Osu [pronounced: 'oss']: meaning 'hello', 'goodbye', 'I understand', 'do you understand', 'thanks', 'OK', 'come here', 'go there', 'look there', 'look at me', 'excuse me', 'you're excused', 'go', 'stop'.
I was immediately excited when I discovered Chris Darwen was going to write about a Football Manager save set on Okinawa Island, Japan. I make no secret to the fact that I love exotic FM saves where I only know, at best, a handful of clubs or players. It feels refreshing and grabs my attention. With Chris’ Islanders save, I was hooked right from the start. With his witty writing style and attention to detail within the save, I implore you to catch up on it all here.
But there’s another reason why Okinawa is close to my heart. Despite never visiting the island (or Japan for that matter), it’s actually the birthplace of Shotokan Karate…my other love. Shotokan Karate was founded by Gigō Funakoshi in the late 19th Century and is the oldest and most traditional form of Karate practiced today. Developing from the indigenous martial arts of Ryukyu Islands, which in turn was heavily influenced by the Chinese arts (due to Ryukyu being so close to China). Okinawa born Funakoshi is actually my great, great Karate granddad (making me a 5th generation karateka), as my Sensei was privileged enough to have learnt directly from the Japanese (Sensei Enoeda, who came to the UK as an emissary to teach Karate in the 1960s). Enoeda in turn learnt from one of Funakoshi’s early pupils: Sensei Nakayama. These guys were tough, but more importantly they taught humility and respect to all those willing to listen. Okinawa for this reason is a very special place.
With all of the above in mind, it feels fitting for my FM persona Ángel Bastardo to visit Chris on Okinawa. For the second part of my ‘A.Bastardo On Holiday’ series. For those that had not read the first installment, click here.
From Sakoku to The Incredible Hulk
The International news before the flight from Abu Dhabi was all about Donald Trump’s wall being near complete…ahead of schedule and within budget. The ‘America First’ project was coming to fruition and Bastardo’s family history of drug cartels in La Plata meant that it would be extremely hard to ever enter the United States again. Simply a name like ‘Bastardo’ was enough to garner integration. The MLS was sadly not an option.
Bastardo was off to Japan anyway, a country with a vibrant ‘J League’, where association football had become one of the most watched sports. Japan had embraced Western ideals before a lot of Asian countries and was perhaps the first exotic football league in the early 1990s. However, rewind 400 years earlier to the 17th Century and Japan would make Trump’s policies look like a liberalist’s dream. Sakoku, meaning ‘closed country’, was the complete ban of emigration and immigration into Japan for over 200 years. Let that sink in a minute…200 years. That’s around 6-7 generations. Japanese under Sakoku would live and die without ever seeing a foreigner, or ever setting foot outside of Japan. Nor had their parents…or nor would their children.
It was all fueled by Japan’s absolute distrust of colonialism and foreigners in general, especially the spread of Western ideals and religion from the Portuguese and Spanish. In 1636 the Japanese decided enough was enough, ordering ‘Sakoku’ and preserving their nation’s characteristics in the most drastic way. An excerpt from the order:
"No Japanese ship (...), nor any native of Japan, shall presume to go out of the country; whoever acts contrary to this, shall die, and the ship with the crew and goods aboard shall be sequestered until further orders. All persons who return from abroad shall be put to death. Whoever discovers a Christian priest shall have a reward of 400 to 500 sheets of silver and for every Christian in proportion. All Namban (Portuguese and Spanish) who propagate the doctrine of the Catholics, or bear this scandalous name, shall be imprisoned in the Onra, or common jail of the town. The whole race of the Portuguese with their mothers, nurses and whatever belongs to them, shall be banished to Macao. Whoever presumes to bring a letter from abroad, or to return after he hath been banished, shall die with his family; also whoever presumes to intercede for him, shall be put to death. No nobleman nor any soldier shall be suffered to purchase anything from the foreigner."
Bastardo felt privileged to be on the way to Japan, but also deeply saddened by imagining what it must have been like under the 200 year rule of Sakoku. He was here to meet an Englishman with a larger than life personality, who had embraced Japan…as much as the Japanese had embraced him. It was a far cry from Sakoku, and Bastardo took comfort from that.
