Planning Through The Beta
Nowadays, the FM calendar essentially starts from the moment the beta has been released. I’ve seen plenty of people plough through two or three seasons before the full game is officially published but I just can’t bring myself to doing that. I see FM release day as almost like Christmas Day – to open my present before then would be almost sacrilegious.
That being said, I do still play at the beta stage but usually only for a few hours which amount to a couple of in-game months. It allows me a chance to get comfortable with any UI changes and get a feel for the Match Engine again. During the beta, I experimented a bit with Man City and got the bare bones of the tactic I aim to begin FM21 with.
Arriving at Atalanta
I wouldn’t usually devote a whole post to a pre-season update but there was plenty of work to be done before I decided I was ready for competitive football.
Atalanta, on the whole, is in relatively good shape. The bank balance is a healthy £22.6m in the black, the squad is strong and we have Champions League to look forward to. Despite these things, there is always room for improvement.
The Atalanta board have defined their expectations in the club vision screen. Despite only one of the overall expectations (across Club Culture and the 5 Year Plan) being noted as ‘Required’, I will make extensive efforts to try and fulfill all of them.
The board have outlined a particular style of play in preferring high-tempo pressing and attacking football, alongside the vague description of ‘entertaining’ as a favoured importance. I think I’ve set my tactic up reasonably well to provide the board with what they want in this area and the pre-season results are definitely encouraging in that respect.
Developing players using the club’s youth system is marked as ‘Desired’, given this is the bread and butter of the vast majority of FM players I can say that I’m confident this will not be a problem. We have Superb Youth Facilities, Excellent Academy Coaching and Exceptional Youth Recruitment and in the famously misquoted words –
“If you build it, they will come”(not quite) Ray Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner, Field of Dreams 
The final part of the Club Culture is to sign players from the lower levels of the domestic game. This will give me a good reason to keep an eye on the happenings in Serie B and Serie C. Atalanta already have a great many affiliate clubs within Italy’s football system and so I’ll regularly scour their ranks in an effort to scoop up the next non-lega to leggenda.
I absolutely love a 5 Year Plan and FM is no different!
Starting with the most important, the board expect me to work within their wage budget. It’s not something that’s ever been an issue for me as I tend to watch the pennies quite well, however, as you’ll see shortly this is an area that requires a little attention at Atalanta in the immediate term.
Sticking with finance related matters, the club expect the signing of young players to develop for profit. As with the developing players in the Club Culture, this is almost a given for most FM players and it’s something that shouldn’t really present any problems.
Expanding the stadium and growing the club’s reputation are both dependent on being successful on the pitch. I’ll need to ensure we fight well in Europe to get that essential prize money which will fund the stadium works, this success along with signing the right sort of players will also surely go a long way to seeing our reputation soar.
In the immediate term, I feel the board’s expectations are very reasonable.
Progressing from our Champions League group is hard to determine before the draw takes place, however, it’s not unreasonable to think we should be in with a reasonable chance of finishing in the top two of most groups.
The club don’t place too much weight on domestic cup success which will allow me to rotate the team for those games and keep the first choice players fresh. Expecting a 5th/6th place finish in the league is generous for a club which has finished 3rd in the previous two seasons. I’m happy to accept this with the obvious intention to go one better and retain a top four place and the Champions League football that it brings.
One of the reasons I decided to plump for a higher reputation club this time around was because I wanted to make use of a larger playing squad. I’m notoriously strict about keeping a small group of players and minimal rotation between matches. This will simply not be an option at Atalanta. As I cast my eye across the senior, U20 and U18 squads I discovered that we had an eye watering 172 players on the books!
I’m not someone who likes to stock up on legions of wonderkids so this size of playing staff is well in excess of what I want and/or need. Added to that, we’re currently operating with a £4.6k per week overspend on wages according to our budget and given that the board would like me to work within said budget, moving a number of players on is a key priority.
Immediately I began to draw up a list of players who would be making their exit from the Gewiss Stadium. What I had forgotten is that I had disabled the first transfer window, as I didn’t intend to make any signings, which means that none of the dead wood will be leaving us until January. Although I was allowed to ship a few players off to affiliate clubs on loan for the season, which means that four of our younger squad players head off to SPAL with another going to Cremonese.
There are already six players who were already out on loan to other clubs with an agreement in place for the transfer to be made permanent in addition to the pre-agreement for high rated wideman Amad Diallo to join Manchester United in January. The total we expect to bag from these transfers is a cool £58m.
On my taking over, Atalanta already had an almost full complement of coaching, medical and transfer staff with just a few spots waiting to be filled. One thing I never do is to go into a club and sack the coaching staff, I don’t know why – it’s like the coding of the game understands sentiment. Alas, it’s something I just don’t do and won’t make a start of doing now either. So we’ll let the staff see out the remainder of their varying contracts and decide further then (if I’ve not been sacked by then myself!)
I did make moves to fill the few remaining spots, bringing in two Performance Analysts, a Recruitment Analyst, a first team coach and a U18 Assistant manager. I won’t bother you with the details of all four but I do feel the last two are worth mentioning.
Dennis Bergkamp comes in as a first team coach with the intention of taking on responsibility for the Technical Attacking area. He has the attributes to make the move a no-brainer but besides that fact… it’s Dennis Bergkamp!
Willy Sagnol takes up the role of assisting our U18 manager. I couldn’t resist this one. Watching the FC Bayern team of the early 2000s in Champions League action was my first real foray into ‘foreign’ football and I instantly fell in love with the teams they had around that era. One player that I idolised was Willy Sagnol.
The pre-season started with the obvious First XI v Second XI fixture (a new feature that I really like!) and then a further five matches against all domestic opposition of varying levels.
Stragely, our most successful games came against the two Serie A teams that we played (Benevento and Parma) while the Serie B and Serie C/Lega Pro teams proved a bit more of a challenge – although still victories that were comfortable.
100% winning record in pre-season is nice but it was good to see goals from all over the park, I’m now fairly comfortable with the tactic I will be using the start the season: a 3-4-1-2 with wingbacks. It’s too early at this stage to look in depth at it, we’ll see how it fares in competitive motions.
I’m also fairly sure of my strongest team in most areas except the back three. Having tried various combinations, I’ve been impressed by them all so I just can’t yet decide who my strongest back three are yet! It’s one of those selection headaches that are a welcome problem.
Serie A returns…
I’ve always liked to plan ahead in blocks of five matches. We kick off the season with Inter Milan (home) before taking on Torino (away) to close out September’s fixtures.
October gives us newly promoted Spezia (home), also newly promoted Crotone (away) and Cagliari (home) – although I believe our first European game will come sandwiched between the Crotone and Cagliari games.
Inter will provide stern opposition, having pipped Atalanta to second last season and strengthened an already impressive squad in the summer period. However facing two newly promoted sides and two who finished in the bottom half of the table last season, we should be reasonably confident of getting our season off to a great start!
There’s not much more to be said from here, so it’s time to get started!