The best way to predict the future is to create it

You’ll have to forgive the sanctimony of the quote, which I think is from Abraham Lincoln, but it fits well with the theme of this post – the future of the national team and the club’s role in making it as successful as possible.

As a brief reminder, I’m playing a “club and country” save with Rapid Wien and Austria.  The over-riding priority of the game is success with the national side and the club side exists almost solely to facilitate that.  But no-one plays to lose and we’ve managed to win the Bundesliga title in each of my three seasons plus the domestic cup in two – a 4-0 humiliation in a semi against Sturm Graz being the sole aberration.

During the course of those three seasons the squad has undergone quite the transformation as I’ve looked to ship out the foreign contingent and develop a production line of young Austrian talent.

Off the pitch, the board have agreed to near continuous upgrades to the training and youth facilities, as well as youth recruitment.  Starting the game with a poor youth training system, even after three seasons of upgrades Rapid’s facilities still rank only as “average” – with another improvement in the pipeline.

13 sales from the first team squad have brought in over £50m with the majority of that reinvested in ~30 players ranging from 16 year-old newgens to the experience of Julian Baumgartlinger (33).  It should be noted, however, that approximately a quarter of my total spending (£10m) has gone on one player (Lukas Hinterseer) and the less said about that episode the better.  I don’t want to talk about it.  Let’s just pretend it never happened.

All of which has left me with a 100% Austrian squad with an average age of just 23.

So how does this help the national side?  Talent, that’s how.  Talent and a testing ground for tactical systems.

A previous post [here] covered my preferred tactical framework whilst leaving quite a bit of flexibility in specific roles and positions to achieve it – deliberately so in order to assuage my tactical procrastination and constant need to tinker; but also so the tactic can evolve with the variation dictated by newgen creation.

Moving into the fourth season, and given the success of the club thus far, I’ve decided to take a small gamble and push a lot of the established players out in favour of those 19-21 year olds that are starting to need game time to develop.

A good example of that being Martin Moorman, a 20 year old centre back who starts the game at Rapid.

His physicals are fantastic, particularly that pace, but his mental attributes need a bit of work.   12 first team starts this season has really paid dividends, the screenshot below showing his attribute change since age 19, and he’ll be getting plenty more next year in an effort to get him up to international standard.

I’ve put Moorman into a development group learning from Max Wöber in the hope the former picks up on the mentor’s Professionalism attribute but also because, under the new system, I can have him in the same mentor group as his prospective centre back partner Rüdiger Pellowski.

Probably the best newgen to come through our own youth academy, I can definitely see Pellowski going on to be a fixture in the national team – having already broken into the U-21 side at just 17.

Although increasing the game time for such young players may be a risk, it’s a calculated one and quickly brings results.  I had a similar strategy with ‘keeper Daniel Antosch, who I signed from Liefering in season one.

Last year he cost me quite a few goals but his form has greatly improved this term with 19 clean sheets in 32 league games.  With any luck, Antosch | Pellowski | Moorman gives me a very solid base from which to build going forward.

In line with the tactical framework I tend to work with, in front of them will sit a triumvirate of midfield cover | midfield passer | midfield runner.  Initially I had anticipated using the ‘cover’ as the deepest player and the passer and runner further forward, like this:

But for reasons we’ll come to later, it seems likely that we’ll move to using the ‘passer’ in the deeper role in front of the defense and a ‘cover’ or tackler in a more advanced role, thus:

In terms of personnel, the current national side is blessed with a number of good central midfielders who fit into these roles without being world class.  The likes of Dejan Ljubicic, Xaver Schlager, Florian Grillitsch, Konrad Laimer, Raphael Holzhauser and Peter Michorl should keep us well stocked for a few years.

Coming down the production line, however, are some very promising youngsters – primarily at my own club.  Ivan Ljubic and Robert Ljubicic (brother of Dejan above) are real players that will be good for club but unlikely to make it for country.  Unlike Deniz Pehlivan who I think could be excellent.

