Welcome in to a farewell edition as Frank Athlete begins his final campaign with Farul Constanta in the Romanian Liga I. In this update I’ll cover how his last year at the club went along with his job hunt for a new challenge. I’ll also give you a run through of my approach to the subsequent overhaul of his new club.
If you need a refresher on what’s happened in the save so far, you can catch up on the series here. If not, read on.
Bloody typical! Now they back me?! As much as it doesn’t change anything for me, I’ll miss this club, this city, the people. My first foray into management, what a time it’s been.An extract from the diary of Frank M. Athlete, 22nd June 2025
At the end of last season, Frank made the decision that this would be his final year at Farul Constanta. Either he’d see out the remainder of his contract through to next June, or if the right opportunity should come along beforehand then he’d be applying for the role accordingly.
Despite that sentiment as our backdrop, Frank worked through Farul Constanta’s preseason with the same enthusiasm as any other year. Given the clubs prolonged stay of three seasons in the top flight, they gave virtually our entire back balance over as a transfer kitty. £2M to spend compared to £100K for the last two years!
This enabled Frank to bring in some classier recruits, starting with upgrades to our GK (Belmin Dizdarevic), DR (Florin Borja), DL (Ales Svaboda) and ML (Zejko Gavric). Elsewhere, Srdjan Krstovic and superstar of the future Lerato Da Gama both joined to gives us new options in the Advanced Playmaker role, leaving over £1M in the bank should we need it.
With the side in good shape, the season got underway and Frank got the team playing quite well with a draw and a win in our opening fixture, before an inevitable loss to current champions FC Viitorul. August saw us pick up a win followed by three draws, one of which coming at the expense if FCSB and our ability to avoid defeat kept us in mid-table mediocrity.
Just a solitary win in September and a 5th Round Cup exit was enough to see us start to get dragged down in the league, before a sudden resurgence had us score a draw followed by three back-to-back wins as we headed into November.
We weren’t setting the world on fire, but comfortably holding our own in the league, with a top half finish beginning to look like a real prospect come the half way stage. Farul sat in 5th place, albeit 8 points adrift of 4th yet 7 points ahead of 7th.
Despite things going so well with Farul Constanta, it still felt that in the grand scheme of things the team were a long way short of the top 4 or 5 sides in this league. Even if they could keep their form for the remainder of the season, and scrape into the Champions group, they’d be hard pushed to get anything from it and are still probably several years away from being able to compete financially with the likes of FCSB and FC Viitorul.
With that in mind, Frank had been frequenting the Job Centre a little more often lately, wanting to be sure that should the right opportunity arise, he is ready to apply. In terms of his next post, he’d be looking to take a step up in terms of his new club’s reputation, although with his qualifications stuck at Contenintal C licence, it’s unlikely to be any of the bigger footballing nations like Germany or Ukraine.
He’d already ruled out a move to any other Romanian clubs, and discounted any jobs in Hungary or Slovakia as well due to their top league’s reputations being ranked at the lower end of the spectrum. This left top division clubs in Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia and Austria to consider for his next move. He didn’t want a club that routinely won silverware, instead he was looking for a team that were on the cusp of success but had never quite made it, somewhere he could ply his trade and build a club to the top.
Dynamo Kyiv fit that description having come 2nd place in the Ukrainian Premier League 9 out of the last 10 times. Osijek in Croatia are another that routinely come 2nd or 3rd but are yet to secure a title, while Partizan hadn’t won a Serbian Super Liga title in 10 years and their fellow challengers Vojvodina had placed 3rd in all but two of those campaigns. Elsewhere, LASK were a regular top 4 side in the Austrian Bundesliga but given Frank’s heritage descending from Vienna, he couldn’t imagine managing a club outside of the capital there.
All these options would be great, but all are probably a step too far Frank at this stage in his career. They’re big clubs, steeped in history and have been regular features in the annual European competitions, meaning Frank’s lowly stature in the game might not be appealing enough for them.
Besides, with the exception of LASK and Kyiv, none of the manager’s at those clubs, or any similar contenders, were listed as insecure, but as Farul reached the half way stage of their season, Frank spotted a club who were starting to grow impatient with their current boss. It took until mid-November for him to be sacked and another week for Frank to be offered an interview, an opportunity which he leapt at.
Aside from their title winning season of 21/22, this team had not won the league since 07/08, finishing in the top 3 on 13 out of 18 occasions. They currently sat in 2nd place with an 8 point gap behind the league leaders, who’d won 13 of the last 14 titles. Someone needed to disrupt the status quo, and restore this historic club to former glory.
Enter Frank M. Athlete.
