Identity is talked about a lot in football, especially lately. Poor old Ole Gunnar Solskjær probably twitches when he hears the word, such is the heat he’s getting about his lack of it. As I mentioned in 0.1 | De Herstart, one of the first things I’ll set out to achieve at Volendam is implementing and developing a club DNA. This isn’t an attempt to reinvent the wheel, applying a DNA in Football Manager has been done many a time before by people far more knowledgeable than myself, but this is my interpretation and implementation.
‘Investing in personnel and manpower is important. But more important is investing in heads, in concepts and philosophies.’
FSV Mainz 05 youth director Volker Kersting
The first thing I’ll look at to put a club DNA into place is the attributes I expect every player to possess. This is where DNA’s can vary wildly, with some managers insisting on core technical ability in order to produce a particular style of football, while others will focus more on developing the mental and physical capacity of the squad, allowing them to perform to their best at all times, no matter the tactical setup. I favour the latter approach, with the logic that a mentally and physically strong squad will not only be able to play at a higher intensity than most, but also play at their best more often and be less likely to falter late in matches.
Physically, I’m focussed on Stamina and Natural Fitness. I love having quick, agile players, but they aren’t essential in every role, whereas every player needs to be ready to make a difference at any point, which high stamina will help with. High levels of natural fitness will serve a multitude of purposes. Combined with high stamina, players will need to be replaced less often but they’ll also recover between games more quickly, and to a higher level. Longer term higher fitness will prolong player’s careers, meaning that older heads can stick around and still be useful to the side while also instilling club beliefs into the youth players.
On the mental side, there are more attributes I’m looking for from my players. I’ve broken them into two categories – ethic and craft. Ethic consists of Determination, Teamwork and Work Rate. I expect every player at every level of the club to work as hard as they possibly can 100% of the time, to better themselves and to help the team to progress. Craft is a name I’ve given to the grouping of Anticipation, Composure and Decisions, as they’re attributes that I believe help every player, no matter their position, to play to a higher level more consistently.
There isn’t going to be a DNA score that I’ll work out and assign to everyone, nor will I dismiss any players that fall short in a category or 2 if they offer something exceptional elsewhere, but I will be keeping an eye (I’ve built a DNA squad view in game for this purpose) and looking for the average of those attributes to be ever increasing as the save goes on.
One thing that I’m always aware of, but don’t really do much with, is the personalities within my squad; how well they’ll mesh, and what it’ll do for performances. A player’s personality affects all aspects of their career, from their plans to how well they train and perform; this makes having the right personalities at the club key, and therefore a few ‘bad apples’ may potentially have to leave the club at points over the save in order to keep harmony.
I don’t really have a preference for the positive mentalities, Model Citizen is obviously the dream, but honestly I’ll take any kind of positive personality, and probably most of the neutral ones too. For me it’s more a case of weeding out the negative, as nearly all of the negative personalities point to a lack of determination. There are a couple that don’t though, Temperamental and Unambitious. Arguably they aren’t personalities I’d hate to see in my players, as I want a few with a bit of needle about them, and unambitious players, especially early on, might be easier to keep hold of if they’re attracting interest.
‘Today, we are preparing youngsters very much in line with what’s demanded of them in the first team. Our first team coaches don’t have to be brave to play these guys; they know that they will come ready for the kind of football we’re playing.’
It’s not just about cultivating a 25 man squad with the attributes and personalities I want. We’re looking to build the entire club from the ground up, and apply a culture that will allow young players coming through to transition seamlessly into the first team. Luckily the board aren’t looking to hamstring me with any pre-required conditions, at least not early on.
The club culture starts tactically, where the same system will be played at all levels throughout the club, so young players looking to make their breakthrough or covering an injury will be familiar with their role. This does mean that there will be youth prospects who won’t fit the mould, they’ll either be retrained early on if viable, or developed to sell on for a profit.
Training will also be uniform across the club. I did my own training for the first time last year and definitely noticed the difference in fatigue between games, but I’ll be taking it up a notch this year. I’ll be creating a variety of schedules for different situations (this will be covered in a future post), and the youth sides will be expected to undertake the same training as the first team, or as close to it as they can achieve.
It’s all very well cultivating the right set of personalities and having players with excellent DNA attributes, but it’ll still fall apart if the staffing at the club isn’t right. Personality will be a huge factor again, as determined staff will push the standards of training higher than the players will aim for themselves.
One key member of staff will be the Head of Youth Development, so ensuring I find the right person for that role will be key early on. In order to blend with the club culture, it’s important that not only is their personality good, but they also have a preferred formation that will produce players to fit our system.
‘Away from the microphones Sammer was far from the human handbrake on modernity he appeared. He tackled his task of overhauling the youth teams with typical determination. Underperforming coaches who owed their positions to past deeds as players were ruthlessly purged.‘
The above quote stood out to me while I was reading Das Reboot. I’m very guilty of hiring a name I recognise even if they aren’t great for the role they’re filling. Who doesn’t love a a staff full of household names?! This year is different. I don’t have an issue with ex-players as part of the club staffing, but they have to warrant their inclusion over a lesser known name. I won’t be looking to bring in a big name just to have them there, if a newgen staff member with no reputation but excellent ability becomes available they’ll absolutely be the person to bring on board. Constant improvement of the coaching setup will be a fundamental part of the save going forward, so there will be more details of my plans in future posts.
Those are my initial plans to create a club culture and DNA at Volendam, although I’m sure adjustments will be made over time. Leave any thoughts in the comments, or hit me up on Twitter!
Thanks for reading, and until next time, tot ziens!