I have been meaning to write an article for a long time on the Target Man. It is a common role in football, but often misunderstood/misused in Football Manager. So I thought I would take this chance to refresh a few concepts about the Target Man, along with how to get the best out of him.
Attributes & PPM’s
First we need to take a look at what a Target Man is. So, first of all the description from Football Manager:
“A Target Man can transform an average team into a good one, by using his sheer physicality to disrupt the opposition defence and open up space for his strike partner and supporting midfielders.
The Target Man uses his strength and aerial presence to bring teammates into play, rather than relying on technical ability.
With a support duty, the Target Man will look to win flick ons and play simple possession passes to bring teammates into play.
With an attack duty, the Target Man will lead the line and look to open up space for teammates to move into.”
The key aspects in the description are quite clear:
- “Sheer Physicality” – the player who performs this role needs to be physically impressive as a prerequisite for the position. If your player cannot hold his own against any defence in terms of jumping and strength, then he is not a Target Man.
- “Open up space” – the Target Man is a physical foil for the rest of the team, and he relies heavily on having players getting up and around him quickly to work with, otherwise he becomes very ineffective and isolated.
- “Strike Partner” – similarly to above, the Target Man is designed to work with another striker in partnership, often with a “Big Man – Little Man” type system working, where the Target Man sits slightly deeper as the physical presence, with the smaller, more mobile “Poacher” type feeding off the flick ons and knock downs.
The difference within the duties relate mainly to the positioning of the player; a supporting Target Man will sit slightly deeper, which gives the opposition defence a major problem – to come out of the defensive line to challenge him for the headers, or, to sit in position and try to win the knock down or second balls that are generated as a result of his presence. The attacking Target Man will sit higher up the pitch, and will look to get a yard of space ahead of the defence to attack the early crosses, or to drive into gaps to pull a defender out of position, allowing a deeper or, partnering teammate to attack the space vacated.
The attributes required for the position are:
As you can see, the player is expected to battle with defenders for the ball, with aspects such as being; Brave, Determined, Hard Working, Tall and Strong, the most highly valued. The above screenshot relates to the attack duty, the only differences in terms of important attributes, are the removal of anticipation and finishing, and the addition of long shots & aggression.
The PPM’s that fit this type of player are therefore those that encourage the player to use his physicality. Not many fit this type of category, although “plays with back to goal” is a very useful PPM for a Target Man. Those that wish to keep hold of the ball for onrushing midfielders can use “stop play” to allow your Target Man to hold up the ball. Also consider your player’s lack of technical ability that comes with the role, perhaps it is wise to have PPM’s that discourage intricate, technical prowess such as dribbling, through balls etc.
The Target Man is a specialist role in Football Manager. The primary feature to observe is that he attracts the ball, similar to a playmaker, but functions in a very different manner. Players throughout the team will constantly look to play directly to the Target Man, even in a team which is being instructed to play out of defence, keep possession etc., will still notice a strong tendency to play it long and direct. In view of this, the Target Man almost exclusively suits a more direct style of play with lots of direct balls from deep, and crosses from the flanks; these allow to win the ball in the air and to use his physicality to hold up the ball too. The Target Man is not given much creative licence, so his style of play tends to have little variation.
Matching up the angles of supply can be very rewarding if performed correctly too. The supporting Target Man will naturally tend to sit deeper, which means he will link well with direct balls from deep, as he can hold on to the ball and lay it back to the midfielders, or, flick the ball on to his strike partner, who can use this opportunity to get in behind the defence quickly. He will also attack the box from deep to get on the end of crosses – so those delivered by a more attack minded Winger from the byline, can still find the Target Man as arrives late in the area. The attacking Target Man will tend to try pulling off ahead of the defence slightly, using his physicality to out-muscle/jump defenders who are being forced to turn. As the attacking Target Man plays higher up the pitch, the crosses are generally aimed from deeper/earlier positions to maximise this. As a further benefit, the attacking Target Man being stationed higher up means a more mobile partner from deep, can then attack the box and build up speed to slice quickly through the opposing backline. Both duties prefer crosses aimed towards the far post, hung in the air, which enables them to attack the ball over their defensive opponent.
The Target Man does not tend to venture far from the centre of the pitch, he tends to be seen as a fulcrum that the rest of the attack plays off of, and around instead. As his position remains constant, being marked out of the game is possible if the defender is intelligent or physical enough to account for the robustness of the forward’s game. Most of the forward’s movement tends to be very vertical, with little lateral movement. He can drive off the ball into the channels between the centre-back and fullback to draw an opponent out of position when an opponent is on the attack, but otherwise tends to stay very central to offer a constant outlet.
It may seem strange that I specifically want to mention a Target Man’s defensive contribution, but it is a real and important part of their game. The defensive value of a Target Man at a set piece if that they offer another aerial presence at the back to help win the ball and clear corners and free kicks, marking an extra tall opponent during these phases. He can also help the team ride out phases of the game under pressure by holding up the ball and giving a chance for his team to break out of defence when under pressure and alleviate the strain his team have been under. His constant presence as an aerial outlet cannot be underestimated in value.
So in conclusion we can accept the following:
- The Target Man is a physically superior player
- He remains static and central, holding the ball up or flicking it on
- He feeds on direct balls from deep, or crosses from wide
- He should always be played with a strike partner of some description
- The duties of the Target Man and wide men should correlate to ensure correct delivery
I hope this was useful for you. Generally a 4-4-2 is an excellent system to play the Target Man within, and for some real examples, Tony Pulis’ Stoke City & Crystal Palace offer great examples of what a Target Man can do for a team.