Toulouse – 12/13 winter break

There have been improvements, there have been some positives… and there’s been Denis Stracqualursi… The big Argentine is looking more and more like a £4.6m error on my part. In case you haven’t seen it, my trials and tribulations with Stracq can be found here for your undoubted amusement.

There are a couple of things that the Stracq saga has brought to the fore, however: firstly, my players have no respect for me and apparently I still have a very low reputation in-game. This just makes our performances thus far all the more remarkable and makes me wonder what’s going to happen once my reputation increases. As such, the Coupe de la Ligue, a usually minor competition that I wouldn’t bother about, has suddenly become quite interesting. If I can get a win then my reputation should rocket and things might start clicking.

Secondly, I really do think that a strikerless formation might be the long term option. More on this later though…

For now, I’ll give a brief update on our results up to the winter break, some transfer activity that we’ve done in the meantime, look at what I need for the rest of the season and, as I’ve been promising for a while, look at the youth squad and its development.

So let’s start with the basics then move on to the positives and the Stracqualursi’s of the season thus far. First of all, the results and the league table.

League table

Well I can’t really be anything other than delighted with that. Top by 5 points having played each team once represents continued improvement from last season and a real chance for a tilt at the title, particularly given our cramped fixture list in the first half of the season. We’re on target to get the 65 goals I wanted at the start of the season but the sub-20 goals against target is all but gone. This is mainly down to a series of injuries with Ahamada (GK) and both centre halves, Congré and Abdennour, having missed a number of games each. I’ve also been forced into a lot of rotation and suffered for the lack of a proper hold-up striker whilst Stracq was busy picking his nose up front.

In the Coupe de la Ligue we’ve also done well, beating Nancy 3-1 in the only game we’ve had to play so far and set up a quarter final at home to Lens. With the Coupe de France to come I’m really hoping to get a first trophy and start getting my reputation increased.

We also made our debut in the Champions League although, by virtue of our 3rd place finish last season, we had to qualify the hard way with a playoff against Liverpool deciding our progression into the groups.

We were magnificent against Liverpool and our progression was no fluke. It gave me real hope for the season to come but we were outclassed in the group stage to be fair. Despite an opening win against Benfica, Arsenal gave us an absolute lesson with van Persie grabbing a hat trick. The games against Leverkusen were much tighter but nevertheless ended in defeat. The silver lining there was the away performance against Benfica which was superb and meant we finished 3rd to drop into the Europa League after christmas.

I can’t really be too disappointed with that. We weren’t far off getting out of the group and Arsenal were always going to be too strong for us. I don’t think we’re too far off catching up with teams like Leverkusen and I’ll be looking for progression next year.

Positives

One man team?

The first real positive has been the performances of Moussa Sissoko. The midfielder is our top scorer with 11 so far this season and has been nothing short of magnificent. His driving runs from midfield really bring the tactic together and, although I’m not a major fan of the “shoots from distance” PPM, he offers something a little different from the rest of the team which can make a real impact when teams try to sit very deep and prevent space in behind.

Similar to Sissoko, the rest of the midfield has performed admirably. I’ve successfully “untaught” Capoue the “gets forward at all times” PPM so that I can use him in the holding role if needs be and he still provides an attacking threat when I manually change his forward runs.

A proper signing

The other midfielder to really impress is a new signing. With Didot suffering a torn hamstring early in August and out for 3 months, I was going to be relying on loan signing Bertolacci for the deep-lying playmaker role. Not a disaster by any means but after the 2-0 victory in Liverpool I knew that we’d have £6m+ coming into the club soon from Champions League money. This convinced me that I could afford to utilise last season’s profit and invest in Steven N’Zonzi, a player I’ve identified a few times on this blog as one I’d like to bring in.

He may have cost me £4.7m but, unlike his Argentinian striking team-mate, he’s proved to be worth every penny. He’s perfect for the sitting role that I want him to play, keeps things simple by spreading the ball from flank to flank and has even chipped in with a few assists. Very happy.

