Reminiscing about the glory days at Old Trafford — PART ONE

Last night, I finally followed through on an idea I’d been ruminating over for a couple of weeks, and wrote the first of what I hope will be many posts about a save I recently started with Manchester United on Football Manager 2015. For those of you who haven’t read it, and would like to read about a hopeless addict’s thoughts on the game, feel free to check said post out here.

Given the overwhelmingly positive response (in light of my rather strong conviction that nobody would read 4,000 words about a computer game) to the post, I thought I’d write another piece on my exploits during a rather memorable career. I alluded to this in the post yesterday, and feel I have enough material to do justice to what was an astonishingly successful career. I would have loved to move ahead with the second post of the “Confessions of a Football Manager Fanatic” series, but I couldn’t have focused on it without getting the idea for this first article in a new series off my mind.

And so, without further ado, let me tell you about the five-and-a-half glorious campaigns I spent in charge of Manchester United Football Club. You should know, however, that I won’t be covering all five completed seasons in this post itself, since that would take way too much time, and become almost intolerably difficult to read. So I’ll come out with five articles in this series, each briefly covering reflections on transfers, trophies, and individual player performances. Also, since I’m writing this after having played the games, I doubt I’ll be able to show you screenshots of squads from previous seasons, since I think they get deleted. I’ll try to compensate for this by using other screenshots. Boy, there’s so much to be written about; let’s get cracking!

Season 1 — 2013/14

If you read my first Football Manager post, you’ll know I’m a stickler for financial prudence, and absolutely relish any opportunity to cut costs by reducing wages. So my first act as manager of a club like United, who tend to pay players exorbitant amounts of money that they clearly don’t deserve, is to cut the wage bill by selling dead-weight. The likes of Anderson, Cleverly, Evans, Young, and Nani rarely last long, and as you can see, I got pretty fantastic deals for all of them, bar Young. I don’t quite remember why he only sold for $5.5 million. Ah well, I guess it all gets evened out by Paris Saint-Germain paying $27 million for Tom Cleverly, a transfer fee that I can’t quite rationalize, but will not complain about. As you will see later in the series, I have been on the receiving end of the generosity of Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the Chairman and CEO of PSG on more than one occasion. I wanted to sell Kagawa in the summer window itself, but couldn’t find any buyers. Kagawa is a decent player on the game, with excellent technical attributes, but I just don’t like him too much. His work rate is not good enough for the tactical systems I utilize. Milan made an acceptable bid in January.

Take a look at the players I brought into the squad, and the players I sold. Can you believe I made a profit?!
Take a look at the players I brought into the squad, and the players I sold. Can you believe I made a profit?!

On a more interesting note, take a look at the players  I brought in. Not too many people (other than members of  the ardent FM gaming community, of course, who seem to know about every 16-year-old wonderkid produced by FK Partizan) will have heard about the English left-back James Husband, but I had such immense success with him in my historic Wigan Athletic save on FM14; he averaged in the high 7.50s for four or five seasons, and I felt he would provide excellent backup for Patrice Evra, possibly even competing for a first-team place. However, he returned to Doncaster on loan for the entirety of the season.

I need not say much about John Stones or Eder Alvarez Balanta, two of the 10 best young centre-backs in the game, except that to get them for the exact amount earned from the sale of Cleverly is nothing short of a stroke of managerial genius, if I may say so myself. I signed Belgian utility man Toby Alderweireld for a reasonable $13 million, for his ability to play at centre-back, right-back and right wing-back with equal proficiency. As you shall see, wing-backs are crucial to my preferred tactical style. Radja Nainggolan, another Belgian, came in for around the same fee, with his potential value highlighted by excellent Passing, Tackling, Aggression, Determination, Work Rate and Natural Fitness ratings. A crucial player in the defensive third, capable of winning the ball back and initiating quick transitions from defense to attack. United has always loved a hard tackler, and a no-nonsense player. Ryan Ledson, an impressive young (and I do mean young, born in 1997) deep-lying playmaker Ryan Ledson came in for a rather expensive fee, explained by the fact that I was fully aware of the level he reaches at age 23-25. A prospect for the future.

As you can guess by my having left him for the very last, Diego Costa was the star signing of the summer, coming in from Atletico Madrid for $30 million, a fee which turned out to be an absolute steal. With decent Technicals and Physicals, and Mental attributes off the charts, I knew he would be perfect alongside Rooney and van Persie.

Very quickly, on the Coaching Staff front, not too much happened (the exciting staff appointments shall happen in a few seasons). Several scouts with insufficient “Judging Player Ability” and “Judging Player Potential” attributes left the club, with Neil Harris joining to boost the level of Attacking training, and Ray Clemence joined to help David de Gea continue his rise to the very top.

All quiet on the Staff Acquisition front.
All quiet on the Staff Acquisition front.

Now, as I said, I can’t go into details about the tactics I utilized with that team, since I played this save about a couple of months ago, and didn’t think to take screenshots. But let’s go over it in as clear a manner as possible.

