It’s all about playing the long game these days with Football Manager. For some players, it always has been that way, but this years edition adds so many more reasons to get stuck in for the long haul. Yes, there will always be the allure of jumping into the boots of a Klopp or Guardiola and splashing the cash to build a dream team for one season, but starting from the bottom is a more attractive proposition in Football Manager 2020 than ever before.
I have of course been playing in the Welsh leagues which, thanks to the additions of the lower tier Cymru South and Cymru North present a viable long-term career path without resorting to the dark arts of the Editor. It means my Welsh football aspirations are no longer limited to trying to take The New Saints to Champions League glory, or turning Cardiff Met Uni into serious title challengers. Now, I can take a club from the bottom and take them to the top. Albeit with only one promotion required to get there. But hey, all is fair in love and Football Manager.
I bounced between a few clubs initially as I strived to find a lower Welsh league team with a Club Vision, one of the major new features of the game. It’s worth noting that not many lower league clubs have a strong vision at the start of a new save in Football Manager, but this will start to evolve over the seasons.
I chose Haverfordwest to start my long term career, and club starting with a vision of achieving a top half of the table finish in the Cymru South and to keep the wage budget under control. Simple and standard enough, but it gave me hope that I could make something of my career tootling around the lower reaches of the Welsh game. Being welcomed to the club with a 3D boardroom for a backdrop was a nice touch, even if it was looking a bit rough around the edges. Liverpool this isn’t.
My first season was rough, some poor decision making in the transfer market left the team fighting a relegation battle in the second half of the year. Poor monthly performance reviews were a regular occurrence. Previous editions would have a very high level monthly report of “the board are delighted with your performance”, along with an occasional news message that you have received a vote of confidence if things really aren’t going your way. This time around, your monthly reviews are tied into the club vision and take into account board and fan opinions of recent matches, transfers, tactics and even the squad itself. An A to F rating gives you a feeling for how things are going, but regularly receiving match ratings of D when scrapping a draw away to the team at the top are pretty tough to see.
While some of this feedback doesn’t feel fully joined up, your board interactions do add a new dynamic to the game. During a successful second season, I found myself fighting for the title and sole promotion spot, despite having a seasonal objective of achieving a top half finish. It was here that the board asked me if I wanted to change my expectations but edging on the side of caution I kept them low.
It made winning the Cymru South, and promotion to the big leagues more rewarding. With promotion confirmed, an updated five year vision of becoming an established Cymru Premier club felt reasonable. I also threw in a request for the club to turn fully professional, a request which was surprisingly accepted but which opened more avenues of the playing time pathway and interlinked player development centre.
Being able to offer full-time profession contracts allows you the granular control over playing time expectations. If you have a real star in youth team as reported in the new development centre you can offer them a long-term pathway to becoming a Star Play, slowly increasing their promised playing time as the seasons go by. The development centre is a revamped approach to managing your youth teams, with user friendly overview of your young talent that are pushing for a first team spot.
Turning professional was a blessing in that I was able to secure the services of my key players, but thanks to some short-sighted management of staff responsibilities, I ended up with my entire youth squad being handed full-time contracts at £100 p/w. Small change for big clubs, but a move which immediately sent me £3k over my wage budget. A reminder that new features are all well and good, but if you don’t pay attention to who is doing what in your backroom staff, you can find yourself in a mess.
In an ideal world, the board would have reconsidered my budgets once they turned the club professional, but sadly not everything can come together as you might want. Even after a successful first season in the Cymru Premier (along European qualification), the club culture hadn’t yet evolved beyond “strive to make progress on and off the pitch”. I’d expect this to start changing as the game goes on (if my poor financial management doesn’t get me sacked) and my performances continue to improve, allowing me to really get stuck into the longer-term youth development.
Not all small teams have such limited ambitions. By adding a new manager with The New Saints early in my fourth in-game season, the club culture called for nobody over the age of 30 to be signed, along with a goal for the end of the next season to have the best youth system in the country. Looking at a club like Cardiff they have a three-year plan to earn promotion to the Premier Division, and a five year plan to build on that promotion.
Combining the Club Vision with playing time pathways and the development centre adds massive amount to Football Manager. No longer are you looking for your own individual year-on-year success or setting personal long-term objectives. Having these goals baked into core of the club set such a much needed focus on the long game.
If you normally struggle to keep a career going for a long time, Football Manager 2020 might get you playing deeper and longer than ever. This isn’t the beautiful game anymore, it’s The Long Game.