Girona FC – Part 5: My approach to pre-season.

FM22 Analytics, tactics & soccernomics

Before discussing pre-season I wanted to give a quick overview of the season ahead with a look at the top teams in La Liga 2.

The end of the 2020-21 La Liga season saw Real Valladolid, Huesca and Eibar relegated. After 7 years in the top division you have to commend the owners and management of Eibar for what an amazing job they did staying there for so long on such limited resources.

You’ll probably not be surprised to see both Eibar and Valladolid in the top three favourites for promotion before a ball’s even been kicked.

Eibar have used the off-season to make a lot of changes to their playing personnel, with 12 new players coming in on permanent deals. However, they’ve been sensible and only paid out a total of £4.14m on 5 of the players (due to poaching other La Liga 2 players with low release clauses) with the rest coming in on free transfers.

Despite only made £450k on their outgoing players, their wage bill will be drastically reduced as they’ve shipped out 9 of their 11 starters from last season; one of whom, Aleix Garcia, is now in our ranks and will be a key players this season.

Real Valladolid took the opposite approach to Eibar, bringing in only 2 players on permanent deals whereas 7 players left the club – with 6 going for no fee and Brazilian forward Marcos Andre joining Valencia for £7.65 million. To assist with their promotion hopes they also have by far the largest wage budget in the division so I’ll expect them to make moves in the transfer market if things aren’t going their way come January.

The favourites to win La Liga 2, however, are the Saudi sugar-daddy owned Almeria (who I had a great save with in FM21). They’ve certainly outlined their intentions, spending £10.67m strengthening the spine of their team on two central midfielders and a defender and adding 6 more players on free transfers. Ten players left the team for a total of £5.85m, with 3 commanding fees whilst 7 left on a free transfer – interestingly three of the departing players joined Eibar.

The Almeria team was already strong, with striker Umar Saqid and attacking midfielder Lucas Robertone set to terrorise defences again this coming season, so these recent additions should make them a very formidable opponent.

Leganes, who narrowly missed out on promotion last season, have managed to maintain a strong squad with very little transfer activity so should be in and around the playoff places, whilst we also have to be wary of “historic giants” Real Sporting, Real Zaragoza and Malaga. Island teams Las Palmas and Tenerife will also be strong competition for every club in the division.

You’ll also have noticed that we’re predicted to finish 5th – which would be fine by me. Although, the media don’t think we’ll be quite that good:

Pre-season Part 1 – The Backroom Boys

Usually when selecting coaching staff I find the ones with the highest attributes and fling a contract offer their way without a second thought.

It would be odd though to take such a slap-dash approach in a save in which we’re trying to build great things based on careful planning and having the right people in the right roles. Why shouldn’t we treat our staff recruitment the same as we treat our player recruitment?

We want coaches who know the system they’re coaching to the players, who act as role models (especially to the younger players) and technically good enough to teach all aspects of their designated role.

Ideally, we want coaches know the 352/532 system, who have good adaptability, tactical knowledge, technical coaching ability and importantly a good personality. We’re building a “team of coaches” who all have similar beliefs and styles, not a random collection of coaches. As per with the players, it’s not about getting the BEST coaches but its about getting the RIGHT coaches. (You can read FM Athlete’s inspirational blog on this topic).

We start the save with 6 coaches and one free coaching slot to fill. However, for some reason we have FOUR fitness coaches – and only one of them any good. So much for not wasting money on terminating contracts! The Assistant Manager was awful so he had to go along with three of the fitness coaches and a scout which cost us £465,000 – not what I wanted to do but sometimes you have no choice.

I created a filter in the staff search screen to identify all staff who have a variation of a 3 or 5 man defence as their primary or secondary preferred tactic. If they then also have good tactical knowledge and adaptability they should have no issues coaching whichever 3/5 man tactic I evolve into over the course of the save. We then added in the criteria which makes up our coaching ethos.

