La Sombra – 2 – The illusion of safety

This is post two of a wider series. To instead start at post one, please click here.

“This is all I ask of you.”

“Humility! Nobility! Integrity!”

Fernando Teixidó, typically passionate in his words and gestures, slams his hand down on the table in front of him. The table’s surface is littered with paper maps of football pitches scribbled all over with arrows and annotations of every colour. Someone has been busy. A seriously outdated iPad sits beside some bottled water, covered in scratches and significant dents from many years of use. The iPad, not the Evian.

Teixidó is sat alongside Rayo’s new Head of Analysis, Perico Campos, at the front of the recently dubbed ‘Performance Analysis suite’ at Ciudad Deportiva, where Rayo Vallecano train each day. The air is dry and the sun is low in the sky. If not for the Peruvian’s booming voice, you could hear a pin drop.

It’s only a few more days until Fernando and Rayo’s first LaLiga Smartbank match of the season, a 2,500 mile round trip away to Tenerife.

“Excuse me Bob, is this the Performance Analysis suite?”

The players are alert and gathered, sat upright in an arc of plastic chairs around their manager in what more closely resembles one of the group therapy scenes from Fight Club than a professional sporting facility. Three of the party in attendance have unfortunately been injured for the entirety of the time that has passed since Teixidó’s arrival: ex Premier League players Bébé and Leo Ulloa, plus veteran shot stopper Alberto Garcíá. Although their on-field absence makes sporting matters more challenging for Fernando and Rayo, the trio’s attention matches that of any of their teammates at this meeting. This room is no elite facility with touchscreen whiteboards and servers perpetually pouring out useful data from the training session earlier this morning. Far from it. Instead it’s the old boot-room down at the pitch-side.

There’s something special in the atmosphere though, you can feel it.

This is Rayo Vallecano.

Bukenaros.

“The Bukaneros took me around Vallecas the day I arrived.” Teixidó paces, his heavy footsteps echoing like that of a PE teacher in a giant gym hall. “I know they took each and every one of you around the neighbourhood too.”

This is a Rayo Vallecano tradition. Members of the Bukaneros, Rayo’s ultra left-wing supporters group always meet new additions to the squad of their beloved club, giving them a real taste of the last barrio and it’s ‘poor yet proud’ inhabitants. It’s a two-way value exchange, however. An opportunity for the players to find out in no uncertain terms the standards that they must meet. The implied signing of a social contract with the community, days after signing an economic and footballing one with the club.

“You’ve met the people of our district. You are the spirit of this neighbourhood. And I have faith in every one of you that each time you don la franja roja, you remember that you are.”

Vallecas.

It’s an impassioned speech, but Teixidó has other weapons in his arsenal.

“What we lack in resources, we compensate for with our hearts, but also with our heads.”

The players share some confused glances as their manager starts to grin.

We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won’t. We’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.

Teixidó laughs at his own reference. New Rayo assistant manager, John Metgod lets out a chuckle.

“We cannot win football matches with spreadsheets and graphs, I know this. But I tell you here and now, feel empowered that Perico and I see everything. We will be both winning and losing right beside you.”

“So let’s be pissed off together.”

The players relax a little, as a few relieved gasps escape from some of the player not in the direct eyeline of management.

“If Perico can see from the data that you are doing what I ask of you with your head up and your mind open. If I can see in your effort and application how much wearing la franja roja means to you, I cannot ask for anything more.”

Regardless of the final score of any match or any final league position, you can live with professional and personal dignity and not shame. You can face the people of our barrio with honesty and pride. This is all I ask of you.”

“We are not Real Madrid. We are El Rayo. Our new chapter begins today. It’s time.”


Welcome back to Madrid!

So we are finally ready to kick a competitive ball in anger having set up appropriately for the season ahead.

First of all, the aims for this save are simple. Remain competitive, with a hugely optimistic dream of eventually usurping Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid in the LaLiga table at least once. ‘Rules’-wise, attribute masking is on, and although I can set targets and decide who is transfer listed, our new Director of Football Albert Puigdollers (ex Barcelona and Cowdenbeath, naturally) will handle all bids, negotiations for and with players moving in both directions, including setting release clauses when renewing contracts. The first window is closed, and I’ll focus on performance statistics over player attributes as much as I can when considering recruitment.

The way I choose to see it, a player’s attributes are like the training pitch eye-test. How does the player move? Does he play with his head up, observe events around him and adapt quickly? Is he a powerful athlete? Does he work well with others? How hard does he work when under pressure? Etc. A player’s performance statistics are instead an actual measure of how he translates these inputs into outputs and actually delivers performances on the football pitch.

