Livin' La Vida Loko! - Part 2: Pure Football
Updated: Nov 13, 2022
12th November, 2022
Zusammenkeit: (German, 'Togetherness') the state of being close to another person or people.
Note: This is the second part of my FM23 series, 'Livin' La Vida Loko!' for part one, click here:
Forging an Identity
In my previous post i introduced the save, broke down the history of Lokomotive Leipzig and set out some goals for the future. One of the main points I alluded to was wanting to build my own footballing philosophy at the club. With the abundance of influences at my disposal, it was difficult to pick the direction which I wanted to take the team in and decide the identity of the squad I wanted to build.
What I did know is that as the antithesis of our rivals RB Leipzig - who can themselves be seen as a modern wave of commercialism taking over the sport - I wanted to keep tradition as a fundamental part of the club. To me, that meant calling upon some historical influences to formulate a tactic for the squad. I also wanted to keep the fans in mind above all else and build both a team and club with them at the heart.
I wanted to create something unique for this club, and try to weave some of my own interests in as well. I had some ideas but it wasn't quite gelling together yet.
To try and spark some inspiration, I decided to head over to the clubs real life website and see if that would conjure up any ideas.
My German A level came in handy here, as the website has no english alternative. Upon loading the site, I immediately noticed the slogan 'Fussball Pur' or 'Pure Football' emblazoned across its header.
What the club intend for this to mean, I'm not entirely sure.
But it did get me thinking - what might Pure Football look like?
For starters, here's the Oxford dictionary definition of the word 'pure':
not mixed or adulterated with any other substance or material: "cars can run on pure alcohol" · "the jacket was pure wool"
So 'pure' football would mean simply that it is unmixed, or unadulterated. Stripping football back to it's purest form, all it takes to play the sport is:
A playing surface
2 Nets, or objects to denote goalposts (ie, a school jumper) on either side of the playing surface
That's all well and good, but the modern form of the game involves a lot more than this. For a full competitive game, you need an individual or individuals to officiate, for example.
Many new rules have been introduced over the years, and the culture has shifted dramatically. To see football in its purest, unadulterated form, I think it's necessary to look back on its origins. Where did the game we all love come from? What did it look like before the formation of the FA in 1863?
People have played sports and games for a long time, and the desire to kick a ball is almost primal.
One of the earliest forms of football in Europe was during the medieval era. It was called 'Mob Football', and like modern football was played between two sides. It constituted an unlimited number of people on either side who would clash in a huge mass of bodies, attempting to move an object - usually an inflated pig's bladder - between two geographical points, more often than not the opposing side's church.
Another resemblance to the modern game occurred even earlier, in Ancient China. During the Han Dynasty chinese people are recorded to have played a game called 'Cuju'. Translated to English, its name means 'Kick Ball'. In a competitive game of Cuju, two teams of 12-16 players attempted to kick a feather or air stuffed ball through an opening into a net without using their hands. Sound familiar?
One more example, from Ancient Greece this time. They were known to have played a game called 'Episkyros'. Highly teamwork oriented - it was, you guessed it - a game of two teams of 12-14 players and one ball. The Romans even ran with the idea and made their own version, called 'Harpastum'.
That's a bit of a whistle stop tour and there are other examples out there but all of these ancient examples of games resembling football have two things in common - they were all played between two sides, and they all used one ball.
Therefore, it can be said that in its absolute purest sense football can be boiled down to two teams who work together to move a ball from one place to another. It is, fundamentally, a team sport. The essence of the game is in its team-based nature, and it is not possible to play a competitive game without two opposing sides.
As a team-based game, it's difficult to win if the team don't work together. If nobody passes to anybody, and every player was solely focused on either trying to stop/score goals individually the game would break down very quickly and become a mess.
So, I decided that to implement 'Pure Football', any system should focus primarily on the team aspect of the game- 11 players acting in unison towards a common goal (If you'll pardon the pun).
The most important aspect of our philosophy for Loko Leipzig had to be based on teamwork.
The Saxon Element
As I mentioned, I wanted to implement the concept of tradition as a core value of the club. I wanted to do this in the form of historical influence, and I think a good place to start would be to look at battle tactics - like football, a battle usually consists of two sides who compete against each other, with the main difference being the attempting to kill each other.
That being said, if you've ever watched the likes of Vinnie Jones or Neil "Razor" Ruddock you would be forgiven for not spotting an immediate contrast.
For this, I looked to Leipzig's forefathers - The Saxons.
More specifically, the Anglo-Saxons.
