Step One

Racing_FC_Union_LuxembourgWell, it’s time for the first proper update in the Racing Luxembourg save at the end of the first season. In case you missed the opening post of this save, I’ve downloaded an edit from the SI forums allowing me to play in Luxembourg, which is an unplayable nation in Football Manager 2016. I’m planning a long term project where I play With Club, For Country and focus on signing and nationalising players to play for Luxembourg, and hopefully improve the standing of football in Luxembourg on the continental and international scenes. It’s certainly not going to be an easy task, and before I can even think about making an impact across Europe, I have to consider making an impact in the Luxembourg National Division, and become the best team in Luxembourg.

Firstly, when playing in an unplayable nation, you have to populate the nation with players, so whilst loading up the game I selected the option to add players to playable teams, meaning that the world I’m playing in is already full of regens (a part of FM I love, scouting unknown players, and judging them), and my team had several of them, some of whom were at a good enough standard, and some of whom were far below the standard required, even at this low level. Because of the rules regarding non-contracts, I was able to release these players for nothing, and go out and scout replacements who would be available for nothing. It’s a lovely plus point about playing at such a low level.

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These are the players I signed throughout the season, with only left back Fabian Piette being a non-regen. Piette was an important signing at left back, after the game left me with some appallingly bad options. He isn’t a world beater, but with the club’s best left back having been out on loan all season – a genius decision – he was the best I could go for. With 13 acceleration and 13 pace, he’s pretty rapid for this level, and he’s been solid all season. Michel Scholten was a signing to play on the left wing, again, after the regens provided by the game were simply not good enough. He was signed largely for his 11 crossing ability and his potential at only 17, but he’s been overshadowed by other players this season. Alen Reiter and Jason Rodrigues were signed as prospects, and Rodrigues has hardly played, wheras Reiter has forced his way into the first team in an admittedly weak defensive group.

The class of the signings however, were the trio of Jacopo Mota, David Fellerich and Francisco Simoes. Mota was signed to play right wing, and performed more than admirably over the first half of the season. You can see that he’s not the most gifted player, but his 16 work rate really helped us, and he bombed up and down the right flank. At one point – with our strikers barely able to find the goal, never mind put the ball into it – he was our top scorer. However, he lost his regular place in the first team after the winter transfer window, when we signed (accidentally for a fee) right winger Francisco Simoes from Dudelange – a sign that our ability to attract players is growing – and he dominated the right flank for the rest of the season, and at 18 is a fantastic prospect at this level. David Fellerich was a key signing early on, and I quickly dubbed him the Luxembourg version of Andres Iniesta, with 10 vision and 11 passing. He’s a combative soul too with 17 aggression, and has really done well in midfield this season. Fellerich and Simoes are going to be vital players for this club moving forward, and are undoubtedly future full Luxembourg internationals.

So, with this assembled squad, how did we manage to do in the first Luxembourg National Division season of this save, and Racing’s first season back in the league? Going into the season, we were predicted to finish around 9th.

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Well, we bettered that prediction and finished 4th in our first season, a finish that was beyond my expectations going into the season. We were far away from the top 3 of Fola Esch, Jeunesse Esch and Dudelange, but still to finish 4th in the first season is an unbelievable achievement and especially to finish above Differdange, who were runners up last season. The achievement is far beyond what I thought the team could manage, especially with some members of the team looking like they belong in the league below.

As always with my sides, the foundation of this success is built on the defensive prowess of the team. You’ll all know that I love defensively strong teams and I enjoy defensively analysing my teams (both in terms of pressing and defensive shape), so it pleases me that we finished first in the league in terms of goals conceded, letting in only 22 goals in 26 league games. When you consider the standard of defenders we had at the club this season – something I plan to improve next season – that shows how good our setup is. Our issue has been scoring goals, and for the first half of the season our strikers simply couldn’t score, meaning we went through several irritating 0-0 draws. Fortunately we improved in the second half, but we still only finished 8th in terms of goals scored.

It was a close run thing throughout in the race to finish 4th (as you can see in this graphic), particularly between us and Eztella, who were with us all the way, only to fall at the final hurdle and allow us to sneak up to 4th with a couple of weeks to go. Differdange ended up finishing behind us, but our rivals were undoubtedly Eztella all season. We went into the final day knowing that a win would secure 4th, and we put on one of our best performances of the season, effortlessly beating Rumelange 3-1.

