This guest piece today has been shared with us by Andy (@TacticalFool) In which he shares how he builds a club and an identity for the club long term.

Hello friends

I thought I’d share my way of building a club for long-term appointments. Played CM/FM for a while, and it’s only been within the last 5-6 years where I’ve really found my own style of playing. The introduction of the sporting director model to the English game has seen instant results. When one of my favourite players, Hasan Salihamidzic, was appointed Bayern’s new sporting director in 2017, I became fascinated with the role. I started deep diving into how clubs are structured and found a little fascination. I love structuring clubs and having hierarchy.

When we first enter a club, we need to define what we are trying to achieve. Most people call this a club statement or fundamental objective. This is different for every player as it’s individualized to that manager’s game style. For my FM24 save, I chose Crystal Palace.

Below is my framework.

The club objective can be divided into 3 pillars of success. A lot of things are interchangeable, but I’ll split them roughly.

Here’s a brief overview. 

Instil a football Identity

Tactical philosophy This aspect varies for each manager, yet the underlying principles remain consistent. Our tactical philosophy revolves around high-energy, possession-based football, adept at manipulating opponents and exploiting space. Intelligent pressing and strategic exploitation of key areas are paramount.

Player profile Our players are expected to possess exceptional technical abilities, enabling them to execute intricate maneuvers with precision. Moreover, they must demonstrate a high level of intelligence in their movements and game reading, allowing them to anticipate and react effectively to dynamic situations on the field.

Discipline and attitude are paramount traits we seek in our players, as they contribute significantly to team cohesion and performance. Positive personality types are therefore essential, fostering a constructive team environment conducive to success.

Furthermore, we maintain a domestic bias in our player recruitment strategy, prioritizing talent from within our local and national footballing communities. This commitment to domestic talent further strengthens our connection to the community and enhances the cultural identity of our club.

Further details on player profiling will be elaborated upon later, ensuring alignment with our overarching objectives and values.

Effective squad management While maximizing sporting success is a common goal, we recognise that each club and manager possesses a unique approach to squad management. As such, we integrate squad management seamlessly into our footballing identity, viewing it as a crucial component of our overall strategy.

By leveraging our player profile, we streamline squad management processes, ensuring that our team composition aligns with our tactical philosophy and objectives. This approach allows us to maintain a high standard of performance while fostering cohesion and synergy among our players.

Youth policy A tremendous focus on youth development is at the core of our club’s values. Our academy represents a massive part of our journey, serving as the bedrock for nurturing and cultivating talent. To support this commitment, we dedicate unlimited resources to our academy programs, ensuring that aspiring young footballers receive the guidance, support, and opportunities they need to thrive.

Our Identity

Our tactical philosophy remains consistent year after year: fast-paced, possession-based football designed to manipulate space with fluid movements. We emphasize the third man concept and runs from deep to overload opponents, minimizing tactical instructions to empower our intelligent players to make optimal decisions in diverse situations. Our gameplay unfolds across the four distinct phases:

Defence: We employ high line defending with intelligent pressing, focusing on maintaining a narrow and compact pitch to disrupt the opposition’s attack. Adaptability and versatility are key as defensive strategies evolve from game to game.

Transition to Attack: Upon regaining possession, we prioritize vertical passing while emphasizing ball retention. Our players have the autonomy to decide whether to counter-attack, with a focus on swift buildup through midfield and wide spreading, with our pivot dropping to support.

Attacking: We rely on the ingenuity of our attacking players, emphasizing runs, one-twos, and fluid off-ball movements to penetrate defensive lines. With players positioned high and wide, we stretch and pin defenders before exploiting spaces with precise passing and movement.

Transition to Defence: Immediate pressing upon losing possession is crucial, aiming to regain the ball high up the pitch. If the press is bypassed, we maintain a solid central foundation to force the ball wide and buy time for defensive reshaping.

While our shape may evolve and new roles emerge, the underlying principles of our tactical approach remain constant. As John Muller of The Athletic aptly states, “There is one constant in the genius of Pep Guardiola: Change.”

