Every Football Manager player will use their pre-season friendlies for a slightly different core purpose but you should approach this important part of the season with as much care as you do other parts of the year. This means selecting your matches carefully, your team selection and your tactics with the bigger picture in mind. From the first match of the real season you want to hit the ground running so here are my top tips for getting well-prepared during the off season.
Selecting the opposition
1. When and How Many?
Starting your friendlies from around July 5th means that your players have around a week after their holidays to get back into training. Your Assistant will have reported on who is dreadfully unfit and who is raring to go in your squad. Players will gradually return to 100% fitness but need a helping hand in order to be fully match fit for the start of the season.
I use one game every four days during the pre-season programme for the first three weeks of July then one game per week for remaining weeks of pre-season leaving ten days between my last pre-season match and my first game of the season. This allows me to rotate the squad and see plenty of squad players, including youngsters, then gradually trim down the squad to my preferred starting XI with substitutes.
2. A Morale Boost Helps
The first two matches of the pre-season should be against very low teams. I will choose a team like Tow Law Town or Durham City whom I know with my Premiership team I should win handsomely. A heavy 5-0+ victory does wonders for morale when you need it most going into the season and is a good work-out whilst not being too challenging for your better players to gel that little bit more, particularly if you have signed new players.
3. Revenues and Profits
This is always a consideration of mine because freedom in the transfer market and being able to make that signing with enough of your wage budget to spare depends heavily on managing your finances correctly. If you are a lower league side then a selection of money spinning fixtures in pre-season will help you get some money in the bank. Remember, however, to play some really low teams so if these money spinners result in a few beatings for your team you are not playing with low confidence and full bank accounts! There is always a balance to be struck between off the pitch and on the pitch activities.
The first thing that I do at the end of the season is promote all of my reserves that I consider in my first team squad and my promising youngsters into the first team. I clear the team selection and sort by position. This highlights immediately where I want to strengthen and those players I can let go and be sold. Getting your plans in place just as the season ends ensures you maintain a balance in your squad. Having three wonderkids at AMC is no good if you have Fabregas, Wilshere and Denilson all in their early 20’s in your Arsenal team. Look to offload any dead wood players early in the transfer window when teams have funds to spare and try to have as much business as possible done by July 1st. My aim for July 1st is to only be bidding on free transfer players and to have all of my cash purchases tied up where possible.
As I am playing many matches early in the pre-season I look to have a look at everyone and use the ‘View’>’Fitness Report’ to see which players need a game as the season draws near. In particular I look to give first team players games if they need it. As youngsters play and do not impress or are going to be reserve players I drop them back into the reserves and trim the squad. This is the way NHL and NBA teams handle their training camps. It is useful to identify a much improved young player which you have missed otherwise.
Keep a close eye on match fitness and overall fitness and give rest days here and there to those who look like they need it. Attention to detail can help you greatly.
By the time you play your last match of pre-season your team should be trimmed to your starting XI and designated substitutes and you should be able to pick your squad of 25 (a new part of football management after your first season of FM2010) knowing who are the right players and which players at that point are surplus to requirements.
You can then go back to the reserves and assess young players for loaning out to affiliates or other teams for experience and earn money doing so if you wish for a loan fee.