‘Match of the 1970’s’ Updating the British Style – Emulating Clough, Shankly and Paisley (5)

R01SheepskinWell, I’ve now played up until the end of the pre-season, so I think it’s time to update you all on how things are going in the Bradford City save. Well, it’s been a Summer of change at Bradford. Not only did we get promoted from League One to the Championship by winning the division, but my Summer transfers did not go as I had planned, or expected. As a result, things are a lot different at Bradford to how they were when I took over.

In the last update, I said that we needed a striker and a defender at minimum in the transfer window. I wanted a ‘goalscoring’ striker to support workhorse Jon Stead, and a faster (ideally ball playing) centre back to partner Rory McArdle in the Back 4. I also wanted those players to be young, and inject some energy into the (sometimes) lethargic side. This was a very sound plan, plugging the holes and weaknesses in the squad, whilst retaining the loan players that had been useful from the previous season. This did not happen. Instead, it was better.

Firstly, Jon Stead is a money grabber. He wanted over 6k in wages to sign with us permanently, and although he played well last season (scoring 21 goals), I was not willing (or able) to pay that much for a 32 year old. As I said in the previous update, I will be loyal to players until they are loyal to me, but I was not willing to pay that much for Stead. This left me needing 2 strikers. I immediately went looking for the goalscoring striker, figuring I could replace Stead fairly easily, but the finisher was badly needed. Secondly, I decided against keeping some of the loan players. Francois Zoko and Gary MacKenzie (as well as Stead) were allowed to leave, along with Aaron McLean and Jason Kennedy leaving on free transfers. Furthermore, James Meredith was sold, approaching the end of his contract for a measly £11.25k to Coventry.

After that, it was time to go shopping. 2 strikers, and a centre back.

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After much deliberation, I decided on Welshman Tom Bradshaw from League One Walsall for £800k. My scouts really do not rate him for some unknown reason (they instead much prefer the bumbling lump that is James Hanson), but I have faith that he will be the striker that we’ve been missing. He’s got good stats in all the classic striker areas and he’s still young, with plenty of time to develop. He’s played well in pre-season, and hopefully should carry on his form into the season proper.

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Then it was time to replace Stead, and as you can see, I went for a player that is nothing like Jon Stead. I’ve wanted a quick, nippy creative type to play upfront, and I see Campbell becoming this player. At only 20, he’s young with plenty of room to develop. He cost less wages than Stead, so it’s an upgrade in every possible area. I’ve got the creative striker that I wanted originally, and a younger more dynamic player. He only cost £325k from Newcastle, a fee that I think will be minuscule in comparison to his eventual value. He’s also English, inkeeping with the transfer ethos of this save.

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Moving on to the centre back, and I signed Irishman Rob Kiernan who was transfer listed at Wigan for £825k, a fee that I think is a bargain. He’s got some pace, is good in the air, and is more than capable of keeping the ball on the deck and helping us play it out from the back, something I felt we lacked last season with McArdle and MacKenzie playing there. Again, he’s still young with time to develop and he should be solid at centre back for us. He also seems to be developing a good partnership with McArdle through pre-season as the covering Ball Playing Defender.

After that, I was happy with the signings I’d made. I’d signed two very good strikers, and a defender who I felt was a massive upgrade, and allowed me to play the Back 4 that I like to play, with a ‘stopper’ and a covering ball player. However, I then looked at the squad and realised that James Hanson was now our backup striker should anything happen to Campbell or Bradshaw, and I wasn’t having that. Hanson is absolutely useless, and isn’t making it past this season. The only reason I haven’t sold him is that a.) no-one wants him and b.) he’s favoured personnel at the club. So, I went out with my chequebook, and decided to buy a third striker….

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I signed James Keatings from Hearts for a frankly ridiculous £145k. He’d averaged over 7.00 in his season at Hearts, so I had faith that this would be a good signing. It leaves me with a selection dilemma of course, and in my 4-4-2 I have to leave one of them out, but I’m settling on a system of rotation until I can find a system that allows me to play all 3. Keeping them rotating also seem like a smart option. If for some reason one of them doesn’t play well and takes time to bed into the squad, I’ve got another option that can come in and take his spot. Coming out of pre-season, Bradshaw and Campbell are the first choice strikers, but I’ll still rotate them throughout the season as I see potential in Keatings. I’m not adverse to developing a 3 striker system though as time goes on.

