Tag: buryball

Buryball, Chapter 3: Own Goal Bonanza!

“Buryball? Eh?” Confused? Read Chapter 0 for a short precis.

Chapter 1
Chapter 2

Straight after the Farsley Celtic draw, star man Denilson Carvalho picked up a foot injury, keeping him out of most of September’s fixtures, the first of which was a tasty looking one against…

(1885 Bury score first):

York City (h) – 1-0

The Minstermen were up in third prior to the encounter; Bury and York games had once been testy affairs, especially between the two sets of supporters. Having the new entity in the same division could rekindle the ‘rivalry’ once more, and the reformed Shakers struck first. Harry Bircumshaw had been impressing for the U23s in scratch games, so I decided to give him the nod for the vacant berth behind Morris. He made the decision look extremely wise with quarter of an hour gone, rifling in a cut-back by the overlapping Ify Ofoegbu. Visiting wing-back David Ferguson almost restored parity just a few minutes later – his audacious lob from an acute angle bounced off the crossbar. These passages constituted the only meaningful highlights of the game, taking 1885 Bury to within two points of York and into the expanded play-off positions.

Alfreton Town (a) – 0-1

7th vs 6th at North Street in Derbyshire saw David Lynch (no, not that one) let loose from 30 yards for the Reds before an unmarked Josh Clackstone got the opener just before the stroke of half-time. Amari Morgan-Smith thought he’d doubled the hosts’ lead, only for the linesman to flag for offside. Clackstone and 1885 Bury sub Joe Thompson both spurned golden opportunities to change the complexion of the game deep in the second half.

==========

What was becoming crystal clear at this juncture was the lack of goals – at both ends; just seven for and six against in the first nine games wasn’t terrible on the face of it, but it did feel as though I was being left in the dust by possible competitors for promotion. I switched up the shape to a 4-2-4, relying on the midfielders to sit deep and spray the ball wide to the flanks.

The draw for the second qualifying round for the FA Cup was made in between the Alfrteon and Guiseley fixtures, pitting my young pups against Cambridgeshire-based Histon, currently plying their trade in the Isthmian League North Division (tier eight). The minimum expectation of the board is to reach the first round proper…

==========

Guiseley (h) – 0-0

The strategic and tactical adjustments were in full evidence early on at Pilsworth Park. The Oure and Morris combination were getting plenty of shots off but with nothing to show for it. The pattern repeated itself until the final whistle; the shoot on sight policy was beefing up the stat, but not where it mattered.

18shots2on.png
18 shots, 2 on target… eesh.

Boston United (a) – 0-0

Fringe full-backs Ross Woodcock and James Yates both saw fit to come to my door prior to the trip down to Lincolnshire to demand more playing time – luckily for me, they don’t operate on the same flank. Unusually, centre-back Alex Honeyball is the best direct free-kick taker in the XI, and tried his damnedest to channel Siniša Mihajlović with a curling effort that whistled just over the bar. Boston didn’t have a single shot in the first half, but went unpunished for their paucity. Morris then hit the inside the post after a clever through ball was played into his path by the brilliantly named vice-captain Scholes-Beard. This seemed to wake the hosts up, and Jordan Thewlis made a hash of two opportunities in quick succession. Morris again hit the upright when connecting with an Oure inswinger. Surely it’s only a matter of time for his luck to change?

elections.png
Fresh on the back of Anthony Johnson studying for a higher badge, the chairmanship is up for election…

Histon (a) <FA Cup Qualifying 2nd Round> – 7-3

The onus was very much on me to inspire a dominant, goal-filled performance from the profiligate troupe; Morris appeared to have ended his drought in the 12th minute from a simple square pass by Bircumshaw, only for it to be credited as an own goal. Dylon Meredith then had the great idea of booting a clearance against goalkeeper Callum O’Neill – two goals and neither in the right end! Morris did confirm his name on the scoresheet, making the most of a mistimed header at the second attempt. Honeyball headed in his first for the club from another Oure assist, and the latter provided Morris with the second of his opening period hat-trick. Scholes-Beard got the sixth from the spot before Cameron Taylor felt sympathetic towards the outclassed hosts, heading into his unguarded net for a third own goal of the match! Sub striker Challis Johnson got off the mark for 1885 Bury with a towering header, and Zac Werndly grabbed a consolation. 10 goals all in all, almost the same amount as combining the for and against columns in the league deep in October…

histon7-3.png
No, not making it up…

The draw for the third qualifying round was (reasonably) kind, pitting 1885 Bury against 21st-placed Leamington in the same division at home.

King’s Lynn Town (h) – 2-1

The only noteworthy incident in the first 45 was Meredith going off injured. Morris carried on his new-found form and confidence, however, taking the ball round the ‘keeper to slot in the opener after brilliantly controlling a pass from Scholes-Beard. Jordan Richards grabbed the equaliser from an incisive breakaway before the hour mark, and Aaron Jones gifted 1885 Bury the win in injury time with an underhit backpass to Brad Watkins – Morris grabbed his fifth in two outings. The win was costly, however; Meredith’s injury was confirmed as a twisted ankle, ruling him out completely of Chapter 4 on Friday…

septembertable1920
Glass full: just outside the play-offs and a superb defensive record; empty: scored precisely the same as the two relegation candidates…

 

Advertisements

Buryball, Chapter 2: Morris is a Dancer

“Buryball? Eh?” Confused? Read Chapter 0 for a short precis.

Chapter 1 is here.

