Football Manager 2017 liveblog

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Real Madrid, first one and a half seasons

I'm something of a FM veteran: my first game of the series was Football Manager 2006 and I've been playing the games almost every other release year. Recently I've bought the 2017 version, and want to give a short recap of the series and my experiences with the current version so far.

This is a crosspost from the FM Thread. Figured since there are not many FM fans here at TV Tropes, instead of re-necroing and multiposting in the thread it's better to create a blog.

    Recap of the series 
Late 00s was the time when the series' evolution was the most dramatic. The training, tactics, team morale systems were completely overhauled, the series went 3D, the events outside the training room were given more opportunities to influence the club - for example, it was also the time when the Arab sheikhs were buying football clubs IRL and this income of hard cash to the clubs' budgets was disrupting the established status quo, and that was reflected in the game – your club could be bought by some wealthy consortium and suddenly you are able to buy Messi for your team. In short, the gameplay went a level up from micromanagement to well, management. Still, I consider the 2006 version the most fun, but that's probably just nostalgia, considering in the early 10s I kind of lost interest to football in general.

After that, the series' development stalled, and the familiar to the fans of other sports simulators complaints - "this release might as well be just a patch" - became more vocal. While I don't consider the changes between the releases cosmetic, since they all were useful and improved the game, made it more comfortable to play, they were not enough to count for a full-blown release. It's for this reason I didn't play the versions from 2011 to 2015 for more than a couple of seasons each.

    Football Manager 2017. First game. Prologue. 
But I decided to give the FM 2017 a full tryout. Generally, my routine for playing the new FM release is such:

  1. First game is to play with Real Madrid (which I support IRL), one of the top clubs in Europe, to safely learn the new mechanics for about 7-10 seasons until the promising young players reach maturity or I get bored winning.
  2. Second is some club that regularly (and succesfully) competes for Europa League – either a top club from the second-echelon European league (Portugal, Netherlands, Belgium, Scotland, Russia, Ukraine, etc. More often than not the club I choose either Ajax or Benfica) or Athletic Bilbao (they are generally a top-half-of-the-table team from the Spanish Primera, but can only sign players of Basque ancestry, a serious constraint) and try to win a treble – Domestic Cup, Champions League and Domestic League, all in one season.
  3. Third is a long, long, long and tedious so-called "crap game". Take the poorest club with smallest stadium from lowest available league in England and try to eventually make them win a treble.
  4. Fourth (and optional) is some non-European club. Usually it's also a crap game in Brazil, but for this release, with the relatively recent news, the country probably would be China.

So, here begins my first FM 2017 game. I've finished one and a half season so far.

Real Madrid

Note: The following text includes criticism of in-game representations of famous real-life contemporary football players. Representations, not the actual people themselves. Although there are references to the career track of IRL players.

    Season 16/17, first half 
First is the usual start-of-the-game routine: hire yourself a good backroom team, set the pre-season training to intense physical, create some tactics, send out the scouts, etc.

The board has given me 20M euro for transfers. While it's more generous than what the 10M the board of RM usually gives the new managers in FM 2015 (the previous release I played), it's still not enough to solve the squad problems. While the starting team of RM is top-notch, the squad lacks depth in the central line of formation:

  • Only two goalkeepers of first-team quality. Navas is good, but Casilla's level of play is of the third goalkeeper. Added De Gea and Donnarumma to shortlist. The scouts say the former would cost 75M minimum.
  • Two and a half central defenders of first team quality (I play with four defenders). Ramos and Varane are the obvious starting-team choices. Pepe is also good and the most experienced, but the age is starting to affect him. Nacho is a jack-of-all-trades last resort defender who can play on all positions in defense. For the first season, this is good enough, but I need to find the third centerback to replace Pepe.
  • A single pure defensive midfielder – Casemiro. Pepe can act as a backup, but, well, see above.

Since I didn't have much options, my only meaningful action in the transfer window was to loan out Mariano the third striker, after Benzema and Morata.

The first useful change I noticed (maybe it was in 2016, I don't know) is that the captain's role became more functional. If a player has whatever complaint about something, you can, instead of talking to him personally, delegate it to the captain and let him settle the issues. Ramos is the captain of the team, and has the Leadership attribute of 19 (of 20) so he performed those tasks quite effectively.

Sporting accomplishments-wise, the first half of the season didn't bring much surprises: won the European Supercup, qualified for the CL knock-out rounds, didn't leave the Spanish Cup, and finished the Liga on the first position.

But, Benzema was doing very well, I wasn't rotating the squad very often and Morata and Pepe started complaining about the lack of the first-team football. And I went and did the stupid thing: instead of trying to talk them down, I promised them both that I'll find them new club in the next transfer window. While I wanted to eventually get rid of Pepe, I didn't expect to do it that quickly, and with Morata it's especially jarring since he's the home-grown player. Club-grown, even! The last center forward from the RM academy who was able to compete for the first-team place was Negredo, if I'm not mistaken, about 5 years ago. Before him was Raul, who started his career in the early nineties, and, while being counted as club-grown, was from Atletico Madrid.

