The Lessons in… “With Clough, by Taylor” by Peter Taylor (4)

How’s it going guys? I’m so glad to be writing the crowning part of this series. It may come across as a bit reiterative but I genuinely surprised at the amount of support and positive comments it gathered. When I first launched it said to myself “Don’t panic if no one cares, it’s not strictly speaking ‘FM content’” but you guys proved me wrong, and I want to once again thank you for it.

So, we studied Clough and Taylor’s method, as described by the great man’s assistant himself, quite extensively. But we (most of us, at least) aren’t real football managers, but rather a bunch of passionate fans of a gaming series, so… can we implement it on FM? That’s what we’re gonna find out in this final part!

Lesson #1: Play the transfer market

Taylor insists that the most important part of management is recruiment. Find and sign the right players, and half the job is done. We’ve all been there, when it goes wrong; you gamble a big chunk of your transfer budget on that one wonderkid who’s gonna save your team, only for him to crash and burn and leave you in desperation. So what can we learn from the Nottingham Forest assistant manager?

Now this is probably the one that I took the most from. Being not as experienced in FM, and having learned the basics managing small, cash-strapped clubs, I was always afraid of going overboard with the expenses. Instead, I used to rely mostly on what the club had to offer. Whilst I’ll forever remain in favour of “playing each team” instead of just dumping a bucketful of wonderkids on every squad, I now see more clearly the need to go out there and find the quality you need to succeed.

One of the best way’s I’ve found to measure where my team could be failing is the Position Overview view, on the Team Report panel, under the Squad Depth tab. Here you can see my options on a parallel save of mine the blog’s regular might just recognize:

Since I’m playing a 4-1-4-1, I removed players from positions I’m not currently using, so though the red slots look menacing, most of them are actually meaningless (I’d love for the system to pick up on what formation you’re using and discard unused slots but it is what it is).

As with any info provided by your assistant or coaches, you have to take it with a pinch of salt, and yet, it provides an useful way to do a quick reality check; with only 4 “levels” to assign your players to, it would be hard for the CPU to put a crap player as a highly skilled option. Any position where you don’t have at least a “good” player starting and a solid backup is cause for concern.

You can see there are two spots where I could be heading into trouble: both wing positions. The previous manager had built the squad to play a 5-3-2 (wink wink) so there wasn’t many options there, so I took two of the most mobile strikers and started the transformation into Inside Forwards. So far, with decent performance, they’re getting used to that position, but should things not improve enough over time, a signing might be necessary. On the right, I was able to utilize one of the lastest signings as an Inverted Winger, but as you can see it’s the only one available and it’s not an stellar performer, so again, that could be a spot to bring someone in for. Whenever cash becomes available, I have find the right player and go for him.

However, finding the player can be tricky, particularly as a rather small side. And yet it is quite clear that even as an unafraid spender, Taylor’s proudest moments as a scout came not from the million pounds signings but from digging jewels from the mud. Here’s where the LLM fans like me can take something from his method: scout small markets.

Bayern Munich made a squad building strategy of ransacking rivals in weaker positions to strengthen up their side.

Probably the easiest way to do this is scouting leagues lower than yours. Depending on where and how low you’re managing, this can be best done using a database patch that expands the pool of players you can look into, but even a Vanarama North/South side on the standard DB can go through some of the teams below them and find useful and sometimes brilliant players to sign. Don’t wait for your lazy scout to go on his own to freeze his bum on a cold winter’s night in Dunston. Get on your costume like Peter Taylor did and go team by team, sort them (by value, by appearences, by goals), find any outliers and have them scouted.

Other way to do this is to send your scouts to smaller markets. I mean sure, if you’re Barcelona you can find and sign every wonderkid in Brazil, but what about a smaller club, where you can only scout in countries near you or you don’t have the cash to pay the high prices? Go for countries with a better balance between their youth ranking and their prestige, meaning you’re still likely to find valuable players, but without the expensive price tags attached to the product of the world’s most famed academies. Areas like Eastern Europe, South America West and North Africa produce plenty skilled footballers available for far lower fees.

I think few would dispute that current Tottenham Hotspur chairman Daniel Levy is a master of the art of selling at the right moment.

For the cycle to be complete, however, you need not to forget the last part of Taylor’s “good signing” measure, what you can get for the player when the time comes to sell. Now, depending on what type of club you’re playing with, that will come either at the player’s decline or at the beginning of their pick. Whetever the case, it won’t be a good signing according to Taylor’s words, if you don’t get your fair value when selling.