I won’t give much information tactically at this point, but I’m still sticking with the 4-4-2, although I’m now trying to develop it a bit more. I’ve changed the Box to Box Midfielder into an AP-S, and it seems to be giving Billy Knott much more influence. It’s not showing up in his average rating, but he’s passing the ball well and showing a good range. I’m also changing the strike partnership around, as the DF-S/AF-A combo no longer fits the players we have. I’m currently trying a Treq/AF combination, with Campbell as the Treq and Bradshaw as the AF. This is very much subject to change though, and I’m still experimenting. I’ve also kicked the mentality up to ‘attacking’ as I want to expand the style this season. Last season, our tempo felt somewhat laboured, and we weren’t as aggressive as I’d like us to be, and the move to ‘attacking’ seems to have rectified this in pre-season. It’s also made our pressing much more effective, something that’s nice to see.

Things haven’t all been rosy though. Last year’s Player Of The Year (and favoured personnel at the club) Mark Yeates wants to leave to join Bristol City (who apparently are a much larger team https://i1.wp.com/p.imgci.com/db/PICTURES/CMS/155600/155683.jpgthan we are), so I’ll be getting shot of him as soon as I can find a replacement. Again, I will be loyal to players until they aren’t loyal to me. We’re also not in wonderful shape financially. We’re slightly above the wage budget, and only have £172k in the bank thanks to my Summer spree. This balance isn’t helped by the lack of sellable assets I inherited, and I’m not willing to lose my best players in order to balance the books ahead of the Championship season. It’s a very Brian Clough-esque move, but I’ve spent to secure survival, rather than balancing the books, and losing my best players and ensuring relegation. The media already thinks we’re going down, but that’s not going to happen. I think we’re more than good enough for this division.

I did try to sell Frenchman Christopher Routis (the only non-Home Nations player left in the squad) and had agreed a fee of 450k, but he refused the wages they offered him. Still, he provides decent cover at centre back, so will be useful this season. I’m not 100% sure he’ll be staying past that. I also think the time is coming up when I can allow myself a few foreign signings. We’re almost entirely Home Nation based now, so I’m not breaking with the transfer ideology of the save.

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Fixture wise, there isn’t much to discuss from pre-season, and I don’t hold extensive pre-seasons. We had 3 easy wins against easy opposition, before holding a friendly against our new affiliate Manchester United, losing 3-1. Bradshaw has played well in all of these matches, so I’m hopeful he can continue this form into the new season, and continue the partnership he and Campbell seem to have struck up.

I’ll update again at the end of December, hopefully not in the relegation zone and doing well in the Championship. With the cash I’ve splashed (£2.14M) we should be more than capable of doing well in the Championship. As always, thank you for reading, and if you have any questions please feel free to ask in the comments section, or on Twitter (@JLAspey).

‘Match of the 1970’s’ Updating the British Style – Emulating Clough, Shankly and Paisley (4)

Well, the first season with Bradford City is over, much faster than I thought it would be. R01SheepskinIt’s a testament to how much I’m enjoying this save that I’m playing through it so quickly. Usually I take about 3 weeks to get through a season on Football Manager, and I’ve done this in far less. I actually played the second half of this season in one day, something I haven’t done since I was at school.

In the last post I covered the first half of the season. We were 5 points clear at the top of League One, having semi deliberately knocked ourselves out of all the cup competitions. I was also having serious issues with the form of my ‘best player’ Billy Knott, and really at a loss for reasons why he wasn’t playing well. So, how did things end then?

Screen Shot 2015-05-10 at 15.03.17Well, we held the 5 point gap and won the league ahead of Bristol City. This table doesn’t quite indicate how difficult things were though, and at times we did our best to throw the league away, not helped by outside factors. We suffered a ridiculous run of injuries, and at one point I was only able to field 3 substitutes for the league games. At this point, I was very glad I’d thrown the cup competitions. It was a constant merry-go-round of injuries throughout the entire squad and this led to a horrific run of draws that at one point had us back in the clutches of Bristol City, who we never managed to beat all season. At one point our lead, that had once been 7 points was reduced to 2, and I was seriously concerned we were going to give it all away.

A huge 2-0 win over Scunthorpe in March finally got us back on track, and with the majority of the squad fit again, we kicked on to regain the 5 point gap that we’d had at the end of December. A very Mourinho-esque 0-0 draw against Bristol meant that we simply had to avoid defeat in our last few games, and two wins and a draw secured the league title for us, and promotion to the Championship. It wasn’t easy, and we stumbled over the line, but we’re there.

