Feralpi Salò – Mistakes, transition year and squad building

feralpi_awayI always used to say that 3 seasons was enough to win any league with any team in FM… well as this is my 3rd season in Serie A with Feralpi that puts me in a rather awkward position. You can forget any ideas that we may have won the league. Whatever slim chance we had of that disappeared long before the winter break.

With the team struggling to maintain any consistency, I did the only thing that any sane football manager would do… I declared this to be a year of consolidation. You can’t blame me for any lack of real progression from last year when we are in a transition period can you? We’re just building for the future you see. Take a hit now, sow a few seeds and reap the benefits in years to come…

Or something like that.

In reality, much of the blame for our lack of progression this year can be attributed to mistakes that I made earlier in the season. In hindsight, it’s easy to spot the mistakes and wonder why I made them in the first place, although it should be noted that I wasn’t the only one to make mistakes with at least 6 opposition goals being the direct result of defensive mistakes from my players.

Either way, it’s given me an opportunity to consolidate, re-shape the squad slightly and further improve the club’s infrastructure without losing too much, if any, ground on the teams we are supposed to be challenging for silverware. Therefore, this update will briefly look at the results over the course of the season and those mistakes I made before going into more detail on the more interesting and transferable aspects of the year – the squad building.

So let’s take a look at how we managed to perform in our “transition year”:

League

Ok, so it wasn’t really that bad after all. We still qualified for the Champions League and actually improved on our finish last season by one place – perhaps a slight improvement given that we didn’t have to go through the final day drama of the last campaign. Slight improvement is probably an accurate way to describe the league performance – 1 place, 1 point, 2 goals scored and 3 goals against better than we managed in 2021/22.

But slight improvement really isn’t good enough when you consider that we spent over £18m improving the squad  last summer and were right up there challenging in early November. 4 losses through November and early December, when I started unnecessarily experimenting with tactics, ended any hope of a title challenge although it should be noted that Napoli were simply imperious and would likely have been out of sight no matter what we did.

Nevertheless, there really was no reason for me to experiment with what had been, up to that point, a successful base tactic. Of course, I get bored very easily in FM, particularly once I think a tactic is more or less the finished product, and I’m constantly distracted by reading the excellent material available across the FM scene. Threads or articles on liberos, inverse wingbacks, creative forwards and many more all got into my psyche and I started tweaking… and tweaking… and tweaking… and at one point ripping it all up and starting again.

progressWhen you know that just one of those attempted changes included something as drastic as using a striker (I know, shameful) then you’ll understand the depths of my errors.

Nevertheless, we managed to recover it with a fine run of form in the second half of the season, going unbeaten between a 5-2 trouncing by Juventus on 15th January and a 1-0 dead rubber defeat by Sampdoria on the final day. 3rd place means that we’ll enjoy a second season in the Champions League with our first being something of a qualified success.

We scraped past Austria Wien, the easiest draw I could have hoped for, in the Best Placed Playoff which saw us enter a group of Celtic, Atletico Madrid and eventual winners Porto. As expected, we failed to progress from that group but we never embarrassed ourselves – earning a respectable 7 points with victories over the Scots and Spaniards. This was enough for 3rd place and a parachute into the Europa League.

Where we would face another eventual winner – Marseille. We never really came close to troubling the French side and went out 5-2 on aggregate after an ill-construed attempt to “get up and at ’em” in the second leg.

Which just leaves the Coppa Italia, a trophy that we were defending after a fine win last season. Again, we did okay without excelling – beating AlbinoLeffe and Palermo in the earlier rounds before going out to Juventus despite winning the home leg 1-0.

So yeah, 3rd in the league, 3rd in our Champions League group and kind of 3rd in the Coppa. Not bad really for a small side although it’s getting to the point where I can’t claim to be a minnow anymore. As I said earlier, we spent over £18m on transfers last season so any more bleating on about how we struggle to compete with the big-spenders may well take me into Tony Pulis territory. Things have been going so well that…

Increasing expenses

We’re now the 42nd richest club in the world… not bad really and probably putting pressure on me to achieve top 4 places in the league rather than seeming to punch above our weight as we’ve been doing so far. Therefore, it’s just as well that I managed to recover our form after Christmas and put those mistakes right.

