Well…this is certainly very alien to me! So please let me take a moment to introduce myself, my name is Leigh, otherwise known as FoxInTheBox – FM on YouTube/Twitter…I don’t write many articles, in-fact, to be exact I’ve never wrote a single one! But when Passion4FM offered me the opportunity to do so I felt honoured, so here goes!
First off, before you begin reading this, I apologies for the following – my horrifically bad grammar or obvious lack of ability to describe exactly what I mean, but I’m going to try!
Now being at the ripe old age of 29, I have actually only been able to read and write correctly for half of that time, yes, I know what you’re thinking! I was a dysfunctional child who suffered with mild autism, sever dyslexia and extreme social anxiety, but through the power of Football Manager I found a glimmer of hope, it enabled me to gradually gain the confidence I was lacking in order to face up to my inner demons, and here’s how.
My interest in football began at a very early age, in-fact my first spoken word was “Goal!” while my mother watched Juventus play on a old chunky TV with a massive coat hanger for an ariel back in the late 80’s. I discovered Football Manager relatively early, then known as Championship Manager and began playing it at the youthful age of 13. Specifically the year was 1999 and I would travel weekly with my uncle to watch Coventry City play in the Premier League. He was the stadium announcer and we’d sit together in this claustrophobic box while overlooking the old Highfield Road stadium as the Sky Blues painstakingly lost again, however it was our dual management of City that drew me back to the ground as Kennedy Bakircioglu drove us to back to back titles on a clapped-out dust covered PC situated in the dimly lit corner of the room.
I found that Football Manager gave me peace from my inner struggles, it took me away from reality for what seemed like seconds but lasted for hours, it gave me the confidence to tackle words that I’d previously ran from, and eventually enabled me to make new friends through the common interest of this beautiful game.
However as time moved on I distanced from Football Manager but my interest in it’s ideas and processes always remained, it had indeed given me the tools and confidence to do things previously unthinkable and in 2004 I set up a local under 8’s football team at the age of 17. Eleven years later the team are now an integral part of a Conference North football club with some of the players even representing the Reserve team at just 17. Along the way we had some great times traveling unthinkable distances to play football, being crowned National Champions in 2012 was a particular highlight along with going a whole 16 months without loosing a fixture between 2012 and 2013. Several players signed Academy contacts over the years and moved on to become scholars at their respective pro clubs. An achievement which I will be eternally proud of.
In 2012 I reignited the flame for Football Manager and in 2014 I returned to playing it again on a more serious level, rather than the odd hour here or there I had the time to sit down for days, rekindling the love I had for this unique game..and it was around this time I realized something, all those hours spent glaring at a screen watching the endless text boxes flyby or more recently a bunch of dots dashing around as I passionately jumped up and down had done something for me, Football Manager had played a huge part in me gaining the confidence and capabilities to be able to shut out my demons and begin to live my life, I know, it sounds crazy, almost fairytale like, but there’s no denying it, I was an unsuccessful dysfunctional youth who found success and direction within a computer game, it forced me to appreciate words and the art of conversation and for that Football Manager will forever have my undivided respect.
So, here’s what I’ve learnt during Football Manager 2015 when building relationships with you’re players through criticism and praise..
I started up a YouTube channel a few months ago inspired by FM players I watched on Twitch, I was intrigued at how much the game had evolved and wanted to share my personal experiences of Football Manager, and some of the things I think play an integral part of being successful on it.
For me, this game is not about throwing the best players in the world together, spending ludicrous amounts of cash or having a unbeatable tactic, though the latter does play a small part! I believe the communications you have with you’re players is the single most important aspect, something I believe to be true in real life too! But I’d hazard a guess that at least 95% of the Football Manager world overlook the interaction side, hate it or ignore it! It’s criminal!
Below I have jotted a general outline of what I do when praising and criticizing players. Please remember! My research and opinions are based on a save running on my channel called “The Youth Crewe” where I have managed Crewe from the depths of League One to the heights of the Premier League with no transfers, just a couple of loanees from Liverpool and the Youth Intake, in-fact the team playing in the Premier League is indeed the team that 3 years before was playing in League One, I know, amazing right.
Just before we begin, I have to stress something I believe to be true in Football Manager – Few to no players instantly respect a new manager, that is built over time. So here goes!
Reviewing Game Performances
My general rule of thumb is anyone playing below a rating of 6.0/6.2 at the end of a game will have some sort of criticism, especially if it’s happening regularly, however, before I do this I take a few things into consideration. If it’s a ST for instance, and he’s had zero supply from the Midfield I will tend to avoid moaning straight away, but make a mental note (use of pen and paper is advised!) and then have a dig around and check things like his Average Position, Distance Covered, Goal Scoring Chances etc to see if his poor rating was due to him not moving his bum, poor finishing or the lack of supply given, though players do have “off days”, that’s no excuse in my eyes! You have to consistently apply a standard which is consistent for the entire squad.
On the flip side, any player playing above a 7.8 will get some sort of praise for their performance. I also keep a very close eye on the Last 5 Games rating and anyone dropping belowa rating of 6.80 during those 5 games gets a warning, anyone above a 7.60 gets a pat on the back. Remember, I want good consistent performers, not someone who turns up collects his pay check and jogs off home.
Reviewing Training Performances
I keep an eye on the training page and in particular “Notable Performances” praising and criticizing the players that come on it, also i have weekly updates from the assistant manager and this includes him regularly bringing players to me who have recently been impressive or shown signs of improvement at training, most people skip over these inbox’s but this is a great opportunity to give some training praise or criticism without having to do any searching!
