Optimising player pathways with DNA scores at Ajax in Football Manager—ensuring consistent development, challenges addressed, and success aligned to #theAjaxway.

Building on from the Ajax way DNA blog, which focused on how DNA can be used to drive talent identification at AFC Ajax. I wanted to document how I will use the DNA score to create player pathways, ensuring that I apply a consistent approach to providing talent with the same opportunities.

PLAYER PATHWAYS IN FOOTBALL

THE ROLE OF A PATHWAY

In the intricate tapestry of English football, pathways emerge as not just a vital thread but a dynamic force, echoing the wisdom that Rome’s grandeur was not erected in a mere day. These pathways transcend mere routes; they are the lifelines that guide young players through the labyrinth of development, infusing them with not just direction but an unwavering motivation to sculpt their own destiny. A shining exemplar of this football alchemy is the legendary “Class of 92,” a masterpiece sculpted by the visionary Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United—a testament to the club’s artistry in cultivating talent that blossomed into triumphant success within the first team.

Pathways, akin to artistry, assume myriad forms, whether through a carefully orchestrated ballet of loan moves or an enchanting pas de deux in first-team training sessions. Each step is a brushstroke, painting the canvas of a player’s journey with experiences that shimmer like the finest strokes of a masterpiece. These meticulously laid-out avenues not only offer fledgling players the chance to dance with destiny but also provide a front-row seat to the symphony of the professional game, fostering the hope that they will one day command the grand stage of the first team.

THE CHALLENGES

While academies and pathways play a crucial role in player development, there are also challenges associated with their implementation. One of the most significant challenges is ensuring that there is a clear pathway from the academy to the first team. This can be difficult, as first-team managers often have a short-term focus on results and may be hesitant to give young players a chance.

Another challenge is ensuring that young players receive a well-rounded education and are prepared for life beyond football. This can be particularly challenging for players who leave school early to pursue a career in football, as they may miss out on important life skills and experiences.


PLAYER PATHWAYS IN FOOTBALL MANAGER

THE PROCESS

Given that player development in my save ‘The Ajax way’ will be driven by the individual’s performance against DNA, it made sense for me to set KPI’s at given points in a player’s development to ensure that we have a consistent approach.

For those of you who are science heads, you will know the importance a constant plays in any experiment, a constant variable does not change throughout the course of the experiment, enabling conclusions to be understandable.

If I were to provide variable pathways into the first team, how would I be able to judge the impacts fairly, different players would have experienced different journeys, which would not help me to understand what factors impact progress and ones which do not.

THE AJAX WAY

The below will walk you through the different stages of the Ajax way player pathway, covering any specific actions which I apply at each given stage.

It is important to remember that I have refined my Jong Ajax side to conform with the Ajax way, in which youth sides are made up with 16 players, the squad is as follows.

2 – Goalkeepers (Sten Kremers and Charlie Setford)

4 – Right footed players for positions 2,6 and 7. (Olivier Aertssen, Gabriël Misehouy, Amourricho van Axel Dongen, and Alvaro Henry

4 – Left footed players for positions 5,8 and 11. (Ethan Butera, Rico Speksnijder, Ar’jany Martha, and David Kalokoh)

3 – Players for positions 3 and 4. (Ahmetcan Kaplan, Oualid Agougil, and Avery Appiah

3 – Players for positions 9 and 10. (Skye Vink, Yoram Boerhout, and Jaydon Banel)

140 DNA POINTS – JONG AJAX REGULAR

At 140 DNA points this is where the fun begins, for those of you who play FM simply for the matches, this approach will not be for you. For others, who enjoy taking control of a club, with the view to maximising talent and fully submerging yourself into the role, strap yourselves in!

There are two things which I like to control when players secure enough DNA points to be considered a Jong Ajax regular.

  • Take control of a player’s individual training – with this I mean selecting what positional training the individual will participate in. Position training enables a player to become more familiar with any playing position that is not natural to him, thus improving his performances when playing in that position. However, at this time I will not be looking to train the player in the role which I think he is best in, I will simply select the role which has a wider attribute spread, helping to form a well rounded player. At this stage think more, Ball Playing Defender, Central Midfielder, Winger, and Deep-Lying Forward, the more vanilla options.
  • Influence selection – in game you will receive inbox notifications from the B Team Manager asking for confirmation of the first team players that you want to make available for the upcoming fixture. Use this opportunity to ensure the selection aligns with the DNA, as the B Team Manager often will look to play individuals based upon their current ability, which could lead to less game time for those that align better to the DNA.

