When Real Life Meets FM

Quite some time ago I used to run a Football Manager quarterly magazine called Clear Cut Chance. One of the regular features we used to run was ‘When Real Life Meets FM’ were we would talk to people from the football world and ask them FM related questions. It was a very popular feature and something ‘different’. When we stopped doing Clear Cut Chance I transferred some of these to the blog and continued to do the interviews. Some of these can be found here;

http://sisportscentre.com/category/interviews/

We interviewed a whole host of different people including coaches, chairmen, principal advisor’s, scouts and so on. Since then it’s been a bit quiet on this front but I miss doing these interviews. With this in mind I’ve decided to resurrect it for 2016.

And first up in the new series is Stevie Grieve, Head of Coaching at BBFS, TV Pundit for Ten Sports, Expert Analyst of ‘The Mind Game’ UEFA B & Advanced children’s Licence. Some of you might be familiar with Stevie because he is also a passionate Football Manager player and can often be found mentioning his FM games on Twitter when he’s not talking about coaching. He’s one of the more passionate coaches on social media who likes to discuss things and is always open to answering questions. You can tell he loves his job and what he does, he’s always helpful and sharing ideas amongst other coaches.

So who is Stevie Grieve, we asked him a few questions yesterday to find out.

I’ve known for you for a while and been following your stuff for a few years now. But for those who might not be familiar, can you tell us a bit about you please?

I’m Stevie Grieve, I’m 29, I’ve been coaching for 13 years. I started when i was 16 (for those of you without a maths degree) and I’ve worked in 4 countries – Scotland, USA, Switzerland and India.

I’ve also written several books – my first one was published when I was 24 which became a World Class Coaching best seller; Coaching the 4-2-3-1.

I’m married and my wife… hates football.

What got you into coaching?

Initially, it was because i helped a kid do a few 1v1 moves who then performed them in a game, then a guy called Steve McPhee asked if it was something that i would be interested in, then we took it from there. I actually started doing badminton sessions (which I’m garbage at) which was good to get a feel of how to run a session, discipline, motivation and teaching a skill which may be difficult and how to break it down. I learned a lot from Steve and my early sessions.

You also have an Advanced Children’s License, can you tell us a bit about that and what it involved and what made you go this route?

It’s the highest level of coaching award for players aged 5-11, with a specific focus on developing Elite players, and is largely based on teaching technical skills and using it in a game context.

The course in itself was actually good, there were psychology things, child protection stuff and a lot of good coaches to learn from on the course.

The SFA have changed a lot of things in terms of coach education but having different pathways for specific age groups is a great idea as often a good under 11 coach isn’t a good u17 coach or a good under 18 coach isn’t a good under 9 coach; either personality or knowledge wise.

I was working with Dundee FC, and the Head of Youth – Jon Holt (ex Dundee United UEFA Cup finalist) decided that i was the best guy to go on the course and I’m thankful he did that as i had only been at the club a few months. Jon then promoted me to the u17s where we moved a few guys into the 1st team.

Being put forward for the course kind of validated the way i had worked since I was 16 – developing technically good players and being able to analyse and correct parts of the technique. So my studying and learning has helped me in the younger ages and can translate to helping improve or refine technique in older players, including adults.

Having the Children’s A licence is a good thing but the problem is that it is often overlooked as it’s not regarded as high as a UEFA A; which is not targeted for developing technical players in the foundation phase.

Clubs should probably look beyond a ‘licence’ and look at who actually can break down a technique and teach it in stages properly. That’s more important than any licences.

How did you find the transition from coaching on the field to TV analysts for Ten Sports, India’s premier sporting network? That’s a massive gig.

This might sound strange, but when I went into the studio and was being asked questions about tactics etc, i felt i belonged there. No nerves, nothing. Joe Morrison said that it was the best TV debut he’d ever seen!

Coaching and analysis go hand in hand. You can coach lots of things but there comes a point where you have a plan based on you and the opponent, and how the game might go, then you design practices based on what you want to happen in all 6 stages of the game.

