A slightly pompous title this time in terms of the legacy building but it’s essentially what I’m looking to do with Rapid – build the side up until we are the undisputed biggest club in Austria and making a real impact on the European scene. All the while, this should be done with locally developed players, creating a constant conveyor belt of talent that moves on to the bigger European leagues and develop into international class stars.
Due to being away with work a lot in the last couple of weeks I haven’t had any time to write an update on my progress. Therefore, I’ve played quite a bit further than I usually would have done before writing another post… we’re now well into November and some 20 games into the season.
Thus there’s a fair bit to cover, not just the goings on during the close season but also the developments since including some problems that I’ve encountered and a fair amount of tactical indecision on my part.
I guess the best place to start is with the transfers I sanctioned during the summer… and there were a lot of them. Let’s start with the leavers.
As I’d hinted at before the summer, a large number of the returning loanees hadn’t done enough during their spells away from the club to convince me to keep them. Therefore, 24 players left on free transfers with the majority of those being picked up by other Austrian clubs.
7 youngsters went out on loan and for most of those it will be their last chance to prove their worth.
Of far more note, though, are the cash sales that we made – with 8 players bringing in £13.5m. It’s probably best to lay these out one-by-one:
- Harald Pichler – £250k to Mattersburg
Quite simply surplus to requirements, at 27 he’s not going to get any better but has strengthened our Austrian rivals which is nice.
- Thomas Piermayr – £100k to Bielefeld
Small profit on the defensive utility player that I brought in on a free in the first window. Didn’t get many games at Rapid but did his job.
- Dominik Starkl – £75k to Kapfenberger
I had hopes that Starkl would develop well but two loan spells at Horn and Gratkorn failed to see him kick on and his supersub role has been taken over by Adrian Grbic.
- Thomas Prager – £100k to PAOK
29, a year left on his contract and asking for over £5k a week. Really wasn’t worth the money and off he went.
- Michael Liendl – £1.4m to APOEL
You may remember that I signed Liendl for £800k last year as a utility player and potential replacement for Alar who never moved on. We nearly doubled our money here and freed up space for the younger generation. He was an oddly frustrating player that I felt should have performed better than he did but seemed to be held back by his low aggression rating and “hiding” from the ball.
A wonderful winger that I expected to leave last summer and had therefore suffered because I’d moved to the 3-4-1-2 which doesn’t suit him. We made an awful lot of money off him though and Southampton are still in the Championship which I felt was a good level to ensure he gets game time (hampered by an early injury) and hopefully his bigger moves comes next.
- Muhammed Ildiz – £3m to Lens
Ildiz would have been a great player for Austria but I lost him to Turkey for whom he is now a regular starter. Real shame so I just decided to cash in.
This one was really quite difficult to approve as Schimpelsberger has become one of my favourites over the last couple of seasons and really has made the right midfield role his own, to the point where he’s usurped Garics for the national side.
He scored 9 goals last season and chipped in with 7 assists which was always going to be difficult to replace, in fact we don’t / didn’t have an obvious successor in the squad and I did consider the need to switch formation should I sell him.
Sell him I did, though, as every player has his “must sell” price and Koln met this. He should progress well in the Bundesliga and has been a regular for the Germans since his move – contributing to a a mid-table position. If this wasn’t a C&C game then I’d have kept him but needs must.
That left me with an awful lot of players to replace and great scope for bringing in promising youngsters. Again, the board were very generous and gave me a £10m budget which I added to with the £13.5m of sales to give me a war chest that I would never need. On top of this, I’ve got a wage budget of £135k per week to play with – another sum which I won’t really need.
In total, I’ve brought in 18 players at a cost of £1.5m but it should be noted that the majority of these are not intended to be regulars right away and so there hasn’t been a great deal of disruption to the first team which is something I tend to avoid due to FM’s overdone (in my opinion) impact of multiple transfers.
4 years younger than the man he replaced and with potential room to improve into an even finer player, his versatility was key for me. He’s more suited to the deeper left midfield role than Drazan and can also cover any position on the left flank, whilst lacking the “hugs touchline” PPM which I felt restricted his predecessor somewhat. He’s made a fine impact so far with two (very important) goals and 4 assists.
Crucially, if I decide to switch back to wingers then Potzmann can accommodate this whilst he can also play up front should I narrow the formation right down. He’s impressed me sufficiently that I’ve given him a few caps recently. All round, a move I’m very happy with.
