In the world of football management, success often hinges on the ability to adapt, innovate, and draw inspiration from a range of sources. From the hallowed strategies of legendary managers to the daring tactics of underdogs, every approach offers valuable insights waiting to be harnessed. Join me, as we delve into iconic tactics, player roles, and formations that caught the eye for the better, or sometime worse. Whether you seek to emulate the brilliance of the revered or dare to experiment with the unconventional that failed before, this journey promises to ignite your passion for tactical experiments and redefine your approach to the virtual pitch. We look at why a team may have not had great success and look at ways to improve without losing the essence of the way they played.  Enter the realm where icons meet innovation, strange shapes meet failure and every tactic and player role tells a story – welcome to Iconic: Emulating Tactics and Player Roles from Famous to the Infamous in FM24.

In our first post, let’s delve into a team that tried to do what is now considered conventional wisdom: Putting your best 11 players on the field simultaneously with an innovate shape. may not always lead to success. Enter France’s team at the 2004 European Championship.

France’s World Cup defence in 2002 ended in disaster. They didn’t win a game and couldn’t score a goal. Thierry Henry just had his best season for Arsenal and Zinedine Zidane, after his transfer to Real Madrid for a world record fee, scored the winner as Real Madrid won the Champions League. France was extremely talented all over the pitch, however the rumours of a disconnected dressing room wouldn’t go away. They entered Euro 2004 undefeated having only conceded 2 goals along the way. The head coach Jacques Santini was a stickler for the 4-4-2. This was an issue though because France had 3 fantastic central players in Zidane, Makelele and Vieira. He enjoyed having his wider players tuck in centrally, this caused imbalance in the final third. During Santini’s Lyon reign, he used Juninho in similar roles playing wider and tucking in to huge success, bringing in their first of 7 French League titles in a row. So why couldn’t Zidane, who was regarded at the time as the best player in the world, have similar impact?

 

Santini tried an innovative in possession shape. We had a 4-4-2 still, but our fullbacks are where the differences begin. Gallas, who is a central defender, was preferred to Sagnolat right back. Sagnol was recovering from injury entering the competition, however he played in both pre-tournament friendlies and started the game vs Switzerland. Lizarazu was to provide the width completely on that left side as a wingback. The powerful midfield duo of Makelele and Vieira made up the central partnership. Zidane came off the left to virtually be a central midfielder. Pires was deployed on the right, but not as a winger, as he preferred his left foot. You would call them an inverted winger now, but back then, it wasn’t really a thing. Henry plays on the left side in a partnership with David Trezeguet. Without the ball, Henry would naturally drift left and form essentially a 4-2-3-1. He put the best 11 French players at his disposal and crammed them into the pitch, creating a shape that theoretically should work. The consensus was this Euro was quite weak, and the French had the strongest team by far. They should be the dominant team.  Spoiler alert: They were not.

Breakdown

Lets take a look at why they failed so miserably, some key ideas that were unique to this team and identify areas we can improve.

 

We can see France defend in a narrow 4-4-2 system. Zidane tucks in, even without the ball causing an immediate overload on that side.

 

Here, Zidane tucks even more in. It works most of the time because it creates 3v2 in the midfield vs England’s 4-4-2.

Another issue was ball progression. Deploying two defensive midfielders wasn’t necessary in any of their matches and it came in lieu of a natural ball progressor. Beniot Pedretti was a deeper player who could progress the ball and ping longer passes. He was also adept at defending, not to the extent of Vieira or Makelele, but you need to balance the partnership. Pedretti played 17 minutes in the entire tournament.

Glaring issue here is because our progressing player is essentially Zidane, he is trapped all the way across the other side in this passage, even when tucked in. Our 2 CDM’s are narrow and deep together. Our other options are Henry, who is running from the left hand side and Trezeguet, who is fixed to the box. There is zero options for Pires to progress, recycle or link up with, leaving him with two options: Hoof it in the box, which he does here. Second is taking on 2-3 players. This would need fixing.

 

Santini preferred his “playmaker” cutting in from the left and drifting into space. However, the young mercurial Henry preferred the left half space or at times even wider left wing, to be open for his patterned runs and ability to menace defences, as he had done for Arsenal registering 40+ goal involvements on their way to an undefeated Premier League season. Henry and Zidane almost came to blows over this, as Henry though it was more important for France to have the final third revolve around his strengths, where Zidane thought he needed the ball in more advanced positions, or wherever he sees fit. This also had a negative effect on the other wide player, Robert Pires. His natural left wing was swapped for an almost central midfield role, a role that he has played before, but not on the right. He was that good though, he could do either, however the synergy between the front 4 was evident to be extremely low. Henry got his way and Zidane moved to the right for the rest of the tournament. Zidane felt so strongly about this, that he quit the national team after the tournament.

 

Again from Zidane. He is in his favourite zone, this time with Henry and Trezeguet making runs, but makes another poor decision. Notice in both images, how deep both Vieira and Makelele are. Having double holding midfielders is completely unnecessary against the 4-4-2. Vieira wasn’t always this deep however, he did make runs into the box, but this was without the ball and used as box crasher, more than progressor.