After three hours’ ceaseless searching, the quest for a Director of Football ended in the form of Mark Wright. Yes, the former Liverpool centre back from my childhood in the 90s who seemed to have perfected the art of putting through his own net. Thankfully, he’s not terrible in his new position, so he should be of some use. His appointment has not shifted the bookies’ pre-season odds – 1885 Bury are predicted to come 22nd… out of 22. Whilst having to knit together 29 extremely youthful individuals into something resembling a squad probably has something to do with it, 175-1 does seem a bit long.

I also agreed to pay out high collective bonuses to the team in order to further incentivise progress in both league and cup competition. Doing so doesn’t contravene any of the five tenets of Buryball, especially as the differences are so small.

It then came time to choose my captain and vice for the campaign. I’m sure you’ll agree that the names of the players augur well…

winnerscholesbeard.png

Games in the National League come thick and fast; August alone contains seven, starting off with…

(1885 Bury score first):

Brackley Town (a) – 1-0

An encouraging start down in Northamptonshire. Local lad Denilson Carvalho capped off a fine performance on his debut by grabbing the decisive goal, making the most of some slack marking to rifle home from a Simeon Oure corner. 61% possession on the road is a great platform to build on as well, and it’s likely to be a style that will frustrate the opposition on good days, and the Shakers faithful on bad ones.

Blyth Spartans (h) – 0-0

Ah, Blyth Spartans – a name that still makes fans of a certain age shudder. The visitors’ tactic was the archetypal one for the sixth tier – put 10 men behind the ball and lump it long to the target man. It worked a treat, nullifying the Shakers’ attacking threats. Not a single clear-cut chance was created by either side, but Blyth could’ve won it at the death – a free header at the far post hit the side netting…

Gateshead (a) – 1-0

Another side that know all about financial problems, and also boasting a sprightly central defensive partnership of Mike Williamson and one-time Bury player Michael Nelson at a combined age of 74. James Morris latched onto the latter’s dawdling to strike in the sixth minute somewhat against the general run of play in the first half. The keep-ball in the second period was beginning to sway things back in my favour, although a slew of opportunities came and went to increase the lead.

Curzon Ashton (h) – 2-0

Possibly the closest thing to a derby in the National League North, local hospitality was not offered on the pitch. Morris was the beneficiary of another Oure corner, latching on to a loose ball to nod home in the fifth minute – clearly, the extra training sessions dedicated to attacking set pieces were having their desired effect. Nicky Wroe (a former Bury loanee in 2006/2007) made Curzon’s task all the more difficult with a red card for a two-footed lunge. Oure and Morris combined once more for the former to volley in a second after a headed one-two. Four clean sheets in a row!

Spennymoor Town (a) – 1-3

Very little in the way of noteworthy action at either end in the opening 45. The encounter exploded into life when Oure was brought down by Stephen Brogan inside the area 10 minutes after the restart, and Morris made the most of the resultant spot-kick, tucking in his third of the nascent campaign. Spennymoor had several half-chances to level things up before right-back Ify Ofoegbu hit the woodwork. Lewis Landers was finally beaten in the 85th minute, courtesy of a wonder strike from 20 yards by Max Anderson. Brogan made amends for giving away the penalty by giving the hosts the lead in injury time, which was further cemented with the last kick of the game by Andrew Johnson.

Kidderminster Harriers (h) – 0-1

Fellow play-off hopefuls Kidderminster won a penalty after a needless push by Ross Woodcock from a free-kick, which Noah Chilvers duly dispatched. The youngster could’ve put the game beyond doubt in the second period but fluffed his lines. Nevertheless, it was a powder-puff performance that left with some concerns.

Farsley Celtic (a) – 1-1

Tom Heardman never kicked a meaningful ball in anger for Bury during his loan spell from Newcastle United in 2017/2018, returning to his parent club even before August was out. On this game however, he proved to be a thorn, just about staying onside to arc a shot into the far corner for Farsley. Skipper Winner Luabu sent a rocket against the bar as the Shakers piled forward in search of an equaliser. In the 86th minute, it arrived; Alfie Raw stole possession deep in the West Yorkshire outfit’s half, squaring it for Joe Thompson to stroke home. Dylon Meredith immediately killed any prospect of finding a winner with a horror tackle, receiving his marching orders as the game petered out.

augusttable1920.png
9th place and a steady start…

Can the new Shakers build on their upper mid-table position in September? Find out on Thursday…

This way to Part 3…

Buryball, Chapter 1: Anthony & the Johnson (Redux)

“Buryball? Eh?” Confused? Read Chapter 0 for a short precis.

This is a reworked version of Chapter 1 – there were a number of issues with the save – changing/lowering the club’s reputation made it almost impossible from the outset; adding people as liked/disliked made them out to be alumni of 1885 Bury; I hadn’t loaded the ‘real name fix’ for some of the clubs – if I ever made it to the top table, Juventus would be Zebra, for example; the full release has fixed some minor bugs, too.

The people spoke. 1885 Bury would start in the National League North. A good thing, too, considering I got the official full release date of Football Manager 2020 wrong – it’s actually next Tuesday, not the traditional Friday that most video games come out on.

Still, a promise is a promise, and the game being in beta shouldn’t affect how the story unfolds too much. In case you’re unfamiliar with how Create-A-Club works on the Football Manager series, it lets you import your own logos (and kit if you’re particularly savvy) onto an existing club that you can then change pretty much every facet of, from little things like their likely minimum and maximum attendances for the league they’re competing in to the name and personnel.

