Football Manager: Ten fantastic underrated, value-for-money British full-backs

In a day and age when a 20-year-old with 95 Premier League appearances and 18 goals under his belt can earn a £49 million move by simply giving a couple of interviews (I’m looking at you, Raheem Sterling), and 48 Premier League appearances and a solitary goal can earn John Stones a price tag of £38 million, you can be forgiven for thinking there are no bargains to be struck in the market for English talent. This may well be the case with the handful of English youngsters who have the potential to be world class — Luke Shaw’s £30 million move to Manchester United puts him in this category, while Harry Kane would certainly command a fee in this region were Daniel Levy to give in to interest from United. Even the likes of Saido Berahino and Charlie Austin will earn their clubs considerable fees should they be the subject of serious transfer bids. In sum, for those of us looking to snap up promising English talent for reasonable transfer fees, the prospects look bleak.

Or do they? From my experiences playing Football Manager12, 14, and 15, there are certainly a few English players out there who present genuine value for money by offering highly consistent performances in return for unfairly low transfer fees and at negligible cost to wage budgets. In this article, I’ll look at some of the best young, cheap English full-backs I’ve come across during my careers (mainly with Wigan Athletic, Derby County, and Manchester United), and tell you about my experiences managing them, and why I feel they’d be more than worth the few million quid you’ll have to shell out to sign them. To cast the net a little wider, I’ll include a few British full-backs as well. Now, I haven’t ranked the ten per se, but you can assume that the lower down the list you go, the more under-rated and hence highly valuable the player will be in my eyes.

Ciaran Clark

We kick things off with the 25 year old left-footed central defender from the Republic of Ireland who can also play at left-back.

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While his range of attributes bear all the hallmarks of a traditional central defender — excellent Heading, Marking, Tackling, Positioning, Jumping and Strength, to name a few — he also achieves high scores on crucial attributes of a full-back, such as Positioning, Work Rate, Acceleration, Agility, Natural Fitness and Stamina. His height gives him the added aerial edge over wingers, and he can be backed to win most physical battles. Excellent Mental attributes, with Composure, Concentration and Decisions standing out, make him a reliable presence at the back, and I rarely see him making costly errors. The only key weakness in his full-back game is the poor crossing, which makes him less ideally suited to attacking roles as a full-back.

At the time of writing, I don’t believe Clark has been offered a new contract at Aston Villa, and with his current deal set to run out in June 2016, he should be available for peanuts in FM16, and his age means you can easily get another four or five good years out of him. In my experience, he is certainly capable of achieving 6.90-7.15 ratings throughout a season at left-back, and would be a good First XI signing for a team in the middle of the Premier League.

Shane Ferguson

From the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland, and to a specialist left-back in Shane Ferguson, whose Crossing, Work Rate and Fitness make him a serious threat from the left flank.

Ferguson

This screenshot (albeit from FM2013) indicates that his attributes are not ideal from the defensive point of view, but — and I can vouch for the truth in this — he is an absolute whippet of an attacking full-back. If you want a player who can beat a man for pace and deliver wicked pin-point crosses for a transfer fee of not more than £2 million, Ferguson is your man. He is capable of getting 15-20 assists a season from that left flank, and would be ideal for a team with wingers playing as inside forwards, given his ability to overlap down the left flank.

Ferguson is obviously not a world beater, and if you’re managing a Manchester United or Chelsea, you’d be better off looking at a Luke Shaw (well, not anymore, unless you have £100 million in the bank at Stamford Bridge) or a Lucas Digne or Jonathan Silva, but for a mid-table or bottom-half Premier League side, Ferguson would be an ideal signing.

Carl Jenkinson

One of those cases where a complete disaster of a player in real life can be a surprisingly reliable footballer in the simulated world of Football Manager. Arsenal’s English right-back will begin FM16 on loan at West Ham, and will make a handy signing for a team that relies on an attacking threat down the right flank.

Jenkinson

As with most British players, and consistent with just about every player on this list, Jenkinson is given excellent Physical attributes that allow him to be effective at either full-back or wing-back (two very different positions in terms of what they require from players; a quality right (left)-back can often be absolutely incapable of playing at wing-back, even after months of intense positional training). He also has very good Mental attributes, again typical of players of his nationality, and his core Technical attributes (Throwing, Passing, Tackling) are also acceptable.

However, the single attribute that proves above all others the value that Jenkinson can bring to a side is his Crossing. Granted, FM16 will most probably downgrade the 16 rating assigned to him in this screenshot from FM14, but I have often come across cases where attributes for Crossing and Tackling are deceptively low, and do a poor job of reflecting a player’s true ability. In a Wigan save in FM14, Jenkinson provided able back-up to another player on this list, and delivered around 10-15 assists every season thanks to impeccably placed crosses, especially from deep.