At the end of the day, I know it’s Football Manager, and not an exact science. There are even fundamental challenges with the data in FM21 that I have reported to SI myself. Let me suspend my disbelief a little, however. For me, it’s more fun this way.

Tactically, I will focus on a development of Teixidó’s signature ‘Ancelotti’s Milan’-influenced 4-3-1-2 La Palanca system, which will shift considerably in the attacking phases, like the following formation screenshots suggest.

A defensive and offensive variation of ‘La Palanca’ in action.

I’ll no doubt write more about Teixidó’s system as the series develops, but for starters it is a short passing counter-attacking strategy based on a pivoting cinco in the centre of defensive midfield coupled with dynamic wing backs who provide all of the width, and a fantasista number 10 behind a pair of strikers.

I’ve been using variations of this system quite religiously for nearly a year, and the developments and improvements in the area of through balls from central playmakers in the FM21 match engine is delicious to see in action.

Taylor has seen a few #gifgoals from timed through balls, and can’t get enough.
Pre season form was a solid start, but of course nothing can compare you for competitive football.

I’ve written about leveraging Excel in some basic ways to help with team selection or recruiting to a specific tactical DNA based on attribute combinations before here. So I couldn’t help myself and drew up a quick attacking and defensive philosophy, plugging in Rayo’s current first team to help me select my starting eleven in these early days (injury and condition permitting), before the performance statistics start assisting my decision making after 10 games or so.

Staff wise, the aforementioned new Head Performance Analyst Perico Campos, Assistant Manager John Metgod and Director of Football Albert Puigdollers join me in Vallecas, as do a new scouting team. The new scouts notably include ex Valencia and Brighton playmaker Vicente, ex Barcelona player and Manchester United scout Patrik Andersson (for some Scandinavian gem-hunting) and Juan Gómez, who has a strong knowledge of South American talent, most notably in Argentina. These will be key appointments for Rayo Vallecano. A club who start with less than £500k in the bank, but carry a wage bill of £175k a week. Splashing the cash is not an option, and won’t be for quite a while, if ever. Strategic thinking and practical decision making is an absolute necessity.

In the next post, I’ll dive into a few of our key player’s profiles, and we’ll see how my analytics-led approach is impacting early performances.

Matchday one is finally here. I best go and get on with it. Vamos El Rayo!

I love this new visual touch in the FM21 matchday experience.

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag

La Sombra – 1 – Fútbol del pueblo

This is post one of a wider series.

“The combination of a passionate community-driven anti-fascist club in the face of the money-driven capitalist giant of modern football was too tempting to ignore.”

Raúl Martín Presa, majority owner of Rayo Vallecano, stands on the media platform at Estadio de Vallecas with the same expression Rayistas have seen many times before. They have watched him introduce a new manager six or seven times since he “saved” the club from the villainous Ruiz-Mateos family back in 2011. The club was bankrupt then, on its knees and the victim of horrendous mismanagement by a greedy fraud for almost twenty years.

Unfortunately for the small, poor community on the outskirts of Madrid, and in the opinion of El Rayo’s fans, if Ruiz-Mateos was the hunter, Presa was the scavenger; there to pick the bones clean for the last nine years.

Viewed through the eyes of an avid Rayo follower, Presa’s expression is one of glee. A sinister look, where he cannot hide his pompous confidence that his latest plan will further line his pockets, against the strongly opposing will of Rayo’s passionate, heavily left-leaning, community-oriented fanbase. The relationship here can be best compared to if Mike Ashley chose to give Newcastle fans a lecture on why Michael Owen is actually a lovely guy, while burning a photograph of Nobby Solano.

José María Ruiz-Mateos and Raúl Martín Presa.

Rayo Vallecano are widely considered to be the last of the barrio teams. Vallecas is a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Madrid with a population of around 300,000. The heavily socialist area can be summed up by a banner regularly unfurled at matches by the Bukaneros which reads “somos pobres con orgullo” or “we are poor but proud.” The Bukaneros are Rayo’s often vilified ultra left wing supporter’s group. They are emblematic of the socialist cause in this oft-forgotten region near Spain’s capital.

“We are poor but proud.”

The Bukaneros maintain that their perpetual pursuit of justice and protest against the establishment is both peaceful and necessary, despite media coverage and outsider opinion often suggesting otherwise.

