Written by @InvWingbacks
Player development is something that's been talked about, written about and argued about for as long as I can remember. I'm sure there's a right and a wrong way to go about it, but one of the best breakdowns I can ever remember reading is that of Cleon in FM14 with his Ajax side, which you can find here. Since then, I've tried to build a pathway and development structure at every club I've managed, with varying degrees of success. Training and Mentoring in this year's FM are very different to what I'm used to, so no doubt building that pathway will be more difficult this year.
One of the biggest things I took away from Cleon's Ajax thread, was the TIPS system that Ajax use with their youth development:
Technique - Does what it says on the tin; ball control, technical proficiency and strong playmaking ability.
Intelligence - Again, relatively straightforward; the ability to think ahead, spot the right pass or position, and know how to execute that.
Personality - Within Ajax's system, players have to be leaders, team-players and disciplined. There are of course other elements of a player's personality (Cleon picked out Flair, for example) that have to be considered as well.
Speed - I mean...go, fast!
One of the things that Cleon did point out in FM14, and which remains true until now is that the I, P and S are more latent within a player - Technique can be coached but the other 3 are more intangible and players will have to have at least a base-line level before they make the grade at Ajax.
Now, at Ajax a lot of this initial assessment takes place in the younger age groups. On FM we only get our hands on newgens at the age of 16 (roughly) so there's not as much micro-management possible as I would like.
In terms of implementing my own version of Ajax's development system, I'm already conscious that there are a few aspects that i'm going to have to change. My first step this season is cutting down all of the players in the Under 18s and Under 23s who do not fit into the 16-player model that Ajax use. I think 16 players per squad is ideal for maximising player development and training contact time, as well as game-time in both age groups. In terms of the senior squad i'm looking for a 25-man squad, however with a transfer ban in place that squad is probably going to be a bit more makeshift than I would have liked.
My Under 23 and Under 18 squads both have 16 available squad spots, made up of 2 goalkeepers, 1 fullback on each side, 3 central defenders, 4 central midfielders, 1 winger on each side, 1 attacking midfielder and 2 strikers. By limiting the amount of players in each squad i'm hoping to be able to spend more time developing the individuals and it will be easier for me to monitor their progress.
For our Under 18s, I'm going to take a crack at building my own training schedules, focusing mostly on technicality, and each player will be training in their tactical roles to build familiarity with the system. Results aren't important to me at youth level which allows me to focus more on development and moulding players into individuals capable of having an impact on the first team.
While I work on figuring out training, my Under 23 team training will be left in the hands of the team's manager, while players will receive more tailored individual training. Eventually my plan is to have team training work on more physical and tactical aspects at Under-23 level, with individual training fine-tuning players' technical ability.
Once a player moves to the senior squad, I need his physical ability to already be at a solid level, so that I can continue to develop their technical ability as they get first-team football. The only limitation on promotion to the first team is that if a player's not ready by 23, he gets 1 shot out on loan, before he gets sold: from intake to first team that's 6 years for a player to make his mark at the club, with a relatively clear pathway to development. Realistically i'll be lucky if there's 2 players each year jumping up to first-team, however I'm hopeful that by developing players carefully and getting them to a strong position within our youth setup, we can make a decent return on our investment into youngsters.