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"Diamonds Are Forever" - Vaya Con Dios, FM23

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

5th May, 2023

 


 

Intro



Heerenveen, The Netherlands. After a relaxing break, the Compostela squad are preparing for the first pre-season match of the 2027 summer training camp. I, meanwhile, am squirreling away with tactical tinkering, squad composition, and all the usual pre-season guff. I've dedicated particular attention to this one, as a marked improvement is required. Yes, we managed to avoid the drop. Still, the squad we have is made up of second-tier players and youngsters who are still learning their craft. A new direction is required.


SD Compostela have come a long way under the guidance of Ferdinand De Borja. The club is growing both literally and in reputation. However, unlike with Lokomotive Leipzig, my first save in FM23, I feel like we've never nailed down a tactical philosophy. I think now is a good time to do that. Read on for a Romanian wonderkid, midfield diamonds, and some up-to-date save objectives.


 

Season Review - The Great Escape




I'm calling our achievement of staying in La Liga for another year 'The Great Escape', but perhaps 'The Incredibly Lucky Escape' would be more fitting. Despite my initial optimism and enjoyment of the struggle, it quickly turned to a disappointing slog of losses. Our best run of form was three runs on the bounce at the end of January and start of February, but of the 8 games we played in April and May we lost all but one - a goalless draw to Atlético Madrid. That would end up being our saving grace, as we avoided the drop by virtue of having a better goal difference than Real Zaragoza. We survived with a record low points total of 35. It's been a tough season, and that's probably why I've blitzed through it so quick. It's difficult not to just keep hitting continue when you've scored 4 goals in 8 games.


Extreme highs and lows in the space of a few months.

Our new signings were far from spectacular, with the exception of perhaps Pontus Dahlberg, who managed to keep 12 clean sheets in 33 appearances. Felix Afena-Gyan was promising, and matched Peru Ruiz for league goals with 7 over the campaign. He was, however, the most booked player in the league (16 yellow cards) and the most offside player in the league (46 offsides). If he can learn to channel his aggression properly, and to time his runs, I have hope for him. His parallel signing, Omar Faraj, was much poorer. He didn't register a single league goal or assist in 34 appearances - I'll cut him a bit of slack as he only started 5, but I'm still less than impressed. Omari Hutchinson has a similar record, but at least managed to score a goal. Markus Nxumalo was ever present, and is fast becoming one of the best players at the club. He came 9th in the league for Key Headers/90, and will retain his spot as a starter. He's even earned himself a spot on the NXGN 2027, a promising sign for sure. Fellow South African Carlo Francis is still developing, but also impressed in his 5 appearances.


39th out of the 50th best wonderkids in the world. I'll take that.

On a more positive note, survival means continued TV revenue and better sponsor deals. The board have offered me a bumper wage budget of €29M, which I've promptly reduced to €22M to get some transfer funds. That, and they've finally agreed to start putting some money into club infrastructure.


 

Club Improvements


The long awaited board takeover finally happened, an internal process where director Pierre-Olivier Murat has taken charge from David Castro. While it's disappointing that we won't see any extra external investment, the new board do seem a bit happier to spend club income rather than keeping it for themselves.



Estadio Municipal Vero Boquete Will be expanded to meet La Liga's minimum requirements, increasing capacity by 5000 seats. It's a good sign as recently we've been maxing out our capacity, but we'll have to wait a few more years before getting a stadium named in our honour it would seem.


The new board have also agreed to upgrade our training facilities to 'great' and youth facilities to 'good'. This is a positive sign, as these improvements are vital to long term success. Some of the players I've brought in so far just haven't developed as I would've liked and I'm putting it down to our poor facilities. The youth facilities upgrade is important, as I believe our youth products have decent potential but their current ability is poor. By the time they reach 18 they aren't ready for first team minutes. Our new Head of Youth Development, Cha Du-Ri, has improved the personalities of our newgens. Now we need to work on their quality. In time, we should see more homegrown players like Kamel Badaoui breaking into the first team, as long as we keep investing in our infrastructure.