 With this philosophy in mind, we present our primary tactic, Eagle Wings.

Quick breakdown

Developing this tactic took considerable time, especially given the nuances of the new match engine. As highlighted in the SI forums, there are known issues with pressing, AI passing through presses in their own half, and teams/players exhibiting reluctance to play through the middle despite instructions. The inspiration behind this tactic stems from the iconic 2011-2012 Barcelona team. While emulating their movement and style is impossible, the concept remains intriguing. While the 3-4-3 formation isn’t new to Barcelona, Guardiola’s innovative use of players of his players, specifically Busquets and Fabregas, added a unique dimension to their gameplay. You can find further insights into Guardiola’s tactical approach and its evolution in this article. I personally think it was the most some of the most beautiful football, I have ever seen. I just wish they were injury free and Goalkeepers didn’t become superman every time Fabregas placed a shot on target.

What shape we want. 

We deploy a defensive setup comprising three at the back, consisting of wide defenders and creative defender on cover duty. A deep-lying playmaker operates in a defensive role, supported by two central midfielders on support duty. Two wingers flank these midfielders also on support duty. In the attacking third, we feature an attacking midfielder on attack duty, alongside a fluid forward depending on the specific tactical requirements of the match. Our tactical approach eschews complexity in favour of simplicity, as emphasized in various guides, such as this one. The key to executing positional play or total football lies in employing minimal tactical intricacies and straightforward player roles and instructions. Overloading with too many tactical elements can result in a confused looking strategy, like Robben cutting inside onto his right foot.

Some instructions

GK – None

WCD – None

BPD – None

DLP – None

CM – Mark tighter, take less risks

CM – Dribble more, Move into channels, Mark tighter, take more risks

W – Mark tighter

AM – None

DLF – Move into channels

We adopt a strategy of limited instructions, trusting in the intelligence of our players to make optimal decisions in varying situations. We refrain from imposing rigid mandates, allowing our players the autonomy to determine when to hold shape or initiate counterattacks. Nonetheless, we remain open to intervention when necessary, recognizing the importance of adaptability on matchdays. With a striker on support and an attacking midfielder on attack, our formation fosters fluidity, encouraging regular positional interchange. This setup prompts the deep pivot to seamlessly drop into space as needed, serving as the linchpin of both our defensive and attacking endeavours. The pivot assumes a “pivotal” role, functioning as the heartbeat of our formation, driving both defensive solidity and offensive prowess if required by spraying vertical, accurate passes.

The key lies in the fluidity of our formation, which evolves due to the multitude of support roles employed. We prioritize a fluid structure, as an excess of instructions can impose rigidity, undermining our tactical philosophy.

Let’s use our 4 phases to quickly demonstrate our philosophy. I’ll take the 2-1 win away @ Liverpool in our first season as our case.

In the defence phase, with a high line and high press, we sit in a 3-2-4-1 defensive shape. It’s extremely difficult to penetrate centrally, however, we try to push the opponent to this area as much as we can to reduce space and cause low % passing or chance creation.

In our pressing strategy, we aim to implement a high block; however, against stronger teams away, this may prove challenging. In such instances, we opt for a mid-block instead, sitting in a 3-6-1 shape. This allows us to swiftly cut passing lanes, forcing opponents into longer passes and often prompting backward movement. Wingers on support with a PI of mark tighter often track back or man mark a more central player. I often do this with IBW/double pivots to create a 5v4 and sometimes even a 5v3 midfield. Causes the opponent to go for the lower % pass inside or a long ball. Downside of this is 1 CB will be marking a winger, causing a bigger than usual spread between defenders, however our pivot drops “most” of the time.

Transition to attack

As we win the ball in our own defensive half, we can capitalize on the free man concept. Wharton assumes the role of the free man, as he remains unmarked, granting him space to advance the ball with minimal risk. 

