It was 05 September 2017 in the Estadio Monumental, Buenos Aires: a 1-1 draw at home to Venezuela highlighted many functional problems in the La Albiceleste's tactical balance and use of its star players. With Argentina's World Cup qualifying hopes on a knife edge, could the unthinkable happen? That is, a team containing arguably the world's greatest ever player failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia*.
But as I saw the lineups announced on Twitter that day, there was another problem...perhaps deeper and more fundamental for Argentina. The glorious front three of Dybala, Icardi and Messi had never played a top flight game in Argentina...ever! Argentine football had become a bystander of its own football, now played out in Europe's richest leagues.
So, why then have I come here to write a 'survival guide' for managing in Argentina? To put it simply, beyond the glitz and glamour of the Selección Argentina, there is still a league in Argentina (now rebranded as the Superliga Argentina from August 2017). It's ugly and it's rough. You'll need every bit of help to survive in this crazy league, with it's alien rules and traditions [to Europeans at least].
Therefore, I thought I would draft a guide to act as an aide-memoire as I embark on my own FM18 journey with Estudiantes de La Plata. So if this guide helps one other person, then it's been a success. If it motivates anyone to break from their comfort zone in FM, and try Argentina as a league, then again it would have been a success. Let's survive together, vamos!
(*Ultimately that star player, Lionel Messi, dragged his team to next year's tournament with a virtuous display on the 10 October 2017 - a hat trick against Ecuador in the clouds of Quito! 3-1 to Argentina at FT and a huge sigh of relief all round).
- The league structure
- Continental qualification
- Scouting & transfers
- Recommended clubs feat. Sam Kelly & Vincent Guzman
- Further reading (and listening)
(1) The league structure
FM strives for realism, but something it simply cannot do is replicate the sheer absurdity of the Argentine Football Association (AFA). For the last few years at least, the opening weekend has been pushed back due to players or clubs needing payment. Or the contrary, clubs owing AFA money as unsettled bad debts. It's a muddled process that usually solves itself in the 11th hour...but almost always guarantees a delayed opening to the season.
There's also changes in both format and structure year-on-year. In FM18, it's no different: the league starts off as 28 clubs in 2017 who play eachother only once, which gradually reduces each year based on varying levels of promotions and relegations (we'll come to relegation later). I have a degree of sympathy for Sports Interactive here, it simply can never correctly profile how the leagues will be played in future years. See table below to help illustrate what is planned in FM18:
Like the football it flavours at the time, Argentina has phases of love and loathing of the European game. The introduction of the August to May structure is testimony of this. By mirroring the European footballing calendar we have two Transfer windows, that more or less coincide with Europe. For 2017/18 they are:
- 01 July 2017 - 24 August 2017 (from 24 August - 31 August 2017 extended for Free Transfers).
- 16 December 2017 - 25 January 2018 (from 25 January - 31 January extended for Free Transfers).
But the benefits of this are lost by CONMEBOL's (The South American governing body) decision to change the structure of their own continental competitions: the Copa Libertadores & Copa Sudamericana tournaments. Both these competitions now run through the calendar year, as shown in the below graphic:
So we have a problem: Argentine clubs lucky enough to be in the continental competitions will be playing all year round with limited rest (I'll discuss how to cope with this a bit later). Furthermore, the way that the Transfer Windows are structured mean clubs could potentially field vastly different teams in those continental competitions during the calendar year, based on incomes/outgoings. I have no doubt that AFA will change back to a calendar system [eventually], but just like those last minute debates before the season starts, it will be decided in the 11th hour!
(2) Continental qualification
I thought I'd spend some time discussing how to reach South America's continental competitions, which are really fun to be a part of in Football Manager. I could have wrote a similar piece on the structure and rules of these competitions, but this guide is dedicated solely to Argentina and I wouldn't want to detract from that, anyway...