If we're being pedantic, the Anglo-Saxons were not really from Saxony. It's complicated, but Leipzig is located in the modern Eastern German state of Saxony, which stemmed from the medieval Duchy of Saxony and was historically of Slavic culture which was then inhabited by Germanic people in the High Middle Ages. The Anglo-Saxons hailed from Old Saxony, an area of North-West Germany around the modern states of Lower Saxony.
The two areas are related however, and I think a little bit of creative license is acceptable.
Unlike their continental Germanic counterparts, the Anglo-Saxons were not known to regularly fight on horseback. In lieu of cavalry, they preferred a more literal boots on the ground approach. To protect themselves from enemy missiles, their infantry often formed up in a shieldwall - a line of overlapping shields to form a defensive 'wall'. They would use spears, swords and axes to attack enemies over the top of this wall.
Culturally, the Anglo-Saxon fighting elite formed a very closely-knit, unique society who would fight tooth and nail - to the death, even, to vanquish their foes. But the bulk of their forces were made up of Fyrds or Levys - conscripted freemen who were called up to local militias. Although many of them would undoubtedly have been brave fighters, they were not professional soldiers and thus the shieldwall became an important part of their combat.
The tight interlocking shields and emotional bonds between the Saxons formed the integrity of their shieldwall. For it to work effectively warriors had to have implicit trust that the man next to them would not falter, and that he would protect them with spear thrusts to either side. The Saxons worked in unison - swordmen would often take a step back, tempting an onrushing enemy who would be hacked down by a backward swinging axe. Spearmen thrust their weapons at face level, necessitating an enemy to lift his own shield and thus open himself up to attack from another Saxon.
The shield wall was sturdy but dynamic, a vicious blend of protection and attack.
Their more skilled warriors understood that conserving energy was important, preferring to patiently wait for an opening and strike at the opportune moment of vulnerability rather than blindly hacking and slashing at their foe. They would deduce these weaknesses before they deployed, spending time practicing fighting sequences that might occur in the heat of battle.
Their methods were effective and made their armies better than the sum of their parts. All of this hinged upon the integrity of the wall.
One Norman observer at the battle of Hastings, William of Poitiers stated:
'They were so densely massed, that the men who were killed could hardly fall to the ground'.
For it to retain efficacy, it was imperative that the wall remained tightly interlocked and the Saxons had to believe in one another. If the wall was breached, it could quickly be split apart and allow the Saxons to be attacked from their unguarded flanks. For the inexperienced Levy, who were not warriors by trade this could lead to a rout. Everything hinged upon trust, patience, and a sense of togetherness.
This, coupled with the idea of implementing 'Pure Football' led me to the creation of the concept of 'Zusammenkeit' (English: 'togetherness').
Zusammenkeit encompasses three core tenants that are principal to its effective usage:
Integrität, Zutrauen, Entschlossenarbeit.
(English: 'Integrity', 'Trust/Faith/Belief', 'Working determinedly/decisively').
The idea is that if we form a sense of 'Togetherness' through determination, trust and belief, we will achieve and retain a much higher level of 'Integrity' throughout the club and on the pitch. That integrity breeds a sense of togetherness, and the system strengthens. All of the principles work in tandem with one another and as such without one the system fails.
Translating this into football manager means building a squad of players who have the necessary attributes and characteristics, as well as building a group of staff who adhere to the same beliefs and will work to establish it throughout the club.
In terms of players, I think Zusammenkeit can be split in to two aspects of their character - Personality and Ability.
Their personality has to work in tandem with the system. We need to recruit players who will work hard for their teammates both on and off the pitch. We also need players who will be loyal to playing for the club and look to put the success of the team over personal gain. The squad we build has to trust each other and be determined to retain integrity. To achieve this, I think the following attributes will be vital:
The transfer policy will heavily focus on players who possess high levels in both of these attributes, as they are the core of our Zusammenkeit. If a player does not have a high level of either of these attributes for our level he will most likely not fit the club we are trying to build. In addition to them, I will also look for players who possess above average levels of:
In terms of a players ability, I see this as his effectiveness at carrying his role on the pitch. This is in contrast to the personality attributes described above, which determine his willingness to do so. For our chosen system, the focus will be on recruiting players with at least an average level in the following attributes:
Off the ball
The transfer policy will place a degree of importance on a player's attributes in the following order, with 1 being vital, 2 being of higher importance and 3 being desirable:
Bravery/Leadership/Passing/Off the ball
These are the main attributes that will be kept in mind when recruiting players to our squad, and so a prospective new signing should have the required level in each of them. I will apply a different weighting to them and other attributes dependent on their position and the role I need them to fill in the squad.
