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Man Utd: Director’s Cut – Ep 3: DNA and a transfer strategy

Let’s start by stating the obvious, Manchester United have not performed up to standard since Alex Ferguson stepped down as manager. In retrospect this was perhaps more or less expected. How can you expect to replace a man like that? A man that in many ways personified the most successful period in Manchester United history, an era lasting for 27 years resulting in an astonishing 13 Premier League titles. Those are some big shoes to fill. Neither Moyes, van Gaal, Mourinho or Solskjaer managed to get even close, and the feeling among the fans has been that the club has steadily drifted further and further away from the top of English football. What’s even worse is that the club at the same time has drifted away from it’s identity, which has perhaps stirred up even more anger among the fans than the lack of success on the pitch. Each new manager has wanted to put their own mark on both club and squad, without taking the identity of the club into consideration.

A ship lost at sea

The signings made in the last six or seven years lack a long-term strategy behind them. They have mostly been based on the requests by individual managers, which makes the current crew of the Manchester United ship look more like a ragged bunch of confused mishaps than a well-trained crew ready to sail the oceans of the world. Without a strong captain they have drifted from port to port without direction, instead of participating in the great circumnavigation around the world with the more impressive boats. Manchester United are a ship lost at sea.

If you are struggling to grasp the naval image I’m trying to paint for you I’ll break it down into simple football facts. Manchester United have been left behind by the opposition. That’s frustrating. Manchester United have also been stripped of what was once considered trademarks of Manchester United, both regarding type of players and playing style. That is also frustrating. The combination of the two displays a reality so far from the fans’ opinion of where the club should be that it sparked a revolt.

The fans have taken over the ship/club, appointed Roy Keane as their new captain/manager and decided to replace half the crew/squad. This provides us with a great opportunity to turn the ship/club back into the desired direction, but there are also quite a few obstacles to overcome.

A new player rating system

In the last post I gave you an insight into what sort of players Roy Keane wants on his team.

“..he demands a lot from them [the players]. He demands total commitment, wanting the players to breathe Manchester United, bleed Manchester United, BE Manchester United”

To meet the need for players with this new type of total commitment together with the demands of the new playing style of the “Triple Triangle philosophy” Roy Keane and his staff have devised a player rating system (it wouldn’t be a proper MikaelinhoFM series without a rating system, right?). It is based on the most important attributes of the new philosophy divided into physical, mental and technical for each of the three triangles, together with the “Core skills” Bravery, Determination and Teamwork. The rating system also takes personality type of the player into consideration. To simplify things, you get points for certain personality types, high values in the “Core skills” and the different “Triangle skills“. All in all you can get a maximum of 20 points (actually 21, but let’s not make things too complicated too soon…), where a player truly personifying the “Manchester United DNA” would get the maximum points.

A list of 9 desired personality types are divided into three categories. The common denomination is the focus on Determination, Professionalism and Pressure among these nine. The personality Model Citizen is considered best and is the only one that gives the player a full 3 points. Perfectionist, Model Professional and Resolute are worth 2 points and the final five 1 point.

The Core skills Bravery, Determination and Teamwork are skills required by all players, regardless of position. This combination will signify a player with true “Manchester United DNA”. They are evaluated both individually and as a group. Points are awarded for a combined value (meaning Bravery+Determination+Teamwork) as well as an even distribution of the individual attribute values. The maximum points in the “Core skills” category is 5 points.

When it comes to assessing the most important attributes of the different triangles (defense/transition/offense) they are weighted based on what triangle the player belongs to, meaning defensive skills are most important for defensive players and so on. Just like in the case with the “Core skills”, points are awarded based on combined values as well as distribution of individual attribute values. If you master each of the skill sets in the different triangles you are awarded with a maximum 12 points.

Red triangle players

“Red triangle players”, the back four, have a heavier focus towards the defensive skills of Strength, Aggression, Positioning and Tackling, all skills of high importance when you want to take the ball from the opposition. To get full points (3+1) in his “own” category a “Red triangle player” needs an average of 16 in these four skills as well as a minimum of 15 in each of the four. He is also expected to be skilled when it comes to the transition attributes in the “Yellow triangle” to be able to initiate swift transitions upon winning the ball.

