HOW MENTALITY AFFECTS PLAYER ROLES

Welcome back to On the Break! Today we continue the Tactical Aspects series, with a post covering a topic I’d never really considered before – the effect that mentality has on player roles. If you’d like to catch up on the previous posts in the series, you can do so by clicking HERE.


It’s hard to remember a time where you didn’t have a list of roles per position, but way back in Football Manager 2010 it was a brand new feature, replacing the iconic arrows and sliders.

You could do some pretty interesting things with tactics back in 2009! They aren’t full-backs you can see, they’re wide Sweepers!

From there, things have continued to evolve. Roles have changed over time, some in how they act, and some in how they’re named (looking at you Limited/Defensive/No-Nonsense CB/FB). Brand new roles were also added to Football Manager in 2014 and 2018, offering more variety than ever before. One of the more understated changes came back in Football Manager 2016, where for the first time there was a visual indicator of the mentality of each role within the current tactic.

It’s something that I’ve been aware of, but haven’t really taken the time to consider until recently. So today I’m going to talk through what mentality does to roles, and how I consider that when I create tactics.


WHAT IS MENTALITY?

Let’s start by covering the very basics and talk about what we mean by mentality.

Mentality is one of the changeable instructions available inside the Tactical Creator in Football Manager. The options range from Very Defensive all the way through to Very Attacking, as you can see in the image to the left. This isn’t as simple as it seems though, as mentality alone doesn’t dictate your team’s style of play. Formation, Team Instructions and indeed the roles you give to players will all impact how defensive or attacking your tactic is. A better way to look at mentality is to consider it a sliding scale of how many risks you’re happy for your side to take. A Very Defensive mentality doesn’t mean your side won’t look to score goals, it just means they’ll be very careful in their approach.

So we know that mentality helps to dictate your playing style, but how exactly does that happen? The mentality you choose will have an overriding impact on several of the Team Instructions available.

MENTALITY AND TEAM INSTRUCTIONS

IN POSSESSION

Attacking Width
Tempo
Passing Directness
Time Wasting

OUT OF POSSESSION

Line of Engagement
Defensive Line
Pressing Intensity

Anything with a sliding scale, essentially.

As you would expect, at the more defensive end, the team instructions will be more conservative by default. By contrast, the more attacking mentalities will produce more aggressive instructions – all relatively straight forward so far. Below are a few examples of how the In Possession instructions vary with just a change of mentality, all of the below are default instructions for their respective mentalities.

Very Defensive
Standard
Very Attacking

It gets slightly more complicated after that, as all of the instructions interlink and affect other roles. As well as the labelling of instructions like Passing Directness, Tempo, and Attacking Width changing, an extreme set of instructions can cause conflicting options to be locked off.

You can’t play really direct football and still work the ball into the box!

The Out of Possession instructions, or more specifically the Defensive Shape section, uses the Defensive Line and Line of Engagement to… well, set the defensive shape! Mentality plays a part by setting how far up or down the pitch the side sets their stall before any adjustments. Below is a comparison of the Defensive Line and Line of Engagement when set to Standard on each mentality. (Very Defensive on the left all the way through to Very Attacking on the far right)

MENTALITY AND PLAYER ROLES

As we saw in the introduction above, each player role selected has it’s own mentality within any given tactic. However, this is hugely influenced by the overall mentality selected for the tactic. A player role is just a set of hard-coded player instructions, dictating how the player in that position should behave in each phase of the game. Although we associate certain roles with certain mentalities, they don’t always behave the same way in differing systems, meaning that no player role has it’s own inherit mentality.

This isn’t to be confused with the Defend, Support and Attack duties that can be assigned to roles. Duties do have an impact on a role’s mentality, but their bigger significance is in changing the hard-coded instructions for the role. Their effect on a role’s mentality pales in comparison to the impact the entire tactic’s mentality has.

Just because a player has a Defend duty, don’t expect them to always have a defensive mentality!

There are a lot of roles in Football Manager, and combined with the amount of duties and team mentalities there are far too many combinations to cover them all individually. However, the below chart gives a general idea of the role mentalities you can expect to see in different positions across the different team mentalities.

