FIFA 21 Ultimate Team has been live for over seven months now, and the database is brimming with fantastic options in virtually every position.
Understandably, EA Sports has focused on the big leagues -- Premier League, Ligue 1, Bundesliga, Serie A and La Liga -- and if you're a fan of those, then you're spoilt for choice.
But what if you want to go full FUT hipster and escape the top five leagues? Is it possible to build a competitive team purely out of cards from the so-called 'off leagues'?
Rules of engagement
We are partway through Team of the Season at the time of writing, so inevitably our eyes will be drawn to overpowered cards from that promotion, but we don't just want to buy all the MBS Pro League TOTS players, stick them in a squad and call it a win. For the off-league squad to work, it has to feature players from multiple leagues and multiple nationalities. What's more, it needs to have 100 chemistry at the start of matches, although it's fine to use Custom Tactics to switch formations and move players into more natural positions in-game.
Finally, it needs to feel viable in Rivals and Weekend League. Inevitably it will be weaker than the god squads that are now emerging as people dump their coins into Team of the Season cards, but it should look like a solid team, not a novelty effort. Can it be done?
"Most FUT players stick to the top five leagues because that's where EA releases the best player items, but that doesn't mean you can't find fun cards elsewhere," says Ryan Pessoa. "If you look at the players you can unlock in Milestones, there are some really nice cards in there that can hold their own against the best attackers like the Championship left-back Rico Henry."
Assembling the long list
Ryan is quite right. Milestones in the Objectives area of the game is a solid place to start. There are some great cards here, and unlocking them isn't that difficult. The Eredivisie (Dutch league) cards are particularly nice, especially Mitchell van Bergen.
This year, EA has also shown some love to the Chinese Super League, including several of its bigger names in promotions. The Squad-Building Challenges for cards like Anderson Talisca have sadly long expired, but there are still some fun cards on the market, including FUT Birthday Paulinho, who is up there with the best box-to-box midfielders in the game.
Brazil is going to be a useful nationality for our off-league squad in general, because there are some pacy, versatile Brazilian players plying their trade in China, Ukraine and Saudi Arabia, among other leagues.
With all that in mind, here are some fun cards we've picked out from the off leagues, and reasons to consider them. Pick through and see what you think, then we'll see you afterwards to assemble a workable team.
Please note: Prices were accurate on May 7 2021, but will rise and fall with the market.
Team of the Season Ricardo Santos – 85 rated, EFL League Two, 13,000 coins
Ricardo Santos will be tough to link in this squad, but in general his Portuguese nationality is quite handy when you consider that he can slot happily between Manchester City's Rúben Dias and João Cancelo, if you have those cards. Santos may be going for near discard price, but he's a hefty presence, with fantastic defence and physical stats, and he is fast enough to keep up with meta attackers. An absolute gem if you can link him.
Team of the Season Nicolas Tagliafico – 90 rated, Eredivisie, 170,000 coins
Tags is no stranger to fun cards in FIFA, and his latest TOTS card is a great option for off-league squads. Endgame pace, dribbling and defending stats can be augmented with great physicals by the addition of an Anchor chemistry style, and that 97 crossing means he's very handy if you have him marauding forward from wing-back. The goggles on his dynamic image are the icing on the meme-friendly cake.
Eredivisie Squad Foundations Baumgartl, Kohlert and Max – 83-86 rated, Eredivisie, Objectives cards
Timo Baumgartl, Mats Köhlert and Philipp Max are a trio of German players you can unlock by completing Objectives in the Milestones tab, and if you do then you will have very handy defensive and left attacking options. These aren't the strongest cards relative to the meta now, but for chemistry purposes they help accommodate a slew of other options. Baumgartl feels like the pick of the bunch.
FUT Birthday Paulinho – 90 rated, Chinese Super League, 75,000 coins
If we can bully you into trying one card through this feature, let it be FUT Birthday Paulinho. The well-travelled midfielder has phenomenal all-round stats. With a Shadow chem style, he has 90+ stats in virtually every subcategory across pace, dribbling, defending and physicals, while his base shooting and passing stats are all pushing 90. Four-star skills and five-star weak foot just add to the feeling that he is a true endgame box-to-box midfielder. Brilliant whether he's breaking up attacks or roving forward and finishing on either foot.
UEL Live Quincy Promes – 84 rated, Eredivisie, 37,000 coins
Now playing for Spartak Moscow, Quincy started the season at Ajax, and this live card associated with the Champions League (and then Europa League) is a hangover from that period. An attacking midfielder by default, we would likely move Quincy forward and play him up front with a Hunter chem style. His five-star skills, four-star weak foot and strong shooting and dribbling mean he's very handy in tight spaces, but perhaps more of an impact sub.
