We’ve reached the mid-way point in the Football Manager 2021 cycle, which means there’s probably plenty of people keen for a new challenge and looking for a new save to take on for the next six months.
One of those people is me, as my ongoing Trotters Talent save with Bolton Wanderers has gotten to the point where I’m looking to new challenges and my Soviet Surge save in Eastern Europe has the end is in sight. Furthermore, I’m still yet to start a proper save on the latest version of the FM 21 database with the updated batch of wonderkids.
My previous guide, 21 Teams I’m Eyeing up for FM 21, walked through teams I was looking at to start my ongoing Eastern European adventure with, as well as several South American sides and a few MLS contenders for FM21. This article will include some of the same teams, but a few new additions and a new focus on youth development.
With that in mind, here are my 18 teams to manage through the rest of the FM 21 cycle:
Youth Development Challenge
The most enjoyable aspect of my Bolton save has been producing young players who either got into the first-team or moved on for a profit. It’s one of the first times I’ve seen a youth academy routinely produce genuine hot prospects, which was central to us getting to and winning the Premier League. So I’m keen to take on another club that has great youth development and focus on producing homegrown talent.
Of course, the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, Man City and Man United plus Ajax, Atalanta, Benfica, Porto and Sporting are likely to produce great young players, but we’re going to look further afield. It’s also interesting to note the ten nations with the best youth ratings – which defines the quality of players generated by the game (regens/newgens) – are: Brazil, Germany, Italy, France, Argentina, Spain, Egypt, Turkey, Holland and joint-10th Nigeria and Mexico.
Where better to start than the nation with the best youth rating? There’s a lot of choice here, but Fluminense has a new young starlet in right-back Calegari plus exciting wingers Marcos Paulo, Miguel Silveira and Kayky and centre-back Geovani. However, Fluminense has excellent youth recruitment compared to Santos (SAN) and Sao Paulo (SPO) having exceptional recruitment, so the latter two may be better positioned to produce homegrown talents. Or, if you want to develop a bonafide wonderkid Brazilian striker, then look to Flamengo (FLA) and Lázaro (see main image above).
River Plate, Argentina
Sticking with South America, the crown jewel in Argentina’s rich youth development has to be River Plate. The club produces some absolute gems in-game and you may be able to pluck the best that the rest produce. They also start with promising striker Julián Alvárez.
Club Brugge, Belgium
Club Brugge begin FM 21 with a perfect 20 for youth facilities, giving your youth staff the perfect foundation for producing the next golden generation of Belgian talent. You also start the game with exciting striker Youssouph Badji, midfielder Charles De Ketelaere and defender Osilon Kossounou among your ranks.
KRC Genk, Belgium
Staying in Belgium, both Genk and Standard Liége begin the game with 19 rated youth facilities. But Genk get the nod as you also start the game with the best wonderkid goalkeeper on the game in Maarten Vandevoordt as well as attackers Pierre Dwomoh and Benjamin Nygren.
AZ Alkmaar, Netherlands
AZ start the game with excellent youth recruitment and academy coaching, plus you get to start your save armed with an arsenal of young talent. This includes strikers Myron Boadu and Ernest Poku, left-back Owen Wijndal, wingers Ro-Zangelo Dall and Mohamed Taabouni, as well as a personal favourite Calvin Stengs.
Athletic Bilbao, Spain
It’s well-documented that Athletic Bilbao only allow you to sign players of Basque background. While that makes player recruitment a challenge, it’s also perfect for the youth development aficionado as it forces you to focus on homegrown players. However, it may be a concern that the club only has good youth recruitment. Luckily, Bilbao’s squad is packed with exciting young talent like Nico Williams and Nico Serrano plus Unai Gomez, Unai Vencedor, Asier Grande, Alex Padilla, Mikel Goti and Kepa Uriarte. That already gives you the foundation for a potentially world-class team and, if you can improve recruitment, the academy should bring through more good prospects in the future.
A South American Journey
A challenge I remain keen to take on in this year’s game is tackling South America. I’ve never successfully managed any South American side in FM and some of their leagues are pretty different (Argentina). The ideal challenge would be to start with a less-fancied side, manage in multiple countries and aim to eventually win the Copa Libertadores. A few times I have in mind as interesting challenges include:
Club Atlético Vélez Sarsfield, Argentina
Choosing a team in Argentina is a bit of a tricky one, as you’re struggling to compete with the traditional big five, let alone challenging Boca and River. However, Vélez are an interesting option as they’re the only Argentinian side other than Boca and River to have exceptional youth recruitment. You also get to hone one of the best young attacking midfielders on the game in Thiago Almada, providing the club don’t immediately cash in on him (which is likely), and midfielder Máximo Perrone.
Cruzeiro Esporte Clube, Brazil
If you’re looking for a rebuilding challenge in South America then the ideal place to start is four-time national champions and two-time continental champions Cruzeiro (CEC). The club was champion of Brazil as recently as 2014 but was relegated to the second tier for the first time in its history in 2019 – causing fans to riot. It’s one of only two teams in the second tier, along with Vitória (VIT) to have good youth recruitment and the only club with secure finances, which gives you a good foundation for reviving their fortunes. They also have former FM wonderkid Rafael Sóbis, now 35, and former Shakhtar striker Marcelo Moreno among their ranks.