There’s no exceptional conclusion to be drawn from this chart, it’s all fairly self-explanatory. In the most extreme mentalities, you can’t use a contradicting mentality (eg. an Attacking mentality striker in a Defensive system and vice versa), while in the three more ‘conservative’ mentalities there is more of an overlap; you can have Positive roles in a Cautious system and Cautious roles in a Positive system. This is where it’s important to differentiate between the duty of a role and the mentality of it; a defensive duty in anything above a Balanced mentality only provides a Cautious role mentality, while an attacking duty will only give a Balanced or Positive role mentality at the other end of the scale.

APPLYING MENTALITY TO A TACTIC

Story time.

As I said in the introduction, role mentality isn’t something I’d really considered or even noticed until recently. After a particularly poor season with Defensor Sporting (a series that you can catch up with HERE), I spent some time analysing the side and working on a new system.

Due to the inclusion of a FB(A) at left-back, a Regista as the deepest midfielder and a Mez(A) on the right side of the midfield, the left sided central midfielder had to be somebody happy to sit and do the dirty work. I settled on a Carrilero due to their tendency to sit wider and cover the full-back on their side. We’ve always been a good side in the division but have always been a bit susceptible defensively, so I’ve always maintained a Balanced mentality and then adjusted the team instructions to facilitate what I want to see from the side. Let’s look again at this shape, but this time highlighted the role mentalities of the aforementioned players.

From the four players mentioned above, there isn’t a single role mentality below Balanced, and that becomes five if we include the Inverted Wing-Back on the right. There’s no protection for the only three genuine defensive players (CBs and GK), which is bound to cause issues with an already vulnerable defence. The idea was to play a more possession based system, with the Inverted Wing-Back joining the midfield in possession and the left-back providing width overlapping the Inverted Winger. By asking the left-back to join the attack as well as the Mezzala on the right of the midfield, we were committing too many players forward without leaving enough protection for the core of our side. As one of the higher reputation sides in our division, sides were looking to play against us in a low block, soaking up pressure and hitting us on the break (😉), and we were playing right into their hands.

The tactic changed quite quickly, the left-back was dropped to a support duty and therefore a balanced role mentality, although he still supported attacks from a deeper position, and the Regista was dropped in favour of a DLP(D) to offer more solidity. With the left-back still likely to make his way forward, the Carrilero and his Balanced mentality was still getting in the way and not offering the defensive support I wanted, so the role was changed to a BWM(D), which offered another Defensive mentality in the midfield but still had the freedom of movement to head out wide when needed. That left us with a 4-3-3 that essentially turned into a 2-3-5 when we attacked, rather than the unbalanced mess we had seen before.

Just seeing that the Carrilero wasn’t offering the protection that I wanted was enough to the re-evaluate all of the roles around it, tweaking the duties to get the mentalities right, to offer a balance between getting enough men forward to join the attack and still being defensively sound. This is where I think the key lies, using role mentalities to determine the balance of the side, rather than the duties attached to the role. This is a large reason why I never start a tactic in anything but the three most ‘conservative’ mentalities, as you can’t get a balance in the role mentalities. Very Defensive, Defensive, Attacking and Very Attacking are far more suited to use in periods of a game depending on the situation, rather than a starting mentality.

THE TAKEAWAY

So with all that said, what are the main points to take away from this article? I’m far from an expert (that’s the whole point of this series, for me to talk about things I’m just realizing!) but these are the main things I’ll be looking at more as I develop tactics in the future:

  • Team mentality and role mentality are very different things
  • Team mentality affects the majority of team instructions, and they all interlink to prevent huge contradictions
  • Role mentality doesn’t always match the duty attached to a role
  • Different roles have different hard-coded instructions, but will always have the same mentality if they have the same duty
  • Roles that are associated with a certain mentality (CWB-A is considered the most attacking full-back role, for example) won’t behave that way in conflicting team mentalities
  • Role mentalities are a great way to ensure enough players join the attack while also making sure there’s enough defensive cover.
  • The most extreme mentalities are best to be used situationally, rather than as a starting tactic

So that’s my take on how mentality affects player roles, let me know what you think in the comments below or over on Twitter.

Thanks for reading.

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