To say Frank (and I) was delighted with this appointment is a huge understatement, it’s an absolute perfect fit for him at this stage in his career. Not only does it provide a great opportunity to grab some silverware, but he’ll also have the pleasure of toppling the Bulgarian First League’s long-time title winners Ludogorets.
If you’re not overly familiar with CSKA Sofia, they’re one of 5 other First Division teams that call the capital city of Sofia home, which is situated 150 km south of the River Danube. Despite having a record 32 First League titles to their name, the team have only won the division once in the last 22 years and so it’s high-tide they staked a claim for 1st place. They play their home games at the 23,000 capacity Bulgarian Army Stadium and are affectionately known as “The Reds” or “The Armymen”
However, before we could go on a charge towards untold success, we still had the remainder of the current season to navigate. In his haste to impress the board, Frank promised he could win the title this year, only discovering the side were 8 points adrift after he’d taken the job. Although not impossible, Ludogorets were yet to lose a game and weren’t showing any signs of letting points slip away.
Frank’s initial assessment of the squad found an abundance of attacking midfielders and so he set the team up with four at the back, two in the middle, three attacking midfielders and a lone striker. The full backs were both more accustomed to playing in a wingback role and so, sensing that CSKA Sofia had the muscle to be aggressive, he opted to tweak the roles and duties to more readily display their attacking prowess.
The setup showed signs of working in the first game, a comfortable win at home to Botev Plovdiv, but they beat us three days later in the Quarter Final of the cup and the tactic looked largely to blame for our demise. The wingbacks were far too aggressive, leaving us exposed at the back to counter attacks, and we were giving the ball away a little too easily. Frank stuck with it in the next game against Arda but we nearly threw that game away too, scraping a 2-1 win.
With Ludogorets up next, Frank reverted to the 4-4-2 system he’d employed at Farul. The AMC dropped into MC with an AP-A role and we went with a TM and an AF up front. We kept the ball well this time. although our attacking transition needed a little work as we laboured to a 1-1 draw. Another draw followed before we really got into a rhythm, knocking out 4 consecutive 1-0 wins in our next 5 games as we ended the first stage of the league in 2nd place, but still 8 points adrift of Ludogorets.
Into the Champions Group now and unlike in the Romanian Liga I where your points tally is halved, the Bulgarian First League rules state you keep all your points after the league is split. This meant we’d need Ludogorets to lose twice and draw twice more than us if we had any chance of winning the title this year.
Our first game made that quest all the harder as we lost to Beroe, and despite a win in the next game we took just two points from the three fixtures that followed. Ludogorets also managed to lose at last, but we never looked like catching them. More inconsistency followed with back-to-back wins, followed by another loss and a draw before we rounded off the season with a win in the Eternal Derby against Levski.
Whilst second place was comfortably ours, a 16 point gap between us and Ludogorets suggested there was a huge amount of work to be done if this team were going to be challenging for titles any time soon.
As the season ended, the Board’s appraisal of Frank had him down at an “E”, with his stay at CSKA Sofia looking more and more likely to be a short lived affair. However, there were no calls for his head in the press, nor did the Board want to discuss anything as the campaign wrapped up and so Frank began the arduous task of rebuilding this team ready for a title challenge in the season ahead.
Tune in next time and find out how he got on.
Setting Up at a New Club
There’s nothing more exciting to me than the first day in a new job. As much as there are so many things to sort out and to organise, I enjoy the prospect of getting setup and having everything work the way I like it. That said, it can be an overwhelming process, and is especially dependent on the club you’re taking over and how they’re doing compared to how they thought they’d be doing. If you’re taking over in preseason, then there’s less “on-the-pitch” controversy to sort out, but you’ll have outgoing players or prearranged transfers in that you’ll have to contend with instead.
The relative wealth of the club can also have a big impact on the scope of changes you can or want to implement, but broadly speaking it’s the same process, whether your Cheltenham or Chelsea. I always follow the same steps to overhauling a new club and I never deviate from the order in which I do things. I’ve developed this process over the years, and stolen ideas and tips from other players as I’ve gone. Here’s my routine for getting set up at a club, and all before you click “continue”:
- Your staff – get this sorted first so you know you can rely on the validity of their reports and advice. Comb through the current team and highlight the key roles that need filling or replacing. When looking at new recruits, remember to consider their personality and adaptability as well as their role-specific attributes. I’ll often hire the key roles and then place adverts for the less important ones, allowing me to get on with other things. You can also lean on your DoF to do the hiring for you but be prepared for some very average hires as his attention to detail is no where near as sharp as yours.