Negatives

Denis Stracqualursi. £4.6m. 2 goals (one of which hit him on the arse and went in). 2 assists. 19 games. 20 shot attempts. 35% on target. Awful and really starting to look like one of the biggest wastes of money I’ve ever had on FM.

The defensive record also concerns me. Whilst we’ve had injuries, I did think the reserves would do much better than they have. The biggest let down has been reserve ‘keeper Begois who has been awful. Compared with Ahamada’s goals conceded per game average of just 0.63, Begois has let in 1.56 goals per game. We’ve also conceded the same number of goals from crosses this season as we did in the entirety of the last campaign with a lot of early goals conceded.

Early goals intimate poor teamtalks to me and this could well be an issue with definite mistakes on my part in the Arsenal away game and the home game against Lyon which we lost 2-0 despite having a man advantage since the 3rd minute. For me, I’m struggling a little with the lower reputation as I’m not used to making teamtalks to players who don’t have much respect for me. A definite learning curve.

Other transfers

Couple more signings since my last update.

Pedro Cardozo

Pedro Cardozo joined from Libertad for just £250k. Young with potential, it was his high passing attribute that initially caught my attention. Losing the ball from defence has been a bit of an issue for us and I’d like to build an entire team that is comfortable on the ball.

If nothing else, I’ll be able to sell him for a decent profit which is one of the reasons that the Stracq transfer rankles so much. It’s a very rare occurrence that I’ll sign a player where I don’t foresee a profit being made and only then because I’m either using him solely as a tutor or plan to keep him for the rest of his career.

Lenny

The second transfer was one during the French “Joker” window, as I raided Caen for the £1.4m signing of Lenny Nangis. Young, French and potential. Three things that I’m keen on focussing on with transfers. With good starting attributes in pace, off the ball and flair I can work on the other attributes that I think he’ll need whether I decide to use him as an inside forward or turn him into an out-and-out winger, with the former being more likely.

I’ve also sold Mo Fofana. The centre half was decent enough but his awful record at winning headers, hamstrung by his poor jumping attribute, was beginning to piss me right off so I took the money and ran – £2.5m over 3 years from Dijon. We have plenty of cover and there are a couple of youngsters that I’d like to blood instead.

Future transfers

Well this is where it starts to get interesting (hopefully). Other than the youth team, more on that later, I’m really at a crossroads in terms of transfers. My main concern here is whether to invest in a top class trequarista. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been tempted to drop the striker altogether and instead employ a trequarista in the AMC position. By meddling with the two inside forwards and providing alternate diagonal runs in front of the AMC, I think we could have more joy than the current targetman setup. We’d also have the DMC’s bursting a lung to provide the vertical penetration beyond the AMC and the attacking fullbacks would be in more direct contact with the primary attacking playmaker. Finally, I’d also have more of a presence in the middle of the park when we clear the ball from defence. This would give me a far greater chance of retaining possession, something which will also be easier from open play as I’d essentially be employing four in central midfield.

Bertolacci

The problem just now is that I only have loanee Bertolacci as a viable option to play this role. This isn’t a major concern for just now as I think he’s actually going to be quite good there but he’s only short term and he’s just signed a new contract with parent club Roma, indicating that he’s unlikely to accept a permanent move in the summer even were I to activate the £6m future fee clause.

What it does mean, though, is that I’ve got the next 6 months to decide whether the strikerless formation is really the way forward, what I need to do with the inside forwards to make it as threatening as possible and whether a trequarista is the right sort of player to play in the pocket or whether I need someone a bit more mobile. By the way, in case you don’t know, I bloody love trequaristas… see here for details.

I’ve got £5m and plenty of wage budget left if I want to nail down a pre-arranged transfer but, for now, I think I’ll be giving it some time to “see how it goes”. The negative experience with Stracqualursi has made me even more cautious than normal and I’m conscious of further upsetting the balance of the squad with new signings so am little to maintain the status quo, within the senior squad at least.