 

A Diamond in The Rough


"The name's De Borja. Ferdinand De Borja."

For most of the 2026/27 season, I switched between a 4-3-3 and 3-5-2 system, struggling to find results or good performances. As panic set in on our 8 game winless streak, I started thinking about other ways we could set up to try and see some improvement. It was clear by now that we were the biggest underdogs in this league, and the lightning pace of Afena-Gyan was our best hope of grabbing a goal. I'd been playing him a lot as an inside-forward, but it's not has natural position and he doesn't really have the ability on the ball to beat his man - he's much better in a foot race. On the other side, our best option was Tofol Montiel, but he's also capable of playing as a CAM. I'd considered going back to basics with a 4-4-2, but we didn't really have the wide midfielders to do that. It dawned on me that we did have the players for a similar system - a 4-4-2 midfield diamond.


I began researching coaches who had used the system, and the best ways to set it up to achieve success. We had almost all the ingredients - combative midfielders, a defensive midfield orchestrator, a pacey forward and a target man...


Eventually, I cobbled this together:



It was a stop-gap measure. A desperate search for a way to change our fortunes. I kept things basic so I could see how the shape would work. The result was the 0-0 draw against Atlético, the one that would ultimately save our season. We then lost our last two games 2-1, but at least we were scoring goals. The midfield diamond had won me over, and will be the basis of our tactical philosophy from now on.


To cement my commitment to this change, I brought in a new Assistant Manager once Manuel Ruano's contract was up - former nomadic Striker Deon Burton. The 4-4-2 diamond is his 2nd preferred formation after a 4-3-3, but that's a shape I'll be keeping on the cards if we need to switch things up. He's a competent Assistant, and after his playing career in England during the hey day of the 4-4-2 he should be well versed in what we're trying to do. He also continues the Caribbean theme we've got running through the club, with Omar Edwards and Omari Hutchinson the other Jamaicans already with us. Maybe I should start scouting for some Caribbean talent...


December 2013's League Two Player of The Month, Mr. Deon Burton.

So, the 4-4-2 diamond is our way forward. But the tactic I put together at the end of last season was rushed, and needed some refinement. After some more research and tinkering, I'll be starting pre-season with this tactic and adjusting as we go on:


4-1-2-1-2 or 4-4-2 Diamond?

Instructions


Out of possession, I had flirted with the idea of a low block. However, I think with this shape and the quality in La Liga we'd just be asking for trouble. The times I have used it have led to the opposition getting off a lot of shots but struggling to get them on target, however we invariably end up conceding a penalty to one of La Liga's many tricky wingers. I think for now a compact mid-block is the way forward, which should help us retain a disciplined defensive shape while not conceding too much pressure. A high press wouldn't really be suitable, as we need space to open up in behind. I've also asked the players to trap the opposition outside, to encourage them to play hopeful crosses that can be cleared by our aerially dominant centre-backs.


The only in-transition instructions I have on are counter and distribute quickly. I'm considering adding throw it long to make use of new keeper Rafaël Ianc's throwing ability, and adding regroup to encourage the players to drop back into a block when possession is lost. I think having counter-press on would lead to us being cut apart far too easily, as our press could be beaten easily by just moving the ball to the wide areas. I'd rather concede possession there and have the midfielders drop back to crowd the central space.


In possession, we'll be keeping things more disciplined to avoid us being caught on the break ourselves. I also want us passing into space to make the most of Afena-Gyan's pace, and to move the ball forward with urgency. I want progressive attacking play with blisteringly fast transitions. On that note, I've kept the tempo on slightly higher but might shift it around on a game-to-game basis.