Japan launched the J Leagues in 1992, with the purpose to contribute to International society. Just like the karateka who emigrated all around the world in the 1960s, Japan was also looking to improve its own sporting culture and produce Japanese players to also make the move elsewhere. To do that, the 10 J League clubs were intended to be the heartbeat of their communities. In its inaugural season just over 3.2 million spectators had turned up in stadiums to watch their teams, that’s more than the comparable sized 2015/16 league attendances in Sweden (2.3m) and Switzerland (1.9m). The Japanese have built on this success year-on-year and now we witness 5.4m spectators in Japan’s J League (now a league of 18), which beats two major World footballing nations in Portugal (3.3m) & Argentina (1.9m) - as shown below.
Bastardo knew exactly what contributed to this meteoric rise in 25 years: ‘The Incredible Hulk effect': attracting a mixture of both young and old global diaspora to play in its league. Footballers arriving as larger than life personalities…poster boys of a certain sporting image that Japan wanted for its populous. It all started with Argentine striker Ramón Díaz, who scored bucket loads wherever he went: River Plate, Inter, Monaco to name a few…before ending up at the mighty Yokohama Marinos (scoring 52 J League goals in 75 appearances) and one of England’s greatest ever Centre Forwards Gary Lineker (who turned out for Nagoya Grampus Eight in 18 J League appearances, scoring 4). Even Zico (aka the White Pelé) was there nearing 40 years of age with Kashima Antlers.
After Díaz, Lineker & Zico more big name players arrived: Dragan Stojković & Salvatore Schillaci in 1994, World Cup winning captain Dunga in 1995. Then the moves shifted to more gifted youngsters (mostly from Brazil)…who used the J League as a place to showcase their talents: Hulk (2005) who ended up at Porto and Jader Volnei Spindler aka Baré (2007) & Caio Lucas Fernandes (2014) who both made more lucrative moves to the Middle East (Al-Ahli & Al Ain respectively). The Brazil revolution is so great that only 2 clubs out of the 18 in the 2016 season contained no Brazilians (Urawa Red Diamonds & Sagan Tosu). The samba flair is as prevalent in Japan than it is in England, Italy or Spain.
But what makes Sensei Darwen’s success so profound is that success has come without huge attendances and certainly with no Samba flair. Chris Darwen is at FC Ryukyu who had playoff success in 2017 and reached J2 for the first time in the club’s history. A further promotion followed three years later to J1 in 2020. The achievement in reaching the big time is made even more miraculous given the Board’s decision to leave a 25,000 capacity stadium in favour of a new 3,000 FC Ryukyu Stadium a year earlier (in 2019). So how has the FC Ryukyu fairy-tale been made possible? Well to answer that Bastardo was invited in to see Chris Darwen’s frugal financial planning…
The eccentric Englishman
Okinawa’s local football press had labelled Sensei Darwen an ‘eccentric Englishman’, after he announced back in 2016 of his ambition to make FC Ryukyu an income generating football club. It was said he spent as much time in the Boardroom, re-profiling yearly budget sheets, than on the training ground with his players. Ángel Bastardo was therefore 30 mins early to their meeting, dressed in $1,000 suit, looking sharp and waiting outside Darwen’s private office. ‘You can only make a first impression once’ Bastardo thought.
However Darwen was late, not just by a few minutes, by a good hour. Bastardo heard the office greet his arrival, this guy was like a celebrity. Bastardo could hear Darwen’s approach, he timely stood to greet him with a firm English handshake. The hallway door opened and Chris Darwen was stood dressed in a kimono and not much else. He truly had embraced Japan, Bastardo thought, who was startled enough to replace the planned handshake with a simple ‘Ola Señor’.
Bastardo & Darwen studiously went through the operating accounts of FC Ryukyu over a 5 year period…true to his word, Chris Darwen had made FC Ryukyu an income generating club. Overturning an initial three year loss of approx. -€650k…and ending up sitting on €200k of profit by Year 5.