Lets recap on the key characteristics that we need to implement

Narrow 4-4-2 when defending
4-4-2/4-2-2-2 when progressing
Left sided striker peeling off the left
Direct style of play
Counter when the ball is won in the middle of the pitch

The improvements we need to make

Progression of the ball
Options for recycling
Better link up play and synergy between the left striker and advanced CM.

Implementing in FM24

For this, we are taking over Bournemouth for the 23/24 season.

I wanted a team that was lower mid-table.
No transfers

Holidaying with tactics and lineup selected.

 

Additional instructions

GK (D) – None

FB (S) – None

CD (D) – None

CD (D) – None

CWB (A) – Take fewer risks

BWM (D) – None

DM (S) – Take more risks, More direct passing,

CM (A) – Roam from position, More direct passing, Dribble more, Take more risks, Shoot more often,

IW (S) – Sit Narrower, Tackle harder

T (A) – Stay wider, Shoot more often, More direct passes

P (A) – None

We’ve gone with standard back with a wing back on attack. Apart from Trezeguet, there’s many different avenues I can go.

BWM on defend and DM on support for the 2 pivots. I’m still having that “Makelele” role, however a custom DM on support I think is the way to go. Having him take more risks and more direct passing, gives that role more freedom and a dynamic passing range.

CM on attack for the Zidane role. He shoots a lot, dribbles a lot and just free roams the pitch. So having anything other than CM pretty much corners us into instructions that don’t suit the role.

IW on support role for the Pires role. I tested the Mezzala, but he is WAY too central and even drops between the 2 pivots at times.

Trequartista on attack for Henry role. I tried so many things, but T was the only thing that made it look similar. AF/DLF are too central, even with stay wider. IF is too wide and doesn’t come inside enough, as Zidane is there. Trequartista means he doesn’t give a F.

Poacher. No need to explain

Some other instructions

 

Nothing too out of the ordinary. Slightly high temp with shortish passing is about right. Focus on the left and running at defenders is what France did in the group stage.

No real pressing or counter press. They did counter though.

Defending in a midblock like every team in the world at that stage. Few little things here and there but nothing that changes philosophy of the team.

Results

So how did we do? Well, just like France in 2004, it was a tale of two halves.

 

We finished 6th overall after being predicted to finish 17th. Finished with the second most goals too.

However….

 

After 22 games, we were 5 points clear at the top of the table. Injuries to Solanke, then Neto and Kerkez halted a lot of momentum.

We took just 17 points from a possible 45 to finish off the season. Fatigue, injuries would have played a huge part. I think having lineups ticked probably didn’t help, but I wanted the right players in those positions.

How did the boys perform?

Solanke ended up 2nd top scorer with 27 goals.

Luis Sinisterra in the Henry role ended up with 11 goals and 16 assists.

Alex Scott in the Zidane role finished with 7 goals and 6 assists. Very Zidane like.

So, how did we do with our implementation?

Narrow 4-4-2 when defending and left striker on the left wing.

We can see Scott defends the flank if required, and that Sinisterra is holding the left wing/halfspace in the Henry role.

Narrow 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 when progressing

Nice 4-2-2-2 in possession and build up. Our Treq is still holding some width in the half space too.

Issues fix

Key part missing in France 2004 was progression of the ball and recycling. Here we see our DM-S (our deep progressor) has the ball. He immediately has options.

The ball gets played out to the CWB and our DM immediately moves out to become an option. Our Treq has made slight movements into the deeper half space and caused space between the FB and CB to open up. The point here is that our player with the ball as a mountain of options.

Our CWB chooses our LCB and uses the 3rd man concept to give it to our CM-A, Zidane role. His zone is completely open, but also take note of our DM-S. He ended up so far on the left flank to be an option. Also notice our BWM-D has taken up the CB role as our LCB was used as an option to get the ball to CM-A.

CM-A has dribbled his way into the edge of zone 14, and now, has an absolute plethora of options. Treq peeling, Poacher running clean, CWB high and wide, IW darting or, CB and DM as recycle.

Our DM-S Ryan Christie ended up as the 9th player with 88%+ Pass completion and 6+ progressive passes per game. Yup. However, he did finish 1st in open play key passes

 

 

 

Conclusion

I think we had some success in bringing the identity of France’s 2004 team to life in FM24. We still had major issues with the function of the 2 talisman roles in Zidane’s and Henry’s pathing and wanting to roam, but I think we did extremely well with a Bournemouth team that had no business being top of the league after Christmas.

As always, this isn’t a plug in and play tactic. You must have the right players. It’s quite fun however, and plays some blistering football on the counter. You can download it here.

DOWNLOAD HERE – LINK

Author

  • Cleon

    Cleon is a distinguished figure in the Football Manager community, known for his tactical acumen and profound understanding of the game's intricacies. With a penchant for sharing knowledge, Cleon has authored "The Football Manager Playbook," offering a deep dive into crafting effective tactics. He's the brains behind the well-regarded blog "View From The Touchline," where he elucidates on football philosophies, game strategies, and more. Beyond the written word, Cleon engages with enthusiasts through social media, making complex football management concepts accessible to many.

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