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Santástico – Ep 8: The confession – Training in Brazil

Ok, so I’ve finally taken the plunge. I’ve jumped head first into the FM20 training module. So what, you might think. What’s the big deal with this? Well, I have a confession to make.

The confession

This might sound really strange coming from someone who absolutely loves the developmental part of FM to such an extent that almost every save I do turn into a youth development save, but…here it goes…I’m scared shitless by the training module. There, I said it. I actually haven’t touched training at all previously this year and therefore haven’t really bothered to learn the mechanics behind it. It wasn’t until I wrote the Lessons learned episode that I started dabbling with training and all I did was to add one or two technical training sessions to pre-made schedules. It sparked enough interest in training to make me want to learn more about it though, and since https://twitter.com/BusttheNet et al have done such amazing work on it I got completely hooked. I really recommend you to check out Daljit and his amazing work if you haven’t. Well, that’s enough rambling, let’s get down to business!

Well, sorry, not quite yet. We seem to encounter a slight problem straight away, and that is not the fact that the actual training module is daunting to say the least. No, the problem is Brazil, or more specifically the amount of games. If you’re not familiar with how the season in Brazil is structured I’ll give you a quick run through.

I’ll use my own Santos FC as an example, which feels suiting since it’s for them I’ll be creating my training regimes.

The crazy (nearly) never-ending Brazilian season

Below you find a list of competitions that my Santos FC team play in each year, in a season spanning from January to December. No, I’m not kidding.

  • The São Paulo State Championship – 12 group games and up to 4 knockout round games, played from January to April
  • The Série A – 38 games played from April to December
  • The Brazilian Cup – 2 to 14 games depending on in what round you start (rd 1 to 5 for Série A teams depending on last season’s cup results) and how far you advance, played from May to September

If you’re successful enough in the league you have a South American competition to play in

  • Copa Libertadores – 6 group stage games followed by up to 8 knockout round games, played from March to November

If you’re successful there you may have up to three more supercup games and/or tournaments to play

  • Supercup – A 1 leg final played between the winners of the Série A and the Brazilian Cup
  • Recopa Sudamericana – A 2 leg supercup between the winners of the Copa Libertadores and the Copa Sudamericana, played in February
  • FIFA Club World Cup (Every 4th year) – 2 group stage games followed by up to 3 knockout round games, played in June/July

This gives a season that pretty much runs from January to December and then just starts over after a week of holiday for the players.

Below is my January through March schedule from last year to show you what I mean. Bear in mind that this is BEFORE the actual league starts.

This is nothing extraordinary, this is pretty much what the entire season look like. It does pose a unique challenge for us, the challenge of having no preseason.

Let’s look at the entire 2023 fixture schedule to demonstrate how many games we have in order to present our second challenge, before I return to how I will address these challenges.

Above you see the 2023 schedule with games highlighted in red. We played in both supercups, and reached the finals in all tournaments, which means that this is the maximum of games we can have in a year. Except for the fact that this wasn’t a FIFA World Club Cup, but we can basically ignore those since they only happen every 4th year. Our second challenge is that we play one or two games every week throughout the entire year, except for a few weeks in January and December.

So, how do we tackle these two challenges? Well, let’s start by opening up the training module to see what we have to work with.

The foundation

Many weeks will look like this. A game on Wednesday and then another game on Sunday. Game days are not training days, so we immediately lose two training days (6 training sessions) out of the 7 days (21 training sessions) of the week. We also need to do a bit of prep work (Match Preview Sessions) ahead of the games.

The Match Preview session gives us a chance to analyse the upcoming opposition and improve our Tactical Familiarity without getting tired or injured. It also increases Team Cohesion, making the team gel together and slightly increases the team’s Sharpness.

Recovery vs Rest

“Without getting tired or injured” is a key point that I will return to throughout this episode. Under each training day in the training module you see individual bars for goalkeepers, defenders and attackers, demonstrating that individual day’s work load compared to full match intensity. For the match days you see that these bars are completely filled and red, indicating that the players’ workload is of 100% match intensity, as tough as it gets basically.