As our player advances the ball, he will inevitably draw a marker, resulting in someone else becoming the free man. The beauty of our system lies in its fluid progression, ensuring that 90% of the time, we have a free man centrally. If not, it indicates that we have a wide player in space, compelling the opposing team to stretch and mark our winger. This, in turn, creates additional space centrally, leading to even larger gaps. Just like a life cycle.


Our central midfielder can progress the ball as the free man, inviting pressure and creating a 2v1 situation in the left half space.

This is the scenario we aim to create. By bypassing their press, the opposition continually collapses on the free man, generating overloads centrally and offering numerous passing options. This is why our player profile is so important as the intelligence of our players becomes crucial in selecting the correct option.


I love diamonds.

Combining the DLP-D wth BPD-C positions create that illustrious diamond in defence, increasing our passing options.

Our attacking phase consists of utilising bounce passes and third man runs. Over and over. You can see Olise receives the ball, however all passing lanes are closed and he hasn’t positioned his body correctly (to be honest, no idea, but looks like he can’t turn and dribble). Bounce passes are key to positional play. See a basic scenario here and here.

Funny how this exact scenario plays out. No idea what that third defender is doing. Maybe cutting the central passing lane, but he seems like he is in no man’s land.

Lets see the full clip

Beautiful isn’t it?

Transitions to Defence

Key here is, surprise surprise, the pivot. With a +1 at the back system (DLP-D/HB and team instructions) we are able to somewhat replicate Bielsa’s “Partial Libero” concept. You can find an in-depth piece here. Simplified, it just means the +1 finds space when our team has the ball and without our team closes down the closest threat, with our +1 moves across to cover for players moving off their own player.

We have the ball, so our DLP (22) is in free space. If Zico was to lose the ball, Our WCB (2), would instantly move off the ST (20) and our DLP would then move to him. Simple, but effective.

However, because we have a very fluid team shape, when we have the ball AND another player moves from their zone, our DLP will move to cover the zone instead of moving into free space.

You can see our BDP-C has been sucked in somehow (but why……) however our champion DLP has moved into his spot to cover.

Player Profile

In defining our philosophy, it’s crucial to outline the key attributes essential for success within our system, encapsulated as our “DNA”. Reflecting our footballing ethos, we prioritize players with exceptional intelligence, attitude, and technical prowess. Utilising Mustermann’s attributeless skin, we’ve identified the following components:


  • Intelligence: Decisions, Composure, Anticipation, Concentration, Positioning
  • Attitude: Work Rate, Teamwork, Personality
  • Technical Creativity: Technique, First Touch, Passing, Vision, Flair

Bolded are hard coded into our DNA, others are soft coded that come into heavy consideration when evaluating a player.

This structured approach allows us to prioritise attributes aligned with our DNA while considering additional factors crucial for player evaluation and team cohesion.

DNA Visualization:

  • Poor: 0
  • Good: 1
  • Very Good: 3
  • Excellent: 5


  • Model Citizen, Resolute, Perfectionist: 1
  • Any other positive/neutral personality: 0
  • Negative personality types are not considered for recruitment or will be removed from our club.


  • UK nationality gets an extra point.

These criteria help in assessing players based on their DNA, personality, and nationality, ensuring alignment with the club’s values and preferences.

Now for the extremely complicated formula


We add them together. The personality is separate from our total, so it’s used as a sort of bonus multiplier 


Let’s take this guy for example

Technique – 5

Decisions – 5

Work Rate – 1

First Touch – 5

Anticipation – 5

Composure – 5


Personality – 0

UK – 0

Here’s the breakdown of how we use the DNA match percentages for our club:

  • No Match: 0-59%
  • Soft Match: 60%-64%
  • Match: 65%-69%
  • Hard Match: 70%-79%
  • Born with Crystal Palace on their foreheads: 80%+

It’s worth noting that if we get a 6/6 with Excellent + UK National/Model Citizen, it breaks the scale, but it hasn’t happened yet.

The DNA match percentage serves as a guideline rather than a definitive action. It helps filter out players based on their attributes, but it’s not the sole determinant of a player’s suitability. Other factors like player traits, mental attributes, versatility, and purchase price also play significant roles.

