Back in 2021, just after the European Championships had finished, I wrote a post called ‘Applying a Pragmatic Approach to Football Manager’. The post looked at Gareth Southgate’s approach to international management, and whether these principles could (or indeed should) be applied to club management in Football Manager.

After writing that post, I actually began playing Football Manager in a more pragmatic way without ever consciously deciding to, and have done ever since. So now, having just secured the Japanese National Team job and with the Asian Cup ahead of us, I thought this would be the perfect time to revisit Southgate’s principles, but consider them with our Asian Cup squad selection in mind.

Player Profiles

Something that Gareth Southgate was ridiculed for back in 2021, and still has held against him to this day, is his perceived fascination with right-backs. England’s Euro 2021 squad included Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier, Reece James and Trent Alexander-Arnold – four players for one position. However, Gareth didn’t see it this way, and gave the following explanation.

What I would say is you’re looking at four right-backs, and I know people feel I have an obsession with right-backs, I just see four good footballers. Trippier can play right-back or left-back, Trent can play right-back, wing-back, I think he can play midfield. In the last few days I’ve seen Reece James play right of a back-three, at wing-back and in the middle of midfield.


Despite them all primarily playing at right-back, Gareth was aware that they were four of his most talented players, and all offered different skill sets and types of versatility that meant that they could conceivably all be in the side at once.

To Gareth, the profile of the player was more important than the position, and that’s an outlook that I think translates well into Football Manager. 

Players will very often possess a skill set that would serve them well outside of their natural positions. The most common examples are probably strikers playing on the wings and vice versa, defensive midfielders playing at full-back or centre-back, or defensively responsible wingers dropping back to play at full-back. 

With only 20 outfield spaces available for the Asian Cup, and the challenges of not being able to rest between games in International Management on Football Manager, versatile players are going to be key. There is simply not enough room for 2 specialists in each position, so I’ll be looking at the profile of each player rather than their listed positions. This may lead to a very disjointed looking squad list on paper, but will offer maximum flexibility.

Purpose from the Bench

Squad rotation in International football takes on more prevalence in Football Manager, but in the real world teams will generally have a best eleven, their ‘key’ subs that come on in most games, and then essentially injury cover.

Throughout Euro 2021 Jack Grealish was the very definition of a key substitute. He only started one game at the tournament, but was often brought on when England were ahead to help kill the game. His ability to progress the ball and win fouls helped to prevent opposition gathering any momentum, and it’s notable that in England’s most convincing win, the 4-0 Quarter Final win over Ukraine, Grealish was not summoned. 

In Football Manager terms, I would be looking for my key substitutes to have either a different primary role to their starting counterpart, or at least a couple of different key attributes. Of course, sometimes a personnel change can be enough, but generally if the game isn’t going as planned then a like for like swap is unlikely to unlock anything new.

An attacking player with extra pace to come on and run at tiring defences could just be the key to finding a winning goal. Alternatively, removing a creative player in midfield and replacing them with a destroyer who will consistently win the ball back could help to see a game out with a positive result intact.

Faith in the Familiar

Gareth Southgate has not been afraid to give debuts to new players, with over 55 players getting their first cap since his appointment in 2016. The rate of debuts has slowed recently though, and it feels more and more likely that the vast majority of the squad for Euro 2024 will be built from Southgate’s trusted core. 

At the 2018 World Cup, England took two uncapped players; third choice goalkeeper Nick Pope who didn’t play, and Trent Alexander-Arnold who featured in just one game. Beyond that, there were 9 players in the squad with ten caps or fewer, including future regulars Jordan Pickford, Harry Maguire and Kieran Trippier. 

At Euro 2020 there were no uncapped players, although there were 13 players with 10 caps or less. However, as the core of the squad had developed together, the Euro’s squad actually had a higher average caps per player (20.8 v 19.5) despite there being three extra players on the plane.

In the four seasons of my save so far, Japanese clubs have already developed some incredible looking newgens. I have some really talented youngsters at Tokyo Verdy, but Kyoto Sanga in particular have developed some exceptional young players that have already won full international caps. As I’m new to the job and being thrust straight into a tournament that we are expected to win, I will be mostly relying on an experienced core, and am unlikely to include any uncapped wildcards until I can integrate them in lower pressure games.

