In the last episode we looked at the new Man Utd youth development strategy and outlined the general aim of this series; to recreate the ”Class of 92”. We also briefly touched on the improvement in U18 and U23 coaching staff. In this episode we’ll go through the current batch of youth prospects, briefly go through the results of the 2019/20 season and then focus on the plans for the next season. But before we go there, we’ll revisit the coaching staff revamp, since I forgot maybe the most important new piece of the puzzle.
The new HoYD – A perfect match!?
I forgot to mention the new Head of the Youth Department, perhaps the most important Academy staff member. Just like many of his current colleagues in the original Academy staff Head of the Youth Department Nick Cox was deemed not good enough to work with the Man Utd youngsters. Roy Keane had two major concerns with Nick. Firstly, he was afraid that his undesirable personality would rub off on the youth players. Secondly his lenient Level of Discipline was in conflict with Keane’s view on how a young Man Utd player should be developed.
The HoYD is responsible for the daily activities in the Academy and the evaluation of the players, but also plays an important part in bringing in players for the annual youth intake. Therefore, six important factors were identified when Roy Keane started looking for Nick Cox‘s replacement.
The ”Perfect HoYD” in Roy Keane’s eyes looked like this:
- Personality Model Citizen
- Working with youngsters =20
- Level of Discipline = 20
- Judging Player Ability and Judging Player Potential =20
- Preferred formation 4-4-2
- Age under 50
- British/Irish nationality
Not that surprisingly not a single man (or woman) on the planet lived up to Roy Keane’s picture of the perfect HoYD. The expectations only needed a slight scaling down though before the search returned a group of very interesting prospects!
Three candidates were shortlisted and scrutinised further.
JPA 18 and JPP 19
20 in Working with Youngsters
17 in Level of Discipline
“Only” Professional personality
Preferred formation 3-4-2-1
JPA 17 and JPP 17
20 in Working with Youngsters
Preferred formation 4-4-2
10 in Level of Discipline
“Only” Professional personality
JPA 17 and JPP 19
20 in Working with Youngsters
19 in Level of Discipline.
Preferred formation 3-4-2-1
Hmm, this wasn’t an easy decision at all. They all looked solid, with mostly pro’s but also a couple of con’s each. Roy Keane liked the fact that Helmut Jungheim favoured the 4-4-2, but really disliked the fact that he had a 10 in Level of Discipline. With him in charge Roy Keane was certain that in no time the training centre would be filled with gum-chewing youngsters with dyed hair and ear-rings dabbing their way through the training sessions. Nonono, kids needed discipline. And both Bianchessi and Pait knew exactly how to get kids to stand in line and only speak when asked a question. Roy Keane loved that. However, neither of them preferred the 4-4-2 and neither of them spoke English. With either of them in charge the training sessions would be filled with hand gestures and gibberish as a frustrated latino tried teaching the players “fancy football”. This was certainly not the way to create players filled with Manchester United DNA. Roy Keane felt frustrated. Was that really all the top notch candidates out there? Surely there must be more? In an attempt to see if the bar had been raised too high while searching for candidates, the attribute requirements for JPA and JPP were lowered one little notch, and there he was! The fourth candidate!
19 in Working with Youngsters
Preferred formation 4-4-2
18 in Level of Discipline
Age under 50 40
“Only” JPA 16 and JPP 17
“Only” Professional personality
When weighing each candidate’s pro’s and con’s against each other, the picture became clearer.
After adding current Birmingham HoYD Kristjaan Speakman to the equation it became obvious that he was the most well-rounded candidate for the Head of Youth Department job. He didn’t really have any weaknesses, except for a JPA of 16. If there was one area where Man Utd were especially strong it was in the scouting department, which made Roy Keane less than worried about this. Kristjaan Speakman was English, spoke the language of 4-4-2 fluently and was young enough to remain with the club for the entire journey back to the top. This was as close to a perfect match as he was gonna get. Therefore, Speakman was offered the position and accepted instantly. He was just as delighted as Roy Keane and couldn’t hide his excitement when he spoke to the media after the appointment.
“I’m so excited to work with such a talented group of players in the amazing environment that Carrington offers. The facilities here and the coaching staff under the brilliant leadership of Mr Roy Keane, I don’t know what to say, it’s both an honour and a challenge. I’m going to have to step up to the plate and up my game, it’s a huge responsibility creating the next generation of Beckhams, Nevilles, Scholes, Giggs and Butts. And Keanes. Of course. I’m gonna make sure that you’ll see a first team filled with Academy graduates in only a couple of years!”
Kristjaan Speakman’s initial excitement was slightly dampened though when he assessed the quality of the actual U18 squad he had to work with.
After getting rid of all the players that didn’t fit the bill, and they were more than a handful, not many players remained. Many were the players that lacked either the potential or the mentality to ever make it into the first team squad. Hell, there were more than a couple that lacked both.
When looking at the squad depth view you see at least a decent coverage in every position except for goalkeepers. They were all rubish and were subsequently released from the club, and no new ones were found. Therefore two 15-year-olds will fill the void this season. The team looks especially strong in central midfield and central defense, and that is partly due to the players that were brought in.
Through his contacts and the amazing work done by the scouting department Speakman finally found three players good (and cheap) enough to bring into the Academy.
Centre-back Max Normann Williamsen shared both nationality and baby faced appearance with former manager Ole Gunnar, but there the rescemblances ended. Standing 191 cm tall at 16 years old this player quickly caught the eye of the Scandinavian scout and after a trial week he had impressed Kristjaan Speakman enough to get a contract. With Determination, Bravery and Aggression at 15+ he has all the potential to become the commanding figure in a back four. However, he also has a lot of areas to improve. Physically he is lacking despite his height. He needs to put on some muscles before working on his technical skills which are lacking as well. This could be a diamond in a rough. Worst case scenario he’ll receive a good enough football education (the best in the world!) to return to Norway to play top flight football there.
Bulgarian midfielder Dimo Krastev had already left the safe haven of his parent’s house when he made the move to Fiorentina a year ago. During that year he had done enough to raise the interest of the Man Utd Italia scout to such levels that he returned home with the strongest of recommendations to sign him. Since his price tag made him more than affordable Kristjaan Speakman saw no real harm in giving him a chance to impress. With loads of 8s, 9s, 10s and 11s all across the board Dimo Krastev offers a great foundation to build a good player on. With Passing and Vision just as good as his Positioning and Tackling this is a player that can be used both in an attacking and a more defensive central midfield role. This even distribution of attribute values may be both his strength and his biggest weakness. If everything goes according to plan he could be nurtured into a versatile midfield machine, but if he doesn’t progress like the club hopes there is a risk that he’ll end up a player that isn’t really good at anything. No matter what, he will also be HUGE though.
The final signing was the most expensive as well. Titouan Thomas from Olympique Lyon is another well-rounded midfielder with more of an attacking prowess than Dimo Krastev. First Touch, Passing and Technique are all 13, so this is certainly a player who knows how to keep the ball at his feet. Being a year older than the other two, he’ll only have one year to improve and impress enough to fight for a spot in the first team next season, so he better start developing quickly!
The three new signings together with Academy starlet Hannibal Mejbri were singled out as the greatest prospects by Speakman and therefore they were given a bit more attention than the rest. Together with the rest of the Academy staff the new Head of the Youth Department devised personalised development plans for each of them in hopes of maximising their potential.
Turning coal into diamonds
The personalised development plans of course follow along the lines of the general development plan that we went through in the first episode. The training focus shifts from basic to more specialised skills as the player gets older and gets further along his football education journey.
The first year of Academy training is heavily focused on the Core Skills and building up the players physically. This serves two purposes. Firstly the type of football based around transitions that Roy Keane wants/demands his players to play requires players both strong and fast with lots of endurance. Secondly there is a conviction that building a sturdy physical foundation early on prepares the players for tougher training in the coming years. This approach goes for all players and position isn’t really important in this first year.
In the second Academy year the players that are physically ready can start working towards getting better at the position that they are now given. The position they are best suited for is determined by a positional rating system (you gotta love these player ratings, right? At least I do!) which is based on the in-game suggestions of important attributes for different positions and returns a value up to 100, so you could look at it as a percentage of positional aptitude.
The positional rating system
The idea is to add the in-game recommended important skills for a position together and then divide them by a number that returns a value up to 100. If you’re more than satisfied with that information and not that into numbers, you can simply skip past the rest of this section.
If you’re really into numbers though you can keep reading the example below.
This is how it’s done: All the key attributes (highlighted in green in-game) are added together with the sum of the preferable skills (highlighted in blue) divided by two (to reflect their lesser importance). Then this sum is divided by the number of key attributes together with the number of preferable attributes divided by two. Then that new sum is multiplied by five to return a value of a maximum of 100.
For the role Box-To-Box Midfielder the game identifies 6 attributes as key and 14 as preferable. That gives the following formula:
(((Passing + Tackling + Off The Ball + Teamwork + Work Rate + Stamina) + (Dribbling + Finishing + First Touch + Long Shots + Technique + Aggression + Anticipation + Composure + Decisions + Positioning)/2)/(6+(14/2)))*5
After the player’s most suitable position is determined it’s time to start working on the biggest weaknesses associated with the position. The most important attributes for the position will be addressed first. For example a centre-back with poor Tackling or an Attacking Forward that can’t shoot.