Roles


I've tried to keep the roles fairly basic with this one, and maximise the abilities of our players. At the back, the two central defenders are on a simple CB-De instruction. However, I might consider switching one to a no-nonsense centre-back if we're playing against a high-pressing team that I think could nick the ball near our goal. The full-backs are important in this system, as they provide almost all of our width. I've put them on attack to encourage them to burst forward and provide a passing option from midfield, and to pull opposition players out wide to open up space through the centre. That could leave space in behind them, but that problem should be covered by our midfield diamond.


To cover the space out wide, I've opted to use two Carrileros. I had tried using two ball-winning midfielders, but i'm conscious that they might spend most of their time running around to catch wide players and breaking up our defensive shape. To compensate, I've added the 'tackle harder' instruction to both Carrileros to encourage them to get stuck in. These two players are pretty important in this tactic, essentially playing as two number 8s. They need a good enough work-rate and stamina to run around for 90 minutes, as well as the defensive capability to maintain our shape. Behind them is a deep-lying playmaker on a Defend duty. He'll be the heartbeat of the team, playing long balls over the top to the forwards or laying it off out-wide to the marauding full-backs. He'll also be providing cover for the back line, dropping back to make a back three when out of possession. For tougher games I might consider using a half-back to offer more protection.


Our attacking three are comprised of a central attacking midfielder on attack duty, advanced forward on attack duty, and a deep lying forward on support duty. I had previously had Afena-Gyan as a pressing forward, but I think that's what led to him picking up so many yellow cards so I'm getting him to ease off tackles a little bit. Still, he'll be the one playing off the shoulder, looking to use his excellent pace to get in behind whenever possible. To encourage this, his strike partner will be playing as a deep-lying forward which should hopefully pull an opposition defender out to mark him and open up a bit more space. This role will probably be fulfilled by Peru Ruiz, who's strong enough to hold up the ball and has enough aerial presence to latch onto long balls. Think of it as your classic 'little and large' partnership. The CAM will be either Tofol Montiel or Kamel Badaoui, who can both play the role well. I've kept them on attack for now to add another runner, but might change it to a more supporting role if I feel them sitting in the hole would work better.


The System Finalised


So, that's how my 4-4-2 diamond should work in theory. We've used plenty of different shapes in this save, and I think now as we start to recruit long-term to push for European spots we have to settle on one. As underdogs, our focus now is on defensive football and direct counter-attacking. No tippy-tappy football here - big Sam would be proud. One of the main benefits of this system is it's versatility. As we improve as a team, we'll start seeing teams play more defensively against us but the system can be switched to a more attacking one if necessary - by adding a Mezzala, for example. It makes sense to make this switch now, as we're down to just one left-wing player after Carles Llario's contract expired. If it doesn't work, well then I guess diamonds are temporary, not forever. While a lot of our players fit the new shape, there are areas for improvement, and I've already started to make moves in the transfer market.


 

Diamond Recruitment


I've got all our new signings wrapped up early this year, with all but one of them agreed before the start of the window. I've completed a lot of transfers in this save, a lot more than I would usually like. That is a consequence of rapid succession up the footballing pyramid, as we've had to rebuild the squad year on year. As we hit the top flight I expected our transfer activity to decrease, as we look to recruit players who will be genuine long term options for us. I've completed six transfers this year, and I can't see me doing many more unless we move some players on.


The pick of the bunch this year has to be Romanian goalkeeper Rafaël Ianc. At just 19, he's already first-choice for the Romanian national team, and he's already our best keeper ahead of Pontus Dahlberg. His handling, reflexes, agility and positioning are strong points in an already well-rounded goalkeeping profile. I found him courtesy of a recruitment focus in Eastern Europe, and we managed to sign him for €4M - an absolute steal. Honestly, I can't believe he hadn't already been snatched up by a bigger club, and the only other team that were showing an interest were Bayer Leverkusen. I've stuck a whopping €80M release clause on our answer to Jan Oblak, and I don't think I'll be too upset if that gets triggered.