Irritatingly, Bristol City were also promoted automatically. I was hoping they’d fall back into the playoffs and not make it through, allowing me to poach some of their talented young players, particularly Luke Ayling and Luke Freeman. I’ll still do my best to sign them if I can, but they may not be as willing to make the move as they would have been if Bristol hadn’t been promoted.

Screen Shot 2015-05-10 at 16.23.33Tactically, we’ve stuck with the lopsided 4-4-2 all season, and it’s worked very well. I covered the weakness of the left side in the last update, showing how we’re haemorrhaging goals down our left side, but we’re also deadly down our left flank, with the 3 CM’s drawing the opposition in, giving our left back acres of room. This trend continued later in the season, and we ended up with 15 of the goals scored against us being assisted from our left flank, but also with a massive 26 goals scored by us being assisted down our left flank. As long as the number of goals we score is bigger than the goals they score, I’m happy.

The defence also improved as the season went on. I was worried about the amount we were shipping in the last update, but it dramatically improved as the season went on, and we ended with the 3rd best defensive record in the league, a massive turnaround. That’s much more like my usual teams. We also ended up scoring the most goals in the league, and combined with having the 3rd best defence, it’s no wonder we won the league.

However, I’m still having issues with the strikers. Jon Stead continued his good form through the rest of the season despite injuries, finishing on 21 goals with an average rating of 7.07, which I’m happy with. That average rating would be higher if I was able to partner him with a competent striker, but I’ve struggled through the season. Francois Zoko actually scored 11 goals, but most of those were at the start of the season before his form declined and I dropped him. Billy Clarke scored 6 goals and did combine well with Stead, but he didn’t score enough, and he’s nowhere near good enough for the Championship. At the moment, Stead is the only one of my strikers that I’d feel comfortable taking up into the Championship, and it’s not certain that he’ll be at Valley Parade next season (of course I will try to keep him).

In terms of end of season awards, it’s difficult to say who the best players have been, because the squad was so ravaged by injuries in the second half of the season.

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Gary Liddle certainly deserves praise for his performances this season. He averaged 7.02 in the league, and was our solid, dependable CM-D, my favourite role in this year’s game due to the flexibility it allows. He has the PPM ‘plays short simple passes’ which is perfect for the role. He wins the ball, and plays a nice easy pass to the more creative members of the team. He’s been dependable throughout the whole season, and when he was injured in February/March, we really felt his absence, and the defence in general felt much worse. An example of the player you never notice until he’s gone.

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21 goals for the season, and I can’t complain with that. On loan from Huddersfield, Jon Stead has carried the entire group of strikers this season, and keeping him on a free is the first priority after the season ends. He presses really well, scores a lot of typical poacher’s goals and combines with well with his (usually incompetent) strike partners. He’s declining physically, but he doesn’t really need it for the role we ask him to play, and he’s still just as good at everything else. He’s still rated as being a decent player for Championship sides, and I’ll hopefully take him up with me. If we can’t I certainly think I can find an alternative, but it would be nice to keep Stead at the club, in order to enforce the player loyalty I want to be a key aspect of this save.

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The undoubted Bradford City Player of the Year is Mark Yeates, our right winger. He was stuck out there randomly at the start of the season, and I really expected nothing of him at all. He went on to score 16 goals, with 17 assists in 42 games. He’s certainly moving towards the end of his career, but I will be loyal to him and give him a chance in the Championship. He is starting to decline, but he’s still a talented player. It’s somewhat strange to see someone so ‘slow’ work so well as a winger, and it’s his dribbling that manages to compensate for his lack of speed. His movement is fantastic and he always ends up collecting the ball on the byline. Hopefully he can continue these performances in the Championship.

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Billy Knott?

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So, how have I got on trying to improve the form of the club’s best player, Billy Knott? Well, things have improved. They haven’t shown up in his stats yet, but his performances in general have been much better, and he’s started to achieve performance ratings of over 7. Baby steps. I’ve still been playing him as the Box to Box Midfielder, and he’s finally coming into the role. I still see his future as a Roaming Playmaker, but I’m slightly concerned about changing anything within the ‘4-4-2’ and affecting the balance of the entire side. We’re certainly not out of the woods yet with Knott, because he still hasn’t hit top form, but he’s certainly playing much better than he was in the first half of the season. Right now, I’ll take it.

616So, what are the plans now we’re moving up into the Championship? I alluded to this in my last update when discussing Bosman signings, but signing a striker is vital. I’ve got my eye on a Scottish striker (in keeping with the Home Nations focus) who has averaged over 7.00 a game, but I’ll keep that quiet until I (hopefully) sign him.

