May 15, 2023

The FM23 Pentagon Challenge 15: Sneaking into Copa Libertadores

The FM23 Pentagon Challenge 15: Sneaking into Copa Libertadores 


Having won the CONCACAF Champion’s League last time out, I’m left with a question…what now? My first port of call is the jobs screen and there’s nothing. Second, I look at the job security screen and Kaizer Chiefs is shaky! I’m in to declare my interest.  

This was their run-in at the end of the season. I PREDICT A RIOT. 2 points from 30 available? That’s madness. They only finished 3 points above the relegation zone. However, they have NOT fired their manager. So, I’ve got nowhere to go. I can go on holiday or something. The ‘weekly job updates’ email contains clubs like Dortmund, Monaco, Napoli and Burnley. While Europe is the hardest continental title to win, it’s also the easiest to get a big job in because of all the sackings. Dortmund, desperate as they are, actually extend a job interview to me. Rejecting it, out of hand, will help me move closer to Paderborn legend status.  


Over in Brazil, Santos becomes available. They are in the relegation zone though and the other clubs that have managerial issues (Fluminense and Vasco de Gama) have way better squads and presumably finances. Vasco becomes available almost immediately and I go in for it.  

Let’s fucking goooo. We’re going after the Copa Libertadores next lads! Club expectations are “avoid relegation”, so we’re aiming for the stars already.  


Here is the starting XI. Gimenez is held together by string and tape and is retiring at the end of the season. He’s nowhere near good enough. The squad has no other forward options, so I can see where Vasco’s goal issues are coming from. Santos and Villegas are not happy playing together, which is tough shit because the other right back, a fella named Cleidson, is quite dreadful. Davi is arguably the worst player in the starting team, but I can’t sign anyone from Brazil now because they won’t be eligible for league games. The spine of the team is solid, with Gustavo looking like the biggest stud. Our highest paid player is a guy called Ramiro Lobo, who is an even worse wreck than Gimenez.  

First signing? Pape Diakite, joining us once again. We’ve been at 7 clubs and every single club has seen the arrival of Pape as a scout soon after (bar Terengganu, where he was already there as a central defender). What a lovely pal he’s been to me on this journey. He now speaks 11 (Eleven) languages. In terms of actual signings; I bring in Alex Alves on loan. He’s a wonderkid so I doubt I’ll get him full time but a season loan helps relieve my front player issues.  


We start with P3 W1 D2 L0, which looks ok, but we literally played three of the worst teams in the league. The players look like they have no idea how to play football and don’t seem to know who’s on their team. We still massively out xG each opponent, which makes the lack of good results even more frustrating. I hate it here. I drop the entire team and the reserves win 5-0.  


My main aim, in a first season, is to assess the existing talent and plan for the future. Due to Vasco’s poor league position and dodgy reputation, they can’t really sign ‘good’ players. I’ll probably have to make do with players that fit my system.  

A prime example would be Luiz Ricardo here. He has huge, gaping, flaws in his game. Teamwork, positioning, concentration and basically all the defending attributes. He is quite a bad player. However, he would fit into the winger role really effectively. He’s good at everything he needs to be good at. The trouble is, he costs £6M and I don’t want to spend big on players who aren’t that good. At 25, he’s not getting any younger either. Also, my existing right winger (Delmar Sampaio Santos) is a much better rounded player with higher highs like 17 for dribbling. Recruitment is going to be hard.  


With this in mind, it’s time for an attempt at overhauling my tactic to suit these players. First and foremost, the central defenders are terrible passers so for the first time on this save I take off “play out of defence”. My right back, Villegas, is inept at going forwards so my ‘overlap right’ is removed. He’s set to defend as he is of no use going forwards. Instead I push Sampaio Santos further forwards where he can do more damage in front of him. This leaves my midfield lighter so I switch Pedrao to a ball winner. Fabiano becomes an inside forward to give the roaming Davi more space down the left wing. I even switch my forward roles around. It’s the most radical re-thinking of the tactic I’ve done in quite some time and it’s player specific for this team. It won’t work, FM hates people doing clever things.  


The result? A comprehensive 4-0 win over P3 Atletico Mineiro. I’m particularly pleased that Sampaio Santos scored because he was so far up the pitch and Fabiano got a goal cutting in while the defender was bothered by Davi on the overlap. This is the most intense managing I’ve had to do in quite some time (let’s face it, Mexico was a cakewalk).  


Two of my problems; right back and striker, have been fixed. One (DR by signing Nelio) and striker has been fixed by a youngster called Anderson, who I figured was an AMC but he’s actually a great advanced forward and is now banging them in. Meanwhile, Villegas, my reject right back, turns out to be extremely competent as a holding midfielder. It’s all coming up roses suddenly. This is the problem with joining a team in mid-season. It takes time to figure out your best XI.  

The new line up is like this. You’ll notice it is similar but I have stuck with the winning 4-4-2 this whole time. It’s worked for me. Now we’ve got 4-4-1-2 asymmetrical, which turns into a 3-4-3 when we have the ball. This is the kind of fucking around that usually results in disaster. However, this line up has now won 6 games in a row.  


For next year, providing we get into the top 7 and qualify for it, Copa Libertadores should be entirely doable. The quarter-finals this year feature no less than six Brazilian teams. I think we’re in the right place. With the exception of River Plate and Boca Juniors, it’s wall to wall Brazilian dominance in the past winners.  