The 6 stages in case anyone is wondering – Attack Organisation – Def Transition – Def Organisation – Attack transition are the 4 standard ones. Then I have 2 extras as i like to play a game with lots of intensity which results in many transitions;

Attack transition to defensive transition

(regain -> counter attack -> turnover -> counter press)

and the opposite direction

defensive transition to attacking transition

(turnover -> counter press -> regain -> counter attack)

The way I look at it is; If I know everything that the opponent will do, I can control the outcome as much as possible in training. If the players are well prepared then you can control as many of the variables that happen within the game. If you know the subs the coach will make, you know how to plan in advance or could even be ready to spring a surprise if you know they make a specific change regularly at various stages of the game.

How can you win if you don’t know what you are up against?

So to me, I love coaching, I really enjoy the punditry, and they need to go together to be successful. If you have nobody in the 1st team staff who is a good analyst, you’re gonna struggle.

You’re very approachable on Social Media and quite vocal with your views at times, which is refreshing to see. I guess other coaches or people in  similar professions can get rubbed up the wrong way at times, due to their dinosaur methodology or thinking. Is this something you’ve experienced?

Thanks! I like to converse with people about football – I’m away from my friends, family etc so sometimes a conversation online is the best way to discuss and learn. There are many interesting and intelligent people online and it would be silly not to use it to help others or better yourself.

I think the reason I’m quite vocal is that now, there are a lot of ‘academic’ papers saying – do x, don’t do y – written by a guy with no on field experience or a tiny sample group.

If we take technical development – it’s best to play in full pressure like a game so it is 100% relevant, but there are stages before that you need to learn to be able to perform a technique before it becomes and in-game skill. A Lot of people miss that or forget about it when quoting these papers (which i feel are great as they are helping improve coaching and player development) but are often misinterpreted by people looking for a quick fix or to ‘say the right thing’ online.

Also, there are coaches who will put a session up and say ‘it’s a UEFA A session’; it’s not.

It’s a session plan – it’s only A licence if you can achieve the learning objectives of the session from the accuracy of the design and layout of the plan and in the information you provide to the players.

You can guide them to it, or drive them to it. Not always is guiding them the best way – example building from the back is in most cases something where you say – do this, this and this.

In final 3rd attacking, it can be more guided as you are looking for problem solvers to create or see things that maybe you can’t.

In terms of being opinionated, although I’m maybe in a small group of people who will openly criticize and accept it of others do the same to me. If nobody questions things, how can things or people improve? We’re programmed to not challenge things which is maybe why it’s uncommon.

For example, every week we see 75% of people watch a match then moan about the punditry at HT or FT analysis – can that be changed? How can it be changed for the better?

Can the TV company look at new solutions to improve it? Would it add value to the product?

Is my opinion valued more now than an ex-pro? I’d say it is – because it’s insightful.

We live in an era where everyone is an expert – rightly or wrongly – so people can go digging for information and want to see something fresh. I’d like to say I’m helping change and improve punditry but we will only know if the quality of analysis improves.

I was lucky that RK Sreenivasan took a risk putting a nobody in front of a load of camera’s and no experience in media work, but i think I’ve proved that sometimes a risk is better than being safe.

Instead of an ex-pro with clichés, why not get a guy who was ex-Head of analysis in a premier league club? They would offer more insight than someone who comments on highlights.

I’m well aware that not always my opinion will be appreciated and may come across as brash, but in most cases, it’s to continue a debate or improve how things are in our society.

You’re a massive Football Manager, how did you get into it?

Haha! Yes I am! I had Premier Manager 96, I think I went Middlesbrough with Ravanelli, Juninho and Emerson and enjoyed the way you could buy players, make up a style of play etc. I was always a ‘Short Passing, Attacking, Pressing’ kinda guy. I liked Leeds in 98-02 on LMA as well.

From the age of 10, I was always a fan of manager games and have stuck with them ever since.

