This is the eighth post in this “We Are United” series with Newcastle United – click here to read from the beginning if you’ve not already done so 👌.
Tuesday 1st February 2022 – In Game 💻
If it was Dry January that led us to picking up 5 wins and two draws then it must have pissed Guinness all over February and March…although that would be a far more enjoyable black & white sight than our performances on-field during this period.
I’m starting to wonder if I’m just really sh*t at this game. We started February ok with a spirited draw with League Champions Liverpool – bear in mind they are on course to win their third consecutive league title. However 1-1 seemed to be the result of choice on Tyneside as we enjoyed four of them over the two months; add getting KO’d from the FA Cup at home to Man Utd and not even Alfredo Morelos‘ first goal in 13 games could cheer us up as we finally picked up a win on the day after St. Patrick’s Day (only relevant because this blog started on St. Patrick’s Day 2020 IRL).
On a more positive note, we reach the end of March which is arguably the best part of the season in the Football Manager calendar and the time that all of us look forward to most: Youth Intake 🔥🔥.
Before a fresh new class of academy players arrive at the club, let’s do a quick reflection on the development of last year’s intake and also on some of the steps we have taken to (1) increase the quality of youth player being produced at the club and (2) what we have done to further develop these players since, so we can decide which of these may be featuring in the first team squad in the very near future.
1.Setting up for Success
Getting the proverbial “Golden Generation” is a state of mind. When we think about Golden Generations, the mind leans towards some of the more renowned generations in World Football – the Class of ’92 (Beckham, Scholes & co.), West Ham in 2001 (Ferdinand, Lampard, Carrick & Joe Cole) or more recently Ajax in 2019 where a group of kids including De Ligt, De Jong and Van De Beek almost went all the way to the Champions League final.
This doesn’t happen in Football Manager.
If you are lucky enough to see those two words in-game, then it usually means you’re likely to be given a handful of really strong prospects (closer to 3 or 4 than a full wonderkid XI) who will either develop towards the first team or alternatively bring in a few pounds later down the line if picked up by another club. There are a few things you can do to help increase your chances of getting a decent youth intake – some are fairly standard but are absolute essentials to maximise your youth academy output:
Youth Category Rating 💹
When we arrived at the club we were landed with the news that Mike Ashley and his cronies had managed to reduce the club’s Youth Category rating to 3…we might as well send them down to Sunderland to develop. This made correcting and restoring our Youth Category an absolute priority goal for the save, and by persistently plaguing the board to increase our staff members and invest in our youth structure, we successfully righted this wrong and are back among the top tier of English youth academies (and rightly so).
Youth Facilities ⚽
If you can raise a bit of cash and aren’t in the habit of squandering it in the transfer market, then it’s an extremely worthy investment to convince the Chairman to spend it on improving Youth Facilities at the club rather than on transfer or wage budgets. This has a natural influence on the quality and long term success of academy graduates and is crucial to build a world class youth academy, especially if you are basing your long term of your save success on the youth conveyor belt at your club.
Backroom Staff 🤼
Never underestimate the influence your backroom staff have in shaping the development of your youth players. It’s not just about having coaches with a good “Working with Youngsters” attribute; it’s important to have a spread of expertise in key areas which are all pivotal in enhancing your players’ potential:
Technical Coaching (Dennis Bergkamp)
Motivation & Man Management (Allan Stewart)
Level of Discipline (Mark Chamberlain)
Tactical (Alberto Ensinas)
Defending/Attacking (Kevin O’Connor/Dirk Kuyt)
Equally, bringing in a decent Head of Youth Development naturally influences the quality of your youth recruitment and development so it’s essential to recruit well for this role. Judging Player Ability and Potential as well as Working with Youngsters are the key attributes to focus on when hiring a HoYD – in our case, as we wanted to lean towards more Irish staff we went for former Ireland and Wimbledon midfielder Jon Goodman who I also remember meeting as a kid all the way back in 1995/1996 when The Dons welcomed Man Utd to Selhurst Park.
It’s not just about coaching. It’s vital to also focus on physical development, ensuring you have quality in terms of Physios, Sports Scientists and Fitness Coaches. Medical staff aren’t just there to treat injuries; they also contribute towards preventing them. What you want is strong able bodied players coming through with solid stamina and natural fitness as well as limited proneness to injuries and match fitness issues; how else can you develop players with these traits and attributes without hiring all of the above?
Finally, scouts that have the ability to expertly Judge Player Potential are also essential and somewhere where I realise we can also improve. Remember, newgens have to be found somewhere; having a quality scouting setup with scouts that can pick out a player can only contribute positively to your youth intake as you hope to unearth the next FM wonderkid. Someone once found Cherno Samba right?
2. Ongoing Development
After your intake comes through, it doesn’t end there. It’s essential to ensure you are proactively developing these players and doing your utmost to maximise that potential, while equally ensuring they are given enough time and support to get on the path to greatness. It’s not always easy to know for sure just how much your input contributes to their development, however in general you usually get what you put in when it comes to Football Manager. Doing something can be costly, but doing nothing will cost a lot more!