For the purposes of Buryball, I wanted as clean a slate as possible, and crucially, to ‘replace’ a fan-owned club. The obvious candidates were Chester – the club culture is blank, which is a new and key feature of the game in this edition, and is amalgamated with the philosophies of previous years to give a more nuanced, easilly quantifiable assessment of how you’re performing in your role.

chester
Sorry, Seals! (To view any image in full size, open in a new tab and remove WordPress’ dimensions at the end of the URL).

The next step was to change the identity:

kits
The home and away shirts are modelled on the Legends Game that took place last month; the third kit is a close approximation of the first one ever worn by a club called ‘Bury FC’

For me, this had to go a bit deeper than simply the colours and stadium name (one of the locations that always used to be mooted if Bury did move grounds was in Pilsworth, an industrial estate in the east of the borough with motorway links).

When I finally got to the game proper, the club vision was laid out to me, and the task at hand was stark:

Vision 1920.png
Yeah, best of luck with that.

From next to nothing (no players, a skeleton crew comprising a backroom staff – I kept Shakers fan and ‘assistant manager’ Anthony Johnson on), I had seven weeks or so to assemble a squad capable of making the play-offs at a minimum in a notoriously tricky division. What’s worse, it seemed as though for a few of those weeks that I wouldn’t even be able to hire a Director of Football (granted, not many sixth tier clubs have one, but I always prefer having one on FM) – literally none were interested, so I had to place an advert in the vain hope of securing even an insipid one.

As for making signings, I decided to devise a tactic first – a contemporary 4-2-3-1 that favours using the flanks and retaining possession; it is sure to be tweaked and added to over the course of the campaign, and in time, I should have a solid ‘Plan B’. As there’s no academy in place (yet), I opted only to sign those under the age of 21, with hopefully a few of them developing well enough to be sold on for a profit that can then be invested primarily in the infrastructure if/when my standing is good enough with the board.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Brackley Town await in the first ever competitive fixture for 1885 Bury., and it also represents many of the roster’s senior bows. Check back later tonight to see how it went, as well as the rest of August 2019 in-game…

Read Part 2 here!

Buryball, Chapter 0: Buryball is Back on Football Manager 2020!

It’s that time once more. With this year’s edition of Football Manager released officially in two days from now, I have listened to all my fans* who begged and pleaded with me to bring back my unique take on the ‘Moneyball’ philosophy, and how it can be used and refined with Bury.

Of course, this season is different. It will have escaped no-one’s attention whatsoever that the Shakers in real life were expelled from the EFL back in August, which from an FM perspective put my continued voluntary position as researcher for the club in serious jeopardy. Like everyone else, I have no idea what the short-term future holds for the ‘old’ (limited) company, although my bet would still be on (a very drawn out) liquidation.

I am but one of over 200 people involved in some small way with setting up a phoenix club, but as the likelihood of any FA application would place the new entity in either the eighth tier (Northern Premier League Division One North West) or ninth (North West Counties Premier Division), they would only be included in Football Manager 2021 on the database, and not a playable club in the base game.

That said, there are always downloadable add-ons on the Steam client; one of the most popular of these is the enfranchisement of all the clubs from the 10th tier up – that is the lowest step where all divisions run in parallel. In total, it brings another 893 English teams into the playable fold, and there is more research than ever that goes into ensuring the data that far down is accurate.

How does any of that affect Buryball, you ask? Well, the ‘old’ club are still on the game, sans any coaching staff (except Paul Wilkinson), official badge or kits. I’m unsure what the mechanism is for a side being promoted to the National League North/South on the base game. From an anecdotal perspective, I have play-tested Leicester City in the beta, and in the third season, Bury are still not back in the league system.

It is possible to use an in-game editor to manipulate events so that they’re returned to the ‘fold’, but I think that goes against the spirit of things somewhat. My preferred option is to use the ‘Create-A-Club’ mode, which lets you edit an existing club from the start, change the colours, badge, stadium, and so on. The biggest dilemma is whether to do this in the National League North or one of the lower tiers mentioned aboveI’ll be putting a poll out on Twitter after publishing this blog to let you decide.

So… what exactly is Buryball, anyway? In previous editions, it was my twist on the mantra of finding hidden gems, developing young players, and selling them on if a bid came in above their in-game value. Obviously, if I start out in the ninth tier, that will be harder to do at first – it might be that the vast majority of the personnel are on amateur contracts, not drawing a salary at all. It could make for a challenging start.

The aim of the save isn’t simply to get back to the EFL. It’s to do it in a sustainable way. Therefore, these are the rules I must follow during my stint in charge:

  • Net wage spend is more important than transfer spend, but…
  • The club cannot make a net loss in the transfer market outside of the first season in the Premier League (should I get that far).
  • Primarily, invest in infrastructure over new players.
  • 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.
  • Most fans value seeing players come through the youth academy system over other 16-20 year old signings, especially those who are on loan.

On reflection, I had too many rules when I’ve attempted this before – stripping them down to five makes them both more memorable and pertinent to the game.

As I detailed on Monday, I’m looking to be writing/publishing something on here or elsewhere every weekday. For that to work with Buryball, each chapter will probably encapsulate a month or so of in-game time. I hope you’ll find this redux enjoyable, and if you have any questions, suggestions, or feedback, do feel free to let me know!

Direct link to Part 1 here!

Buryball 2.0: 2-3 or Not 2-3

For Part 1 (including an explanation of Buryball), click here. For Part 2, click here.