Similar to Moorman, he’s a real Rapid academy player with excellent physicals (mostly) and a bit short on the mentals.  With 20+ starts next season, I’m hoping he can develop the latter and his strength to become a first team regular.  The question is whether that would be in the ‘passer’ role, or ‘runner’.  My dilemma comes because he will be competing with a very similar player in Dominik Christian – one of the other Rapid newgens worth noting.

Christian has been on loan at Erste Liga club SV Horn this season and, aside from his Determination, it has done him no end of good.  More game time in the Bundesliga next term should continue that trend but neither he nor Pehlivan seem naturally suited to a more attacking role.

With better mentals and Strength, my current thinking is that Christian will play the deep ‘passer’ role – DMC inherently requiring more defensive actions than MC.  This does potentially waste Pehlivan’s higher Passing and Vision attributes along with – and this is the real issue – his Likes to Switch Ball to Other Flank player trait.  With the passer in a withdrawn role, that particular trait can be really useful in quickly switching the direction of play to find one of our wide players – particularly helpful against deep, compact defenses.  One to think about for next season.

Less questionable is the role of the other midfielder, with Thomas Bönisch set to fulfil the ‘cover’ role.

Signed for £925k from Admira Wacker, I have high hopes that Bönisch can develop into a powerful midfield enforcer.  He has excellent mentals and physicals for his age, and I’d expect that Strength to increase with time.

Honourable mentions for centre mid should also go to Stefan Otto and Ulf Fein (Rapid newgens), Daniel Spinn (formerly of WSG Wattens and Red Bull Salzburg, now LASK Linz) and particularly Manfred Büttel of Altach.  It’s certainly nice to have plenty of options for those positions, something which can definitely not be said for up front.

Anyone who has been reading the previous posts will know that strikers are a problem in this save.  Anyone who has followed my saves before will know that strikers are a problem for me in general.  I had considered going strikerless again but, given this seems to be at least partly a match engine issue, didn’t want to give myself an un-natural advantage against the AI.

As it is, the national team is in desperate need of some striking talent on the horizon and so I’m currently attempting to retrain attacking midfielder Christoph Baumgartner, £5.25m having triggered Hoffenheim’s release clause.

He has definite potential but a broken leg in 2019 stunted his development somewhat, whilst his complete lack of aerial presence could prove an insurmountable obstacle to performing as a lone striker in our system.

Alternatives are thin on the ground but I like the look of Sebastian Salge, who I signed from LASK for £700k this season.

He’s got some gaps in his mentals but seems a more balanced striker than Baumgartner with some real pace that could be useful.

Other options, should I get desperate, are Red Bull Salzburg’s Hannes Wolf (an excellent player but very much a midfielder) or Nils Schultz (a Admira Wacker newgen who Dortmund, bizarrely, bought early).

With options so thin on the ground, I can’t see any sense in the national side continuing with our current tactic – a narrow 4-1-3-2 that tries to play on the counter.  With the strength of our defensive and midfield corps coming through, I’m looking at a future with a one striker system that utilises more width.

A decision that was cemented when I stumbled across my favourite newgen from this save so far – Oliver Eitel.

(the down arrows are because he’s injured)

Signed on a free from Ried, he scored with his first touch in senior football.  And his fourth touch.  And again 40 minutes later to complete a hat-trick on debut.

With another hat-trick in the cup and 8 league goals, he finished this season as our top goalscorer and has shown flashes of being something very special indeed.  His attributes, though, absolutely necessitate a wide role and I had considered retraining him to left back – a long-term replacement for David Alaba.  With a rethink to the whole tactic, albeit within the outline of the framework, he’ll remain in his natural AML position.

At just 17, I’m fairly certain he’ll be a star for the national side before long – so long as he can avoid injury and we aren’t forced to sell him into some European giant’s reserve team.  So, planning ahead, what does the use of an out-and-out winger do to the rest of the tactic?