There’s no hard and fast rule for selling a player but I’d argue there are a series of factors that can help you maximize profit when selling. Like Forest’s sale of Middleton, it is important to plan ahead, to have players on long contracts as to not have other clubs take advantage and to sell before a players value drops either by him being unhappy at the club or the other way around. In all, having a strong hold of the player is the best way to ensure you’ll be able to seize the opportunities that arise to the maximum profit possible.

Lesson #2: Rule with an iron fist

It’s all well and good to have a talented, carefully recruited squad, but it’s no use if they’re out on their own, doing whatever they please, rotten apples spoiling the bunch, not listening to their manager. And whilst we FMers are safe from our players drinking themselves unconscious or gambling their wages away, you do have to face the issue of players asking for more play time, annoyed with being put to sale, or complaining about the treatment one of their team-mates has received. And that’s if they even make the cut; how would Taylor deal with that?

The first thing I do when I get to a team is checking both the team report and each of the players individually. This gives me a nice overview of where the team excels, where it’s flaws are, and who might be responsible. You got the slowest defense in the league? Don’t act surprised if your centrebacks are all up for their 2nd testimonial. Can’t score past the bottom-feeder’s 3rd choice goalie? Don’t be shocked to find out your strikers had the composure of a rookie driver and the decision-making of a drunken one. Doing an early, extensive revision of squad can cure evils unseen before they even develop.

As you can see from the team report on my parallel save’s defense, we have solid techicals and mentals mostly, but terrible physicals. A high line could prove a mistake.

The way I do this is going to the Team Report screen and looking at the Comparison tab. Looking through the physicals, mentals and technicals of every line of players helps you see where and what type of signings the team needs, but also who might be heading (hehe) to the choping block. The same process applies to staffers and the youth teams.

But what about those who, like John Robertson, make the cut, but because of the player you think could become rather than the player they are now? Let’s say you find a struggling player in the reserves or the u21 of your new club. He’s not quite there but he’s got a decent potential, some good attributes, a good personality, so why isn’t he fulfilling his promise?

Most cases playtime is the number one culprit. Steer clear of the Mourinho model of youth development; playing these guys for 5 to 10 dead minutes in unimportant matches does not cut it. Particuarly for players over 18yo, the benefits of solid minutes against same-level competition far outweights the gain from better infraestructure, so consider a loan to increase the chance of them getting that all-important mileage under their feet.

Tammy Abraham’s great loan spell on Aston Villa helped him secure a spot in the Chelsea rotation the following season. The west London club are the masters of the use of the loan system.

However, the second most important aspect to me is the reason I often try to steer clear of loans, instead trying to work the youngsters into the rotation: quality of game-time. It’s no good being a regular if all you’re regularly part of are batterings and bad games; you have to keep an eye on a youngster’s performance as a failing player will not develop as much or as well as a succesful one. If they’re not getting regularly above 6.8 perfomances, it might be a good idea to pull the plug.

It’s also important to keep some pressure on a player who’s not growing accordingly. A good way of doing it is to keep a close eye at the Progress screen under the Development tab on each player’s Profile screen. Regularly check your players progress and try to spot stagnation before it’s too late.

A player undergoing a good development phase should always have a upwards curve. Spikes are desirable but not mandatory, as long as the youngster is growing at a steady pace, things are good. Worrying signs are long periods of stagnation or unwarrated periods of decline (such as when there are not injuries or drop in minuts involved). When a player is on loan you can check his progress curve the Loans tab on the Development Centre screen. You’ll also need then to keep an eye on the loan report, which informs you of how many minutes your player contested, where did he play and how well he did.

After a couple of months of little or no development, take a page from Taylor’s book and give them the Talk. Most players will react well to development criticism, so have no second thoughts about bringing your points across. When it becomes clear that a player won’t reach the future once foretold for him cut your losses before your John Robertson becomes a Sebastian Giovinco.

Here we can see the development of two players as tracked by their Progress curve. They’re both the same age and have been given similar play time. The 1st one as been consistently getting better and is on pace to become a starter; the 2nd one is in trouble, notice those long flatlines and modest bumps, those are signs of a Giovinco. We don’t want Giovincos.

After that, it’s up to the player. All the manager can do is not falling in love with a project. John Robertson famously became the “little fat guy” that turned Hamburg’s Manny Kaltz inside out, but had he not seen sense after that talk with Taylor, he would’ve quickly been replaced by some other player who did, there’s no doubt about it.

For those who survive the reckoning of your arrival, all that remains is to live their careers under your iron gauntlet. However, when you’re the newly arrived manager, having players respect your authority can prove a tad harder. For me, it’s all about minimizing confrontation while going down hard on whatever problems can’t be prevented.