The Copa Libertadores is South American's elite continental competition and now comprises of 47 clubs in 2017. It's similar in prestige to UEFA's Champions League just without the organisation and forward planning of its European counterpart. CONMEBOL are bit like AFA in a way, whereby decisions are made last minute without much consultation with clubs and national federations. Nevertheless it's the trophy that every Argentine club wants to win, but before doing so you'll need to know how to qualify:
- 1st-4th in the Superliga Argentina & winner of the Copa Argentina gain entry to the Group Stages for the following calendar year (usually starting around played Feb/March)
- 5th place in the Superliga Argentina enter at the Second Stage (two stages before the Groups begin, around a month before Group games in Jan/Feb)
- Winning the Copa Sudamericana. South America's secondary Continental competition gain entry to the Group Stage
From the onset of July 2017, the Argentine clubs in the Last 16 stage of the 2017 Copa Libertadores are: Godoy Cruz, Lanús, River Plate & San Lorenzo. However, upon startup Football Manager 2018 will automatically generate 2017 Copa Libertadores results up to the 14 July 2017. Meaning the Group Stages are completly simulated and do not reflect real life results! However, there is a partial work around...FM18 will allow you to start the game on 21 February 2017, before the 2017 Copa Lib Group games kick off (see GIF below). This would be great, however the domestic 2016/17 Argentine season is not loaded in. So you would have to wait until August 2017 in order to play a league game.
For the following 2018 Copa Libertadores, Argentina's 6 teams will be Banfield, Boca Juniors, Estudiantes, Racing, River Plate & the Winner of the yet to be decided 2017 Copa Argentina.
Disclaimer: as I write this piece, there is the chance of River Plate winning the 2017 Copa Argentina (they play in the Semi Final on 08 November 2017). Having already qualified for the 2018 Copa Libertadores, 'IF' they win the Copa Argentina then the 6th Copa Libertadores spot would go to the losing finalist. In real life, this will either be: Atlético Tucumán or Rosario Central. However in your FM17 save, this permutation would have to play out from July 2017 and mirror real life.
The Copa Sudamericana is the 2nd tier continental competition in South America, involving 54 teams in 2017! Contrary to the Copa Libertadores there is no group stage, just a series of two legged knockout matches. Away goals apply, but expect no extra time...it's straight to penalties! Qualification is simply:
- 6th-10th in the Superliga Argentina enter the First Round of the Copa Sudamericana
The winners of the Libertadores & Sudamericana meet each other in the Recopa Final, held in the following February. It's another two legged final but perhaps isn't the spectacle it should be in South America. Nevertheless, it's a trophy and in FM...these should never be brushed aside as unimportant.
There is also another competition that the Copa Sudamericana winners compete in, the Copa Suruga Bank 2018. An agreement between CONMEBOL and the Japanese FA to play an annual game between the J League winners in the following August (almost 9 months since the Copa Sudamericana is decided). It's bizarre and it's not included in Football Manager, rightly or wrongly.
From the onset of July 2017, the Argentine clubs in the Last 32 stage of the 2017 Copa Sudamericana are: Atlético Tucumán, Arsenal, Defensa y Justicia, Estudiantes, Huracán, Independiente & Racing. But like the Copa Libertadores, the results up to the 14 July are simulated. If you want to play an accurate 2017 Copa Sudamericana campaign, then take the approach discussed earlier: start the game from 21 February 2017 (minus the Argentine domestic season).
For the following 2018 Copa Sudamericana, Argentina's 5 teams will be Defensa y Justicia, Independiente, Lanús, Newell's Old Boys & San Lorenzo. However, if you win the 2017 Copa Libertadores with either Lanús or San Lorenzo whilst in Football Manager 2018...you will re-enter the 2018 Copa Libertadores. Phew.
IMPORTANT: Oh and one last thing regarding South America: away goals count as tie breakers in every round of the continental competitions EXCEPT the two legged Copa Lib, Copa Sud and Recopa finals. Why? Because it's CONMEBOL.
