In the first chapter, I cover the pre-season build-up to the inaugural campaign of Buryball 2.0!
A reminder of the rules of Buryball, with some of the comments below each point tweaked to reflect the real world at Gigg Lane:
1. Net wage spend is more important than net transfer spend.
The first criterion is unlikely to be that much of a factor (in the first season at least). What it means in practice is that I could sign a player for a high fee as long as their salary was relatively low as that is what will affect the bottom line in the long run
2. Don’t needlessly splash out on new players or sell old ones when you take over a club – the ‘New Manager Syndrome’.
Suffice it to say that I won’t be falling into that particular trap, especially given the generally huge turnover of players at Bury in the last five years and the lack of a transfer budget. Most fans agree that the talent in the squad is there in real life and given how accurate the stats in Football Manager are these days, it’s bound to be reflected on the game. Given that the aim will be to guide the Lancashire outfit to immediate success, the notion of applying for another position is off the table.
3. Don’t buy players who impressed at international tournaments: they’re likely to be overvalued and past performance is no indication of future performance, especially when they’re playing with a different team – there are different incentives and a different tactical set-up at tournaments and it’s a super small sample size.
Again, this is unlikely to affect my management of Bury in the short to medium term but it is an important point to note. Long-term tracking of players decreases the need to scout tournaments, which are often a seller’s market.
4. Some nationalities are overrated, like Holland, Brazil and England.
I believe this comes from historic performances and styles of play of the national sides throughout the second half of the 20th century and the conflation of that archetype to any player representing that country on the game regardless of their ability level. There might now be a bit of a shift towards Belgium and France in contemporary terms. On the face of it, this won’t affect my recruitment, but you might be surprised how many players in the lower leagues are from places with a reputation (past or present)) for playing eye-catching football. With English players, it’s hard to avoid them coming through the academy (more on that below), but is something to keep in mind where it doesn’t conflict with other criteria. Another factor that will play out early in proceedings is good old Brexit, the terms of which could seriously affect the ability to recruit from the EU.
5. Sell your players at the right time: when they’re around 30 years old, goalkeepers aside.
This will be absolutely fundamental to making it a success. Bury will start the game in significant debt and need to make significant returns on the roster in lieu of having much in the way of generating income on non-matchdays. There is a significant contingent of outfield players that are 30 or over, which will need to change as seamlessly as possible, without needlessly rushing through changes.
6. Use the wisdom of crowds: ask all your scouts and a Director of Football if you have one about players.
Lee Dykes will be called upon to offer his scouting recommendations, as well as help facilitate both player purchases and sales. In the fullness of time, the scouting network will increase in number and coverage.
7. Buy players in their early twenties, which avoids the problems with not developing properly and means previous statistics have greater value.
Contingent to a certain extent either on having a productive academy or ‘sacrificing’ it to leverage more financial resources into recruiting players at an older age. It’s one of the easier points on this list to ‘buy’ into, and Dykes’ hiring, coupled with a necessary budget reduction following relegation, have led to a change in policy. This age bracket and ‘type’ of individual will make up the bulk of my signings over the course of the story.
8. Strikers cost more than they should.
Typically, the most highly valued players are the ones primarily tasked with putting the ball into the net frequently. That goes almost without saying. However, if all the other pieces in the jigsaw are there, it should mean that goals are more evenly distributed throughout the team and for that reason, less emphasis is placed on spending every penny on a ‘guaranteed 20-goal striker’. It also means finding value in players where in the most difficult part of the market by picking up transfer-listed individuals or those who have been overlooked, which is central to this philosophy. Luckily, the Shakers have plenty of depth in this department!
9. Sell any player if a club offers more than they are worth and try to replace them before they are sold.
This applies at any stage of their career. It’s also contingent on a desperate competitor not snatching your want-away star player in the dying embers of the transfer window but there should be a degree of foresight in those cases. It can also be a hard sell to fans and the dressing room itself in the short-term but again, it’s one of the pillars of Moneyball.
10. Don’t buy players if you don’t need to: develop a youth network and try to develop your own players.
To expand on above, this also means putting much more resources and stock into coaching than a ‘quick fix’ transfer. You will see below that there are some specific roles and areas that even Bury’s still-bloated roster doesn’t have adequate cover for. The option to retrain an existing player into a particular niche if they have the attributes for it, which might be the only option when finances are very tight and a youngster isn’t quite ready to make the step up.
The first thing most virtual managers will notice about the U18s is that whilst they’re not the most numerous, there is no shortage of exciting prospects amongst the group, hence the name of this chapter. Certain ones will be fast-tracked to the first team, both to test their mettle, and to satisfy the criterion directly above this one. The Shakers have gained a reputation as a vendor of teenage talent in the past five years, and it will need to continue in order to balance the books.
11. The best way to improve a team is by identifying and replacing the weakest links, rather than by splashing out on making the best links even better.