When you’re desperate for any kind of result in League Two, a trip to Sincil Bank to face Lincoln City would be way down the list of preferred destinations. Danny Mayor was thankfully fit enough to be named in the first XI, with Stephen Dawson having to settle for a place on the bench on the advice of my coaching staff.

Once more, things started brightly. Nicky Maynard finally grabbed his first goal for the Shakers, burying a header in the fourth minute, connecting with a pinpoint, deep cross on the right flank by Nicky Adams.

Maynard 1st Goal 1819
(If you have any trouble reading the text in the screenshots, open them in a new window and remove any text after ‘.png’ in the address bar – they will then appear at full size/resolution)

Sadly, the advantage lasted barely 120 seconds. Bruno Andrade, one of the exceptional talents in the division, was already tormenting Tom Miller, beating him for pace and centring the ball low for Kellan Gordon to stroke into the net.

The Imps were well on top for the remainder of the first half, and took the lead on 35 minutes. Andrade was the architect once more, and with the air raid siren blaring (in my mind at least), he could easily find the ominous, ever-present aerial threat of Jason Shackell, who makes winning the ball anywhere above head height look ridiculously simple. 2-1 to the hosts.

Bury were being dominated in possession and on clear-cut opportunities. My only option was to bring on Dawson in place of Jamie Barjonas, and hope that he was up to the physical demands placed upon him, both by the opposition and having only really just resumed full training. Similarly, Nicky Adams was being pushed back by Andrade, so I exchanged him for his namesake Joe, opting to keep him up there to provide another out-ball.

It was the other flank that saw an immediate benefit. Danny Mayor collected a hopeful punt by Adam Thompson (on the volley!), and in his classic style, ran at the home side’s backline, before checking onto his right foot and arrowing the ball into the far corner. Game on.

Yet again, it wouldn’t last. John Akinde had been relatively quiet up to this point, but he pounced on a half-cleared corner by Miller, squaring it for Lee Frecklington who, under pressure, laid it back off to Andrade. Joe Murphy was unsighted, and the game was lost, but not before one further chance for the visitors. Mayor made a darting run to be in the right place for an Eoghan O’Connell long diagonal pass, and watched in despair as his shot was saved by the strong, outstretched hand of Sam Slocombe. Four games, four defeats…

Chris Sang, ninth choice out of eight in the striking department, opted to join Ashton United on loan until the end of the season, and only a miracle will see his contract renewed when it expires upon his return.

So, to Crawley in the pouring rain four days later. Two chances went begging in the early exchanges for the beleaguered Lancashire outfit. Callum Styles, not known for his scoring prowess at senior level, drilled just wide whilst atop the on penalty spot. Minutes later, Thompson had a header cleared off the line, conspiring to do the same in his own area to ensure parity was kept… for moments more. The subsequent corner was tossed in by Luke Gambin, and Murphy raced through a crowd of players… only to miss it completely. Ollie Palmer lit a cigar and had a read of the local paper before remembering that he still had to ensure the ball crossed the line to make it 1-0 to the Red Devils.

Shot accuracy was a concern in the first period, not chance creation. 10 efforts came and went, but only one was on goal. Styles rattled the crossbar from a Mayor pullback, but that was the most trouble Glenn Morris had to deal with after the early let-off.

A slither prior to the hour mark, Maynard levelled the score. Styles released Mayor to his left, and with a low cross on his weaker foot, found the journeyman forward at the near post, glancing the ball in from all of two yards. Dawson again made a cameo from the bench at that juncture, and he was joined by Callum Hulme and Caolan Lavery in a switch of shape and emphasis to a more positive 4-4-2.

1-1 Maynard 59 mins, Styles releases Mayor, low cross on weak foot byline glanced in at near post; Dawson, Hulme and Lavery on 4-4-2. The Sheffield United loanee showed some good understanding with Maynard, with the former spotting Nicky Adams’ run off the ball in the half-space, and with his penetration left unchecked, the ball was eased into his path and finished with aplomb into the far corner.

All I wanted at that point was some calm from the team, taking no needless chances in defence especially. No such luck. O’Connell, with time and space, was robbed out wide by Dom Poleon. The Irish centre back was given a temporary reprieve by the versatile forward’s poor shot when one-on-one, but he did force a corner…

George Francomb took it from the left, and in a move clearly practiced on the training ground, Bondz N’Gala, with his back to goal, cushioned a header for Josh Payne to slam into the net. Matters got worse when Jimmy Smith was allowed freedom of right flank and the county of Essex, crossing in for Ashley Nathaniel-George to pile on the misery. 19 shots on the road, two more goals… and yet another 3-2 loss. Argh.

2-3 2-3 0-1 2-3 2-3 1819
Stop laughing at the back!

The perfect tonic for the malaise in the league is often a cup competition, evoking all the clichés about form going out of the window. Marco Silva’s Everton sat 10th in the Premier League with a symmetrical record from their opening three fixtures, and, likely because they’re in that first clutch of teams outside the ‘Big Six’, were taking their encounter with Bury very seriously indeed. They fancied their chances too, lining up in a decidedly attacking 4-2-4 and with an intimidating lineup, sporting Bernard and Theo Walcott on the wings. Yikes.