If a difficult relegation dogfight is your thing, Argentina is perhaps the perfect place for you due to the average points system that dictate relegation. The system takes into account the points obtained in the three previous top flight seasons and the current season. This total is then divided by the total number of games played in the top flight during those four seasons, providing us the average points. In 2017/18 four teams go down, here is the average points from Day 1:
At anytime during FM18, simply navigate to the League screen and then select Overview/Average Points to view the average points over the past 4 seasons. As you can see above Arsenal, Temperley, Huracán, Olimpo, Patronato & Vélez all sit in precarious positions. Argentinos Juniors and Chacarita Juniors however are at least in charge of their own destinies, their total for the coming campaign is to be divided by the 27 games of the 2017/18 season. I think all eight clubs would make an interesting 'relegation battle' save to follow.
Due to heavy fixture schedules (especially if you are an Argentine club in either of the Continental Competitions) you will need to keep a close eye on the condition of your players. Primarily to avoid an abundance of injuries that would effect your team's performances. Luckily in FM18, it's been made easier to monitor when players are tiring due to the Medical Centre screen. Having a dedicated medical screen allows you to see those players who need a rest and those who are already injured/or returning to fitness. It's probably going to be one of the most useful screens for me in FM18, especially as Argentina's league campaign jumps to 46 fixtures from Season 3 onwards!
There are other little obsessions I have in coping with a relentless schedule, which you may have heard from me before: one being Natural Fitness. Outside of my fibra recruitment policy (and my general love for Mental attributes)...Natural Fitness is one of the things I prioritise when judging a scouted player. Natural Fitness is the speed at which a player's condition will recover between games. It's the attribute that dictates whether a player will be able to cope with playing every 3/5 days over a long period of time.
By ensuring that new recruits meet the demands of a high natural fitness and by keeping a constant eye on the Medical Screen, I should go a long way in keeping players fresh throughout the season. Therefore assisting with my philosophy of only fielding players who are 90% condition or above. However, If I do identify a problem with fitness, there's also a few proactive measures I put in place:
- Lower training intensity (either as a team or on a particular individual). This should assist with their workload and reduce the likelihood of training related injuries.
- Allow Rest Days - either before or after matches (or sometimes both). If I see a period of fixtures where there's a game every 3 days...I'd rather my boys rest instead of train.
- Allow an individual player a period of rest to recuperate. This is particularly handy for players in International squads (including those in the u20s and u23s youth squads) who can come back jaded during mid-season.
If all of the above is taken to account, I hope that you will be rewarded with good performances from your [fresher] players :-)
(5) Scouting & transfers
I've already stated when the transfer windows are open in section (1), but another twist in Argentina is the non-Argentine rule of a maximum of 4 foreigners in the match day squad (and only 5 in a club). This restriction will dictate all of your scouting and transfer activity. 'Argentina' and 'Argentines Abroad' should therefore be a focus for incoming transfers.
Further to this, the Superliga Argentina is not as reputable (or richer) than the neighbouring Brazilian league. Therefore expect a scramble for South American's brightest talents with the heavyweights of Corinthians, Grêmio and Santos et al. Much of South America is affordable to you, but you will have to provide a better package (at times both financial and sporting) in order to beat Brazil.
For these reasons, and with the overhaul to scouting in FM18 in mind, my advice would be to plough resources into the domestic market packages. Once you have built up a sizeable scouting team & budget, I would then reach out to the rest of South America. It will take a hell of a long save to boost the dynamic league reputation to regularly attract European and Rest of the World players (I wouldn't even want to put a date on it). But this could be a unique challenge to a long term save.
As some readers know, I personally have a great affection for the older and wiser heads and will look to sign this type of player as part of my fibra recruitment policy. A policy that also fits thematically for a save in Argentina. As mentioned in the opening paragraph, the exceptional young talent leaves Argentina early (sometimes before a top flight ball is even kicked in the case of Dybala-Icardi-Messi!). This leaves a much older demographic in the league. Take my beloved Estudiantes as an example, they signed some older guys to complement an already aging squad for 2017/18: Pablo Lugüercio, Mariano Pavone (both 35) & Gastón Fernández (34).