We draw Internacional in the Copa do Brasil. Because it’s 2 days before a league game with Gremio, I leave out 8 starters. We draw 1-1 and miss a penalty. Are we good enough to win the league already? We win the second leg 1-0 and play a terrible game but somehow have done enough to knock out the best team in Brazil. As we make the semi-finals, I look up the rules and discover the winners of the Copa do Brasil ALSO qualify for the Copa Libertadores! 


Which is ideal because we’re 10 points off seventh place in the league, which is where you need to finish to get Copa Libertadores from the league placing. Ideally, we should be finishing P7 or higher but hey, it was a tough start to the league before I got here. Copa do Brasil semi-final is against Palmeiras. We are completely outplayed for about 70 minutes of the first leg, somehow win it 2-1 with a battling comeback and switch to a double diamond formation. Then in the second leg they have a player sent off after 30 minutes and we win 4-0. Copa do Brasil final incoming, which could be our route into the Copa Libertadores.  

Here’s how my first three months in the job turned out. Considering how bog standard mediocre the team was when I took over, it’s turned around so fucking quickly. I am thrilled with how it’s been so far. That end of August blip aside we’ve been great and I felt like I’ve done more tactical managing here than during any previous club. I’ve already used three formations. 4-4-2, the assymetrical winger gimmick and 4-3-3 double diamond. If I have to tactically ‘fix’ the team every like 10 games I’ll be in nerd heaven.  


The Copa Libertadores final ends up being Flamengo vs Gremio, which just reinforces my belief that getting into the competition as a Brazilian team should put you somewhere near the final.  

It’s been 14 years and a bunch of championships, but I’ve finally managed to go 5 games without conceding a goal. Yes, I have not done that at all in the save so far. Which is arguably because of my love of attacking football and sticking to a tactic that goes all guns blazing, clean sheets be damned. Is it a coincidence that I was playing a DM for those five games? Maybe. This run of defensive stability has allowed us to move up to P8 in the league, level on points with Corinthians in the final Copa Libertadores league spot.  


However, we then hit our ‘shit’ patch in the season. You know the one. We get blown away by Sampaio Correa, 3-0, and then somehow lose a game against Santos where we are all over them like a rash but Valdinho got sent off. The timing could not be worse with the cup final looming and our league position teetering. The first leg of the cup final is away to Sao Paolo and we somehow win 1-0 with a cheesy penalty. It’s a terrible, terrible game and a bad representation of the sport in general and an embarrassment to cup finals. Our goalkeeper was MOTM. I will take it all day long.  


Leg two is a disaster. We’re at home but don’t create anything at all. Sao Paolo score just before HT and it’s going to extra time somehow as there are no highlights in the second half. Only for me to discover it goes straight to penalties. Leonardo saves two of the fuckers and we win the bloody cup!  


It’s the club’s first Copa do Brasil since 2011. This is our first trophy since then! We absolutely cheesed it. We were bad in both games and in terrible form. It doesn’t matter, this is enough to qualify for the Copa Libertadores.  

I got the achievement for entering the Worldwide Hall of Fame too. I’ve surpassed the career of Zinedine Zidane.  

I mean, it’s a good job we did win the Copa do Brasil, because our league form is PANTS. We can’t beat anyone. There’s also a minor injury crisis (Anderson, both full backs, a few fringe players).  

Seriously, look at this. This is the worst form I’ve had in the entire save. Bang in the middle of it, we won a trophy and we even lost that game! (We lost that Coritiba game too). In somewhat more cheerful news, Paderborn have finally sacked Steven Gerrard, after he spent 4 years in charge, riding my coattails and taking the team I built and keeping it in the Bundesliga. I feel somewhat bad for resurrecting his career but he was a good coach. In other good news, I’ve discovered George Attram is managing Liga MX club Mazatlan! I can only hope he becomes some sort of legend in the game, under my expert tutelage.  


In Brazil, Internacional wrap up the title. It’s their first title win since 1979. Sampaio Correa qualify for Copa Libertadores. It’ll be their highest finish, ever. It’s safe to say, there’s been some substantial churn in Serie A clubs near the top. As the season wraps up, we have our most ridiculous game. A 6-5 win over relegation threatened Bragantino. Bragantino lead FOUR times in the game. Every highlight is madness. We literally gift them two goals by giving the ball to their striker with only the keeper to beat. The win, coming on December 1, is our first league win since October 6.  

We just about limp across the line with a 3-2 win at relegated Ituano and I’ve already started signing players for next season. This has been disappointing. We finish P9. This equals my worst ever finish, at Brisbane Roar, although in both seasons I joined partway through. If Vasco de Gama fans are looking for good news, I won back to back titles with Brisbane Roar after that first season.  


NEXT: The Big Vasco de Gama rebuilding project/Copa Libertadores Attempt #1/maybe apply for the vacant Flamengo job (???)



TO DATE:        

Asian Champions League: Champions (Brisbane Roar, 2028)     

African Champions League: N/A         

UEFA Champions League: Champions (Newcastle, 2034)   

North American Champions League: Champions (CF Monterrey, 2035) 

Copa Libertadores: Qualified (Vasco de Gama, 2036) 

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