FM21: The Youth Development Process

02 April, 2021
02 April, 2021
9 min read

Bringing through the next generation of world-class stars is one of Football Manager 2021’s most appealing features. Each year, the FM community spend countless hours improving every part of their youth set-up to get the best youth intakes, but it can be a tricky thing to master.

Youth development is a key part of the whole football process going on in FM. Football Manager is a game in which player can player the game at their chosen level of detail. Youth development on Football Manager can be difficult to understand if you don't understand the infrastructure of youth development.

If you're successful with youth development, the rewards are what most managers desire - numerous internally developed players, home grown players, trophies, players winning individual rewards etc.

Youth Category Rating (England Only)

You'll probably question, why I have started with topic that only relates to England. The Youth Category rating is a Premier League led programme entitled the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) which aims at improving the quality and quantity of home grown players. The plan was created with the individual player in mind with input from the Premier League, the Football League, the Football Association and various football clubs. The EPPP works across three phases: Foundation (Under-9 to Under-11), Youth Development (U12 to U16) and Professional Development (U17 to U23).

Football academies are split into four categories: Category One, Category Two, Category Three and Category Four.  Only a small group of football academies are awarded with a Category One status, and not all of them are in the Premier League. Category One status is extremely hard to achieve and takes real commitment from the club. Any football academies that have this status is a show of the quality of the coaching, equipment, facilities and strategic development that you can expect to find. Category One football academies also invest a lot to maintain their status.

On Football Manager, this category structure is in place when managing in England. Taking over a club with a lower category score can be difficult to make it difficult to develop players. Whilst you can't scout player under the age of 15 on Football Manager due to the game not having players below that age, the youth category rating does effect the players that come through the club shown in the usual March youth intake.

My advise when managing in England at a club with a low youth category rating is to build up the club's youth development in phases. On my Coventry save on Football Manager 2021 it has taken three seasons for the club to achieve Category One status even with multiple club successes including promotion to the Premier League, trophies etc. However, the success of your first team is not the only factor that is taken into account when club categories are assessed. The reason I suggest that you increase get your club to Category One is to prevent other Category One clubs from poaching your better youth prospects for an agreed compensation and to ensure that you'll get better future intakes (you should take into account though, that there are multiple factors that affect youth intake).

Youth Facilities & Staff

On Football Manager youth facilities are categories by the following titles:

Poor > Basic > Below Average > Adequate > Average > Good > Great > Excellent > Superb > State of the Art

It all starts with a board request. Particular attention is required for youth recruitment and junior coaching to bring high-quality talent into your club, followed by improving your training and youth facilities.

As for staff, there are some important attributes to pay attention to. For them to give near-accurate readings on your wonderkids’ potentials, they’ll need great stats in Judging Player Ability and Judging Player Potential. You’ll need to focus on Working With Youngsters when hiring new coaches too, alongside aspects such as Determination, Discipline, Motivating and role-specific qualities.

The important staff member to consider for youth development is the Head of Youth Development. The Head of Youth Development oversees every part of your youth set-up, including judging how good a youth player can be, working well with youngsters to help them fulfil that potential, and making you aware of which young stars need more training to reach the levels they are capable of.

You want a Head of Youth Development with 20s, or as close as possible, in the attributes highlighted in the image above. They will also need their Determination stat to be higher than 15, which will make them more determined to improve your youngsters. Finally, their reputation is just as important. A five-star rated staff member is better than a two-star one. Having a bigger reputation means that starlets are more likely to say yes to being recruited by your club to work with your world-class Head of Youth Development.

Training

It is no secret that a huge key to a player's development is training. Specifically, a player's individual training can make or break their development. Training is an aspect of the game which everyone approaches differently, and there is not such thing as the 'perfect' training regime to promote youth development. For my approach, I keep a close eye on specific players and add them to the first team training when they reach the age of 17 so that they're part of that cohesive unit.

There are multiple elements to consider when training young players. Firstly, you’ll want to make sure you’re training them with a manageable level of intensity, or you’ll soon bear the brunt of their deteriorating morales and fitness levels.

Be aware that if changing a player’s position and/or role, you’ll want to look at the highlighted attributes of each choice. The more efficient a player is in these highlighted areas, the easier they’ll adapt to their new duties. Focus on these stats as a priority.

Junior Coaching and Youth Recruitment

Youth Recruitment will increase your club’s international range and enable your staff to find the best wonderkids to bring to your club. Youth Recruitment shows how far your recruitment staff will go to bring in youth players. Typically, a minor semi-professional outfit will look no further than its local region for youths. Bigger teams with a larger scope for recruitment may draw players in from across the country, while elite clubs can recruit from across the world.

