Welcome back to Bulgaria where we’ll be joining Frank Athlete for an update on how his first full season in charge of CSKA Sofia went. Since recruitment was front and centre for Frank over pre-season, I’ll also cover what I look for in a new player, and in particular what my personal focus is on in terms of player attributes.
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.
It’s unforgiveable. To lose like that, to a team like that. I’m so angry. Where are our leaders on the pitch? Where are you?!An extract from the diary of Frank M. Athlete, 23rd September 2026
Having secured 2nd place at the end of last season, CSKA Sofia qualified for the Second Qualifying round of the Europa Conference League in the process. That would mean a fair few extra games in the upcoming campaign, assuming the side didn’t stumble at the first hurdle.
To that end, Frank sought to strengthen the squad’s depth, opting to bring players in that would suit the roles in his favourable 4-4-2 set-up. Viktor Rogan joins as only one of two right full backs now at the club, while Martin Baturina replaces our outgoing Advanced Playmaker, Kaloyan Petrov. Frank had intended to build the team around Petrov, but he found the lure of Partizan too great to pass up. In Baturina, we have a more rounded player and at £1.7M, we have £800K change from Petrov’s sale.
The team were desperately short of Target Men as well, or in fact any tall forwards with a heading ability above 9. Ivica Vidakov joins on loan while we secure America Nicholas Gioacchini on a free transfer. Gioacchini has all the right attributes we’ve been looking for, with Heading, Bravery and Strength all decent, but the scouts rated him poorly. Frank signed him anyway, seeing him for the true value he would bring to the side.
Two more loans rounded off the Summer business, with Brazilian Wellisson and Spaniard Eququiel Picon coming in to bolster the right midfield position.
The campaign kicked off with an excellent season opener, The Eternal Derby, which is contested by CSKA Sofia and city rivals Levski, and saw us claim first blood with a 2-1 win. This settled the team nicely with two more league wins in July, while we also comfortably dispatched Fehervar in the home and away fixture in our Europa Conference League qualifier, setting us up with Shamrock Rovers in the next round.
Our form continued into August, seeing us secure four more wins in the league, one of which was against title holders Ludogorets, although we also suffered a disappointing defeat to title challengers Botev Plovdiv. Our Europa Conference League campaign continued on course as well, despite a nervy home draw with Shamrock, we’d go on to beat them in the next game, and then also quash our old Romanian Liga I foes FCSB, winning 4-0 on aggregate and seeing us through to the group stages.
Frank found the group quite palpable. Despite Borussia Dortmund being a tough opponent, he saw both AGF and Dunajska Streda as beatable competition and so was optimistic about emerging from the group stages, an incredible feat if he could pull it off.
As Transfer Deadline Day approached, our top centre back decided he’d had enough and forced a move away from the club. We brought in the very promising Markovic as his replacement and didn’t look back as we headed in to September. Things continued to go well as we opened with a 4-0 thumping of First League new boys Hebar.
Next up was our first Europa Conference group game against AGF where we took an early lead, before succumbing to a disappointing defeat at home. This seemed to hit our form badly, as we drew 0-0 in the next league game against relegation contenders Litex, before a crushing first round cup exit to lower league side Botev Galabovo. We’d earmarked the cup as a good chance of silverware and Frank had told the board as much in their last meeting. Needless to say, our early departure didn’t go down too well.
Despite our recent dip in form, we were sat in top spot as we headed into October, where we’d meet Borussia Dortmund for the first time. Dortmund are a shadow of their former selves, they’ve not challenged for the Bundesliga title in 8 years now and have routinely finished outside of the top 4 in recent years. Nonetheless, they were the biggest test Frank’s men had faced to date and showed their superiority with an easy 3-0 win.
With that fixture out of the way, the side went on a 5 game unbeaten run, including a pleasing 3-0 demolition of Europa Conference League contenders Dunajska Streda and four clean sheets in the process.
This was followed by two draws and two losses in all competitions, all but sealing our exit from the Europa Conference League whilst dropping five valuable league points as well.
Frank was relishing the Winter break, citing it as an opportunity for the lads to recuperate, and impatiently played through the last four fixtures of the calendar year. A decent win against Botev Plovdiv and another victory against newly promoted Dunav assured our top spot status in the league, despite a devastating 4-0 loss to Ludogorets in the last game before the break. It’s hard to lose to your rivals but to get annihilated by them was a bitter pill to take.
Just prior to that, we played our final Europa Conference League game against group leaders and eventual competition winners Borussia Dortmund. Despite the gulf in quality between the two sides, we took an early lead and followed up with a second just after half time. They got one back but as we entered injury time we looked set to beat them, until a penalty was awarded in the 95th minute to give them a point. Frank is still fuming after the result, but he can take some pride in the fact his is the only team to have taken any points from Dortmund throughout the entirety of the competition thus year.
Bulgaria’s league rules state that no players can be registered until the Summer Transfer Window opens, so the Winter Transfer Window is something of a farce, whereby you must cling to your best players as eager-eyed competitors attempt to pry them away, meanwhile any replacements or improvements you bring in are ineligible to play until next season. It’s not a total disaster, in that they can bed in and work on the team building side of things before hitting the ground running in July, but it’s certainly less than ideal.
We neither lost anyone, nor brought anyone in and so we played out the remaining 6 fixtures of the standard season throughout February and March, A clean sweep of wins and not one goal conceded made for a pleasing couple of months.
With the league now split for our final ten games in the Championship group, we had the arduous task of keeping hold of our lead as we played against those teams closest to us. From our three league losses, two of them had come at the hands of fellow title challengers Botev Plovdiv and Ludogorets, and we were joined in the group by Beroe, Levski and Lokomotiv Plovdiv.
