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  • Writer's pictureFMBhikkhu

Livin' La Vida Loko! - Part 3: One Small Step for Leipzig

17th November, 2022



 

'Das Blaue vom Himmel versprechen' (German: The blue promise from the sky) - Used in reference to a promise which cannot be fulfilled.

 


 

Note: This is the third part of my FM23 series, 'Livin' La Vida Loko!' for part two, click here:

 

A Sunny Day in Senftenberg


A slight breeze meandered around the dingy makeshift office, from an ancient desk fan wheezing its last breaths.  The only light in the room shone from a high window, and its rays' highlighted flecks of dust as they danced around the room.


In the corner, tucked behind a borrowed desk, Ralph Hönigsberg mused over a faded picture of his ex-wife. The wrinkles of his face were accentuated as he dragged on a cigarette.


Had it been 5 years already? He could hardly remember. All his memories of the last decade seemed to blend together into obscurity. Doctor Waltz told him it was from the alcohol, but he didn’t care. Not like he wanted to remember, anyway.


If he could recall one thing it was the way he felt right now. He hadn’t been this nervous since 2006, when he was in the youth team at Leipzig. He insisted he wasn’t sure why Rainer had picked him for the cup final, but he knew he was his favorite. He was his Protégé, and Herr Lisiewicz had always been fond of his Wünderkind.


That damned thought, again. It flashed across his mind as the bittersweet nostalgia for those times echoed through his head.


He reached instinctively to his breast pocket, and replaced the picture he had been holding with a little silver hip flask. The musky smell of whisky filled the air as he stopped swigging to breathe.


It wasn’t the same as usual, though. This alcohol-free shit didn’t have the burn of the proper stuff. That was the bit he liked the most. He cursed his superior who forced him to swap it, but he could understand why. Maybe he wouldn’t have liked Rainer Lisiewicz so much if he had torn across the dressing room in a blind, drunken rage and stinking of booze.


And he certainly couldn’t afford to upset his players now, not after everything they had achieved so far. He gazed down at the folder he had laid out on the desk. Countless hours of drilling his philosophy into them, weeks upon weeks of his own time spent perfecting his theories. He had barely stopped to think for almost a year now. He liked it better like that, being consumed in his work. It kept his mind busy and stopped him staring at the bottom of a bottle.


'Integrität, Zutrauen, Entschlossenarbeit.!'


'Repeat! Integrität, Zutrauen, Entschlossenarbeit.!'


The players heard those words in their dreams. Ralph could tell they were all a bit amused by his teachings at first. They had laughed with each other as he shouted it at them in training. Hardly surprising, he must have looked as mad as a March hare.


But one by one, they had started to catch on. They chanted the words in unison as they jogged around the training ground, and found it made for quite a good running song.  They started chanting it in the gym too, as they performed the paired workouts Ralph had made them do. Some of them even sang it in the shower.


Before they had chance to realize it, Ralph’s philosophy was taking effect. Once the results started to show, they were hooked. Enamored with the man they called der Dirigent, 'the conductor', and his crazy ramblings of Zusammenkeit.


And der Dirigent’s methods had worked, too.


1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig had enjoyed a tremendous season. They had been tipped to finish 10th, solidly mid table. But the Bookmakers don't always get it right.


Through grit, determination, and a sprinkling of Zusammenkeit they had defied even their own expectations and won the Regionalliga. It was the first honor of any repute in Ralph Hönigsberg's career. Or more accurately, his life.


Satisfied with his notes and the plan for the final, Ralph slammed his notebook shut. He rose to his feet, and a determined look flashed across his face. Normally he looked tired, old ahead of his years. But when he entered this state of mind, when the stakes were this high, and failure was unacceptable - he resembled his warrior ancestors rather than a failed footballer and scholar.


The murmur of voices turned into a racket as he approached the dressing room door.


Ralph paused. All that separated his Leipzig team, and the next step of his plan were 90 minutes, and 11 Hertha Berlin players.


With a deep breath, he swung open the door.


 


“If you are first you are first. If you are second, you are nothing.”

