Du Malone writes: Had I planned this post I would have collected data, as I went along, from matches in which there was a sending-off.
But I’ve only just thought of it — so what follows is based on good ole non-numerical observation and reflection.
Red card for the opposition
I do make some effort to get an opponent sent off.
I used to do this in part through the ‘tackle hard’ instruction in the opposition instructions. I’d look for opponents who had a high aggression attribute (or. more precisely, high in relation to other attributes, notably composure but also decisions and teamwork), especially if they had a history of getting cards. Mostly I’d target players already on a yellow.
But the problem with this approach is that it can lead to cards for your own team. I’m especially keen to avoid this at the moment, managing Pazarsport in the Turkish Superliga. Regularly we win the fair play league (calculated on the basis of 3 points per red card and 1 per yellow), which has a prize of L4 million. Even better, twice it has led directly to qualification for the EURO cup.
Now I substitute a much milder (and less potent) technique, which is to seek to show opponents who are on yellow onto their weaker foot, on the basis that this might irk them.
When an opponent receives a red card, my instant response is ‘Oh, good!’ But such a response should be qualified, because quite often a sending-off seems to work to the advantage of the team reduced to ten men, who may be galvanised. One needs to be wary.
For a long time I used to think I needed to respond to the plight of our opponents. ‘I need to do something to capitalise on this!’ I’d think. I would, for example, instruct my players to pass into space (the opposition would surely struggle to cover it); or use the flanks more (to stretch the opposition and accentuate the gaps); or up the tempo (to wear the other team out).
All these approaches seem logical, but I can’t say they seemed at all effective. Perhaps because they disrupted my own team’s pattern of play.
Now my approach is much more low-key.
I typically don’t change the formation or team instructions at all. If I do, it’s usually to go, counter-intuitively perhaps, onto counter-attack (as the edition I’m currently playing, namely FM14, calls it). The idea is to draw the opposition out and stop them hunkering down.
I also review my own team. ITRW refs like to even things out. Perhaps they do on FM too. So if I have player who I reckon is in danger of compensatory red, I look to take him-off. Or at least to get him to calm down or ease off.
Similarly, I consider switching to the team’s psychology to ‘more disciplined’.
If the opponent’s red card has occurred before half term, I don’t refer to their reduced state in my team talk. I figure that could lead to loss of focus and even to complacency.
My post-match talk is driven primarily by the result. Take, for example, a game in which I would, had you offered me it beforehand, taken a point: then, if we do indeed draw, I don’t think, ‘But they were down to 10: we should have won that’. No: my team talk reflects the fact it’s a good result.
Red card for us
When one of my players is sent off, I try to change the formation as little as possible. Though it isn’t always possible to adhere to, my default position is not to make any positional changes.
There is, though, one positional change I sometimes make, which is to emply a wide target man. This provides a really helpful outlet when the defence is desperately trying to clear its lines. (I refer to this as a ‘positional’ change, rather than a role change, BTW, because I rarely play with wide players in the normal run of events.)
Typically, I switch to attack. Get the ball down the other end. Give them a reason to keep men back.
If the card came before half time, I try to avoid (however emotionally tempting) to rage at the offender during half time: I figure that drawing attention to the sending-off can give the other players an excuse to lose.
Typically I fine players for reds (‘They’ve let their team mates down’). I do this regardless of whether it was justified: a policy of ‘the ref is always right’ is inaccurate, but objective. I accept that a disadvantage of my policy might be that sometimes players might fail to ‘take one for the team’ when it might have been in our interest for them to do so.
I seek to reduce the likelihood of cards through individual training (focusing on such attributes as composure (especially), tackling, positioning, and acceleration).
When it come to player acquisition, I avoid players with very high aggression unless it’s balanced by those attributes I mentioned above.
I also look at players’ disciplinary records before I bring them in.
I’d like to see SI bring in training modules for playing with or against 10 men.