There’s a fine little series of Marvel stories called The New X-men, written by the wonderful Grant Morrison and illustrated, among others but best, by Igor Kordey. In one of the episodes, #120, the X-men’s training school stands threatened by a host of mutant/human hybriuds who want to harvest the genetic material of the X-men and only the irascible, beautiful Jean Grey and a host of trainee, child X-ettes stand in their way. While it is Grey who finally dispatches the thugs, the little ones do a fine job along the way.
Why do I mention this? Well, we all know the ‘You’ll Win Nothing With Kids’ saves on Football Manager, the ones where you cannot buy anyone and must make do with your youth system to build a team. It’s an engaging challenge, to be sure, and if you’re Atalanta or Barcelona, well worth doing. But, what if you assembled your own New X-men? Or, in Football Manager terms, bought as many wonderkids and super prospects as possible and then put them all in one team? I know, right?
Now, if you’re going to do this, you need to pick a team that has the finance and credibility to attract some of those players who will be being scouted and flirted with by other big boys. You also need a team with a good, established reputation and, ideally, a few wonderkids already nestling in the bosom of the reserves. Ladies and gentlemen, my very own Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters: Juventus. They have the background, the money, a stable and supportive board and, most importantly, Filippo Romagna, Kingsley Coman, and Roman Macek, all potential superheroes of the game.
My side chosen, I think formulated a few rules. As any student of the X-men will tell you, youngsters need guidance; you can’t develop if you don’t have a Wolverine or an Emma Frost (especially Emma, god lord) standing over your shoulder, guiding and cajoling. I decided that the best way of achieving this was to set my squad up along the lines of the Olympic football competition: on the pitch at any one time I allowed myself three over-23 players. I could have further over-23 players in the match-day squad (and Serie A’s rules mandate twelve subs, so anything else simply wasn’t practical), but only three could actually be playing at any one time.
In terms of transfers, then, I went a little bit Hope Summers when confronted by the Phoenix. I mean: I wanted everything. I took my players from these two lists, here and here. And I bought whomever I could. This meant that I did overpay for some players and I was happy to increase wage offers, especially if other teams were in for a player. In this respect, I spat in the face of my previous Moneyball-inspired parsimony, but fuck that, right? I was also prepared to offer up players or accept sensible bids for anyone, with the following exceptions: Paul Pogba, quite simply the most marvellous player around at the moment; Claudio Marchisio, my Iron Fist, astute in the ways of training and subtle passing; Arturo Vidal, the Beast, obviously; and Giorgio Chiellini, my Wolverine (I really don’t need to explain that one, do I?). I also wanted to hang onto Pirlo because he’s Pirlo and Buffon because he’s Buffon, though neither played with any regularity. I also wanted to make use of tutoring, so having wise old heads in the dressing room made sense.
I also asked the board to approve philosophies of signing and developing youngsters, to help my signings fit into the club ethos, and spent money on youth training facilities and a few additional youth coaches. I was set. Xavier’s School was up and running.
The aim was simple: to see if using a squad of mostly 16-23 year olds, I could sustain a Champions League and Serie A campaign, develop those players, and build something that didn’t need any further renewal after the third transfer window. By this, I mean that I allowed myself to sign players at the start of the game and I will allow myself to target a few more from the initial list (not least because Italian rules allow only two non-EU signings per season and I need Lucas Romero) in the summer of 2015. After that, nothing. It’ll be done to my initial recruitment and development skills, as well as anyone coming through the ranks. Make sense? Good.
And so, I signed a lot of players; I mean a lot. Goalkeepers Sondre Rossbach (Odd, 1.1m) and Rubén Blanco (Celta Vigo, 1.9m) joined. Centre-backs Joe Gomez (Charlton, 6.25m), Jesús Vallejo (Zaragoza, 2.1m), Samuel Umtiti (OL, 10.5m), and full-backs Nicolás Pinto (Boca, 2.3m) and Nicola Murru (Cagliari, 7.5m) strengthened the defence. In midfield, I recruited Borja Fernández (Celta Vigo, 4.1m), Simon Gustafson (Häcken, 925k), Kristoffer Ajer (Start, 1m), Niklas Stark (Nürnberg, 5.5m), Martin Ødegaard (Strømgodset, 1.7m), Humam Tariq (Al-Ahli, 450k), and Patrick Roberts (Fulham, 10.25m). Upfront, I bought the other half of Domenico Berardi out from the co-ownership deal with Sassuolo (15.75m), and also acquired Giovanni Simeone (River, 4.7m), Munir (Barcelona, 10.25m), and Luka Jovic (Red Star, 1.6m). Of these, most joined immediately, but I had to wait until the opening of the January window to get Ødegaard and Munir, and Jovic is yet to join me; he arrives in January 2016.
To pay for this splurge of epic proportions, I sold Cáceres (PSG, 5.8m and 51k per week wages), Giovinco (Lazio, 6.25m and 63k), Padoin (Newcastle, 2m and 23k), Pepe (Anderlecht, 1m and 16k as I had to pay some of his wages), Storari (Cesena, 203k and 28.5k), Bonucci (Barcelona, 17.75m and 57k), Llorente (Tottenham, 20m and 100k), Tevez (Arsenal, 30m and 130k), Lichtsteiner (Napoli, 625k and 57k), and Ogbonna (West Ham, 4.5m and 9k as again, some wages were paid by me to secure the deal). I also cancelled Rômulo’s loan, saving 14.25k a week in wages because why not. And that’s right, I sold Tevez, Llorente, and Bonucci. If you’re in, you’re in.
Tactically, I experimented, but settled on three formations, generally preferring the first: an attacking, narrow 4-2-3-1 with BWM and RP as a pivot; an attacking 4-3-1-2 with a BWM and two RPs; and an attacking 4-4-2. You’ll notice a theme in terms of mentality. I wanted to eviscerate with pace and directness. All teams were set to play direct, high tempo, pressing football, staying on feet to tackle and whipping in crosses. I also used a covering ball-playing defender and a stopper, full-backs set to supporting wing-back function, and a supporting sweeper-keeper. In terms of selection, I varied my team quite a lot, rotating various positions to ensure that I abided by my rules; Stark or Fernández would come in for Vidal, for example, and the centre-backs were changed quite often.
And, at the half-way point of season one, how is it going? Well, in fact. I am currently 3rd in Serie A, two points behind hated rivals Torino and four behind Roma, but with a significantly better goal difference than i Granata. I qualified from a tough Champions League group with ease, topping it after walloping Atleti 4-0 at home and seeing off Ajax and AS Monaco. My form players can be seen below:
Interestingly, while my team is very quick and quick out of the blocks, scoring most goals in the opening stages of the game, I do suffer from tiredness and concede most in the quarter after half-time, before I’ve made my substitutions. The team is also physically quite weak, as you would expect from such a young side, and so I often see players losing fifty-fifty challenges or getting knocked off the ball.
This is the sort of the challenge that percolates like a good coffee, and so this first post is light on actual game detail as I am setting a scene, the rules out, and so on. I’ll have more for you soon, though, and I hope this has whetted the appetite for Football Manager meets Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.