To last throughout a week/month/year/career, players need recovery. And since the highest work load of the week is during a match day, a bit of proper Recovery work is needed the day after.

An active Recovery session (to the left) greatly reduces Injury Risk, compared to a passive Rest session (to the right), which is the biggest advantage of choosing the first. Other advantages of doing a Recovery session is that it doesn’t reduce Team Cohesion and only slightly reduces Sharpness. The big advantage of the Rest session is that it greatly reduces Fatigue and increases Condition more than the Recovery session. It may be tempting to remove the Recovery session to fit in more “proper training session”, but I think this is a mistake.

Therefore the Recovery sessions are vital. If Recovery sessions aren’t enough to get your players back into match shape, you always have the option to completely rest them for a day or two! Keep in mind that they lose both Team Cohesion and Sharpness during Rest days.

So, now that I’ve laid down the foundation of what we do immediately before and after each game, let’s focus on what to do in-between them!

Training goals

To construct a training schedule (or multiple) we need to consider what we want to achieve in training. “Create the best possible players” and/or “win games” are usually the immediate answers to this, which is of course what we’re all aiming for. But what is the actual best player for you? By looking at your playing style and club DNA you can easily determine what sort of player you want to create, and when I do this, the answer to what I want to do is simple; I want to maximise my players’ Ginga Rating.

Considering the congested Brazilian schedule this poses a real challenge. If our main/only goal was to win games, a schedule based on recovery and team prep work would probably have been our best option, but for me winning games is secondary to player development. Therefore my aim is to fit enough and correct training into this congested schedule to maximise player development.

I believe that balance is key when creating your own training schedule, balance between workload and rest, between tactical, physical and technical training, between maximising development and avoiding injuries. Therefore we can’t just fill the training schedule with technical training and hope for the best, but at least it’s good to know what I’m aiming for in training. So, let’s pinpoint what I actually want to do:

  1. Maximise Ginga skill development
  2. Improve other skills
  3. Prepare the players tactically and physically to last through the season
  4. Avoid injuries

Training periodisation

The key to reaching these four goals is spelled training periodisation. If you are not familiar with the term it basically means to vary training (intensity, duration, sessions) to maximise performance. If you don’t train you won’t improve. If you train too much, you won’t improve or even get injured. Training periodisation can help you find that golden mean, that balance that I wrote about earlier. When using periodisation as a help to create a training regime you use the terms macrocycle, mesocycle and microcycle. I will explain the concepts below and show you how I’ll be using them:

  • Macrocycle: This is our entire year or season. In sports periodisation in general it’s usually broken down into preparatory, competitive and transition phases. In football you talk about pre-season, competitive season and off-season. These phases are in turn usually broken down into mesocycles.
  • Mesocycle: A mesocycle consists of two or more microcycles, either an entire periodisation cycle or a continuous period of similar training focus. For example a mesocycle can consist of a 3 week cycle of 1 week physical- 1 week technical – 1 week tactical training or a 4 week training focus on quickness training.
  • Microcycle: A microcycle is our actual training week/schedule. These can (and should) of course look different based on the current mesocycle and macrocycle phase.

Perhaps this concept seems daunting or overly complicated to you, but for me it has actually been a huge help when creating my training schedules (microcycles).

I’ll guide you through my thought process by starting with the broader macrocycle perspective and then working towards each microcycle, explaining them in-depth.

My macrocycle – The season

A regular football season is roughly divided into the different phases pre-season, competitive season and off-season. In pre-season you prepare your team physically to last an entire season and also try to work tactically, increasing Tactical Familiarity and Team Cohesion. The normal way to do this is to start off with a couple of weeks of tough physical training to get back in shape after a holiday. You then start to play friendlies, preferably starting off against shitty local pub teams before increasing the difficulty of opposition throughout the pre-season. If you were successful last season you may crown the pre-season with a supercup game, otherwise you may play in a pre-season tournament against teams of similar caliber to those you’ll play in the league. A nice gradual build-up into the competitive season. The normal way is not the Brazilian way, though. After 1-2 weeks of holiday players return one week before the State Championship starts. No time for hell week in the mountains. No winning 17-0 against Austrian village teams. No, it’s crunch time straight away. This means that I must build up the players tactically and physically while at the same time playing (and winning) games.