Lesson learned, though. Maybe. I’m a terrible procrastinator and massively indecisive when it comes to FM. I’m also easily-led by those peskily outstanding tactical posts across the community and whilst I have every intention of sticking to my guns… well that’ll end as soon as I start doodling in my notebook.

RetainUntil that glorious moment, however, I’ll be trying to forge ahead using the tactic shown to the right, a continuation in the evolution of the strikerless tactic that we’ve used since Serie C.

I still use the counter attacking version on occasion, i.e. European away games, but allowing the team to push forward slightly satisfies part of my need for a new tactic whilst it also handily combats opposition that have no intention of coming at us and leaving the space in behind that the counter attacking version requires.

The most useful thing about keeping the same shape but different mentalities for my various tactical options is that it makes it easier to balance the squad and start a long term progression plan.

I now know, for example, that I won’t need to bother with strikers so I can retrain or sell any newgens that come through limited to that position whilst not having to source forwards, who tend to be more expensive that other players, is an extra benefit to the bank balance.

Not that I’ve really been too worried about keeping the costs down this summer…

Record spendingI got this message on 1st July, as soon as the transfer window opens because I’d arranged all of these deals as far back as last December. I love a bit of long-term planning and with the title a complete no-hoper before the end of the January window, I decided to use the rest of the games to confirm my analysis of the existing players and thoroughly scout (and I mean thoroughly) for the replacements.

Starting from the back, I eventually decided that a new ‘keeper was in order. Spaniard Chavarria had done a decent job since taking over from Bonetti on promotion to Serie A but his strengths were becoming obsolete. We no longer require a ‘keeper that can dominate his area and help protect us from the aerial bombardment that comes with sitting deep and playing on the break. Instead, Chavarria’s main weakness, one on ones, was starting to hurt us.

Keeping in mind my one-in-one-out policy with foreigners, I wanted to find an Italian option but there just wasn’t one available to suit. So instead, I had to look a little further afield…

Kameni

£7.5m was briefly my record transfer, soon to be eclipsed, and I was initially hesitant to part with such a large sum of money but ‘keepers are absolutely crucial and at just 20 Kameni should prove to be a valuable long term investment.

He’s got it where it matters with the traditionally valued goalkeeper attributes of one on ones, reflexes, command of area and agility whilst the usually under-rated communication, positioning, anticipation and concentration are all excellent. His handling, at just 13, might need a little work but some targeted training should sort that out and, with any luck, Kameni will be our number 1 for years to come.

With Chavarria having been first choice for 3 seasons, I don’t anticipate him being happy to sit on the bench for very long therefore I also looked for a back-up option. I don’t know whether anyone else does this but I try to have a ‘keeper in the squad that I like to refer to as a “Stuart Taylor” – a player who is happy to sit on the bench at a decent club without making too much of fuss when he plays 8 games in 5 years.

Therefore, I brought in Raimondo Sanna from Cremonese for just £650k. Let’s see how long before he starts moaning.

SannaMoving further forward, the defence is one area that I’m generally happy with and it was generally just a case of making replacements as I try to domesticise my back line.

Left back wasn’t a position that I thought was going to need investment. Jan Lukac was my first choice at the start of last season whilst Brazilian Orlando is a fantastic prospect. Lukac, however, decided that he wanted to move to a bigger club and he pissed me off sufficiently that I was happy to accept a £7.5m offer from Saint-Etienne.

When “the next Paolo Maldini” is available on a free transfer then it really isn’t a difficult decision.

Zini

With the left back in my new formation the less attacking of the fullbacks, I’m more comfortable in signing Zini despite his low crossing, flair and off the ball. I see Zini as capable of progressing into a more solid left-back, ably covering for a purely offensive winger in front of him and with pace enough to help out the two centre backs should they be exposed by the advancing right back.

At centre half, I allowed Frenchman Kaba to leave as he was refusing to sign a contract that I considered proportional to his abilities. Alessandro Lupi was a player that I’d had my eye on for a while, my interest piqued by his ability to play at sweeper, and his performances on loan at Cagliari and Sociedad convinced me to give Inter £4.5m for his services.