Last season we didn’t do very well at this stage of the season, managing just 15 points form a possible 30. That said, we kicked off with a comfortable win against Levski in our third Eternal Derby of the season so far. Up next were three tricky away fixtures, where we managed a bore draw against second placed Botev Plovdiv, before disappointing defeats to Beroe and Ludogorets.
Despite the loss, Ludogorets had been a shadow of the team that won the division and the Europa Conference League last season. This left Botev Plovidv and Levski as the only team that could realistically catch us as we headed into the final six games. In fact though, we found our form again and went undefeated for the remainder of the season, scooping 14 points from a possible 18.
We’d done it, and a season earlier than Frank had promised to the Board. CSKA Sofia were crowned First league Champions with two games of the season remaining, and the fans were ecstatic at our league record 33rd title alongside qualification to the Champions League qualifying rounds next term.
Frank could be justifiably proud of what he and his lads had achieved. This side were still young, and in some areas, were in desperate need of more quality and greater squad depth, especially with the prospect of a hectic European schedule in the season ahead. Tune in next time to find out who came in and how we fared in our title defence, and Frank’s first foray into Champions league football.
When it comes to scouting and assessing players, many FMer’s have developed their own means of judging how good someone is, in terms of their role, their attributes and their form and statistics. One of the first things I do when I start a new game is to create my own screen view, so I can hone in on what really matters to me as i assess the squad I have and contemplate where we need to strengthen. Part of this analysis is looking at ten core attributes, that I personally like to see in my players.
Of course, each role and duty designates certain attributes as primary (green) and secondary (blue) so you can see how well suited a player is to a specific role, but I like to look beyond that in the hope of building a squad of well-rounded athletes, capable of performing to a similar standard, wherever they are on the pitch. I’ve seen many FMer’s adopt the same approach in their saves, and here is my take on what every footballer should have:
- First Touch – the player’s ability to control the ball immediately as it is passed into feet. If he can’t control the ball, then his passing, crossing or finishing ability is wasted.
- Technique – the aesthetic quality of a player’s technical game; how refined they are with the ball at their feet. Technique is important in being able to pull off a tricky pass or cross field ball. Granted, it’s often harder to find defenders with good technique, but a higher rating here ensures all the players are capable of playing a quality ball.
- Composure – the player’s steadiness of mind and ability to make intelligent decisions with and without the ball. Being level-headed, even when under pressure is essential for a decent footballer, ad this partners nicely with the next attribute.
- Decisions – the player’s ability to make the correct choice both with and without the ball. Another important attribute, which can affect things like who they pass to or when/where they make their run
- Determination – the player’s commitment to succeed and do his very best on and off the pitch. Another obvious one, and I assume it’s on everyone’s list. If want to breed a team of winners then they need to be determined to win in the first place.
- Off the Ball – the player’s ability to move when not in possession of the ball, making themselves available to receive a pass in a dangerous position. Admittedly, this is one attribute i might sacrifice in favour if i need to, but it makes my top 10 as most players are only as good as what they can do without the ball.
- Teamwork – the player’s ability to follow tactical instructions whilst working for and alongside his team mates. A winning team needs strong unity and spirit, plus a willingness to fight for one another.
- Work Rate – the player’s willingness to work to his full capacity, going above and beyond the call of duty. This is probably the number one attribute I look for and is often the differentiator if i’m choosing between two players.
- Balance – how well a player can stay on his feet, both on and off the ball. As i regularly tell my 7yo son, if you’re lying on the floor then you’re no good to anyone. Good balance ensures you’re ready to receive that pass, or are able to ride that challenge.
- Natural Fitness – reflects how well a player stays fit when injured or not in training. It is also used to determine how well they maintain their physical attributes past their peak and maintain fitness between matches. As i mentioned, playing at lower reputation clubs often means managing a smaller squad with tighter budget constraints, and so having players that maintain good fitness between games, and can play into their 30’s is often the difference between good and great.
With these core attributes added to my screen view, i can quickly determine who fits the mold in terms of the type of player I like to manage. I’v also often found that using these attributes to refine your search for a player, can lead you to someone who is undervalued at another club, or has even been given a poor rating by your scouts.
The beauty of Football Manager is that everyone has their own way of playing the game, and to that end, there’s no right or wrong way to play it either. Some choose to comb the database in search of hidden gems while others will opt to lean heavily on the Recruitment team to make recommendations and bring players in. For me, I’ll go as far as hiring the best scouts available, and i’ll also set their assignments up so any recommendations that do come in will already meet some of my criteria. Beyond that though, I like to control who we sign and over the course of each season I’ll constantly review our current crop of players to identify areas of weakness, and then use these ten core attributes as part of my process to unearth the next diamond.
I’d love to know what other players do, and whether you adopt the same system or use different core attributes to judge a player’s ability. Leave a comment below or drop me a message on Twitter or in my Slack channel and let me know what you do.
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 I caught up on Oaky_FM‘s Dutch Dreams series in which his FC Volendam side are a force to be reckoned with. Catch up on the series here.
- Best Advice Blog/Article: Another week of great content but my top pick was Oliver Jensen/FM Futbol Manager‘s latest piece on his approach to retraining Players. This was really insightful and has helped me as I plan to retrain a couple of my players at CSKA Sofia. Check it out here.
- Best Audio/Video: Since I’ve been working from home during the lockdown, I’ve lost my 3 hours of daily commute time to listen to podcasts. I did however come across a new one which i think is well worth a listen, called Well Done Michael, He’s 13. Before you wonder what I’m talking about, it’s definitely a football podcast and even includes a few FM mentions as well. I’m yet to find out the meaning of the name but apparently that will be covered in an upcoming episode.
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.