With Club, For Country: I

Screen Shot 2018-03-12 at 22.42.11Ok, I’m going to apologise, the Dortmund save has died a death. I can tell I’m really getting back into Football Manager – which means content is going to continue  – but the Dortmund save slowly lost my interest, and the save really lost any aspect of challenge for me when the board ended the first season (with me on course to win the title first season) by giving me a £93M transfer budget for the second season. Without sounding arrogant, it just seemed a bit too easy, and I want a challenge when I play Football Manager. I also felt that the save would quickly become boring to read about.

Fortunately, finding another save hasn’t been difficult at all, and it’s a save I’m really excited to write about. It’s a save concept I’ve looked at before, (inspired by Ben from The Dugout) but have never really gotten deep enough into the save to see any real impact. It’s called ‘With Club, For Country’.  The premise is simple, you take over as a club manager within a specific country, and you manage the club with the national team in mind. This means that you have to prioritise the national squad through:

  • Signing a large number of players from that country.
  • Developing the youth system at the club in order to produce quality young players for that country.
  • Sell players of that nationality at the right time, i.e. when they will be moving to a higher level of football.

Basically, it’s like a ‘Club and Country’ save, but you relinquish control of the country. The club should become like a factory system, constantly producing excellent youngsters, allowing the club to do well, before allowing them to go onto bigger and better things. Or so is the theory. The ultimate aim of the save would be your country of choice to win the World Cup with a team full of players developed in some way by your chosen club.

Image result for viktoria zizkovSo who is this save going to be with then? Well I firstly decided that the Czech Republic was going to be the country I was going to focus on – I wanted a smaller country with plenty of room to grow. Since the great generation of Nedvěd, Rosický and Poborský, Czech football has done absolutely nothing, and it’s time to change that.

Club wise, I also wanted a club not in the top league of whatever country I’d chosen. Searching around Wikipedia, I discovered Viktoria Žižkov. Žižkov are one of the oldest clubs in the Czech Republic, and are former winners of the Czech First League in the 1920’s. As their name suggests, they’re also from the Žižkov district of Prague, which is known historically as a working class area, and for its left leaning – sometimes known as Red Žižkov – political alignment. It’s a club in the second tier of Czech football, with plenty of room to grow. Perfect.

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A good start.

Upon taking over the club, I told the chairman that I wanted to be judged on my ability to develop players the club produces from the youth team, and to sign young players for the first team – the two ways we’re going to develop Czech players for the national team. Both were accepted, which gives me the framework with which to build the squad and help the Czech national team.

But first, we’ve got to gain promotion to the Czech First League. However, I still have to adhere to the principles of this save. Promote, recruit and sell on. I’m not just going to sign anyone that will get us promoted. I want to see what players exist at the club, and sign Czech players (ideally young ones) that can improve our weak areas.

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At the moment though, we’re not even in the running for promotion. As a club we’re predicted to finish 11th out of 16, and simply remain in the Czech National Division. Long term, we need far more than that, and ideally I’m looking to gain promotion as soon as possible, but for now I’ll be happy to consolidate our position, and figure out what players I want at the club moving forward as we push for promotion. Early matches do suggest we’re not ready yet, despite the fact that I can usually overachieve on Football Manager.

First though, I needed to plug the gaps that already existed at the club, whilst remaining true to the ethics of the save itself. As a result, I added the condition into every player search I’ve done that only Czech players are searched for. Of course, this massively limits my range and means that promotion may perhaps take longer than I’d like, but it all adds to the enjoyment of the save, and the gratification when we’re eventually top of Czech football.

So where did I begin? Well, those of you who have followed this blog for a while will know I’m naturally a defence first manager, and I prioritise reducing our goals conceded before anything else. Once I surveyed the squad, I realised my only options at centre back were Patrik Dressler, Martin Tomi, Vojtech Mares and Ondrej Svejdik. I was happy that all four were Czech and therefore fit the transfer policy, but Tomi and Mares are both loan signings and neither are good enough for the first team. Considering that I wanted to play a Back 3 in this save, I needed to bring in a big increase in quality at centre back to play alongside Dressler and Svejdik. Mares and Tomi are hardly quality backup, but for this season alone, I can cope.

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I then scoured the free transfer market looking for quality unassigned Czech players who still have room to grow – although I won’t be against signing veterans in this save – and I quickly found 25 year old Jan Malik. Malik isn’t a standard centre back but he is capable of playing the position, and he has decent heading, marking and tackling for this division, and is able to play other positions, at least giving us some level of flexibility. At £375 per week, I was more than happy to sign Malik up immediately. A nice bonus is his 12 for penalties, which is the best in the side.

Now, as I said previously, I wanted to play a Back 3 in this save, meaning that I needed wing backs, and they were immediately a position I was concerned about. Our options here were Pavel Hasek, Vaclav Pardubsky and Jakub Urbanec. Hasek is a good player but one who is ageing quickly and may not have the physical ability to play the wing back role. Pardubsky is rubbish and is entirely physical ability and nothing else at this level, and Urbanec has proven that he can do a solid job at wing back, but he’s hardly a long term option there. Clearly, wing back was a dire need, and ideally we needed someone who could play both wings and add some much needed quality out wide.

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Bargain Number 2.

