After 4 seasons with Rapid Wien and Austria, I’ve decided to head for pastures new. Seeking a different challenge as the domestic game was becoming far too easy, I decided to head to the Italian lower league. Taking over a small, practically tiny, club in Feralpi Salò I’m looking to turn a minnow into a side that will eventually challenge the Italian giants of Milan, Turin and Rome.
In terms of the blog, I’m hoping that this game will show readers a different side to FM. With both Toulouse and Rapid, the two teams I’ve updated on so far, the clubs have been in their countries’ top tiers and well-established with good stadia and facilities. Feralpi are the complete opposite.
Therefore, in this post I’ll detail a bit about the club, why I chose them and what the current status of the club is; before then detailing my early days in charge with a bit on squad analysis, setting up the tactic and the initial signings that I have made… including an Austrian – old habits die hard.
So who the hell are Feralpi Salò and why have I decided to take over this club? Salò is a small town on the western edge of Lake Garda in Italy, a place that I know well from holidays with Mrs Naldo and quite probably where our son was conceived – which explains his excellent dress sense, footballing ability and propensity for changing allegiance without warning.
The club currently play in Lega Pro 1a Div. Girone A, or Serie C1A as I will henceforth be calling it. They have played in this league since 2010, coming up through the playoffs after being formed just a year before – the merger of A.C. Salò and A.C. Feralpi Lonato, two Serie D clubs.
They are, in any terms, true minnows. Salò has a population of just 10,000 although the surrounding area is fairly well populated; and they play in the tiny Lino Turina, a ground of just 2364 seats which I have actually passed a couple of times… I took this picture just a couple of miles up the shore from Salò.
This picture serves no purpose other than, you know, it’s nice and it underlines one of the reasons for picking this club. I always like to have a little bit of personal attachment, however small, to the teams I manage.
To go with the tiny stadium, the facilities are very poor with average training facilities, basic youth facilities and junior coaching and fairly basic youth recruitment. With that, I can’t expect to either produce or train any world beating youngsters just yet but then I don’t need to at this level. Developing the facilities will be a key focus during my tenure as I intend for this game to be all about developing a side rather than buying one in ready-made.
Taking a look at the current squad, this is clearly going to be quite a task as there really wasn’t a great deal of talent here when I arrived. As always, the very first thing I do when arriving at the club is analyze the starting squad to get a feel for tactics, signings and players I can allow (of force to) leave.
The reserves and under 20s squad is not even worth mentioning so those players, plus one which I sold, are what I had to work with on my arrival. The board were generous enough to give me £100k transfer budget but the wages were maxed out so it was either a case of selling to buy or shifting the transfer budget into the wage pot and looking for free transfers. In the end, I went for a bit of both.
With an eye on developing the tactic, I tried to pick out the strongest players and Francesco Lisi was the one who stood out.
Capable of playing on either wing and with good attributes for this level, he is well rounded enough that I could potentially use him as either a winger or an inside forward. He is, though, much more comfortable at the AM wide positions that ML/MR, something which also rings true for Pietro Tripoli on the other flank – a slightly inferior option but nevertheless very good for this level.
That pretty much nailed down the necessity to play advanced wingers although one look through the rest of the squad showed that my defence simply isn’t strong enough to play an attacking tactic and get away with it. We’re predicted to finish 11th (of 17) which I think is a fair reflection. It does mean, though, that teams will tend to come at us…
With reasonable pace in advanced positions and an individually poor defence, I was by this point leaning towards a counter attacking tactic. This suited me well in terms of trying something new, as did using a tactic more focused on exploiting the flanks. My previous tactics had been more aimed at exploiting the central strength we had at Rapid whilst we almost always took the initiative.
There’s nothing really fancy about it, necessarily at this level where Keep It Simple, Stupid is a sound mantra to follow. Given the average, at best, defensive ability at my disposal I decided to go with defending in numbers – particularly centrally.
Two passers in midfield will look to supply the ammunition for the runners out wide whilst a trequarista up top will be the fulcrum of the team, dropping deep to receive the ball and trying to disrupt the defensive line for the inside forwards to exploit.
I was initially skeptical about a trequarista at this level but the instructions suit what I wanted and it worked well during the friendlies. Having said that, I do change this up depending on the situation and occasionally use the 6’7” Mattia Buffoli as a targetman instead.
At this point it occurred to me that the shape and approach is very similar to that detailed by Cleon in this SI Forums thread. So that I don’t inadvertently simply copy the instructions which Cleon has used, I won’t be reading that thread anymore (I haven’t for a couple of weeks) and then, once I’m happy with the balance of my team it will be interesting to compare our conclusions.
With the general shape decided on, I now needed to identify areas that required strengthening although it really didn’t take much effort. One look at the screenshot of the assistant’s reports will show you that there are a number of areas that need investment. Due to our sketchy finances, I decided to prioritise these and deal with those priorities in order:
‘Keepers are absolutely crucial, for me. Even if they hadn’t been the quite catastrophically awful Graziano Gargallo would have been a cause for concern. Therefore a new ‘keeper was first on my list of requirements.
Hardly Lev Yashin but then he was never going to be at this level. Key for me, though, are his aerial ability, positioning and concentration. If we plan to soak up pressure and hit on the break then I expect to concede a number of corners, perhaps also freekicks. Therefore it makes sense to have a ‘keeper that would be comfortable in dealing with these.
Positioning, for me, is absolutely crucial in goalkeepers whilst his concentration should mitigate against stupid mistakes that are common in the lower leagues.
I’d have liked to have signed another ‘keeper as back-up but the finances preclude this so Giannelli will just have to avoid injury at all costs!
Striker – Trequarista
With battering ram Buffoli the only striker at the club when I arrived, bringing in the right man up top was my next priority.