Pre-season

To help myself I’ve done two things. Firstly I’ve settled on using only one tactics, which makes the players reach a reasonable tactical familiarity quicker. Secondly, I’ve decided to mentally treat the first month of São Paulo State Championship games as friendlies, meaning that I’ll rotate heavily. Perhaps they’re not Austrian village teams, but some of the lesser teams in the State Championship could probably easily be beaten by our U19s. Therefore I can rest my first eleven in those games and probably reach a decent result anyway.

My goal is to build a decent physical foundation, get players match ready, raise Tactical Familiarity to a decent level and win enough games to make sure we reach the knockout stages of the State Championship.

If we look historically we usually have one week of training before the first game and after that it’s often two games per week for the next 4 to 6 weeks. I need to use this first week to the fullest. It’ll be our own hell week with heavy focus on physical training. Once the games start we’ll start focusing more on tactics as well.

With a Sunday-Wednesday-Sunday-etc schedule our first week template looks like this:

followed by several weeks of this:

This gives us a 5 week pre-season plan looking like this:

Week 1 – “Hell week”

Boys, welcome back from that brief holiday! I see you’ve all gained 11 kgs each in two weeks. Well, we’ll get that sorted. Welcome to hell week. Bem-vindos a semana infernal! A week focused on Endurance and Resistance while at the same time throwing in 4 Outfield sessions, working on Tactical Familiarity and technical skills. We break the week up with a relaxing Thursday to not completely kill the players and end the week with the first competitive game of the season. The players that look most fit/least dead will play this game, the rest gets a day off.

Weeks 2-3

From week 2 we start playing two games per week, naturally reducing the number of training sessions we can fit in one week. We reduce the number of pure physical training sessions and add a bit of Quickness training to get rid of those heavy legs. Players will start one game per week, no more and no less.

Week 4-5

Compared to pre-season weeks 2-3 it’s pretty similar with one big difference. Resistance training has been swapped out for Attacking team training. This both decreases work load for Mon and Thu, but also shifts focus even further towards tactical and technical training. Players will start one game per week, no more and no less.

Hopefully these five weeks have gotten us up to par physically, since that’s all the pre-season work we’re doing. From now on we’ll focus on technical training while maintaining physical shape and tactical familiarity.

Competitive season

During the competitive season we will use two different setups, based on whether we play once or twice that week, with several small variations based on if the previous week ended with a Sunday game or not and what days are game weeks this week etc. The aim is to work those Ginga skills as much as possible while maintaining the physical status. I’ll show you the two basic schedules with games on Wed/Sun and Sun alone.

1 match week

So, we train a lot. And if we train a lot we need to train smart. This is hopefully accomplished by my periodisation where Tue and Fri are the toughest days of the week, with days with less work load in-between. We will do a lot of technical training in order to maximise Ginga Rating and also throw in a bit of tactical training. We take it quite easy with the physical training these weeks, only focusing on Quickness. If the previous week ended with a Sunday game, Mon S1 will be Recovery and s2 will be Match Review.

Double match week

In our double match weeks (which make up 60-70% of the weeks) we skip tactical training altogether and add a Physical team training. We still keep a high load of technical training to try to improve Ginga. If the previous week ended with a Sunday game, Mon S1 will be Recovery and s2 will be Match Review.

That’s basically it. I haven’t decided what to do for the few weeks following the season yet. I’ll evaluate this on a monthly basis to see what needs to be changed. The in-game training week analysis tool screams red when it comes to injury risk, condition decrease and fatigue increase, making me suspect that this setup might be too tough. I will try to avoid starting players twice in the same week as much as possible and will use the rest option for players on an individual basis.

A final comparison

Before I leave you, let’s just evaluate if my training schedule looks like it’s gonna do what I want it to. I set the following four aims before creating the schedules:

  1. Maximise Ginga skill development
  2. Improve other skills
  3. Prepare the players tactically and physically to last through the season
  4. Avoid injuries

I wanted to focus on technical training to improve Ginga skills, so let’s compare my schedule to the “Technical training” one already in the module.