The more keen-eyed amongst you will have noticed that we have qualified for Europe next season as a result of our league finish – pretty much as low as we can go, the Europa League 1st Qualifying Round – and that’s because we went on a cup run this year!

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Clubs in the Luxembourg National Division enter the Luxembourg Cup in the 5th Round, and we opened with a very shaky extra time win over Bersdorf-Condorf, eventually coming through with a 2-0 win. Things were far more comfortable in the next round, defeating Titus Petange – the club we signed Fellerich and Mota from – 2-0 with goals from Scholten and Mota himself sealing the win. We faced a tough draw in the next round, facing Differdange, but we came through 1-0 with an early goal from centre back Joao Jacinto (another fairly poor defender). We then faced fellow National Division side Grevenmacher in the semis, and came through on penalties, with Fellerich scoring the goal for us in regular time. We then faced Fola Esch in the final, and I knew we didn’t really stand much of a change going into the game. Fola Esch are the best team in Luxembourg, and as you can see above, won the league at a canter by 5 points. They aren’t professional yet, but they’re undoubtedly our main obstacle in becoming the best team in the country.

We played well, but went down valiantly 2-1, scoring late on to make the result look far closer than it really was. Still, because Fola Esch won the league, and therefore gained qualification to the Qualification Rounds of the Champions League, we therefore gained the place they would have gained as winners of the Cup, and qualified for the Europa League! We won’t make it very far at all, but hopefully a little bit of money that comes in as a result of European competition will help the club grow, and at the very least give us a steady financial footing. At the very least, hopefully it will raise our reputation, and allow me to sign better players to try and break into that top 3 next season.

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Tactically, this is what I’ve been using for the majority of the season, a fairly standard and solid 4-1-4-1. It’s taken time to really settle and become fluid, but in the second half of the season it really took off, and contributed massively to our success. It uses a ‘counter’ mentality with a ‘flexible’ team shape.

It’s based off principles I’ve seen used by Paul over at @fm_central in his 4-1-4-1 with FC United that he calls the ‘Five and Five’ with the back 5 responsible for defending and the front 5 responsible for attacking. I’ve been a little more cautious with the full backs than I would normally have been, keeping them only as FB-S’s, and it’s meant we’ve been pretty solid on the wings, and on top of that, the FB’s still overlap late in moves, and can be crucial in unlocking defences.

The main attacking threat comes from the wide players and the DLF up top. The winger out on the left is needed to stay out there and retain width, but he is allowed to come inside every now and then, and he has scored a few goals this season. The main goalscoring threat from the wings has come from the WM-A out wide though, with Mota doing well out there, before Simoes took the position to another level with his assisting, ending with 4 goals and 4 assists in 12 games. The DLF is a very important position, as he’s needed to drop deep and pick up the ball, and be able to hold onto it before laying it off to an onrushing midfielder. Early on, I was playing Eddire Mokrani there, but he was appalling and couldn’t score (along with my other striker Julien Jahier). I eventually plugged Jahier in there full time, and he finally found his goalscoring boots, and played very well in the second half of the season, and we were much better going forward. Every now and then our central midfielders will pop up with a goal, but they’re very much support players in this system at the moment rather than goalscorers. This might change as things move forward and we can be more expansive facing packed defences, but for now I’m quite happy with how the tactic works.

In terms of the national team, they didn’t qualify for Euro 2016 (obviously) and have actually fallen in the rankings, down to 147th. However, this is a long term project, not a short term one, and hopefully as Racing improve and the football as a whole improves in Luxembourg, the national team will also improve. We don’t have any players in the senior team at the moment, but we do have Nenad Dragovic and Kai Schwitz (the on loan left back) in the U-21’s and in the U-19’s, we have Jacinto, Fellerich and Simoes. You can see that the future for Racing looks good, we just have to make sure that the future also looks good for Luxembourg football as a whole. In terms of the domestic league’s standing, the Luxembourg National Division currently stands at 71st in the rankings, just below the Albanian Superleague and above the Finnish First Division. For a bit more perspective, it is five places below the Scottish Championship, so there’s still some way to go.

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 11.58.03My plans for next season? Simply to continue to improve the side. Finishing 4th in the first season was fantastic, but there are areas where we are far too weak, particularly at centre back, where Alen Reiter and Joao Jacinto can defintely be improved on. I also need to resign Nenad Dragovic as he’s coming to the end of his contract with the club, and hopefully I can sign him onto a non-contract and keep him at the club. Once he was moved to DM rather than CB, he was one of the best players in the team and I’d rather not have to replace him. In terms of a league finish, any progress next year will be very pleasing, although I won’t be too disappointed if we finish 4th again, as there is still a fair gap in quality between us and the top 3. However, with a few more years of building and focusing on Luxembourg talent, we should hopefully ascend to the top of the league. It won’t be easy though as you can see from the previous winners table to the left (add another Fola Esch win on top of that).