I know I said that the defence has been better, but a pacy centre back is absolutely crucial. neither of our centre backs are particularly quick, and they’ll be exploited by the better strikers in the Championship.

A Central Winger isn’t as much of a pressing need as I thought it was, with Felipe Morais starting to play better and better in the role. He’s still not ideal, but his position is by no means the one I’m concerned about.

On top of that, there’s just a need for more quality, particularly young players. I’ve got a shortlist of several good young Home Nations players that I’m looking at, and I’ll take as many of them as I can get without affecting the stability of the club itself. Some of them are Bristol City players, and I’ll attempt to sign them, but I doubt that they’ll be willing to sell. I’ve been given a budget of £1.5M for the Summer by the board, which isn’t amazing, but it should be enough to give me room to manoeuvre and buy good enough players to stay up next season. The wage budget has also been severely bumped up to 77k a week (from 52k), so I may be able to transfer a chunk of that money into transfer budget. The club isn’t doing too well financially however, with only 411k currently in the bank, so I’m not going to push things too far. Safety is everything.

I’ll update the save again before the start of the new season, covering the signings I’ve made, and any tactical changes I make (I’m starting to get the itch), and as always if you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to leave it in the comments section, or contact me via Twitter (@JLAspey). Thank you for reading!

‘Match of the 1970’s’ Updating the British Style – Emulating Clough, Shankly and Paisley (3)

WellR01Sheepskin, we’ve reached January in the Bradford City save, so it’s time to update you on how things are going. In the last update, I went through my plans for the save, and discussed my ideas on player loyalty, squad management and tactics. In short, I’m hoping to remain very loyal to players (until they are ‘past it’ or stop being loyal to me), focus on Home Nation talent whilst not excluding foreign signings, and use a 4-4-2. Of course, I can’t just be simple and I’ve still not been able to use a standard 4-4-2. It’s ended up being a lopsided 4-4-2, with 3 central midfielders and a right winger. It’s extremely influenced by Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest side.

So first off, how are we doiScreen Shot 2015-05-09 at 10.12.30ng in League One? Well, pretty well actually. I said in the last update that if we weren’t promoted this season that I wouldn’t be too upset, as I usually see the first season as time to get used to the club and evaluate the players. However, sitting 5 points clear at the midway point, I’d now be bitterly disappointed if we somehow managed to not go up, and now automatic promotion is 100% the target for the rest of the season. I’ve also managed to evaluate the squad pretty quickly, and there’s been a few irritations in there, which I’ll cover later on.

You can see that goals scored has been the main reason why we’re top of the table, with 38 goals scored, with only Sheffield United scoring more with 42. However, if you look at the goals against column, we’ve conceded more than the other teams around us in the table (particularly Doncaster, Bristol City and MK Dons), and that is a worry of mine. Those of you that have read my blog will know that I base my teams on good defence, and I’ll look to keep goals conceded down as much as I can going forward.

We did start the season unbeaten in the league for quite some time, until a catastrophic 3-0 loss away at Bristol started a bit of a wobbly patch, which we’ve only just managed to recover from. It certainly hasn’t been a 5 point lead over the weeks before this update. Before the loss at Bristol, we were maintaining a 4 point lead and comfortably top, but following that we dropped to second, and have only just regained top spot over the past 3 weeks.

Screen Shot 2015-05-09 at 10.28.57Of course, there is a reason for our defensive issues, and well, it’s me. With my new found Clough influence, I’ve tried to incorporate a Viv Anderson like marauding full back at left back, and the image on the left indicates the effect of this. We’re leaking goals down our left wing, with 11 of our goals conceded being assisted from our left wing.

Furthermore, there’s also the fact that we aren’t using a left winger, and so it is requiring extra effort by our Central Winger to come over and cover the space on the left side, which he does well, but it’s not a 100% fool proof tactic. Therefore, our weakness down the left side is natural, and something we’re going to have to deal with.

Screen Shot 2015-05-09 at 10.34.09So, why am I willing to put up with this leaking of goals? Well, the attacking full back has its positive as well as negatives, and our left side is also our strength going forward. The 3 central midfielders tend to suck the opposition in (albeit with the Central Winger being slightly wider), leaving acres of space for our left back to exploit, by driving at the defence or putting in a cross for our strikers. I’ve played 3 players at left back this season so far due to injuries, and they’ve all been good despite some having poor attributes for attacking. However, when he plays, Irishman Alan Sheehan is absolutely fantastic here, and sets up a lot of goals through his crossing (his attribute is 15). I have little doubt that most of the 16 assists are from him. So, as long as we’re scoring more goals down the left wing than we’re conceding, I’m happy to keep this as a focal part of the tactic.