Much of my time over the summer was spent looking for youth players to fill out the amateur and under -18s sides that would start the transfer of talent into the first team. For this, I concentrated on keeping the 3-4-1-2 as the primary tactic and so a number of my signings were youth centre halves with Yannik Bauer the most expensive at £210k.
At 6’8”, his basic aerial ability was obviously key. My scouts didn’t really fancy him and only gave him 3 star potential but I thought differently and decided that he was worth a punt. It seems I was right as my coaches now rate him as 4.5 stars and his attributes are consistently improving. One to keep an eye on for sure.
To say that none of my other signings cost more than £100k lets you know all you need to about the bargain hunting that I undertook, not least in the 8 free transfers that came in including Michael Rauth, a promising AM/ST from Kaiserslautern, and Lukas Spendlhofer, the centre half I’d previously had on loan from Inter.
One of the more important free transfers was that of Paul Scharner, a 34 year-old veteran that I primarily brought in as a tutor. Whilst I plan to use Scharner as back-up for the ball-playing centre half role, I’ve asked him to tutor young central midfield newgen Bodo Kern for the simple reason that I want the youngster to adopt Scharner’s “arrives late in opponent’s area” PPM. You can’t teach this PPM and I’m absolutely desperate for Kern to pick this up, something I foresee bringing an added dimension to our midfield.
With the sales in midfield, I was still left with a couple of holes I needed to fill if I wasn’t to change tactic completely. We needed back-up creativity in midfield and a replacement for right-mid. I’m happy with our first choice options in centre mid with Simao providing the muscle and youngsters Kern and Wydra getting game time in the creative role. Beyond that, though, there wasn’t much in our squad and I was yet again frustrated in my attempts to sign Sascha Horvath and / or Valentino Lazaro.
Therefore, I decided to try an alternative approach that I’ve used previously – targeting limited players that have a few standout attributes that make them well suited to a particular role.
Hence why I spent £100k taking a chance on Gratkorn’s Kevin Maritschnegg. He’s clearly limited in some areas, primarily physically and in terms of teamwork. However, in the “easier” games that I plan to use him in, his attributes are more than good enough to fulfil the deep-lying playmaker role. So far, I’ve been proven right as we’ve won all but 1 of the games I’ve used him in and he’s maintained a 77% pass completion rate whilst averaging 7.04. Not bad for £100k.
If that was a bargain, then I was delighted to sign Peter Brandl for just £12k. The AI obviously just doesn’t fancy him and he was transfer listed at Kapfenberger, languishing in the reserves. However, I was primarily looking for a hard-working midfielder with good stamina and decent all-round attributes for the shuttling role on the right and figured I couldn’t really go wrong for just £12k.
Brandl’s never going to be a world-beater but he’s fine as a short-term option whilst I decided whether to stick with the 3-4-1-2 without leaving myself at risk financially.
The only other transfer of real note was a free transfer I picked up a few weeks ago with former Ballon D’Or winner Ronaldinho joining as player / under-18s manager. Mental? Perhaps but it’s Ronaldinho so give me a break!!
All those moves left me with a fairly well balanced squad covering all the positions for the 3-4-1-2 that I’d favoured last season. However, over the course of the games so far I’ve been considering a number of changes to our primary tactic.
I’ve played 4-5-1 and 4-2-3-1 in various games depending on opposition but the most common variant has been a move to 3-4-2-1 with the deep-lying forward converted into a trequarista type, partially inspired by Lee Scott’s article on the “false enganche”.
The idea was to have the “pivot” of our team moved a little further forward. Previously, the deep-lying playmaker at MLC was our primary passing outlet and I felt that this restricted us a little when facing deep defensive teams. By trying to get the ball “in amongst” them a little quick with players running off an AMC, I hoped to introduce more penetration to the side.
Particularly against the 4-2-2-2 that many Austrian sides employ against me, with two DMC’s sitting in front of a a back 4 that sit across the width of the 18 yard box.
There’s also the fact that I’m a sucker for wanting to change tactics far more than I really should. I often read about concepts that I want to try and implement even when they aren’t necessarily the most logical thing to do.
