Squad building is probably my favourite part of the game. I like tactics and I enjoy developing the youth players but that’s all part of building a squad that matches a coherent, consistent approach to winning matches and trophies.
It is, though, slightly different – if no less enjoyable – for Club and Country games because success with the club isn’t the ultimate goal of the save. There are times when, quite deliberately, the club side will be weakened in the hope that the long-term success of the national side can be secured. This update will provide a quick overview of how we’ve gone about that so far with Rapid Wien.
Our first season in Austria was depressingly straightforward as we secured a domestic double and reached the second knockout round of the Europa League. Domestic challenge was conspicuously absent and we eventually won the league by 13 points – a gap made even more remarkable by the fact that teams’ points are halved after 22 games when the league splits, thereby halving the 12 point lead we had at that stage.
Red Bull Salzburg did begin to show some hints of competence in the second half of the season, though – particularly with the introduction of Norwegian wonderkid Erling Håland – and, with more additions over the summer, are providing sterner competition this term.
Meanwhile our squad has seen the departure of some key players, beginning with the loss of ‘keeper Richard Strebinger to Everton in January. With the player’s head turned by a £5.25m (plus clauses) offer, I could do little but let him go. Ordinarily I would be pleased that the national #1 was moving to a bigger league but, as I feared at the time, once Pickford returned from the injury which prompted the move, Strebinger has spent most of his time warming the bench.
Replacing him was a tricky task. I could have gone for one of the better established Austrian ‘keepers but I decided to instead move for Manuel Kuttin from Admira Wacker at just £775k.
Kuttin is decent and entirely capable of first team duty but was willing to sign on a ‘backup’ contract. This was important as I simultaneously invested the exact same fee in Daniel Antosch, a 19 year old prospect from FC Liefering, to whom he was loaned back for the rest of the season.
My plan is to use Antosch as my main first team ‘keeper for the second season. I’m hoping the game time will help him develop into the national team first choice but he will inevitably cost Rapid goals while doing so – indeed he already has, being at fault for two in an opening day 3-1 loss to Red Bull.
These are, however, the sort of choices that you need to make in Club and Country games and a similar thought process was behind the majority of my summer transfers.
I was loathe to let Dejan Ljubicic go as he was one of my favourite players last season, controlling the midfield effectively from the DM role and breaking into the national set-up. But with Fulham surviving in the Premier League and Ljubicic sure to get plenty of first team games then it made perfect sense from a C&C perspective, not to mention financially.
Remembering the guidelines imposed on the save in the first blog update, the funds from the Ljubicic sale – plus later sales of Schobesberger and Hofmann (not good enough) as well as Berisha and Mocinic (not Austrian enough) – gave me quite a bit of leeway in terms of purchases from foreign clubs.
In Wöber, Dovedan and Horvath, I chose to bring back national team prospects who weren’t getting enough game time abroad; whilst Kainz and Schaub, along with Wöber former Rapid players, were more high profile Austrian signings aimed at appeasing those in the squad who were upset at the sale of Ljubicic.
Müller and Ljubic, meanwhile, are prospects from the domestic market whilst Abeling is a promising newgen rightback.
Speaking of newgens, our first intake was moderately successful with a very promising centre back being the only player of any note, and not just for the goatee.
All-in-all I’m fairly happy with the state of the squad. I like to have 3 players available for each position – a first choice player, an able back-up and a youth prospect. At times the same player may fill two slots for a single or various positions but as long as we have those three options across the board then I’m comfortable with the squad depth.
My main remaining concerns are twofold:
- have I weakened the squad too much?
- why aren’t we scoring enough goals?
On the former, with the board only expecting a finish ” near the top of the Bundesliga”I’m not too concerned for my job, but after 7 games of the new season we’re already 9 points behind Salzburg. Long term planning is all well and good but I may have gone too far, too quickly.
On the latter, the ‘framework’ I outlined in the last post has seen us dominate games but struggle to create chances or score regularly. Despite winning the title, we only scored 1.5 goals per game – this term, it’s gone even lower.
It’s quite possible that a subsequent post will have to focus on these tactical issues, exacerbated by seemingly well-known concerns with strikers’ movement in this year’s match engine.
For now, though, that’s your lot. Let me know if you’re trying your own Club and Country save, or your own approach to squad management. It’s always interesting to hear different approaches, particularly successful ones I can steal.