Tom Davies was tasked with pulling the strings in the two-man midfield. Not known for his aerial prowess, he nevertheless latched onto a Walcott set piece, producing a smart save from Murphy. The Irish goalkeeper quickly threw the ball long, and it eventually found Mayor 25 yards out, who hit it first time, crashing against the bar. Further opportunities weren’t at as much of a premium as I’d have anticipated prior to the match, probably as a result of the Toffees’ cavalier approach. In a carbon copy move from the last game, Maynard profited once more from an accurate centre by Nicky Adams, giving the basement club a shock lead… lasting less than a minute.

1-0 vs Everton 1819
The elation was the very epitome of ephemeral

If you can imagine this scenario, Walcott’s pace and trickery were too much for Chris Stokes, and the intelligent positioning of Cenk Tosun allowed him to find himself goalside but not offside, muscling in front of Thompson to equalise.

Tosun turned provider for strike partner Dominic Calvert-Lewin, drawing Miller out of his conservative proclivities, and in doing so, Thompson had to at least attempt to cover, but was stuck in no man’s lad, unable to prevent the cross, unable to prevent the finish. 2-1 to Everton.

In terms of clear-cut chances however, the two teams were equal. Barjonas released Maynard over the top, breaking their offside trap. England’s #1 Jordan Pickford dived superbly to keep out his effort, and in a similar move minutes later,  could only hit the side netting. The whistle for half-time below, and despite now being behind, I was encouraged by the overall display, having outshot a top-tier side on their own turf. Unsurprisingly though, both full backs had been given the runaround and were heavily fatigued, prompting a triple substitution to freshen things up.

For a fourth time in the game, Maynard had got the better of their star-studded backline, taking a superb long pass from Saul Shotton into his stride, kissing the post with his attempt. Then, Thompson showed his credentials at the other end, blocking Calvert-Lewin’s goalbound effort with an outstandingly timed block. That was as good as it was going to get, sadly, as the hosts’ vastly superior quality was beginning to tell.

Bernard made it 3-1, prodding home a rebound after his initial effort had been saved. The fourth had a touch of fortune, as the much-maligned Phil Edwards, on as a sub, actually stopped Cenk Tosun in his tracks… but the ball bobbled inadvertently to an unmarked Walcott, lashing home to put the tie to bed.

The rout was complete when Dawson cheaply surrendered possession in the middle of the park, leading to yet another breakway. Oumar Niasse’s close control broke the line, and fellow sub Gylfi Sigurðsson made the most of the gift.

5-1 Everton 1819
The scoreline doesn’t tell the whole story, but in the end, it doesn’t even matter

Three international call-ups in the fourth tier can let you request a postponement, and I decided to do just that. I couldn’t countenance being our players light with potentially no points on the board at home to Grimsby Town. Most notable of that group was Styles being drafted into the England U20s setup.

Grimsby Postponement 1819Lucketti Temerity

On the eve of a vital clash with Morecambe, ex-boss Chris Lucketti had the temerity to question the current management and form. Given that he chalked up one point in nine league matches, he should’ve kept his thoughts to himself, and it only hardened my resolve to go ‘two better’ than him immediately.

For this one, I reverted back to a 4-3-3; Stokes needed rest after suffering a knock midweek, leaving me a choice between not playing to Callum McFadzean’s strengths… or handing out another debut to a more naturally suitable candidate. I went with the latter despite the inherent risk, and Jack Hatton became the latest to emerge from the academy’s production line.

The Shrimps went on the attack from the off and were sucked in. The Shakers didn’t have any blisteringly speedy players in their side, but were still fleet of foot enough on the counter to open the scoring, Mayor using his instep to roll the ball in from a Nicky Adams’ pass. The ‘League Two Eden Hazard’ doubled his tally and his side’s lead, turning on the style with his classic dribble, cut inside and finish.

Two became three in no time at all. It was all-too apparent that Jim Bentley’s charges were terrified of Mayor’s forays forward, and this time he was the instigator, switching the ball to Nicky Adams on the right, and he kept up the pace, whipping in a wicked cross for Maynard to ease in.

Even three up, I wasn’t confident of gaining victory. If there’s one sure way to score against Bury, it’s from a corner. Andrew Tutte’s delivery came back to haunt his previous employers, Joe Piggott taking full advantage of Josef Yarney’s clever flick into his path. Barjonas had a shot that kissed the post before the break, and I made the conscious decision to keep attacking in the second period, having more belief in the likelihood that the Shakers could add to their tally over preventing their county rivals not staging a comeback.

Dawson is not renowned for his potency in front of goal, but he showed good intelligence to react to a chested pass inside the six yard box from Adams after another well-executed free-kick routine, notching his first of the season in the process. Maynard followed Barjonas in striking the woodwork, his angled shot coming after some good work by the Glasgow Rangers loanee to keep the chance alive.

With little left to lose, Bentley was encouraging almost everyone in a red and black shirt to press forward. Upon seeing this change of emphasis, I drafted in Cameron Hill for his bow on the league stage, placing him as an anchor man to rove between the defensive lines and snuff out the danger. This just made Morecambe look wider when transitioning, and they cut the deficit to two from another corner. On this occasion, Yarney was the scorer, nodding home from Carlos Mendes Gomes’ set piece.

They then conspired to reduce the lead to a single goal, Piggott hitting his shot across the ‘keeper. Fortunately, that was as far as they went, and the game finished as an eight-goal thriller when Maynard was fouled in the area by Yarney, tucking away the penalty himself. At last, a win in the league and off the foot of the EFL in the process. Still, conceding 16 goals in only six matches needs addressing by hook or by crook.

5-3 L2 Table 1819
Nosebleed time!

This resulted in three players being named in Team of the Week, including Murphy, batting away a slew of chances for the Seasiders at critical junctures.

TOTW 1 1819

A 1-0 loss to Carlisle in EFL Trophy inspired few talking points. In truth, it was a poor performance by both sides, hampered from my perspective by a lot of fatigue in the U18s I chose to put out there.

Hopefully, the win and week off from first team action will allow some time to devise and implement some better strategies when defending corners, and restore to full fitness the vast majority of the squad. Be sure to look out for Part 4, which rounds off September’s games!

Buryball 2.0: The Youth Movement

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.

lee dykes.jpg
Dykes’ role, and that of any Director of Sport/Football in the modern game, is becoming increasingly visible and important further down the pyramid, although it’s still not as commonplace in England as it is on continental Europe

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.

Buryball 2.0

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.

 

leagueodds1819
(If you have any trouble reading the text in the screenshots, open them in a new window and remove any text after ‘.png’ in the address bar – they will then appear at full size/resolution)

topscorerodds1819

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:

tactics1819

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!

 

Buryball is Back!

Yes, that’s right. I will be picking up where I inadvertently left off last year, keeping all the same rules and tenets of what made it such a fun challenge to play.

This time around, the pace will be somewhat slower for two reasons. Firstly, I think my decision to rattle through the season in one post inevitably meant a lot of details were omitted, and some of the quirks and nuances that affect any virtual manager were overlooked completely. Secondly, I just simply don’t have as much free time to dedicate to it as I once did, which is also a chief reason for the lack of new articles on this blog as of late (although that will improve from this week onwards).

Once more, I am the assistant researcher for Bury for Football Manager 2019, so I should in theory have as good a handle as anyone on how to get the most out of the squad. Upon the game’s official release tomorrow, I’ll share a tactic on Twitter with anyone who wants to take control of the Shakers. This isn’t strictly related to Buryball, but it was a request from a fellow fan, and the aim was simple – emulate the reality as much as possible. I can’t promise it will actually work that well in-game, but it could serve as a good starting platform for series newbies and veterans alike.

I also want the interactivity to return in my new FM series, and the gentler speed should enable that to be more commonplace. Your feedback will be crucial in helping to shape the course of my story, so I’ll be frequently canvassing opinion both on here and on social media.

Look out for Part 1 in the coming days, as well as the custom tactic, which I’m christening as ‘Loweball’!

Buryball: Kevin Keegan 2.0

If you need a reminder of the Buryball ‘rules’, look here. I’d also recommend reading up on Chapter 1 first…

The excellent second-placed finish in League One did not unfortunately mean a vastly increased budget to work with to even countenance survival. The maiden season had proven that attack was the best form of defence and with no wiggle room in the transfer market whatsoever, I had to rely on some canny loans to augment the largely inexperienced roster. In came the likes of Scott McTominay and Regan Poole from Manchester United. Most of the surplus wage available in the kitty went on securing Steven Caulker on a free after his release from Queens Park Rangers in an effort to shore up the backline against the inevitable onslaught most sides in the Championship would wreak against essentially the same group that slightly overachieved in 2017/2018.

An eight-goal thriller on the opening day at home to Barnsley certainly set the tone for the rest of the campaign; the attacking trio of Harry Bunn, Jay O’Shea and Chris Maguire adjusting to life in the second tier with ease. An early exit in the League Cup probably enhanced hopes of remaining free from concerns of relegation in the early months. Indeed, the autumn period yielded several good results. Tsun Dai filling in for Maguire competently during the latter’s time on the treatment table.

20171121221855_1
“ENGLAND PREVAILS!”

Brexit is a big part of playing in the UK on Football Manager with wildly varying outcomes and the ramifications stretch deep into saves. This instance was no different and the ‘headline’ was a strict limit of 17 non-UK players in the first team squad, which sounds generous on the surface but would drastically alter both my plans and the elite clubs in the Premier League.

Keeping the Shakers well above the predicted position of 23rd was beginning to draw envious glances from larger Lancashire neighbours – both Bolton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers became managerless in quick succession and they approached me directly to take over the reins. Naturally, I declined. December was a tricky, winless month – a 5-3 reverse at Aston Villa was followed by a clutch of consecutive draws.

The vultures were swirling in January upon the reopening of the transfer window, particularly after defeat to Wolves in the third round of the FA Cup predictably ended any flickering interest in that competition. I successfully persuaded Stewart Day to not over my head for a second successive time, retaining the services of Greg Leigh but selling Martin Meaney for £1m, a princely sum for a 16 year-old who hadn’t yet tasted first team action. Form in the league turned a corner to such an extent that the EFL saw fit to award me with Manager of the Month.

A ludicrous third 4-4 draw against Millwall in February was the catalyst to a run-in that only saw three defeats from then on. Somehow, the swashbuckling attacking style had just about triumphed over a paper-thin defence…

Bury were in with a shout of an unthinkable second successive promotion… to the Premier League. All those high-scoring draws had been worth it as it meant only 10 losses were accrued and a two-legged affair against favourites Sunderland beckoned.

A precious 1-0 win at Gigg Lane thanks to the sterling efforts of Eoghan O’Connell meant only a draw at the ‘cauldron’ of the Stadium of Light was required for a trip to Wembley. Things looked decidedly bleak when the Black Cats raced into a two-goal lead after just 12 minutes but the underdogs roared back into the tie and, despite being outshout by a ratio of two-to-one, levelled the second leg through O’Connell (again) and Danny Mayor.

20171124123845_1
Eoghan O’Connell was the toast of Tottington…

Brighton & Hove Albion were looking for an immediate return to the top table of English football but in balmy sunshine, they couldn’t make anything of their dominance in the final third…

Amongst all the jubilation of reaching the promised land well ahead of schedule, the chairman handed me the initial budget for an assault on the Premier League. Even within the confines of Buryball, the sums were paltry and a lot of creativity was going to be required to avoid the kind of ignominy Derby County and their supporters suffered a decade prior.

To comply with regulations, a touch over 1,000 seats needed to be added to Gigg Lane. However, I set the club’s sights higher. With my begging bowl, I pleaded with the chairman to move to a new site to help maximise income off-the-field. He only accepted on the proviso that I increased the reputation in the years to come. To do that, I’d need to make the stay at the zenith more than just a blink of an eye… and Kevin Keegan-esque tactics couldn’t work for a second season, right? Right?

Buryball: Bury, Bury Good?

The title of Chapter 1 is based on an extract from a poem called ‘Northern Soul’ by Ron Silliman and it’s displayed in glorious red neon once you alight at the Metrolink station in town. Was it a portent of things to come for your dear author and virtual manager of the third tier outfit?

If you need a reminder of the Buryball ‘rules’, look here.

When you consider that I’m the researcher for the Shakers on this year’s version of Football Manager, that should mean I have the inside track on all the players’ strengths and weaknesses and consequently, an easier time of it, right? Well…

There’s a real divide in how Bury start life on FM18. On the one hand, you are blessed with one of the best squads in League One with some promising youngsters coming through the U18s and the minimum (non-negotiable) expectation set by the board accurately reflects this – nothing less than participation in the play-offs will do. On the other, the club are in massive debt, which needs servicing and has a tendency to eat away at any gate receipts and transfer fees received. Additionally, the backroom staff are of a poor calibre even by the division’s standards, so, with the summer transfer window disabled, my first act was to negotiate severance deals with the vast majority of them and with the replacements, instill a more collegiate approach to the running of the first team, as is one of the guiding principles of the ‘Moneyball’ mantra.

Using the real fixtures allowed me to pit my wits against Lee Clark’s spectacularly poor start… but even he managed to win on opening day against Walsall whereas I conspired to draw 2-2. I did however manage to prevent a hiding by Wigan Athletic in the second league game after the customary first round exit at the hands of Fleetwood Town in the EFL Cup. Just as I thought things started to improve in the league (even scoring against Rochdale!), my side hit the buffers in early September. Uwe Rösler and the Cod Army inflicted another painful defeat in just a month to leave me questioning whether my 4-2-3-1 formation with plenty of individual and team instructions was really the way forward.

20171110214934_1
Perhaps that was asking a bit too much of Rohan Ince…

I simplified things to a large degree and only retained certain tasks for the more creative attacking trio in behind Jermaine Beckford… before he got injured. It didn’t provide spectacular results from the get-go but did reach a high point with a 5-0 thwacking of MK Dons, trequartista Jay O’Shea being the chief architect in their downfall with a hat-trick, which he completed in the space of 12 minutes. What followed was a gloriously long unbeaten run in the third tier, the status of which was salvaged three games on the spin in the gruelling early winter period with consecutive score draws.

Finances by this stage made for very grim reading and even a cash injection totalling north of £500k by the board in October barely put a dent in the numbers also blazing a neon red. The vultures were circling several of my better performers and one or two who hadn’t received quite the playing time they were expecting. Winger Chris Humphrey, in line with the maxim about selling players past their peak if reasonable offers come in, was dispatched back across the border to Dundee almost as soon as the window reopened. It was no loss to the roster as Danny Mayor was just coming back from the long lay-off he starts the matchsave with and similarly, Mihai Dobre and Josh Laurent’s loans were cut short at their requests. I did however extend Alex Whitmore’s deal as you can’t totally rely on Nathan Cameron’s glass knees as I needed his cover for the third round of the FA Cup. Yes, you read that correctly…

A grudge match against Neil Warnock’s Cardiff awaited and it looked like another limp cup defeat. Deep into injury time, Beckford had other ideas and raised my hopes for a flicker of a second, cutting the deficit in half. Amazingly, a penalty was then given and with the last kick of the tie, sent Neil Etheridge the wrong way to secure a replay. In front of a disappointingly low crowd, my charges were taken to extra time by the Bluebirds but they were ultimately culled by Harry Bunn’s characteristic trait of cutting inside from the left and hitting a shot into the far corner. By this stage, Callum Styles was shooting himself into prominence, particularly in tricky away games where an outlet was needed to supply the front three who would be otherwise cut off. So you know what’s coming next…

20171116222220_1
Curse you, Stewart Day!

Obviously, I was in not much of a position to say ‘no’ and the rules of ‘Buryball’ would’ve forbidden it as it exceeded his value… but there were more than 20 clubs chasing his signature, so it would’ve been prudent to negotiate a higher initial fee and my protests fell on Stewart Day’s ample but deaf ears. Luckily, the chairman saw fit to at least include a 40% profit on Styles’ next transfer clause but realistically, his replacement would have to come from within for the time being.

The fourth round tie was not the money-spinning affair the club yearned for as it was at home to Burnley. Three days prior, Bury had bowed out of the EFL Trophy in the regional quarter-final stage (bloody Fleetwood!) and a repeat of the 1985/1986 jaunt to the fifth round of the much more famous competition sadly didn’t materialise.

In a case of art imitating life, runaway leaders Shrewsbury Town were decimating all-comers. The 24-game unbeaten my side had enjoyed came to an end just before my in-game 32nd birthday at the hands of Blackburn Rovers but even before that, the gap was sizeable between them and the chasing pack. In words I didn’t think I’d ever type, Andrew Tutte’s all-round brilliance in the engine room was the platform to mount a challenge to the side in blue and amber. Zeli Ismail had also returned from his loan spell at Walsall and in Mayor’s second prolonged absence of 2017/2018, he made the right-wing his own.

A decidely mediocre March had looked to scupper any automatic promotion credentials but the Shakers rallied for the run-in, even beating the Shrews during injury time through Nicky Ajose in their own backyard. The final game of the season pitted Town against MK Dons who were lying in third and were still within a shout of stealing second spot but not the title itself. My task a point ahead of them was simply to match their result and also hope against hope that they could do me a favour and triumph in the process. As it was, they drew and AFC Wimbledon were comfortably beaten, meaning Bury fell short of the crown but with a record points total and Championship football awaiting in 2017/2018. Day had fulfilled his ambition for the club in the final year he had originally set of competing in the second tier… but he wasn’t about to grant me the funds to make life there anything but brief…

Can the Shakers survive as an indebted small fish in the second tier’s big pond? Part 2 will follow soon. In the meantime, if you have comments or ideas of how to improve Buryball, let me know!

Buryball: Football Manager 2018 with a Twist

Trying my best to divorce myself from the omnipresent shambles on and off the pitch in reality at least in part, I decided in anticipation of the next installment of the long-running Football Manager video game series to see if I could surpass the current very low bar set by Lee Clark and do a better job of guiding Bury to the ‘promised land’ of the Championship and to further glories down the road. Of course, the game doesn’t come out until early November but I already have a very specific idea of how to make it both more interesting than a standard story that has been around for at least 20 years and more crucially, is interactive in its creation.

Some of you will be familar with the ‘Moneyball’ concept, whether you have seen the film starring Brad Pitt, read the original text or ‘Soccernomics‘ by Simon Kuper & Stefan Szymanski. If you’re not au fait with it, the central premise on which it is based is that by using statistical analysis, smaller teams can compete with larger ones by buying/acquiring players that are undervalued by other teams and in turn, selling ones that are overvalued by their competitors. Or to put it another way, polishing rough diamonds previously overlooked for one reason or another and selling them at a higher price.

You could argue that many clubs already do this but few do it successfully and fewer still have it at the core of their infrastructure. The closest real-life example in the English pyramid are Brentford (although it must be pointed out that they reject the ‘Moneyball’ label). Like Bury, they are situated in a hot-bed of professional football and are surrounded by larger, world-famous neighbours. Unlike the Shakers, their calculated and clinical approach to recrutiment, by heavily investing in analytics, has reaped rewards and helps to keep the club afloat and competitive.

I want to take the ‘Moneyball’ concept and make it unique to the club I support in an entertaining way, hence the highly original term: ‘Buryball‘. The rules I will be guided by during my playthrough are as follows and are taken from passages in Soccernomics:

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 huge turnover of players at Bury in the last four years. 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 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 the recruitment of the Shakers but you might be surprised how many players in the lower leagues are from places with a reputation (current or otherwise) 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 Brexit, which could 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. Of the 40 first-team players (defined as those with a squad number and/or on a professional contract), seven outfield members are 30 or over at the time of writing with a further seven between 25 and 29 who are contracted to the club. This means the bulk are not yet at their ‘peak’, so it will be something that I have to keep an eye on, particularly early on in the game.

6. Use the wisdom of crowds: ask all your scouts and a Director of Football if you have one about players.

This is where in real life it is alleged AFC Bournemouth, the ‘smallest’ club in the Premier League by some distance, are not making the best use of their analytics resources; most of the transfer sway still rests with Eddie Howe. Some collegiate approaches have been tried to varying degrees of success. The Shakers are not blessed with vast resources in terms of scouting, nor do they have a Director of Football. However, this is one of the first areas which I will address within the confines of geography and finances.

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 in truth, it’s probably what Bury should be doing in real life even more as a proportion than has been the case recently.

8. Centre-forwards 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.

 
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 and is what Lee Clark thought he had done with Nicky Ajose coming in on loan very shortly after the sale of James Vaughan to Sunderland. It hasn’t quite worked out that way thus far. 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 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. Let’s say for example you’ve identified that the weakest area of the pitch is in defensive midfield but other than Rohan Ince (who will return to Brighton & Hove Albion at the end of 2017/2018 in any case), there isn’t anyone who immediately has that listed as one of their positions. In which case, there exists the option to retrain an existing player into that role, which might be the only option when finances are very tight.

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 (see Ryan Cooney playing at right-sided centre-back against Rochdale on Tuesday night as a prime example – that’s not singling him out, it’s simply calling into question Lee Clark’s decision to put him there in the first place). 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). The twist I want to put on it requires input from the readers of this blog: I wish to add three more principles as well as the two below by asking the simple question: when you think of a ‘perfect’ Bury player, what attributes do they have? It can be something about their personality, how ambitious they are in their footballing careers, if they should come from the local area where possible, anything. Your feedback is important in making this series a success, so please let me know!

These are both ‘traits’ I’ve generally found supporters say:

12. Bury fans value work rate in a player above all other attributes.
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.

I will be collating your opinions and they directly affect my approach to the game and it should help to keep it interesting for you beyond the first few installments on this blog.