What worries me more than anything is the number of goals conceded centrally, because this isn’t a tactical issue. It’s not a catastrophic number, but I’m hoping to reduce it over the rest of the season.

Another thing to cover is how are we doing in the cup competitions? For reasons you can probably guess, this will be a VERY short section.

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I’ve somewhat deliberately tanked the cups. I know that a good cup run could have given us a good amount of money, but as it became clear that promotion was a real possibility, I wanted to ensure that we had no distractions at all, especially considering some of the fixture congestion we had to endure at the start of the season. A reserve team struggled to beat Carlisle in the League Cup (I refuse to call it by the sponsor), and by the time we drew Wigan, I knew it wasn’t worth fighting that too much, with a big league fixture only days later. After I effectively conceded defeat in that cup, it somewhat became my policy, and reserve lineups were put out for the rest of the cup matches. Yes it’s cynical, and I’ve effectively thrown the matches, but it’s allowed us to focus on promotion, and I don’t think we’d be 5 points clear if it wasn’t for this decision. For the rest of the season, I can solely focus on the league. The FA Cup and the League Cup can wait.

I’ve now got a pretty good idea of the best players in the squad, and who’s going to be important going forward. I’ll do a more official ‘Best Players of the Season’ roundup at the end of the season, but so far Mark Yeates, Alan Sheehan, Rory McArdle, Gary Liddle and Jon Stead have been the top players. Yeates has dominated from the right wing, Sheehan has been our outstanding attacking full back, McArdle has been an unexpected rock at the back, Liddle has been the calm, controlled CM-D and Stead has been good if not spectacular upfront, scoring 12 goals and working hard as I expected him to. His contract with Hudderfield runs out at the end of the season, and I’ll be doing my best to keep him at the club and get him on a free. He’s been doing well, which is more than I can say for any of his strike partners, who are in no way responsible for our good scoring output. I’ve played Francois Zoko, Billy Clarke and Billy Knott there, and the 3 have combined for a grand total of 7 goals. Stead’s carried the strikers in terms of scoring, supported by the midfield contingent. The rest have just not been good enough. This brings me on nicely to:

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Billy Knott?

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Our best player, I guess. Except he’s been absolutely abysmal this season. A 6.61 average really does flatter him, and I really have tried everything. I’ve played him at Central Winger, Roaming Playmaker and Box to Box Midfielder. I’ve tried altering our shape to allow him to play at Number 10, and he was anonymous there. I’ve even retrained him to be a striker, trying to take advantage of his high finishing and composure attributes, and he still hasn’t scored upfront. In fact, he hasn’t scored all season. He’s got 3 assists, but he’s our corner taker and we’ve probably scored about 3 this season. I’m really at a loss for what to do with him, because he’s clearly our best player attribute wise, but on the pitch he’s a clueless mess. He dribbles into traffic and loses the ball, he underhits easy passes, he isn’t creative and he just doesn’t score goals. He doesn’t positively affect the game wherever he plays, and I’ve tried in vain to keep playing him in hope that he regains some form, but it just hasn’t happened yet. I would have dropped him a few games ago, but injuries have kept him in the lineup.

If anyone has any suggestions for something I’m missing about him, I’d love to hear them, but right now, I have no idea where to play him, or if I should even be playing him at all. I don’t want to sell him, but if a good bid comes in for him (unfortunately he’s attracting no interest at all) I’d be very tempted. It feels similar to when Brian Clough signed Stan Bowles for Forest, and no matter what he and Peter Taylor tried, it just didn’t work. Eventually, Clough was forced to give up and move Bowles on. I may have to with Knott.

This leads me to other irritations, and plans with https://i1.wp.com/i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/01534/bill-shankly_1534159c.jpgupgrades going forward. As I’ve said above, Stead’s played well, but we desperately need a top ‘finishing’ striker. Stead does very well pressing and attacking crosses, but he’s not the type to lead the line for us. The struggles of the other strikers are only making this problem worse.

We also need a better Central Winger. I’m currently playing Felipe Morais there and he’s doing a decent job, but he’s not a perfect fit for the role, and as a result, he’s nowhere near as dynamic as others have been for me as the CW. Those are the main holes in the squad, but there’s also a need to bring some youth into the team. If you look through the list of names I’ve put as my top players, they’re all on the wrong side of 25, and certainly nearing the end of their careers. I did say that I would be loyal to players though, so I won’t ship them out just because they’re ageing. I’ll stick with them until they aren’t good enough any more. Apart from that, I’m happy with the midfield and the defence, the only worry for me is how they will cope if we get promoted. Of course, I’ll be scouting the free transfer market once the game clicks over into 2015, and aiming to sign players that I can take up to the Championship with me.