Needing only one wide player in an advanced position, I could just play with a defensive fullback on the left but it’s always seemed like a total waste of a player to me.  Instead, this is an opportunity to utilise one of my favourite roles (and something I tried to do many times in FM before it was a formal role) – the inverted wingback.

There aren’t many natural fits for this role but David Alaba, our one truly world-class player, can do just about everything very well and I can see him being a real threat as an IWB.  5 years younger, Marco Friedl, whom I signed from Bayern Munich for £1.4m, has been doing a decent job for the club side and Marvin Potzmann (now of West Ham) is another back-up option.

Sadly, outside of that, there’s nothing.  However, for many years now, I’ve had a habit of retraining defensive midfielders to become fullbacks and it’s very likely, given the plethora of options we have in the middle, that this is a route I’ll take again.

What about the opposite flank?  I initially looked at doing exactly the same – using a winger on the right to stretch the play and bring the IWBs on each side into the middle to flood the midfield.  But problems were immediately apparent.

For a start, one of the IWBs would end up holding hands with the covering midfielder playing on their side.  I could have simply played with two runners in midfield, as I’d done with ADO in FM18, but I felt that this left us with a lack of muscle and defensive stability in the middle.  I also feel like, in FM19, midfield runners are a little slow to get up in support of the striker – note how deep the MCL is in the screenshot above, only just goalside of the halfway line.

Lastly, symmetrical formations are incredibly dull and make it very easy for a one-dimensional defense to nullify a one-dimensional attack.  So instead, on the right flank, I’ll go with the classic inside forward | overlapping wingback combination.

This suits our current national team with Marcel Sabitzer and Alessandro Schöpf being proficient in the inside forward role; and Valentino Lazaro and Stefan Lainer both being excellent attacking wingbacks.  At club level, we have Valentino Muller – a £2.4m signing from Altach – performing well in the wingback role but most of the options for AMR, such as Matthias Breu, are more suited to a winger role than cutting inside.

Retraining one of the left wingers who will never out-perform Eitel is a possibility – usually I’d look at retraining a striker but we’d have to have one of them first.

All of which leaves the future tactical development for club and country looking something like this*.

And despite completely different roles, the framework is still apparent.  Albeit the left fullback now provides the left side of the central diamond (forgive the striker’s positioning, he’s just held up the ball and played the pass out wide); and the width is now provided by one winger and a fullback, rather than two of the latter.

You can compare it to the planned ‘framework’ outlined here – https://footballmanagerveteran.wordpress.com/2018/11/18/club-tactics-forward-planning/

The defensive protection is maintained by the playmaker at DM and the two “free players” from the framework are utilised offensively.

The evolution of the tactic has a few immediate effects.  First of all, there will be a striker clear out at Rapid.  In line with the original rule that players over 23 who start fewer than 10 games a season must be sold, we’ll see a number of players leave this summer.  Joining them will be players who will make way for some of those detailed above meaning that, as a minimum, Lukas Hinterseer (30), Deni Alar (31), Marko Kvasina (24), Sacha Horvath (24) and Philip Malicsek (23) will be leaving the club.

There may also be departures for experienced midfielders Stefan Schwab and Christoph Knasmüllner depending on whether the interest being shown in them develops into concrete offers.  With both being team leaders I’m loathe to offer them around and risk a squad mutiny.

It really feels like the squad is coming together and there’s a path into a development program for the national side.  Apologies for the extremely long post, more akin to how I used to blog, but laying out the thought process like this really helps my decision making.  Player development doesn’t happen by accident in FM.  You can’t plod away with a team filled with 25+ year olds and expect your youth to walk into the team as if by magic.

Yes, you can always just buy in the talent but, for club and country saves, that simply isn’t an option.  As the title of the blog says, you have to create the future for the national side and that, at the end of the day, comes down to planning.  And luck.

But mostly planning.

 

 


*this is the “standard” tactic.  I’ve also prepared an attacking version:

and a conservative one…

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