150 DNA POINTS – POSITION SET/ EXPLORE PATHWAY

At 150 DNA points, the focus changes from a wide lens to one with a little more attention to detail, here we dial things in a little in terms of development, and also make our first key decision with regards to the individual’s development pathway.

Here we review the pathway into the first-team, analysing the route, exploring the level of competition ahead. This will decide if we make the plyer available for loan, this isn’t the crossroads for the player but a key moment in deciding which pathway the individual will follow for the next season.

Here are two examples to help demonstrate the process.

Exhibit A, Ethan Butera – Ethan is a left-footed wide centre-back, looking at the potential players ahead of him in the above DNA visual, there is only Gastón Ávila and Jorrel Hato ahead of him, when considering the individual’s natural position. Given that Ávila has also played a significant number of his matches in the DM strata, Butera has a clear pathway as no other individuals are blocking his pathway. If there were multiple players entering the first-team integration phase at the same time this would lead me to exploring an alternative route.

Exhibit B, Don-Angelo Konadu – at 17 years of age, Don-Angelo is still playing in the under 18s, he has nearly drawn down enough DNA points to enter the assessment phase. Given that we already have three strikers in the first-team and the likes of Skye Vink and Yoram Boerhout nearly entering the First Team Integration phase, Don-Angelo’s pathway is blocked. Therefore, for me I would look to send the individual out on a short-term loan, given his access to minutes at the next level (Jong Ajax) will be limited due to the players mentioned. If Skye Vink and Yoram Boerhout also enter the First Team Integration phase at a similar time, the same will apply to one of the two, a move to another team in the Eredivisie or a league with a similar reputation would provide exposure to a similar level of competitive football.

After the pathway review has taken place, and of course, notes added to the players profile, there are a few more tasks to action.

Set Loan Status For individuals who have a pathway which isn’t clear, the emphasis is placed on securing them access to significant exposure to football at a relevant level. Here you can utilise affiliate clubs, or look to chance the market by placing the individual up for loan. Remember, always favour loan moves to sides who are offering increased playing time, and if possible those clubs which have a solid infrastructure, to aid development off the pitch.

Targeted positional training – Now the player should be more rounded as an individual, the focus dials into specifics. Here we look to only focus his individual training to either the best role aligned to our current tactic, or the role which the player will excel the most in. Remember just because a player is playing in a given role, doesn’t mean he will carry out the duties in match the same as another.

155+ JONG AJAX KEY PLAYER

Key players within the Jong side, but not quite ready to take the full step into the First Team. These players need a taste of what is to come, but only for a select few. Those who have read any of my previous work on youth development know I value the importance of praising individuals.

Here at Ajax it is no different, I like to keep track of the best trainers at the club and have been rewarding those that finish in the top three for two consecutive months with the following.

Add to First Team training – Exposure to first team training, training with players who are accustomed to playing at a higher standard is key to any youth players development. Youth prospects will be given the chance to impress, whilst gaining access to better coaching staff, who in theory should aid their development. Again, providing individuals with this opportunity should impact both morale and overall happiness.

165+ DNA POINTS – FIRST TEAM INTEGRATION

At 160 DNA points, I believe players to be at the stage where they need their armbands removed, these players have been playing a significant role in the Jong side and should have been given exposure to first-team training, it is time for them to be a small fish in a big pond.

Move to Senior Squad – this speaks for itself.

Mentoring – the mentoring system consists of placing individuals in groups where they will learn off each other. Now there isn’t a one size fits all to mentoring, different clubs have different personalities within the playing staff with varying levels of experience and personality types. However, what essentially we are looking to do is place a younger, less experienced player with either a senior player, or someone who has exemplary behaviours. The view, to improve determination, personality type, adopt traits, and harvest good relationships.

Exposure to First Team football – Ideally you only want to move players into the senior squad if they can add value, exposure to playing first team football will aid the development of talent. However, be warned that if you bring players into the senior squad and do not provide them minutes on the pitch, you are directly impacting their development. Exposure at first can be from the bench, 15 minutes here, and 15 minutes there, whilst the player finds his feet. The importance here is making the player feel a part of the match day squad and providing opportunities, why have a focus on a youth philosophy, if you aren’t going to trust youth! The Ajax way philosophy ensures players have the opportunity to showcase their talent, performing what they have learned through their years within De Toekomst.