Youth Recruitment also plays a key role in ‘poaching’. That’s where your Head of Youth Devel0pment signs a junior player aged either 14 or 15 from a smaller club before they enter your intake. This can go the other way, in that your best juniors can be poached by bigger clubs in exchange for compensation and transfer clauses.

There are eight levels of youth recruitment:

Limited > Basic > Fairly Basic > Adequate > Average > Good > Excellent > Exceptional

Meanwhile, Junior Coaching determines how good each youth intake will be. Junior Coaching reflects the level of coaching your rising stars will get from the Under-16s down (i.e. before they generate in-game). This will affect the current ability of your newgens, though any improvements to your junior coaching may not be noticeable for a few years.

It was previously stated that Junior Coaching was the only/main factor to modify specifically the Current Ability, but this has later been changed and now more factors are involved.

The only way to affect this part of the simulation is to ask the board to increase or decrease the budget. This is done by going to Board, Make Board Request, Finance>Increase/Decrease Junior Coaching Budget.

There are seven levels of the Junior Coaching:

Basic > Fairly Basic > Average > Adequate > Good > Excellent > Exceptional

Game Time = Development

Ultimately, the most important element of youth development is game time. If your hot prospects sit languishing on the sidelines, they’ll never get a chance to reach their potential. The best solution is to either play them in league and/or cup games, or send them out on loan to gain quality game time with another side.

If you’re going with the latter, be careful. You’ll need to gauge how often another team will play them, how efficient their facilities are and whether a year’s worth of in-house training is actually more beneficial for your wonderkid in the long run. Sometimes, it’s more suitable to monitor their progress from within, giving them odd starts and a host of substitute appearances throughout the season

Developmental Loans

If you decide to send your players out on loan, then you need to take the above into account. On Football Manager, you have the option to send your players out on developmental loans.

When developing younger players, the decision that you have to make is how much game that that they require to aid their development. If you break this decision down into section then you have decide if you want to give them playing time within their age group, want them to play above themselves (e.g. an 18-year-old playing U23s) or you want them to have more first team football that you're unable to offer. If the latter is the case, then a developmental loan might be your best option. Essentially, players need regular match experience at an appropriate level which makes them better at learning necessary skills relating to their position and role.

Lower-league clubs will fall over themselves to temporarily take your biggest prospects. Pay particular attention to those that will offer your youngsters roles as a Star Player, Important Player, or Regular Starter. These will guarantee playing time and increase your young stars’ attributes and experience at a higher level. Once you’ve sent players out on loan, you can keep tabs on their playing time, average ratings, and stats from the development centre’s ‘loan’ tab.

Developmental Loans can be arranged by your Director of Football and you'll have a number of options to think about before arranging developmental loans, as can be seen in the image below.

Staggered Development

Some might ask, what is staggered development? Staggered development is something that I phrase when managers phase players through their development solely within the club without any loans. This can be done by ensuring players are staggered through the youth age groups as they develop. For instance, keeping them in the U18s until they reach the age of 18 and then moving them up to the next level. Once they reach the age where decisions need to be made about a player they then get moved up to the first team.

Now, some might question why use this method, surely if a player is good enough they're old enough? In simplistic terms you would be right. But, what managers should take into account are the rules of certain competitions that your team might take part in. The UEFA Europa League, UEFA Champions League all require a specific amount of Homegrown Club players. The staggered development approach is good for team that have risen through the leagues, potentially sold a number of players and could be struggling to maintain those Home Grown Club players.

Using a staggered approach to development can aid this and develop players that although might not be classified as first team regulars but more squad players. Those squad players will support filling those Homegrown Club player positions. Giving those types of players gametime in top quality competitions inflates their value, even more so the further you get into the top competitions. If you have players that you have stagger developed but decide that they're no longer worth keeping around you should be able to get a decent amount of profit. The caution you should take with this approach is that you need to consider other youth players coming through that can replace any outgoing players.

Conclusion

As can be seen in this article, there are many layers to youth devel0pment on Football Manager as there are in real life. Youth Development should be managed differently depending on the ratings of your training facilities, junior coaching, youth recruitment, youth staff. Naturally, your approach to youth development should change depending the situation that your club is in.

I hope that this article has provided you with an insight into the complex nature of youth development and encourages you to take on a variety of approaches depending on the multitude of factors that I have discuss in this article.

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FM Base Head of Written Content. If you're interested in writing for FM Base, contact me on my own Twitter or via the FM Base Twitter or Facebook page.