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FM21 is coming…

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Admittedly, that’s not exactly news. You probably knew it was coming before I did. That’s how out-of-touch with FM I’ve become over the last couple of years.

FM19 fizzled out. FM20 started in a blaze of ‘get a new laptop, get some artwork done, really commit to being the Son of Arsene Wenger in Japan’ and it lasted around four or five seasons, maybe?

Mind you, we won everything there was to be won.

Then it got boring, again.

Then business, life, business got in the way once more – plus the other key events of 2020. There was no desire to lose hour upon hour in the game, no cool save ideas came up and writing about it wasn’t being much of a release.

In the last month, I booted FM20 up once more and find a novel way of playing the game which was more inline with some of the stuff I’m doing ‘in the real world’ – I went with a save with Macclesfield, focusing purely on the scouting and recruitment side of it.


Well, I found some talented young coaches to train the team and make all the decisions on matchday. I laid out the tactics and the ethos of how I wanted us to play and then concentrated on finding good players – basically, being the Director of Football. Instant resulting our way through the matches, I found this quite enjoyable – one of the issues I’ve had with FM in the past is never sticking at a save long enough to really see the fruits of recruiting the talented 17-year-old a decade later.

Through blood, sweat and tears I got the mighty Macclesfield to the Premier League and kept them up, twice.

Itchy feet, though. I didn’t want, as ever, to start spending the money we’d really need to spend to take the club up to the next level so I left after seven seasons. Danny Cowley took over and changed everything, as he would.

Milan came knocking, so it was off to Serie A to see if I could run a fallen giant in the same manner and, guess what? Yeah, a first season double. It was only the second time in 19 seasons that Juventus had not won the Scudetto.

It wasn’t likely to get better than that so it was time for a break and I waited patiently for a big Premier League job to appear – and eventually Arsenal came knocking which will keep me busy until FM21 pre-release drops.

Yeah, I’ve bought it – just in case.

And if I’ve bought it, I need to start thinking about what I might do if I do play it. Of course I’ll play it – who am I kidding?

As ever, I need to remind myself what I like doing and what I don’t like doing on FM.

#1 I hate spending money

I always have. Even on FM20, Macc was built with a bunch of players released from all over the world. I didn’t sign a player in Milan, just managed what they had correctly by letting Thomas Frank and Jesse Marsch run the team. In fact, I did very little really.

All of my favourite saves have been taking a club from a lower-level to a higher-level – and then the boredom sets in when we are in the top-flight.

Fortunately, there are still plenty of lower-league journeys for me to try out.

#2 I’m not that good tactically

For someone who runs a relatively well known tactically-focused football website, I am now FM tactical guru. If in doubt, attack. If that isn’t working, attack more. And if that isn’t working, find a tactic that does work and tweak it a little until it plays more like how I want to play it. That final approach is pretty much how I work in life – see something that works and see how I can improve it.

I don’t think I’ll change any time soon.

#3 I am brilliant at getting teams promoted

I feel like an FM Neil Warnock. I don’t feel at home in the Premier League, or Serie A, or Bundesliga. I don’t feel out of place in the top flight of some obscure league in a random country, but I am not a mainstream gaffer I have learned. But, as I have already said, give me a quirky little lower-league club to grow and I am your man.

#4 I love balancing the books

This is a side to my FM life that I do enjoy – making the books balance. Forget the wage budget the board give you, typically that is going to lead to financial ruin anywhere other than the Premier League. I love to work out my real wage budget – based on gate receipts and other guaranteed income. Then, I cut my cloth accordingly – which usually means I have the lowest wage spend in the league which is a lot of fun when we win yet another promotion.

#5 Scouting is cool

I am sure I am not alone in enjoying finding different ways to find the best players available. Whether it’s 100 players on trial, creating scouting networks in Africa, checking out every single player on the transfer list in case there’s a reject that we can turn into a star or just going through every single player released in the division above the season before nothing beats the buzz of finding a competitive edge in this regard.

#6 The tougher the challenge, the better

I don’t find FM easy, but I can find it a little boring – and maybe that comes from finding it a bit easy at times. I am not sure. It’s a fine balance – not so difficult a challenge that it is impossible and you get sacked, but not so easy that you’ve completed what you set out to complete in weeks.

#7 Being different

Not that anyone reads my stuff nowadays anyway, but when a few people did I used to pride myself on coming up with different types of saves – you wouldn’t find me rocking straight up to Real Madrid and conquering all. I like places others don’t tend to go or clubs further down the levels that have an interesting back story.

So what does all that mean for me in FM21? I need a challenge that ticks all those boxes above, really.

The kinds of things I am thinking about are the following;

Corinthian-Casuals – a hard-coded amateur team. I believe they will start in the Ryman level leagues in England, so maybe division seven or eight? How far could I take a bunch of amateurs?

Liechtenstein – I know FC Vaduz is where most people would go for this, but I read somewhere that there are many other teams from Liechtenstein that play at a lower level in Switzerland. That could be quite fun, to one day get one into the UEFA Champions League via winning the Europa League.

Macclesfield – starting in the lowest level of English football, can I beat AFC Wimbledon’s rise back to league football? I’d have to check how long it took them, actually…

Garforth Town – back in the day, Brazilian Soccer Schools entrepreneur Simon Clifford declared he could get take them to the Premier League using only academy graduates. Oh, in 20 years. Could that be done?

Africa – I saw that someone had spent a fair amount of time putting together a decent Africa database for FM20 with real players at real clubs. I’ve dabbled in Cameroon before, that was fun – and I guess deep down there’s a Claude Le Roy desperate to break free.

Following a manager’s career path – I did ‘Beating Brian’ back on FM15 (yikes) where I tried to emulate what Brian Clough achieved in a decade with Nottingham Forest with Wolves. That was fun. So maybe I could find another manager and see if I could do something like that again.

The B team challenge – I’ve tried this before and never nailed the overall aim, which is to manage a B team and do well enough to get given the top job like Pep, Zidane and, er, Pirlo.

And that’s all I have right now.

Decisions, decisions…

Old-school FM/CM player, author of 'Johnny Cooper: Championship Manager' and someone who now very much starts a save and quits halfway through...

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