I expect Jenkinson will be quite affordable in FM16, with a price range of between £2-4 million, and if you can get him on loan with a view to buy, and get Arsenal to contribute a percentage of his wages, you should have a financially viable deal on your hands. Like most players on this list, Jenkinson would be a good fit for a mid-table Premier League side. And don’t worry, he doesn’t make horrendous tackles and get sent off every time he takes to a pitch; thankfully Football Manager isn’t that accurate.

Jonjoe Kenny

We move next to one of the youngest members of this list: Everton’s academy product will be 18 as we begin playing FM16, and while the presence of Seamus Coleman and John Stones will block his path to the first team at Goodison Park, this creates a fantastic opportunity to snap the promising youngster up.

JonjoeKenny_OverviewProfile_zps28ed9358

At 18, he is raw, but with a fair amount of positional training and game time under his belt, Kenny develops into an excellent right-back who is equally capable of playing at centre-back. His attributes in this screenshot indicate reasonably well-developed attributes across the board, but the advantage of buying someone that young is that you start off a really low base, and can mould him into whichever type of player you feel you’ll need in the long-term. For my Wigan side in an FM14 save, I spent 8 months — effectively one season — re-training him to become a wing-back, an experiment that worked really well after an initial settling-in period with average results.

Kenny doesn’t stand out as a particularly fantastic crosser, a ball-player, or an aggressive tackler; his strong points are his Mentals, and that usually indicates a jack of all trades rather than a master of one or two. In my book, the former category is just the kind you want a multi-position squad player to fall into. In sum, acquire Kenny cheap, and reap the rewards of a couple of years of intense focus in training as he blossoms into a consistent performer.

Sam Byram

Despite not being very strong or aggressive, Byram is an extremely consistent full-back who offers added tactical flexibility by being able to play as either a wing-back or even a wide midfielder down the right flank.

Sam-Byram

With Technicals in the 12-15 range, Mentals in the 11-15 range, and Physicals in the 11-14 range, you couldn’t ask for a more complete defender in his price bracket; throughout my careers in English football, I have always seen Byram achieve 6.95-7.20 average ratings per season. Despite a 13-rated Crossing ability, he won’t contribute too much going forward (you’d be happy to get 5-7 assists from him in a campaign), but his Work Rate and Teamwork compensate for this and make him a reliable presence in your team.

With his contract at Leeds set to expire in 2016, he could be available at a discount, and the fact that Newcastle were strongly linked to him in real life this summer seems to indicate he’d fit into the Starting XI for most mid-table Premier League sides. For around £8,000-12,000 pounds a week, you could well have a fans’ favourite on your hands.

Ben Davies

Up next is possibly the most well-known and “best” player on this list; Tottenham’s Welsh left-back represents an unmissable, value-for-money deal not just because he offers a fantastic mix of attributes at a cheap transfer fee, but because he takes but a couple of seasons to develop into one of the world’s best left-backs, and is capable of fetching a neat £30 million-plus fee if you time things right.

Davies in 2014 -- taken from FM15
Davies in 2014 — taken from FM15

His transfer to Tottenham in 2014 will have inflated his transfer value and wages, and the £6.5 million market value quoted in this screenshot from FM15 reflects the transfer, and I would expect his value to increase with each year, I still think he can prove a bargain in the long-term. While his aerial ability is a major drawback to his game, and he offers relatively lower positional versatility, he is a very attacking full-back with fantastic attributes: if you set aside Aggression, Flair and Leadership — three non-essential Mentals — Davies is rated at between 12 and 18 for everything else, and his impressively consistent Off the Ball, Decisions, Positioning, Concentration and Teamwork highlight his ability to become a highly reliable member of any back four.

As I mentioned, Davies is a fantastic player not only for his performances on the pitch — he can be relied on to achieve 7.10-7.40 average ratings every season, with his fair share of assists; I once saw him make 23 assists in one league campaign for Manchester City — but for the financial rewards he brings off it. In every save where I have kept track of his development, he has been valued at at least £25 million by age 25, and in one case Paris Saint-Germain bought him from Manchester City for upwards of £37 million cash up front. Now in all fairness, PSG seem to be willing to pay tens of millions of pounds for just about everyone — they once signed Tom Cleverley from my Man United side for $27 million — but rest assured that the valuation is an accurate reflection of Davies’ ability and potential in this case.

Davies at 27.
Davies at 27.

If you’re looking for bang for your buck and financial return rolled into one package (a slightly redundant statement, since I cannot fathom why anyone would approach the transfer market with any other intention), Ben Davies could well be your man. The only reason he isn’t higher on this list is because, as arguably the best player, Davies is also probably the best-known and most often-bought player I’ve mentioned, and is hence already “valued” a lot by us FM managers.