Squad management – the youth team

I’m massively keen on developing youth players. There’s really nothing better, for me, than signing a prospect at 16 or 17 for pennies and then developing him into a world class player at your own club. It’s what has lead me to being so keen on tutoring, see the guide here, and part of the reason I love Club and Country games, also see that guide here.

Therefore, for me, the youth team is vital. I want to see a conveyor belt of talent coming through that I know will be able to fit into my team in a couple of years or, should I want to give them some game time, be able to step into the current first team roles straight away. For me it’s not just about finding the newgens with the best attributes or the highest star ratings from the scouts, it’s about targeting the attributes that you want and keeping a balanced youth team. My youth team, as well as the reserves, always play the same tactics as the senior team and I’ll always have a “target formation” in mind that I think we’ll be using by the time the youngsters make it to first team duty.

It’s at this point that I realise I never told you about my youth intake from last season either but rather than focus on each player, I’ll look at the youth squad as a whole:

Youth analysis screen

This is my default screen for analysing the youth team. Personality is key here as anyone who has read my tutoring guide will know that ambition and professionalism, hinted at by the player’s personality, are critical in determining how well a player will develop. I’ve also left in some attributes that I like to see in my youth players, including determination which can be directly influenced by tutoring.

The first thing I note from that screen is that we are in need of tutelage for some of the youth due to their low determination attributes and this is something that I’m about to action.

I’ll also look through the expected positions needed and what sort of talent we have coming through:

  • ‘Keeper – Bonin, a newgen from our own academy, looks like he could be very good and is my biggest hope for this position. As Ahamada, my first choice ‘keeper, is still young I don’t think I really need anyone here all that soon. If my first choice ‘keeper had been the wrong side of 30 then I might be more worried here and look to find a 19-20 year old prospect.
  • Full backs – I signed Austrian Klaus Franz for just £10k from RB Salzburg and he’s another real prospect. As I play attacking fullbacks, it was key that I look for a newgen with conducive attributes, something Franz definitely has. We don’t have a similar prospect for right back but this is deliberate. As Aurier and Akpa-Akpro, both 20, are in the first team squad already then this is a less critical area than others for investment. Long term yes but no need to worry about it just now.
  • Amiot

    Centre halves – a position where we’re particularly light in terms of prospects. Our best young centre half, though, is already in the first team squad and getting the odd first team game. Grégiore Amiot is in the Toulouse squad from the start of the game and a player I like the look of. With Abdennour, 23, a first team regular until time immemorial and Pedro Cardozo, my new signing, just 20 then we have enough mid-term cover but a long term prospect is something I’ll be looking for.

  • Defensive midfield – as we use three players here then we need a lot of cover. Cognard, from our own academy, and signings Nadvornik and Zapryanov are the obvious prospects here with the latter two being targetted signings over the summer. They joined for a combined £90k and, whilst neither were natural DMC’s, they are both being re-trained. Stamina was a key attribute that I looked for when I signed them as I know the role that they’ll eventually be expected to perform, the box-to-box role covering around 12km per game. With the first teamers mostly below 25, I think we’re well covered here.
  • Wingers / strikers – the weakest area of the youth set-up with my youth coach using strikers (e.g. Sylla) out wide whilst my attempts to retrain other players (e.g. Moíses) have failed thus far. With the possibility of a strikerless system, I will look to retrain the youth team strikers to more suitable positions although that may not be possible for all. For example, Machaisse is a 6’6” snail that I really can’t see fitting in to any strikerless formation
  • AMCs – Moíses was a gamble, a free transfer that I wanted to retrain elsewhere but he could prove to be a stroke of luck if the strikerless formation works. If not, then this is another area that I’ll need to invest in shortly.

In terms of finding players, I’m afraid I do things the hard way. I have a word file that I copied and pasted from a forum that lists all the newgen dates across the world. I’ll list these at the bottom of the article for anyone who wants them whilst pointing credit in the direction of Tom Varney from whom I stole the list.

