The Happel Challenge – Shopping by attributes rather than positions

Rapid real homeI’m sure that many of you are sick and tired of hearing about my games with Rapid Wien but, sorry, I’m back with another one! My dissatisfaction with FM14 is hardly a secret and I’ve made my feelings clear on many occasions – about the tactical interface and match engine in particular. With those elements of the game, probably the two most important elements, so fundamentally ruined for me; I had to find enjoyment in some other aspect of FM.

Either that or stop playing altogether and, to be quite frank, FM has been my sole pastime for so long that I’ve forgotten what else I’m supposed to do with what little spare time I have.

So sadly my Alavés save is no more as I decided that the best way to regain some love of the game was to head back to Rapid – a club I always enjoy managing.

For a blog, though, this would probably be an interminably dull save to report on in the same manner I did with Feralpi or ADO. So instead, I’m going to try and focus each ‘Rapid’ report around one (hopefully) interesting aspect of FM that happens to have come about during the corresponding period of the save.

This article’s topic is, therefore, on “Shopping by attributes rather than positions”.

So first a little background on the save to give this article context…

Rather than starting yet another new save and taking over Rapid with the same familiar squad that I’ve dealt with on many occasions, I decided to holiday my Alavés ‘gameworld’ until the end of the 2015/16 season before taking over.

This would give me an entirely new starting squad with most of the familiar faces (and nearly all of the best prospects) having moved on. The rest of the leagues around me would also be different and I wouldn’t be coming up against the ‘same old, same old’ as every other save. This would be important as my plan is to tour around leagues a little in a mini-journeyman style.

Legendary Austrian manager Ernst Happel
Legendary Austrian manager Ernst Happel

Legendary Austrian manager Ernst Happel currently shares 2 managerial records – one of four managers to have won 4 different domestic league championships (Mourinho, Trapattoni and Ivic); and the first of four to have won the European Cup with 2 different clubs (Mouinho, Hitzfeld and Heynckes). This seems like a reasonable target to aim for…

But first I needed to sort out Rapid. My predecessors had been largely unsuccessful (with two 4th placed finishes and one 3rd) whilst filling the squad with average foreigners. When I arrived and found the club coffers plunging precariously close to the red, it wasn’t a difficult decision to ship out almost £10m of players I didn’t particularly rate.

With the board’s expectations unexpectedly low, probably due to my predecessors’ rank incompetence, I could afford a transition season and stripping the squad back to the bare bones allowed me to mould the team into the formation I wanted to play and develop a few of the youth players in which I saw promise.

WhirlI’d initially intended to play with the 4-1-2-3-0 strikerless shape I used to such effect with Feralpi but then decided to change it up a little and opt for a 4-2-3-1. Through a process of trial and error, which due to the sheer volume of error felt like one hell of a trial, it became what you see here. It’s not all that interesting really – just my way of trying to force the match engine to replicate both the on- and off-the-ball positioning I wish to see.

A relatively successful season followed as we finished 2nd behind a very strong Red Bull Salzburg who had finally woken up after their own under-performing prior to my arrival. We did, however, take our own piece of silverware in the OFB-Cup (the Austrian FA Cup equivalent).

Progress had been made and the board had agreed to many of my requests to improve the facilities, no doubt buttered up by the sackfuls of cash I’d provided by selling half the squad the previous summer.

Although we’d had a successful season, it was very much founded on the success of our attack, particularly original-Rapidler Dominik Starkl who scored 18 and assisted 25. Our defence, on the other hand, was particularly weak and Mario Sonnleitner, another original, was allowed to move to APOEL in the summer for £500k.

This left me looking to round the squad off with 3 key positions – deep-lying playmaker, advanced playmaker and centre back(s).

By now, we had a significant transfer budget with which to do our shopping (currently £7.6m) and could conceivably head out and purchase 2 or 3 (relatively) top-class foreigners to get the job done. However, like many, I try to make the game challenging. There isn’t much satisfaction, for me, in winning a relatively small league simply by exercising our clear financial advantage. As any long-term readers will be aware, I also like to prioritise domestic players and particularly domestic youth – a policy which generally fits well with Rapid’s real-life traditions.


Prietl was signed for £700k from Ried. Looking at his playing attributes, I’m sure many will consider that I overpaid but he was the only Austrian option available to me who ticked a number of key boxes:

  1. He’s comfortable on both feet
  2. He’s got good physicals with a combination of pace to cover against counter attacks and height to meet goal-kicks or long freekicks from deep
  3. Used as a deep-lying playmaker on defend duty, he doesn’t need to be that creative but he’s solid in possession whilst having good defensive attributes for midfielders at this level – marking, tackling, positioning, etc.
  4. I had expected to lose my current set-piece specialist and was looking for a decent corner taker
  5. And this was the clincher – leadership. I’d sold the majority of the experienced players and those left had low Leadership attributes. I had a feeling (and I stress that its only a feeling as it’s very difficult to prove) that our young team was particularly inconsistent due to the lack of experienced leaders around them. Prietl, therefore, would become club captain and provide the guidance I felt the youth needed.


Next, Djuric was signed for £350k from Wacker Innsbruck to fulfil the advanced playmaker role from AMC.


The passing stats and maps above came from a 4-0 home win over Wacker Innsbruck early in my second season. The midfield three are doing exactly what I want from them – controlling the centre of the park. The advanced playmaker, Djuric’s pass map on the right, is particularly pleasing. He’s operating across the width of the pitch and primarily in the final third. What is most pleasing, perhaps perversely, are the red dots in the most advanced areas.