Their most famous exploits include banding together with the Rayo players in 2014 to raise enough money to cover the unjust debts of one of their own residents in Vallecas, 85-year old Carmen Martínez Ayuso, meaning she was saved from homelessness. Notable also was the absolute moral rejection to the signing of Roman Zozulya in 2017. The Ukrainian striker had many well-documented links to the far-right, and with the club existing to coalesce the anti-fascist, anti-racist and anti-homophobic sentiments of their passionate local fanbase, the Bukaneros could not and would not accept the presence of someone inside their beloved club with alleged ties to the opposite ideology. Zozulya never donned ‘la franja’ and left Vallecas soon after.

The Bukaneros make their feelings clear.

The reason Presa looks so smug standing in front of the assembled Spanish journalists is that today he is putting a new man in the Rayo Vallecano hotseat. Andoni Iraola’s spell was short but unsuccessful, which is typical of the Presa era. The Iraola project was always destined to be a struggle, as he followed in the footsteps of Paco Jémez in his second spell. Jémez was often a divisive and confrontational figure, but ever since delivering Rayo’s best ever league finish, 8th in La Liga in 2013, coupled with his extreme attention to detail and commitment to his ‘juego de posición’ philosophy, he has a special place in El Rayo’s history.

The dissonant chatting voices in the room stop and the camera flashes spark into life as the door creaks open and in walks Rayo Vallecano’s new manager.

It is 45-year old Peruvian Fernando Teixidó.

Fernando Teixidó.

The ex-Club The Strongest manager cut his teeth winning back-to-back league and cup doubles in the high altitude of Bolivia in the only managerial role of his career so far. The Peruvian was said to desire a move to Spain to live closer to his elderly father, Carlos Alberto Teixidó, who still resides in Catalonia.

The confusion on the faces of the journalists is only marginally less noticeable than the representatives of the Bukaneros in attendance, who are eagerly waiting to resist and revolt at a moment’s notice. In keeping with their signature open mindedness, however, they shush the room in order to allow their new manager to speak.

Teixidó shakes Presa’s hand, smiling warmly, before clearing his throat and turning to the congregated press and fan representatives.

Teixidó faces the footballing press.

“I am honoured to be taking this role, as manager of Rayo Vallecano. Not many of you may know me, but I am thankful to Mr Presa for giving me this opportunity.”

The very mention of the club president’s name in this cookie cutter opening statement strikes an immediate discord with those in attendance. The owner licks his lips nervously, shifting his weight from foot to foot. Teixidó pauses, briefly looking down at his shoes. This isn’t a great start.

“The important things about this club are our community and our stability. We must pursue realistic and obtainable goals with a careful approach. We are in the shadow of our Madrid rivals. We are in the shadow of our many rivals in this division, let alone the riches of La Liga.”

This sounds like a concession of defeat from the beginning.

Under promise, over deliver? No. It sounded more like dangerous pessimism signalling further disaster at this sinking ship of an organisation, just with a different captain at the helm.

This is awkward.

Fernando Teixidó looks down at his notes in silence for a good ten seconds, before pushing the pages aside, puffing out his chest, standing tall and making eye contact with those football journalists in the front row.

Presa looks worried, like he could sense the atmosphere in the room was about to change.

Not Teixidó.

In a development only comparable to Jordan Belfort’s “I’m not fucking leaving!” scene in The Wolf of Wall Street, the Peruvian shifts his tone.

“Too long this club has been an ‘equipo ascensor’ (yo-yo club).”

Too long it has been shackled by the men in suits.”

Teixidó has burst into life.

“The spirit of the Matagigantes has been forgotten in Vallecas, and through the three pillars of humility, integrity and nobility, we will rise again!”

If Raúl Martin Presa looked worried before, now he was positively terrified.

The atmosphere in the room is electric. Like rayo had struck the building mid-sentence.

“No, no, no pasaran!” chants start booming from the back of the room, as the Bukaneros chant“they will not pass,” a powerful message originally aimed at Franco’s dictatorship, but now firmly pointed at the capitalist powers at the top of their club.

The Teixidó era at Rayo Vallecano has begun.

Could the Ancelotti-worshipping Dylanista replicate the success he had in South America here in Spain?

Would Presa let him? This is a battle of wills, and it is just getting started.


Welcome to Madrid!

I will continue my plan of splitting posts into 50% narrative, 50% ‘save update’ or informal writing of my thoughts, strategy and results. The approach worked last year, and hopefully it makes for a good read again.