The Squad

Click a player’s shirt to view their profile!

As I mentioned above, by looking for profiles and skill sets rather than positions, my squad breakdown takes on a slightly disjointed look. It’s common these days for squads to look like they’re lacking strikers; in fact, many nations now make their squad announcements with midfielders and forwards combined in one group due to fluidity between, in particular, wide forwards and central strikers.

Only having one recognised striker in Kyogo Furuhashi doesn’t concern me (although J1 top scorer for the last two seasons Yuma Suzuki would have made the cut if not for injury) as Daizen Maeda is more than capable as a replacement and his pace makes him an excellent impact sub. Beyond them, attacking midfielders Takumi Minamino, Daichi Kamada and Takefusa Kubo can all fill in up top if needed, albeit probably with a change of approach required.

In terms of other ‘key’ substitutes, full-back Yukinari Sugawara will be called upon any time we need to hold extra width to stretch a game. He’s a far more offensive offering than Tomiyasu, who himself offers the versatility to cover at left-back should Hiroki Ito need a rest. Beyond them, we have Koki Anzai providing deep cover for both full-backs.

In midfield, we have a lot of different options to switch things up. First choice pivot Hidemasa Morita and Wataru Endo will play as a Segundo Volante (Attack) and Ball-Winning Midfielder (Defend) respectively, and we have direct replacements for them in Reo Hatate and Ao Tanaka. However, Hatate could play a variety of deep playmaking roles, as well as starting further forward if needed, and Tanaka could provide a range of deeper roles. Add to them youngster Takahara Toda, who at 19 is already well rounded enough to offer solutions as the deepest midfielder and as a line breaker, plus the added benefit of being a fourth option at right-back, and we have plenty of different profiles to be able to adjust based on game state.

Overall I’m happy with the squad, and talent pool, in general. We have a lot of experience in the squad, with eleven players over 50 caps and sixteen players over 35 caps. We have included one young player, the previously mentioned Toda, but as he made his debut two years ago and has seven caps under the previous manager I’m comfortable taking him to the tournament as a backup player. He’s wanted by Manchester City, so clearly there’s a lot of talent there. The rest of the squad are all 25 and above though, so even if not massively experienced in terms of international caps, we should have plenty of career experience to lean on.

I’ll look to start to integrate some more of the fantastic talent Japan has developed once the Asian Cup is over and I’m a little more settled in the role. The highest priority is probably to find a long-term goalkeeper to establish themselves as our number one. Nakamura holds that title right now, and at 31 probably has at least two or three more tournaments in him, but there is plenty of room to improve on him, and I’m not convinced by Kosei Tani or Keisuke Osako as his backups. The obvious candidate is Zion Suzuki who was linked with Manchester United in real life, but I also have hopes of convincing Mio Backhaus to represent us rather than Germany, although my attempt to bring him to the Asian Cup was unfortunately unsuccessful.

So with that, all that’s left now is to actually jump into the tournament! More on that in a future post, but next up we’re back to the bread and butter of Tokyo Verdy, it’s going to be a huge transfer window for us! Until next time…


  • adam_otbfm

    Adam, known in the Football Manager (FM) realm as @adam_otbfm, is a fervent gamer and content creator. With a penchant for football simulations, Adam delves into the intricacies of FM, sharing his findings on his blog "On the Break." His creative ventures include replicating football legends like Kaka in the virtual pitch, showcasing a blend of nostalgia and modern gameplay. Adam's musings extend to social platforms like Twitter, where he actively engages with the FM community, sharing his gaming journey with @SJK_Seinajoki. His insightful content and avid participation enrich the FM community, making him a valued member in this virtual football world.

1 thought on “Samurai Blue – A Pragmatic Approach to Squad Selection

  1. What a great callback to the original peace. Just in time for the build up to the real life euros too. This little side quest couldn’t have come up at a better time. Reading this only continues to increase my curiosities about international management.

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