Should I fail to sign Stead, or any other good strikers, I may entertain the prospect of using a 4-4-2-0 next season, but that entirely depends on how Bosman signings work out. I’ll update again at the end of the season, hopefully having secured automatic promotion from League One, and waiting for a new influx of young Home Nations players to energise the side alongside the experienced players. As always if you have any questions, please feel free to ask either in the comments section or on Twitter (@JLAspey), and thank you for reading.

‘Match of the 1970’s’ Updating the British Style – Emulating Clough, Shankly and Paisley (2)

R01SheepskinRight, it’s time to get this new save rolling, and outline my plans. Here’s my 70’s/80’s style manager on the right, sporting an untrustworthy smile, and stereotypical sheepskin coat (channelling his inner Don Revie). Complete with an abrasive attitude, unrelenting self confidence, a love of attacking football, and a burning passion that 4-4-2 is the best formation in football, he’s going to take English football by storm.

So, who is he going to be taking English football by storm with? In the last update, I hinted that I had a particular club in mind, and that club was Preston North End, over in the North West of the country. I went to University in Preston, and as such know the club fairly well, but in the end I decided against them, and went for a team that have been mentioned quite a lot in the football media over the last couple of weeks. Unfortunately it’s for sad reasons, but that club is Bradford City. In ‘The Damned United’, Brian Clough says ‘you can’t manage a team that’s not your own people’. I’m from the North East, but a short drive away from Yorkshire, and therefore the move slightly south to Bradford made sense. Much like Clough moved South to Derby, and Revie moved South to Leeds, my manager is moving South, to bring Bradford back up into the promised land. With all this 70’s/80’s nostalgia, I’ll do my best not to call the Premiership Division 1.

This leaves us in League 616One, two divisions below the Premiership, and a lot of work to do. Bradford haven’t been in the Premier League since the 2000-01 season, and since their relegation have dropped past The Championship (then called Division 1), followed by yoyo-ing between League 1 and League 2, far too low for a club and a city like Bradford. They’re not a sleeping giant in the same sense as a Leeds United or a Nottingham Forest, but they are certainly too big to be where they are right now. Bradford’s fall from grace was largely as a result of financial issues, and this is something important to consider as the save develops, in terms of keeping the financial stability of the club. I won’t be afraid to spend though (once I can), as back then, managers were still more than willing to open their chequebook, Clough being the prime example (who often got out of difficult runs by signing a few players).

I’ve assessed the squad, and decided who will probably feature heavily in my plans going forward, but for this first season I’m going to make minimal changes. During this period, managers did not make sweeping changes immediately, instead preferring to use the first season to evaluate the players, and decide who to build the team around. Even Brian Clough, who had a reputation as a wheeler dealer type of manager, followed this pattern. This is fine for me, as I usually make minimal signings in the first season, and if I do make any, they’re always to fill gaps in the squad. If we don’t go up this season, it doesn’t bother me. What I want to do is decide who the core of the squad is, and then build around that with future signings.

Initially, we seem to have a fairly good backbone to the side, in that our best players are a centre back, a central midfielder, and a striker. Classic British squad building too, focusing on the spine of the side, and then building around it.

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Andrew Davis is our best centre back. He’s got some weaknesses though which is to be expected at this level, particularly composure which is only rated 10 and is one of my most valued attributes. I like my defenders to have composure, and not panic on the ball. We’ve also got Gary Mackenzie on loan from Blackpool, and together they should be a solid (if slow) centre back pairing for this level. Davies is the more comfortable on the ball of the two, so he’ll be asked to cover slightly deeper than MacKenzie and sweep behind the line.

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Billy Knott is probably the best player in the team. I see him very much as our organising playmaking midfielder, much like the 70’s and 80’s players like Johnny Giles, Tony Currie, John McGovern, Terry McDermott etc. At 21, he’s still young with plenty of time to develop, and hopefully he can continue this development through to the Premier League. I said in the previous article that I plan to be very loyal to players, much like managers like Revie and Shankly were, and Knott is a prime example of this. If I can (and he doesn’t moan and whinge and ask to move), I’ll stick with him all the way through.

