Image of Johan Cruijff by Robert Ball

The Cruijffbal Challenge – Prologue

A new year brings a new challenge, combining the economics of Moneyball and wisdom of Johan Cruijff. Together they become Cruijffbal.

The idea of retro gaming perplexes people. Hell, even the concept of gaming confuses those who don’t partake. It’s a stretch calling Championship Manager 01/02 a “retro game” (and I wouldn’t) but if it was a person, it’d be legally allowed to marry, drive a moped, join a union, and pilot a glider. We celebrated the game’s 17th birthday last year and now it’s time to start a new challenge. Unfortunately, my Espanyol adventure crashed and burnt when the save file was deleted but this one is here for keeps.

CM and FM players will be familiar with the Moneyball challenge, pioneered by Alex Stewart and it created a slew of similar attempts (including my own on 01/02). I managed to get Bradford all the way to the Premier League title before stopping. I also struggled with Fréjus in France and got them into Ligue 1. But this challenge is going to be different. I won’t be following the rules as Alex set them. At least not all of them. And they won’t be the only rules at hand.

Enter Johan Cruijff. The Dutch footballing icon sadly passed away in 2017 but his legacy will never leave. Outside his majestic career on the pitch, Cruijff also had a successful career in the dugout as manager of Ajax and Barcelona. With his success came wisdom and knowledge and plenty of quotes to go with them. Alongside those amended Moneyball rules will be selected quotes from Mr Cruijff. I must stress I’ve taken artistic licence with the interpretation of those quotes as you’ll see now:

1. Net wage spend is more important than net transfer spend

2. Give the squad a season before making signings unless they’re required

3. Don’t buy players who impressed at international tournaments: they’re likely to be overvalued and past performance is no indication of future performance, especially when they’re playing with a different team

4. Rotate players for cup games to maximise squad fitness and morale

5. Use the wisdom of crowds: ask all your scouts and a Director of Football if you have one

6. Buy players in their early twenties, which avoids the problems with not developing properly, and means previous statistics have greater value

7. If you buy a player over 30, sign them on max. 2 year contracts except for goalkeepers

8. Sell any player if a club offers more than they are worth and try to replace them before they are sold

9. Sign players with good Determination (≥14)

10. Identify and replace the weakest links rather than splashing out on making the best links even better

11. Consider better investment in defence than offence – don’t overspend on attackers.

12. Every disadvantage has its advantage – make the most out of a bad situation. A smaller squad means less versatility but a better wage outlay than a larger squad.

13. You have got to shoot, otherwise you can’t score – buy attacking players with proven goal scoring abilities/attempts. This means analysing previous seasons’ performances ahead of attributes.

14. Sometimes something’s got to happen before something is going to happen – assess contracts no later than 12 months before they end. If they won’t agree a new contract after 3 attempts, sell them or let their contract run out.

15. Technique is not being able to juggle a ball 1000 times. Anyone can do that by practicing. Then you can work in the circus. Technique is passing the ball with one touch, with the right speed, at the right foot of your team mate – look for players with high technique and passing attributes.

16. Choose the best player for every position, and you’ll end up not with a strong XI, but with 11 strong 1’s – don’t let attributes rule player recruitment. Buy/use players that complement one another.

17. In my teams, the goalie is the first attacker, and the striker the first defender – aim to buy goalkeepers with high anticipation and passing attributes and strikers with anticipation, strength and teamwork.

18. Every professional golfer has a separate coach for his drives, for approaches, for putting. In football we have one coach for 15 players. This is absurd – sign coaches for every area – goalkeeping, outfield, tactical and youth.

One notable exclusion from the Moneyball rules is the “don’t sign Dutch or Brazilian players” clause. The reasoning behind it was players from those regions are often overpriced, which is true, but not all Dutch and Brazilian players. There’s also a lot of Brazilian players who move over to the Netherlands as well as players whose parents may have sought asylum from places like North Africa and in my opinion, it’d be unfair to exclude them because of a broken capitalist system.

I’ve also opened the door to players over 30 who don’t wear foam-palmed gloves. A focus will be on youth development but signing older players on short contracts can help with filling gaps in the short term, particularly in the lower leagues and at the very top when survival is important. And I’ve included some of my own personal ideas to spice things up and hold everything together.

But experiments are useless without a testing ground. Normally, clubs are chosen for Moneyball challenges based on a medium-level financial status. I’ve gone right to the bottom of the EFL for mine. Literally at the bottom. I’ve chosen Notts County. They’re a club in turmoil and while the update I’m using still had Harry Kewell as manager (they’ve had two more since), money is short and the squad is thin. Now that’s a challenge.

My goals are simple and tiered.

  • Level 1: Finish above Nottingham Forest
  • Level 2: Win a cup competition
  • Level 3: Reach the Premier League
  • Level 4: Stay for at least a season
  • Level 5: Qualify for Europe
  • Level 6: Reach the FA Cup final
  • Level 7: Win the Premier League
  • Level 8: Win a European competition
  • Level 9: Win the World Club Cup
  • Level 10: Reach a £1bn bank balance

I’ve ordered them by level of difficulty (Level 1 = easy, Level 10 = difficult). That might seem disrespectful to Forest but given how I’m used to regular promotions and I don’t see Forest leaving the Championship upwards, I think it’s achievable. In all honesty, I don’t see myself getting to £1bn as I’d need a stadium the size of Old Trafford or above. But a man can dream.

Some technical information: I will be using Championship Manager with the latest update from champman0102.co.uk but without patches as they have caused no end of issues with crashes before the second season. So everything is up to date but the game will still start in 2001. No Tó Madeira’s or Maxim Tsigalko’s on this one. Sorry lads!

Join me next time for the first season update to see how I did with my “18 Commandments of Champman”.

(Image of Johan Cruijff by Robert Ball, shared under CC 2.0 licence)

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