Bill Shankly


In my last entry for this series, our team sat 1 point clear of Chemie Leipzig at the top of the league having played 10 games.


Well, It's now July 2023, and FC Lokomotive Leipzig have just beaten Hertha Berlin 1-0 in the Regionalliga playoff final - courtesy of a 69th minute outside-of-the-boot stunner from Theo Ogbidi. This victory seals their promotion to the 3. Liga - and everything that comes with it.


🎶 Movin' on up, Movin' on up...🎶

If I'm being honest, I'm not completely surprised. We started the season really well, the tactic worked and a huge drop off in form just felt unlikely. It wasn't exactly a landslide, and from previous experience I know these leagues usually run down to the wire - in our case, it went right down to the last day:




Matchday 33 ....

... Matchday 34!

But if you can get off to a good start, you can usually finish strong. The quicker you can build those squad dynamics up the more momentum you can build in matches. Having a close-knit squad was one of the vital elements I wanted to incorporate into this save and it's nice to see the dynamics page looking like this:


(Ignore the fact there's 4 unhappy players, we'll get onto that later...)

Which meant that we could see form like this following our first 10 games:



A 9-game unbeaten run, followed by a 13-game unbeaten run then another 8 games undefeated - courtesy of the good squad dynamics we managed to cultivate. As a semi-professional club, we had only 4 training sessions a week, and 2 of these were consistently dedicated to teamwork and team bonding sessions. It looks like Zusammenkeit is in full swing.


My only major gripe of the season is that we failed to beat local rivals Chemie Leipzig - but I feel we may yet have the last laugh.


 

"If you can't win, make sure you don't lose"

- Johan Cruyff


Last time round, I talked about how pleased I was with how the Mauerball tactic was playing out in the match engine. I knew that it was well balanced and had designed it to be defensively solid. What I wasn't expecting was just how effective it could be. We only lost three games all season, all of them 1-0. We only conceded 25 goals all season, or 0.7 per game. That's not a bad defensive return, and if we look at some of the data charts, I think it's clear why:







We comfortably topped the league charts in a number of metrics -

  • Most passes completed of any team, and least completed against.

  • Highest number of passes attempted whilst maintaining highest pass completion ratio.

  • Least number of passes in our final third.

  • Highest possession percentage and lowest possession lost rating.


We were bang average for passes in the opposition final third, but that's as a result of how we play - we build up through the middle of the park to exploit gaps opened up by the opposition press.


One metric that did stand out was that we had the lowest possession won rating in the league. After a couple of seconds thinking, I almost laughed out loud.


We had the lowest rating for winning possession because we never had to - the opposition never had the ball.


I hadn't expected to dominate games this much, and certainly not be top of the metrics by those margins. It's encouraging, and I don't think it's because of the technical ability of our players either - they're not exactly a team of Kevin De Bruynes.


Rather, I think the 4-5-1 shape has done exactly what I wanted it to - provide a good coverage across the pitch and allow players to always have a safe option to pass to if required rather than lose the ball.


That doesn't mean they never took a risky pass - I watched some graciously threaded through balls carried out in the match engine - but it just felt like the timing was a lot better. We were patient, calculated, and incisive when the opportunity arose - just like I had asked.


We never won by much, with our biggest winning margin being 3 goals on the opening day, but like Johan Cruyff said - If you can't win, make sure you don't lose.


 

"We need the whole squad, every player of the team, if we are to be successful."

- Pep Guardiola


Before I reveal the man who made all this happen, I realized last time round that I didn't get to provide a very detailed breakdown of the squad. The reason for this is twofold:

  • Most of the players were on one-year deals, and I thought we could upgrade them once their contract was up so an in-depth analysis seemed unnecessary.

  • I got a little bit carried away with the excitement of starting a new save and just wanted to get stuck in. Guilty!

Instead, I'll give a little breakdown of some of the stars of the last season who we're taking to the next level with us, then any new faces who joined the club over the course of the season.


