FM22 Analytics, tactics and soccernomics
There are good pre-seasons and amazing pre-seasons.
Ours was neither. In fact, it was a frustrating pre-season.
A new home… soon.
Whilst the metaphorical promotion champagne was still warm, we received a nice, but bittersweet, message into our inbox.
Because the Montilivi Stadium can only be expanded by an extra 3,000 seats, which would still be 741 seats below the La Liga minimum, we will be moving to a new stadium at the end of this upcoming season. The Felix Farro Park stadium will have the capacity to hold 15,306 spectators.
Of course, new stadiums need to be paid for and as such we received this message into our inbox:
A £17.25m loan to a team already struggling with finances. This basically means “remain in La Liga or it’s going to be a very slippery slope”. The total cost of the new stadium is £23m so the sooner we can secure La Liga football and then qualify for European football, and start getting it paid off, the better.
However, the financial boost of being promoted soon became very apparent:
That right there is the sound of a bit of breathing space, in the financial department anyway. In fact, where last season we were forecast to be £46m in debt by 2024, we’re now scheduled to be £30m in profit.
So in the intro I mentioned it’d been a frustrating pre-season. Here’s why:
Our initial budgets weren’t looking too bad, obviously we always want more than we get, but we have to be realistic:
The £300k wage budget represents a £75k per week increase which is good and obviously makes our new wage structure look a little more appealing:
All positive stuff until you realise we have 15 players, in and around the first team squad, who now have less than a year left on their contracts. I knew about these, of course, but money was too tight last season to offer them new contracts – so the issue now is that they want La Liga contracts as opposed to 2nd division ones.
So I didn’t yet know how much I could spend in wages on new players so didn’t want to get carried away signing people left, right and centre.
Adding to the frustration of having to hold off signing new players was that I also have a lot of players who have promotion increase clause in their existing contracts, some of who will receive at least a 25% weekly wage rise… which didn’t kick in until the 10th July (for some weird reason) so I had to wait until then to see how much budget would be remaining before I could start my recruitment drive. And of course, by the 10th July a lot of players have been bought and sold.
One rather upsetting result of the promotion wage increase was 35-year-old Cristhian Stuani, with his 8 for pace and acceleration, is now earning £34k per week! Which is £12k a week over our maximum salary. Obviously, he’s 35 and he’s on £34k a week so I can’t sell him as no one will buy him.
You see where my frustrations are coming from?
In the last post I’d kind of outlined where we’d be looking in our recruitment-drive, but just as a reminder:
- A starting attacking midfielder
- A starting or backup striker
- A backup left wingback
- A backup left footed centre back
Then, as a “maybe, if the needed arises or the right player comes along” kind of deal I wanted to keep an eye out for a starting goalkeeper and starting right wingback.
It wasn’t all waiting around with thumbs being twiddled, however. Despite the above contract & wage budget-based issues, I’d highlighted 2 free agents midfielders would come in a be a big improvement on what we had already, before last season has ended who we’d go after immediately.
The top priority was ex-Swansea man Matt Grimes who I would be a step up in either of the 2 midfield roles we use. Unfortunately, he went to Crystal Palace instead, although as they’re paying him £57k per week I can’t blame him.
The 2nd player in my priority list was Frenchman, Mathieu Cafaro, a talented attacking midfielder who would replace Samu Saiz in our CM(A) role. I was very hopeful of this one as we were apparently his preferred destination. Unfortunately a late bid came in from FC Basel and the thought of Champions League football lured him away from our grasps.
My third and final option was Lyon’s Pape Cheikh Diop, and whilst he wouldn’t be a huge upgrade, he’d still be a nice, solid addition. So we sent our DoF, Quique Carcel off on a mission and after having a bid of £500k accepted we again thought we’d got our man. But unfortunately, again, he was offered more money and stayed in Ligue 1, where he joined Brest.
Time for a rethink…
…during which I had time to sit back and reflect on last season and realise that usually, after getting promoted I would sign loads of new players and soon find the team has lost it’s identity, we have too many players and that’s when I lose interest in saves.
Actually, this group of players won La Liga 2 at a canter and they deserve a chance to show what they can do and not just be cast aside at the first opportunity, so I made a decision we’d only look to plug the gaps which desperately need plugging and keep the core of the squad – and especially the starting 11 – together.
With that in mind, we quickly extended the loan of Nahuel Bustos – last season’s top scorer. Getting someone better would cost a lot more than the £2.8m transfer budget I have available, so we’ll see how he copes in La Liga. I decided not to target a backup striker as we have Alex Gallar coming back from loan, and although he’s mainly a winger he can play upfront as both an advanced forward and a deep lying forward. I’ll keep scouting of course in case someone comes along but I’m now in no rush.
As we had no other targets who were a significant upgrade to our midfield we decided to extend the loan period of Alex Baena, who had a steady enough season and was available for only £5,570 a week. Samu Saiz lives to start another season, and Baena will be rotated with him.
Whilst this was happening and an air of zen had settled up on proceedings, our goalkeeper Juan Carlos, the La Liga 2 Goalkeeper of the year, came knocking and demanded an improved contract. The 34-year-old wanted to go from £15k per week to a massive £42k per week!
Needless to say we politely declined and I’m delighted to be able to announce our first signing of the new season, the 6’6″ goalkeeper, Giorgi Mamardashvili. Costing £1.2m from Dinamo Tbilisi. He’s already as good as Juan Carlos, and the scouts and coaches believe the 21-year-old still has lots of room to improve further.
Midfield – what happened to Plan A?
