A new challenge: Udinese in Football Manager 14

My first stab at a first team.

My first stab at a first team.

Regular readers of my FM posts and, indeed, those subject to my anguished diatribes on social media, will be aware that I suffered a catastrophe a few months ago. In the middle of my first season at Everton, having been offered the job on the back of my resounding success at Rangers employing a Moneyball-style transfer strategy, and in my second season at Manchester United which had generated this semi-fictional Moyes-trouncing piece in Pickles, I lost my saved games. They vanished from my computer quicker than Ali Dia from the Southampton match-day squad and I could not find them. And so, bereft, I wandered lonely through an unceasing interior monologue of woe and self-commiseration.

At last, though, I was ready to try again. And so I decided on Sunday, having watched their frankly tedious win over Napoli, to try my hand at guiding Udinese. Now, Udinese are a team I’ve always had a certain admiration for, largely because they house the gloriously loyal and talented Di Natale. Recently, too, the Friuli has also played host to an intriguing business model, revolving around developing then selling off young talent and swapping players around with the other clubs on the Pozzo roster, Watford and Granada. I therefore resolved to take over Udinese Calcio, to give them their full appellation, and see what I could do with them, both in terms of giving the Moneyball concept another run, and also to see if I could make the Pozzo model work in terms of finances while still maintaining a good, reasonably fixed first XI.

I have long been fascinated with the Italian transfer market as well, given that, uniquely as far as I know, it permits joint ownership and also relies heavily on a loan system. I, personally, do not like having players on loan in FM unless I have a buy-out clause inserted: generally, the players are at early stages in their development and so the benefit is reaped in the longer term by the owning club, or the players are deemed insufficiently good for the first team at their owning club and thus bring little to mine. Obviously, that changes some if I am managing a poor side and if transfer dealings are difficult; having said that, most decent loanees still cost in terms of monthly fees and wages and therefore, while the one-off outlay is smaller, a good player is often still beyond the reaches of the clubs that need them most. I also have a personal (and unproven) conviction that something secret in the game’s engine means that loan players do not perform as well for a side as full signings. As I say, I have no evidence for this and it is a personal prejudice, but it is one I have and I make no bones about it.

The loan options returning next season.

The loan options returning next season.

Joint-ownership is more of a benefit to smaller clubs as it guarantees either the player or some income after one or two years of having them play for you. It can also be a good way of raising revenue from young players who may or may not develop, but forestalling their loss. The larger Italian teams seem to make joint ownership offers quite a lot without necessarily exercising their options, so it can be used well if used sensibly.

A quick recap of my rules of playing:

  1. Net wage spend is more important than net transfer spend (pp. 14-21)
  2. Don’t needlessly splash out on new players or sell old ones when you take over a club – the New Manager Syndrome (pp. 21-22)
  3. Don’t buy players who looked Gucci at international tournaments: they’re likely over-valued and past performance is no indication of future performance, especially when they’re playing with a different team (pp. 22-24) – there are different incentives and a different tactical set-up at tournaments, and it’s a super small sample size
  4. Some nationalities are overrated, like Holland, Brazil, and England (pp. 24-25)
  5. Sell your players at the right time: when they’re around 30 years old, goalkeepers aside (p. 29)
  6. Use the wisdom of crowds: ask all your scouts and a Director of Football if you have one (pp. 43-44)
  7. Buy players in their early twenties, which avoids the problems with not developing properly, and means previous statistics have greater value (pp. 45-47)
  8. Centre-forwards cost more than they should (p. 47)
  9. Sell any player if a club offers more than they are worth and try to replace them before they are sold (pp. 48-49)
  10. Don’t buy players if you don’t need to: develop a youth network and try to develop your own players (pp. 49-51)
  11. The best way to improve a team is by identifying and replacing the weakest links, rather than by splashing out on making the best links even better (pp. 197-222)
  12. A clean sheet is worth just over two goals scored in terms of points across the course of a season (pp. 130-131).

The page numbers in brackets  for the first ten rules refer to the pages in my copy of Soccernomics. In addition, I have added two ‘rules’ from The Numbers Game, which are numbers 11 and 12 (with corresponding page numbers).

At the start of the 2013/14 season, Udinese co-own four players, Nicolás López, a 4.5 star potential rated striker, co-owned with Roma and at Udinese, and Juan Cuadrado, Mauricio Isla, and Barreto, all out at the co-owning club. López is an exciting prospect, but the others are of no real interest to me: Cuadrado is fast but flaky and doesn’t fit my formation; Isla does fit it but has a low natural fitness rating and gets injured a lot; and Barreto is just not very good. Of course, I can monitor their performance in the forth-coming season and if they start to perform, I can think about a bid.