It’s clearly worked so far with Otto our top assist maker for the season, setting up 7 in 9 starts and 2 sub appearances. The concern now is what to do with the other players should I stick with the 2-1 up top rather than 1-2. It suited us initially because Hoeneß was injured but his return now gives me a dilemma – Hoeneß or Gregoritsch? And then there’s Alar, Schaub and Grbic to fit in too… things to consider.
Despite not scoring or assisting in the last 7 games, he’s got a very decent record of 7 goals and 6 assists in 16 starts. His attributes are also rocketing and he was doing well enough in the attacking midfielder role to keep Alar out of the side.
Alongside Domej and Kern, there are a number of youngsters who are really taking their chance in the first team this season.
All of which has left me in a very decent position…
The two losses were incredibly frustrating, stupid results against Ried and Pasching – both at home. They were exactly the sort of games you’d expect – the opposition simply sat deep, soaked up the pressure and hit us on the break time and time again. They both did it incredibly well, it has to be said, and we missed what few chances came our way.
It’s beginning to look like it’ll be a two-horse race for the title between ourselves and Mattersburg with the teams I’d have expected to challenge, Austria Wien and Red Bull Salzburg, having dropped off the pace alarmingly with the latter struggling to cope with the additional games in the Europa League.
We’ve progressed solidly in the domestic cups but the Champions League is where the real interest is:
We started off the campaign with a 2-2 draw at the Stade Vélodrome, a result which I’d have to say we were good value for a point despite leaving it incredibly late before super-sub Adrian Grbic grabbed one of the four goals he’s got from 4 subs appearances this season.
We followed that up with a quite ridiculous game at home to group favourites Chelsea.
Hazard was sent off very early on and even against 10 men we nearly threw it away. It was one of my favourite games so far, though, as it turned into a ludicrous tactical battle between myself and Javier Aguirre with the Mexican attempting to cover his team’s numerical deficit by continually changing the focus of his team. Every time he did so, I simply changed the focus of my own side – going wide when he drew his defence into a back 3, packing the centre when he left just one central midfielder in place, etc.
Primarily, I wanted to play a patient game to use our man advantage to create the perfect opportunity. It worked as the 4 “clear cut chances” were essentially open goals. Job done and 3 incredibly unexpected points.
After that, we had the back-to-back games against Sevilla and, to be honest, we were lucky to get one point. They battered us in the away game as we stole a 1-1 draw with a penalty that was one of just two shots we had all game.
Nevertheless, results are what matter and we’ve got OM up next. If we can get anything out of that game and Chelsea get a result in Seville then we could be setting ourselves up for a visit to Stamford Bridge where a Chelsea-esque anti-football performance would see us through…
Tactics… tactics… tactics.
I thought I’d settled on the 3-4-1-2 last season but the defensive frailties continue to concern me whilst the amendment into a 3-4-2-1 has made sense so far to make the most of Otto.
However, I’m still not entirely happy and I’d like to have the main playmaker in a line of three, ideally as one of three AMC’s or between an AMR and AML. It’s not just a question of symmetry though, it’s just that I feel having him offset to one side or other limits his passing options slightly.
I’m also getting increasingly frustrated by the inherent weaknesses in the back 3 – i.e. opposition attacking down the flanks. The biggest problem is an issue with the current match engine – when a winger gets down the line and beyond the defensive line (out wide) the defenders in the middle make absolutely no effort to remain goalside of either the ball or any advancing attackers. Thereby a striker or midfielder simply has to meander through the defensive line and he has an open goal from even a reasonably accurate cross.
The majority of goals which I lose come from this type of attack (or corners) and, to be frank, it’s annoying the crap out of me now.
Hence why I’m tempted to switch to a back four again and go with a 4-2-3-1 shape. It’s something that I can see us moving to in the future, particularly with the strength we have coming through at AMC, a 4-2-3-1 employing three central AMC’s would suit us well with very attacking fullbacks / wingbacks; whether that be Schimpelsberger and Alaba for the national side, or Farkas and Potzmann for Rapid… plenty to consider.
For now, I’m ploughing on with the 3-4-2-1 but I’m sure that I’ll change my mind many, many times before I finally settle on something to move forward with. As it is, the squad is balanced enough that I can experiment with the club side against weaker teams in both the league and cups. I’m fairly confident that we’ll be able to retain the title and we’ve got the absolutely crucial game coming up against Marseille in the Champions League.
As always, thanks for reading and if you have any comments please feel free to leave them below or contact me on Twitter.