 

  1. Riccardo Grym and Julian Weigel



Our dynamic duo in midfield. They signed before we joined the club, they're both on contracts that will keep them here next season and having them both as Central Midfielders on Attack led to some great linkups with the forward and wingers. They've both been great to watch in game, and although we'll need an upgrade sooner or later, I'm happy with them for now.


Grym recorded 6 goals and 4 assists across 30 appearances last season, and Weigel clocked in at 5 goals and 6 assists. That's not the kind of returns I'm looking for in a role that represents one of our main attacking outlets, but they both work hard and are present in all areas of the pitch. They've earned a chance to impress at a higher division.


 

2. Leon Heynke and Mike Eglseder



Leading our back line, this pair of Germans were instrumental in us conceding so few goals last season. Heynke is a bit better in the air, whereas Eglseder has better mental defending attributes and is better at last ditch defence.


They both received average ratings of 7.35 and even popped up with a goal each.


While they performed in the Regionalliga, I think they may struggle with the step up - there was a few times last season where they were a bit loose in possession and almost cost us - but that might be to do with how often they were on the ball. Heynke completed more passes than any defender in the league last season, with the best ratio to boot. Both of them agreed to an acceptable wage and they're coming with us for next season too.



 

3. Farid Abderrahmane



Our joint second highest assister with 6 assists, and occasionally chipped in with a goal or two - scoring 3 across the season. Either footed, he has played all across the midfield and on the left wing and is a useful utility player. Out of contract in 2024, I'll be waiting to see how he handles the step up before renewing.



 

4. Theo Ogbidi



A good case of 'passing the eye test', Ogbidi actually played second fiddle to club captain Sascha Pfeffer last season. He still recorded a goal and 4 assists, and with Pfeffer being 36 I just don't think his legs will be able to handle the higher intensity of the 3. Liga. That, and he wants £2k p/w and Star Player status - which I just can't offer him. Theo Ogbidi will take the spot of 1st choice on the right wing next season.


On paper, he doesn't look to be a world beater- and he's not. That said, I love how he looks in the match engine. You can actually see his 17 determination at work as he presses opponent defenders, nicking the ball and careering towards goal. He gets into some good positions but just needs to work on his end product, and I think with more playing time he should shine.



 

5. Djamal Ziane



Last but by no means least, it's Mr. Loko himself - Djamal Ziane.


The league top scorer, Regionalliga Nordost 22/23 player of the season and Supporter's player of the season racked up 25 goals across a stellar campaign. Now in his tenth season with Loko, he's scored 106 goals in 223 appearances. He started every game last season, too. Loved by the fans, he's a real icon of the club - and the game has given him that recognition in the club info panel.



I had worried he wouldn't be able to play as the complete forward I wanted him too, and to be honest he didn't really - he only came up with 2 assists. His physicality and technical ability saw him through however, and he came up with some stunning finishes in a truly memorable season.


Case in Point:


This fairytale might not have a happy ending, however. Like many of the team with expiring contracts, Djamal was demanding a lot of money and a squad status that I just couldn't promise him - especially with a striker from the Swiss 2nd division joining us in August, and a promising looking youth player emerging at the club.


Every other player was released on a free upon running down their contracts, but I couldn't quite bring myself to dump Ziane out in the streets of Leipzig. He'll remain at the club on a month-to-month basis as we head into the next season, until I decide it's in the best interest of the club to release him or until somebody makes an offer for him. It's the least he deserves.


I certainly won't forget him anytime soon, anyway.





 

The New Arrivals



When I first took over the club, there was exactly £0 spare in the transfer and wage budgets. Loko Leipzig aren't a rich club, and at this level funds are tight.


For some reason though, the club had allocated £150k to our scouting budget. With some budget shuffling, and sending some unwanted players out on loan, I was able to sign 3 players on free contracts and one on a pre-contract deal for next season.


Four Africans have joined to bolster the Loko Leipzig ranks - here's a closer look at them:



 
  1. Yaya Meledje



The first player brought to the club is 24 year old Ivorian Yaya Meledje. Having played the majority of his football in Bulgaria he's recently found himself unemployed after stints in Israel and Morocco.