I was inspired to manage Madrid’s third club after reading the incredible book Working Class Heroes by Robbie Dunne. I wholeheartedly recommend giving it a read, even if you have no previous interest or connection to El Rayo.

The combination of a passionate community-driven anti-fascist club in the face of the money-driven capitalist giant of modern football was too tempting to ignore.

Throw in a manager with a dogmatic tactical approach, willing and able to fearlessly express his opinions, and it makes for an interesting dichotomy that I hope translates well into this written FM series.

If you are new to my blog, and Fernando Teixidó is a stranger to you, he is my fictional manager who first appeared managing Club The Strongest last year in FM20. That series is linked here, and while you may not wish to read all seven posts of that short series (I hope that you do though), I’d advise looking at the first post, which outlines just who Teixidó is, a formerly aggressive anchoring midfielder with a strong interest and reliance on statistics.

In the next post, we’ll take a look at Rayo Vallecano as a whole. From the finances and facilities (spoiler alert – Rayo are often considered a ‘beg and borrow’ club, nevermind a ‘selling’ one) to the playing squad and Teixidó’s initial setup at training and in pre-season. I’ll also go over some of the ‘rules’ of the save, like allowing the board to handle contract negotiations, and therefore mandatory release clauses and the purchasing negotiation process of player acquisition.

Hopefully Teixidó can stick around in Vallecas for a number of years and we can see him build his iteration of Rayo Vallecano into something memorable. Fingers crossed his confrontational approach to the club’s hierarchy, and the results his team delivers, don’t make him a well-liked martyr, an idealist cast aside in the cut-throat reality of modern football.

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag

The Lever of La Paz – 2 – The Italian Job

This is episode two of a wider series. To start at episode one, please click here.

The old CRT TV in the bar happened to be showing grainy Serie A highlights. They each sipped a Cusqueña, putting the world to rights, as only a father and son can do. Starting with football, of course.

“The air is so thin here, do you know that? I thought home was bad, but I can barely breathe. I can’t bear it!”

It’s fair to say that Fernando Teixidó has yet to adjust to the notorious altitude and temperate climate in mountainous Bolivia.

The 43 year old coach takes an ill-advised giant draw from a toro cigar, followed by an awkward cough, mid-rant. Shifting his considerable weight from foot to foot uneasily, the mobile phone he is shouting into is pressed against his sweating temple.

The new Club The Strongest manager peers out of his temporary apartment’s living room window, as he kicks a clearly delapidated fan into life, trying to circulate what little air hangs in the room.

The sun is rising over the crammed La Paz skyline as the tenderfoot tactician continues to harangue his father, Carlos, over the phone; like this is his fault.

Carlos is some 6,000 miles away at his home in Barcelona, but his response is well-intentioned.

“Son. You know it was tough when I left Peru after so long too. Always remember, I’m here for you. It’s strange how people who suffer together, have stronger connections than people who are most content.”

“…Dad. As beautiful a sentiment as that is, I know you are quoting Bob Dylan again.”

Once a Dylanista, always a Dylanista. It was Teixido Snr’s signature trait.

His football manager son says his goodbyes (or did he just say “fare thee well?”), promising to call back in a couple of days, just like he always does.

The corners of Fernando’s mouth upturn as he throws the mobile phone on his interim kitchen worktop, casting his mind back to the last time he sat in a bar in Arequipa with his father. It was nearly twenty years ago.

That night, the old CRT TV in the bar happened to be showing grainy Serie A highlights. They each sipped a Cusqueña, putting the world to rights, as only a father and son can do. Starting with football, of course.

Something about that night stuck in Teixidó’s head. What was it?

Not the humidity of the bar on that summer’s night. Not Mr Teixidó Snr’s endless Dylanisms, no. It was something affecting. Something critical to Fernando’s dogmatic footballing philosophy and career pivot to become a manager in the first place.

Wait a second.

The commitment to playing out from the back. Short, yet counter-attacking passing. Aggressive pressing and tackling. A narrow network of passes flanked by marauding full backs.

Yeah, that was it. The highlights playing on that old, battered TV in the bar that evening.

It was the era of prime AC Milan. It was arguably the zenith of Carlo Ancelotti’s managerial career, and it undoubtedly represents the derivation of Teixidó’s tactical ideology.

Those were the days.

An absolutely incredible team.

Fernando Teixidó might be a Peruvian in Bolivia with a Catalan father, but it’s an iconic Italian who represents the biggest footballing influence on the rookie manager. How would that manifest itself in Teixidó’s The Strongest team?