Another major signing that's been completed is the €7.5M acquisiton of Mark Mcguinness from Cardiff. That's another record signing for us, and one that's somewhat of a gamble. My original first choice had been Achraf Dari, a Moroccan national team regular and one who had put up some impressive numbers for key tackles, blocks and interceptions in Ligue 2 for Brest. However, he wasn't too keen on the move, preferring to wait until AFCON had finished. McGuinness on the other hand was pretty happy to come and play in La Liga, having been second choice behind Chris Mepham at Cardiff. He joins with 15 Premier League and 21 Championship appearances under his belt, and I'm hoping he can be a defensive rock for us in the years to come. Standout positives for him are his aerial ability, strength and bravery. His decision making does let him down a bit, so he might be the one I switch to a no-nonsense centre-back if I think he's making too many mistakes. A big money move, and one I hope works out.


Edit: I looked Mark McGuinness up on Wikipedia, and discovered that his dad was a former Bowls player, earning a silver medal at the 2014 Commonwealth games. A promising sign, for sure.



Two more fairly risky signings are the purchases of Gianluca Del Duca (Gigi Duca, as I've been affectionately calling him) and Ratko Vojvodic - from Cesena and Partizan Belgrade respectively. Del Duca cost €2.6M in total, which is a lot for an 18 year old who has only every played in Serie C. That said, he's been a first team regular in that league since he was 16, so he's obviously got some ability. A consummate perfectionist, I'm confident he'll make good on his La Liga level potential and his €55M release clause ensures a very good profit should he move on. I think the best choice for him this season might be a loan move as he'll struggle for game time ahead of our current striking options - including new signing Ratko Vojvodic.


Vojvodic is the slightly older of the two, at 20, and is another result of our recruitment focus in Eastern Europe. He scored 7 goals in 23 games for Partizan last season, and has 13 Serbian U21 caps to his name. He draws comparisons to Afena-Gyan, having similar levels of pace and aggression. His work-rate does let him down a bit, but I think if we're using an advanced forward rather than pressing forward that shouldn't be much of an issue. He's also slightly better in the air than Afena-Gyan, and he'll be acting as an understudy to him for this coming season.




Our two other signings carry considerably less financial risk. Bolivian right-back Marco Paz joins for €160k from Universitario de Sucre, where he's been a first-team regular in Bolivia's top flight since he was 16. He's pretty much a direct upgrade on Marc Jurado, and I think he has the mental qualities to earn a spot in the first XI straight away. He possesses exceptional work rate, teamwork, resilience and stamina, so should be a good choice in the full-back role in our new system.


Greek midfielder Sotiris Alexandropoulos joins on a free transfer from Sporting CP, where he's made a smattering of first team appearances over the past few years. I've brought him in as a replacement and upgrade to fan-favourite Genaro, who has left the club upon his contract expiring. I'm sad to see him go, but hopeful that Alexandropoulos can prove a worthy alternative. I think his best role is as a box-to-box midfielder, so he should be pretty good in the carrilero spot in our 4-4-2 diamond. Possessing excellent stamina, work rate and pace, he should be an ideal number 8 but his concentration and decisions could do with some work. He's also a model citizen, so I'll likely use him for mentoring purposes.





That rounds out all the new signings so far, but I've got my eyes on a couple more before the window ends. David De La Vibora was pretty disappointing last year, and my alternative options to him aren't great either. I had set Milos Kerkez of AZ as a target, but his wage demands proved prohibitive. A shame, because I think he'd have been a great choice. I'm considering 28 year old Algerian Yamas Hamache for that role, if we can get him at a good price. Failing that, I might sign Frenchman Jaouen Hadjam on loan from Watford to provide some competition to De La Vibora. I also have my eye on Cardiff's Giannoulis, who would offer less resale value but still looks great at 31.