As you would expect, it’s all due to increasing the club’s income whilst keeping close control on the club’s expenditure:
But how did Chris Darwen, the naked man in the kimono, do all this in 5 years? After all he’s been busy with two promotions and building a team from the ground up. Bastardo posed the question and Darwen duly replied by opening up his budget sheets…
Despite its small size, the above worksheet in Excel captures everything Chris Darwen needs in order to manage the books at FC Ryukyu. Let’s start with the wage expenditure which Chris separates as First Team Squad (Columns A + B), Academy costs (Columns D + E) and Backroom Staff (Columns G, H and I).
What’s good is that the big earners merit their own rows, whereas the smaller earners are lumped together (see below). This makes the budget sheet more manageable and by having a staff total below we can quickly see if there is a great disparity between top earners and overall wage (e.g. Ohashi earning 9% of the total player budget of €4.5k per week in Year 1-2017).
These three strands of wage expenditure are combined in Cell B17, to give FC Ryukyu their weekly wage total. Whilst staying on the subject of expenditure, the budget sheet takes that weekly wage total and multiplies it by 52 (the number of weeks in a year…obviously).
By turning the wages into a yearly total, it can be combined with the yearly expenditure shown in FM’s finances screens. 2017’s worksheet is pretty simplistic, mainly because FC Ryukyu are operating in Japan’s third tier. But fast forward 5 years, to 2021, and expenditure has doubled in size and now has seven expenditure streams (as opposed to just three in 2016/17):
But there’s the sense that Chris has a handle on it, year-on-year the wages are documented and the club’s extra expenditure is taken on board (e.g. loan repayments). Now let’s move on to income…
All of the income streams can be captured within FM’s finance tab. As you move towards the next football year, it will update with more accurate projections e.g. merchandise & season ticket sales. It’s therefore vital that FC Ryukyu’s worksheets are ‘live documents’ – those that are continually updated throughout the season.
I’ve shown 2019’s income below to highlight Chris’ additional input of Player Sales and Prize Money, which offset a spike in expenditure of wages and ‘non footballing costs’. After all, both player sales and prize money make up a valuable income stream for a number of clubs on the road for sustainability…Arsenal and Southampton are just two examples in England’s top tier doing this.
The profit/loss calculation is therefore very simple: taking the annual income (Cell L15) and subtract the annual expenditure (Cell O15). A profit/loss worksheet does not have to be complicated and what Chris Darwen has done at FC Ryukyu is bring this simplicity to assist with the club’s overall aim of sustainability within 5 years. Bravo.
After spending the whole morning working on finance, Darwen invited Bastardo to a sushi lunch to recap on his time in Japan. It was a far cry from Diego Mendoza’s steak and wine…but Bastardo was starving. What could possible go wrong with raw food, Bastardo thought? It was time for a Bastardo-Darwen Q&A…
AB: Chris, thanks so much for inviting me here to take a look at your FM2017 budgets. I imagine a lot of readers play FM to win matches and sign wonderkids, but you seem to take great pride in remaining cost-neutral and micro managing the smaller details. It this something that’s developed over time throughout your CM/FM career or have you always been ‘astute’?
CD: Even since the first time I played the game I have tried to find ways to spend as little as possible. Some people take great pleasure in spending as much as they can to sign Lionel Messi, I would be the one exploring who I can structure a deal where it costs me very little and we don’t pay him that much either. I don’t know why, it’s just the way I am. Having seen the two football club loves of my life, Luton Town and Oviedo, be totally screwed over by poor financial management in the past, it is a subject I am passionate about!
AB: Now that FC Ryukyu are self-sustaining and in the J League 1, are you looking to maintain your strategy…or do you think your model can ‘smash through the glass ceiling’, gaining success domestically and in the Asian Champions League?
CD: The financial plan is phased. Firstly, we needed to make sure our wages were such that we would eventually break even, whilst aiming to get some relative success on the pitch. We achieved that, but getting promoted to J2. You cut your cloth once again, but not dramatically. Phase two was then to become profitable, again with one eye on progressing what we are doing on the pitch. After a while, we have managed that too, and we are now in J1 and, in fact, managed to stay in J1 with a wage spend a fraction of anyone else in the league. And, I mean a fraction. Now, our income is going up as is our wage spend, but we will always live within our means. Always. And yes, we will get domestic success and, eventually, continental success too. We should have won that fucking League Cup final last season…
[Bastardo gulped some kind of raw fish down and inevitably felt queasy. Where’s the katsu he thought, surely they have katsu curry instead]
AB: Obviously, the stadium move [from 25k down to 3k] was a bizarre choice by the Board, do you think they underestimated your success?
