Santástico – Ep 5: Lessons learned

I’ve now done three seasons of this Santástico series, where the aim is to turn a Brazilian boy into the new Neymar or Pélé. I feel that the posts have become a bit repetitive and I’m not making enough progress in the actual save, which is a bit frustrating. I think the two go hand in hand, since my lack of progress means that I just keep going through the new players signed and how the players progressed in training in each season review. Last season Kaio Jorge finally reached that 100 goals aim, making him eligible for a move to Europe. If/when I manage to sell him (and hopefully others in coming years), the episodes will become more dynamic with players to follow in Europe as well as my own.

The episodes themselves are not the biggest issue though. The biggest issue is the lack of progress in my save. Sure, I’ve guided a record young Santos FC to two league titles and one Copa Libertadores title in three seasons, which is good. It would even have been considered excellent if that was what the series was about, creating an exceptional Santos FC team. Now, as you know, that’s not the aim of the series at all. The aim is to create the next Neymar or Pélé, and so far I’m not even close.

Therefore I’ve spent quite some time after the 2021 season analysing what’s been working and what hasn’t, in an attempt to improve things going into the 2022 season. I’ll go through my thoughts through different areas and summarise them in the end.

We’ll start off by looking at training, the key to getting my players as close as possible to a Ginga Rating of 90.

Training statistics

So, the five Ginga skills are divided into technical (Dribbling and Tecnique), mental (Flair) and physical (Acceleration and Agility) skills. I have tried using positional training that is supposed to cover all these skills (Trequartista or IF(s)) and then use either Ball Control (for Dribbling and Technique), Quickness (for Acceleration) or Agility and Balance (for Agility) as an additional training focus to work on weaknesses.

How has this worked out so far? I’ve moaned a bit about a lack of development, especially when it comes to the older player, but how good or bad has it actually been? Since I track basically everything in my Santos FC spreadsheet I played around with the training statistics and came to a few conclusions. One disclaimer though, the data sample is really small, which makes statistical conclusions a bit shaky to draw. Anyway, let’s play with numbers! Yay!

First of all, let’s take a look at how much Ginga Rating (dark blue line) and the individual Ginga skills increase as players get older.

The biggest development comes from age 15 to 16, which hardly comes as a surprise. On average, players increased their Ginga Rating by 7.57 in the year going from age 15 to 16. The individual skill increase had a pretty even distribution (1.43-2.29) except for Flair that only increased by 0.43 on average. This is a pattern that is reproduced as players get older. All skills increase fairly equally except for Flair.

This leads to the first statistical conclusion, which might be an obvious one to you. Flair is by far the hardest Ginga skill to increase.

The second, also fairly obvious conclusion, is that Ginga Rating improvement decreases with age. The decline from the “15 to 16” year’s 7.57 increase is steep, while the “16 to 17” and “17 to 18” years show similar average increases (4.45 and 4.57). Then we have another sharp decline in the “18 to 19” year, which shows a pretty similar Ginga Rating increase to the “19 to 20” year (2.11 and 2.00).

After removing the dark blue “Total” line, it becomes easier to compare the different Ginga skills.

Dribbling (orange) is the skill that has seen the most increase out of the five individual skills, followed by Agility and Technique. Acceleration comes in 4th place, but all these four skills show a pretty similar improvement pattern. Flair is the exception, which I mentioned above. It increases very slightly, not a single year with an average increase rate of above 0.5, but perhaps it’s not as sensitive to age as the other skills seem to be!? We need more data to draw any real conclusions here, but at least it’s a theory. The difference between the other four skills, albeit small, may be an actual difference or may simply be a result of me focusing on Ball Control more than any other additional training focus.

Playing with numbers is fun and all, but the important thing is how we can use this information. There are a few insights left before I’ll tell you what implications this plunge into my spreadsheet will have on our player development.

We’ve established that Flair seems hard to improve and that the other four skills improve the more the younger the player is. So, what does this tell us? Well, let’s create another graph.

