Once every few years, a football team emerges that captures the hearts and imaginations of fans not just across Europe, but around the world.
These teams possess a certain magic that goes beyond the boundaries of ordinary football. They become a symbol of hope, perseverance, and inspiration.
What makes these teams so special? It’s a combination of factors that go beyond mere skill and tactics. It’s the intangible qualities, the spirit, and the passion that they bring to the game. These teams often embody the underdog, overcoming adversity and defying expectations. They prove that anything is possible with hard work, determination and belief.
It’s not only success or trophies that make these teams special, but also the impact they have on communities and the fans who, alongside their passionate support, get a sense of identity, pride and belonging.
For me, there’s been two teams who’ve caught my interest in such a way and I’ve been a keen observer of their exploits over the past few seasons.
In order to share the reasons I chose Brescia Calcio, and the aims of this FM24 save, I first need to take the time to introduce these two teams:
Union Berlin and RC Lens.
What’s been surprising to me, and might also be to you, is the remarkable similarities in the recent journeys of the two clubs.
Allow me to explain:
1. New Manager, New Success
After finding themselves in their respective country’s second division, both clubs appointed a new manager. Albeit, from very different backgrounds:
Urs Fischer, joined Union Berlin from Switzerland in July 2018, having previously managed at Zurich, Thun and finally Basel where he boasted a 66% win rate from his 108 games in charge.
Meanwhile, Franck Haise was promoted to be the Head Coach of RC Lens in France’s Ligue 2 in February 2020 following the departure of Philippe Montanier. A big step up from his role in charge of the B-Team.
Both managers won promotion to the top division at the first attempt.
Union Berlin fan’s tribute to Urs Fischer
2. Raising eyebrows:
In the seasons after their respective promotions both teams were tipped to be embroiled in a relegation battle, however, both managed to exceed expectations. The reason for this was not only the tactical acumen and organisation of their managers, but also their created team identities of being hard working, difficult to break down and deadly on the counter attack.
Their respective systems worked so well, the two sides thrived against the higher quality competition and both qualified for European competition in their third season in the top division.
Union Berlin finished 11th in their first Bundesliga season under Fischer, before improving to 7th and then 5th before being rewarded with Champions League qualification with a 4th placed finish in the 2023/24 season.
RC Lens, under the management of Franck Haise finished 7th in consecutive Ligue 1 seasons before mounting a serious challenge for the league 1 title, pushing giants PSG all the way and eventually finishing second.
3. The power of three:
As well as their abundance of grit and determination, both teams shared tactical similarities by employing three central defenders in an attempt to provide defensive solidity and make it hard for opponents to create high xG scoring opportunities.
Marauding wingbacks patrol the flanks, providing width, pace and providing plenty of crosses and dangerous balls into the box for the attacking players to feast on.
Whilst the styles of play are similar from a quick glance the formations used are different.
Union Berlin uses a 5-3-2 focussing on powerful strikers who are able to hold the ball up, bring others into play and exploit the channels. RC Lens, however, tend to favour a 5-2-2-1 and look to progress the ball quickly through short passes when possible.
If you’ve followed any of my previous work you’ll know this is right is SO FAR up my street it may as well be running the neighbourhood watch!
Inspired by both teams, I wanted to test my virtual management skills by using Haise and Fischer as a yard-stick for success:
- Could I guide a team who’d faced ups and downs and been out of the limelight back into the top division?
- Could I replicate (or exceed) the achievements of Haise and Fischer and qualify for European football by the third season in the top division and then go onto play in the Champions league?
- Could I do this using three central defenders with a side built to be tough to beat and resilient, with team spirit and unity being the driving force?
- Could I take learnings from both managers and eventually perform at a higher level and win a domestic title or European silverware before they can?
Union Berlin players and fans celebrating hard earned success
SO, WHY BRESCIA CALCIO?
With the above in consideration, it’s clear there were two potential leagues in contention for this FM24 journey.
However, due to spending most of my FM23 adventures in France with Amiens and then Montpellier, and having spent FM22 time in Germany with Hamburg (which was very enjoyable) I wanted to turn my attention to pastures new.
In my search for a club with which to undertake this challenge, I also wanted to add extra criteria:
- A club in their country’s second division who hasn’t tasted any success at the top level in a long time, if at all.
