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!