So, until the end of Season 2, thank you very much for reading the first post of this new Racing Luxembourg save. I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading about this season as much as I enjoyed playing it, and I’ll be back soon with the review of Season 2. As always, if you have any questions at all, please feel free to contact me either in the comments section of this blog, or via Twitter (@JLAspey). Thank you again.

 

With Club, For Country

Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 15.42.32As you will probably have noticed, the Red Star updates both on this blog and on Twitter have dried up lately. This is somewhat because as the first season came to a close, the ease with which we had won the league really bored me, and sapped my interest in Season 2. However, the second (and main) reason why I’m not playing the Red Star save is because I have stumbled upon what is quite probably my favourite save so far on FM16. Where is it? Honestly, you’ll never guess.

Those of you who have known me for a while will know that I broke into the FM scene through my early writings on the once fantastic site known as The Dugout. One of the better known members of that site went under the username of Ben, and had several fantastic saves, many of which I used to read as a guest before properly signing up and actively contributing to the board itself. When an exodus from The Dugout occurred in order to create Football Manager Now, Ben went too. On last year’s version, Ben wrote about his club save in Luxembourg, where he attempted to improve the standing of the Luxembourg national team and Luxembourg as a footballing nation by focusing on signing and nationalising Luxembourgers. It isn’t a Club and Country save because the AI retains control of the national team, but it is With Club, For Country. I stumbled upon these updates, and it has motivated me to attempt the same style of save, and I’ll be playing in Luxembourg as well.

Of course, this is going to be a long term project. I’m not going to be able to turn the Luxembourg league, and the Luxembourg national team into world beaters in the space of 5 seasons. However, I believe that it provides me with the challenge that I feel I’ve been missing so far on FM16. Firstly, there’s the fact that at this level, the quality of players is not good to say the least. Secondly, the clubs in Luxembourg are semi-professional, meaning that players are largely signed on ‘non-contracts’ which are effectively pay on appearance contracts, with a few bonuses for goals etc. added on. There’s therefore a challenge to turn my chosen club into a full-time professional football club, and start to make progress on the continental football scene. But who am I going to be playing as?

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Well, the club I’ve chosen are Racing Luxembourg, or Racing FC, or Racing (LUX). I have no personal connection whatsoever to any of the clubs in Luxembourg, so Racing were largely chosen because they wear all sky blue, and it looks nice, especially in game. What more superficial reason do you need hey?

Racing are actually a club with a lot of history, despite technically only being formed in 2005 through the merger of three other clubs, CA Spora Luxembourg, Union Luxembourg and CS Alliance 01. Those clubs combine to amass a large number of league wins between them, meaning that despite being a young club, Racing are a club with a lot of history and pedigree behind them. However, that history means little at the moment, as despite finishing as league runners up in 2007-08, they were relegated to the Division of Honour in the 13-14 season, before coming back up at the first time of asking as the runners up in that division. This means that I’m taking charge of a side just promoted into Luxembourg’s top division, so it’s a challenge immediately.

Luxembourg_stubmapI’ve already reached the end of the first season, and for this save, I’ll be breaking from my usual format of Pre-Season, Mid-Season and End of Season updates, instead doing standard full season updates. The reason I’m doing this is because Luxembourg league seasons don’t take a long time (there’s only 26 league games to play in a 14 team league as well as cup games) to play, and unlike the bigger leagues, there’s not a crazy amount of activity regarding transfers. Usually, clubs make contract offers to your players, and it simply takes a renewal to persuade him to stay at your club. I’ll cover any signings I’ve made over the season, any progression with the club’s status, and obviously the club’s results. I’ll also include a quick look at the national team, and the status of any Racing players in the national team.

If you want to know how I’ve unlocked the Luxembourg league system as a playable nation, it’s through the help of claasen on the SI forums, who has created many league systems for the unplayable nations on FM16. Should you wish to take a look, and perhaps download one (or many) of these league structures, the links to the nations themselves are available here.

I hope you enjoy reading about this save (I do believe this one will be a keeper), and if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me through this blog, or via Twitter (@JLAspey). As always, thank you very much for reading.