Again scouring the free agent market for a quality Czech player with still room to grow, I discovered Tomas Vengrinek. He’s hardly amazing, but he’s more that solid for this level, and he’s got decent all round stats, particularly with his defensive work. He’s right footed but can play both flanks, and this gives me some flexibility, mainly as I’m still unsure whether Hasek is good enough to play wing back – Vengrinek played RWB in the last game, and Urbanec played LWB after a Hasek defensive error had cost us in a cup game. However, I’m still slightly concerned about wing back, so I’m currently in the process of signing Ales Dvorak. I’m not in love with him, but he’s worth giving a shot.

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Tactically, this is going to be the setup that we use moving forward – although I have also considered a 3-4-1-2. It’s very simple without much complication – a deliberate move from me after knowing I’d overthought things with Dortmund – on a control/flexible setting with the team asked to ‘play out of defence’ and ‘pass it shorter’ in order to develop a style of play early on. This is the lineup that I used in our most recent league game, which ended 1-1, but I’ll cover some results later.

It is designed to heavily involve our best player Josef Bazal. Bazal’s not perfect – with weaknesses such as 5 composure – but he’s very gifted technically for this level with attributes such as a whopping 16 for dribbling, 14 for first touch and 14 for passing. Basically, I want to get him the ball as often as I can because realistically he’s our only top quality player – probably along with our Roaming Playmaker Miroslav Podrazky. I have considered using Bazal as the old fashioned Central Winger in this system, but the system seems to work better with him given the freedom to do whatever he wants.

We need two strikers up top, because realistically we’re not very good, and I want several defensive players back to cover, whilst also having an attacking threat with two strikers. As you’ll see later though, this has its own challenges that I’ve discovered with Žižkov.

Note: I won’t discuss staff in this update, largely because I know the club doesn’t have a lot of money and I don’t want to make any unnecessary outgoings when I know I can judge a player by myself at this level with some help from scouts. 

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In terms of results, we had a productive pre-season, defeating everyone we played apart from annoyingly Chmel Blsany in what wasn’t a great performance. However, we developed well within the 3-5-2 and I saw little reason to be concerned for the season proper.

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However, since then we’ve played two matches, one lost in the Czech Cup – I’m not exactly gutted to be out of that – and one drawn in the league. I’m far from concerned about the side, but both matches have revealed several important things moving forward. Firstly, there’s the possibility that Hasek can’t play Wing Back because he had a shocking game against Pardubice – a team in our league and predicted to finish 3 positions above us – and I had to take him off, leading to my decision to play the above lineup for the league game against Sokolov with Vengrinek and Urbanec at wing back.

What has concerned me most though, has been the standard of our finishing.

In the first game (left) we’re the team in green, and in the second game (right) we’re the team in red. Now, we’ve hardly statistically destroyed our opponents in both games, but we’re clearly the team on top. In the second game in the league we had 5 CCC’s and only managed to score one. That’s just not good enough.

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A closer look at the shots from the second game gives us a deeper look into whether things are working. Firstly, the vast majority of our shots are from either around or – mostly – in the box. That’s a good sign, and suggests that our system is working and creating high quality chances on goal. Furthermore, the majority of those shots are taken by either Mario Teinar, Martin Hurka or Marcel Cermak (on loan from Slavia and playing in place of the injured Bazal). That’s our two strikers for the game and the most attacking central midfielder, the players I’d want to be in on goal most.

It’s therein that lies our problem. Quite simply, our attacking players are not very good. Defensively, we’re not too bad but before the second season begins, I really need to look at upgrading the attacking potency of this team. I have looked already but there’s no-one Czech and good enough on the market to be an upgrade on what we already have, so for now it’s a case of make do. I could play Petar Musa upfront instead of Teinar, but he’s a loan player and he’s also Croatian, and I want to prioritise Czech players no matter what. This is a massive part of the reason why I think promotion is just going to be out of our reach this season, and this season needs to be about consolidating our position, and beginning to build the squad ready for a promotion push (and to begin to build the club however I can). Quite frankly, I just don’t think we’re going to score enough goals.

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Marcel Cernak scores to give us the lead in our league opener against Banik Sokolov. We would go on to draw 1-1.

Nevertheless, there are positive signs already, one in particular being the club’s production of young striker Ondrej Vyskocil. At 15, he already looks like a very promising prospect, and hopefully one of many as Žižkov becomes a conveyor belt of fantastic young Czech talent. There are others in the youth setup such as Matej Horak and Tomas Soukup who could also develop quite nicely. At the moment, we only have average youth facilities, adequate junior coaching and average youth recruitment, and we have to improve this moving forward.

However, for now, we sit 8th in the Czech National League, and honestly, I’d be chuffed with mid table by the end of the season, and some nice Bosmans on the way in for season two. I need to evaluate the squad moving through the season as I have a lot of contracts coming up at the end of the season and I won’t resign anyone until I know they’re worth keeping. In terms of the national team, The Czech Republic currently sit 52nd in world football and 4th in their World Cup qualifying group, and I need to get into the Czech First League to be able to help change that. So, until next time, thank you very much for reading, I promise I’ll stick with this one now I’m fully back into Football Manager, and as always, should you have any questions about this save concept, my 3-5-2 or just FM18 in general, then please don’t hesitate to contact me via Twitter (@JLAspey) or via the comments section of this blog. Thank you again.

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