Another important thing to consider is the players in-game personality. Naturally we will look to avoid players with negative personalities that could jeopardize the harmony of the squad. Instead, we will look for players with high levels in the following hidden attributes:
And we will be targeting players with any of the following personality types:
Looking for players with these personality types, coupled with the attributes outlined should help build a squad that is befitting of the Zusammenkeit philosophy. They will all be determined and work hard as a member of a wider team, putting the goals of the team as a whole before their own and giving everything for the cause. That's all well and good, but that has to be translated into achieving positive results on the pitch - the goal of any football club.
Pure Football Tactics
Translating the Zusammenkeit philosophy into a football tactic meant taking the attributes that will form the character of our squad and devising a system that would emphasize the strengths of it.
I also wanted to keep the Saxon theme running and decided upon a 'shield wall' tactic that would fulfill the same role as the concept in Saxon warfare.
I drew up a list of criteria that I wanted the tactic to focus on, and then created a tactic based upon them.
The tactic had to emphasize teamwork and integrity above all else. This means it must:
Allow players to always offer a passing option to their teammates, so that nobody is caught in a situation where they are forced to turnover the ball and put the team at risk.
Provide defensive cover to forward moving players so they can take risks without compromising defensive integrity.
Not have players who eschew defensive responsibility in order to focus on attacking play. In a defensive phase of play, everybody defends and vice versa for attacking phases.
Provide a range of cover across all areas of the pitch so there isn't too much defensive or attacking responsibility placed on a certain position.
From the Saxon shield wall, I took the following influences:
The system has to remain narrow and compact, to emulate the tight interlocking mass of a Saxon frontline. Being compact also helps retain defensive integrity and allow players to recycle the ball and retain possession in attack.
Rather than hacking away at the opposition and wasting energy, the system should focus on a considered, calculated approach that favors retaining possession and waiting for an opening to launch an attack.
To create openings, the players will act similarly to Saxon spear and swordsmen. In possession, they will keep hold of the ball and look to draw opposition players out of position. This space can then be exploited by a teammate and play will progress. Out of possession, players will press the opposition in order to win back the ball quickly and expose opposition players who will be out of position and therefore 'blinded' and vulnerable to attack.
These criteria led me to opt for a system of possession based, 'Pass and Move' football. It's also reminiscent of Johan Cruyff's iconic 'Total Football' methodology, sharing the same concept of players fulfilling multiple responsibilities regardless of position.
For an added bit of flavour, I also wanted the tactic to look like a wall.
Taking a little bit more inspiration - this time from Leipzig's communist past - I decided to name the tactic after the German name for the Berlin wall - 'Die Mauer'.
Tying it all together, the system of Mauerball was conceived - and it looks a little bit like this:
How it (hopefully) Works
At the back, a bank of 4 screens the first third of the pitch. 2 Central defenders will look to break up opposition attacks and perform standard defensive duties, with 1 Ball Playing Defender who will provide some creativity whilst offering an option to recycle the ball. The two fullbacks will look to push forward and join the attack, overlapping into space created in the wide areas by the compact nature of the team.
The core of this system is the flat bank of 5 in midfield. In the Centre, a CM on a defend duty will look to break up opposition attacks, support the back line and provide defensive cover to allow his central partners to advance. In attack, he will provide an option for recycling the ball through the middle in order to retain possession whilst occasionally pushing forward to create overloads in attack and support his teammates.
His 2 central partners, both CMs on attack will provide the main central attacking outlay of the side. They will look to make runs into the box from deep and exploit space in the final third with their sights set on goal. They also form a kind of midfield diamond with the lone Centre Forward and defensive CM and will regularly be receiving the ball and looking for incisive passes to open up the opposition defense. They also have defensive responsibilities to fulfill and are expected to track back and work hard to regain possession.
The Defensive winger isn't a player role I've used much in Football Manager, and for a while I didn't fully understand it's uses. I wanted to try and make use of it this year, and I think Defensive wingers fit rather nicely into the Mauerball system. They are defined in the game as follows:
"The defensive winger aims to press the opposing full backs, win back the ball high up the pitch and either hold it up for the rest of the team, drive to the byline or get in a quick cross or through ball for the forwards.
With a defend duty, the defensive winger’s job is to primarily provide insurance for the defenders behind him, working diligently to reduce the threat posed by opponents in his area of the pitch and to break up attacks higher up the pitch.
With a support duty the defensive winger’s job is to try to win the ball, get past his man and get in an early cross for the forwards."
Their intensity on the wings should tie up opposition wide players, opening up space and holding up the ball to allow teammates to progress into the final third. They will also look to steal the ball high up the pitch and catch an opponent off-guard then progress the ball towards the opposition goal. They will be working hard in all phases of play, which suits the Mauerball system perfectly.
