The age of the elite manager is well and truly upon us. Whereas the spotlight used to be on the greats on the field, the modern game is just as fascinated with those stalking the touchline. Whether it's Mourinho, Guardiola, Emery or Heynckes, tactical nous is becoming almost as enviable as the ability to take on a fullback. Top Eleven, the enormously popular, free-to-play mobile football manager sim, taps into this, allowing players to fulfil their dormant coaching potential.
But how can you ensure your managerial career hits heady heights, and avoids the dreaded vote of confidence from the boardroom? We spoke with Riley Hammersly, Community Manager at developers Nordeus, who offered up some top tips to help you get your hands on some silverware.
1. Choose the right formation for you and your players
Choosing the right formation is something of an art form and is often pored over by pundits and casual fans alike. British football in the '90s was dominated by talk of the classic 4-4-2 – the bread and butter of football formations – as used by Sir Alex Ferguson and the treble-winning Manchester United team. Now things seem a little more complex, with false nines, roving wingbacks and flexible formations more fashionable than ever before.
So, which formation is the best? Put simply, it depends on you. Hammersly says, "Just like in real football we have managers who prefer to stick to their formation for the duration of the season and others who will adapt their tactics to counter their opponent's set-up. Some managers base their recruitment on the formation that they want to play. Others build their formation around their strongest stars."
Regardless of your personal preference, the key seems to be picking your formation depending on your personnel, rather than the other way around. Hammersly adds, "There’s no one winning formation, however, it’s important to ensure that your key players are playing in a system that maximises their potential.”
For newbies, it’s good to have a clear image of the formation and tactics you will need to emulate your favourite teams.
2. Build a strong foundation on and off the pitch
When starting out at a new club, most managers make the bold claim that they want to build something lasting, ignoring the fact that the majority of people in their positions have shelf-lives only a little longer than most dairy products. Top Eleven, however, offers players complete control and the opportunity for managers to build a footballing empire. That said, empires are usually built on strong foundations.
Hammersly says, "In the early stages a manager's focus should be on building in the right areas. Ensure your squad is well-balanced and has a strong core of players that can last a few seasons as you progress through the divisions."
These foundations aren't simply related to on-pitch matters. It’s also important to expand your stadium in order to boost ticket sales, giving your club the chance to grow. Hammersly adds, "If your stadium is constantly at full capacity, ensure that you have the funds to build. The more fans you have, the more revenue you’ll get from ticket sales. This will boost your transfer funds."
3. Take the time to tailor your training
Championship-winning teams aren't built in a day, and in order for your players to develop, work needs to be put in on the training ground. Just throwing your team onto the training pitch and getting them to run up and down, however, is unlikely to result in glory. Instead, you need to put in the time and figure out what training drills best suit your team.
Hammersly says, "You can plan your sessions according to the areas you’d most like to improve in your team so it depends on a case-by-case basis. Obviously, young players will improve at a greater rate than older players, so training is far more beneficial and integral to their development."
Put in the time, especially with young players, and your team could become formidable.
4. Budget sensibly with the Finance section
Far too many clubs fall into the trap of overspending, only for the financial rug to be pulled out from under them and find that the shadow of administration is looming large. In order to avoid being a cautionary tale like Portsmouth, Parma or Fiorentina (even if they have spectacularly bounced back), it's important to budget appropriately.
Top Eleven offers a Finance section, helping you manage your club's money and ensuring you don't fall into a pit of debt. When it comes to finances, Hammersly advises that contracts should only be signed if you can honour them: "Sign the contracts that fit how dedicated you can be to Top Eleven. If you know that you will be logging in every day for the duration of the season sign the contracts that reward that."
Earning additional cash, meanwhile, can be something of a balancing act. Hammersly says, "Make sure your ticket prices are balanced. You don’t want them to be so expensive that your fans won’t come to the stadium, however, if they’re too cheap you won’t earn enough money to pay for your wages and boost your transfer kitty."
5. Make the most of the Top Eleven community
It takes a village to raise a successful football team and on Top Eleven, community spirit is absolutely vital to the ongoing success of both managers, and the game itself. Hammersly says, "Our Top Eleven community is extremely important to our players and the future of the game. Many of the changes made are a result of valuable feedback received from our community."
Through a very active forum and social media channels, managers can engage, learn and compete with each other, while the team recently launched its community website where you can search for Top Eleven groups from around the world or even start your own. There's also a monthly YouTube series where the team presents the life of a player and how they engage with the game and football on a daily basis. To get the most of Top Eleven, you need to embrace that community spirit.
6. Make use of the updated squad sizes
Rotation is vital for managers seeking to challenge on multiple fronts. Sure, a league can be won with a stable first 11, but cup tournaments and unforeseen injuries mean that a deep squad is a necessity. Thankfully, Top Eleven now offers updated squad sizes, allowing for greater rotation opportunities for managers.
Hammersly says, "With up to three competitions running during a season (League, Cup, Champions League/Super League), having 28 players allows you to get your stars some rest during critical periods throughout the season, all while developing academy players and having squad slots available for transfers should you spot the perfect fit for your team."
With a combination of rotation and training, you’ll be able to develop a solid squad from top to bottom to help you make the push when the important League and Knockout Round matches begin.
7. To win the Cup, preparation in preseason is essential
Winning the Cup is a massive achievement in Top Eleven, and unlike the League and Champions League, it kicks off on day one of a new season.
Hammersly says, "To get the competition kicked off on the right foot, starting with your preseason preparation as soon as you can will be a big help. After your final match ends in the previous season, look into playing friendlies and experimenting with formations to have a solid game plan as soon as the new season begins."
In Top Eleven, failing to prepare is preparing to fail. On Season day one, it’s time to hit the training ground, as well as the Transfers section if your club needs strengthening. Hammersly adds, "Going into your first few Cup ties with your team bonuses maxed at 10 percent and strong players leading the line is a good way to advance. For the later rounds, look into rotating your players during League play to keep them fresh."
For opponents, it's important to know their weaknesses. Hammersly concludes, "Scout your opponents’ formations and see if there is an opportunity to perhaps give a player that is better suited to counter them some game time."
Top Eleven is out now on mobile.