(It's also worth noting that Estudiantes brought back 41 year old Chairman Juan Sebastián Verón out of retirement for the last 6 months of 2016/17, such is their devotion to the 'wiser head').
Continuing this trend certainly 'fits' for realism in the save, but it also makes sense financially. With the exception of Boca and River Plate, most teams need to sign players externally for the 'here and now'. 4-5 year contracts on youth are a rarity, it's much more economical to offer an establish pro a 1 or 2 year contract. With a league already full of ageing professionals, there's little danger of your similarly older recruits looking out of place in the game. Go forth and grab some bargains!
(6) Recommended clubs feat. Sam Kelly & Vincent Guzman
If none of the above can convince you to start an FM18 Argentine save, well Grasshopper HQ has made a stunning coup. We've broken our transfer record...not once...but twice(!) to bring you two disciples of Argentine football: Sam Kelly & Vincent Guzman who have recommended a couple of Argentine clubs and why. Over to you guys...
Sam Kelly @HEGS_com
I’m a writer, living in Buenos Aires since 2010, and have covered Argentine football since 2006. I first came to Argentina on holiday, and having always been something of a football nerd I quickly became fascinated with the local league and the Copa Libertadores. I now cover Argentine (and occasionally Uruguayan) football for ESPN FC and When Saturday Comes among other publications, and run a weekly podcast during the season called Hand of Pod.
The wealth of clubs in and around Buenos Aires make it one of the best football destinations on the planet (and if you ever visit, you should definitely hop across the estuary to Montevideo as well, particularly if like me you’re a fan of football history), and it’s home to several of the biggest clubs on the continent. In my Football Manager saves, though, I prefer more of a long-term challenge – to such an extent that I’m actually still playing an FM13 save as Chemnitz in Germany. That’s why if I were to take on a new team in the Argentine top flight for FM18, I’d go with…
Hailing from the small but historic city of Tucumán, in northern central Argentina, Atlético are a club on the up with a significant number of challenges ahead. Results in 2016 were impressive enough that 2017 saw their first ever qualification for a continental trophy, and they were perhaps slightly unfortunate to be edged out of their Copa Libertadores group. Third place there means you’ll be taking charge of a team in the last sixteen of the second tier Copa Sudamericana – a winnable competition for an Argentine club – as well as still being alive in the Copa Argentina. I always like to make a bit of history in an FM save, and that’s very much a possibility here, because anything you manage to win with Atlético will be the biggest honour in the club’s history. Why go for the relatively easy challenge of adding yet another league title to the trophy room at River Plate or Boca Juniors, when you could try to start a dynasty of your own at a club where it’ll be appreciated to a far greater extent?
Most valuable player
Here’s where the challenging bit comes in. You’ve lost striker Fernando Zampedri, as well as Cristian Menéndez and Nery Leyes among others, during the winter break (the seasons are reversed down here from the northern hemisphere, remember!). All were important attacking cogs, but you still have an all-time club legend on the books. In fact, Luis Rodríguez is perhaps the all-time club legend, a 32-year-old whose eye for a pass in the final third is surpassed only by his nose for goal. He’s not getting any younger, but if you can successfully ally him with attacking midfielder Rodrigo Aliendro, perhaps you won’t miss the departed players quite as much.
By Argentine standards, this part could be more of a challenge, because you don’t have the quality coming through the ranks that managers of clubs like River, Lanús, Newell’s Old Boys or Vélez Sarsfield will enjoy. All the same, Mauro Osores in defence and David Valdez in midfield show some promise, and Rodríguez should be a good role model for some of the young attacking talent such as Tomás Cuello and Jonás Romero.
Last year's league place
Struggling to meet the demands of continental football for the first time ever during the second half of the 2016-17 season/group stage of the 2017 Libertadores, Atlético ended up in 21st place out of 30 teams last time out – plenty of scope for improvement!