I tend to keep this file open and check it every so often to see which nations have spawned their newgens recently. I’ll also set a few reminders in game for the African newgens (2nd October) or particular nations that I like taking players from. When their corresponding date arrives, I’ll simply browse to that nation and look through all the top squads plus any smaller teams that I know have good academies or are in the habit of producing good players, i.e. FCB Juniors Lujan in Argentina. I always use attribute masking so I just ask my scouts to look at every player I find.

Bleedin’ Nora

Laborious and time-consuming? Yes. But when you find 15 year olds like Dussaut then it makes it all worth it. Of course, the pompous French ba$tard doesn’t want to move to me yet but I’ll get him eventually… or I’ll just now play strikers and that’ll feckin’ teach him.

I also have to consider non-EU rulings in this game as French football only allows you to register 4 of them per season. Therefore, I keep a close eye on who should be leaving the squad to see if I will have room for another non-EU player by the time the newgen is realistically going to be a first team option. There’s always the possibility of nationalising them but that takes 5 years in France.

It’s always worth checking the league rules of a country though because, like France, they may have some idiosyncrasies which give you more leeway. French football, for instance, doesn’t count any country within the Cotonou Agreement as non-EU, therefore I am allowed as many signings from the following countries as I like:

Countries which don’t count as non-EU

The last consideration in developing the youth side is tutoring. I’ll simply point you in the direction of the tutoring guide, linked above, for this one but it is a regular ploy of mine to sign ageing free transfers with the sole aim of using them as tutors. With low basic wages and enormous appearance bonuses, I can keep the costs to a minimum as they’re never going to play anyway. Definitely something to consider.

Plans for remainder of season

Win stuff.

Other than that, I’ll be looking to trial this strikerless formation and I’ll try to post up a comparison between it and the deep 4-3-3 I’ve been using. Youth signings at centre half, winger and AMC are in the pipeline and then I’ll be spending an awful lot of time perusing newgens – can’t wait, it’s my favourite part of the season.

So that should wrap up this ridiculously long post. I’ll leave you with the newgen creation list below. Again, credit to Tommo and his short-lived Pixel Football blog for providing the original list.

JANUARY
27.1 – Costa Rica
28.1 – Honduras, Jamaica, Guatemala, Panama, Nicaragua, Netherlands Antilles, Suriname, St Vincent, Guyana, Grenada, El Salvador, Cuba & Bermuda

FEBRUARY
23.2 – Azerbaijan, Bosnia & Herzeg., Estonia, FYR Macedonia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Montenegro, New Zealand, Georgia, Andorra, Albania, American Samoa, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu, Armenia & Malta

MARCH
2.3 – Mexico
7.3 – Australia, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine & Wales
12.3 – Austria & England
16.3 – Slovakia
17.3 – Belgium, Czech Republic, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Cyprus & Indonesia
19.3 – Bulgaria, Slovenia & Romania
25.3 – Denmark & Netherlands
28.3 – Serbia & Spain

APRIL
2.4 – Argentina, South Africa & India
18.4 – Uruguay

MAY
7.5 – Mali

JUNE
6.6 – Barbados, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Venezuela & Trinidad & Tobago

AUGUST 
20.8 – Sweden & Hong Kong
27.8 – Canada, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, U.A.E, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Macau, Yemen, Thailand, Tajikistan, Syria, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Palestine, Pakistan, Oman, Northern Mariana Islands, Nepal, N. Korea, Mynamar, Mongolia, Maldives, Macau (China PR), Laos, Kyrgyzstan, Jordan, Guam, East Timor, Chinese Taipei, Cambodia, Brunei, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Bahrain & Bangladesh
29.8 – Burundi

SEPTEMBER
2.9 – Malaysia
7.9 – Chad
18.9 – Chile
19.9 – Brazil
20.9 – Russia, South Korea
22.9 – Iceland & Republic of Ireland
24.9 – Finland
27.9 – Colombia & Singapore

OCTOBER
2.10 – African teams (I’ve found this to be true if you don’t have any African xml’s loaded. If you do then dates tend to vary)
7.10 – China PR & Norway
15.10 – Peru

NOVEMBER
2.11 – Belarus

DECEMBER
27.12 – USA

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