He was signed mostly for his outstanding determination, teamwork, work rate and stamina - all of which fit the Mauerball system perfectly. He slots into the middle of the midfield, as a Central Midfielder on a Defend duty - a position previously assigned to Abderrahmane, but I prefer him playing on the left wing.


He's tireless, constantly grafting in midfield to win the ball back and laying it off to the more creative players - he finished the season with 1.94 tackles per 90 and a 93% pass completion ratio. The only issue is his aggression can cause him to get into trouble - he picked up 8 yellow cards in 23 games this season.



 

2. Amadou Diambo




A product of the Pescara academy over in Italy, Amadou is a promising talent and made 21 appearances for the club this season, with 6 starts. He can play anywhere in our midfield and is comfortable playing a bit further forward, but he fits better as a deputy for the defensive midfield spot.


He isn't as adept at working in a team as I'd like, but with 16 determination I'm confident he can grow in that aspect and flourish as a regular starter for the club in the future.


 

3. Wilson Kamavuaka




The most seasoned of the new signings, Wilson Kamavuaka is a Congolese defensive midfielder with top flight experience. He's spent the majority of his career in Germany, making 13 Bundesliga appearances with 1. FC Nürnberg and SV Darmstadt. He also turned out in the top-flight Austrian Bundesliga, picking up 39 appearances at SK Sturm Graz.

His best years are definitely behind him now, and he's not as fit or fast as he probably once was. He is determined though and isn't afraid to challenge for the ball. We were seriosuly lacking depth at centre-back and midfield, and Wilson is a great depth option as he agreed to a measly £180 p/w and fringe player status. With Ziane and Pfeffer potentially departing, I thought having such a veteran around couldn't be a bad thing - even if he doesn't play much.



 

4. Raphael Dwamena



Another player with top flight experience, this time in Spain, Denmark and Switzerland, Raphael Dwamena is a Ghanaian striker who will be joining the club at the start of the transfer window.


He's got a lot to live up to following the stellar performance of Djamal Ziane, but he looks to be a bit of a coup for our level. He's got a good spread of Zusammenkeit attributes and he's quick to boot.


I'm most excited about his ability off the ball - with our tactic being so focussed on creating space by drawing out defenders, his positioning in attack and a burst of pace should hopefully work perfectly in our system. He's strong and brave too, so he should be capable of holding up the ball and playing his teammates in.


I'm expecting big things from Raphael! Just a shame we can't get Donatello, Leonardo and Michaelangelo in as well.


 

Promising Talents


That wraps up all the players who joined from outside the club last season, but as the season drew to a close, we received some info regarding our upcoming youth intake, and it looked exciting:



When the intake came in, I got a closer look at some of the players. They're tipped to have a lot of potential, but at our level and the staff we have I'm not expecting them to become world class players.



For me, the pick of the bunch is definitely Heinko Duhnke. As I've been writing this post, preseason for 23/24 has begun and Duhnke has already scored 4 goals in 3 friendly games. He looks great in the match engine, dropping deep to pick up the ball and harrying opposition defenders. With his form and performance in training I can't ignore him. He's set to become our 2nd choice striker behind Dwamena - That's not bad for a 16 year-old.


Oh, he's also Leipzig born and bred.


Leipzig through and through, Duhnke is an exciting prospect.

 

"If you have got the ball, keep it. The other side cannot score."

- Vic Buckingham


The mastermind of this remarkable season was alluded to in the introduction to this post - the enigmatic former Loko Leipzig youth player with a penchant for whisky, Ralph Hönigsberg.



Ralph was born in Leipzig, into a rapidly changing world. the day he drew his first breath, the great wall that had separated the people of Germany for forty years was finally being torn down.


Raised in his birthplace, Ralph had shown great promise as a youngster in the lower echelons of German football. While playing for his local side VfB Leipzig, He had attended trials in his youth at some of Germany's top clubs - including a call to Bayern Munich's U11's team, but his mother was reluctant on the move due to caring for an elderly relative.