CD: I fully agreed with them at the time. The running costs for that stadium, considering we had 600-800 people turning up to watch us, were crazy. And the atmosphere, well there wasn’t one. So it was actually a relief to move to the new stadium, and it coincided with us winning promotion meaning we packed the new place out every week. Sure, it has capped our income on gate receipts for the time being, but I genuinely don’t know if we had made it 10,000 seats whether we’d be getting 10,000 people coming to watch. Whilst we double the size of it right now, which shows the board may have got it wrong, we are getting 7,000 people at the place we are using. Who knows, if we go down people will stop coming. If we keep winning, more people will come.
AB: And are there any benefits now that you host bigger teams in the smaller capacity FC Ryukyu stadium?
CD: Not really no. I mean, when we play in the cup I dream of an away day. Even now, we can get €500k in gate receipts from a juicy away match at one of the big boys. Our home record hasn’t been that stunning in J1 that big teams hate coming here. It’s all very nice out here, it’s not like when Johnny Cooper was playing for Wimbledon at Plough Lane.
[Another sauce that left Bastardo’s airways squirming, Darwen on the other hand had an eye on every dish available…a connoisseur of everything Japanese]
AB: Do you think your sustainable model can be a success in all countries/leagues throughout the world? Or do you think some leagues, such as the Arabian Gulf League which I just visited, are harder to succeed in…due to oil money, existing monopoly like clubs etc.
CD: I think it can work anywhere in the world, depending on your view of success. I mean, what is success? To the traditionally biggest club in a country, it is winning everything. To a club that has never played in the top flight before, it is playing and staying in the top flight. Bigger clubs have more people coming to watch them, so they will naturally have a bigger budget. Take England for example. Was Wenger unsuccessful? Some will say yes, some will say no. To achieve top four for twenty years like clockwork when you have clubs like Chelsea, United, City throwing money at their shortcomings is incredible. I mean, we finished higher than Urawa Red Diamonds last season. Our spend compared to their spend in England terms – we were probably someone like Stevenage, finishing higher than Manchester United. Frightening.
AB: Are there financial aspects in FM that you would like to see expanded upon or refined in future editions?
CD: I’d like to see a little more control over ticket prices etc – even if it is the board ask your opinion. Or, maybe the ability to hire and fire commercial staff or finance staff. A lot of the financials does seem to be an after thought, and it is a football management sim after all, not a football director sim. But even in my short stint at CD Torrevieja, if you are in the club on any level, player, manager, physio or president, you are always thinking about the money.
[The seafood had been consumed, the raw vegetables had been digested…it all felt very uneasy in Bastardo’s stomach…it was time for a siesta]
AB: Chris, once again thanks for your time today. What you have done for FC Ryukyu and Okinawa Island in general has been truly inspiring. Good luck in the future…
CD: Sayōnara AB!
'The Keysi Way'
Ángel Bastardo spent the next few days with Chris Darwen and the Ryukyu gang on the training pitches. A few of Chris’ routines were from memory or, more often than not, written down in the cumbersome folders he carried around the training pitch. He had no English speaking natives with him at the club…his folder was therefore acting as his Peter Taylor, Pat Rice or Brian Kidd. The folder was titled ‘The Keysi Way’…a familiar name which Bastardo had heard in reference to a famous Reading team making history over in Europe. Their manager was Czech born Keysi Rensie and that night Bastardo inquired about ‘The Keysi Way’, discovering that Chris Darwen and Keysi Rensie are close friends, often sharing tactical advice through regular Skype sessions. It was clear that both successes in Reading and FC Ryukyu were interlinked – the drills and routines of ‘The Keysi Way’ succeeding in Asia AND in Europe.
On Chris Darwen’s insistence that I meet and work with Keysi on the training ground, I had booked another flight aboard. Not back to South America just yet…but to Europe. To England. To discover the Keysi Way…