The Liechtenstein save you have going is one of the most interesting saves that I’ve followed in a long time. For those not aware of it, can you give them a bit of background about where you started and the current level you’re at?

Basically, I lived in Switzerland for 2 years and went to visit Vaduz, and loved the place. So I decided to buy a Liechtenstein shirt and start a save. It’s been going since 2013 on FM 12. I think I’m in 2027 now.

My idea was to get Vaduz promoted and do as much youth development as possible to improve the national team and try to not get horsed 4-0 every game. To do that i decided that selling established players or benching them to play a 3 star + potential 16-year-old would ultimately be better for the national team than playing a good Swiss player or young guy from a rival country!

Luckily I’ve had a 4 star + player every couple of years and 3 x 4.5star + players, which has probably kept me going in all honesty.

(I’ll see if I can screenshot some of the players for here)

It took me until about 2020 to win the league, 2024 to win the Europa League and 2022 to qualify for the World Cup. I had a CF called Hans Rahlfs who I sold for £8m to Hertha with a 35% sell on, who went to Real Madrid for £25m who was 2nd in Ballon D’or.

I’ve got a few other guys who are class – there’s pictures on my twitter – and some naturalised players who have boosted the squad.

Now Hans Rahlfs and Matias Chaparro have retired from Liechtenstein at 29, we are struggling with a new system and many 17 – 21 year old and 2 or 3 excellent older guys around 26.

Becoming attached to a player is something that many people end up doing when playing long-term. Do you have any special players on your game that you’ve become attached to regardless of their ability?

Haha, yeah kinda! I always have that with players from the academy who play well for the club but aren’t quite good enough for a big money move. I think i would rather keep them in the squad and give them games than sell them.

There was a guy in Liechtenstein called Roger Wenaweser who now plays for Yeovil, who scored a few goals at 16 to get me promoted who I gave new contracts to when I was a rich club because I had some vague sense that I was helping his family by paying him more than what he was worth! He eventually left because he never got in the team and I needed him as backup for the NT.

In 2007, I had a left winger that i signed from Pakhtakor Tashkent as a 16-year-old called ‘Temur Ergashev’ who I took to Arsenal, and became world player of the year. Afterwards I took him on as a staff member when he retired from injury at 28. I like to help my old players after the game ends!

What’s the best feature on Football Manager?

I’ve always thought the 2D or 3D game is excellent – the older text-based games gave you a sense of guesswork, but in this you can see your changes taking place. If you play a 4-2-2-2 with no wingers then adapt the position of one AM/CF to a LW for example, it can change the entire outlook of the game, which i’ve always liked.

In my opinion, an underrated way to play is when you play without real players, then make it a proper game by scouting, analysing opponents and coaches and looking at the game, away from what you already know.

Maybe I’m a geek, but scouting, analysis of the opponent and having no recognisable names is a brilliant challenge.

How far away from reality are the training methods than FM uses. Is it realistic or not in its current format?

I’m not entirely sure because each club and coach may have different methods. Some use tactical periodization, some are completely shaping based and some play SSGs all week!

Maybe there could be a feature similar to tracksuit/tactical manager where you decide how you prefer to play which may affect how quickly your team improves. If I’m a 3-4-1-2 coach, and I play 4-3-3, my training familiarity may take longer than is its 3-4-1-2. If I’m attacking and I play counter attack, again it may take longer.

The layout is fine as you can work on generic stuff like Attacking Movement, Defensive positioning etc.

Unless they were to make an add-on of a breakdown of Attacking processes – 1v1 wide to cross, attacking zone 14, combinations mid-front, using a target man and counter pressing as examples, I’m not sure how the guy who plays it with no knowledge of coaching processes would feel.

Defensive work might be good as if you concede a lot down the left, you could work on defending the left side 2v2 and your player selection may have an impact – if you have Alexis as a Raumdeuter, it might be more difficult and unbalanced, so you could ask the LCM to help the LB, and you work on that partnership to defend the left better so you can keep Alexis high.

