At some point in our Football Manager careers, a big club has come calling for who you consider to be the man that makes it all tick on the pitch. Be it a deep creative midfielder who conducts your forward play like a symphony orchestra, or the man that puts the ball in the back of the net 40 times a season, losing this guy is going to be hard.
A bid – usually an insulting one going by how highly you rate this player – arrives and you instantly reject it. You know what’s coming the very next time you click continue. “I’m very disappointed that you rejected the bid from club X” How deflating.
You generally have two options at this point. They don’t always work, but if you want to keep your man, this is the first options to try. You either play down his greatness and tell him he won’t get as much game time there, or you ask what it will take to keep them. Only select the former if you really don’t think they’ll play as they can get a bit insulted by that. They’ll usually say they want to win trophies or ask for a new contract and that can buy you a bit of time. If they have a release clause, you might be in big trouble here, especially if the bidding club are really eager.
In my case with Schalke, I had signed Kevin Volland from Hoffenheim for £26m. The idea was to play him as a support striker but I eventually moved him to right midfield in a 4141 formation. His versatility meant that I wasn’t too upset with the transfer fee as he could fill in at various positions.
He really excelled on the right hand side and when he was out of the team, either through injury or for a rest, we really missed his creative spark. He was the man that could grab games by the scruff of the neck and single handedly win them.
In his two seasons at the club, he played 93 games (5 of those from the bench), scoring 45 and assisting 23. Putting him into context of real life players who I admire, Luis Suarez scored 69 in 110 games and Fernando Torres 65 in 102 for Liverpool. They were strikers, Volland only played half a season as a support striker before moving to right midfield. Not quite on Suarez’s level, but decent for a midfielder.
When a player plays that well, teams are going to be interested. We were doing well and making progress, but Schalke aren’t a huge club compared to some of the real giants of the game. Man Utd, Arsenal and Real Madrid were all chasing him.
In January 2018, his transfer release clause was activated. I had to make a choice, face facts that he was leaving and sit on a mountain of money, or try my hardest to keep him. Obviously everyone has their own preference, but at this point, I needed him. I offered him a silly money contract (£195k a week!) and upped his release clause to £80m. He signed and I decided that once the summer came, if the right offer arrived, he would go.
In June Man Utd came in with an offer of £40m, I had a bit more power in this negotiation due to his release clause. I used that to my advantage and got £66m for him. It wasn’t £80m, but it was a £40m profit on a player who I was going to find very hard to keep hold of.
Just like in real life, there always has to be a plan for the summer transfer window. “If player X leaves, I’ll go for this player or this type of player.” I always have a few players on a shortlist just in case my star man leaves.
Maybe it didn’t have to be this way though, maybe everyone could benefit from his departure? What if I decided to not spend that big sum of money? This was the perfect time to start getting the young’uns in and around the first team. Perhaps a bit of a risk considering we’d just won the league, but I didn’t think so. The aim wasn’t to win it the next season, the board just wanted to qualify for the Champions League. I wanted top three.
In my first season, I signed 19 year-old Andrija Zivkovic from Partizan Belgrade for £500k. As Football Manager players, I’m sure you all know about his potential, if not, do a Google and find out. He’d filled in at various positions throughout his three years with us, mainly coming on from the bench, grabbing a few goals and assists along the way. Definitely a useful player to have around. Being left footed meant he could fill in at either side of midfield which really helped him get game time. He was a similar type of player to Volland, but perhaps a bit more technical and he had a couple of different PPM’s.
I decided to make Zivkovic the main man on the right and promote a player from my Under-19 team to be his backup. Two players are effectively benefitting from this departure.
Zivkovic really stepped up and although he didn’t fill the goalscoring void, he was our most creative player with 17 assists and 136 key passes. It wasn’t just the creative side of things that was good, he averaged 3.34 tackles per game and 2.6 interceptions. Not bad. His link-up with my right back Karavaev, who added an additional 9 assists, was very effective. With Zivkovic cutting in from right midfield it mean Karavaev had big gaps to exploit. It was handful for many teams. The pair of them were selected in the Champions League team of the year.
Leroy Sané also upped his game and finished as top scorer from left midfield, scoring 24 goals and setting up 9. That’s only four goals less than his previous two seasons combined.
Amel Mesanovic, a 17 year-old regen managed to feature in 22 games which really helped him progress as a player. I’m sure as my save goes on, you’ll be hearing more about this player.
I’m sure had injury not ruled out Donis Avdijaj for 5months, he’d have scored more than the 12 goals he got. Thomas Dahl, a youngster that my Head of Youth Development brought in, played up top for those five months and had a great season, scoring 17.
Kevin Volland leaving actually ended up being a plus point for a lot of players in the team. Early in the season, I didn’t think that was going to be the case, we weren’t as convincing as we had been when he was with us, but we were winning games and the players were putting in solid displays. Nobody was initially picking up the mantle as “top dog” but soon the team started to take shape and they all stepped-up. Could we have performed better had Volland stayed? We’ll never know, but I’m doubtful that the other players would have put in such improved performances.
Losing your best players can be the most frustrating of experiences, especially if it’s out of your hands. You can turn it into a positive if you don’t panic buy. I used a couple of Liverpool players as a comparison to Volland and they are a prime example of a team that panic buys. Look at your squad and really ask yourself if spending money on someone is the right option. Maybe you bought the right guy as a backup a couple of seasons ago, maybe the right guy is in the youth team waiting for his chance or maybe you’ve really got to keep hold of the guy that other teams want. It’s up to you to decide.
I’ve always signed a big player in the past. I’ve got the money, so lets spend it. Giving a chance to players I already had is much more satisfying.
Last season I couldn’t imagine being without Volland, but now I’m thinking “Volland who?”