst that had dipped this season to only four (including missing three penalties), I couldn’t overlook the ability to lock in a fantastic monetary gain for a player who had turned 30. This could give Yasser Kchouk chances of more first-team action that could bolster his development, but we would need another player in now that we’d let Núñez and Hauge go.

After all sales were complete following the closing of the January transfer window, our annual player sales and profits from those player sales looked like this:

Winter acquisitions

Itzak Bar-On is someone for whom we have had a signature agreed for for over a year now. Identified as one of the hottest talents in Israel at the tender age of 15, we snapped him up on a cheap deal that saw him join the club after his 18th birthday. The left-footed centre-back is comfortable with the ball at his feet already, and looks to have a strong all round set of physical attributes despite his young age. If he can time his tackles, his aggression and bravery should make him a tough opponent for any Ligue 1 striker. At 6’4″, he isn’t just strong aerially at the back, he’s also a threat on attacking set pieces, much like Badiane (6’6″). It’s early signs for him yet, but he’ll stick around as fourth choice centre back despite the fact that he will take up the fourth non-EU player slot.

The following players were all picked up to add to the youth ranks at Le Havre after years of poor quality youth intakes: Mamdou Sylla (Lille), Marek Zielonka (Lech), Patrick Kameni (Atlético), Albertine Baldé (Amiens), Miroslav Radic (Partizan), Jakub Vizek (Victora Plzeň), Frederico Capela (Sporting Clube de Braga), and Willem Mkhwanazi (Sundowns). Anyone aged below 18 will slot into either the B or U19s sides. The ability to sign European players who are 16 and have them arrive straight into our training centre is something I’m keen to exploit, especially given the paucity of talent on our youth books currently. Those aged 18 or older (with some exceptions made to those just about to turn 18 within a matter of months) will head out on loan to continue their development. As you can see from the sides that we’ve signed them from, we’ve really stepped up our pull from other clubs internationally now that we’re achieving a more than notable status in European club competitions.

Once U-20 capped, Mahazou Doukouré was picked up from ASEC Mimosas. His off-the-ball movement, matched with his excellent technicals for his young age and his desire to run with the ball should make him an exciting player into the future if he can match his potential. Naturally right-footed, he’ll be trained as an inside forward in the more advanced position than he is currently accustomed to. He’ll need to work on his natural fitness to improve his recovery between games, but fingers crossed with more time in the gym and game time, he’ll be able to improve both this and his stamina.

Aydemir Balikçi was on our radar before Tiago Cavaleiro left, with my South European scout identifying him in a scout report. Whilst not my first choice of attacking central midfielder (and in truth not my second either with both of those going to players at Rennes, neither of whom were affordable), he offers some attacking flair with room to grow. He comes in as our record signing at Le Havre, but adds to the Turkish link that I’ve managed to maintain thanks to Ali Akman. He’ll need to accept being second fiddle to Lema, but he should see enough minutes as we fight for trophies on all fronts from January onwards.

Our South American – East scout had highlighted Brazilian wonderkid Leandro Teófilo around six months ago and he’d been on our shortlist ever since, with regular tabs being kept on his progress and development. When the sale of Núñez and Hauge went through, triggering Teófilo’s minimum fee release clause seemed the sensible thing to do. He’ll be given time to bed in if at all possible, but with both Hauge and Núñez sold, he will almost certainly have some first team action. The two-footed speedster cuts in from both wings, and whilst his decision-making needs improving, along with his stamina and work rate, with his fairly professional personality, I would hope that they can improve.

The final transfer was something of a whim. It wasn’t a player that was needed, nor one that was for the future. Hannibal returns to Le Havre. I saw that he had requested to go onto the transfer list after being made a fringe player at Manchester United. Over the last two seasons, he’d barely seen a minute of action. Given his prior stint with us, he was qualified as home-grown at Le Havre and so could add squad depth in our Champions League squad without taking anyone’s place. Whether he’ll be first choice with our tweak in player roles to a deep-lying playmaker on the left-side and a central midfield defend on the right is an issue, but I couldn’t pass this up to bring a club icon back to France. Signing for £16m on a five-year deal with a base £16m, he’s finally ours on a permanent contract.

This meant that our player acquisitions for the seaon look like this:

After all the player trading was done, including/removing the moves made in January, our player amortisation is represented in the below graphic, leaving me with some decisions to make with regards to contract renewals of Juan Soriano, Lucas Gomes, Camilo Moreno and Héctor Amaral.

Squad profile

You can see from the below graphic on minutes played by player age how influential Henrik Bang became over his first season with us. Whilst Slobodan Lucic had firmly taken over the No. 1 jersey from Soriano, Bang leapt passed Depoorter to be first choice deep-lying playmaker. Whilst he didn’t score a single goal, he did create sixteen assists in 28 starts across all competitions. That’s one assist per 0.52/90 minutes. The next best player in our squad in terms of per 90 metric that had more than 1,000 minutes registered over the season was Kchouk and he was down at 0.26 A/90 and he only had four assists. Bang was literally twice as creative as any other player in our team per 90. Only Saranic beat his nominal assists in Ligue 1 with fourteen.