- A club which has a fierce rival already established as a top-level team to give another team to have in our sights for our giant-killing campaign. More on this later.
And after much research, ruling teams out for having poor badges and/or kits (obviously), and watching a fascinating COPA90 video on Youtube to help confirm my decision, I realised I’d found the perfect team to attempt this challenge with!
WHO ARE BRESCIA CALCIO?
With former players including Andrea Pirlo, Roberto Baggio, Gheorghe Hagi, Luca Toni and more recently Sandro Tonali, I’m sure Brescia Calcio need no introduction.
However, for the sake of clarity, let’s delve a little deeper with a whistlestop history lesson of the club.
Founded in 1911 and situated in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy, Brescia have spent 15 of the last 17 years in Serie B, Italian football’s second division. In fact, they hold the record for the most number of consecutive seasons spent in Serie B, having played there for 18 years between 1947 and 1965. Whilst in itself that record shows stability and consistency, it’s not the kind of accolades I want the club associated with moving forward.
Since its inception in the early 1900’s, no team has spent more time in Serie B than Brescia Calcio.
It’ll then come as no surprise to learn that on-field success has been limited.
Other than winning the Anglo-Italian Cup in 1994 and four Serie B titles, their most successful campaign was back in the 2000-2001 season where they managed a respectable 8th place finish in Serie A.
Sadly, those were the halcyon days of Brescia and things haven’t been as exciting since, although that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been drama!
Surviving the drop
Disaster almost struck at the end of the 2022/23 season when a 17th placed finish saw the team enter into the relegation playoffs. Which they lost to Cosenza.
Resigned to playing the 2023/24 season in Serie C they were handed a lifeline.
Luckily, Reggina were found guilty of financial irregularities and subsequently lost their Serie B license. As a result, Brescia were able to replace Reggina and found themselves back in Serie B.
Survival on a technicality and a bullet well and truly dodged.
The fact they should be playing in Serie C this season really puts the scale of this task into perspective.
The Lion(ess) and the V
When it comes to Italy though, one thing any football fan knows is that there’s something special about club football. It’s often not just the on-field occurrences which shape the identity of the teams and fan bases, but the history of the town, city or region itself.
Throughout the many versions of the Brescia Calcio club badge, two things have remained constant: The Lion and the V.
- The city is known affectionately as Leonessa d’Italia (the Lioness of Italy) after the they managed to hold firm against an Austrian-Hungarian army for ten days in 1849, whilst other cities like Millan succumbed in half the time.
- It symbolises the connection to the Venetian Republic, which Brescia was part of as early as the 1400’s.
This identity of defence, pride and passion is one I want to bring to the Brescia team in Football Manager 24.
The White V makes the Brescia shirt instantly recognisable and was first used so the team could use the stadium of nearby team Virtus. However, it’s since become another iconic symbol of the region. It’s also said to be the reason for the team’s nickname, Le Rondinelle: the little swallows.
Another theory around the origin of the unique nickname is another element I want to bring to this team. Many years ago, in a game against a dominant Torino side, an underdog Brescia team attacked the giants with such ferocity it resembled a flock of swallows attacking the bull.
This is what I want the team to do throughout this save. We’ll go at the larger teams with pride, passion, sweat and, if necessary, blood (theirs or ours, I don’t mind!).
With a capacity of 19,550 the Stadio Mario Rigamonti is of a decent size and should serve us well for a few years as we prepare to challenge for European football. However, it was built back in 1959 and has seen better days. I expect the Board would choose to build a new stadium, rather than expand this one when the need arises, which would be a huge shame.
That need could come much later than planned, though, as Brescia only averaged just over 5,000 fans per home game in the 2022/23 season, which ranks 16th out of the 20 teams in Serie B. Eight teams more than doubled Brescia’s home attendances and three teams (Genoa, Bari and Palermo) averaged over 20,000 fans.
Comparing Brescia’s 5,214 average home attendance to the three teams who got promoted from Serie B last season:
- Frosinone – 11,322
- Genoa – 25,940
- Cagliari – 13,563
That’s a lot of catching up to do, and for a club which nearly went bankrupt less than a decade ago I really need to get fans in through the turnstiles to generate more ticket sales and match day revenue.
The Brescia fans are very passionate, I just need to get more and more into the ground each month.
