One of Football Manager’s most enticing possibilities is overseeing an academy graduate’s rise to superstardom. But it’s not always that easy.
The ‘Wonderkid’ label doesn’t mean your most promising youth product will automatically transform into one of the best players in the world – his talent must be nurtured.
And it isn’t only wonderkids who can be developed into top players. Indeed, players without the label can often reach the same level as a wonderkid with the right guidance.
But how exactly should you go about ensuring you get the best out of your squad’s wonderkids and other young players? Here are some useful tips.
Make use of the loan market
Loans are your best friend when it comes to giving young players first-team experience. If you’re a Premier League boss and you have a wonderkid striker in your squad who isn’t quite ready to play top-flight football, explore the option of sending him to the Championship for the season.
To do this, place him on the loan list and use the ‘Offer To Clubs’ tool. You can decide how much of the player’s wages you want the loaning club to pay and how long the loan spell will be, but perhaps even more importantly, you can choose his ‘Preferred Playing Time’ (Star Player, Squad Player etc.) and the position in which you want the player to be deployed.
When the offers come in, be sure to pick the loan club that offers the most playing time and agrees to the player’s preferred position. Another thing to consider is the quality of the team your player is being loaned to. Click on the club’s name and navigate to Overview –> General, where you will find the media’s prediction of where the team will finish in the table.
If you have an offer from a Championship relegation candidate and a League One promotion hopeful, perhaps consider sending attackers to the League One club (more likely to attack well) and defenders to the Championship club (likely to have more defending to do).
Give youngsters minutes
Some managers prefer to keep youth prospects at the club and around the first-team. Although this will prevent them from getting valuable experience elsewhere, it can be beneficial – but only if they are given at least some exposure to senior football.
Provided you’re willing to leave a senior player out, you might consider giving one squad place per match to a member of your development squad. If you’re winning comfortably midway through the second half, give him his first taste of Premier League football. He might even prove he’s worthy of a regular spot in the matchday squad.
Just remember to plan ahead. A couple of days before every U23s and U18s fixture, you’ll receive a message asking you to select any first-team players you’d like to make available for those youth games. At this stage, put your youth prospect in the senior squad so that he is eligible for the next first-team fixture. If this isn’t done, he’ll be unavailable for that game as he’ll be selected for the youth match.
Alternatively, give your wonderkids more than a place on the bench! Base your team around academy products and, if successful, watch the plaudits roll in. Making extensive use of young players you already possess will save plenty of money in the transfer market, too.
Stockpile youth, or ‘the Chelsea model’
The pair of tips above can both be applied to Chelsea in real life. The Londoners have loaned out a ridiculous number of young players in the club’s modern era. And this season Frank Lampard has kept many of those graduates at the club, with an exciting, youthful team gracing the Stamford Bridge turf.
Chelsea continue to go down both of the avenues we’ve discussed, and if you’re going to replicate the Blues you’re going to need a lot of good young players. As such, the controversial approach of ‘stockpiling’ – which Chelsea have been accused of – might be the best way forward.
If you sign a lot of players – and particularly if the majority of them are young – the media will quiz you on your stockpiling tactics. Ignore the noise. As long as you avoid breaching Financial Fair Play regulations, sign as many wonderkids as you can.
The reason stockpiling works is down to one simple fact: you can never have too many wonderkids. Loan some out, give minutes to others and sell those struggling to reach their potential for a profit, provided you attained them cheaply enough.
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Ask the board for improvements
You’ve done everything you can to help your young players with the tools at your disposal. Now it’s time to ask the board for some extra help.
Navigate to the Club Vision page, where you will find a drop down menu labelled ‘Make Board Request’. Here you can improve your youth facilities, increase your junior coaching budget, and improve the club’s youth recruitment.
Make sure you explore all of the options in this menu, but it’s highly unlikely the board will approve all of your requests simultaneously. Prioritise the one you think is most necessary; if you already possess a number of wonderkids, improve your youth facilities to ensure they have the best chance of fulfilling their potential; if your club isn’t recruiting enough wonderkids, improve your youth recruitment to ensure young players of a higher level come through the ranks.
Seek an appropriate affiliate club
Affiliate clubs are another great way to develop youth. If you have an affiliate club in the division below, you can send players to that club with the ‘Move To Affiliate’ option. Here you can see the playing time your player is likely to get while on loan at your affiliate and decide whether you’re making the right decision.
There are other types of affiliate that might be even better for your long-term youth development strategy. When requesting a new affiliate (Make Board Request –> Networking –> Affiliate Club), choose the conversation option that reads: ‘We should seek an affiliation with a club which can provide us a chance to recruit foreign youngsters.’ Or: ‘We should launch a search for a new affiliate in order to secure first options on players from a club with good youth recruitment.’
Hopefully your board will find an affiliate club that possesses a large number of high-potential youngsters. If you’ve gained your board’s trust after a couple of years in the job, they may even allow you to choose from a list of options. Do your research and pick the option with the best history of producing wonderkids.