I played a 4-2-3-1, with a flat back four. The four defenders’ roles were: (Wing Backs) for the full-backs, (Defend) for the LCB, and (Cover) for the RCB. I felt Smalling would do well in the Covering role, due to his Anticipation and Positioning. Uncharacteristically, I played without a defensive midfielder, utilizing two central midfielders in the roles of (Deep-lying Playmaker) and (Ball-winning Midfielder), the latter of which was occupied by the combative Marouane Fellaini, with Nainggolan on the bench, but fully capable of first team football. I usually play with these two roles in midfield in order to create a sense of balance, both structurally and creatively, and because they suit the contrasting styles of the players capable of playing in said positions. I feel playing a DLP and a BBM (Box-to-Box) is not always the best from a structural point of view, since the BBM can sometimes get caught out of position, and it is intuitive that a creative player in a DLP role is usually not capable of performing defensive duties at a high level. Having a BWM allows for pressing the opposition, aggressive tackling, quick retention of the ball, and quicker transitions of play to the attacking phase. The attacking midfielder is usually the key driving force of my team, with the two-man midfield playing a supporting role. Anyway, I played one CAM, and two wide players, and a central striker, whose roles varied depending on the player fielded in any given game. Valencia was an excellent Winger, Rooney and Kagawa Advanced Playmakers, Januzaj an Inside Forward on the right, and a Winger on the left. It helped to have a number of players capable of interchanging positions and roles. Again, I do apologize for not being able to upload screenshots of the tactics employed in this particular season; however, this is the broad set of Match Instructions I utilize across most of my tactical setups.

Quite a few instructions, I know.
Quite a few instructions, I know.

I know there are quite a few instructions, and I have seen other managers not use as many, preferring to allow the game to unfold in a looser, less controlled manner. I just find that this combination of instructions works quite well, although I do obviously make changes to Tempo, Passing Style, Extent of Ball Retention, and Defensive shape during games.

Seeing as I won’t go into the details of the fixtures, I’ll just leave them here for you to take a look at, before heading to the most interesting topics of discussion: trophies, and player performances.

Manchester United_ Fixtures Schedule

Manchester United_ Fixtures Schedule-2

Manchester United_ Fixtures Schedule-3

Anyway, the first season was immensely successful, with United winning the Premier League by 11 points, and lifting the Capital One Cup after a 2-1 victory over West Brom. Unfortunately, we were eliminated from the FA Cup after a 5th round loss against Everton, and lost out to Bayern Munich in the Round of 16 of the European Champions Cup.

Highlights included the 4-0 win against Wigan in the Community Shield, and healthy wins against Southampton (4-0 away), Aston Villa (4-0 at home), Galatasaray (5-2 at home), West Brom (4-0 at home), Marseille (5-2 at home), Liverpool (3-1 away), Man City (1-0 away), a couple of other 4-0 wins, and a 5-1 win in Extra Time at home to Chelsea in the second leg of the semi-final of the Capital One Cup, with club captain Nemanja Vidic being the unlikeliest source of inspiration, with a hat-trick of headed corners. I kid you not.

A secret to my central defenders scoring so many goals (Vidic scored 17 goals in 58 games in all competitions over two seasons) is that I set corners to be aimed towards the near post at all times, and instruct the best header of the ball in the squad (the mighty Vidic), to make for the near post. The second-best header of the ball is usually making a bursting run from outside the area, creating further chaos.

League champions in the first season.. A sign of things to come?
League champions in the first season.. A sign of things to come?

A number of our players were excellent throughout the campaign, with Vidic averaging 7.53 over 34 games (7 goals), Rooney averaging 7.19 in 40 games (12 goals, 17 assists), Diego Costa averaging 7.04 in 49 games (21 goals, 7 assists), Smalling averaging 7.38 over 36 games (3 goals), and Robin van Persie averaging 7.09 in 16 games (9 goals, 4 assists). The Dutchman’s injury problems were an issue, and Rooney’s stats could have been better, but I utilized him as a DLP on a few occasions, when left with no other options. Rooney’s such a beautiful player in FM, you can play him in up to 6 or 7 different positions, and he slots in seamlessly. He is even capable of playing in goal, albeit to an “Awkward” level of Familiarity. What a player. Fellaini and Carrick were excellent in midfield, complementing each other really well.

As for the other signings, Stones achieved a 7.04 rating over 28 appearances (1 goal, 2 assists), Alderweireld got 2 assists in 20 appearances, averaging 7.22 a game, Balanta played 32 games, averaging 7.15, with a return of 2 goals, and Nainggolan playing 39 games at 7.01, achieving 2 goals and 2 assists. Ryan Ledson made 3 substitute appearances, spending most of the season in the Under-18s and Under-21s. All the signings fit into the team comfortably, and individual performances were consistently good, if not stellar. The Best XI for the season looked like this:

The Best XI
The Best XI

On a personal front, I won one Manager of the Month award, and the Manager of the year award as well, to add to the three trophies won by the team in a thoroughly memorable first season in charge at the club.

I hope you enjoyed the post. I’d love to know what you thought of the transfers. I can guarantee a lot more excitement, with lots of trophies and some truly sensational transfers over the next few seasons!

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