Take the time to make some sense of what you want to say, and cast your words away upon the waves
Disclaimer: I’m fully aware that “Angers” and “Anger” are not pronounced the same – one will do anything for a bit of convenient wordplay 😄
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Football Manager 2021 is almost here. Despite everything that the year 2020 has thrown at us, the team at Sports Interactive have clearly gone above and beyond to deliver yet another (hopefully) epic edition for us, and we are eternally grateful not only for this but for the endless hours of enjoyment FM20 gave us during various stages of lockdown, quarantine, isolation and downtime that, even though most of us FM die-hards are well accustomed to (flying solo and spending endless hours away from the real world), all of us in some shape or form have had to endure, overcome and deal with in our own way as we adapted to the new abnormal normality we collectively live in today.
On a positive note – what lockdown and isolation took away from us in terms of social life, travel and working in an actual office with human beings (remember that?), it more than made up for in Football Manager time and whilst we were midway through #MayTheFürthBeWithYou and squeezing every last minute out of FM20, plans for FM21 were already in motion and a desire to manage in a new league/country combined with a 25 year affiliation with Manchester legends Oasis (rivalled only by my 25 year obsession with CM/FM) led to a first confirmed save for the new edition of the game:
That’s right – not only will we be embarking on my first ever save career in Ligue 1 as we take the reigns at Angers SCO, but it will also be a Homegrown only save in which we can only sign and recruit French nationals (players and staff) or players that have been produced and developed organically through the club’s academy. As if trying to compete with PSG, Lyon and Monaco wasn’t enough right?
I’m not going to spend too much time delving into the club’s history, philosophy and general information as is usually the case with a new FM blog – everyone knows that Les Scoïstes aka Angers SCO (est. 1919) play at the 19,000 seater Stade Raymond Kopa where they have recently been enjoying Ligue 1 football since the 2015/2016 season right? Instead we will today discuss the inspiration behind this save, and how we will go about trying to successfully navigate a Homegrown challenge with a particular focus on the club infrastructure and our planned approach before setting out the main rules and objectives for this adventure. Let’s do this.
A Degree of Pedigree
We intend on not only building a homegrown squad capable of challenging at the higher echelons of French football, but also developing our somewhat non-existent conveyor belt of organically produced talent at the club – ideally through our youth setup and by recruiting young French talent with a view of placing them in our academy team until they are ready either for first-team football or to be sold for a tidy profit so as to continually reinvest in our production line. I know that every FM save ever talks of focusing on youth etc but for us, the main call-out is that we will not only try produce wonderkids and newgens each year but also spend a considerable portion of our transfer budget on players specifically for the U19 team that we can mould for first team football, and the U19 team will get almost as much attention as the first team throughout the save.
While not historically blessed with talent coming from their youth system, we have seen a handful of well known players passing through the Angers youth teams and subsequently go on to have largely successful careers elsewhere – the likes of Nicolas Pépé, Étienne Capoue,Anthony Réveillere, Ulrich Ramé and the recently returned Sofiane Boufal are all graduates of Les Scoïstes youth team, while in recent times younger players such as Romain Saiss, Jeff Reine Adelaide, Jonathan Kodija and Karl Toko Ekambi all had successful spells at the club which inevitably led to big money moves away from the West of France.
Reine-Adelaide, Saiss and Pepe at Angers
This is what we intend to emulate and our focus will be as follows:
Youth Academy – raising the quality of our homegrown produce via increased attention and investment in our youth facilities and recruitment, and most importantly only recruiting French backroom staff in doing so
Affiliations – setting up links both with domestic lower league French clubs as well as overseas teams with a focus on both funneling players into our annual youth intake as well as having first options on youth players (more on this below)
Smart Spending – rather than put all our eggs in one basket by focusing solely on our youth produce, we will also look to spend a considerable amount of our annual transfer budget on young French talent brought in specifically to play in our youth team wherein they will hopefully progress towards first team football or be primed and ready for the transfer market (every player has a price right?)
Made in Africa
If you are looking for either some quality football content or for some inspiration for your FM21 save, I highly recommend the Scouted Football podcast which is an extremely insightful in-depth look at U23 football across the world, produced by the guys who bring you the Scouted Football handbook every 3 months which contains analysis on the world’s top youth prospects. Recently I was highly inspired by two specific episodes where host Joe Donoghue spoke with both Lee Scott and Ed Aarons about the pipeline of young African players and their pathway into European football, the latter of whom wrote an exceptional book called Made in Africa which is a wonderful narrative on the history of African footballers in English football.
What interested me particularly was the discussion around some of the football academies in Africa, more specifically the Generation Foot academy in Senegal (responsible for developing the likes of Sadio Mané and Ismaila Sarr) and the Right to Dream academy in Ghana where the likes of Mohammed Kudus and KamaldeenSulemana learned their trade before following that pipeline into Europe. The more they discussed this pipeline and the idea of European satellite clubs that recruit these types of players, groom them into elite footballers and then sell them on for considerable profit (including the likes of FC Metz, KRC Genk , Red Bull Salzburg and FC Nordsjælland who are responsible for the emergence of players such as Khalidou Koulibaly, Sadio Mané, Wilfried Ndidi and Naby Keita to name a few), the more I was drawn towards trying to replicate something similar in Football Manager. Obviously doing a homegrown save means that we can’t simply start snapping up players from these countries for little or nothing, however what we will incorporate into this save is to try and develop affiliations throughout some of these African countries e.g. Mali, Ghana, Algeria, Morocco etc in the hope that we can offer a similar pipeline to younger players who in turn will be produced as youth candidates at Angers and thus meet our homegrown requirements.
