Youth and player development is an essential part of any long-term save in Football Manager. To focus on your own Youth Intakes or on buying young players has many advantages: first of all, you save money and can even produce money once/if you sold a club-grown player; secondly, and for me most importantly, you can shape the player to your liking by training him on a certain position/role or teaching him preferred moves that suits your style.
My approach to player development is centred on a Human Resources Management perspective. I explain, if you think about it, in the game, as a Manager, you have a lot of the responsibilities that any “boss” would have in any organization or corporation around the world. You can hire and fire your employees (players and staff), you can renew or terminate their contracts. Your employees (players) may want to leave because they feel undervalued (they’re not playing enough), or they may want to leave because they believe they have outgrown the club (high potential players), or they may even leave to “set up their own business” (staff accepting managerial posts). It is no hazard that the Manager is called manager.
With that in mind at every club I go and I plan to stay, I create what can be called a Career Path for my young players. Again, just like any other big organization that has internship programmes, young associates tutoring programmes, etc. I want to create a framework that helps select the best players and that leads them to be great footballers.
The idea is very simple, to create a path that has different levels of selection and evaluation throughout a 5/6 years period from when the player is 15/16 years old until when he will be 21. It is important to say though, that this framework is to be interpreted as a general guideline and obviously, if you have Messi reincarnated he’ll probably skips some of all the steps. But generally speaking, this approach has the merit to give you a canvass to follow and that applies to all your young players and help you in the decision-making process throughout their development. By following a clear approach both you and your youngsters won’t lose time needlessly.
The steps in this career-path are three and to keep on with the human resources management metaphor, they are:
- Internship: 15 and 16 years old;
- Associates: From 16 to 18 years old;
- Junior Partners: from 18 to 21 years old.
I will make a separate article for each of these three steps, starting today with the “Internship”.
INTERSHIP (15/16 years old):
The internship phase is the moment when you select your Youth Candidate and it is the first evaluation step that a young player must go through to become a First Team member of the club. According to the Dictionnary, an internship is: “the position of a student or trainee who works in an organization, sometimes without pay, in order to gain work experience or satisfy requirements for a qualification.”
Each year (normally sometime in Spring for most European leagues) your HOYD propose you with a group of players aged 15 or 16 years old to be integrated into the club’s youth setup. At this stage I generally apply three criteria to decide whether to give a player a youth contract or not:
1. Your staff evaluation: I always suggest taking a look yourself to all players regardless of what your scout/coaches say. But it is clear that if a player is rated with only 1 star of potential, you can train or tutor the guy how much you want but he’ll never even come close to the level required. So in this case, let your staff’s evaluation and the “stars’ note system” be the first criteria to decide whether a player is deemed good enough. I tend to dismiss and terminate trials of all players that have less than two full yellow stars.
Please keep always in mind that the “stars system” is a relative and comparative system, not an absolute one. What I mean is that players are given notes taking into consideration the average level of your team and of the league your club plays. Therefore, if you have just taken over a small club that you plan to take into the highest level, a 3-stars-potential regen might be useless to you once he reached maturity, because the club and the quality of your players have probably grown meanwhile. On a similar note, if you play Barcelona, do not discard a priori a player because he is only noted with 2-stars-potential. He might actually become a good player and even if you’ll never use him, you could develop and sell him later on for a good profit.
As you can see Andrés Serrano is only rated with 2 stars, though, if you look at his profile in the picutre below, you can clearly see he will be considered a wonderkid in 95% clubs around the world.
2. Attributes distribution in respect of player’s position: Once the worst of the crop have been taken out, I look to all other players’ profiles. The first thing I go through is attributes and in particular their distribution. By that I mean that normally attributes values in a trialist will be quite low, so what you have to do is to look at what you consider the key attributes for each position and check whether they are distributed in a balanced way. This is to avoid that one single very high attribute misleads you. Because keep in mind that to raise four different key attributes for a position is quite a difficult and lengthy process. Therefore, I’d prefer a player who has a slightly worse average on key attributes but whose values are more evenly distributed. You will be able further on to focus on improving one or two specific attributes.
Take an example of a central-defender: you would want him to have good attributes in some key areas such as marking, tackling, position, heading, and anticipation. If the player has 15 in one of those attributes but 7 in all the others this might mislead both you and your staff in overjudging him. In a similar way, he might have good values throughout all his key attributes except for one which is very low. This does not lead to an immediate dismissal of the player, just keep in mind you will have to focus on that poor attribute throughout his whole development.
Take Burchill in the picture above for example, he has very good values in all key attributes to be a Central Defender except for tackling. I decided to contract him, but started to focus almost immediately on improving his tackling by giving him special training.
More generally, I suggest, for this phase of players development, not to consider yet the player’s role while assessing him. Players can be adapted to a certain role and even if you have an AM-C while playing in a tactic that does not use any AMC, remember that you can later on transform him into a MC or an AM-R/L, or you can sell him for a profit later on.
3. Personality: This is super important for me as personality affects a lot how a player develops and how he can play to a higher level than his attributes would lead you to think. Therefore a player with low attributes but with high determination and a professional personality can finally reveal more useful than one who is very good already at 16, but who lacks the character to express his potential.
Take Ortiz in the picture above, he is rated only with 1,5 full starts of potential but being at Barcelona and having 15 in determination and a professional personality, I’d contract him with no doubts.
These criteria can be applied not only to your own Youth Intake, but also to players you bought at a similar age. I have shown in another article how you can scout all youth intakes of a certain nation and I personally do always scout all youth intakes of the country I am currently playing, in order to poach very young players to integrate my own youth intake. Especially for players newgens appeared in lower leagues or in a club with low reputation, they will likely accept your contract offer.
This was the case for Ally McGrath in my Falkirk save, to whom I offered him a contract when he “appeared” as a newgen at Ballinamallar United in Northern Ireland and who fit all the criteria.
Do not worry if you finally select only 2/3 players from your Youth Intake, unless you are doing an academy challenge, it is much better to concentrate your efforts on a good few, than to waste your time on a bunch of players who don’t have the right potential. Also, keep in mind that you can integrate your Youth Intake and your Youth team by signing players at 16, 17, or 18 and further their development from there.
Once I have made the final selection, interns are left into the Youth team (normally a U18s or U19s depending on the nation). I do not set particular trainings yet, I simply let them in the Youth team for some very simple reasons:
- Normally, Youth Intake happens just 2/3 months before the end of the season;
- This time will allow your Youth Team’s staff (manager and coaches) to know the players and assess them;
- You can see by their stats after a couple of months if their suited to your system;
- You can make a first observation on the rate (speed) of their development and hence have a better idea of their potential ability and the time needed for the player to become a final product.
By the end of the season, after they spent 2/3 months in the Youth Team the interns will become “Associates” as you will start the adaptation and focused-training process. I will deal with this phase of player development, from 16 to 18 years old in the next piece of this mini-serie.
Thank you very much for reading and as always, feedbacks and comments are more than welcome!