UEL Live Taison – 86 rated, Ukrayina Liha, 22,000 coins
Speaking of impact subs, Taison is always a handy player to bring on when you're trailing and looking for gaps. Fantastic base pace means he will feel really fast even coming off the bench (players off the bench only gain 60-70% of the benefit of a pace-boosting chem style), and with a Deadeye chem style he has fantastic shooting stats – even on reduced chem. High agility and balance also prove useful. The three-star weak foot is a concern, but if you have him cutting inside from the left or running through the centre then it matters less.
Team of the Season Emiliano Buendía – 91 rated, EFL Championship, 426,000 coins
The most expensive card on this list by far, Buendía is a true endgame right midfielder, with handy Argentinean links to ease the challenge of his Championship chemistry links. Four-star/four-star with practically max pace and mid-to-high nineties stats in most shooting, passing and dribbling categories, the lesser-seen Maestro chem style gives him everything else he needs to perform brilliantly in any attacking or midfield position. You could even use him as a box-to-box midfielder.
Team of the Week Romarinho – 83 rated, MBS Pro League, 51,000 coins
Romarinho's Team of the Season card is so good that a lot of Weekend League players were happy to take it in their reward picks instead of red Premier League cards, which says a lot. His earlier in-form still packs a punch, too, at a fraction of the price. The Brazilian playmaker will 'finish his dinner' reliably with a Hunter chem style, and with a Catalyst he would work nicely as a wide midfielder, too.
Team of the Season Odsonne Édouard – 88 rated, Scottish Premiership, 47,000 coins
Celtic striker Odsonne Édouard is one of the standout off-league strikers, and while he's tough to link in a pure off-league squad, his French links will be handy when TOTS heads to Ligue 1, and his natural pace means he is a brilliant attacking substitute when you're chasing a game or looking to exploit space in behind. Four star skills and weak foot are a huge help.
Europa League MOTM Mislav Oršić – 86 rated, Liga Hrvatska, 53,000 coins
Oršić was a FUT hipster's go-to substitute in FIFA 20, and while his FIFA 21 Ultimate Team cards have been less impactful, this is still a horrible card to have to defend against when he comes off the bench. Practically maximum pace, agility and balance, coupled with exceptional shooting with a Marksman chem style, mean that he will frequently decide games when you need him to do so -- as real-world Spurs discovered to their detriment back in March.
Assembling the squad
Those are our picks then, so let's put a team together. As mentioned, we have tried to avoid simply picking TOTS cards, sticking to a single nationality excessively or dropping chemistry. With that in mind, we put the following team together for less than a million coins.
- GK: Manuel Neuer - OK, this is cheating, but goalkeeper is an area that you shouldn't compromise. If you want to be a total purist, you could go for someone like in-form Michael Esser (6'6") from Bundesliga 2.
- LB: TOTS Tagliafico – Goggles has to play!
- LCB: Squad Foundations Philipp Max – A left-back at centre-back is very meta.
- RCB: Squad Boundations Timo Baumgartl – Not the quickest now, but the perfect link to Max helps with chemistry.
- RB: TOTS Max Aarons – We didn't mention Aarons above, but he is the natural choice to provide chemistry to his team-mate Buendia ahead of him.
- CM: FUT Birthday Paulinho – The inspiration for this feature, he is our captain.
- LM: Squad Foundations Mats Köhlert – Fast and agile, the perfect winger.
- RM: TOTS Emiliano Buendía – Half of our coins go on this man, who will play up front in-game and score all the goals.
- Left CAM: Rulebreaker Alex Teixeira – An older card, and only 83 rated, but this four-star/four-star attacker outperforms his stats.
- Right CAM: Record-Breaker Oscar – The Brazilian playmaker has flourished in China and is another good chemistry link.
- ST: TOTW Romarinho – We'll move him out wide in-game, but he completes the chemistry puzzle with aplomb.
- Substitutes: Squad Foundations Rico Henry, TOTS Ricardo Santos, UEL Live Quincy Promes, TOTS Ever Banega, TOTS Bafetimbi Gomis, TOTS Odsonna Édouard, UEL MOTM Mislav Oršić.
The team above gets 100 chemistry in a 4-5-1, and with a German manager the only players off-chem are Philipp Max (7) and Mats Köhlert (8), neither of whom is particularly compromised by this. In-game, we play 4-4-2 with Oscar and Paulinho in midfield, Köhlert and Romarinho on the wings, and Alex Teixeira and Buendía up top. Goals for days.
So what have we learned from this adventure? As we suspected, there are always great players lurking outside the top five leagues, and if you spend a little time researching them, you can unearth some gems. See you on the pitch…