175+ DNA POINTS – FIRST TEAM REGULAR

At this stage in the journey, players will be well on their way to entering their prime, individuals would have benefitted from exposure to the best coaching available at the club and took part in many training sessions geared towards your game model. These individuals find themselves familiar with the Ajax way philosophy and will be placed well with regards to the clubs hierarchy and social groups.

The average lifespan for an Ajax player within the first team is four years, hence the importance of ensuring there is a consistent pipeline of talent running through the production line in Amsterdam.

185+ DNA POINTS – KEY PLAYER STATUS

Looking at the clubs experience matrix you will note that only three of the key players when regarding DNA stem from the Peak, and Experienced footballer. This differs from the more traditional way of viewing players, in which most key players will either be in their prime or beyond.

These individuals are key to the success of the group, they epitomise the club and are fully aligned to the game model. This is clear to see when looking at minutes played to date, with three of the top four players regarding minutes on the pitch stem from the Key player status group.

A point to note, given the exposure these individuals are getting, paired with their alignment to the game model, it is likely to be these individuals that are the ones being heavily scouted by some of the continent’s bigger clubs.


ADDITIONAL VALUES OF ADOPTING A DNA WITHIN YOUR FM SAVE

AGREED PLAYING TIME

The KPI against the Ajax way DNA also provides managers with a system which can help dictate agreed playing time. Looking at the snippet below from in game, you can see how our ‘Important Players’ are those which hold the highest DNA, our key players.

CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS

As per the above, player pathways can aid when to offer players new contracts. Prior to this save I always used to offer new contracts to draw down talent of key performers, other than that simply wait until just before the players final year, before offering players an extension.

Using the player pathways system, you can see that it provides perfect opportunities as players pass through each stage to ensure they have a contract which reflects not only their ability but their individual pathway and player status.

WAGE STRUCTURE

Finally, by implementing a DNA related player pathway, like I have in the Ajax way, will ensure that you aren’t handing out bumper contracts to individuals that are not aligned to the clubs philosophy, and reward players that are progressing up the DNA hierarchy.

Looking at the above, you can see that five of the top six earners within the AFC Ajax squad, are those individuals who have the best DNA alignment.


TL;DR


This week’s blog discusses the implementation of a player pathway system, focusing on DNA scores, in football management, particularly within the context of managing Ajax in Football Manager. The pathway involves stages based on DNA points, guiding players from the youth team to the first team. The author emphasises the importance of consistent development, challenges in player pathways, and how the DNA approach influences training, loan decisions, and integration into the senior squad. The system is also linked to playing time, contract negotiations, and wage structure, aligning with the club’s philosophy.

Once again, thank you for taking the time to read today’s blog on View from the Touchline, I hope you are enjoying my series ‘The Ajax Way’ as much as I am.

Author

  • SteinkelssonFM

    SteinkelssonFM is a distinguished tactician in the Football Manager community, celebrated for bridging the virtual and real football worlds through meticulous analysis. His knack for recreating iconic real-world tactics in-game, like Mário Zagallo’s 1970 Seleção strategy, offers a nostalgic yet innovative gameplay experience. An active blogger on Medium and WordPress, SteinkelssonFM shares his football philosophies and FM adventures, enriching the community with guides on youth development and tactical masterclasses. His contributions extend to the official Football Manager website, affirming his position as a reliable mentor for aspiring virtual football managers. Through his content, SteinkelssonFM continues to blend historical football charm with modern-day FM gameplay.

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3 thoughts on “FM24: The Ajax Way – Player Pathways

  1. Incredible article, I love the level of detail, useful, concrete but you have gone a step further by relating the idea to the “how” in the game itself. It’s certainly a source of inspiration for my save, I had lost a bit the mood to play because of repetition but all these articles are inspiring! Congratulations and thank you!

  2. This is fantastic, love the action points at each step of of the pathway. I have a long term save with arch-rivals Feyenoord and going to implement some of this, to beat Ajax at their own game!

  3. Fantastic job. Every year I go for an Ajax story with the aim to win an UCL with 70% Ajax players in the first team. You just gave it another meaning !!

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