The customary cyclone of rumors is gusting around the football world, and many fans are optimistic their teams will end up right in the center of it.
Although teams rarely receive a coup that will universally appease their fans, more could do so by following the strategy of the world's most successful teams.
Please note, this advice may not apply if a team is seeking more modest goals such as staving off relegation or slowly progressing.
However, any team that has valuable assets and is within eyeshot of the mountaintop should take notes from the sagacious, successful clubs at the peak.
Here's what the best teams do, and what every team aspiring for those levels should emulate in order to reach that level.
Scout from Lesser Leagues
There are always jewels in the less scrutinized parts of European football, and many go unnoticed. The predatory nature of football scouting means that clubs have to get more creative with where to scout, since enormous funds and expansive youth systems allow larger clubs to reel in the immediate eye-catchers.
Aside from Germany, many of the world's best prospects nowadays are currently coming from countries without the acclaim and prestige of a large league. Brazilian and Argentinian prospects always are forced abroad to prove their abilities, and many of Europe's best (Neymar, Angel Di Maria, James Rodriguez, Marcelo) began their careers at clubs in these countries. While others are brought to Europe before they are in first team squads, it's a decent place to get players who will either guide your team into the elite echelon or turn you a fancy profit.
However, recently, the brightest diamonds have mined from the less glamorous (football-wise) parts of Europe. Martin Odegaard hails from Norway, Alen Halilovic and Mateo Kovacic are Croation creations, and Youri Tielemans is Belgian and plays for Anderlecht, and will soon add to Belgium's impressive CV of young stars.
Teams can still mine for gems here without the pressure of the biggest clubs, usually. These leagues allow teams to buy relatively cheaply, and big teams are usually nowhere near since they can buy the same players when they're more developed at exorbitant prices (see Luka Modric).
Europe's brightest prospects not belonging to big clubs are no longer English, French, or Italian, and it's times for teams to stop giving undue attention to places where the talent has already been harvested. Top teams get top players, so the best talent from those countries will be reaped by the richest clubs, giving aspiring clubs no chance. Clubs should not halt operations in those countries, but should look to expand their scouting base as football globalizes.
Recognize Similar Styles and Systems
Southampton was no accident.
Last year, Ronald Koeman transformed his team completely from disjointed wanderlust stars to little-known diverse Davids that could compete with any Goliath. Koeman did not just buy appealing, highly-regarded money from the selling that thad some fans asking for his head before the trial, but plucked players who had played in similar formations, from a similar league, and knew each other.
Koeman's biggest coup was chemistry, and he did not have to work too hard to get it. That meant preventing Morgan Schneiderlin and Jose Fonte from moving, incorporating creative players who enjoyed attacking, and buying from smaller leagues.
Dusan Tadic and Graziano Pelle were both acquisitions from the Eredivisie and proved a dangerous duo in attack. Sadio Mane was acquired from RB Salzbury and convinced to choose Southampton above bigger teams by the assurance of playing time. Koeman knew he would fit right in.
Southampton's attack was unstoppable, with flurries of attack leading to eight and six-goal outings. They also notched three away at Stoke.
Under a unified team with a visible structure, Southampton threatened for the Champions League for the majority of the season and was a superstar away from raiding the traditional top squads. Chelsea won the league same way- with a strict system- although they did so on the opposite side of the attack-defense spectrum. The only difference between the two clubs was that Chelsea had the superstars.
Jose Mourinho brought back Nemanja Matic and Thibaut Courtois, while letting Romelu Lukaku walk and replacing him with Didier Drogba, Loic Remy, and Diego Costa. He added Filipe Luis and Kurt Zouma to an otherwise untouched back line, and parked the bus. Mourinho's dependance on system is his strength, and although it can make him obstinate and dartboard for criticism, he is able to buy only players he knows he will utilize.
Mourinho had his team bought in because they all had their niche in the style of play. A player who was stranded and misplaced in the system last year was Juan Mata. He was sold. Problem solved.
Mourinho demanded that his players work both sides of the ball and be efficient with their chances, never launching a low-percentage bomb. His players agreed, obviously, and the system worked, as Chelsea won the Premier League in a snoozer.
The formula can be seen at a case study of two players: Diego Costa and Kurt Zouma.
Costa, a cantankerous tank of a striker, would bully defenders and create opportunities for himself and his teammates. He made finishing look easy.
Zouma kept Matic away from the starting XI after impressing while Matic was injured. Zouma broke up counter attacks and would intercept passes and retain possession, and seemed so comfortable doing so. Dubbed John Terry's replacement, Zouma showed his immediate belonging in Mourinho's system.
Go big or go home. You think clubs would figure it out, but after payday, many teams make the mistake of buying a new team with no fit or chemistry. Tottenham and Liverpool made that = mistake after selling stars (Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez); they parceled the money up and tried to buy a bunch of new players who might be able to replace the irreplaceable. Instead they bought a few starters and a bunch of misfits.
Tottenham thought that Erik Lamela might be able to replace Bale and Roberto Soldado would be the next Jermain Defoe, as he proved he could with Spain and Valencia. Both looked to be good signings at the time, but both players' have had their value plummet since the North London move. Why? They were poor fits.
Lamela has not been quick or strong enough to allow him to play naturally. He requires time on the ball and teams immediately figured that he was distressed under a constant amount of heavy pressure.
Soldado also struggled with the physicality but looked isolated and alone. There's nothing complicated about Tottenham's mistake with him, either. Soldado had a striking partner at Valencia and played in a possession-oriented Spanish side that would have the whole team in a half. Tottenham was too spaced for Soldado.
Players like Bale are irreplaceable, but their skill level is not. However, no one is that can have that impact is available on the cheap.
Splurge or suffer
Liverpool meanwhile bought prospects like Emre Can and Lazar Markovic, while imagining that Mario Balotelli would transform into a level-headed workhorse. Again, the system was wrong for most of the signings and they proved to struggle in the Premier League. Can, in fact, changed positions to better fit in.
Liverpool and Tottenham disastrously tried to buy Premier League teams, instead of buying two or three stars who would easily adjust. Tottenham was missing a goal-scoring striker who worked hard, and should have splurged for Gonzalo Higuain or Edison Cavani. Or if they were seeking for another winger, they should have targeted Alexis Sanchez.
Liverpool should have also tried to secure the signature of either Higuain or Cavani and a star defensive midfielder, like Sami Khedira, instead of unproven prospects.
That's how Atletico Madrid reached the top, by buying top players who would fit into a system. Mario Mandzukic, Radamel Falcao, and Costa all were proven strikers with similar styles of play, and fit into the team.When Courtois was recalled, they bought Jan Oblak, who's name will be tossed into the ring of great keepers soon enough.
Instead, Liverpool and Tottenham teams tried to bargain hunt, and although they acquired good players, they ignored system. Spending money across a team only works if there is a clear vision. Sometimes, because of existing players, it's impossible for a team to wholeheartedly adopt a system. In that case, you have to buy a star who can do it himself. Both Tottenham and Liverpool failed to do so, and payed the price.
So if you want to write a letter to your club chairman, tell him this: don't overspend on prospects, buy based on what the coach wants, and spend lavishly when it comes to game-changing players. If so, a club can become elite. All it needs is a system and a superstar.
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