Notice that a little earlier I said ideally – one of the negative elements about being a La Liga 2 side is that we can only offer £1.4k per week to prospective coaching staff, so filling all the criteria wasn’t easy… compromises had to be made. We still managed to bring some good people in though, however, I had to heavily incentivise their contracts.

(These staff members are likely to be temporary until we get more budget and can appoint more suitable coaches)

My new right-hand man, Graeme Liveston, has signed a contract as my Assistant Manager, on a 1 year deal (which is a good thing as he’s 73 years old!). David Platt is a resolute coach with lots of management experience. Chris McLean is a very well rounded coach who I’ll try to convert to being my U19’s coach at the end of this season, whilst Spaniard, Santi Canovas, is another well rounded coach, but lacks adaptability so we won’t be altering his coaching assignment throughout the season. He fears change!

Pre-Season Part 2 – The Friendlies

As this save already contains couple of “firsts” I thought I’d add a new way of approaching pre-season.

Usually, my pre-seasons consist of lots of physical work to get the players fitness level up, along with around 5 friendly matches. However, this approach always seems to cause quite a few early injuries and we still end up with players not fully match fit when the season starts.

So, this time I’ve flipped pre-season on its head.

After one week of bootcamp (the first week back) I then phased out the fitness training and started introducing some tactically periodised technical and tactical style training. Tactical periodisation has been around for a while now, but for anyone not familiar, it states that training sessions should cover game-relevant situations. These mainly come in the form of:

Defensive structure
Transition from defence to offence
Offensive structure
Transition from offence to defence.

Implementing this style of training should mean the players get more time with a ball at their feet, rather than endless physical work, and it should also boost their tactical awareness and technical skills.

To help with the fitness levels I arranged a lot more friendly games that usual – eleven in fact – which took place on the following schedule:

Fridays – first team players versus a stronger team.
Mondays – backups against a weaker team.

This gives two benefits:

1 – Everyone gets lots of game time and a chance to show what they can do.

2 – The games against the bigger teams are money spinners. In fact, from these friendly games, we’ve made just under £520k – which covers the money we spent terminating the contracts of the terrible staff we inherited.

We had some really interesting performances: despite the 3-3 result, our starters ripped apart Atletico Madrid on numerous occasions, hitting the woodwork 5 times(!) and then shortly afterwards our backups beat a full-strength Lille 3-2. The highlight, obviously, was beating Real Madrid 4-0.

Did the change help avoid the usual pre-season injuries? Kinda.

We only had two “serious” injuries, with were both sprained ankles to Bernardo and Jairo, both out for 4-6 weeks and both will miss the start of the season. BUT we hardly had any of the usual niggling injuries which put players out for 2-4 days at a time and disrupts their pre-season fitness.

All the players in our squad are fully match fit, however, so the plan worked, and the tactical familiarity is the highest I think I’ve ever gone into a season with.

Our eleven pre-season friendlies

Squad updates

As we’re starting the save with the first transfer window disabled there’s no transfer news to report. We have had one player leave us though as I cancelled the (wage structure busting) £25k per week loan of Pablo Moreno from Man City, which takes us back under the wage budget and gives us some wiggle room to offer new contracts to players who have less that a year left on their current contracts.

So we’re now ready to step into the 2021-22 season. Here’s our squad who’ll take us up to the January transfer window.

The 2021-22 Girona FC squad.

The players are fit and raring to go (mostly), the scouts have their assignments, the recruitment analysts are busy beavering away…. Let’s get started.

If you’re just joining the Girona journey, you can catch up on previous posts here:

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Implementing role values into FM
Part 3: Building a team ethos
Part 4: Implementing a wage structure

2 thoughts on “Girona FC – Part 5: My approach to pre-season.”

  1. Fantastic as always my friend, I like the approach on the friendlies especially when it can cover the costs of such a massive upheaval in the back room. Your new assistant manager is a looong way from Scotland, Spain seems an excellent place to retire.

    Liked by 2 people

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