This year, it feels a little more difficult with the club side which may seem a little contradictory given the easier league structure that we have but there are a couple of reasons for this.
Firstly, we have no money to spend. I managed to move on a couple of players to give me a little wiggle room but not what you might call a war chest and certainly not enough to bring in the real quality available amongst the Austrian youth. Secondly, the low reputation of the Austrian league (as opposed to the merged leagues I’ve used previously) have limited those options that were available to me.
Nevertheless, I’ve spent quite a bit of time starting the moulding process at the Gerhard Hanappi with some off-the-field changes but, much more importantly and interestingly, setting up the tactics that I hope will start bringing trophies back to Wien.
So first let’s look at Rapid off the pitch.
We play at the 17500 capacity Gerhard-Hanappi-Stadion, named after a former Rapid captain who went on to become an architect after his retirement from the game and actually designed the bloody thing. Very impressive. We actually rent the stadium at a cost of £104k a year though and I’m definitely keeping the idea of a new stadium at the back of my mind as a long term goal.
The facilities are pretty good for our level with good training facilities, adequate youth facilities, above average youth recruitement and now, thanks to my generous board, good junior coaching. Those last two are going to be crucial in producing the youth talent that I’ll need for both the club and national sides.
When I arrived at the club there was a quite ludicrous number of staff including something like 8 physios for my amateur team. I forget the actual number because I, of course, sacked most of them. In fact, I terminated the majority of staff contracts and brought in cheaper, better options which took my monthly outlay on staff wages from £250k to a much more acceptable £80k. (note – that £250k may include termination fees, not sure how it works.)
Although I rejigged the training responsibilities, I haven’t really spent as much time on training as I usually would. The initial set-up is no longer required with the new training interface (which I hate, by the way) and I’ve just stuck it on high intensity tactics training until my new formations are understood by which time I’ll have an idea of where I need to focus.
So now on to more interesting matters – tactics and transfers. For me, tactics always come first. I judge my transfers based on the players that I have available, what tactics suit them and then identify the shortcomings in the squad and any areas where new signings would give me tactical variations.
And it’s exciting times tactically as I look to re-create the wonder that was The Sexhibition. For those of you, most no doubt, who haven’t the slightest scoob what I’m talking about The Sexhibition was a tactic that I created in FM11 for the same teams I’m playing with now. If you’re interested, you can read about the original tactic on The Dugout here. Having assessed my squad, I’ve come to the conclusion that a similar, although amended, shape would suit the players at my disposal.
For this year I’ll be calling the tactic “The Danubian Whirl”, alluding to the 1930s Wunderteam. It does share some similarities with the real Whirl, although not in shape, and it’s really just an affectation that you’ll have to forgive.
There are differences from the original Sexhibition too, primarily in ball retention where the Whirl is far superior thus far. I also feel like the balance in midfield is better, probably resulting in that possession improvement, and the new FM13 match engine interprets the defence in different, more beneficial, ways.
A brief explanation. We are clearly at our best going forward. Whilst our defence is certainly better than most of the league, I wouldn’t want to rely on it in any big games. We have some real prospects offensively, though, and I identified Christopher Drazan, Deni Alar and Mohamed Ildiz as our most promising. It was on this premise that I based the tactic.
Drazan is an out and out winger. As well as his attributes, he has the “hugs touchline” PPM which pretty much makes him a winger regardless of my instructions. However, I am perfectly happy to utilise him as a winger and so an AML was “inked in” on my scribble pad. (NB I actually have a scribble pad for tactics, etc. Cost me £20. It’s a beautiful thing #nerd)
Ildiz is an archetypal box-to-box midfielder, full of running with no real bias for attacking or defending. Alar is a little more difficult to place. Despite him playing from the right a lot for Rapid in real-life, he’s listed as a natural striker here with only the AMC role as an alternative. Long-term I foresee him as our main striker but with Terrence Boyd in the squad for now, utilising Alar as an AMC made sense. He’s definitely not a trequarista type, though, and I wanted to use his aerial and finishing abilities by having him join the striker in attack. An amended “inside forward” role seemed perfect.
The rest of the tactic started to fall into place as we have attacking options from right-back / wingback in Schimpelsberger and Trimmel with decent passers in the middle of the park and a centre half pairing that is quick enough to play a high defensive line.
On the attacking fullback thing – as opposed to previous FM’s, I’m finding a huge difference between fullbacks and wingbacks in terms of attacking intent with the latter much more likely to get forward into the positions that I want them to exploit.