Kieran Trippier

The English right-back’s recent £3.5 million move from relegated Burnley to Tottenham on a five-year deal will have increased his transfer valuation, and it is difficult to see him being immediately available on the transfer market in FM16. However, competition from the likes of Kyle Walker, Toby Alderweireld, and possibly even Eric Dier for the position in the Starting XI could see his game time restricted, making Trippier a player to keep an eye on during transfer windows.

championship-XI-trippier-dr

Trippier is, for lack of a better word, a dynamo down the right flank. He never stops running, and a combination of very good ratings for Acceleration, Agility, Pace, Stamina, Positioning, Work Rate, Crossing, and Tackling makes him a threat both going forward and helping out with defensive duties. A solid base of 11-13 ratings for all other important attributes makes him the complete package, and he can be counted on to put in the miles week in, week out, with the statistics to show for it. In the season after I signed him for my Derby County side, he registered 13 assists in all competitions as we secured promotion to the Premier League, and went on to have an excellent career at mid-table Premier League teams.

Matthew Targett

The Southampton left-back arguably has the best set of attributes relative to age of any player on this list; despite being just 18 years old and having made just 12 senior appearances so far, the Academy product has Mentals and Physicals that compare favourably with those of players three years senior to him! Even forecasts for a 27-year-old Ben Davies aren’t too far ahead of Targett’s, suggesting this player should be snapped up as soon as possible, regardless of what price Southampton ask for.

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Targett has the Acceleration, Agility, Pace, and Stamina of a natural attacking full-back or wing-back, and he can deliver a mean cross, making him ideal for a team that looks for attacking impetus down the flanks. The Scout Report suggests he is terrible at marking, despite a very good score of 11; combined with his scores for Positioning, Concentration and Decisions, I expect this is simply the conclusion of a poor scout report, and see Targett becoming capable of fulfilling his defensive duties on a consistent basis.

The teenager signed a new five-year deal at Southampton in December 2014, and thus one will have to fork out a much higher transfer fee than indicated in the screenshot, with wages higher than the £8,000-15,000-per-week range he probably falls into at this moment. Nonetheless, I anticipate managers who sign the promising youngster will come to consider him a valuable addition to most Premier League squads.

Matt Lowton

Despite quickly falling down the pecking order at Aston Villa before securing a move to relegated Burnley on a three-year deal this summer, 26-year-old Matt Lowton remains a highly-recommended player based on his decade of fantastic service in my legendary Wigan side in FM14.

While I haven’t been able to find a screenshot of the Englishman, I readily vouch for his Work Rate, Stamina, Determination, Teamwork, and Crossing; he regularly finished as the hardest-working player (across all positions) in the Premier League for Wigan, covering up to 15.5km as a complete wing-back, and chipped in with his fair share of goals and assists.

His £1million move to Burnley means even an increase in transfer value will see him remain extremely affordable for Premier League sides, and I would not be surprised if he does extremely well for a top-eight side. After all, he was a mainstay in my five-time Premier League-winning Wigan side.

James Husband

I love it when you take a gamble on a player, not knowing how good he’ll be but not too bothered if he doesn’t work out since he came cheap, is young, and has resale value. Former Doncaster left-back James Husband has been one such player for me, and I can almost guarantee you’ll find similar success with him in your side.

Those Tackling and Determination stats don't do Husband justice; he was phenomenal, the best tackler I've seen on FM.
Those Tackling and Determination stats don’t do Husband justice; he was phenomenal, the best tackler I’ve seen on FM.

During my second season in the Championship with Derby County in an FM14 save, I felt I needed a significant upgrade on Craig Forsyth, and since Doncaster Rovers had recently been relegated, Husband had been transfer-listed. Despite his bang average statistics, I felt he was worth bringing to the team, although that was more an indication of my lack of options within the squad than any premonition regarding the unbelievable success Husband would have in my team.

At left-back during his first season with Derby, he consistently achieved 7.50 ratings per game, and his tackling per game was off the charts. I’ve lost count of how many times we scored on the counter after he performed a perfectly-timed sliding tackle on his man and launched a counter attack.

After I resigned from Derby following a poor run of results that saw us win 2 games in 13 in our second season in the Premier League (we finished 9th on our return to the top flight), I joined Wigan, and brought Husband over. He was still only 25, so I knew I’d get 6 or 7 excellent years out of him. And wasn’t he fantastic. Part of a legendary Wigan side that won five Premier League titles in seven seasons, in addition to a number of domestic trophies and one European Champions Cup, Husband excelled year after year, putting in performances that defied his attributes and price.

For those of you who enjoy buying players cheap and nurturing them into top-class professionals instead of spending 40 million quid on Luke Shaw, I’d strongly recommend you give Husband a go. What a fantastic player.

 

So there you have it: my thoughts on ten British full-backs I’ve been able to observe during my time playing Football Manager. Two players I declined to mention despite planning to do so at the outset are Adam Smith and Ryan Bertrand. While most of you will know about the latter, I must point out that the former is a superb footballer, extremely reliable, and achieved 7.70 average ratings during the one season he worked under me at Derby County.

I hope you found this as helpful as I did fun to write!

 

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