FM21 – A Blaugrana Tale, Chapter 2: Transfers and Pre-Season

This guest series is written by my good friend Harry, who has chosen to make himself miserable for your enjoyment. This is Chapter 2. The first chapter can be found here. -Isaiah

There are two types of manager in professional football: the kind that adapts to their players, letting them guide his style. Think of Carlo Anceloitti, Claudio Ranieri and Jorge Jesus. And then there are the idealists, whose philosophy guides all else, like Johan Cruyff, Marcelo Bielsa and Tony Pulis. 

I’m a bit in the middle. Barcelona are Barcelona so I’m basically contractually obligated to play 4-3-3 but this squad isn’t really built for that. For one thing, the three best central midfielders – Busquets, Pjanic and De Jong – all play in the same position. I could stick them all in a midfield three but then the forwards aren’t going to be getting much support. Given Messi is going to be playing most games, that might not matter but I’d rather not risk it. Besides, in a team with a bunch of talented attacking players who can’t link up with each other, my paramount job needs to be to keep them out of each other’s way.

It is with this in mind that I present to you what I call ‘The Cruyff’: 

It comes complete with the standard ‘Vertical Tiki-Taka’ tactics straight out of the box, until I can get a better feel for the individual requirements of these players. In theory Coutinho will drift out left while allowing Alba to overlap and Fati to cut inside. Dest can do the same thing with Messi on the right. I have my doubts about Griezmann leading the line but what am I going to do? Play Martin Braithwaite? 

But I can’t just have one formation. One of the problems with being a contemporary superclub is that we can win most of our domestic games just by playing our own game and that can come unstuck when we play big teams who, you know, actually bother attacking. So I’ve come up with a Plan B. A formation where we can soak up the pressure and strike on the counter. Grace Robertson likes it because we’re pressing from the front. Michael Cox likes it because there are hardworking, energetic midfielders. Musa Okwonga likes it because there are three midfielders who could feasibly be described as eights. 

I call it, the Basset

Those are the Plan A and the Plan B. Let’s see how they go. 

Moving on to transfers. Arsenal come in for Jordi Alba and I accept but the board says I have to ask for a bigger fee. I ask for a bigger fee. Arsenal walk out the room. I cut Jordi another one of his paychecks. Good job everyone. 

Much to my surprise, PSG come in for Samuel Umtiti, which I immediately accept. 

He’s a good player but he’s only got one knee left and that £25m can be reinvested easily. I’m pleased to say that Barca Twitter handles this development with their characteristic even-keel. 

I think Rufino Blasco and I might have problems down the line… 

To replace him, I bring in Jose Gaya and Dayot Upamecano, for a combined £29m. I genuinely think there might be a glitch in the game (I’m playing the beta) to get these two so cheap, especially Upamecano. They’re probably not quite good enough to step straight into the first team this season but they’re only going to improve. Upamecano especially is going to be Pique’s long term replacement. 

Junior Firpo is less willing to go so I tell him he’s on the transfer list. He says I can’t do that because he’s already on the transfer list. I take him off and put him straight back on it, just so he gets the message. And then in swoop Roma with a bid. Firpo doesn’t fancy it. I try and take him aside, put my arm around him, tell him it’s all for the best. But he doesn’t buy it. Maybe there was something in our previous interactions that made him distrust me. 

Eventually he seems to get the message, though, and it’s off to Real Sociedad on loan. Not the classiest bit of maneuvering from me but we move on. 

The only other thing to do is add a few staff, which is one of the best cost-effective ways of improving a squad in this game. And it also lets me up the banter coefficient… 

Pre-season is really just a chance for the players to get in some good match practice so I won’t go through each of the games individually. The big downer is that Pique breaks his wrist and so will miss the first month of the season but that just gives me an excuse to blood Upamecano so I’m not too worried. (With the emphasis on ‘too’.) On the plus side, the performances in each match are encouraging and we outscored our opponents in xG each time so we’ll eventually be rewarded with more actual goals. Well, that’s what I’m choosing to believe anyway. 

So with our first game of the season against Valencia, the players are fit and raring to go. I can feel the positive attitude building. The sense that, maybe, just maybe, I’m right for this job. Messi even spoke to me once on the training ground. He may have been asking if I could hold his phone to take a photo with a fan but I could tell that he did it with real respect. 

I can feel something welling up inside me. Something that isn’t bile. Is that hope? 

Oh for Christ’s sake… 

Next: September 2020 and the first Classico 

By Isaiah

Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater Philadelphia area.