As I intend to have the striker drop off the line and play a leading creative role in the team, I wanted to ensure the new signing had decent passing, anticipation, off the ball and creativity attributes. However, I also expect him to hold up the ball and be able to finish. A tall older to find such a player willing to join such a lowly side so I had to compromise somewhere.
With so many Austrians in my database, a legacy of the Rapid game, it will come as no surprise that I managed to unearth someone back in my former country. Rexhe Bytyci is actually a player I remember playing against when he was at Mattersburg and I was delighted that he was available for just £9k and willing to join Feralpi.
I compromised on my initial requirements in his creativity, low at 9, but felt that his well rounded attributes were worth the punt in case the trequarista experiment crashed and burned as I can quite easily use him in another role.
To complement Bytyci, I also brought in Brice Bonelli, a young French striker on loan from Parma. He’s simply a run and hit it type of striker with good pace, off the ball, composure and finishing. Nothing to write home about really.
My initial desire was to use another passer in here but, during the friendlies, I felt that the DLP was moving forward too often and leaving us exposed. Therefore I’ve decided to change him into a straight defensive midfielder but use a player who is an adept passer to “fake it” a little.
He is actually only listed as an MC but his attributes suit the role I wish him to perform well and I’m hoping ostensibly playing “out of position” won’t affect him too much. His height and strength are key for me whilst I would have preferred someone with more pace but beggars can’t be choosers.
Pace, pace and more pace
For my last important signing, I did what I nearly always do and brought in someone with blistering pace. It’s a common tactic of mine to have at least one option, usually from the bench, that is all about pace. With my limited resources and low reputation, I took a massive punt on Kingsley Boateng from Milan.
I’d also hoped that he would provide good resale value but he’s made a quite dreadful start to his career in Salò and this could be one that I come to regret.
Hidden versatility in the squad
For the rest of the squad’s weaknesses, in terms of depth, I sought out existing players that could conceivably cover other positions should the need arise.
This is a excellent tool for lower league managers and simply takes a bit of imagination and a bit of compromise, remembering that these guys aren’t going to be first choice but they could save you a shedload of money.
As an example, here’s Paolo Vacinaletti:
Now Paolo isn’t very good. He’s really not going to get into my midfield very often. However, he has a few redeeming features. He’s got decent pace, acceptable stamina and can cross a ball. He will be my back-up right back.
His positioning, anticipation and decisions are very poor, awful in fact. But my fullbacks are asked to bomb on and provide the width outside the inside forwards then swing the odd cross in. Paolo can do this when asked although I would never consider him a first choice starter.
By identifying this possibility, it has allowed me to sell Mattia Broli, the previous back-up right back and, quite frankly, a shambolic player, to Foggia for £100k. That money is much needed to keep our head above water whilst I search for better options.
When I arrived at the club, our scouting was practically non-existent and the number of players that I could conceivably choose from was diminished massively. Whilst we build up some scouting knowledge, the likes of Vacinaletti, Schiavini and Savoia will all cover for positions that they are not comfortable in.
The board expect a mid-table finish and I think this is possible, allowing me to slowly build up a squad that is capable of promotion. One player that I think will become key in that squad is young Giorgio Pinna, born in Salò and a newgen that was at the club when I joined.
My coaches all rate him highly and I’m currently having him tutored by Pietro Tripoli, who I’m hoping will pass on his “very ambitious” personality to the youngster in an effort to maximise his development.
My problem with Pinna just now is that his attributes are so low that I can’t decide what to develop him into. His pace and finishing don’t lend themselves to the inside forward role and so I’ve taken a bit of a gamble in trying to turn him into a trequarista, using his natural flair. He has a long, long way to go though.
On the pitch
So how have things gone so far? Well not bad but not great would be the answer.
The Serie C Cup group stage was sticky as we drew with Monza, a tier below us, before beating Tritium narrowly. I was really rather pleased with that win, though, as we went a man down after 7 minutes, where I decided to play with one centre half for an hour. The gamble paid off and we progressed on goal difference.
The league campaign started brilliantly with a 3-1 victory over Pro Patria before coming unstuck in spectacular style against Alto Adige, the Tirolese side restricting us to efforts from distance and scoring from two set pieces.
Even accounting for the backroom changes that I’ve made, teams at this level take a long time to learn new tactics due to the poor facilities and poor coaches. I would estimate that we won’t be fully “familiar” with the 4-5-1 until the new year so I’m happy to accept some inconsistency as I develop the tactic and learn what changes work in certain situations.
So what are my aims for this season? And looking further ahead?
For this season, it’s all about learning as much as I can about the players at my disposal and tweaking the tactic to suit both the level and personnel at the club. Off the field, I won’t be asking the board for any upgrades just yet as we simply cannot afford them. I am, however, keen to increase our coaching staff and will be looking to add more specialised coaches when I can.
In the medium term, improving our scouting and then bringing in promising youngsters is key. The majority of my first team squad is 26 or older and aren’t likely to get any better. The under 20 team is a joke and we don’t have the finances to buy ready made players that are good enough for promotion, nevermind anything else.
Two of my key players are also single season loans who will, obviously, return to their parent clubs in the summer. We need to build a squad of promising players that I can develop, sell on and then re-invest that money in both facilities and playing staff. We’ll be a selling club for quite some time but, as long as I can find decent replacements, that’s fine.
I hope I manage to get properly “into” this save. It’s been fun so far but I have a history of losing interest after promotions. Hopefully developing the club from the bottom up will give me some added impetus to stick with it. I hope it also provides some insight into how I go about developing clubs within FM and that it’s an interesting read for you all.
As always, thanks for reading and let me know if you have any comments or questions.