In terms of Udinese’s first team squad, I had four players in on loan. Hassan Yebda (CM, 2.5 stars current ability), Thomas Herteaux (CB, 3 stars current ability), and Allan (DM/CM, 3 stars current but 4.5 stars potential) were all on loan from fellow Pozzo-owned club Granada. I also had Andrea Lazzari (CM, 3.5 stars current ability) on loan from Fiorentina. I was paying the full weekly wages of each player and none had an option-to-buy clause. Allan is a superb prospect, but I had Jádson who fulfils the same role, is owned by Udinese, and costs £2k a week less in wages. If Allan had an option-to-buy clause I might have considered retaining him, but, as things stood, I cancelled all their loan contracts immediately. This generated £41.5k per week in available wages immediately.



I then decided on my starting tactics. I decided to play a 3-5-2 with wing-backs. This played to my strengths of two excellent wing-backs, Dusan Basta and Gabriel Silva, alongside three strong centre-backs. I deployed Giampiero Pinzi in a ball-winning CM role alongside Roberto Pereyra as a box-to-box CM. Heeding the wisdom of Polish football guru Christopher Lash, I promoted Piotr Zielinski from the reserves and made him a trequartista, the focal point of my side. I then used Muriel as a deep-lying forward alongside club god Di Natale in poacher role. The side had balance and creativity, but a solid hub. I employed a basic starting mentality of Control, with Fluid positional sense, short, quick passing, and a desire to retain possession. I also promoted Antonio Vutov to be Zielinski’s understudy, and Widner and Santos to cover the wing-back roles.

My starting formation and rough starting XI decided, I looked at the other two crucial areas: staffing and team weaknesses. Now, Udinese are blessed with superb backroom staff (and a lot of them), so I kept things as they were. I set Head of Youth Development Angelo Trevisan to arrange youth training. Otherwise, the backroom side of things was already in fine fettle. In terms of playing staff, goalkeeper and centre-back needed strengthening. While rule 2 is obviously crucial, it does include the word needlessly, which I feel is balanced by rule 11. I had £5m to spend and I had increased available wages from £3.5k per week to £45 per week by ridding myself of loan signings.

I used knowledge from other games (which is basically a version of rule 6, right?) and recruited goalkeeper Alberto Brignoli from Ternana for £2.6m and £12k wages: he is a 4.5 star potential keeper which would be fulfilled as he was going straight into the starting line-up. I also picked up one of the bargains of early-doors FM14, Guiseppe Bellusci, a 4 star CB from Catania, for £1.4m in total (some fees deferred) and £23.5k wages. Brignoli was 22 and Bellusci 24 and both could slot straight into the team (I always try to buy players from the league’s home nation where possible to avoid issues around language and so on). This adhered to rule 7 and also rule 12, by prioritising defence. In terms of playing valuation, it is also always worth remembering that players are often undervalued in goal and defence and over-valued once you push further forward. This is true Moneyball, I suppose: as rule 12 states, clean sheets actually equate to goals scored in terms of points across a season and so by buying undervalued players in defence, you get more bang for your buck than buying relatively more expensive strikers to score those goals instead.

Lastly, a word on the Pozzo conundrum: I was prepared to loan players I would ordinarily loan out to other Pozzo clubs, but I was only going to sell if players were valued correctly in line with rule 9. A quick look at my on-loan list of players showed that I could afford to think in terms of 9 and 10: I had some truly excellent players due to return next season and could afford to think in terms of sales being replaced by virtue of those players returning to Udinese (Vydra as a natural back-up/replacement for Di Natale, for example). I would not, however, let players leave to Watford or Granada for less than their valuation.

In truth, then, this first season was to be a season of trying to play well, feel out who was good and who not in my squad, monitor the performance of my on-loan players, and prepare for the influx of players in season two. My personal objectives were a top 6 finish in Serie A and qualification for the knock-out phases of the Europa League.

The season started well, with Serie A victories over Roma, Genoa, and Sampdoria. I qualified for the group stages of the Europa League with a 3-1 aggregate win over HNK Hadjuk and a hard-fought 4-2 aggregate win over OGC Nice. A 5-1 win in Tel Aviv against Hapoel in the first group game of the EL was followed by a 2-1 win at home to Chievo, but my third fixture in six days, away at Verona, was a bridge too far for what was essentially a second XI due to tiredness, and we were hammered 4-0. We then lost 1-0 at home to AC Milan to bring a bad, fatigue-induced week to an end. The slide was arrested with a 1-0 win at home over a tenacious St. Gallen side. This was followed by a superb 3-0 win away at Inter, with substitute Emmanuel Badu hammering in two goals. This was followed by a 2-1 win at home to Torino, but then a run of poor results, losing 4-2 to Feyenoord and 3-0 to Juventus, both away, before conceding a late goal to draw 1-1 at home to Catania. The board released £1.8m in new transfer funds, though, and after ten games we sat in 3rd place in Serie A, three points ahead of fourth, and 2nd in the EL group, one point behind Feyenoord but with a home game against them still to play. We then drew 1-1 with Parma, lost the home tie against Feyenoord 2-0, but beat Bologna 3-1 at home. Injuries and tiredness were taking their toll so I reduced the training commitment but then had a fourteen day period of rest. The Udinese board offered me an improved contract after the Bologna game, which I took. It’s the quickest I have ever received an improved offer; we had only played 12 Serie A games! The team celebrated with a 2-2 draw away at fourth place Calgiari then staged a four goal come-back at home to Hapoel to guarantee a place in the first knockout round of the Europa League, the game finishing 5-2. The final run of games before the transfer window opened cemented our top three place in Serie A: a 0-0 draw at home to Napoli was followed by a 2-1 win away to Atalanta, a 0-0 draw at home to Sassuolo, and a 2-1 win away at Fiorentina. In between this, St. Gallen were beaten 4-1 away in the final Europa League group game to set up a knock-out clash with St. Etienne.

