Where to start, then, with testing some of the theoretical ideas I have been discussing?
I want to understand whether my ideas about balance, and about how to react when the AI mutates, have any merit, and I also want to make use of the spreadsheets I alluded to in an earlier post (though I am going to have to rebuild them, and that’ll take a while.)
Whether my thoughts are correct or not, and whether or not my bits of Excel are of any use, what I hope to do more than anything is learn something, as I work towards establishing some general principles for playing Football Manager.
The greatest enemy of progress is the blank slate – when you have no ideas at all, you stay exactly where you are, and so even if my ideas are terrible, at least testing them out will prove that they are terrible, and I can then discard them and think again. And, in that sense, it doesn’t matter whether you start in Peru or Poland; in South Africa or Sweden, so long as you start somewhere, and have theories which you don’t get too upset about if they prove to not reflect the reality of the game.
I don’t feel that my ideas are proven to be sound if I am applying them to a behemoth like Bayern Munich, Boca Juniors, or whoever else – it can be argued, as I would, that a superior quality of player will get the job done most of the time.
And, likewise, it is soul-destroying to run an amateur club, because the lack of contracts pulls the rug from under your feet just as soon as you string a few results together. It’s back to the drawing board, without the reward of a bit of cash in the bank to help you replace the players you just lost.
So, somewhere between those two extremes it is. A smaller league, in a smaller country, meaning that star players will be lost to foreign predators rather than a domestic powerhouse – when they leave, they’ll already be beyond the strongest teams in the country (and even moderate price-tags by foreign standards will mean a considerable payday.) Somewhere which has a reputation of punching above its weight internationally, with two or three big names backed up by a cadre of solid professionals.
I give you: Slovenia.
For a country of just over two million people, the national team has done well, reaching two World Cups and a Euros since independence, and they’ve had at least three legitimate world stars in Zlatko Zahovič, Samir Handanović, and, latterly, Jan Oblak. Slovenian clubs also reach the group stages of the Champions League on a semi-regular basis, and, even if the groups are their ceiling, the multiple millions of euros will come in very useful.
Furthermore, the lower reaches are almost as low as you could wish for – the gulf between the champions Celje, or Maribor, at the top of the First League, and NK Brda at the foot of the second, is vast, in terms of professional status, as well as the fact that Brda’s stadium holds a total of 193 spectators (compared to over 12,000 for Maribor.)
So there’d be plenty of work to do at a club like Brda. Merely stabilising them in the second division would be considered a success, and that lack of expectation might mean I’d be more likely to survive a long winless streak.
I’m tempted to see whether or not I can help them fare better than their media prediction of 16th out of 16. Watch this space.