One way to do this is to ask your captain to solve whatever issues might arise within the dressing room. Most of the time, particularly if you have a well respected captain who respects you, he’ll be able to sort out any complaints other squad members raise, without having you to step in and elicit a reaction from the players and/or his teammates. Like Clough and Taylor, build that checks and balances within pairs system and things will run much smoother.

From my South American Journeyman save. Paulo Castolo has the support of his team’s leaders. That’s awesome. Be like Paulo Castolo. Be awesome.

Other important way to save yourself some trouble is to make the least amount of promises possible. The problem with making promises is that there’s little to be gained and a lot to be lost from it. Make a player a promise you don’t intend to or can’t fulfill and you’ve just effectively cut the hydra’s head, multliplying your problems. I make a point of only making promises I can and intend to keep; else, you might as well sell short and stand your ground. This also applies to contract negotiating. Never make the “sign friend”, “make captain” or “improve X part of the squad or staff” promises. If a player needs to be above his teammates to consider joining the team, we don’t want him. Breed. No. Divas.

Last but not least, the final option: get trouble-makers away from the squad. An unhappy player will ruin your dressing room atmosphere, so what can you do to stop it? While the obvious solution is to sell them, some times that won’t work; I aim for loans out. A free loan will more often than not garner some interest, and depending on the salary it may be worth it just to rid yourself of the hassle. If nothing else works, sending them down to the youth teams will do the trick, though I try not to rely on this option, particularly if I have some interesting youngsters; you don’t want a few rotten apples spoiling the bunch.

Lesson #3: Build a strong side

The final part of the Clough-Taylor jigsaw is a strong team mentality. You need class and you need to manage it well, but it takes a special type of player to thrive under that style of management and developing a group of said players can be key to achieving great things; how can we do it in the game?

The more I play FM, the more I feel like the tools the game provides to analyze players are very limited. Granted, they have to cater to everyone from hardened veteran who’s been with them since the CM days to the absolute rookie who just bought the latest edition after catching a stream or a youtube video (or a blog post wink wink), with everyone in between, incluiding the casual player who just wants to have fun managing a UCL side of their fancy and the purist who stares at you with disgust for daring not to begin a save the proper way, joining a small side in the Tuvalu 5th tier.

The beaches of Tuvalu, polynesian paradise and home to Manu Laeva FC. Of course that’s easy mode, real men go for Lakena United, everyone knows that…

So, how can you know you’re building a though side? At the top level personalties will be of help, but depending on how deep into the LLM tangles you are, you might realize that personalities other than “balanced” become rare or flat out inexistent as SI just can’t check if that speedy left-back in the swedish 4th tier is a bit too party-prone or if that Northern Ireland 3rd tier striker will work his ass off on the training pitch midweek after his shift at the grocery store is over.

Since we can pretty much assume everyone’s gonna be average or better in terms hidden attributes (due to SI’s very logical approach of not bestowing bad personalities to real life players), in order to build a strong minded side our focus has to shift to the ones we can see, which tend to be better defined, even at levels where players make more money selling Herbalife than playing football. Take a look at your best players (or the best players on your league if you feel your side shouldn’t be the standard) and average their values for Aggression, Bravery, Concentration, Determination, Leadership, Teamwork and Work Rate (or any you think are of importance); any new signings should be at or above this average. Also be on the alert for warnings in the scout’s report for a player who’s inconsistent or doesn’t enjoy big matches, a considerable red flag.

Regulars of the FM blogosphere might recognize this as FMGrasshopper’s “Fibra policy”. We’re gonna call it the Rule of “Can he do it on a cold rainy night in Stoke?”. Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it? In any case, I’m sure Harry Storer would approve.

Of course, it would be foolish of us to ignore a player who fails the “mindset” test if we consider he could realistically help the side, but in Taylor’s own words “a team doesn’t want too many like him”. A similar method of technical ability will lead you to find players that posess what Taylor called “class”. Depending on position, averages of Dribbling, First Touch, Passing, Technique and others will allow you sign players with the skill you want.

With these policies in place, a team culture will begin to arise over time where you will be able to depend on every member of the squad when called upon, not only in a footballing sense but also helping others to develop and grow within that structure, minimizing turmoil and smoothing the club’s progression. Another useful tool to aid this process is the Assistant’s Feedback on the Social Groups screen, where you’ll be informed of which of the recently scouted players could prove a good fit within the dressing room, reducing the hit on Team Cohesion.

The social groups at Paulo Castolo’s Nacional. Having closely knit groups within your squad benefits team cohession and can improve or complement Mentoring Groups. On the left you can see which of the recently scouted players would fit one of these groups neatly, reducing the impact of transfers on the group’s cohession.

