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Feet under the desk. Hard work begins. With just twelve days before I would be encountering my first set of games as Elfsborg manager and, also, my first ever foray into European football – a home tie against Famalicao in the Europa League, I had a lot to do. All of the admin stuff was completed, for example, a home kit and away kit was created, with a focus on giving the club a sponsor that tied in with their current sponsors or built upon something I’ve been reading about and will endeavour to implement further as my time here goes on: charity ties with Africa – namely Kenya. In the end, I settled for some nice kits that are sponsored by Effektiv, one of their current sponsors, with Unibet as a their shirt sleeve sponsor, again, a real-life official partner. Furthermore, I added newgen faces to all of my promising youngsters and built in training and development pathways for them. Some of these players feature further down in my first team squad analysis. Now, a slightly contentious part. In my interview, I was told that I needed to improve my media handling skills as, clearly, the board didn’t like that I’d delegated everything. Therefore, I’ve gone down a slightly different route with the ideology that I can improve both that and my player interactions. I already group attributes based loosely on their numerical value and, in the past, have spent hours and hours working through what the combinations of personality and media handling bring – solving to the single attribute for what each hidden attribute shows. I simply don’t have the want for that any more but still want to be able to most effectively talk and interact with them. Therefore, I have utilised a similar route that I have done with attributes – banded (1-5 shows a silver star and 15-20 shows a gold star) each hidden attribute with the focus, in my first team, being on Temperament, Sportsmanship and ability to handle Pressure. I recently listened to the Stuart Broad podcast on the High Performance Podcast and his views on mental ability and mental stability hit quite hard. If I can create a squad that, whilst still showing as balanced, can handle pressure – we can surely invoke those marginal gains and get the best out of the squad. For clarity – I won’t be sharing (and don’t know) any single hidden attribute values and these stars are only used on the Team Squad panel, as you will see below, but you can always look away if that’s not your cup of tea!

For those unaware of Elfsborg, they have won seven Allsvenskan titles but, 2025 aside, last tasted league success in 2012 but have been an ever-present in the Swedish top flight since its inception in the last nineteen-twenties. We are now chasing our fourth successive Svenska Cup title to add to some previous success at the turn of the century. In game, the club has struggled to compete with Europe’s best, having not won a two-legged playoff tie and have only succeeded in making the group stage this year thanks to ‘dropping down’ from the Champions League. However, league phase wins over APOEL and Slavia Prague, as well as a draw at Besiktas and a narrow loss at home to Juventus mean we are placed well to build past Christmas as we faced Famalicao and Dinamo Zagreb at home before a trip to Rome and then a home tie versus Gent. With good youth facilities and youth recruitment and great training facilities and a 16,200 seater stadium in their home town of Boras – Elfsborg are a club perfect club for my ambitions.

One of the key things that required work on was the backroom team. Precisely zero of my staff at Sundsvall wanted to make the move to Boras, so I was left with picking through what I already had and supplementing it with what was available to me. With such a rush to finalise before the first tie, I utilised the Staff Search area but added parameters to ensure that it felt like a fair and realistic recruitment process. Below is the backroom team that I have quickly assembled, in far from its final form:

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The desire to add experienced pros and those who can already speak Swedish or have playing history in this area was paramount to this recruitment drive. Managing to snag both Toure brothers feels like a purposeful move to build up knowledge in Cote D’Ivoire and being able to bring in ex-Arsenal player Marcus Svensson, who spent time at ASPIRE academy, brings up our Middle Eastern knowledge, too. Rasmus Elm and the one and only Zlatan Ibrahimovic join Bakayoko, Hyden and Jorgensen, who were here before my arrival but are solid staff members. The recruitment area is not hugely changed – with Bob Bradley (and his son Michael, who joins the youth coaching setup) coming in following a previous scouting job in Scandinavia. A linguist and a man with as much knowledge as you’ll ever find, he’s a great coup. Swedish record holder with 148 caps and Elfsborg legend Anders Svensson, who was already at the club, leads the scouting department that does, honestly, still feel a little light. However, with the Toure’s knowledge, as well as the half Congolese Ibrahim and the half Eritrean Nicklasson, we have secured some extra free knowledge into Africa. I’ve currently got adverts out for a Performance Analysis team as well as another Recruitment Analyst as I look to ensure that we can identify and track statistical behaviours as best as we can.

