Gaming

Football Manager 2020 tactics: Basic mistakes everyone makes

By Ben Green

Published: 11:00, 25 March 2020

Football Manager can be a cruel mistress. Sometimes everything just clicks into gear and all your decisions work wonders. But, other times, your Midas touch abandons you and one mistake leads to another before you’re staring down the barrel, wondering where it all went wrong.

Trust me, we’ve all been there. Not every adventure in the dugout starts smoothly or culminates in a Champions League final appearance. But why is that? You’ve followed the same blueprint, used the same tactics that worked so well before and have signed every recommended wonderkid. What gives?

Well, whether you’re an FM novice or a grandmaster in the virtual dugout, rookie mistakes can and will be made. What works for one club may not for another. Unfortunately, there is no proverbial shoe that fits every foot, so your ‘tiki-taka’ tactics are unlikely to go down well at Ewood Park.

There are a number of factors that could be hampering your progress on the touchline. So, if you’re just starting out or keep going down blind alleys, the solution may be on our list below, as we cover the top mistakes everyone makes on Football Manager.

1. Over-signing

Of course, the first thing you want to do when loading up a new save is sign players. There is no greater joy on Football Manager than browsing the transfer market to your heart’s content.

But, it’s important to not indulge too much. There is a fine line between improving your squad and overcrowding the dressing room. Healthy competition is vital in any balanced squad, but too many egos can spoil the broth and complicate matters further down the line.

That’s why it’s essential to not rely on the chequebook, but rather, utilise the players already at the club, while adding in one or two fresh faces. That would mean putting the scattergun to one side, signing a few key players that suit your system and ultimately building a squad in your image.

It will take time for new players to acclimatise to a new set of tactics, a new club and new teammates, so make sure to not overindulge in your first window, or you could be left with a bunch of individual superstars rather than a cohesive unit.

2. Selling ‘highly influential’ players

So often we can overlook the human aspect of football, instead viewing players through the prism of metrics, stats and numbers. Indeed, this is often the case on Football Manager. When looking at a player, our eyes will most likely gaze at the technical attributes first, before moving on to their mental capabilities.

However, there are no shortcuts on Football Manager. Having a player who is creatively excellent will count for nothing if their mental attributes — work rate, leadership, determination, etc. — aren’t up to scratch. 

And the same works for squad harmony. Football Manager have tried to recreate the human element, meaning you will need to be more than just a tactician, but rather, a virtual man-manager as well. One of the biggest mistakes made in this regard is selling influential squad players.

Getting rid of a big voice in the dressing room can have an adverse effect on the happiness of your squad. Their legs may be ageing, or you may be trying to free up some funds, but think carefully before shipping out a ‘team leader’ or a ‘highly influential player’. It may lead to one or two unhappy faces knocking at your door.

3. No Plan B

With every approaching fixture there is a new opponent, and with that, a new set of players to pit your wits against, a new manager to tactically clash with and possibly a few injuries to some of your key players. As such, it would be wise to have a contingency plan in place, and perhaps even three or four backup options.

Playing a high-line may work against Burnley, but it will backfire spectacularly against Liverpool, so have a few set-ups in the pipeline to adjust where necessary. You may be an idealist but a little bit of pragmatism will go a long way.

You may even find that you have an important Champions League match in midweek so you need to rest a few key players for a domestic game at the weekend, and that could mean shuffling the pack as well. If you have built your system around a ‘target man’, but your back-up striker works best as a poacher, then have a Plan B in line to accentuate his assets, rather than trying to shoehorn him into an unheralded set-up.

4. Neglecting experience in the market

Most of us have this utopian vision of creating a dynasty on Football Manager, discovering your very own ‘Busby Babes’ or ‘Class of ’92’ and watching your young guns develop over time and become some of the best players on the game.

But, just stockpiling youngsters won’t win you silverware, especially if you’re in the top-flight. Like most points on this list, it’s about finding a balance. This time between youth and experience.

To get the best out of a youngster, you’ll often have to ease them in, have an older player take them under their wing, and then unleash them. Throwing a bunch of fledgeling footballers into the first-team from day one will do more harm than good, at least in the beginning.

By all means sign Thiago Almada, Jude Bellingham and Fabio Silva, but nurture them in slowly and methodically, rather than giving them a collective baptism of fire. Instead, look to recruit a few seasoned pros with a handful of wonderkids and watch the whole thing come together naturally.

5. Ignoring the contract fine print

Excitement can often get the better of us when entering contract negotiations. We’re just overjoyed our offer has been accepted by the club and the player actually wants to join. As such, we’ll often thrash out the terms as quickly as possible, giving in to the ridiculous demands of the player before hitting ‘finalise deal’ with a huge sigh of relief.

But, scanning over the fine print loosely can often prove detrimental down the line, if not immediately to your transfer plans. There are a number of clauses and bonuses in a player’s contract, which could have a harmful effect on your transfer and wage budget.

For example, the signing on fee and agent fee will both be taken out of your transfer kitty. So, if you’re looking to secure a big name, and say, Mino Raiola is the agent, you could be giving way to an extra £10m-£20m on top of the actual sum you’ll be paying the parent club.

If you have the funds available then no sweat, but just be cautious of this, particularly if you have intentions of investing elsewhere in the squad.

6. Pass over player roles 

In your mind, you’ll have an idea of how you want to play, which formation you’ll use and who’ll fit into your system. But, not always do you have the players to make this grand idea come to fruition, so it may be a case of building a system around your players rather than the other way around.

So, instead of trying to fit square pegs into round holes, it would be wise to analyse the roles of each individual player and try to find a way of utilising their key strengths. Of course, not every player will be able to adopt their natural game, but this is where the training feature can come in handy.

Player training is one of the most important but often overlooked features on Football Manager, and it can work particularly well if you’re trying to develop a player to suit an unfamiliar role. If you are going to deploy certain players out of position, then at least train them in that position and make the transition more fluid.