Lupi

My new back line looks to employ an intelligent covering defender and a more physical traditional centre half. I’ve stopped short of a full-on stopper / cover combination but it’s a similar set-up to what English football fans will remember with Terry – Carvalho or Ferdinand – Vidic. Lupi, at 6’8” and with immense aerial prowess, will be the more advanced of the two but is currently back-up to Italian international Ciobotariu whilst Daniel Okoye, my Nigerian club captain, is first choice in the covering slot.

Okoye

You may remember that when I signed Okoye (see this update) I saw him as a future Feralpi captain. While he’s gone on to prove me right, he has massively exceeded my expectations with some quite simply superb performances during this 3 seasons in Salò.

Okoye historyMy point in focusing on Okoye is that the game only rates him as a 3.5* centre half and yet he’s had the highest average rating in Serie A for the last 2 years, is a club icon and is, quite frankly, brilliant. Here are his stats from the last 18 competitive games:

Okoye statsKey headers and interceptions. Interceptions and key headers. Either the average rating engine over-rates these statistics or the coach rating engine under-rates the attributes which drive them but there’s no doubting that Okoye is an absolutely fantastic defender who suits my tactic perfectly. It’s something that is worth bearing in mind – the star system, plus the player value system, is not infallible. Of course neither is our judgement but sometimes we do know better.

With Ciobotariu, Okoye’s partner in crime, not far behind him with a 7.40 average rating from last year, we’re looking good at the back with Lupi and Bykov, a Belarussian with Italian passport, providing ample competition.

Moving into midfield and the deep-lying playmaker position. Romanian Lucian Brasoveanu has been playing well there but his development has been painfully slow. With Tom Dolk, a player the AI doesn’t rate at all, backing him up there may seem a necessity to invest here but I don’t currently have plans to do so.

You may have noticed something throughout my posts but, if not, here’s a screenie of my squad that should give it away:

Squad ages

I have highlighted all the players aged 25 or over… all 3 of them. 2 of them being 25. Dolk is the oldest player in my squad at 27, is the club’s vice-captain and is listed as being a “leader” under the personality field. He provides something that all my new signings don’t – experience. Other than tutors, I don’t think I’ve signed a player over the age of 23 and our average age just keeps going down. I need to keep some experience in the squad and Dolk does that – besides I think he’s much better than the AI does.

In front of the DLP, the situation becomes all very complicated. We have 5 positions which all seem to be quite individual but I’ve tried to bring together a squad of players that can fulfil at least two positions within those 5 midfield slots.

For example, Ricardo Gonzalez (last season’s screenshot), is ostensibly my first choice right-inside-forward; and with good reason as he scored 13 and assisted 8 in an excellent debut season, primarily from the right flank. However, he’s also an option for either the advanced playmaker position at MCR or the inside forward AMC.

Similarly, there’s a player who I bought for £1.8m in the January window. The sort of player every squad needs – a Scotsman.

HayA more direct and physical version of González, he also covers AMR and AMC but the box-to-box role in the centre rather than playmaking; making full use of his PPM’s – gets forward whenever possible and arrives late in opponent’s area. Together with his professional personality, the tutoring possibilities tipped me over the edge when I was considering his signing.

Plus I’m serious about the Scotsman thing. You all need one. Probably two.

For the rest of the midfield options, it’s probably best just to show you this screenshot where I’ve tried to indicate where each player covers:

Midfield options

There may be a lot of options there but that’s the key word – options. I have pacey inside forward, hard-working wingers, flamboyant ball-players or a 6’5” right winger that likes to do this against small fullbacks:

… with so many games to play now that we’re a regular European competitor I need those options. It’s also nice to see a few more Italians. Whilst the likes of Pinna and Venturati are being kept around for European squad nominations rather than any real expectation of regular performances, the likes of De Angelis, who scored the goal above, and new signing Fascendini are very much first team material.

Fascendini

£5.25m for the next Paolo Rossi isn’t bad. He really is an archetypal striker with his movement, composure and finishing so he should be a good fit for the goal-scoring inside forward role that I require.