When scouring for a new midfielder, I suddenly realised I was working on plans B & C, rather than the plan A which I came up with at the end of last season which was to release Aleix Garcia from his deep lying playmaker role and into the supporting midfielder role, where he’s much more suited.
This shifted our search from a more advanced midfielder, to a more defensive one and we secured our 2nd signing.
Coming in on loan with a £2m option to buy is 21 year old Khephren Thuram from OGC Nice. At 6’4″ tall, he should thrive in the defensive midfield playmaking role, and should still have a little bit or room for improvement.
Our third signing was one for the future and somewhat of a nostalgic one. I know Amine Essahel well, and when I saw he was available as a free agent, and quite a few teams had offered contracts, I put in a hasty offer and luckily he chose us. For those not familiar with the Moroccan, he’s a 19 year old attacking midfielder who develops well and is a good dribbler with good vision. He’s not blessed with great physicals or work rate but sometimes you just need someone who can do something special. He’ll mainly play with our U19s this season but I’ll get him some 1st team minutes when possible.
All that remains are a backup left wing back and a left sided central defender. Whilst the search for the latter still goes on we have managed to get another promising young player in on loan, in the shape of the goatee-bearded Tiago Araujo, from Benfica B. Whilst some areas of his game need to be worked on, he’s very quick and good going forward. We also have a £3m option to buy.
There we have it, that’s our recruitment – not at all what I had in mind at the end of last season, but you know what? I’m happy with it.
We’ve got some exciting young players coming in, the starters get a chance to prove themselves at a higher level and youngsters, like Kebe, Terrats and Bueno deserve a chance to develop off the bench.
When the board sent through their expectations for the upcoming season I was quite happy as these are the basically the aims of Pablo Machin and his system which we’ve adopted – this is exactly how his Girona team played when they secured their 10th place finish:
We had the joint best defence in La Liga 2 – conceding only 26 goals in 42 games – and we scored 25 goals from corners.
The only thing I wanted to do to help achieve our objectives is to add more pace to help with our counter attacking. We weren’t really able to do this but it’s something I’ve got a keen eye on…. and even the coaching staff have noticed…
Clearly, any new signings would need to be quicker than the people they’re replacing – especially those involved in the attacking phase – and will have to be (well) above the league average for teamwork.
An increase in standards
Speaking of league averages, we also have to consider how the “Two Gates” which make up our player ethos, would be effected by the increase in player skill and physical ability by moving up to La Liga.
These changes are:
Gate 1 – Physical profile
Pace – 12 > 12
Acceleration – 11 > 12
Strength- 10 > 11
Bravery – 11 > 12
Determination – 11 > 13
Gate 2 – The (mostly) mentals
Technique – 11 > 13
Concentration – 11 > 12
Decisions – 12 > 12
Teamwork – 12 > 12
Work rate – 12 > 13
Off the ball – 10 > 12
Positioning – 10 > 11
It would be unfair of me to hold a squad of newly promoted players to these new standards right away, especially as I don’t have enough to replace an entire team, so I’ll use this as a transition year.
Obviously, there’ll be some players who are nowhere near hitting these though, so they’ll have to leave – and this was the reason the contract of Jairo was allowed to expire, and the loans of Pol Pozano and Sekou Koita were not extended.
Here’s how we now shape up against the Two Gates per position:
(Orange means they’re within 1 of the league average, red mean more than 1 below)
Yes, there’s areas that need improving, but as mentioned, we’re going to treat this as a transition year when it comes to the Two Gates. I’ve put players on individual training to hopefully get a couple reds in to ambers and ambers into no box being required at all.
We managed to make some upgrades in the staff department, but the main one was a new Assistant Manager, after our previous one retired.
Look who we bought in:
I’m not too bothered about the tactical insights an Assistant Manager can give, I can see when we’re being overrun in midfield…. but he’s a great option.
After the apparent success of last years new approach to pre-season we stuck with a similar theme – less boot-camp style training, relying on playing more friendly games to get match fitness up, as well as tactical familiarity.
We played friendlies on a Friday (starters) and Monday (backups) basis and we managed to make over £620k in revenue.
We’ve had only ONE serious injury and that’s Samu Saiz with an ankle injury which will keep him out for 2 weeks.
Along the way we’ve picked up victories over Barcelona, Porto, Borussia Dortmund and Schalke, so things are looking promising.
As we head into the season and our first game against Levante, I wanted to give a brief league overview.
We’re predicted to finish 18th, which is in the relegation zone, so fingers crossed we can finish at least a place or two higher.
Robert Lewandowski has joined Real Madrid (for £10m). Andre Villas-Boas has taken over at Mallorca, after previously being the Director of Football and Marcelo Bielsa has taken over Atletico Madrid after Diego Simeone got offered the Chelsea job following Tuchel was sacked.
Oh, and to add a little more spice to the season… this happened….
We’ll be facing off against Machin in La Liga.
Our start to the season isn’t too bad, aside from Real Madrid on week 2. It ramps up at the end of September where we then face Barcelona, Bilbao, Sevilla, Valencia and Atletico Madrid, before the 2022 World Cup break.
Then we’ll know how the current crop of players are doing and if we desperately need replacements.
… and here are the squad which will take us into the 2022-23 season. I’m genuinely intrigued to see how we’ll do.
Part of me things we can get mid-table… and the other part of me is expecting a tooth and nail relegation battle, where our lack of strength in midfield is massively exposed and we struggle to get into games… where Stuani’s lack of movement and Bustos’ lack of off the ball skills means we can’t unlock La Liga defences….. let’s see..