An incredible manager like Bobby Robson couldn’t do it. An experienced manager like Roy Hodgson couldn’t do it. Not even Sam Allardyce, a manager destined to take over Real Madrid one day, could do it. Big Sam couldn’t even last more than one game in the kind of situation so bizarre that if it happened on Football Manager, you’d wag your finger and claim it would never happen in real life. Another such situation is England winning the World Cup again, the kind of heady dream that has aspiring manager across the nation reaching for their laptops to fire up FM18 and bring football home themselves.
England do actually have a reasonable squad, something that can be forgotten when staring at the central midfield berth about to be occupied by Jordan Henderson and/or Eric Dier. The likes of Harry Kane, Kyle Walker and Raheem Sterling are genuine stars in all realities, while the virtual forms of John Stones and Dele Alli are blessed with talents that emerge with more consistency than in real life. Taking over England on FM18 is not quite as challenging as taking over San Marino.
However, there is a raft of other nations that boast squads with staggering depth. Germany can afford to leave Leroy Sane at home, while France have ignored the kind of players that could form a top-six Premier League side. These nations, plus Spain and Brazil, inevitably feature in World Cup betting tips in 2018, with squads brimming with individual talent that rank among the world’s best. Yet World Cups are not won by individuals, although Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo may still harbour hope that this isn’t the case.
So how can you generate the kind of team spirit required to win the World Cup when dealing with virtual representations of players with big personalities? On FM18 it is imperative to develop tactical familiarity as soon as possible. Starting a game doesn’t give you much time to mould a new team in your image, with the rounding up of the qualification games the only competitive fixtures before the World Cup. Tactical principles may have to take a back seat; slot your players into a system as a plan A that plays to their strengths, and use this system stubbornly to develop familiarity. Have a plan B, but keep it as simple as throwing on Andy Carroll to pummel defenders. By focusing on the plan A, your players will arrive in Russia able to operate fluidly and effectively.
With so little time in between the start of the game and the World Cup, you won’t be able to carry passengers in your squad. If there is a player who is in theory rather good but doesn’t fit into your system, then leave them at home. If Joachim Löw can leave Leroy Sane out for those reasons, then you can afford to leave Harry Kane at home if your plan A and plan B include false nines (not recommended). International managers often bemoan the lack of time at their disposal, and FM18 is so effective at mimicking real life that you will face the same conundrum. Instil positive morale and a high level of tactical familiarity, and you may get to succeed where others have failed by bringing the World Cup back to England. At the very least, you should do better than Sam Allardyce.