For example, a player with a 76% match isn’t necessarily better than one with a 73% match; it simply means they align slightly more with our club profile. It’s essential to consider all aspects when evaluating players for our team.


Effective Squad Management

Now we have our desired player profile, we need to manage our squad effectively. It all starts with splitting your squad into playing roles. The Athletic released a fantastic player role article. For our tactical philosophy, we need to identify what roles are required. Ive gone with this.

  • Sweeper Keeper:
    -Standard role for goalkeepers who are adept at playing with their feet.
  • Aggressor:
    Two defenders positioned on the left and right sides, requiring exceptional ball-playing abilities, akin to defensive midfielders. Retrained defensive midfielders often fit well in these roles.

  • Anchor:
    – Tricky position because he does also spray passes, but is very often our deepest defender. The BDP-C
  • Builder:
    – The engine. He requires playmaking and defending abilities. Assigned to the DLP-D
  • Orchestrator:
    – Provide balance to the team and possess flexibility to perform various roles as required, with one typically more attacking but adaptable based on game situations. Both CM-S
  • Outlet:
    – Often deployed to pin the opposition’s defense high and wide, they may have minimal direct involvement in play, sometimes functioning as Complete Wing Backs (CWB) or Defensive Wingers (DW) in significant away matches.
  • Roamer:
    – Players capable of operating as either the number 10 or 9, with similar characteristics. Additionally, a striker may be present to push defenders further back. Assigned to our AM-A and DLF-S/CF-S/F9-S

Just a reminder that player roles can evolve over time and aren’t fixed.

Now that we have defined our desired player roles based on our tactical philosophy, we need to manage our squad effectively. Here’s how I split my squad into playing roles:

I prefer to maintain a compact squad of 20 to 22 players, expanding to 25 for Champions League campaigns. I update squad details twice a year, in June and December, focusing on what’s needed and providing a snapshot of player status. In case of injury crises, we may recall players or utilize U21 prospects for short-term cover, though it hasn’t been necessary yet.

Youth Policy

The decline in high-end successful youth talent among big English clubs has been evident for some time now. According to the International Journal of Exercise, the average CTP minutes played in the EPL stands at a mere 9%, placing Premier League fourth behind La Liga (21%), Ligue 1 (18%), and Bundesliga (15%). The situation worsens when considering domestic utilization, with England ranked 29th out of 32 European countries for CTP minutes played in Premier League clubs. 

A study by CIES defines development by matches/minutes played at clubs under the age of 23. Ajax emerges as the number one development club globally, with 21 players at the World Cup having played for Ajax when they were under 23, contributing 1962 games and 147618 minutes during this time. Notably, no English clubs rank in the top 20. The report emphasizes a key stage shared by the top 10 development clubs and 18 of the top 20 at the last World Cup: B-Teams.

Dan Ashworth, a pivotal figure in the English FA’s recent changes and reported to be Manchester United’s new sporting director, believes the gap between Premier League 2 football and the Premier League is too wide for most players to bridge. However, Manchester City has potentially solved this issue, a solution that can be implemented in Football Manager.

For our youth policy, we aim to emulate the gold standard set by Ajax. We will adopt the youth-first system, prioritizing the filling of first-team needs with players from the youth team, supported by recruitment efforts. Although immediate implementation is not feasible due to the lack of focus on youth in the previous decade, by the fifth season, this policy will be in full effect. Progress will be monitored through KPIs that need to be met. These KPIs include:

  • 25% of all minutes to be played by CTP.
  • 50% of all minutes in FA Cup played by CTP.
  • 75% of all minutes in Carabao Cup played by CTP.
  • Minimum of 10 CPT in squad.
  • Top 5 in players trained in top 5 leagues.
  • Top 3 in players trained for National team.

That’s it for now. Our next focus will be on the sporting aspect as we determine how to set up our club for success. You can find me on Twitter @TacticalFool and follow my journey. Till’ next time

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