Hopefully, this can be achieved through a combination of exciting football, committed players and good signings. Failing that I’ll be trying my best to start rivalries with any other team’s manager who’ll take the bait.
After all, more fans equals more money.
ONE HELL OF A RIVALRY
I don’t know about you, but I LOVE a nasty football rivalry. The kind where not just the fans who despite each other, but tempers and dislike also spill over onto the pitch. Not only does a good rivalry give 180 minutes of nerves and excitement per season, it’s the first set of games you look out for when the fixtures are released. It’s the week or month long build up to the game itself… the fans berating eachother on social media…
Where would football be without a good rivalry?
Just a 45 minute drive away from Brescia lies the neighbouring region of Bergamo, home to Serie A giants, Atalanta. This isn’t just any rivalry… it’s one which stretches back nearly a thousand years!
Territorial disputes in 1126 kicked off skirmishes so bad that the Roman Emperor had to intervene. Not long after, gruesome battles broke out between the two regions again and again until 1861 when both provinces became unified as part of the Kingdom of Italy.
Despite this clear dislike, the two have many similarities. Both pride themselves as being a key part of the industrial North.
Whilst nearby Milan oozes elegance and glamour, Brescia and Bergamo are all about the hard work and sweat which stems from their backgrounds of construction, steel works and farming.
On the football pitch the rivalry between Brescia and Atalanta intensified in the 1990’s when visiting Atalanta fans got onto the pitch and commandeered a Brescia banner, an act which incensed the home fans.
The resulting riot spilled onto the pitch and many, including police officers, ended up in hospital.
In a later fixture, Brescia fans later released rabbits onto the pitch, an act which branded Atalanta and their fans as cowards. Retaliation occurred when a pig wearing a Brescia shirt was released during a game.
The bar was raised yet again when Atalanta fans drove an old World War 2 tank containing a new signing, over two cars, one of which was spray-painted with the Roma logo and the other Brescia logo and the words Bresa Suni: translation – Brescia Pigs!
Things can’t get any more intense than that, right?
THE RUN OF MAZZONE
Fast Forward to September 2001. Whilst winning 3-1 in the second half, Atalanta fans turned their attention to Brescia manager Carleto Mazzone, hurling insults in his direction, not only insinuating rather unpleasant things about his mother, but also for him being born in Rome: the capital city and the Bergamaschi (Bergamo and Brescia) sharing a historic hatred.
Roberto Baggio scored for Brescia to make the score 2-3.
Fired up and incensed by the abuse he was receiving the eccentric Mazzone turned to the visiting crowd and declared:
“If we equalise, I’m coming down there”!
…and in the dying moments of the game, the Brescia equalised.
Mazzone, as promised, then rushed down the sidelines to confront the Atalanta fans.
And just like that… the hatred ran deeper still.
This is a rivalry which I can’t wait to get involved in!
And guess what system Atalanta plays: three central defenders, marauding winbacks…
It’s almost like it was planned… ! (It wasn’t, it was lucky co-incidence)
…and whilst it would be disrespectful to Brescia Calcio fans to use the same system as their bitter rivals, it will be fun and almost poetic to use the tactics of two other underdog teams, Union and Lens, to unseat Atalanta as the Queen of Bergamaschi.
There isn’t just this derby game to look forward to, however.
Brescia also has rivalries with Verona, Vicenza and Napoli. Additionally, the Lombardy region gives “local derbies” against FeralpiSalo, Como and Lecco in Serie B whilst promotion to Serie A would also give access to games against AC Milan, Inter and Monza.
And let’s not forget the Bergamaschi/Rome mutual dislike mentioned above offers both Roma and Lazio.
Not only do these fixtures make the game more exciting but should also boost the bank balance as sell-outs should be expected.
This maps shows all Lombardy teams in red with other close by clubs in black, with Brescia right in the middle.
And there we have it.
A Football Manager 24 save was born. Using Franck Haise and Urs Fischer like two Mr Miagi’s I’ll use their teachings to achieve the same feat’s in Italy as I look to unseat bitter rivals Atalanta as the Queen of the Bergamaschi on our way to becoming the best team in the nation.
And who knows, maybe even European Champions.
BRESCIA CALCIO – UP NEXT IN FOOTBALL MANAGER 24
In the next update I’ll cover the following:
- Board expectations
- Squad profile
- Tactical plans
- Recruitment strategy