With a possession hungry system, it can often be the case that FM-ers become frustrated by the lack of chances created. Often this can come about because the players in advanced positions are most concerned with retaining the ball and fail to take any risky passes but often it is only those risky passes which can unlock a defence. The mis-placed passes at the top end of the park show that Djuric is retaining possession when required but is still trying to unlock the defence when he can. In my opinion, this is a direct result of his PPM and one of the primary reasons I bought him – tries killer balls often.

The usual playmaking attributes of Passing, Anticipation and Creativity were obvious requirements but I also wanted a reasonably high Flair attribute to encourage, similar to his PPM, our primary playmaker to try something a bit different every now and again. Averaging 126 passes in each of his first 14 games whilst maintaining an 84% completion rate and assisting 7 goals; he’s been a very pleasing acquisition.

Whilst there were plenty of options for the two midfield roles, finding a suitable centre back proved far more difficult. In fact, I’ve found sourcing defenders to be the hardest part of transfers on FM14. In my Alavés save I was planning to retrain defensive midfielders and I’ve followed the same approach here.


My first choice would have been Simon Piesinger, the former Wacker midfielder who is currently at Bochum via Sturm Graz, but he just wouldn’t agree to a contract within my £7.5kpw self-imposed cap. So instead I went looking for any Austrian player  who had the necessary combination of attributes that I could retrain to become a centre back.

The attributes I was looking for are mostly self-explanatory: the usual primary defensive attributes of Positioning, Tackling, Marking, Heading, Jumping, Strength along with a bit of pace and, what was lacking in most of my other options, some decent mental attributes. Like many, I’m a big fan of mental attributes and can usually overlook a couple of low attributes in other areas if a player has really strong mentals.

Rusek has very high Determination, a high Work Rate and decent, although not spectacular, attributes in Positioning, Anticipation, Concentration and Decisions. He’s not going to be a top-class centre back by any stretch of the imagination but he’ll certainly do a job as a squad rotation option and, having qualified for the Europa League groups, we’ll need options.

The best part of it, though, is that his previous club didn’t rate him as a midfielder. They put up no sort of fight to keep him and so we were able to sign him for just £105k. Usually I’m forced to pay massively over the odds when buying from other Austrian clubs but we managed to sign Rusek undervalue and on a lovely cheap contract. Wins all round.


Piermayr followed much the same logic. Decent across the board with the added advantages of being available on a free transfer and also being able to cover at right-back, his natural position. Notice that Piermayr has learned the new position far quicker than Rusek – likely an indication of their different ‘versatility’ attributes (hidden).

Building on that foundation then, we’ve started the season well. We’re unbeaten in 16 games, including a Europa League playoff victory over Standard Liège and home draw against Tottenham in the first group game. Unfortunately for the premise of this article, the only real difficulty we’ve had is in defence. 7 of the 16 goals we’ve conceded in the opening 16 games have been the direct result of individual mistakes – although only 1 for the ‘attribute’ signings (Rusek). We’ve been getting a lot of this:


A game which we completely dominate in terms of chances and general play but where we concede stupid goals and make it difficult for ourselves.

I’m hoping that the defence will improve with time and familiarity. Introducing a few new players seems particularly disruptive defensively (again opinion) and I’m hoping the second half of the season will provide a more solid defensive line.

And that, essentially, is the first season and a bit back at Rapid. How long will I stay? I’ll definitely stay until we win the title and maybe a couple of seasons beyond depending on our progress in Europe. As soon as it gets boring because the domestic game is becoming too easy I’ll move on. I do think, however, that I’ll stay in some of the smaller leagues – what I’d class as ‘second tier’ leagues like Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Scotland, etc. I think this is ‘my level’, where I enjoy managing most. Although I may need to head to the bigger leagues if I want to challenge Happel’s European Cup record.

As always, thanks for reading and if you have any comments, please leave them in the boxes below. Incidentally, apologies to adityaasawa and engin baytar. I have only just noticed your comments on previous articles. I will get round to answering them tonight.

Forza Rapid!!


6 thoughts on “The Happel Challenge – Shopping by attributes rather than positions”

  1. Good write up Shrew. As always I’m playing with the Dons. Every few years I’m setting myself new targets/challenges etc to try and keep it interesting. This has been the hardest FM (imo of course) of breaking the Celtic dominance.

    Been catching up on your blogs as I’ve had a few things to eal with at home (along with some semi finals and finals to attend ;)) but will be keeping an eye on how you progress here.

      1. Consistently winning it now, 3 in a row. 3 points behind Celtic currently but that can be considered a blip.

        Rangers came back up as soon as possible but they have won 3 trophies at most and are yet to challenge for the title. This season being the closest they’ve been.

        I’ve never won the Champions league with the Dons. Once this has been accomplished I’ll probably move on but will take some doing.

  2. Great write up as always mate. Quick question – what match preparation are you using or do you change it up game to game? For me, when I am struggling defensively or have made a lot of personnel changes I try and switch focus to defensive positioning / teamwork and team cohesion. It seems to help the team gel better. Less goals but more solid.

    1. I tend to just switch it up for games where I really think I need it. Most of the time I just leave it as the default “tactics only” because I forget to change it! It’s not one of the things I tend to use much in FM, I’ll be honest.

  3. Had a lot going on , and it’s been a good while since I’ve had any kind of time to get back into the swing of FM, but it’s good to see you back with Rapid and I like the ideas you have for the save. Always really enjoy your writing style and points of interest you write about for your blog. Looking forward to getting caught up with your updates.

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