Even from just metaphorically dipping my toes into Graham Hunter’s bestselling book, Barca, I get the impression that Barcelona is a club like no other. Sure, they play some cracking football, and in Xavi, Iniesta and Messi, have one of the most devastating triumvirates that the footballing world has ever seen, but what strikes me the most is how the club is a family. The Argentine signed for Barca in 2000, when Xavi was just breaking into the first team, and Iniesta was playing for the under 15s; the meteoric rise of Messi, playing with Pique and Fabregas, ensured that the three, along with other youth products like Carles Puyol and Victor Valdes, became part of the very same team that would pick up European football and spit it out with a whole new outlook.
FM is just a game, and Barca is real life (as a Man Utd fan, it strikes me as slightly too real at times). But team spirit – blending, co-operation, gelling, whatever you want to call it – is in FM, and it makes such a huge difference, it is amazing how many people overlook it.
How do I know if my team isn’t blended?
An unblended team isn’t really a team, in truth. It’s a group of individuals and if you watch the game on Full or Comprehensive, as more and more people are starting to do, you will see passes that don’t go straight to feet, or a first touch that is slightly delayed or wayward. At its worst, a lack of team blending will see your pass completion ratio plummet, runs go unnoticed and movement being completely senseless, all of which will undermine the success of your tactic. For an overview, you can also check your assistant’s team talk feedback (Assistant Profile -> Reports -> Team Talk Feedback).
What affects the team’s blending?
The most obvious form of team spirit is how well the team is blended, and this depends on a combination of things:
1. Time spent together
This is the most obvious one and it is probably one of the reasons (apart from them being absolutely incredible footballers) that Barcelona have dominated football for the last few years. Against Levante on 25th November, all 11 of their lineup had been brought up through the club’s academy at La Masia; that’s an incredible statistic and not one many teams can rival. If they spend so many years with one another, they’re much more likely to know their role in the team and how to complement each other, and this is paramount to playing good football.
2. Languages spoken
A less obvious one, which is majorly overlooked. It doesn’t show anymore before the match, but we can see on the match feed when a player is ‘struggling to blend because of the language barrier’, or words to that effect. If a player is speaking a different language to the rest of the team, it severely damages his ability to play well and link up well; the impact is lessened if he is a less creative role where synchronisation is less important, but it is there nonetheless. It takes over a year for a player to learn a language, but less if you have a player of the same nationality that can speak both languages. Remember that South American and African countries tend to be former colonies and players from these countries will speak one of the major European languages, which is one less thing to worry about (Brazilians speak Portuguese, Argentinians Spanish, Ivory Coast French etc).
I don’t want to labour the Barcelona example but this one applies; all of the Barcelona team have a broadly similar personality. They’re all diehard professionals who will do anything to win. Puyol has the heart of a lion, Iniesta and Messi are quiet but extremely driven, Xavi is a perfect professional and Busquets, despite his flaws, is hard as nails. There’s no-one really in that team, or any successful team, that has a personality out of kilter with the team ethos. Luckily, we can change personalities and ‘breed’ this ethos into players in a carousel style youth system, as we showed you in our Tutoring article last year.
4. Favoured personnel
The highest level of blending a team can achieve on FM is ‘willing to die for each other’ and this should be the ultimate teambuilding aim for managers. You want your players like one another as this will prevent disagreements and though I’m less certain of this, help them to link up more often and with better quality. I’m a believer in the endless depth of FM so I like to think that the da Silva twins would be able to anticipate each other’s runs and play in brilliant synergy with one another; others might disagree but I can only see there being advantages to having players who like and appreciate one another as friends (or brothers).
What can I do about blending?
I encourage you to watch your matches closely to see which players are unblended and try one of two things:
1. Play one or two at a time to slowly bleed them into the squad and allow them to feel their way around your style. This will reduce their negative impact and allow you to grind out some results in the early stages of a season. This is slow but means you’ll be able to keep the board’s and fans’ confidences and get some decent form going.
2. Chuck the unblended players straight in the deep end and fight through the form. This will be the quickest way of blending them into the squad, as they will get used to playing with one another, your existing players, and your tactics, but you will most probably get some bad results. This is what I tend to do and I rarely win more than 50% of my first 5-10 games unless I’m at a really great club.
The key here though is watching the match. You may find that your signings have slotted straight in because they’ve played enough friendlies with the squad already or because they have an international teammate around. You won’t know unless you watch!
The importance of team spirit
A happy club is a winning club. You can really not go wrong with a well blended team that likes each other and has spent years playing together as it makes everything easier. You can give the team more freedom to play, will be able to play more fluid football, keep winning streaks for longer and recover from losses as a unit. And remember, if the players are willing to die for each other, chances are they’ll be willing to die for you too.