The old adage about a chain only being as strong as its weakest link is certainly true in football; savvy opposing managers will instruct their charges to ruthlessly exploit weakness and uncertainty. With the ‘correct’ age demographics already mostly in place at the club, the existing group should improve on an individual and collective basis anyway. It’s then a case of gradually uplifting the slightly worse links.
All of the above are existing maxims in Moneyball (and the latter two are from Soccernomics), plus these pair that are specific to the die-hard fans at Gigg Lane:
12. Bury fans value work rate in a player above all other attributes.
This is easier to ‘eyeball’ in specific areas of the pitch for the average punter; that said, a balance must also be struck over what work rate constitutes – covering the greatest amount of distance on the field without making much impact on proceedings can only be tolerated so many times. Nevertheless, it does mean I’ll be unlikely to sign anyone with a prominently low stat in certain positions.
13. Bury fans value seeing players come through the youth academy system over other 16-20 year old signings, especially those who are on loan.
A great fit for Buryball 2.0; all three loanees are 20 and under in 2018/2019, but it’s unlikely that I’ll be looking to bring in as many as that in future seasons, and will probably instead look to extend all three deals until the end of the campaign. The loan market will only be dipped into after careful consideration of the 10th point on this list.
Chairman Stewart Day greeted me immediately upon the announcement of my appointment, before slapping me with the news that you only have a surplus wage budget of about £2,000 to play with over the course of the upcoming term. I made the decision to disable the first transfer window, as I’ve never liked it being enabled on the game, even if the side I’ve taken control of is desperately crying out for new faces. I used it to add a couple of scouts, as I can’t have Dykes as the sole person tasked with identifying prospective signings. I also beefed up the medical staff, as that’s another area sorely lacking off-field.
The (minimum) expectation is automatically set to automatic promotion! I had a feeling after doing the research for the club that it would be to reach the play-offs, which would’ve been an eminently more achievable task. A decent crack at the top three will rely heavily upon some of the younger guys hitting the ground running, and avoiding injuries to key stars in a squad full of highly prone players.
I surrendered training to assistant manager Rob Kelly, with frequent updates set up to ensure he devises plans suitable for each person, and to maximise the time I have to devise tactics and manage egos away from Carrington.
An early look at the League Two odds suggest the bookies see it as a four-way fight for the three automatic spots on offer, with MK Dons slightly shorter than the chasing pack. Chuks Aneke is also the favourite to be the top goalscorer, with Nicky Maynard his closest challenger. Current real-life leader James Norwood for Tranmere Rovers doesn’t make the list.
I delegated friendlies to Kelly, and whilst the only desire I have for warm-up games is to avoid serious injury to any of the likely XI for Yeovil Town, a 2-0 loss to TNS (The New Saints) wasn’t exactly an ideal way to kick things off. Fortunately, that was the only reverse suffered over the five matches, besting traditional opponents Radcliffe 3-1, as well as another local side in the shape Ramsbottom United 5-0, with Danny Mayor grabbing a hat-trick. Most impressive though was beating two full-strength third tier outfits AFC Wimbledon and Peterborough United, 3-1 and 2-1 respectively.
Sadly, the squad didn’t come out of the programme unscathed. Stephen Dawson, so out of favour in reality, is actually the crux of ensuring my strategy doesn’t commit too many bodies forward when in transition from the second to the final third. Joe Murphy also suffered a knock, but should be fully fit in time for Darren Way’s charges to come to town. Below is an insight into my preferred formation and tactic for most games:
The premise is that all four defenders don’t stray too far from their own 18-yard line. Joe Murphy will throw it long to release the midfielders, but in situations where the defenders need to win possession back, Eoghan O’Connell will occasionally step out to win aerial battles and in turn, spray balls to Dawson to give to the more creative players in midfield, especially Callum Styles. Chris Stokes and Tom Miller will ‘stay at home’ to maintain the defensive shape, forcing the runners coming at them to go out wide and risk getting their cross blocked at the first attempt, or to try to run in behind when the space is already closed down.
The positive mentality adopted will mean that I look to take the game to the opposition, reflecting the balance of strengths and weaknesses in the group – in other words, the bias towards attacking. Neil Danns will shuttle the ball between the boxes, Callum Styles will (hopefully) conjure up chances for the front three, and Danny Mayor will be relieved of any defensive responsibilities, allowing him to focus on doing what he does best 100% of the time. Nicky Adams will get stuck in a bit more, being present in more phases of play than his teammate, and the crosses will come in quick and low for Maynard, given that his heading isn’t his forté.
With Dawson’s enforced absence, there is a chance for Jamie Barjonas or Jay O’Shea to come in to cover for him, but neither of them are going to offer the same steel in the centre of the park. Danns could do it in the short-term, but it isn’t the best utilisation of his skillset. Already, there’s a problem… but can I keep the Glovers at arm’s length and start the season with three points? Find out in the next chapter!