We tried something similar in my FM20 save at Greuther Fürth in Germany whereby the goal was to develop Irish youth candidates at the club, a feat that took no fewer than 9 seasons to achieve. Hopefully we won’t have to wait as long this time around!
Looking Back in Anger…literally
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. When I decided that Angers SCO were the club for me in FM21, a certain Rayan Aït-Nouri was the club’s first choice left-back and arguably one of the hottest defensive prospects in Europe with a host of top clubs rumoured to be interested in his signature. At just 19 years old, Aït-Nouri only broke into the Angers first team in 2018, and began the 2019/2020 season with two assists in three games helping the club to an 11th place finish in La Liga.
Rewind – the date is the 4th of October 2020, and with one day remaining until the Covid-19 driven extended Transfer Window closes, Aït-Nouri is still an Angers player and my plans to build the team around him and do everything in my power to keep him at the club were well underway.
ONE DAY. 24 hours later and he would still have been an Angers player – now we must commence the save without him, and to add insult to injury he has signed on loan meaning two things:
We won’t really benefit financially as we start the save – obviously Wolves are covering his wages and probably paying a monthly fee for his services, but this won’t be of much use to us in the transfer market
We are at the whim of whatever Wolves decide to do in-game with a £20m optional fee; seeing as we will be finished our first season long before real-life Wolves decide if they want him permanently – will he stay or will he go?!
Odd One Out?
Even if this photo is before your time (some of you weren’t even born when it was taken!) – more than likely you recognise it as one of the great World Cup winning teams with the likes of Zidane, Desailly, Thuram, Deschamps and Barthez all at the peak of their powers in 1998, helping their nation lift the Jules Rimet trophy for the first time in their history.
What’s equally remarkable about this side is that, as you go through the first team squad you will see players from teams such as Real Madrid, Juventus, Bayern, Inter Milan, Chelsea, PSG and Arsenal but to name a few – all of that First XI were playing for some of the best clubs in Europe at the time. Well, almost all of them…
Somewhat randomly, Auxerre’s Stéfane Guivarc’h found himself leading the line for the World Cup winners throughout the tournament after winning the Ligue 1 Golden Boot during the two previous seasons. Whether it was down to France Manager Aimee Jacquet’s fondness for a lone striker role, or just relatively lucky timing for Guivarc’h given that both Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet were only 20 years of age – either way he found himself in the Number 9 jersey playing among the best players in the world and lifting the World Cup trophy despite not even scoring for the whole tournament – not bad for a Striker plying his trade at the 7th best team in France at the time.
Why is this relevant you ask; fast forward to the most recent World Cup in 2018 (also won by France of course) and you won’t find anyone in that final squad not playing for an elite European club (Pavard being the slight exception in that he hadn’t signed for Bayern yet). Barcelona, Real Madrid, Man Utd, PSG, Atletico Madrid, Chelsea – the quality of this France side means that it is almost a certainty that a repeat of the Guivarc’h debacle will never occur, and the chances of a player from any team outside of the Champions League starting for France in a World Cup are pretty much non-existent at this point.
Save Rules & Objectives
1. Only Homegrown players can be signed and play for the club, with “Homegrown” defined as the following:
Any player of French nationality (first or second etc)
Any player that has earned French citizenship after spending minimum amount of time required to qualify (1,825 days i.e. 6 years)
Any player that is produced through our youth academy
2. All non-homegrown players in the existing squad need to be sold or released before the start of the 2021/2022 season
3. All Backroom Staff must also meet the above Homegrown criteria
1. European Football
We might not be able to sign any other Europeans for the team, but you can be damn sure we intend to compete with them at the highest level possible. The club have qualified for Europe once in their history playing just two games in 1972 before being knocked out by Dynamo Berlin who now play in the 4th tier of German football.
2. Succeed at U19 Level
Our mission is to build an U19 team capable of competing for the Championnat National U19 title; the structure of this competition is extremely interesting – four leagues of 14 teams each, with the winners of each league entering into a Semi-Final and Final to see who is declared the overall champion.
2019/2020 Championnat National U19
3. Beat PSG
It’s simple. Whatever about the fact that Angers haven’t beaten PSG in Ligue 1 since 1975, it will be an even harder task to actually beat them in game with the players and resources available. I’m not even talking about finishing ahead of them in the League – literally it will be all we can do to beat them at least once in the League during this save.
4. Have at least 1 player start for France in a World Cup.
Similar to the Guivarc’h story above where we saw a player from lowly Auxerre slightly out of his depth starting for France in the World Cup alongside players from Real Madrid, Juventus and Man Utd – our mission is to avenge Stefane’s unfortunate downfall (I don’t even want to talk about the fact he moved to Newcastle after) and have an Angers SCO player start for France in the World Cup Finals.
5. Sell a Homegrown produce for €100m+
Supply and Demand – the ultimate test of whether you are producing world class players can only verified by our enemies. As much as it will pain us and will probably take 20 odd seasons to do – as a long term objective it will be interesting to see if we can even get close to this especially with PSG always lurking in the background 👀.
That’s it in a nutshell – hopefully you will find this of interest as we navigate through the epic chaos and wonder that FM21 is sure to bring. We will aim to blog this save weekly after full release so be sure to hit the follow button below and even feel free to leave a comment with any thoughts, tips or suggestions if you’re brave enough! You can also follow my ramblings on Twitter and catch me on Slack or Discord if you want to join the conversation – life is tough enough, it’s good to talk 👍 (especially about FM).