5 technical training sessions, which is the same as in my schedule. 4 general training sessions, the same here as well. A bit of defensive work here, where I do none. Instead I focus on Quickness, which is completely left out here. So, it’s basically the same amount of training with fairly similar ingredients. That seems good, I guess. I set out to create a schedule to work on the technical side of things and it appears to have many similarities to how the game thinks that technical training should be done. That’s good, but it’s not like we’re revolutionising training. I feel a bit disappointed. But, wait! In my schedule the players train three sessions per day, compared to two here and we still have the same amount of training. How can that be?

The games. Of course! I forgot about the games. It’s not fair to compare my schedule with a schedule without games. Let’s look at the “Technical training” schedule with 2 games in it instead to see if this makes a difference.

Ok, this paints a slightly different picture. With two games per week and the prep work and Recovery sessions that comes with them, this is what the game/AI offers in a week focused on technical training. Four general sessions. That’s it. The rest of the time is spent preparing for games, playing them and resting after them. That is probably a sensible approach to win games while keeping players fresh. I’m not after sensible though. I’m after solid development despite a massive fixture congestion and that is probably not achieved by using the pre-made schedule.

Let’s finish off by comparing the two schedules in the training analysis tool FM20 Training Planner v1.5, an Excel spreadsheet that helps you analyse your training schedule! I didn’t use this tool during the actual creation of my schedules, I’m only using it now for comparison, but it may highlight several flaws in my own schedule. I’m not claiming that I know what I’m doing though, so that’s perfectly fine! Let’s look at the pre-made “Technical training” schedule first.

Ok, so the technical side of things seem to be covered. Technique for the defensive unit gets the most attention with a 2.4, followed by Technique for the attacking unit with a 1.8. That’s good, since Technique is a Ginga skill. The second technical Ginga skill Dribbling gets a decent amount of attention too, with more focus on the defensive unit again. Goalkeeping wise…haha, who am I kidding? No-one cares about goalkeepers. Let’s move on to the mental attributes instead. The only mental Ginga skill Flair gets the least attention out of all the mental attributes. Either this is because Flair is hard to train or it’s simply down to the design of the actual schedule. Except for Flair, every mental attribute gets at least a bit of attention, which is good. The physical attributes get no love whatsoever though, which is a problem. This is a schedule focused on technical attributes, so leaving out physical training isn’t that strange, but it doesn’t work for what I’m trying to achieve. So, what about my schedule? Well, I chose to use the one following a Sunday game, which means that we start the week with Recovery and Match Review.

Upon a first look at the technical attributes, this looks good! The attacking unit gets the most attention by a mile, which is not a problem for me. It’s the other way around. I keep all the future Neymars in my attacking unit so it’s only natural that the schedule is modeled with their development in mind. Passing appears to be the technical attribute that gets the most attention with a whooping 4.9! This wasn’t exactly intended, but I guess that knowing how to pass the ball is good and all, right!? Passing is followed by Ginga skills Technique (3.7) and Dribbling (3.2), which makes me happy since my aim when creating the schedule was to increase these skills. Mentally Decisions and Vision get massive attention, with Flair reaching a respectable 2.5. The two physical Ginga skills Acceleration and Agility get a lot of attention (4.4) as well. It appears that I’m not totally off, at least!? A final big difference is that my schedule makes the players much more fatigued (1.6 compared to 3.9 – here a low value is bad) which doesn’t come as a surprise, but it’s something to keep in mind.

I’m fairly satisfied with what I created, considering it’s my first attempt with the training module. My hope is that we’ll see a significant increase in Ginga skills with my training setup, getting my players closer to the level of Neymar. I have no idea though, like I wrote in the beginning of the post, this is my first attempt at doing the training myself. Only time will tell. Feel free to share opinions and feedback with me, I really appreciate that! Hopefully I’ve inspired a few of you to actually give the training module a try! Join me in the next episode where we look at the 2024 season and get our first answers to whether this new training approach is a success or failure. See you soon!

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