This graph shows the average Ginga skill point increase per player from ages 15 to 20. Dribbling is the Ginga skill with the highest point increase (5.92), followed by Agility (4.83), Technique (4.75) and Acceleration (3.96). Then we have the big drop to Flair (1.24). This means that Flair is expected to increase by slightly more than one attribute point for the average player from age 15 to 20, while the rest of the Ginga skills are expected to increase by 4 to 6 points. The expected total average Ginga Rating increase for a player brought in at age 15 is therefore 20.71 points when all skills are added together. So, if we can bring in 15-year-olds with a Ginga Rating of 70, we’ll produce players with a Ginga Rating of 90 by the age of 20? Yes, in theory this is true, but before you fall too deep into daydreams of conveyor belts filled with Neymars I must stop you. Things aren’t this easy in reality. Firstly, we’ve not had a single 15-year-old with a Ginga Rating of 70. Marcos Leonardo is the 15-year-old with the highest Ginga Rating so far, which was 67, three points short of 70. Secondly, we don’t bring in that many players aged 15 to start with. Whether they come through our own or some other club’s youth intake, Brazilian newgens are usually aged 16 or 17 when they enter the game. This means that we can’t expect a 20 point increase to their Ginga Rating, far from it.

The graph above demonstrates what sort of improvement we can expect from a player up until their 20th birthday based on their current age, divided into attributes. This means that we can expect slightly less than a 6 point increase to Dribbling, 5 to Technique and Agility, 4 to Acceleration and a little more than 1 to Flair for our average 15-year-old, as I demonstrated above. For a player coming in at age 17 though, we can only expect around a 2 point increase to all skills except for Flair, where we can only hope for a 1 point increase at best, making it a total expected Ginga Rating increase of around 10 points up until age 20.

Let’s cut to the chase. What does this mean? Well, it means that I either need to improve training to maximise the average total Ginga Rating increase or hope and pray that my players will keep developing after age 20 and/or after leaving Santos FC. I think I’ll go with a combination of the two. Players aged 20+ will most often improve a little more, but not that much. If we get players to a higher level of games than with Santos FC (I don’t know what the level needs to be yet, but I’m thinking top 5 European leagues!?) while they are still at a developable age they might improve a little more. Hopefully we won’t have to wait for players to leave the club to develop properly though? Surely we must be able to improve our own training!? Of course, but how?

Coaches and their responsibilities

I decided to go one step deeper with training than I had before and look at coach responsibilities as well as the level of coaches. I haven’t ignored this area previously, but I’ve simply left it at “let’s find the best overall coaches out there and spread their responsibilities evenly”. I’ve upgraded coaches when I’ve had the opportunity, making the coaching staff slightly better step by step, but I’ve done it without a real thought behind it. Now I’ve decided to focus on the coaching responsibilities that really matter Ginga wise. The coaching responsibility Attacking – Tactical that includes Flair (the one attribute I can’t train with an additional training focus) and Possession – Technical, which is the training focus responsible for working on Dribbling and Technique.

Attacking – Tactical will be covered by our god-like manager MikaelinhoFM making the Lead Coach Rating a maximum of 5 stars! Sweet! This left us lacking a good enough coach to cover Possession – Technical though. Previously I had struggled to find coaches more than slightly better than the ones already at the club, but now when I pinpointed the search to look for a coach with great Technical, Mental and Attacking coaching skills, this gem turned up!

Dutch former attacking wizard turned coach Dennis Bergkamp was basically everything I wished for! A Perfectionist personality and all the desired coaching skills in all the right places tied up in a neat little package! With the aquisition of Bergkamp we reach a Lead Coach Rating 0f 4.5 stars. Not bad!

Training regimes

I’ve done a couple of changes to the training regimes as well, adding a little more technical training to my schedules increasing the total workload, while at the same time I’ll be more responsive when it comes to unhappy players. Previously I’ve ignored players coming to me being unhappy about training, simply because I was certain I knew best. Now I’m not that sure anymore. Unhappy players tend to perform worse in training, which makes me at least willing to try to accommodate their training request. A little less strength training here. Removing an additional training focus there. Voila!? I doubt that it’s that simple, but at least it’s worth a try.

Tactical approach – let everyone play!

Players don’t develop solely through training though. No, they need games as well. Loads of them and on the right level for them to maximise their development. What the right level is for a player is individual, but is based primarily on age, current/potential ability and experience. Developmental reports sometimes give a bit of a hint if a player is playing at the appropriate level or not, otherwise it’s a work of trial and error. A rule of thumb though is to provide a player with a level of games as high as possible to maximise their potential. So far I haven’t had a single report of players needing a higher level of games than what they are getting at the moment, but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time. Our star players will sooner or later need to play the toughest games out there to develop to world class players, which is most likely top European league and Champions League games on a regular basis. To get those games the player needs to be sold to a European club obviously, and before that happens I want to get the player to 100 goals! Currently Kaio Jorge is the only player to reach that mile stone, but I’ve thought of a way to give more players game experience while at the same time increasing the player’s chance to score goals. I call it my “let everyone play” approach.