Here are a few things that we implement to ensure real-time continuous development and improvement in our Youth Academy:
Take Control of Individual Training – don’t be lazy! There are some things you just shouldn’t leave to your Assistant – youth development is far too important to delegate.
Mentoring – a lot of FM players feel this has become ineffective or takes too long to achieve tangible results, however the best thing I can say about mentoring is that bringing an inexperienced youth player together with a resolute or highly determined senior member of the team can be invaluable to enhance the player’s personality and mental attributes and these are essential for a player to ascent through the ranks and become a top player in-game.
Promote to U23’s as soon as a player turns 18 – even though they are still eligible for the U18s, it’s important to expose them at the next level to aid their physical, mental and technical development
Loan Deals (over 18’s only) – I will only ever allow a player leave to go out on loan after they turn 18; this is to ensure they are all going through the standard mental and physical routine at an early age before going on to improve technically and positionally through first team football at another club. It’s also essential to only loan out when you know they will be first team regulars, otherwise they might has well hang back in the reserve leagues knowing first team football is guaranteed week on week.
I’m hopeful last year’s intake (where we did indeed see those two magic words) has produced a few real quality youth prospects for us to develop towards the first team, as we have 2-3 players that are developing nicely on track towards first team football and have already been attracting bids from rival clubs like Everton, Wolves and Leicester.
Last Year’s “Golden Generation”
Tuesday 22nd March 2020 📅
There’s a knock on the door and Jonny Goodman enters, the culmination of his entire year’s work summed up in one portfolio which he places tentatively on the Manager’s desk. After last year’s successful intake, he appears apprehensive this time round following his earlier update that our two top prospects hail from Canada and Latvia respectively. “Not exactly two footballing strongholds are they Jon?” we asked, but he assures me that his intel is solid. How can you not trust a man with a name like that? #GoodMan
The first player profile in the gospel according to Jon is that of Nikita Pallo, whom one of our scouts with a fondness for Eastern Europeans spotted while on a routine mission in Liepaja, Latvia (Population: 68,945). Nothing suspicious about that however there’s no time to think about it once we see that we have a Latvian Attacking Midfielder on our hands with the following Media Comparison:
Now if you followed football around the turn of the century and/or ever played yourself a bit of CM01/02, you’ll know that Marians Pahars lit up the Premier League for Southampton, and in that iteration of Champ Man he regularly secured a move to the likes of Man United or Arsenal scoring 15-20 goals a season from the AMC position. Pahars is famously known for scoring a Perfect Hat-trick in his first trial match for Southampton upon which an £800,000 fee was immediately agreed with Skonto Riga making him the first ever Latvian to play in the Premier League; if Pallo turns out to be even half the player Pahars was we could have a bolt of lightning on our hands.
Jonny G also sings the praises of 16 year old 6″4 Welsh Striker Tom Williams who he describes as “Peter Crouch with touch”, as well as Canadian midfielder Donaire Douglas who I’m convinced has arrived thinking we are an Ice Hockey team judging by his Determination and Work Rate. I’m more interested in Irish winger Greg Barrett who aside from having a glorious head of hair looks like he could be a potential Irish international in the future.
2022 Youth Intake
I digress – back to business, after 30 games we sit in a very mediocre 11th place, 11 points behind 10th place Tottenham meaning a Top 10 finish is all but ruled out. Our mission for the remaining 8 games is simple:
🛑 If Burnley finish above us I’ll resign 🛑
I’m not even joking – Burnley have a team of hackers and senior citizens compared the squad we have, therefore if the gods of FM decide they are better than us then I’ll happily walk away from this side and let Joe Kinnear take the reigns from here – he’s well connected you know.
It seems the players aren’t that bothered either – with the exception of Sebastiano Esposito who finally starts to find some consistent goal-scoring form, it’s a month of below-par performances and I’m beginning to think that actually this squad will be better off without us. Chris Hughton messages to say I should download LinkedIn while Jon Goodman is actually pricing flights to Latvia for himself – with 3 games to go we are level on points with Burnley so it’s time for one more drastic change:
This is it – after 2 seasons, 7 blog posts, 20 players signed, 4 tactical overhauls and about 5 days worth of game-play all of our hopes lie in the same formation that 10 year old me would have used the first time he loaded up Championship Manager 2 some 24 years ago…are we to end as we began?
9 points 🤷♂️
Of course it works! Once again in this save we live to fight another day, even if this time it was a self-imposed job threat – three wins in our last three games put us comfortably in 11th place which seems to be acceptable to Chairman Blower even if we’ve parted with over £200m of his hard earned cash so far to date. I do feel like we are under-achieving however with the average age of the squad still only 23 based on the fact that we’ve mostly signed players even younger than that, I’m adamant that the squad will come good in the next season or two and hopefully disprove the theory that I am actually very sh*t at this game…only time can tell right? 👀