Pre-season has come and gone.

It’s time for Teixidó to put down the cigars and put on his matchday suit.

It’s time for the Stronguistas to take to the stands of the Estadio Hernando Siles.

It’s time for El Tigre to roar…


So here we are!

As promised, we’ll have a quick overview of pre-season results, a bit of a look into who could be key players for The Strongest this season, and also touch on how I set up training to maintain and develop my players.

Lastly, a bit of analysis on Teixidó’s preferred tactical setup, the 4312.

I’ve put in 8.5 hours into this save so far, prior to a ball being kicked in anger. I don’t normally spend that long at this stage, but I’ve been granular in my approach to most elements of setting this side up.

This episode (along with the first that you’ve read already) is a wee bit longer than the ones to come in this series, but early on I like to set the scene.

Pre-Season Friendlies

This was our form in pre-season.

A brilliant start. Yes the opposition weren’t of the highest quality, but sides like San Marcos and Teixidó’s beloved Melgar should be no pushovers.

The Key Players

Rolando Blackburn smashed in eight goals in four starts in the friendlies, and I will be looking to Rolando to lead the line this season. An early candidate to be a real talisman of this Strongest side. A real number 9.

Great finishing and heading should lead to goals, as his pre-season form suggests.

The first choice wing backs Carlos Añez and Marvin Bejarano notched up 11 assists and 18 chances created between them across the 5 games where they played together. This is by a good margin a far more prolific supply route than from anywhere else on the pitch.

Añez’ 20 for natural fitness means he should play consistently without issue. He also has brilliant tackling and a great first touch. This is key in a short passing system.
Captain Belgrano is a more than solid all-rounder at this level, with his excellent balance a standout attribute alongside his leadership qualities.

An honourable mention goes to Rudy Cardozo, who will be our first choice number 10 behind the strikers.

Hard working, strong mentally and physically, decent first touch, dribbling, passing and finishing, along with a deadly cross for when he naturally drifts out to the channels looking for space.

Training

This is a straightforward one. I built three simple custom team training schedules (General, Defending and Attacking), and will rotate them all year-round. This may not be the optimum way to schedule team sessions, but I find I get a nice balance of steady improvement of those players with potential, suitable match preparation ahead of any fixtures, and not too much physical impact on the legs and lungs of the team.

I couple this with role-specific training, double intensity sessions where physical condition allows, focus on training specific player traits over the ‘additional focus’ function, and track the player’s workload, happiness, performance and progress on my custom training squad view, like below.

Tactics

Two of the three defensive midfielders join the wing backs in pushing forward. The deep lying playmaker, or lever, collects the ball from very deep and always looks to trigger counter attacks.

Like Teixidó himself realised above, a 4312 with a ‘lever’ or pivot defensive midfielder (here it is Diego Wayar), marauding wing backs and a creative 10 behind two strikers, is very much influenced by how Carlo Ancelotti tended to set up his incredible Milan side earlier this century.

The wing backs provide the width by running tirelessly (admittedly Carlos Añez is unfortunately no Cafu), and the DLP-D is the key pivot or lever, triggering short passing counter attacks, Players press aggressively and tackle hard.

There are two deliberately and noticeably conflicting elements in this tactic. The first is using a Trequartista as an absolute luxury, to provide an alternative approach when the committed, physical strategy doesn’t break the opposition down. The other is coupling a very short passing system with ‘hits early crosses.’ The theory here is that although the team primarily focus on playing small tiki-taka esque triangles as they move up the pitch, using wing backs that love to get forward (think Klopp’s Liverpool) along with the floating number 10, the defensive midfield line should occasionally be looking up and unlocking the opposition with a quick, longer ball/cross (think Kevin De Bruyne, but Bolivian and on much less money) to get the ball quickly in behind, causing overloads. Especially when we also play with two out and out strikers.

When it works, it’s a beautiful thing.

Here’s Wálter Veizaga giving it a go. I would suggest clicking on the word YouTube in the bottom right when the video starts playing. It opens it up in a new window. Saves you getting the binoculars out to watch a video the size of a postage stamp.

So what is our first competitive match? It’s only against the 11 times champions of Venezuela, Caracas; who visit the Hernano Siles for a crucial 2nd round qualifying playoff for the Copa Libertadores. Wish me luck!

Next time we will have played a good chunk of the first season and also have a look at some of the overall goals for this FM journey.

Until next time.

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag