This post will be a little different than the previous ones. It will not take 30 minutes to get through. There are no spreadsheets and won’t go into detail regarding player development. It’s simply shorter and painted with broader strokes but I still think it offers important insight into the Man Utd Academy strategy of this save. I hope you’ll enjoy it!
Kristjaan Speakman certainly had an eye for talent and many were the people around him who told him that he had a certain way with words. A combination that certainly came in handy when approaching potential Academy players. But he didn’t really know what he thought about the nickname that seemed to stick to him like glue. “The Poacher”. He was a friendly nature. He really was. And the mission he had been assigned really stretched his moral standards. But if the boss told you to jump, the only acceptable response was “how high”, because Roy Keane and Kristjaan Speakman shared a dream and a vision. They wanted to create an Academy of a standard the world had never seen before. Better than La Masia. Different. Better AND different. They wanted to educate players both good enough for Man Utd, but also brought up on Man Utd formula. Players that didn’t have the word “lose” in their vocabulary. Players that were worthy successors to the “Class of 1992”.
This was no original idea, they both knew that. They were not the first nor the last to dream of an Academy that supplied the first team squad with a steady stream of world class players, year after year. No, the idea was not original. The approach however. The approach was both original and unorthodox. And perhaps immoral. But if you want to win the war, you can’t be afraid to step over a couple of corpses along the way, at least that was what the boss said.
Stealing your way to a five star Academy
The players coming through the youth ranks of Man Utd were good, no doubt about that, but they were nowhere near good enough to fill an Academy squad that wanted to be the best one in the world. Most years one player stood out and some years two. A few exceptional intakes had seen three or four players that really made it tingle. But never ten or twelve, the amount needed to keep the sufficient number of players in the Academy. Before Brexit the world had been their smorgasbord, but now they were only allowed to sign U18 players from English clubs. Therefore Roy Keane had come up with the brilliant idea to make friendly (hrm…) visits to the other Academy try-out days, to see if any of the players there were of Man Utd standard. He had called them “Lost sheep” that had simply wandered to the wrong pastures. It was their obligation, he said, to guide these players right, “home” to Man Utd. Kristjaan was convinced by what he was told, even though he felt that it was awfully close to stealing. Roy Keane sent scouts to all corners of England, covering each and every try-out, with reports flooding back to Kristjaan Speakman. Their mission was a simple one. Find players of the mental standard required. If they can also kick a ball, offer them a contract. This approach had been surprisingly succesful and they had been doing this the entire spring now. That’s why Kristjaan Speakman was now called “The Poacher”.
IN FM terms this meant that a player search filter was constructed, based on the following:
- Age between 15 and 16
- Bravery AND Determination AND Teamwork of 8 or higher
- One of the desired personality types
By visiting the “Player search” screen each and every day during the English clubs youth intake dates, which runs roughly through the month of March, the search returned more and more players. Now time was of the essence. The aim was to identify standout players, mentally as well as technically and physically, and offer them contracts before the club they were trying out for (ie the club whose intake they came through) got around to it. The second step was to offer them deals so sweet that they didn’t need any time to even consider other options.
This often meant offering the player two or sometimes three times what they asked for, but when they answered like young Tom Shephard-Annear above, they knew that the contract was as good as signed.
When the deal was as good as done, then it was time for the proper scouting to begin in peace and quiet.
This strategy is of course hit or miss, with scout reports returning after the player has already signed, but in this save it’s at least worth a try. In some sense it also offers a bit of realism to everything, an aspect extremely important to my FM experience. If you mentally treat these players as “tryout players” that is. If you treat them as kids that are up for grabs that’s fine as well. Perhaps you share a moral compass with Roy Keane, what do I care? We’re all in this to enjoy it! Perhaps I’ve given you a bit of inspiration on how to approach the intake days in FM20, perhaps not. At least I’ve given you insights on how Man Utd will handle their Academy recruiting from now on, with the constraints of Brexit prohibiting international U18 signings, even from EU nations. In the next post we’ll look at what sort of players this new strategy brought into the club and how the U18s performed in the 2020/21 season.