It was family issues again that would eventually cut short his playing career completely. Following an impressive showing in the Landesliga, Ralph was approached by an agent who offered to introduce him to some contacts in the Spanish top-flight. Little did he know that these contacts were from one of the biggest clubs in the world - Barcelona.


It was on trial in Spain that Ralph had met one of his idols - Josep Guardiola. He had played the same position, and Ralph could recall watching him play for the Blaugrana when he was a boy. The Barcelona B team manager left an effect on the seventeen-year-old that is still evident in his footballing philosophy today. Ralph had been approached by Barcelona upon returning home to Leipzig and offered a formal contract. However, Ralph's terminally ill father had taken a turn for the worse had and passed away shortly after. Consumed by grief, he simply couldn't find any enjoyment in playing anymore and never responded to Barca's call.


While he had stopped playing, that wasn't to be the end of Ralph's involvement in football.

An unglamorous career as a history lecturer at Leipzig University followed, but he still maintained an interest in the sport - taking up an unpaid coaching role for the University's teams. It was here that he had perfected the basis of what could become his footballing identity - Zusammenkeit.


He had always taken an interest to the tactical side of the game and following his father's death had become obsessed with defining the notion that his father had coined - 'Pure Football'. His time at the university gave him the chance to pore over his father's vast collection of notes and anecdotes, which had been collated over twenty or so years.


You see his father, Hansi, had been somewhat of a footballing romantic. He himself had played a minor role in the great Ajax team of the 60s and 70s, where he had become close friends with the late Johan Cruyff. So much so, that Hansi asked Cruyff to be his first baby's godfather. Hansi was his greatest confidante, and they spent many a night together, debating over the correct term for the brand of football and how every phase of play should look, what every role should encompass and how it would all fit together - all in front of the fledgling Ralph.


As an infant, he had even been held in the arms of his father's former coach Vic Buckingham, who had kept in touch with Hansi after all those years.


It's fair to say then that Ralph Hönigsberg had something of a pedigree in footballing education. He hadn't made it as a player, but his bloodline carried a strong sense of determination. He was driven to carry out his father's legacy, all he needed was a vehicle.


When Loko Leipzig had posted the vacancy for a managerial position, it was an opportunity he couldn't afford to miss.


His interview had been scheduled to take one hour.


It took five.


Five hours spent cajoling chairman Thomas Löwe and the board to accept his philosophy. Five hours educating them on his vision, of how he would emphasize teamwork, grit and integrity. A full corporate structure was drawn up on a whiteboard, and Ralph emphasized how commercialism was killing the sport. He insisted that community should always come before business - the board agreed. He even spent a bewildering hour lambasting them with an in-depth analysis of Anglo-Saxon shield-wall strategy, one of his own additions to his father's notes.


His passion was tangible, his vision clear and defined.


The board were sold.


He had made a 'Blaue vom Himmel versprechen', a promise from the blue sky.


One which surely could not be fulfilled.



 

This save is in full swing now and we're on track to achieve the long-term objectives set out by the introduction to this series. Promotion from the 4th tier in the first season is a great start and I'm hoping to be in the second division within the next 2 seasons - before we can make our charge for the riches of the Bundesliga.


I've had some really memorable Football Manager saves over the last couple of years and being in charge of 1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig is getting up there. I think the save will really come into its own when we become a more established club and start attracting some real talent, but I'm glad we've already made icons like Djamal Ziane that will live on in club folklore for years to come.


As someone who's new to writing about the game, I would suggest anybody who's considered it to give it a go. You don't even have to publish it - just keep it in a document on your computer. I've found it gives the save an extra level of excitement and being able to track your progress through time is nice too. The hardest part about it is stopping playing to write!


From now on, I think the series will move to season updates for each year. I've got a couple of ideas for individual pieces that I'm working on and hope to have out some time in the near future.


To keep a track of the journey, and for an update of when the next post is out, you can follow me on Twitter:





And if you made it this far, thanks for reading!



Patrick - FM Bhikkhu




 

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