The tactic started as that shown to the right and evolved over the course of some very unsatisfactory friendlies. We were keeping the ball very well but were frustratingly impotent with our possession resulting in defeat to Sigma Olomouc and draws against Rijeka and FC Eindhoven. Of course, it didn’t help matters that I couldn’t settle on a shape and, indeed, this procrastination continued into the competitive games, although by that time the tactic had started to become more effective.
The real breakthrough came with two changes – firstly, the aforementioned switch from right back to right wing-back and, secondly, removing the targetman setting. The former brings us much greater balance in attack and a real goal-scoring threat from a deep position. The latter has been crucial in making us much less one-dimensional and easy to shut down. On FM12, I liked the use of a targetman up top to encourage the players to get the ball forward quickly but I got the feeling during the friendlies that we were too limited in our approach. Coupling the change away from a targetman to more direct passing, in an effort to effect a similar but less limited approach, has reaped real rewards.
NOTE – I have quite significantly tweaked the TC settings so if you input the roles etc that I’ve shown in the screenshot and it doesn’t work then it’s not my fault… honest.
The Whirl will be my most common starting tactic although I will obviously continue to tweak and I always use reactive tactics mid-game to try and take advantage of weaknesses in the opposition. I have also set up a fairly standard 4-1-4-1 counter attacking tactic for really hard away games or to try and shut games out; whilst I have created the Rapidviertelstunde tactic which will be used in an effort to recreate Rapid’s famous, fan-induced 75th minute rise in tempo and intent – but only where I need to chase a goal.
So that leads me on to the personnel at my disposal to fulfil these tactics.
As I mentioned in the opening post, I really needed to find some sellable assets. With the wage budget maxed out and 41 players at the club out of contract at the end of the year, I needed to offload some deadwood to ensure I could keep the players I wanted.
Rapid fans or those who have read my updates before may be wondering why I didn’t highlight Steffen Hofmann in my assessment of the squad above. He is quite clearly Rapid’s best player, club captain and all round legend. Blasphemously, I have considered selling Hofmann. He’s clearly a great player but he’s 31 now and is ineligible for Austria due to a FIFA decision on his 3 German ‘A’ caps. He’s also, crucially, on £16.5k a week, triple the next highest earner and one of those whose contract expires at the end of the season.
I could reinvest the £1.5m in Austrian youth and put that £16.5k wages to use on 4 or 5 new players. However, the decision has been taken away from me as I can now neither sell nor play Hofmann as he’s been put out of action for 4 months with a torn calf muscle. This is the worst possible scenario as I cannot afford to renew his contract so will lose him for nothing at the end of the season anyway.
That left me looking elsewhere for players I could sell and one jumped right out. Slovakian ‘keeper Jan Novota is a handy player but, as in real life, I favour the use of promising Austrian Lukas Konigshofer. With some cheap back-up options available to replace Novota, more on that later, I opted to sell him and happily accepted £300k from Borussia Dortmund.
With funding now secured, I was able to extend the contracts of players I see as crucial to the club’s development – namely Drazan, Ildiz, Schaub, Starkl and Alar.
I also set about trimming the hugely bloated squad. Even with those free transfers shown to the right, we have a ludicrously large squad of 79. Although we need to maintain two competitive squads (the Amateur side play in the Regionalliga Ost), there’s a lot of unnecessary expenditure going on there and it’s something I hope to reduce to around 60 within 2 seasons.
With that work now done, I could look at what, or rather who, I needed to bring in to strengthen or balance the squad.
With Novota leaving, there was a clear need for a back-up ‘keeper. Young Thomas Dau is fairly promising but I want to play him in the Amateurs team so when I spotted former Arsenal goalie Alex Manninger available on a free transfer, I was more than happy to bring him in on just £750 per week. Very solid back-up and a player I plan to bring on as staff when he retires.
The other player that I had hoped to shift out was left-back Markus Katzer, a player I think is a bit of a liability in real life and, at 32, will not get any better. Although I was unsuccessful in this move, I had pre-emptively signed his replacement. Another free transfer, Thomas Piermayr spent last season in the world-class SPL so obviously has some form. Joking aside, he’s a solid back-up who can perform across the backline and was similarly cheap at £650 per week.