Envigado FC S.A., Colombia
Envigado was only established in 1989 but has exceptional youth recruitment and excellent academy coaching and youth facilities. Indeed, it’s considered to have one of the best academies in South America. So this could be a great starter club with a focus on building exciting youth products.
Real Santander, Colombia
Another very new club to football generally, Real Santander (also known as Real San Andrés in real life) isn’t even in Colombia. Indeed, the club is based on the Caribbean island of San Andrés but competes in the second tier of Colombian football. The club was initially founded in 2006 as Real Santander after previous club Real Floridablanca went bust. Financial difficulties in Santander forced the club into the pretty drastic move of jetting off to the Caribbean, which sounds more than a little bit dubious. Count me in…
Santiago Wanderers, Chile
Santiago Wanderers was founded by British ex-pats in 1892 and is the oldest football team not only in Chile but all of Latin America. Despite the name, Santiago Wanderers are not based in the Chilean capital of Santiago, but the nearby seaside town of Valparaíso. The club has just been promoted back to Chile’s top tier so could present somewhat of a challenge for FM21.
Universidad de Chile, Chile
If you fancy being a true manager of the people then look no further than Universidad de Chile. The club is rivals with Chilean giants Colo Colo and Universidad Católica but was the firmly the club favoured by the people I met when I was in Santiago. However, it hasn’t added to its 11 national titles since 2000. And, from experience, they play in a fantastically located stadium that’s at the base of a mountain on the outskirts of Santiago (see below).
Academia Deportivo Cantalao, Peru
Peru offers an intriguing option for South American FM players. That’s because Alianza Lima, the most popular and one of the most successful clubs in the country, was relegated for the first time in its history in 2020 (although that was quashed by the Peruvian FA in March in real life) and the Second Division isn’t playable on the core database. Cristal has become the dominant force with five of the last nine titles but Callao-based Cortalao – who I can’t pretend to have heard of – is the only other side in the division to have excellent youth recruitment. The club, founded in 1981, is famed for its popular youth academy, which previously produced Peruvian legend Claudio Pizarro and centre-back Carlos Zambrano. It’s also only won one trophy, the 2016 Peruvian Second Division title.
Defensor Sporting, Uruguay
Uruguay presents an interesting (difficult) challenge based on the dominance of Nacional and Penarol, who’ve won every title bar one since 2008 and all but four since 1990. Danubio have won three titles in that time (2004, 2007 and 2014) and the other was won by Defensor in 2008. The Montevideo side have slipped up a little of late but offer you exceptional youth recruitment and excellent academy coaching (which is better than Penarol but the same as Danubio and Nacional) to begin turning them around. They also have a couple of decent prospects in Benjamín and Alan Rodríguez.
A Soccerball Challenge
I imagine most hardened Football Manager players have, at some point, delved into the unknown of the USA’s Major League Soccer. I attempted it briefly in FM 20, with Inter Miami, but didn’t get too far with it for various reasons. However, this year I’m determined to try and figure it out and at least finish a season. The pick of the options in MLS include:
Austin FC or Charlotte FC, USA
If you fancy the idea of establishing a club culture from day one then Austin FC or Charlotte FC are the clubs for you. Austin FC enter MLS in the 2021 campaign and Charlotte FC come in the following season. It probably won’t be easy and you’ll have to work out what on earth is going on with all the drafts, but both should undoubtedly be fun challenges.
This offers a doubly interesting challenge. Firstly, Cincinnati finished bottom of MLS last season with just 16 points and four wins from 23 games. However, they’ve since bagged Brazilian wonderkid Brenner for a cool £10.75 million from Sao Paolo. You’ll also have Jurgen Locadia (who was crap for Brighton but might be OK in MLS) on loan and superstar DJ Calvin Harris. But their team otherwise looks pretty awful, so this could be a massive struggle.
FC Dallas, USA
Dallas have been a real surprise package in MLS this season, in addition to Philadelphia surprisingly sitting pretty at the top of the league. But Dallas’ performances suggest there’s decent talent to work with in Texas, plus they’re one of only two MLS founder franchises not to have won the MLS Cup. They’re also one of only four MLS sides to have exceptional youth recruitment, along with LAFC, LA Galaxy and NYC FC – although who knows what that even means in MLS…
Inter Miami, USA
Potentially an obvious choice given I started managing them last year, but with the likes of Gonzalo Higuain and Blaise Matuidi now signed up for David Beckham’s project, I think this remains a really exciting option. And surely you can only be a better manager than Phil Neville?
My favourite FM 21 club choices
Based on these options, one idea I’ve been mulling over is a full-on American challenge that involves conquering both North America and South America. But I think, due to the size of the challenge, I may leave that one for FM 22…
Until then, I am keen on the youth development challenge with either Athletic Bilbao or Club Brugge. But if I had to choose a team in South America it would probably be Cruzeiro and I like the sound of the Cincinnati or Charlotte challenges in MLS.
What do you think of these choices? And which clubs are you looking to manage for the rest of the FM 21 cycle?