So you actually did it. You’ve taken over a Championship side and managed to get promoted. A gruelling 46 game campaign ended in a ticket to the Promised Land. Congratulations! Well done! But the hardest part of the job has just started. As a newly promoted side, you’re just like the new kid at school. Everyone’s out to test you. You, as the manager, have the unenviable job to prepare your squad for perhaps the hardest season in your career as an FM manager. You’re going to need every bit of help you can get. Having been promoted with Nottingham Forest and managed to retain Premier League status, I might have some advice for you, my young Padawan.
- Adjust, adapt and surprise
It is very tempting to change your tactic into something that is not even covered by ‘parking the bus’. Five in a row at the back, protected by two DM’s in front of them and defensive wingers on the flanks. But resist these evil thoughts.
Stick to your philosophy, but be sensible. Remember, you’re no longer one of the big boys, you’re the small duck in a big pond. You cannot afford a player who shirks defensive responsibilities or is less disciplined, so avoid roles like a trequartista or ball winning midfielders. It is very important to keep a solid shape during the defensive phase of a game and not give the opponent a lot of room. You’re going to face some of the best strikers on this planet, and it’s your job to find a way to stop them. I’ve found that sticking with ‘simple’ roles like central midfielders or wide midfielders is very useful. They come with very few player instructions already ticked and are therefore very customisable to suit your needs. You can adapt them to your opponent and the changing situation on the pitch.
You will face some of the best AI managers and you will need every bit of your FM knowledge to out think them. Have at least two tactics loaded up, one designed to face sides outside of the top six and one for matches against the top sides in the league. You can get points against teams like Manchester United or Chelsea, but you just have to be smart about it. Make both tactics variants on your already established tactic in order to speed up the period your players need to learn the tactic. A good combo is a 4-1-4-1 against strong sides and 4-4-1-1 against weaker sides. Both formations allow for a lot of the same player roles between them and are very flexible. You can adjust them to every situation on the pitch and to every opponent. Keep surprising your opposing manager!
- Be ruthless!
This might be strange coming from a guy who wrote a piece on the sentimental side of Football Manager, but when you get promoted to the Premier League sentimentality can’t have a place in your thoughts. A lot of players are very good at Championship level, but fail to perform in the Premier League. Be honest in your assessment of the squad in pre-season. A good way to judge if a player is ready for Premier League football, is to compare them to similar players at clubs you will be competing against. For example, if you want to know if your central midfielder is good enough, compare him to a central midfielder at Stoke City or West Bromwich Albion. These sides will be near you in the table and as regular Premier League clubs should be what you’re aiming for in your first few seasons in the Premier League. So if your beloved midfield captain, who was a stalwart during the Championship campaign, is worse than say Joe Allen or Darren Fletcher, you should consider selling him. You can also check out the player reports compiled by your backroom staff. Most of the times they will tell you at which level a player can operate. But don’t take them as set in stone. Players can develop, you have to trust your own judgement in who to keep and who to sell.
- Wheel and deal
Don’t expect to have loads of money immediately after promotion. Most of the time, you’ll only start rolling in money after your first season when the club has been able to turn TV money into a tidy profit. You should expect around £10m. This means you will still have to be creative, because that kind of money can only buy you one or two Premier League ready players. The best advice I can give you is to keep the money in your pocket until the top clubs start releasing players. Clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City stockpile players for fun and release a handful of them every year. While they aren’t good enough for Chelsea, they sure can be good enough for you. And with the right amount of game time, they could develop quite nicely. Even though it is tempting to start spending money, hold it in your pocket for a while. It would be a shame if you spend £3m on a new right back, when a fine alternative presents itself for free only a few days later.
Another source of good players are the sides that you passed by on your way to the Premier League. Clubs that relegate from the Premier League are full of good, unhappy and sometimes transfer listed players. They all want to leave and stay in the Promised Land. Your club could just be their way of doing so. Just because a club has been relegated, doesn’t mean all their players were bad. A good bet is to look at the average rating. If a player can have an average rating of 7.00+ during a relegation season, he might be a fine addition to the squad.
Last but not least, you probably have a good idea who the star players of your former colleagues in the Championship are. They could not gain promotion, and are happy to switch clubs in an effort to reach the Promised Land by other means. Check the stats report on last season’s Championship. Who was the best player during last season and does that club still play at the second level? Most players will be more than happy to accompany you to the Premier League.
- Bugger the cups!
Everyone likes a good cup run, but in the Premier League they will get in your way. I’m not saying you should get eliminated as soon as possible, but avoid using your best XI during FA Cup or EFL Cup matches. You’ll need the boys fit and ready when you face your next Premier League opponent. Relegation comes a lot closer when your star player gets injured during a EFL Cup tie against Luton Town. You will be able to think about winning some domestic silverware when you’ve established yourself as a bonafide Premier League side with a squad that can handle two games a week on such a high level. Until that moment, the cups don’t mean a thing if you relegate back to the Championship at the end of the season.
- Survival is the key word
In your first season among the Big Boys, the future does not matter. You might want to convince the board to invest in new youth facilities or spend your days perfecting your U18 staff members. Don’t! Your sights during your first season in the Premier League should only be focused on the 38 matches that follow. The other things don’t matter. Not now. Every bone and muscle in your body should be singularly focused on one goal: survival. So if you have used a transfer policy in the Championship that focuses on players between 19 – 24 years, you might want to step off it for this first season at a higher level. A 32 year old defender might not have much resale value, but could be a powerful player to lead your back four. So don’t restrict yourself when it comes to taking measures to ensure Premier League survival. This first season is going to be the hardest and you’ll need to do everything possible in order to survive.
The Premier League is a wonderful league that gives you the means to become a very wealthy club in a very short time. But the key is that these riches only start coming to you after you survive the first season. So the first season is going to be critical. Afterwards, you receive the money to properly invest in a squad that can give the top six a run for its money. Hopefully, your stay in the Promised Land will not be just one season with the help of these five tips.