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Our best striker is an on loan Jon Stead, and this is probably the weakest area of the team, and the area I’ll look to upgrade first, depending on performances this season. He’s a hardworking striker, and I intend to use him as a Defensive Forward to press opposition backlines, create problems, and lay on passes for his strike partner to finish. If you look back at the 70’s and 80’s, a lot of the strikers are extremely hardworking in terms of defensive pressing, and Stead fits this mould perfectly. Another squad management aspect of this save is I won’t be letting age be a deciding factor on signings. Again, Brian Clough signed a 34 year old Dave Mackay to play Sweeper for his Derby side despite general consensus saying he was done. I’ll be following this pattern. Stead’s contract with Huddersfield is up in the Summer of 2015, so if his loan goes well, I may well bring him in on a free.

For now, I’m happy with the squad, but the main areas that need work are striker and right back. It’s not a desperate need, but a pacy centre back would also help alleviate some of my concerns. However, all of that will come at a later date, because for now, I’ll stick with what I’ve got and see where our strengths really lie.

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 17.05.19Anyway, now for some tactics. This is what we’re going to begin with on the right. I know this isn’t ‘4-4-2’ in it’s most classic of forms, but it is 4-4-2, and this fits our side the best, and should keep us strong in the important areas in the centre of the pitch where 4-4-2 can traditionally be exploited. I know it looks like there’s going to be a huge vacuum of space down the left, but there won’t be.

This is highly influenced by Clough’s late 70’s Forest team, particularly in the middle of the park where Martin O’Neill would sit narrow on the right, and feed the ball to the attacking full back Viv Anderson. Here I’ve recreated that on the left side (helped by having a talented attacking full back in Alan Sheehan), but given the Martin O’Neill role much more attacking freedom, as a Central Winger. With the added pressing, he will cover the left side, and if there’s ever any issues, I’ll simply ask him to mark wide anyway.

I’ve got a lot of my favourite roles in there too. The Central Winger, the Roaming Playmaker, the Complete Wing Back, and my favourite role on FM15, the CM-D, to sit deep, play the destroyer role like Billy Bremner and play the ball to our creative midfielders. There’s also a John Robertson like Winger out on the right, in Mark Yeates who is set as a Winger, but also has the ‘cuts inside’ PPM, which should cause havoc for opposition defences, much like Robertson did for Clough and Taylor.

Upfront, the partnership is very basic, and for now, it’s what I’m forced to go with, as neither are particularly cultured strikers. Zoko doesn’t look like a great goalscorer, and Stead isn’t very creative. Ideally, I’ll be looking to replace Zoko with a fast Michael Owen style finisher, and Stead with a creative Tony Woodcock type (Clough’s Forest), who can dribble, pass and unlock defences. I won’t be surprised at all if goals don’t fly in this season, but we’ll see. If they don’t work well, I’ll cut my losses and bring in a new strike partnership for season 2.

Again, I’m not banking on promotion this season, and if we don’t manage it I won’t be too bothered. This is a long term save and there’s no rush to get to the Premiership. The main aim is to start to develop the squad, figure out who the best players are, and more importantly, who are the players that I can take with me up through the divisions.

I’ll update the save once I get to January, hopefully doing well and progressing towards promotion with Bradford. Until then, thank you for reading, and if you have any questions, please feel free to ask either in the comments section or on my Twitter (@JLAspey).

‘Match of the 1970’s’ Updating the British Style – Emulating Clough, Shankly and Paisley (1)

I apologise that it’s been a while since I’ve produced any content for this blog. We recently achieved SI Affiliate status and I wanted to get tons of content out, but being a student at university and juggling a job isn’t easy, and sometime it gets in the way of playing Football Manager (rubbish excuse, I know). Nevertheless, most of my deadlines are done in the next few weeks, and I should have much more time to play Football Manager again.

https://i2.wp.com/www.media.co.uk/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/tactics.jpgAs you will know, the majority, if not all of my saves have a tactical plan behind them. With Eibar it was to test the 4-5-1-0, with Sturm it was initially 4-1-4-1, then 3-5-2, then 4-5-1. If there isn’t anything interesting to do tactically, a save usually dies for me. However, lately I haven’t been feeling quite the tactical inspiration that I usually have, and I think that’s because I hopped around so many different tactical ideas with Sturm, largely because of the freedom such a versatile squad gave me. Pretty much the only formation I couldn’t play was 4-2-3-1. That save effectively spoilt me in terms of tactics.

So, how to get around this, and get the tactical inspiration back? Well, I’m going to do it by restricting myself to one formation, and using it as a tactical challenge. I’ll explain more as this article goes on, and I’ll outline the save that will be coming soon to this blog.