    Season 16/17, second half 
January arrived. The board increased the transfer budget to 70M. I sold Morata for 50M to Chelsea and Pepe to Manchester United… for 750K.

Scouts found a promising Swiss 19-year old CD/DM/MC Denis Zakaria. Bought him from Young Boys for 30M. Scouts also found me a promising Serbian goalie Predrag Rajkovic. Bought him for 5M from Maccabi Tel Aviv. He has about the same level of ability as Casilla, so I needed another goalkeeper.

Navas' track record so far was very good, so instead of buying De Gea I decided to save up some money by investing in the youth and bought the 17-year old wonderkid Donnarumma from Milan... for 50M. Buffon costed that much (a bit more, actually, if we take inflation into account) back when he transferred from Parma to Juve, and was worth every cent.

Donnarumma wasn't. There's a fan slang term for a player that performs way better than his attributes imply – "cheater". Gianluigi was the complete opposite of that. While his stats were slightly better than Navas', he played so bad it spread to the other members of the team. I guess seeing that their goal is defended by no matter how talented, but still 17-year old kid made them collectively lose their confidence in their own abilities? Whatever the reason is (it's probably just the fact that the new goalie had trouble adapting to foreign country and only spoke Italian, the scouts warned me about it) RM suffered a string of embarrassing defeats which culminated in getting kicked out of CL at the first knockout round by Napoli. Whoops.

Other from that, once I returned Navas to his post, the season ended well: won the League and the Spanish Cup (El Clasico was at the semi-finals).

Thoughts about the season and the game:

  • Mateo Kovacic is a monster on the pitch, though injury-prone.
  • James is also very good.
  • When Asensio plays well, he plays really good. He's able to get the victory all by himself.
  • I don't remember if this feature was in 2015, but now I can automate what to do once I give the command to scout a player – move him to shortlist, for how long, etc.
  • Arsenal won the Champions League. Other finalist was Benfica. I guess the Bela Guttmann's curse is accounted for by the developers.

    Season 17/18, first half 
The months passed between the seasons were rich for events: Florentino Perez got re-elected, I kept my post, but was told that the only thing my performance going to be evaluated by is the wage budget management, since the balance at the time of club president elections was -100M euros. The transfer budget was some 30M at the time, so I just relocated all of it to the wages and forgot about it.

Just before it, there were the transfer deals: Zakaria is competent, but not exactly a starting team material yet, and he's more of a midfielder anyway. So I started this season in the same "two-and-a-half-centerbacks situation" as the last one, although for the different reasons.

It got even more complicated when PSG offered 25M for Nacho. Couldn't turn down such an offer, even though Nacho is also a club-grown. But, there was another club-grown centerback Jesus Vallejo, who, when I arrived to club, already was on loan at Frankfurt, and put there really good performances. He returned from loan at the end of the 16/17 season.

So, the search for a centerback ended in the purchase of wonderkid Jorge Mere from Sporting Gijon for 50M. Stats-wise, he's sort of a younger version of Carles Puyol: strong, mobile, versatile back, not good in air, but unbeatable on the ground. Puyol was more aggressive though, but Mere is a better passer.

Then, Manchester City got the backup rightback Danilo unsettled, and since the collective efforts of me and Sergio Ramos failed to settle him back down, I sold him for 40M. In lieu of this, since I couldn't find a cheap replacement in time, I moved the young Achraf from the U19 team to the first squad. Also loaned out Rajkovic to Levante so he could get more match practice.

The first half of the season was uneventful. Donnarumma seemingly successfully adapted to the club, progressed immensely as a player and started to show his talent. And the team wasn't that helpless with him in the starting eleven. Mere started showing his worth immediately.

The CL group opponents were Galatasaray, Liverpool and Bayern. I somehow managed to win first four matches (including the one at Allianz Arena) and secure the qualification to the first knockout round early. Last two matches in the group were against Liverpool and Bayern, which didn't really matter, so I let the backups on the pitch and lost both matches. 3-2 against Bayern at home and 6-1 at Anfield Park.

Once the winter transfer window came closer, the problems with the squad depth became more obvious. Achraf is too young for the first team and needs to be loaned out. I have only one pure striker – Benzema, since I sold Mariano. Bale and Ronaldo can play on this position, too, but they're more useful on the wings.

I have the following options:
  • Buy Morata back for +75M. He doesn't fit the role I want him to play, but he's a world-class striker who is also a club-grown.
  • Buy Gabriel Barbosa from Inter. Fits the role, younger, better player, but not EU-nation and probably more expensive.
  • Try to buy Dybala. Even better player, fits the role, EU-nation, but Juve won't sell him so easily.

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