League Building: How to Compete in the Unequal World of Football Manager

Football Manager is a tough game. We all have dreams of taking those minnows from the Bulgarian First Division to Champions League glory, but it’s a proper slog isn’t it? At least, this is one of the first issues I have been brought up against whenever I have suggested smaller clubs to players looking out for a good save.

“Nah, there’s no money there”

“I will never do anything in Europe”

All true, in the short term at least. That’s the beauty of a long term save in an unknown nation. With the right engineering, and the right foundations, you can lead your team to glory, and with the right emphasis on league building, you can stave off the frustrations of being domestically dominant whilst suffering in Europe. It’s one method I have used throughout Football Manager, and are currently using in my Dnipro save, as I attempt to build up the Soviet nation as a whole.


Why Build a League?

Let me start firstly by saying my premise is influenced by the work of the YouTuber Second Yellow Card and his “Building a Nation” series, which is a fantastic example of this idea in action. Our premise, much like Second Yellow Card’s, is to build not only our team, but our domestic competition. Why? Because when taking over in a minor league, the only way you can become a major player is if more is invested in you, and that means a better league competition. I, for example, in my Soviet save, want and need our league to become stronger, in order to increase our profile in world football, to achieve our further goal of footballing domination.

League building can be fun, as your focus is split between managing your own team, and becoming a football factory of youth production. Personally, I find it makes the difference between a good save and a great save, and I love nothing more than establishing my academy players in every club in the country. It’s also great to try and create a seismic shift in the footballing landscape, as you try and get your league to be the global ranked no.1.



What you are therefore about to read is simply my interpretation of league building, and the rules I am following during my time at Dnipro in the Soviet save. There are differing opinions and methods out there, all valid. However, my current methodology comes down to 6 rules that I stick to without (much) deviation.

1. Do not destabilise or weaken your league opponents

A tough one this, but it is important to not destroy all competition in the league. We are looking to develop players, not poach the best players from others to create a super team of the league. A strong competition means a stronger showing in Europe (for us) and a better reputation for our league.

2. Do not retain players for the sake of it

Having a balanced number in your squad of different age groups is difficult, and it is especially hard understanding when to let players go. The brilliant Guido Merry in his article “Building a Dynasty Squad: Some do’s and don’ts” outlines the perfect balance in squad sizes, which has informed my individual career plan (found underneath these rules) for Dnipro players coming into the system. As seen below, it is important to evaluate players often, and to understand the standards needed to be met when making the decision to cut or keep a player.

3. Sell primarily to your domestic opponents

Selling to a rival is never the easy option, but domestic sales are important. We want to increase the standard of the league here, so that you are kept on your toes, as is the international competition. A strong showing by all teams in the league across international tournaments increases the reputation of the league…which of course equals more pounds!

FK Partizan v Steaua Bucharest - UEFA Champions League: Third Qualifying Round 2nd Leg

4. Buy young (ideally), or not at all

If we look to develop players all the time, then we should only look to bring in young players. Setting yourself a limitation on the age at which players can be bought helps (not buying players over 21 for example), and forces you to develop your own stars, who can either be brought into your team, or sold on. We aren’t looking to buy tried and tested players. The search is for constant, young players who you can develop, and either keep or sell on.

5. Develop, Develop, Develop

Invest hugely in your youth set up, bringing in high quality staff, as well as maxing out the facilities and recruitment. FMInside offer a great break down in why the Head of Youth Development role can be crucial, and if you want a good foundation level for youths coming in, it might be worth looking at.

6. Be ruthless

Always be on the look out for a player to replace any of your players. A high turn over of players isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as you have a good level of consistency, and whilst there is always room for the sentimental veteran of the team, if there is a better player coming up through the ranks, make way for them. The older player will do better for another team than they will sat in your reserves.


The Dnipro Career Plan

Below is my career plan for youth coming through my club, as eluded to at rule 2. It gives clear time scales and a simple criteria to mark players against. It informs me on which players maintain a usefulness in old age, and which players should be moved on for their own benefit.

Career plan Dnipro.png

The final aspect, whilst not a rule, is to trust in your youth. Give them ample opportunity. Game time, tutoring, and training all develop players, so make sure they get a healthy balance of it all. I prefer to avoid the loan system, instead selling players who I don’t feel will make the grade. This is mainly because unless I fully trust a clubs development staff, then a young player can go to waste. Chances are, they will probably develop better in my youth team, with sporadic first team appearances than losing in a lower league side with poor management.


So, there we have it. Those methods and rules on developing a nation. I’ve tried to keep it short and sweet enough for it to be bitesize, but the theory and discussion could quite easily be much much longer.

League building is fun. If you are looking for a Football Manager save outside of your comfort zone, and have yet to venture into the wilds of smaller leagues, it is a great method of keeping you interested in a save. As I say, these are simply my methods, and by no means a tutorial. If you like these ideas, have ideas of your own, or simply wish to question my methods, then comment below, or contact me on twitter @VRFussball.

Until next time, thanks for reading.


5 thoughts on “League Building: How to Compete in the Unequal World of Football Manager

  1. Reblogged this on fmscribe and commented:
    Good article. If I ever “stayed” at clubs long-term, this would be the methodology I follow, even if I was in an already big-league. But I haven’t stayed 5 years at a club since……well…. CM01/02. lol

    This year might be different on that score. As I’ll have the game early enough to do a proper long-term save, instead of 7-10 years.

  2. When I stay at a club long term – aside from helping out the league (because I’m PSG/Bayern and no one else matters), I generally go by these player developing rules. Though I often feel bad about selling veterans on.

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