I’ve got a dehttps://i0.wp.com/i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2009/11/25/article-1230763-00085E0900000258-919_224x423.jpgep rooted admiration for British football from the 1970’s and 1980’s. I always tell people that my earliest memories of football are watching Gazzetta Football Italia as a child, but they’re also of watching old British football on my Grandad’s VHS tapes. He’s very much a proponent of the ‘football was better in my day’ view, and at times, I can see where he’s coming from. On YouTube, I regularly watch two series called Match of the 70’s and Match of the 80’s. Last weekend, I taped the 1977 FA Cup Semi Final between Liverpool and Everton, and I was absolutely glued to the match, which ended 2-2 and went to a replay. It had rained, and the pitch was soaking wet, but the game was so attacking, with a load of passion from both sides, but there was also a lot more technical ability than most would have you believe. The players with technical skill, such as Liverpool’s Terry McDermott and Everton’s Duncan McKenzie (left) stood out on the pitch, and McKenzie in particular caused a very good Liverpool defence all manner of problems.

There isn’t much admiration for the period. It’s looked at by many as some sort of ‘dark age’ where most teams played like Graham Taylor’s Watford, or Wimbledon, and this simply isn’t true. Liverpool, Nottingham Forest, Tottenham, Ipswich, Clough’s Derby, and Manchester United all played extremely attractive football during this period, and Liverpool and Forest won the European Cup during the 70’s. Even Leeds, who are often thought of as just being thugs, played some beautiful football in the early 70’s. The idea of the ugly British 4-4-2 is somewhat of a myth. Sure, there were sides who played direct, but there’s always sides like that.

Speaking of the 4-4-2, that’s a bugbear of mine, and 4-4-2 will be the formation that I limit myself to in this save. It’s going to be combined with a modern, updated version of the British style of football. When I say the ‘British style’, I believe that Liverpool in the late 70’s are the absolute pinnacle of that, and that’s the style I’ll be looking to update. A focus on possession, with defenders capable of playing the ball out from the back, and effective wide players, with a creative striker and a midfield playmaker. I’ll go into tactics more in the next update, but that’s the theory in the briefest possible terms. The reason I’ll be using 4-4-2 is also because I’m increasingly irritated by the general consensus in the modern footballing media that if you play 4-4-2, you’ve automatically conceded defeat. Sure, 4-4-2 has some weaknesses, but so does every football formation, and it’s a perfectly viable formation to use, should you set up properly to combat it’s weaknesses. I also despise the notion that 4-4-2 is always defensive. Go and watch Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan side and tell me they played defensive football. It’s utter nonsense. My side will play 4-4-2, and it will be glorious, beautiful football.

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I’ll also be applying some principles to squad management to go along with the tactical focus around the 4-4-2. The post is named Emulating Clough, Shankly and Paisley for a reason, and that’s because I’ll be applying the same principles that managers took as normality back then.

There will be a strong focus on the signing of Home Nations players, much like there was in the 70’s, before the influx of foreign players in the 90’s with the advent of the Premiership. I won’t be excluding the use of foreign players (Bobby Robson’s Ipswich side contained a core of great Dutch players surrounded by British talent), but they will be kept to a minimum.

I will also be determined to produce young players from within, and sign the best young Home Nations players. Much like Clough and the great Liverpool managers, I want to make sure that young players come through into the senior side. Like those managers too (and Don Revie), I will be very loyal to the players I sign and bring up through the ranks, perhaps in contrast to the Moneyball principle that is producing some fantastic content around the FM scene right now (@AFHStewart and @MrEds are two to check out), where players are effectively commodities that can be bought and sold in order to achieve a profit. This isn’t much of a stretch for me though, as I always tend to develop attachments towards players on FM.

In terms of which team I’ll be playing with, that’s still up in the air. It will be an English team though, the first time I’ve played in England for quite some time. However, it won’t be a Premiership team. Much like Clough with Derby and Forest, Revie with Leeds, and Shankly with Liverpool, I want to bring a club up from the lower leagues, and build them into a domestic powerhouse. I don’t think I’ll be going any lower than League One though, mainly to maintain my own interest in the save. I’ve got a good idea who it’s going to be, but I’ll reveal that in the next update, where I’ll go through the plans for the club, and reveal the initial 4-4-2 I’ll be using.

As always, thank you for reading, and it’s good to be back writing. I should get playing the save soon, so the next update will hopefully be up in the next couple of weeks. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask, either here or on Twitter (@JLAspey).