I think Ibra's time at the club is coming to an end, despite him earning his first cap for Guinea this year. He's been a solid option but I think we've just outgrown him. We've had Ben Williamson from Rangers on loan for a while, and I'm considering him as a replacement option for one of the number 8 spots. However, as a Scot I think he'd be considered a non-EU player, which we've already filled our quota of. However, Erick Silva is awaiting paperwork for his Spanish nationality, so he could still be an option if all goes well.


 

Setting up for next season


I mentioned at the start of this post that I've put particular attention into preparing for this coming season, and indeed I have. As well as focusing heavily on our new tactical shape, I've spent the time to change our set piece set-up and review individual training regimes. Some of these I hadn't changed since the 2024/25 season, a consequence of my tendency to rush pre-season. I've been playing preseason games on comprehensive highlights and really paying attention to our shape and how I could tweak the tactic. Due to our newfound financial prosperity, I've been inundated with contract renewal requests. Some of these, like Marc Jurado, I've granted. However, I have to be very careful now in offering playing time and high wages to players who just aren't good enough - these could both make them harder to offload.


As a result of our success, I've also been offered interviews from the likes of Valencia, OGC Nice, and Lyon. These offers are all tempting, but I don't think our time at Compostela is done just yet. As long as we continue to improve, and the board continues to upgrade the club, I'm happy to stay. Second season syndrome is very real, but I'm confident we can give a better account of ourselves this year. However, to keep the save on track, I've reviewed our strategic aims and compiled them into a brand new Compostela manifesto.


 

The Manifesto 2.0



So, those are our goals for the next phase of this save. I think they're realistic and achievable, as a top seven finish is required for a European place - I think we can grow to be the 7th best team in Spain within a couple of years. However, challenging the dominance of Real Madrid and Barcelona is a long way off. It's going to take a long time until we have the financial capability to take them on. Still, we can but try. The focus for now is on smart recruitment and resale value of players to grow the club as much as possible.


On that note, getting an affiliate network set up to poach the best talents would be our best bet to earn funds from players. As yet, the board have been reluctant to allow this, but I'm hopeful our ambitions will match up in the future. Failing that, I will just keep scouting for talents with recruitment focusses and train them to be as good as I can before moving them on. Doing that should be the main way the club makes money outside of TV revenue, and if we manage to clinch a European spot I don't think the 'rich' status will be far off.


Finally, I want to bring a player in or through the academy who turns into an international superstar. Maybe not quite to the level of Neymar, Messi, Mbappe et al., but one who is recognized as a world-class player. If they can win an award like footballer of the year, or a World Cup, even better. We've already got some great talents at the club, and the likes of Markus Nxumalo, Rafaël Ianc and Lorenzo Blasco look to have the potential to go right to the top of the game.


 


This is my third blog post in just over a week, so clearly I'm pretty engrossed in this save. Last season was the worst run of form I've had in Football Manager since an ill-fated stint as Lyngby manager during the beta, which was promptly ended early once the full version came out. Every cloud and all that, I think 8 wins, 11 draws and 19 losses is a pretty easy bar to overcome. I'm aware that despite improvements we're still the worst team in the league, so the threat of relegation is still very real. Hopefully, I can smooth out the edges of our new 4-1-2-1-2 system and build a squad that's capable of achieving the targets I've laid out. With job offers flying in left right and centre, It'll be difficult to ignore the big clubs if significant progress isn't seen.


I think finally nailing down a tactical philosophy and recruitment strategy could be key to extending my time at Compostela. At the very least, I want to leave a legacy at Compostela that keeps them as La Liga regulars for the years to come. We've got another tough season ahead, but I think we're ready for it - only time will tell.


This is a longer post than usual, so an extra thank you is in order if you made it this far. Blogging about FM is something I'd always considered, but never actually started. I'm glad that I did, as it's been a consistent hobby for me since I started last year. Over time, I've started to refine what to write about and how to do it. I've got about 50 save ideas jotted down in a notebook, so I hope to continue for quite a while yet.


 

Patrick - FM Bhikkhu


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