The Football League or Bust – Settling in at Moss Lane

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I’m a firm believer in setting the foundations as a first priority as soon as I start a new save on FM. I detailed my process thoroughly when writing about VfL Bochum on FM 2016, and the same applies here – an extra 30-60 minutes really taking care with staffing appointments both gets it out-of-the-way, and sets the tone for the rest of your tenure.

Without expanding too much into the superfluous, I sacked anyone deemed unnecessary, hired scouts with a broad knowledge of the UK (and even Scandinavia) and favoured professional/determined characters for my Head of Youth Development, Assistant and Coaches. Altrincham don’t have the money to splash on youth team staff, so I kept the backroom team to what I consider the bare minimum, focusing on the three core attributes of Determination, Level of Discipline and Motivating.

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The second prong of my foundation-setting concerns a full squad assessment as I evaluate formations and styles that will likely get the best out of a currently unbalanced collection of players. From a quick glance, two things stand out above all else:

1. There is limited depth at D(C), D(L), D(R), M(L) and AM(L) and the wide players I have are not up to quality for the division.

2. The central defenders are slow and have their individual weaknesses.

Thinking logically, to arrest these issues I have two options:

1. Use a narrow formation and a more cautious playing style so my lack of quality wide men is negated and my central defenders aren’t exposed.

2. Seal the squad gaps using the transfer market in a move towards utilising a wider formation and a more adventurous playing style.

To cut a long story short, I choose option one; the club has already seen enough turmoil and another raft of new faces will only hinder us further in the first few months (vital at this level as the first eleven games are packed into 5-6 weeks). Additionally, a deeper look at the squad and the general quality of the division leads me to ascertain that Altrincham’s defence is in fact below average ability in most areas, so a more cautious style would be prudent. Finally, why blow money reshaping a squad when you can slowly restructure it for much less cost and with nowhere near as much risk? A no brainer in the end.

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The third prong concerns tactics and after some fiddling around in the tactics creator, I end up with a 4-3-1-2 and some fairly bland roles to start me off. The idea is that we drop deeper and maintain positional discipline in order to defend our territory (Mentality: Counter, Team Shape: Structured) and look to use the front three to transition quickly up field, with the Target Man holding up play, whilst the midfield/wing backs catch up and the attacking midfielder/strike partner run beyond. When in possession for longer periods, we will also look to advance cautiously using our four midfielders to outnumber the opposition, dragging them out of shape before releasing one of the forwards with a through ball/flick-on, or one of the wing backs in space to put in a cross.

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We should have sufficient variety with a strong aerial presence up front as a direct option, a Poacher running off the shoulder, an Attacking Midfielder running from deep, wing backs overlapping – giving us width and crosses – and a three-man midfield giving us depth, support and the odd chance of being in space for a cut back and a long shot. Of course, that’s only how I reconcile it in my head. Football is played on the field, not in the mind and something is bound to need adjustment.

The only tweak in pre-season was changing the Attacking Midfielder to a Support duty due to him running beyond the strikers too often (he wasn’t linking the forward line to the midfield and the attacking play was suffering a disconnection). Apart from that, I’m fairly happy with how it’s panning out – though tactical familiarity and match fitness are going to have to wait. I forgot how long it takes to get these things sorted at a semi-professional club. I suspect we’ll still be working on tactics in October/November!

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The final prong in my foundation-setting is all about player recruitment, but there is honestly limited progress in this area as I want to be sure that every signing I make will bring something valuable to the squad. I’m mainly concerned with depth in certain positions and I will only sign an upgrade when it will be significant; boosting attributes by one notch here and there might not be worth the upheaval or the cash.

Before the season starts, I snap up a few striker prospects for peanuts (£25 a week) in Batis Cande and Will Abbots, a rotation right-back in Ryan Smith, a first-choice attacking midfielder in Lewis Hilliard and a rotation/prospect central defender in Keenan Quansah.

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I’m still on the lookout for a rotation option for my Target Man, a left-back for depth/competition, another defensive-minded midfielder to deepen my options in the midfield three and a central defender that would allow me to shift on some poor quality backup options at the back. It’s an understated restructuring but as the name of this article suggests, this first period is all about settling in.

In the next article I’ll have a bit more of a detailed look at my squad, posting pics galore so you can see what I have to work with. Don’t expect to see many attributes above 11/12 in these murky depths of football – although you may be pleasantly surprised by Damian Reeves. He’s a legend at this level and rightly so. As I would say in my virtual press conference:

“I have the utmost respect for Damian and I look forward to working with him.”

Always a pleasure, never a chore with Reevesy.

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