Yellow triangle players

With a playing style that heavily relies on you to excel at transitions the two central midfielders carry a heavy load. They need to be jack-of-all-trades, mastering all parts of the game, while excelling at the four “transition skills” Stamina, Anticipation, Work Rate and Passing.

Green triangle players

The most attacking players, the two attackers and the two wingers, need to be great at the attacking skills Acceleration, Off the Ball, Decisions and Technique obviously. They also need to be good at transition skills and at least decent at the defensive skills, in order to win the ball high up the field.

Man Utd “DNA rating”

If you add the points from the Personality, Core skills and the different triangle categories you end up with a value between 0 and 20. This will from now on be referred to as the “DNA rating”.

This way of looking at the importance of personality and different attributes for different positions will of course impact the way the club trains and develops the players, but it will also play a big part in the club’s new strategy regarding scouting and signing players.

Transfer strategy

The new “Manchester United DNA” approach heavily emphasizes personality and mental skills, skills that are usually highest in veteran players than young talents. With this in mind the minimum requirements for “DNA Rating” points when signing players increase with age. If a player is young enough he may still be worthy of a chance even though he doesn’t fulfill the same requirements as an older player yet.

In the right environment and with the correct leadership he can hopefully develop enough to increase his “DNA Rating”. However, after a certain age chances of improving the personality and mental skills decrease, meaning that we will be looking for pretty much “the finished product” in these older age groups.

The desired personalities are the nine listed above, but for players aged 15-21 we will also accept Fairly Professional, Fairly Determined and Balanced, with hopes of turning them into one of the desired personalities through mentoring.

Inspired by According to FM and this post in particular I’ll try to explain the transfer strategy by using flowcharts!

Players over 21

The older players are put to the test straight away. If you do not have one of the nine desired personality types you are discarded immediately. If you do, you face a new obstacle straight away. To survive this step you need at least 30 in combined Core skills. Perhaps the toughest hurdle to get past is the minimum “DNA Rating”, especially for the players 27 years old or more. These players cannot be expected to improve much more and therefore they are required to have at least 14 in DNA Rating. Players aged 22-26 can survive to the next step with a 12. If you get this far you are a good fit for Roy Keane’s new Man Utd team. Now you “only” need to be better than the current no1 in your position to be approached, IF you can fit within the transfer budget that is. If you survive to the DNA rating step you always end up on the shortlist, up for re-evaluation every transfer window. Perhaps the player has gotten better or the no1 player has been sold, making room for a new signing!?

Players under 21

The younger players aged 15-21 are judged with a slightly different type of glasses on. These players are signed with development in mind. Therefore they are cut a bit more slack than the older players. For example, an additional three personality types are accepted and the requirements for both Core skills and DNA rating are lower. And you don’t have to beat the current no1 in the squad, you simply have to be better than the back-up or even an U19 player if you are at most 18 years old yourself. Just like with the older players you are placed on the shortlist if you survive past the DNA Rating step, so that your development can be monitored closely.

Nationality matters

Finally, we have one last aspect of the DNA Rating and transfer strategy that goes along with the Roy Keane trait of “Signing domestic players”. Nationality. If you are British or Irish you gain one free bonus point to add to the DNA Rating to give you a head start against all those pesky foreigners.

All this is done with the aim of building a mentally strong team that’ll fight until the bitter end and that the fans can identify with. The downside to this heavy focus on personality and mental skills is that we risk to miss important technically gifted players. Then this team will not end up a title-chasing powerhouse. It will end up a bad copy of Stoke from 2015/16, strong both physically and mentally but lacking the ability to actually play football. Hopefully by simply being aware of this danger we can avoid it and not walk into the trap of “Wow, this player has absolutely superb mental skills, let’s sign him!”

That’s all for now and thanks for reading. The next episode will be the first one where I’ve actually started the save. I’m so excited and hopefully you are too! Until then, “take this you cunt!”

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