Over next season I’m going to play our talented prospects in all positions on the pitch except for central defender and goalkeeper. The player closest to reaching the 100 goal mark will occupy the “no1” position, which is as an Attacking Forward. The reasoning behind this is simple, this is the position from which most goals are scored. This player will also be our no1 penalty taker, no matter the prowess at penalties. The players next in line will be played as IFs, a fairly high scoring position as well. Once the AF reaches 100 goals we’ll hopefully be able to move him along to Europe and one of the IFs will be promoted to AF. Behind them the order of priority is AP>WB>BBM>DLP. These positions are not that high scoring, but an occasional goal will come from these players. What’s more important, this approach gives 8 players valuable game time each game. One big concern with this is that results may become a bit shaky. Sure, we’ll have loads of fire power going forward, but using a 17-year-old striker as wing back will probably come with a couple of defensive disadvantages, so to speak. I’m not in any way claiming that this will provide a certain road to success, but at least it’s worth trying! If we start losing enough games to risk losing the job, I can just go back to the old ways!?

Scouting – harder, better, faster, stronger

The final change, slightly Daft Punk inspired, comes in the scouting department.

With the conclusions drawn from the statistical analysis we will tighten up our scouting. Since Flair seems very tough to train, our new scouting filter will only return players with a Flair of 15 or higher. The reasoning behind this is that a player with a lower Flair will probably never reach a Ginga Rating of 90, you simply have to look at the numbers. With a Flair of 14 a player has to reach 76 points over the other 4 skills, resulting in an average of 19 in these skills. With a Flair of 10 a player has to reach 20 in all other Ginga skills. Not impossible, but highly unlikely. Using the same logic the other Ginga skills need to be 10 or higher for a player to become interesting enough to sign. I’ve also decided to focus mostly on 15- and 16-year-olds, since the first year seems pivotal to maximising development. This is much tougher than the former filter, and will therefore result in fewer players brought in. Currently a search using this filter returns only 4 players, none of them with high enough potential to be approached. This is not a concern for me though. There is no use bringing in players that will never have the chance to reach a Ginga Rating of 90, it’s as simple as that. If the talent well completely dries up, meaning that we don’t get any new players in, I’ll have to rethink this approach, but as with the rest of the changes at least it’s worth a try!

Final words

So, this became a different episode compared to the former episodes in this series, which was very much intended. I wasn’t satisfied with neither the series itself nor the development of my players, so I felt that change was needed. By looking at the statistics the following changes were made:

  • Tweaked training regimes with added technical training
  • Focus our best coaches on the coaching responsibilites that matter
  • Let everyone play
  • Tougher scouting

Hopefully these changes will improve the development of our young players, giving us more candidates in our hunt for the Next Neymar! Keep following this to find out how it goes, next up is the 2022 season review! Success or utter failure, who knows!?

7 Thoughts

  1. Great article.. as usual, but this one has legend potential IMO. One honest question which comes to mind is: is it possible that playing them as WBs, for example, when they cannot play in that position (and are not training to play in that position) could hinder their development in the attributes you want, focusing more on defensive ones instead? Or worded differently, it seems to me that when a player plays in a position he is training for, it helps further the development. Just giving some food for thought here…


    1. I appreciate both your kind words and all your input. After getting halfway through season four I must say you were 100% right. I’ve scrapped the ”Let everyone play” approach has been scrapped since it didn’t produce the results we wanted. Back to the drawing board!


  2. Regarding attribute development, I had done something similar. What I found is that dribbling develops more than flair even when neither of them is given additional focus. But obviously the additional focus leads to the difference being even bigger. So I would say that with having a tougher selection process you´re on the right track. Also, having less players would mean more playing time and opportunity for them 🙂


  3. Reblogged this on Score More (FM) and commented:
    I believe this blog post by Mikahelinho FM, part of a wider series where he is trying to develop the next Neymar (or Pele) is a great piece. He takes player development to another level, trying new things and explains how he arrived to particular conclusions or hypothesis. Enough from me. I´ll leave you read this piece.


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