This system will utilize only one forward player, a complete forward on Attack duty. The player in this position needs to be able to carry out a range of duties, looking to spearhead the attack and fashion out chances for himself and the onrushing central midfielders or wide players. He also needs to be adept at picking out a pass and be strong enough to hold up the ball if he needs to.
I think the complete forward role encompassed the concept of this system perfectly, encouraging the player to focus on all aspects of play rather than fulfill one specific duty. It might be difficult to find a player who can fulfill the role at this level, and so we might have to opt for the more readily available Pressing Forward until we can attract the right player.
Translating Zusammenkeit and Mauerball into FM23
While I don't claim to be a tactical genius in any form, I was confident that the system I had devised would work nicely in the FM match engine. I had seen several reports that possession football wasn't as effective in this iteration of the game, but I wasn't to be put off. I was interested to see how the tactic would actually look in practice - and how that would differ from what I had envisioned.
Upon the full release of the game, I loaded up a database containing the German Regionnaliga and got to work.
Luckily, the Loko Leipzig squad had the personnel needed to fit the system. The attributes I want to emphasize weren't there in abundance, but I think we need to temper expectations at this level and position wise the team at my disposal suited the tactic nicely.
After loading up the database and getting to grips with the squad, I realized I only had time to shoehorn in one extra friendly against BSC Rapid Chemnitz before our first competitive match.
Here's the lineup for our first test of the Mauerball system.
As you can see, pretty much everyone is well suited to their role in the squad apart from Djamal Ziane. He's probably better suited to being a target man or advanced forward, but I think he has the quality to operate in the CF role. He's also our best striker and it felt silly not to use him.
We won the friendly 3-0, an expected victory against a lower division side.
What I wasn't expecting was to also win our first league game 3-0. comfortably dispatching FSV Luckenwalde.
Just take a look at these stats:
80% possession and a 93% pass completion ratio. It's fair to say we dominated the game, but I think we could be vulnerable against counter-attacking sides until we upgrade our defence - Luckenwalde had 9 shots despite never having the ball.
The shape of the team looks like I thought it would, and I have to admit I love our movement in attack.
The CM on attack role looks to be just as effective as it was in the last FM cycle and having 2 of them bursting into space in the box causes plenty of excitement.
I can't quite believe it, but it looks like the team are playing how I intended them to.
I think a bigger sample size is needed, so here's how things are looking after 10 games played:
A pretty conclusive start to the season. We currently sit 1 point clear at the top of the table, just ahead of perennial nemeses Chemie Leipzig. We were tipped at 16/1 to finish 10th, and without getting ahead of ourselves the prospect of a battle between the two Leipzig clubs looks a very real, very exciting possibility.
We almost reached a 10 game unbeaten run, before annoyingly falling to a narrow defeat against historic rivals BFC Dynamo.
A little look at the stats so far could reveal why:
We lead the league in both possession and pass completion, and although we've only kept 3/10 clean sheets we look to be dominating games and creating plenty of chances - you can't see it on that graphic, but we're also second in the league for most shots for.
As predicted, we can be vulnerable on the counter but every tactic has a weakness. I think it will be fine as we're only conceding 1 per game and scoring 2 per game on average. I can live with that.
Additionally, club icon Djamal Ziane seems to be dealing with his unfamiliar role fairly well - he's the leading goal scorer in the league, averaging 1 per game.
That's it then - So far, so good in Leipzig. This kind of tactic is completely different to what I'd go for normally, where I tend to prefer counter-attacking and physical dominance. I've enjoyed the change, and it's nice to see my theories realized and actually getting results in the match engine.
The tactic looks to be working, and I'm pleased with our performance so far. I'm hoping to mount a title charge and get promoted to the 3. Liga this season. That's ahead of schedule according to the board, but I think we have the quality to do it and with a couple of additions this squad could hold its own up there. The Regionalliga are competitive and promotion is difficult, so the sooner we move up the better.
The next update will most likely come at the end of the season, where I'll be reviewing the system so far with a full season's worth of data. Hopefully by then we'll be gearing up for a stint in the third tier - and the riches that await.
To get a notification of when it's out or if you want some live updates on the save, follow me on twitter:
FM Bhikkhu 🏐🏰 (@fmbhikkhu) / Twitter
And if you made it this far, thanks for reading!
Patrick - FM Bhikkhu
1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig (lok-leipzig.com)
Behind the Saxon Shield Wall | Weapons and Warfare
About Mob Football (topendsports.com)