The board's view, halfway through season one.

The board’s view, halfway through season one.

In terms of recruitment in the mid-season transfer window, I never like doing an Arsenal. I reviewed the team for weaknesses and found that it was only the role of my ball-winning midfielder that could be considered as such. Having said that, it was the position I had rotated the most, between Pinzi, Badu, and Jádson, which was likely the cause. My only other concern was the fitness of right wing-back Dusan Basta, an excellent player but one who suffers regular injuries. If the right player came along I might have been persuaded but I was aware that Allan Nyom, a four star potential wing-back, was due back from Granada at the end of the season. I loaned out Ivan Keleva, the Croatian ‘keeper, to Watford (Pozzo points!). Wonderfully, my fixture at home to Livorno was postponed due to snow, which was another first in FM. Inter were then beaten on penalties in the first round of the Italian Cup. Juventus then came in with a £1.1m co-ownership deal for centre-back Bubnjic (two years and staying at the Friuli). I accepted it in line with rule 9, Bubnjic being valued at £900k outright, and because I had several exciting young defenders returning on loan at the end of the season anyway. Bubnjic, however, rejected the move, testament, I told myself, to what I was building at the Friuli. A 2-1 loss at home to second place Lazio followed, nudging us down to fourth but with a game in hand after the snow debacle. A 3-1 thumping of Roma at home pushed us back into third though and marked a debut goal for Widmer. Juventus dumped us out of the Cup 3-2 away, and then we scraped a 2-2 away at Sampdoria, but the end of January was marked with a glorious 5-2 shellacking of Genoa, with Di Natale and young Zielinski both getting a brace.

The end of the transfer period crept up and I loaned out Isaac Success for not being one, and Emanuele Rovini for a little more first team action, as he was behind both Zielinski and Vutov in the battle for my AMC spot. I also loaned out Mlinar, who never really registered with me and is only a 2.5 star potential player.

So, at the end of the first half of the first season, how were we doing? The simple answer is third in Serie A, on 39 points, two points behind Lazio but with a game in hand. We had qualified for the first knock-out round of the Europa League but had been knocked out of the Italian Cup, albeit by a stupidly strong Juventus side who were running away with the league on 53 points.

My two signings, Brignoli and Bellusci, had average marks of 6.85 and 6.94 respectively, and promoted player Zielinski was on 7.12 with 12 goals in 24 games (thank you Christopher). The old stager Di Natale had averaged 7.31 and scored 22 in 31, which was frankly astounding. Things were looking very good indeed.


  1. teddy picker · · Reply→

    You can sign players from other Pozzo clubs for free. Brahimi and Murillo are great at Granada and Faraoni (Watford) is also worth checking. Also, Siqueira is returning to Granada at the end of the season, he should do well as a left wingback (especially for free). This might sound like an exploit a bit, and I realise that you might not go with it as it would make the Moneyball a bit all too easy.
    Anyways, have fun at the Friuli!

    1. afhstewart · · Reply→

      Hmm. That’s a conundrum. I don’t need a left wing-back as things stand, but I’ll check the others out. I would have to somehow justify it within the model, though.

  2. […] “Regular readers of my FM posts and, indeed, those subject to my anguished diatribes on social media, will be aware that I suffered a catastrophe a few months ago. In the middle of my first season at Everton, having been offered the job on the back of my resounding success at Rangers employing a Moneyball-style transfer strategy, and in my second season at Manchester United which had generated this semi-fictional Moyes-trouncing piece in Pickles, I lost my saved games. They vanished from my computer quicker than Ali Dia from the Southampton match-day squad and I could not find them. And so, bereft, I wandered lonely through an unceasing interior monologue of woe and self-commiseration.” Put Niels In Goal […]

  3. […] to at least cite some of the inspirations for this piece – in particular Alex Stewart’s various dispatches on his travels through Football Manager, Iain Macintosh’s superb Bobby Manager and Johnny […]

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