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 A seriously outdated iPad sits beside some bottled water, covered in scratches and significant dents from many years of use.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