This year, we have seen Football Manager take a shift. It’s a huge, huge shift away from the overwhelming importance of perfect tactics towards morale and motivation, and it’s not one that many agree with. It is not hard to see why FM has shifted; in the early years of FM, we often saw tactics that ripped the match engine to pieces and made victory a certainty. True, we see some tactics like that today but even the most inexperienced of tacticians can do well if they master the other parts of the game.
Of course this has upset the most elite FM players who are used to outsmarting AI managers by hitting the channels, or taking advantage of the wings, or exploiting the space behind their defence, but the game is much more rounded now, that much is unavoidable. Cleon, FM maestro from the SI forums, places management into three broad categories – motivation, players, and tactics – and claims, quite rightly, that if you master any two of the three, that you will succeed. Most of our readers, we expect, are interested in tactics and have a good grasp of that category, and by now are experienced enough to know what to look for in players, and so you guys should be doing fine. It seems many in the community have not yet adapted to the new-found importance of motivation – it is perhaps the most important of the triumvirate, and if you can get a good understanding of it, you will be wholly more dangerous.
The main problem that people have when they have motivational issues is that they try and hammer down team talks to very rigid situations. For example, I see a lot of people say that they use “I expect a win today” with an assertive tone if the odds say that they should be winning the match. I disagree with that approach in every way. Excuse the crude, extreme example, but in footballing terms, that’s like a manager telling his players to play only five yard passes. It ignores any other options, it ignores the player’s passing ability and it is only right a small amount of the time.
Nervousness and complacency
Players in FM are impressively realistic.
When they lose a few games, they lose confidence and get nervous under pressure. This can be shown in the match engine as reluctance to get stuck into challenges, lack of composure on the ball and a lack of willingness to be adventurous with their passing, dribbling or shooting.
When they win a few games, they gain confidence and get complacent. They will get sloppy and this will be reproduced in the match engine in terms of mistakes, being caught on the ball and losing concentration.
You can assess whether a team is complacent or not from the assistant feedback screen on a match day.
Broadly speaking, nervousness and complacency can look quite similar and are equally dangerous to a team’s performance and success. This is why it is important to take account of recent matches and the mindset of the players when choosing your press conference answers and your team talk choices/tones – you can’t react to the situation the same way every time because, situations are never ever the same. There will always be differing levels of nervousness or complacency, and 95% of the time, the last 5-10 results will be different; you have to – absolutely HAVE to – think about how the recent results are affecting your players.
It’s important too, to understand that it is not just complacency that grips a team on a good run; nervousness can actually take over, as media and fan pressure builds up and the streak is more heavily documented. Players are clever, and they are fully aware when the team is on a 15 match winning streak, so it is only natural that they can become victims of their own success as they get worried about maintaining their form. This is only compounded by smaller teams employing scare tactics such as telling the press that you’re title favourites or in a more literal sense, using tough tackling to disturb your players.
A healthy balance of nervousness and complacency, being nervous enough to have your wits about you, but not so nervous to run away from the ball, is what every FM player should be trying to achieve. It’s tough, and it can only go on for so long, but while you’re in that sweet zone, your team can play some brilliant football.
My approach to a match day: press conferences and team talks
A lot of team talk ‘guides’ try and tell you what options to use in what scenario. No-one can really tell you which options do what because they have different teams, so you need to try and find out the effect of each one on your particular set of players. A player’s overall mentality (particularly determination, professionalism, composure, pressure etc) dictates his reaction to pressure, team talks, media speculation and the like, and over time you can get a decent idea of each player’s mindset. This is why none of the most experienced and knowledgeable FM posters in the FM community have written strict, rigid team talk guidelines – they cannot tell you what to do and when because they don’t have your team. Neither can I, but I can show you what I do to try and motivate my players to perform to the top of their ability.
I am on a seven-match winning run with my Udinese team in the 2017/18 season, and heading into my third Champions League group match, against Fenerbahce. We’re coming into this game on the back of a 4-0 win over Roma, but we were thoroughly unimpressive and I’m wary of complacency creeping into the minds of the players. My assistant hasn’t yet indicated that the players are getting cocky but after such a great run of form, I was expecting it to come fairly soon.
The pre-match press conference isn’t as important as team talks in dictating the result of a match but it can help to nip overconfidence in the bud. The first question is one that you’ll get in most conferences during a good run of form:
The top option gives me the chance to encourage my team, it’s sort of a “come on lads, you’re doing well so same again”, but as you go to the bottom of the list, you get the chance to warn your team of the dangers of overconfidence. Considering our last performance, I want to do so, so I remind the team that they ‘can’t go into the game thinking it’s already won’; I could’ve gone a bit harsher but they are playing great so I don’t want to be too harsh.