I’ve also found that constant bad performances can link into poor training or the fact the player is not enjoying his schedule, well that’s something I’ve noticed anyway, I had a striker who was averaging 6.0’s, I kept on his back but nothing changed, so I changed my process and rather than focusing on game performances, I criticized training, then altered it, lone behold his game performances dramatically improved!
There is also a “Performance” rating bar located in the Individual Training tab which shows you the green/orange/red arrows indicating current training performance, anyone lacking in this department again gets a rocket.
Reviewing Team Talks
These are an extremely important part of communicating with players, but can be very difficult to master, some people play the “green game” and constantly look for the positive reactions but ultimately pick the same option and then sit proudly believing they are the next Jose Mourinho! HOLD YOURE HORSES! In my experience the “green game” can also lead to negative performances, and here’s why – players need to feel pressure as much as relaxation! Take into consideration the situations before going into the game and based on that try to select the best possible team talk, things to be taken into consideration include current form, opponents club stature, squad morale and current state (injuries etc). Believe me I still get this wrong! But i always go back and look at my Team Talk Feedback in Tactics – Analysis. It’s very useful to see how they reacted collectively as a squad, but this feature is rarely used again, criminal!
Having a team singing off the same page is a big part of building a winning formula, it’s not rocket science, a squad of exceptional individuals will more times be outperformed by an average squad with continuity, direction and consistency despite it’s lesser individual stats. Have you ever shouted at the screen after you’re world beaters got turned over again by the minnows of the league? I have! But when I looked into it more, their squad had a sense of personality and togetherness, mine was literally just individuals who had no sort of team appreciation! Obviously this is not always the case in every game, after all football is the most unpredictable game in the world.
Finally! – Despite it being obvious to the mass I must stress players all react differently to direct communication, some are hardened others are soft, this requires you to learn what type of criticism or praise works best for that player, this is done through trial and error if I’m honest, one glove does not fit all, so try using passionate, calm, assertive or aggressive and see how they react, don’t be scared to upset the player, remember it’s you’re standards not theirs!
A lot of people moan about the communication/interaction with players this year – once you upset a player it upsets them all etc. Yes, there is no denying SI have made a few errors (though hopefully this is corrected with the recent patch) but I have danced around this by first being clever on how I approached players with my direct communication, drip feeding it in while I built a reputation, learnt about them and earn’t the respect of the players/coaching staff, board and fans. If I’d gone in on day one and started brown nosing and ranting it just wouldn’t have worked, it’s a lengthy process and personally developed best with players who you’ve managed for a certain period of time, though this period of time can differ depending on the player, they’re all individuals, some will naturally trust you, others may never depending on how you treat them and this can range from being inconsistent with you’re team talks, playing time, tactics or training and right the way through to simply NOT talking to them! Maintaining promises this year plays a huge part too. Let me quickly explain.
How would you take it when your manager tells you he has confidence in you to produce a performance when he has a tack record of lying and being deceitful? Now compare that to being told by your manager that he has the confidence in you to produce a performance when he has a track record of being honest, even if sometimes that honesty requires me being told that wasn’t good enough. I know who I’d be pumped up too play for.
In actuality there is a whole range of different minor, major, little and big things that play a part, and that’s the beauty of Football Manager, despite it still being restricted in some areas.
The Youth Crewe save is now heading into it’s 5 season, but it’s taught me a lot and I’ve certainly noticed from being consistent with my communication and not changing to suit them they’ve gradually adapted and now work to suit me and more importantly, each-other There has been some very heated discussions along the way, and many dollies have been thrown! But it’s all for the greater good of building a team which understand you’re style of management as much as you understanding their personalities. When you reach this point you will know, you’ll get performances far greater than the individual players ability or the groups collective ability.
I don’t know, maybe what I’m talking about seems like utter rubbish too some of you, but from where I’m sat, I can’t deny that something is making this average Crewe squad mixed of League One, Championship and a few Premiership quality players perform constant miracles. The squad is not perfect, but they’ve played together for a long time, 6+ years in most cases. I’ve been consistent in training, selection, tactics, philosophy, staffing and communication despite the team being neither similar or stand-out, some of the players still have poor personalities, low team work or are rated as inconsistent, but I strongly believe through me being consistent and honest with them when communicating I have developed a way to override these flaws.
Want an example? Take the Crewe star man Billy Waters, he’s down as being a “fairly inconsistent performer” but last season after 38 games boasted the Highest Average Performance Rating in the ENTIRE Premier League..how you ask!? I constantly challenged and asked more of him instead of ignoring him, and in turn he wanted to impress me despite being tagged as a “fairly inconsistent performer”.
Remember, these are football players at the end of the day, they love you’re attention!
In reality this is just a snapshot, a lot of what I do is built on instinct, good morale, practice, trial and error but I know building relationships takes time, always remember that. Anyone can spend millions on the best team, or take over one of the top clubs and instantaneously do well, read this and think what is he talking about, though if I’m honest those people probably stopped reading this a long time ago.
I know it’s just a game :D but embrace the challenge and learn it! There’s a lot more fun to be had if you open you’re mind rather branding someone else who’s successful a “reloader”.
PS. I’ve categorically never been called that, but i’m sure a few people have thought it!
Thanks for taking the time to read and thanks again to Passion4FM!
Leigh aka FoxInTheBox