The squad I have inherited is so many steps above the one I’d left at Sundsvall that it is barely believable. We have talent in the reserve team that’d make an important player where I came from, showing the fact that both teams were at the wrong ends of the performance scale. I have spent a fair bit of time assessing the players, looking at their suitability to fit into my tactical ideology – safe in the knowledge that I’m not precious over it and will need to adapt to meet the demands of a largely better squad and also setting up all individual training. My aim, from the off, is to develop positions that they play in, especially if they are past the developmental phase – anchoring that with additional foci of either defensive or offensive positioning as these train the core mental attributes I value so highly. At present, there is some leeway with my youngsters as I want to take in as many games as possible to understand their style and ability before I decide permanently where they should play. Already announced are a lot of player departures, so I’ve been able to replace these squad players with youngsters. Below are my top four players as well as three youngsters involved in the first team and three from the youth team that I like the look of.

Full profiles can be accessed by clicking each thumbnail.

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Malcolm Jeng could be the answer to the full back position for a number of years. His height and his ability on the ball, combined with his want to always stay back means that he, in my eyes, is the perfect Inverted Full Back – making a back three when we attack. He’ll play next to Paulo Vitor, the man who has amassed the highest average rating across the entire league this season. I see him to be in the same mould and Haliti from Sundsvall and he could be quite potent in the Libero role as he looks to bring the ball out of the defence. At 25, there still may be time to further hone his game here. Jeppe is, for some reason, a Swedish player despite Transfermarkt and other sources telling me he’s Danish as he was born there, played there and has represented them at youth level. However, he’s a strong winger and a team leader and I’ll look to build our attacks around him. Soderberg is a strong holding midfielder and the club captain will form the fulcrum of our attacking box.

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I’ve been lucky enough to be able to promote these three youngsters to the first team: Rahm, an exciting winger, Kallander, an inside forward and Wallgren, potentially a nice left back. In Rahm, we have a winger very much in the Palsson mould, who is direct and will run at players. He’s a little rough around the edges and isn’t as mentally strong as I’d like but I’ll look to give him minutes where possible. Kallander has wonderful flair and technique, meaning he could be a real threat unlocking defences and driving forward with the ball. He needs some work on the final product but looks strong. I think Wallgren could use his height to his advantage as an inverted full back who could really assist us in the initial transitional phase. Lacking a little in his positioning skills – but, for a man who can also be a winger, understandably so – he is technical, brave and decent in the air. I look forward to his development.

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Elias could become a great keeper, which is a good focus for me as I’ve been historically poor at developing them. There’s no real weak area within his goalkeeping abilities and he’s got a decent frame to build it on, too. I feel like Junior may be known as ‘JBK’ if he ever makes the first team but the young dual-Congolese national is a little fox in the box: agile and nimble as well as being quick off the mark. I’ll need to develop his intelligence and mentality but there is promise in there. The second persson on this list is Collins, a half-Kenyan midfielder who, solely down to the fact they share a nationality, reminds me a little of VIctor Wanyama. He can run all day and, if I can channel that into progressive carries, he’s not weak offensively or defensively. I’ll need to have a little look at his fickle personality but, again, there is a player in there somewhere.

After a good look at the squad, I set about naming a provisional first team for the Famalicao game. This isn’t necessarily my strongest team nor the permanent first choice, but players who I’ve decided are good enough. As you can see, the hidden attributes are on show and we are lacking players who are really great under pressure but, at least, only have one player with questionable traits, and that is keeper Macagno’s temperament. I’ll need to look at how I talk to him and will need to get him on side as soon as possible so that I am able to have those tough conversations with him, should his performances not be up to standard. As I learn more and more about the players and the first team squad, I will start to look at ways in which I can mitigate areas of weakness – either personality driven or attribute driven – but, first, I need to navigate two European ties…

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Full match reports can be found by clicking on each thumbnail.

