As our weekly Our Week in Games feature has returned, so has my Football Manager habit. I’m big proponent of playing in the Welsh league system especially as Football Manager 2020 includes the JD Cymru North and South. And with the next game in the series expected to be coming later than normal (understandably all things considered), but normal football resuming, a top five list of challenges in the Welsh leagues seems fitting.
Dancing in the streets of Total Network Solutions
It’s a famous phrase in footballing circles, but perhaps not as well known as it should be. You can read about the history of Dancing in the Streets of Total Network Solutions here, but perhaps The New Saints’ most famous moment came in the summer of 2005 when they faced off against European champions Liverpool in a Champions League qualifying round. The Welsh team (actually from England) are one of the few full-time professional outfits in the Cymru Premier, and following their regular appearances in the early qualifying rounds of European competition, are the rare team with some money to spend. It starts at a meagre £55k in your first season, but that should be enough to make some shrewd loan signings.
The long-term challenge here would be to get The New Saints into the group stages of the Champions League, but that is a fantastically hard proposition without plenty of save scumming or diving into the in-game editor. The short-term challenge would be to get The New Saints to revisit their glory days of 2010 when they reached the final play-off qualifying round of the Europa League. Due to the fluctuating performance of the Welsh clubs in Europe over the years, aptly reflected in their UEFA coefficient, reaching this stage won’t be easy. A combination of progress in the Champions League, seedings and luck might land you here. If you get this far, you should have a few cool quid in the bank and be set to continue their domination of the Cymru Premier without must hassle at all. After all, the board does expect domination of the Cymru Premier, which by itself means plenty of opportunities to dance in the streets of The New Saints.
Win the Cymru Premier in your first season.
Reach the Europa League playoff round in your second season.
To get TNS into the group stages of Europe
Colwyn Bay back from exile
Colwyn Bay last played in the Welsh football pyramid in 1983 after winning the then North division of the Welsh League, they spent their years since then toiling away in the lower levels of the English system. Despite reaching the heights of the Conference North (and at one point being playable in Football Manager), by 2015 they were slipping down the leagues and took the tough decision to return to the Welsh system in the Cymru North for the 2019/20 season.
Despite starting the curtailed season as high favourites in the real world to gain promotion to the Cymru Premier, they managed a third place finish coming 18 points behind Prestatyn Town. Getting that promotion is no easy thing with only the winners of the Cymru North being given a chance at the big time. With nearly non-existent budgets, a sharp eye for the loan market from other Welsh clubs and free agent signings would be crucial to putting Colwyn Bay in with a chance of gaining promotion.
Win the Cymru North and achieve promotion by the end of your second season.
Win the Welsh cup to qualify for Europe.
The other students
The summer of 2019 saw one team from Cardiff compete in European competition. No, it wasn’t Cardiff City who were facing a rebuild after relegation from the Premier League. I’m talking about Cardiff Met, the uni side who made it into the Europa League. But Cardiff Met aren’t the only university side playable in the Welsh leagues in Football Manager 2020.
Down in the Cymru South you have Swansea University, one of several amateur clubs that ply their trade in the Welsh pyramid. The rivalry between Cardiff and Swansea in the English leagues in fierce, and there’s no reason that you can’t bring that passion to Wales. Aspirations from the board are limited, but make no mistake about it, this is a team that should be fighting for promotion. Their real world counterparts won the Cymru South in the Covid affected season, albeit only by one point.
That amateur status will define your season. Can you convince many players to sign on non-paying deals or will you make the most of your rag-tag bunch? Football Manager doesn’t do a great job with replicating the real world structure of a team like Swansea University where players are students and staff, but promotion is the aim, and finishing above Cardiff Met at some point is the ultimate.
Win the Cymru South and achieve promotion in your first season.
Reach the Cymru Premier and finish higher than Cardiff Met within four seasons.
Return Barry to the glory days
Barry Town United were, along
side Colwyn Bay one of the Exiles that divided Welsh football in the early 90s. However, they returned to the Welsh leagues in 1993 and went on to dominate Welsh football through the 90s, even beating Cardiff City (yes, the real Cardiff City, not the uni team) in the 1994 Welsh Cup Final. League wins and a 51-game undefeated stretch in league football followed, along with famous European nights including a famous victory against Porto in the Champions League in 2001 (they had lost the first leg 8-0 mind). Financial and typical political nonsense in the halls of the FAW led to the club being reborn in 2013.
Football Manager 2020 sees Barry Town United in European competition from the off with a good run seeing the club finances replenished. Despite the money Europe can bring in, it will be a challenge to fight The New Saints for the league title without stretching the finances to breaking point, but the title is required to truly return Barry to their glory days.
Win the Cymru Premier in your first season.
Achieve the domestic double and win the league and Welsh Cup.
Create your own challenge
There are plenty of other Welsh challenges you can set yourself in Football Manager, either within the current league structure, or by playing around with the editor. You can rip the whole thing up and add the three Welsh clubs playing in the English league system back into Wales, or for more realism send Wrexham or Merthyr Town to a league where they can achieve European qualification.
A regular “what if” in football circles asks how Celtic and Rangers would perform in the Premier League. Trying to move any of the Cymru Premier clubs into the anything above the English National League would be humiliation. But moving some of them into the regional branches of the National League would be a test of your management skills, and a chance to measure up the best of Wales against the lowest playable league in Football Manager 2020.
What challenge will you take on to fill the time until the next Football Manager?