I’m not sure I play it enough to be able to give an in-depth opinion as I’m still getting to grips with FM15 and training, but i do like how it has been changed so you have a focus during the week and pre-game prep.

Personally I’d like to see something done so tactics and training is better linked together. Maybe spend time training concepts and planning for certain scenarios in the build up to games. Is this something you’d like to see added at some point?

Yeah, I think it would be good, but i also think that if you have 3 ‘levels’ of defending – High Block, Mid Block, Low Block defending might be good.

You could defend in a High Block 2-3-2-3, Mid Block 4-1-4-1, Low Block 5-4-1 as an example.

You could have different Attack systems and have a system similar to CM 01/02 where you have the grids and you place each player roughly where you would like them in accordance to ball position, and ideal options from that play i.e. opt 1 opt 2 opt 3.

From this, you work on Attacking specifics – build up play v 1 press, 2 press, 3 press. or against a narrow opponent, wide opponent etc.

I’d like to be able to do more with set pieces – again, similar to 01/02, use a grid system and specific movement patterns to release players at corners or free kicks and be really creative.

A difficult bunch of requests for Miles Jacobson and SI I’m sure!

What type of manager are you on the game, are you the cool and calm type or do you often give players the hairdryer treatment?

I’m probably similar to real life in how I do it. I rarely use aggressive, I’m normally calm or assertive and usually very positive. If I’m not happy at HT i’ll be calm and tell them – it’s better in life and in the game than going nuts!

I know you’re a busy man but you must have been tempted to write about your saved games before? If not, would it be something you maybe would consider every so often? I’m sure a lot of people would love to read about the adventures you spoke about above.

I’ve considered it a few times but my job with Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools, and Garhwal FC, then on TenSports and spending time with Sarah who moved over to India after we got married, it’s tough to have extra motivation to write like I used to with the analysis a couple of years ago.

I probably will one day depending on if I move into 1st team coaching in the near future or not.

Putting the game aside for a moment, what can we expect from you this year. I remember you teasing towards the end of last year that you had something big and different on the go. Is that still the case and if so, any hint towards what we can expect?

For this year, i’ve been writing a book on youth development and how it’s done across the world. It’s something i’ve been involved in for 13 years across 4 countries and 3 continents, as a lead coach, assistant manager, academy coach, academy director and head coach of a pro club, so with my own experiences and contacts i’ve sent Question sheets to, and had skype chats with, will help many people across the world once it’s launched. I’ve spoken to a couple of publishers but nothing is in place as yet. I’d like to do it for the summer but I’m not sure when i’ll be finished.

I was writing a book on transition play as i have some unique practices (I think they’re unique) to train the impulse to press/disperse/counter/drop off in sprint based practices for different days within a Tactical Periodization basis.

I’m also looking at different working opportunities inside and outside of India, with my wife to take care of and hopefully start a family soon, so i am in a position where i’d like to do 1st team coaching, 1st team analysis and TV, but it’s hard to commit to both, so if something interesting in 1st team work comes up in a place we would like to live in – Italy, Scandinavia, Canada and Central Europe are high on the list – then i’ll have a decision to make.

For now, I’m enjoying my role at BBFS and looking to break into 1st team coaching in the near future.

The media project.. well to cut a long story short – a lot of things were said that would happen to publicise the work to get views, a mobile and tablet application and top of the google search etc, but they haven’t materialised. Some other guys are doing videos but they barely get to 100 views because of the background work and relevance in the market isn’t there as it’s a new brand. It’s an exciting project but right now, the work is to be done for no money in the hope of being paid and i can’t do that. I worked as a volunteer for 9 years but those organisations didn’t set out to profit from it, while working for a profit based company for nothing isn’t something i can commit to.

Once the things that were agreed upon are in place and the videos can get over 10,000 views a week then i’ll start doing it 2 or 3 videos a week.

I’d like to thank Stevie for his time and specifically for the detailed answers he gave. If you’d like to find out more about Stevie and his projects then give him a follow on twitter @Steviegrieve

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