The Football Manager Project is back. A new manager, a new team and a new challenge. Editor of The Set Pieces, Chris Evans, has entered a fantasy draft competition with six real-life coaches and managers.
But can Tromsgodset Pieces upset the odds and bring the inaugural TSP Conference home?
I live my life a lot like Theo Walcott (and not just because I’m mostly winging it). I like to think I do my best work on instinct, when I have the least amount of time to overthink it.
Just like the Everton forward when he’s darting on to a loose ball, I’d much rather have a split second to deliver the perfect cross rather than the time to look up and promptly scuff it harmlessly to safety.
What I’m trying to say is that, despite my concerns I was out of my depth in this FM20 Project, I did the square root of nothing to prepare for it. In fact, that’s a lie. I started a note on my phone a few hours before the draft took place and managed to write the names Messi and De Bruyne before going off to do something else.
So as the timer ticked down to the draft’s first pick, I was just sat browsing players in a carefree way in the confidence that I always perform under pressure… don’t I?
It turns out I don’t. As the draft suddenly clicked into action, I was alarmed to discover I had the first pick. But instead of calmly using the two minutes on the clock to make this advantage count, I rushed in within seconds and signed my first player. Any forethought to check the carefully curated wish list of two on my phone went out of the window and I snapped up Harry Kane – leaving messrs Messi and De Bruyne on the shelf.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted to have Kane on my side. And you can be sure that I’ll be relying heavily on his abilities to pull me out of the brown stuff on several occasions in the next few weeks, but he probably isn’t worthy of being the game’s first pick.
It was by no means a disaster though and I was determined to be calmer when it was my turn again. As I watched the other managers make their choices, I was ready for my turn and coolly welcomed Mo Salah to my squad. Kane and Salah: the perfect duo to fire me to untold glories.
Then, bang, it happened again. Just as I was introducing Mo to Harry, I needed to pick a third player. It’s at this point that my first really questionable decision happened. With two expensive forwards in the bag, I decided I needed to bring in defensive reinforcements. So, naturally, I decided to draft in Chris Smalling – a man nicknamed Basic Billy by his Manchester United teammates. I’m already fearing the Twitter comments.
Despite my lack of preparation, I did have a clear idea of the sort of players I like. I wanted pace, strength and a squad that was comfortable on the ball. I wanted creativity, full backs that were willing to get forward and players who could play in multiple roles. In came Jordan Henderson, Cesar Azpilicueta and Marco Asensio, flanked by Junior, Stefan de Vrij and Martin Odegaard. As if to troll all those eternally angry Arsenal fans out there, I also drafted in Gunners ‘favourites’ Gabriel, Francis Coquelin and, er, Calum Chambers. Alas, there was no space (or need) for Theo.
By the end of the draft, I was left with a squad that filled me with equal parts hope and dread. I’d got some good players but also a fair amount that were probably no better than average. But perhaps my own perception of what my squad should be like needed to be tempered by the fact that a quick look at the player pool at the end of the draft showed the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Kylian Mbappe had been left unselected. Perhaps the squad I’d assembled wasn’t going to be lacking after all.
James Phillips (Stoneham AFC)
“My initial strategy was to get units of players that share the same nationality. For example, all forwards from England, but that quickly went out the window when some of my targets were snapped up before I could get them, so I changed tack slightly. I then focused more on what type of player I would need to suit my favoured system and tactics but still tried to link most of the players through either nationality or at least club football. That trend continues throughout the team, not as much as I hoped but it’s still there with Marcus Rashford, James Maddison and Jadon Sancho, and Fernandinho and Rodri.
“I also tried to ensure I had a good balance to the squad, which would enable me to change the system, so I have three central defenders, full backs and wing backs so can switch to three at the back if needed. Overall, I’m pretty happy with what I managed to assemble in the draft. For my preferred system of 4-2-3-1, I have a good back four, two very good holding midfielders, lots of options for the attacking three with plenty of pace and in Lewandowski, a forward capable of playing up there on his own. Who knows if that plan will work though?
“The only area of weakness is probably my goalkeepers, Sergio Romero and Ben Foster. In my opinion, Romero is probably the best number two in the world, so let’s hope he does the job.”
Adam Cooper (AJCFC)
“I aimed to primarily draft players who were technically competent with a particular focus upon passing and vision. However, I picked a side focused upon psychological characteristics, such as positioning, decision-making and concentration, as I believe these could be fundamental turning points, especially within tight matches. I want my team to dominate possession but not stagnantly, with players who have the ability to penetrate and break lines to create a number of opportunities for the team, allowing attackers to express themselves in the final third. Out of possession, I wanted a team that could employ a high press to regain possession in the final third as quickly as possible but could also have the composure to sit behind medium or low blocks to see games out when needed.
“The draft began well. Securing Ederson and Virgil van Dijk with my first two picks was a superb starting base. It allowed me the security I was looking for with two exceptional players who will surely ensure games remain close throughout the campaign.
“My approach was to build from the back with a solid base and then branch out to fill key positions in a logical order. Securing the central midfielders and striker was key. Romelu Lukaku brought pace, strength and finish matched by nobody in the game and following him came Sadio Mane, Memphis Depay and Nabil Fekir, who all possess key traits of pace, flair and technical competence. The final piece of the team’s spine was Asier Illaremendi, who I was shocked to find for so cheap. Following this, the picks began to tumble through quickly as the rest of the squad took shape.”
Check out the full squad lists and watch out for Episode Three only on The Set Pieces.