Atlético Tucumán were the first team in Argentina to wear the sky blue and white stripes made famous by Buenos Aires giants Racing Club and the national team – they even wore the colours before Argentina themselves did so! They adopted the colours of the nation’s flag in 1903, the year after their foundation, while the first time the national team did so was in 1908. Fitting, perhaps, given that the city of San Miguel de Tucumán itself was the site of the Argentine declaration of independence in 1816.
Vincent Guzman @VincentGuzman_
I'm a writer and passionate South American football fan. I was born in Amsterdam and still live there to date. Argentine football, in particular, has always fascinated me. The passion both on and off the pitch is remarkable and adds to a unique atmosphere that you can't see anywhere else in the world. I have a soft spot for veteran players in the Superliga who still perform despite their age. Dario Cvitanich, Fernando Belluschi, and Jose Sand being prime examples. I'm ByFarBlog's correspondent for the Argentine Superliga and write weekly round-ups for them.
Club Atletico Belgrano are based in Córdoba, Argentina. Córdoba is a bustling city with tons of sights to visit. Its population rises above 1.3 million, which makes it the second biggest city in Argentina. However, unlike Buenos Aires, Córdoba lacks a real dominant football club in Argentina. Talleres de Córdoba, Belgrano's rivals, recently got promoted to the Superliga while Instituto play their games in the second tier. It would be a real challenge to build up the club and compete with the stronger teams from Buenos Aires. Cordóba is craving for a successful football club, can you bring glory to Los Piratas?
Most valuable player
You've got a pretty strong core of players to build around. Federico Lértora is a solid 27-year old defensive midfielder while Erik Godoy (loan) and Christian Lerma should be a strong center back pairing. Former Anderlecht winger Matías Suárez is also back with Belgrano and should be, if you can keep him fit, a crucial player for your side. Matías is still only 29 years old but is probably better suited to a central role close to your primary striker. The striker position is a position that could do with improving, but Paraguayan striker Epifanio Garcia has done well so far for Los Piratas and should be able to net you some goals.
There are a couple of decent youngsters at Belgrano but it's definitely an area that needs improvement over time. Juan Brunetta is a creative attacking midfielder who is really close to the first team. He's technically gifted and adds that much-needed flair to Belgrano. He could grow out to be a star player for your side as he's only 20 years old. Cristian Romero and Imanol Gonzalez are both good prospects in defence while Joáquin Rikemberg shows promise on the wing. It's your job to really get the most out of these youngsters so you can finally compete with the top sides from Buenos Aires.
Last year's league place
It was a disappointing season for Belgrano last year as they picked up only 26 points, leaving them in the 28th position. They managed to avoid the drop but you'll need to watch out this season as Belgrano are only just above the relegation zone. One bad season could see Córdoba's biggest club play their games in the second division again. It's not only Belgrano's pride that's on the line, it's also Córdoba's…
Córdoba is called La Docta, which roughly translates to the scholarly one. It has the historic reputation as the center of academia and science. It has Argentina's oldest university and is one of the liveliest and youthful cities in South America. Lots of talent and science to make use of while you are in charge of Belgrano!
(7) Further reading (and listening)
Well the Argentina Survival guide is over, if you got this far into reading...I reckon you're keen to join me. So please do let me know who you choose and how you get on (I can be found on twitter @FM_Grasshopper). Sharing saves and stories from our own FM Universe is what makes FM so unique as a 'game'. I also leave you with other useful sources of information for the journey ahead in Argentina. Thanks in advance for all the comments/likes/shares of this guide, it's appreciated.
- Starting with today's contributors, Sam & Vincent do a good job covering the action in Argentina. Be sure to give them a follow on Twitter, both top guys.
- Sam also presents and produces the 'Hand of Pod', a podcast which has really helped me get a grasp of what Argentine football is all about. It's brilliant, so please do listen.
- Another podcast worth your time is the World Football Index, it has special focuses on South American leagues and players throughout the season. A great listen.
- Jonathan Wilson's book 'Angels With Dirty Faces' is a cracking attempt at pulling together the history of Argentine football, from it's European colonial history, Argentine Oriundi and everything else through to the Maradonna/Riquelme/Messi eras. Top work.