Albian Hajdari continued to assert his dominance as our number one centre back, with Daouda Badiane taking over the reins from Ariel Mosór as the right-sided centre back as Badiane continued to develop his attributes.

Champions League

Our Champions League journey was far briefer than previous European adventures. We qualified second out of our group, which was no mean feat having been seeded third. However, we met Manchester United in the first round knock out and after two defeats, we were sent packing. No jaunt to a European final this year. Disappointing, yes, of course, it’s never nice to lose. More realistic to our expectations at this stage? Definitely.

Domestic football

On French (and Monégasque) soil, we faired rather better, as the below graphic tells you:

To win our first ever Ligue 1 title ever for the Club is a major triumph and is a credit to the players and the support staff alike.

It’s not often that goalkeepers get praise in title winning performances, they usually get lost in exuberance about the team. However, Slobodan Lucic’s performances over the season were stellar. His 16 goals conceded was second only to Dominik Livakovic’s 14 at PSG. Yet compare this to the xGA of 24.53, and its clear to see the value that he added to the side over the campaign. His goals conceded minus xGA differential was second only to Nice’s Stefan Bajic. His performances were enough to win him the goalkeeping jersey in the team of the year. He was joined by central defensive pairing Hajdari and Badiane, Henrik Bang (in his debut season no less), Ivan Saranic and Emiliano Suárez.

By other measures, our success is in part, perhaps, down to PSGs decline in spending. Nasser Al-Khelaifi had scaled down funding the Parisian club in June 2025. This is somewhat represented by their reduction in spending and change in their net spend, although perhaps not initially.

To put their net spending into perspective, take a look at the net spend under my management at Le Havre. In only one year did I spend more on transfers than I recouped and that was the Summer transfer window after we’d won promotion to Ligue 1. Improving the quality of the squad was probably the single best thing that I did to the club during my tenure. It ensured our safety in Ligue 1 for that campaign and allowed for the subsequent future to have a chance to blossom, as it has now.

For an idea as to how our two clubs have differed in spending and recouping of transfer fees, see the below image. Under Tuchel, PSG’s spending on transfers alone was 753% more than mine at Le Havre (£1.1458bn to £0.1935bn), and whilst they received £770m to my £359.75m, this is only 214% more. This yields a total net spend of £688m by PSG to -£166.25m from us.

If Nasser Al-Khelaifi wants PSG to balance their books, I’m all for that if within three seasons I’m already winning the league, especially as our own infrastructure, transfer budget and reputation amongst the top European sides started to grow almost exponentially.

Stand out Le Havre players

I couldn’t end (blogging) this save without paying a homage to three of the stand out players – Ali Akman and Ivan Saranic and Tomislav Dvunjak. Since their arrivals, they have been fantastic, developing along with our side as we improved the squad season by season. Below you can see their minutes across the seasons that they have been with us. Ali Akman joined first during the 2021-22 season, with Saranic and Dvunjak arriving at Stade Oceane in the Summer window of 2022-23. Together they’ve racked up 48,847 minutes, scored 173 goals, 93 assists, all in a grand total of 668 appearances.

The below graphic shows the goals/90 and xG/90 for both Ali Akman and Ivan Saranic (because Dvunjak is a central defensive midfield plays and his stats look underwhelming in any light), and their goal contributions and shot conversion. Ali Akman’s match time might perhaps have dropped as a result of the recruitment of Emiliano Suárez, but his contributions when he did play were fantastic. To consistently and persistently outperform his xG is outstanding. He even responded to Suárez arriving by lifting his efforts and benefiting from the switch in tactical systems to playing as an advanced forward in a 4-2-3-1. Ali’s shot conversion is nothing short of elite over his time on the field. Anything in and around 25% is considered elite with shot conversion, so for him to have five of the seven seasons above that is remarkable.

With Ivan Saranic, his all round play for us has been stand out from when he joined us. It’s a testament to his ability and continued improvements that I’ve not replaced him and anyone that has come in to act as a potential back up has fallen by the way side. His goal contributions have risen almost every year from year to year, with a notable spike in 2024-25.

It has been an absolute pleasure to blog this save and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it. I’m still contemplating my next save in the latest iteration of the game and even whether I’ll blog it. The data hub definitely looks to show promise for more statistical analysis, so as long as the data is right that feeds into it, it could cut a lot of time down that it takes to produce these blogs. It’s not a chore by any means and my PowerPoint and Excel skills have improved immensely (as I’m hoping you can see by flicking through my musings). There is though an opportunity cost to all this, so I’ll need to weigh that all up. I hope, at the moment, to see you on the other side of Football Manager 2022. Until then, adieu!