- Responsibilities – with your backroom team in place, or at least on the verge of signing, take a minute to decide who’s doing what so you don’t forget to do it later. For example, I always delegate my tactical briefings and tunnel interviews to my assistant, plus I’ll let my DoF handle contract renewals for my staff going forward.
- Situational analysis – have a look at the clubs stature, it’s history and their current placing in any competitions. How are the finances looking now and in the short-term future? Are they performing above or below expectations? Is this a blip or have they been declining for a few years? What’s the recent form like? Have a look at the facilities available, as well as any affiliates associated with the club too. All this will help you get into the mindset of the club, allowing you to gauge their reality vs expectations, and setting you up nicely for the next step
- Tactical setup – before you delve straight in to importing your favoured tactic, have a look at the way the team set up in the last few games first. You’ll be able to get a sense of team shape and, depending on the result, whether there’s a particular formation that worked better than others. Setting up your tactic needs to strike a balance between the way you want to play, and what’s suitable for the players you have available to you right now. There’ll be time to shape the squad to your liking later so for now, find something that works and go with it.
- Squad assessment – attributes are naturally an essential factor when weighing up your starting XI, but when you take on a club mid-way through a season, often the player’s match stats are more useful. If you’re 3rd choice centre back has an average rating of 7.5 after 10 games then he could be worth a punt. Similarly, is there an unproven 17yo desperate to make a name for himself that you could throw in to the side? Other things to consider are the team’s morale, their dynamics and social groups. In the early days, these can be more important to success than playing your most highly rated starlet.
- Selling up – now you have a handle on your key players, you might also have unearthed a few names that are surplus to requirements. Now’s a good chance to offer them out to clubs and rake in some extra transfer funds, or reduce the wage bill. A word of warning though, don’t be too hasty to ship out everyone who plays a position that you don’t favour, just in case things backfire and that 33yo Anchor Man turns out to be exactly what’s required to get you out of a slump.
- Set-pieces, takers and captains – Take time to set up your set pieces, or if you’re using the defaults, then at least make sure you have the right players taking your set pieces, and especially if you’re about to sell off the current free kick expert, or you want someone with better technique to deliver your corners for you. Now’s also a good time to review your options for captain as well. I tend to leave it as is until the end of the season but if you feel a change is needed, then now’s the time.
- Training – head over to the training pitch and have a look at the schedules for the coming weeks. If this isn’t your bag, feel free to leave it to your staff, or just take over a few of your players individual regimes to get you started. Especially important is any young prospects coming through that might need a guiding hand to reach their potential.
- Planning – one of the last things I like to do before clicking “continue” is make a short-term plan for the club. If i’m joining midway through the season then i’ll assess our upcoming fixtures and identify the most crucial games for us. I’ll also start requesting scout reports for any players i think could do a job for us, based on my previous role and what I’ve come to learn in my short time here. Another thing worth considering is getting reports on any players the club has out on loan. Could they be useful additions to the side for next year maybe?
- Reminders – last, but by no means least, set reminders! I rarely see people utilising this in-game feature, but it will save you a lot of trouble in the long-run if you make the most of it. Under the “History” tab on any player or member of staff you can choose “Create note” and assign a reminder date to it. The reminder will appear as an email item in your inbox so, whether you want to remember to give your 17yo wonderkid a run out against the bottom team in 3 weeks time, or you don’t want to forget to check what effects your new training schedule is having on the team, or you’re waiting for your top transfer target’s contract to expire, then use the notes and reminders and never forget again!
And now you’ve done all that, please click “Continue“.
In this section I’ve highlighted some of the content I’ve been consuming of late. There are some excellent content creators out there, some old and some new, and the vast majority of which are all on Slack so I strongly advise you join that community and check them out here.
- Best Save Update Blog: this week’s spotlight is on Gaffer Graemo‘s FM20 series. His writing style sucks you right in, and it’s well worth a delve into his website, The Technical Area, for some additional gold nuggets!
- Best Advice Blog/Article: FM Pressure released the second part of his piece on Full Backs. Hard not to learn a lot from every one of this guy’s posts, check it out here.
- Another Best Advice Blog/Article: Another week with not much audio or video consumed so instead I will plug SOGG‘s piece from the latest issue of Latte Quarterly. He’s done a brilliant deep-dive into his “Striker problem” and gives an excellent illustration of his process for handling the issue.
And that’s it for another update from me. Thanks so much for reading down this far, I hope you enjoyed it. As ever your feedback is always welcome either here in the comments, on Twitter or on my Slack channel. If you’re not already on Slack then you’re missing out. It’s free to join, there’s no pressure to post anything, and you’ll find there are some excellent people who you can chat to if you want.
I’ll be back as soon as I can with another update from Frank as he continues to take us Down the Danube.