Todays post is from guest @tomhwilliams23 where they share their FM24 save introduction with us.
For a long time now, Crewe Alexandra has been one of the premier producers of young talent in the country. Despite spending the vast majority of its history in the third and fourth tiers of English football, Crewe has a rich history of producing young talents. You only have to look at their promotion-winning side of 19/20 to see that. That side boasted several players who have gone on to have truly successful EFL careers. Harry Pickering is at Championship Blackburn Rovers, and both Perry Ng and Ryan Wintle now turn out for Cardiff, also in the Championship. Likewise, Charlie Kirk now plays for League 1 Charlton, while fellow winger Owen Dale also plays in the third tier, turning out for Blackpool. Yet despite all of this youth success, there isn’t a lot about the esteemed academy online.
The Railwaymen’s Academy ranked 9th in Training Ground Guru’s Academy Productivity Rankings. They’re also the only Category 2 academy inside the top 15, and they are above Liverpool, Aston Villa and Southampton, all famed producers of young football talent. But why is it that Crewe is so successful? Not long ago, I interviewed former Crewe boss David Artell, and we discussed this issue at length. His belief was that it came down to what he referred to as ‘holistic coaching’. They look to improve players as a whole and value individual performance over the results of the team. They aren’t too interested in the success of the youth teams from a team standpoint, but instead evaluate the player’s performances. Their ‘holistic’ methods allow players to develop as ball players all over the pitch; there is a reason that so many of their graduates are comfortable on the ball. This in turn allows them to play their attacking, possession-based brand of football, which we cover in more depth later on. This will be mirrored in the save in many ways. We won’t dwell on results too much, but as long as performances are strong, we will consider it a success.
When looking for a save for FM24, I wanted something you would consider to be a long-term project. Usually, I do journeymen saves, and while I’m sure I will revert back to that at some point, the prospect of building something longer-term was also really exciting. That’s where Crewe and their esteemed academy come in. Despite producing lots of top talents, they have scarcely had success themselves. That’s understandable; they often have to move their young players on to fund the budget for the next season. While I’ll still be operating with that model, I will also hope to push up the leagues, using the academy system that is so well respected.
That is the first part of my 5-point plan. We must have, at all times, at least one academy player in the starting XI. They must have progressed through the ranks at Crewe, therefore placing a real emphasis on academy development. As we can see, at the start of the game, Crewe starts with a strong crop of young talents. This looks like a very healthy development side, and as the game says, there are quite a few players already ready for first-team action. That’s not to mention the wealth of players who are already in the first-team squad who came through the academy, the likes of Joel Tabiner and Luke Offord.
1) One player from the academy in the XI at ALL times
We can see at the start of FM24 that while Crewe has ‘Excellent’ training facilities, they only have ‘Average’ youth facilities. While I’m not sure that is entirely correct, it is the state of play that we inherit. If we are to fulfill our first point in the plan, we will need to enhance the Youth Facilities and do so as quickly as possible. Therefore the next part of the 5-point plan is to upgrade the Youth facilities. But the point doesn’t stop there. We need to be able to afford this upgrade, and if it wasn’t clear enough already, Crewe is not a heavily bankrolled club. Therefore, we will need to sell players, as Crewe does in real life, to fund these improvements.
2) Sell academy graduates in order to fund an increase in youth facilities
Crewe has had recent success too, though. They aren’t simply a side that sells players, and their trust in youth players is often rewarded with great results on the pitch too. As recently as 19/20, Crewe won promotion from League 2, and while they only stayed in League 1 for a couple of seasons, they have shown it can be done. But it’s more the style and the manner in which they achieved the promotion that really interests me. The manager that season was David Artell, and he played a heavy possession-based style when his side gained promotion. They ranked in the top 3 for possession that season and scored the most goals too. They were an attacking side that kept the ball, and this was partly a result of their trust in young players. As I mentioned earlier with the ‘holistic’ coaching approach, Crewe’s players are extremely comfortable on the ball as a result of their grounding. This allowed them to play this attractive style, so it all grew into one.
This also, fortunately, aligns with my play style on FM. No matter which iteration of the game, I have found that my only true success has been with teams that retain possession. I rarely find tactics that use any mentality lower than ‘balanced’ to have great results for me, and perhaps it’s indicative of my philosophy in general. I don’t like not being in control of the variables, and so inviting pressure on me is something I really don’t enjoy! Therefore, the style that Artell used will fit perfectly, and while I won’t have any restrictions on team shape, I want there to be a clear philosophy of how our team plays.
3) Play an attacking, possession-based style
We’ve also discussed the challenges that the club faces financially. While this affects player sales, it should also affect player purchases. As we can see, at the start of the game Crewe are in an okay position financially, but the transfer coffers aren’t exactly stacked to the brim. I don’t want to impose restrictions on this side that we can’t sign any players, because I just don’t think that is realistic. However, I do want to stress that fees recouped from players aren’t just spent on like-for-like replacements. After all, we have a real emphasis on upgrading facilities, and we therefore must harvest the funds gained from sales to do that. As a result, the 4th point of the plan will be that we never spend more than we recoup in terms of transfers. We must always be in a net positive position, no matter what level we are at.
4) Always have greater transfer fees received than transfer fees spent
The last point relates to aligning with Crewe as a real-life entity. I want this to be as realistic as possible, and the fact that I am an external manager coming into the club already tests those boundaries. The last 5 managers at Crewe have been internal appointments, and 3 of them have played for Crewe before. Crewe not only develop great players, but they also develop great coaches.
Therefore, there will be an emphasis on developing coaches and signing experienced players towards the end of their careers—those who have played for Crewe previously—with a view to them becoming coaches. Former Crewe players who have retired will be given an opportunity to develop as coaches too, aligning with the real-life philosophies of the club. Coach development is something I haven’t really ever focused on before in an FM save, but I think it will add another layer of depth to this story. It will also help keep the journey organic. Sometimes I feel it is too easy to just go out and appoint the best coaches available in the game. We want to create a group of coaches who can go on the journey throughout the leagues, and a key part of that is through their development.
5) Develop coaches internally and appoint former players as coaches
So there it is my 5-point plan for success at Crewe. The Railwaymen are having some success in real life at the moment, and at the time of writing currently sit 5th in the table. It will be interesting to see how easy that is to replicate in the 1st season, but they have a good crop of young players, so promotion from League 2 after a few seasons seems realistic. This will be very different from my previous FM saves. It will be a much longer term, slower build, where success isn’t measured in the short term, but rather by meeting the objectives of this plan, and thereby instilling the philosophy we are striving towards. I’m open to other ideas for rules to impose, but I’m hoping to make this one of the most organic and realistic road to glory saves out there.