Meanwhile, on the opposite flank, I needed competition for Funes Mori. A former AMR inside forward that I converted into a left winger, the Argentinian did okay last season with 5 assists in the 20 or so games he played at left win. “Okay” is probably what Funes Mori has been since I bought him and I can’t help feeling that his £6.25m transfer fee was a little too much.

Nevertheless, he stays for  this season where he’ll fight it out with this gentleman for the left wing role:

PrestNow I know what you’re thinking – he’s not an AML. And you’d be right but I’ll be re-training him there as I feel he has the potential to be a world class winger.  At £8.75m, he’s our newest record signing and potentially a bit of a gamble if you consider that our training facilities aren’t that great yet but a little boost to his crossing attribute along with the positional re-training and he’s gold.

Hopefully.

But why not just use him in his natural position? Well a few reasons. His finishing is a little low to be considered a primary finisher which I require at AMC; whilst his passing and decisions are a little low to be a primary playmaker. Besides, we already have home-grown options at AMC with Grammacia and the massively promising Giulio Schembari.

SchembariI procrastinated heavily over Schembari at the end of last summer’s transfer window, had a brief twitter discussion with a few people about it, pulled out of a £6m move and then ended up going back and signing him for £4.2m – a move which looks like paying off. He’s a terrific impact substitute and has a great goal-scoring record off the bench whilst he should develop into a starter in a few years.

Besides, I’d already spent quite a lot! Remembering that £26.5m record spending screenshot above, it may surprise you to know that my board have given me another £35m for this season. With the enormous TV deals in Italy (I got £50m between the league and Europe last season), we seem to have no end of funds – although it should be noted that I’ve sold £15.75m worth of players this summer in Lukac (£7.5m), Piacenza (£1.3m co-ownership auction), Kaba (£1.8m) and Jung (£5m).

Having added 6 key squad members this summer, I really feel that the spine of the squad is well set. I may have said this before but we really should only need a star signing here or there and a bit of intuition in the youth market to keep the squad going for years to come.

As I said above, we only have 3 players aged 25 or above and there’s at least one talented option available in each position. With that in mind, I turned my attention to off the field matters:

Clear debts

Board requests

The first one had nothing to do with me but if I’d had the option to request it I certainly would have.

Sadly, the board rejected my request to increase our junior training budget but spending over £12m on the 3 infrastructure improvements they did approve isn’t something I can really complain about.

The improvement to the training facilities is going to be key for me. Currently listed as “average”, I get the feeling that we’re being held back by the training ground. There have been certain players, such as Brasoveanu and Chavarria, that I think should have developed quicker than they have. They’ve both received plenty of game time and have/had the potential so I can only consider the relatively poor standard of facilities to be at fault.

At every possible opportunity from now on I will be requesting improvements to the facilities, spending as much money as the board see fit.

Usually at this stage, I would be going out to snap up 10-15 under-17 players in the hope that 3 or 4 of them would develop but I don’t want to do that until I feel the facilities are improved to the level that would aid their development. For now, it’ll only be really special youngsters that are already reasonably well developed that will tempt me to part with a portion of that £35m.

I’m actually feeling good about this season. I feel that the squad is in a good place and that we’ve made some really good signings. With a bit of luck and a manager who doesn’t decide to change tactics 6 times mid-season we might actually launch a decent title bid… I wonder if a 4-4-2 might be better though…

As always, thanks for reading and I hope that you are still enjoying the updates / getting any tips you may be looking for. I look forward to any comments or questions you may have.

Forza Feralpi!!

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4 thoughts on “Feralpi Salò – Mistakes, transition year and squad building”

    1. They “bought” half of him two years ago for £800k and so the final decision was due this summer.

      I bid £100k as I figured I’d be able to make a profit on that should Empoli fail to make a bid but they ended up bidding £1.3m which I think is probably a fair bid. He’s done well for them with 7.24 and 7.26 in the last 2 seasons (in Serie A).

    1. Thanks! Really appreciate the feedback.

      Just found your own blog not long ago and really been enjoying it. I’ve “pocket’d” a number of the articles for reading on the train tomorrow.

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