Continuing my theme of seeking out Austrian free transfers, I brought in young ‘keeper Marc Traby. This one is a bit of an experiment. I don’t think Traby is ever going to be first team material nevermind international class, however he does have potential to improve from his current average ability. By bringing him in, though, I can test out how effective first-team football is going to be at one of our affiliate clubs in increasing his CA. We have two affiliates: FAC Team fur Wien of the Regional Division East and Altach, a fellow Bundesliga team. It is the former where Traby will be playing this season and I’m hoping he’ll get plenty of game time. If he develops well then I know that I can do the same with more promising youngsters later in the game.
My next plan was to search out what Austrian talent I could afford and, unfortunately, the pickings were slim. The one player that I really wanted to sign was Admira Wacker’s Marcel Sabitzer. The young winger has been linked with Porto and Man Utd in real life though so it will come as no surprise that I couldn’t afford to bring him in. Instead, he signed for Hamburg for £1.2m – a deal that I’m not unhappy about. If he can get game time in a high rep league then it can only do him good.
Other Austrians on the move were David Alaba, who joined Arsenal for £17.5m; Andi Weimann who joined Ipswich on loan; Heinz Lindner who moved to Everton for £1m; and Dejan Stojanovic who moved to Carpi on loan.
My own efforts were frustrated in the most part although I did manage to bring in Inter’s Lukas Spendlhofer on a season long loan, covering only £325 of his wages per week. He’s a fairly promising centre half that Inter picked up from one of Austria’s academy clubs, AKA St Polten, and can also cover defensive midfield adequately. He’ll get a fair few games for me this season in an effort to develop his potential and I’ll be making efforts to improve his pace which is something that is clearly holding him back just now.
My last signing was probably the most exciting and cost me just £400.
In order to “fill out” the squads of the minor teams that play in the newly activated lower leagues, I selected the options to “add key staff” and “add players to playable teams” when creating the game. This creates newgens at those teams whose squads are not big enough within the database. One such newgen was young winger / striker Jens Hoeness (don’t know how to type the B ligature I’m afraid). My scouts and coaches both have high hopes for him and it’s easy to see why:
He’s already performing well for the youth team and will likely be a fixture in my Youth Cup team. If he performs well there then first team action won’t be far behind. With the lack of newgens that appeared during my holiday test of the edited databse, I’m delighted to get a real prospect already although my international scout doesn’t think he’ll quite make it to the top.
So now we’ve seen how the squad has been moulded so far, it’s time to look at how we’ve performed on the pitch and the simple answer is – pretty well.
The defence has performed pretty well although this is primarily down to the amount of possession that we’ve kept. In contrast to the old Sexhibition tactic, the Danubian Whirl tends to keep 55-65% of the ball and not just against the smaller sides. For example, here are the statistics for the home game against Dinamo Zagreb – a comparable team who we faced in the final qualification for the Europa League:
Dominant in possession, we were unlucky not to win that game although Dinamo were incredibly dangerous on the break – as evidenced by their 3 clear cut chances. As it was, we faced a really tough away leg after this result but pulled it out of the bag with a superb 2-0 victory in Croatia – going two up at half time before I switched to the 4-1-4-1 and killed the game off.
That has seen us qualify for the Europa League groups and the tough prospect of Inter Milan, AZ Alkmaar and Levante… ouch. Nevertheless, the money will come in handy and the board expected us to reach the groups so my job is a little safer for qualifying.
The tactic has made a solid start although I’m still not completely happy with our offence. We’ve scored 5 of our goals from corners and I’d like to see more from open play and certainly more like this…
Remember to select high resolution
Having said that, it’s a good start and the preference in this match engine for conservative passing in the final third seems to be limiting the penetration that I would expect from the centre of midfield. This is just part of the learning curve for a new FM though and I do enjoy this period of the game – feeling out the new match engine and developing working tactics.
My board expect me to challenge for the title and I’d say that’s a fair expectation, certainly an ambition which I would share. My biggest target for this season, though, is to assess the youth at my disposal so I can gauge which ones will “make it” and which won’t. By the end of this season I hope to be in a position to trim the squad to 60 or so, offloading the uninspiring youth and making room for what I hope will be some promising newgens.
It would also be nice to make a bit of money to either improve the youth facilities or sign up a few of the more promising players from other Austrian clubs. Even better would be the ability to bring the likes of Holzhauser, Markoutz or Friesenbichler back to Austria and give them the game time I doubt they’ll get at their German clubs.
But all that’s a long way off, for now it’s time to find out just how good the likes of Alar, Drazan and Ildiz really are…