Once the weaknesses have been sorted out it’s time to turn to the players strengths in order to make them even better. For example a Winger with already decent Dribbling training to become a real dribbling sensation, a development that might get a player to a Champions League final instead of a Championship playoff one.
At this early stage the four players’ individual development plans cover the Academy years, since it’s too difficult to tell what position-specific strengths they will need to work on at ages 19-21, because we are not certain of what position they will be most suitable to play at or how they will develop until then. Therefore this part of the process is left blank for now. Below you can see what the plans look like.
Regarding Core Skills, Bravery is the only one you can influence with individual training through the training focus “Aerial”. Dimo Krastev and Hannibal Mejbri will need to start working with this focus to improve their Bravery, while Normann Williamsen and Thomas can move straight on to improving their physical weaknesses. These are more easily addressed through an individual training focus as you can see above. The training focuses “Strength”, “Agility and Balance”, “Quickness” and “Endurance” lets you focus on different areas of the physical training. In the case of Thomas and Mejbri, they can even work on two of their weaknesses at the same time with one schedule.
When the players have built a strong physical foundation it’s time to move on to the position-specific weaknesses. Here the Academy staff had to do a bit of guessing work, since they don’t really know how the players will develop until then. They used a somewhat educated guess though, as they used the positional rating system to calculate the most suitable role based on each players current skill sets. Dimo Krastev is by this way of measurement the weakest player, with a 52% aptitude at both DLP and BTB as his strongest roles. The other three have a positional aptitude of 60% or slightly below. Norman Williamsen in the CD role, Thomas as a DLP and Mejbri as an IW. Based on this, the Academy staff have determined in what order each player will need to address certain weaknesses. This is likely to be changed as the player gets older and develops though, but will do for now.
These individual player development plans will hopefully help in the process players fully prepared for first team football at the age of 19. The plan will be evaluated and revised yearly or more frequently if needed. It will also be used for all future players coming into the Academy.
After going through a lot of the things that happened in the build-up for the 2019/20 season we’ll now fast-forward things to the end of the season to see what actually happened.
The 2019/20 season
A quick look at the season’s results shows that the U18s as a team actually performed really well!
A 2nd place finish in the league and reach the FA Youth Cup final in the first season was more than both Roy Keane and Kristjaan Speakman could have hoped for.
Sadly a final loss means that this won’t be the starting signal for the great story of the “Class of 2020”, since one requirement is that the U18s actually win it. However, I don’t think that there are that many players in this team that stand a chance of even making it into the first team, let alone make “Favoured Personnel” status at the club, so it doesn’t really matter.
Titouan Thomas is the only Academy graduate that is anywhere near good enough to compete for a first team squad spot straight away, in fact he already played 13 games for the first team this season, scored 2 goals and actually impressed quite a bit. After a couple of midfield injuries in the first squad he was promoted for the 2nd half of the season and looked like he had never done anything else than play Premier League football before in his life. Promising indeed!
During a mid-season scouting trip to the Czech Republic two potential gems were found in 17 year old Adam Hlozek and 16 year old Michal Cernak. They both signed Academy contracts and were given development plans that you can look at a bit down.
“Built like a man” is certainly a description that fits 185 cm tall and 83 kg heavy Adam Hlozek. Both a decent dribbler and finisher with excellent speed he can be used as a winger as well as an attacker. He lacks a bit of strength as well as the technical and defensive skill needed to play the football Roy Keane wants.
With a great First Touch and good Passing Michal Cernak has a good chance of developing into a great play-maker. He needs to improve both his physicals and a lot of his mental skills in order to realise his potential though. At only 16 years of age, he’ll have plenty of time to take advantage of the Academy facilities in his development.
Both players are lacking a bit when it comes to Teamwork, an attribute that doesn’t have a specific individual training focus, which means that Hlozek will move straight to physical weaknesses, while Cernak will have to work on his Bravery for a bit before moving on. Hlozek looks well-rounded physically, which means he’ll quickly be able to move on to the position-specific weaknesses, which is good since he’ll only get a year of Academy training before having to compete for a spot with the older players. Cernak on the other hand needs to go through three individual physical training focuses before moving on to the position-specific weaknesses.
That’ll be all for now. I hope I’ve given you a good picture of how the Man Utd Academy Staff will approach individual player development through this save. With a revamped Academy staff, a new HoYD and an in-depth plan to develop the Academy kids into world-beaters, what could possibly go wrong? For me, going into this kind of detail really enhances the playing experience for me, so both this post and my take on youth development in general are pretty much ways for me to lift the FM20 experience to even higher levels than by just playing the game. If you like it enough to join me on this journey it makes me even happier!
In the next episode we’ll look at the 2020 youth intake, new Academy signings and the plan going into the 2020/21 season. In the future, will we look back with amazement and fond memories of the “Class of 21”?