All of this will allow you to extend your team’s life cycle past the retiring date of any one player but it is important to know when to hit the “reboot” button. On “The Barcelona Legacy” (another book that could be up for a Lessons treatment), Jonathan Wilson points out about the legendary Ajax side of the 70s: “It’s as though at the precise moment the fruit becomes fully ripe, it begins to rot; a coach’s job in a sense then becomes to delay maturation for as long as possible”. That is an excellent evaluation and a lesson that was not lost on Cruyff, and neither should be lost on us.

It’s very easy to take to like our players, particularly if they’ve been part of long and hard process or we’ve developed them form fledgedling youngsters to starters in our team or even international stars; it comes a point, however that sentiment must be put aside. I need only to point to Taylor’s comments on the selling of Willie Carlin: “[…] the decisions have to be made, however painful. […] money in the bank was more useful than a veteran midfield player in our reserves”.

When to pull the trigger, however, is a much more difficult thing to decipher. Having done most of my management on the dephts of LLM, I’ve always reserved a sarcastic laugh for the familiar FM meme of “players over 30”; when you’re used to deal with players whose first touch lands in a different field from where they’re standing, a 35yo midfield maestro who won’t run to catch a bus but can pinpoint passes like heat-seeking missiles is a valuable asset. Even at higher levels though, it’s important not to disregard a player just on the basis of his age. I need only to point you to Oliver Jensen’s excellent guide on retraining players as an example of how ageing players can prove to be great options for any team.

Father time, however, catches us all no matter what, and it’s important to be able to predict when a player might be about to jump of the cliff, particularly value wise. Lets take a look at one of my wingbacks at my parallel save as an example:

Initially a Winger when I arrived to the club, I adapted Reis to a Wingback when I first arrived to the club and then to a Fullback as we transitioned to a back four. He proved a vital member of the squad, always a quality performer in a system that relies on it’s wingbacks to provide width.

However last season I started spotting an issue, after his 29th birthday he started declining, rather quickly. From the moment I saw that until now, he’s dropped €30k in value, making it a slightly more concerning issue. I will probably have to look for a way out for him. The quicker I’m able to cash in on his current quality and use his salary to lure a younger replacement, the better the club will be for it.


Thus, we seen that a Clough-Taylor model for FM can be very well defined, so lets take a look at it’s core principles:

  • Review your team constantly
    Regularly check your squad’s quality and where it’s weak spots might be, particularly after a promotion or after a busy market using the Position Overview screen.
  • Scout weaker markets for value signings at a lower price
    Scan the lower leagues of your own country and areas of low prestige where any hidden gem might prove a bargain.
  • Plan ahead to maximize profits when the time comes to sell
    Track interest in your players, keep them on longer contracts to minimize the chances of lower fees, be mindful of how potential additions might affect your current squad and pull the trigger when potential morale issues loom closer.
  • Asses your squad when arriving at a new club
    Find where you team strenghts and weaknesses lay using the Comparison tab, and contrast that with a player by player review to undestand the issues that need fixing.
  • Use all the tools to develop young players but learn when to quit
    Figure out which youngsters are worth it and take advantage of the youth sides and loan system to help players grow, but keep and eye at the Progress curve and the Loan Reports for signs that it might time to call it quits.
  • Rule the dressing room with an iron hand
    Form a strong relationship with the squad leaders and use them to settle problems, never make promises you won’t be able to fulfill and get rid of troublemakers by transfering them at the earliest or dropping them to the B side.
  • Build a strong-minded side
    Formulate strategies to make sure you’re signing players that will fit the mindset you want for your team, like using a mentals policy or prioritizing certain personalities, and keep that team cohesion high.
  • Don’t underestimate class, but don’t overestimate it either
    In much the same way, a technicals policy can help you identify those players who might add something valuable to your squad, without the dangers of disregarding other aspects.
  • Stay ahead of the curve and don’t let the squad stagnate
    Use the Progress curve to figure out when a player of yours might be about to fall of the cliff, and act before that happens to get the best possible deal.

Following them closely should allow us to develop a side much in the style of those legendary Derby County and Nottingham Forest, ready to give them a try?

I hope you guys have enjoyed this series so far. Whilst I’m aware some of these tips are almost second nature to some of the most experienced FM players, hopefully I’ve shed some light or at least got you to think or rethink some ideas or tools. I think there is something for everyone, and I sure have learned some stuff in the process of building this series.

Be sure to let me know of any books you think could be looked into in this series. I sure have some candidates but I never complain about interesting fooball literature being thrown my way.

Until then, thanks for reading!

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