Each FMer will have their own opinion on what is the single most important attribute for a player in Football Manager. But there is one attribute that if often overlooked by the masses: natural fitness (NF). How do I know this? Well take a look at the SI forums in 4 weeks time, where I guarantee you will find numerous threads detailing an overabundance of injuries once FM16 launches.
NF is several things, but it primarily indicates as to how quickly a player recovers between matches. The word 'between' is key here, because the stamina attribute relates to fitness (and the depletion of it) within games. A fit player (let's say Sylvain Distin who has a 20 in NF in FM15) is like a top of the range lithium battery who has an abundance of fitness-capacity to play matches every 3 days. Whereas Adriano (the Parma/Inter one - who has a NF of 1 in FM15) is akin to a Triple A dry cell battery...he's at 50% fitness at Full Time and can no way recover and play within 3-5 days.
One of the first things to look for when assessing your new squad is reviewing each player's natural fitness. This is important. Why? Well I argue 3 important reasons:
(1) It will highlight WHERE you need to strengthen
You may have 4 adequate 1st team central midfielders playing in a 4-4-2, which seems enough cover for a long season. However, if 3 of these have poor NF (< 5) you may want to consider a strict rotation policy or even additional resources.
(2) It will indicate where to focus special training
Players of low NF will need to be managed correctly. Overworking them in training will mean they are jaded come match day. Not only does this mean they will perform poorly on the pitch, they are increasingly susceptible to injuries. This is the reason players like Craig Bellamy and Ledley King had reduced training programmes in their playing careers. If you plan on playing FM correctly, you ought to have a specialist training regime for these kind of players. This approach of reducing a player's training is known as Periodisation. The Dutch Fitness Coach, Raymond Verheijen details Periodisation here. One quote in particular from that BBC article has stuck with me since reading it 5 years ago. It changed my view of how I should approach training in Football Manager...forever:
"A lot of coaches treat players the same way, whatever their age, whatever their body composition, whatever their injury history, whatever their playing position"
At the time of reading, I was one of those coaches. My training was a 'one size fits all approach' and I suspect a lot of the fledging FMers who complain about injuries in November will be of the same ilk. By considering NF, you will be given a clear indication of whom to manage differently.
(3) It will highlight WHEN you need to strengthen
I have already explained above that NF will show you where you need to strengthen, in order to cope with a testing season. NF will also indicate the longevity of a player and when you should ideally strengthen. NF dictates how soon a player's prime will end. High NF means that a player has a higher chance of remaining competitive after his 29-30s. An example of this is aforementioned 37 year old Sylvain Distin who, with a NF of 20, has managed an average of 33 Premier League appearances in the last 14 campaigns (since 2001/02). That's 457 apps out of a possible 532.
If you have players with high NF, then consider hanging on to them for a bit longer. On the other hand, if your player is low in NF and is nearing 30...you may want to considering cashing in.
With the release of FM16 nearing, I have already started making a list of areas and players I feel may need reviewing with the 3 items above in mind. One player that needs both extra attention and a realistic assessment is Caio (above screenshot), who was mentioned in my Enganche blogpost. Caio's NF of 4 has left me worrying for what lies ahead in FM16. He will be unable to play twice a week and he is already 29 years of age. My Enganche role will help him (as he is not required to move much in the match engine) but I will need a specialist training regime laid out early on in my save. This is a great example of why I feel NF needs to be considered from the onset of your FM16 save. Good luck and thanks for reading.