I nearly always go for one of the two top answers to this question, depending on how likely we are to win. The only time I’d go for the less confident answers is if we have a serious complacency issue and I want to make my players to be alert. Because it’s a UCL match, I tell the journo that ‘I am confident’, as opposed to going all-out.
Question three was a bit of a boring one so I refused to offer comment; this one, though, is a bit of a stinker and I always find it hard to a nswer. I could reply with one of the top two, admitting that complacency is a problem, urging alertness but again, I am reluctant to be too conservative because we were by no means terrible last match. Not wanting to go too far the other way, though, I think I’ll just go central and wave the question away.
The rest of the questions were very samey-samey and focussed on our position of favourites and the possibility of an upset so I tried to stay neutral and not give too much away. This situation is one that I can’t read, despite knowing these players inside out, and I find it is always better to be non-committal and wait until match day to see what the general mindset is if you are not sure.
This is the screen from which I garner a majority of my information about the nervousness/complacency of my team. If the team is overconfident, your assistant will let you know on this screen; nervousness is not displayed here but mediocre morale and absence of complacency can be indicators. The motivation widget can confirm this when the game starts.
Despite the streak we’re on, I go for “Go out there and enjoy yourselves tonight” since the players aren’t looking cocky at all. The assertive tone goes some way to letting them know that they can’t be lax. Everyone looks relaxed – perfect.
We go in at the break with a nice 2-0 lead. 4 or 5 players are ‘playing with confidence’ which is a good indicator that your team are well motivated, perhaps moreso than ‘looking motivated’ and ‘looking fired up’, and half time ratings are good across the board. Morale is superb for every single player, and the match is going very well so I stayed wary and calmly asked them not to get complacent – a couple seem motivated and a few gain focus, but my two centre-backs look stressed and angered. This is to be expected if you warn against complacency before they actually show overconfidence, but don’t worry. I once read someone say that players can play angry, they can play stressed but they sure as hell can’t play confused – luckily my players aren’t. Relatively successful team talk.
We added three more goals in the second half, with only one from Fenerbahce in reply. The full time ratings were tremendous so I was generous and showered praise on my players; it is important to be strict at times, but when your team wins significantly in Europe, you have to accept a great performance without dampening it with harsh warnings about overconfidence. This balance is hard, but when you find it, you know it.
One of the biggest problems that has developed as a result of the increased importance of motivation is bad patches of form after long streaks of good form. I myself have experienced this, and my God, it is infuriating, but if you learn to anticipate it and respect the reasons behind it, you can go some way to cushioning the blow. As with everything to do with motivation, the causes change depending on your side. A few reasons can be behind slumps:
1. Tactics not being suitable to rainy weather that strikes in the winter
2. Complacency going unnoticed
3. Pressure getting to players
Number one is usually the stock answer I give, especially now with many people wanting to emulate the short passing games of Barcelona and Spain. It can just as easily be 2 and 3 though, both quite easily remedied.
Team meetings are rather random and can be like a game of Russian Roulette and so I avoid using them apart from when on long streaks of form, whether good or bad. These meetings are the best place to tell your team that they’re doing well, or they’re going to win the title if they carry on or they’re doing okay but need to pick it up; they are much better at getting these messages across than team talks as they do not directly affect match to match results, rather affecting player happiness, motivation and morale. Any good reactions will help – you will certainly get some bad reactions but as long as it’s not club-wide discontent you’ll be fine.
Praise is usually what the team need to keep morale up and take the pressure off. It doesn’t matter if they’ve been showing complacency in matches, you can still be aggressive and strict with them in team talks, team meetings will help lift the pressure.
This is a rather simple idea, and one many probably already use. Every 3-5 games, I order the team by their form in the Last Five Games, and talk to the top 3 (or 7.5 and up) and bottom 3 (or 7.0 and below) about their form privately. Often you’ll find that professional or determined players will reject your praise about their form and tell you that their performances haven’t been all that, but that’s fine. I find it rare that poor performers argue, but if they do, don’t back down.
The point of doing this is to stop poor performances in their tracks. Just a small downwards fluctuation in form can indicate that complacency is setting in, and you can prevent it from getting out of hand with a quick chat with the player. Well worth it, I think.