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Two wins from two against some decent European sides is a great introduction to the club and means we’ve qualified for, at minimum, the playoff into the knockout round.Conscious of our attacking issues last year and, given that Sundsvall’s average possession sat joint highest – with a team that really does not having the passing quality that other teams have – meant that I felt we’d have even more of the ball and, potentially, be even less clinical going forward. This was made even more of a difficult thing to work around in these first two games, so quickly into my reign and without any kind of time to work a new system, simply because of the tactics used before my tenure started. For the previous twenty games, Jimmy Thelin lined up with a 442; sure, it wasn’t a 442 with the ball as he too utilised an inverted full back and an aggressive player – mind, he was wider and I’ll do that centrally – and we just don’t do that. As you can see, I tinkered a little in the two games, moving between a 4231 and 433 with even a hint of a 4141 in the dying minutes against Dinamo so I must concede that familiarity isn’t where I wanted it to be.

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Nevertheless, a header from Riasco and then two nicely worked goals from the midfield duo gave us two wins. As I alluded to, my worry is the passiveness in defence and how we don’t get the ball forward. I’ve never been a ‘possession for possession sake’ manager but, by using a 3-2 build up, we almost always have spare players at the back and are finding ourselves more and more passing it between us. Against Famalicao, 63% of all completed passes came from our back five, as you can see below.  For context, I’m looking at forward passes from the match engine rather than progressive passes but I’m delighted with how often Mbacke played it forward, although feel that a BPD(d) still acts as a ball magnet and, as such, could be changed to avoid reliance on finding him. To try and put the emphasis on a ball magnet further forward, Baidoo moved to be an RPM(s) but the biggest changes I made were to remove Dribble More. I’ve watched and watched and watched and I genuinely now think that these dribbles are becoming a little more forced than they need to be, and, as we’re not actually that good at them, we’re often losing the ball and recovering it in the defence, adding more passes to those numbers. Also, the addition of Focus Play Through The Middle was intended to bring the ball to those midfielders with Play out of Defence another instruction intended to increase passing numbers in a shape that still heavily relies on dribbling-focused roles.

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The changes against Zagreb were promising. 66% of the ball feels too much and too safe, if I’m honest but those increase in passes also came further too, with the exception of Okkels, who had a torrid game (of which I’ll try and dig into). The biggest change, despite the intended removal of Play out of Defence in future, was the huge increase in the amount that Soderberg got on the ball. It’s clear that I need to get the ball to the progressive midfielders more and more and then, rather than just dribbling and – often – losing it, watching them progress the ball with passes. Both goals came from through balls in which the two midfielders got on the end of – with surely a link to their increased mentality that comes with the central play instruction. We’re down three percent in terms of cumulative passes for defenders, which I’ll look to decrease further and hope that Play out of Defence does that.

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So, two games, two thousand five hundred words! I write all of this in a Word Document before I post and I’ve surpassed the thirty-thousand work mark inside five seasons, which, for those who don’t like reading, is insane! I feel like this one could stick: I know the team, I know what I want to achieve on and off the pitch. I spent a year or so more than I expected at Sundsvall but, should this go well, it could be my ticket to the bigger leagues, with my eyes on the end goal of the Bundesliga!

Author

  • Ben

    Ben has been a long time contributor to the FM community previously on The Dugout and the SI Forums. He is known for his great in-depth tactical analysis and an increasing level of understanding of data led recruitment. His FM saves are always in-depth and he delivers both his knowledge of the game and great storytelling including a talent for squad building, progressing youth players and finding diamonds in the rough. His saves are really popular within the blogging community. He is also the creator of the popular skin “Statman”

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