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How to number squads in Football Manager

  • The newest instalment in the Football Manager series is released on November 10, with with the beta version live from Friday, allowing those who have pre-ordered the game an early chance to play. A perfect opportunity then for Jim Hearson to ruminate on numbering squads.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Nah, not Christmas – it’s the release of the new Football Manager! Like the festive season though, it can lead to more than a few headaches. One of my favourite parts of old versions (including Championship Manager), was starting off with teams in 1-11 divisions, and feeling a real sense of achievement when you got promoted sufficiently to get into a league with squad numbers.

Alternatively, you could enter Simon Treanor’s alternate 1989-90 universe and assign them there. My big step up happened when I took East Stirling up to the SPL (as it was then), meaning I could reward my best players with 1-11, and assign everyone else accordingly (more of that below).

Unfortunately, a bug meant that all players who had been with you at the start of the game automatically wore 1, until you got the message to dish out the numbers. As a result, for the first couple of games of the season, I had legendary striker Alan Sime sporting the keeper’s number, while my goalie had 9, ahead of switching them once I was able.

That was before squad numbers had really caught on – an innocent time when players still craved the suitable 1-11 shirt for their position, rather than opting for something to promote their birthday year, personal brand, or whatever Sheffield Wednesday were doing last season. Fortunately, the Owls have seen some sense this term, but they’re still not perfect. This got me thinking – with the release of Football Manager 2018, what approach should be taken to bizarre squad number choices?

The obvious answer would be to give them something more suitable to wear, but then you’re making your game less true to life. Like it or not, West Brom fans may have got used to seeing Hal Robson-Kanu wearing 4, so having him in the game wearing something else may not sit right. You also run the risk of suffering brain-fade, wondering why your number 4 is so far back and subsequently sticking a defender or defensive midfielder up front as you mistook them for the Welsh striker.

(Image: FourFourTwo)

I generally get around it by taking charge of teams I’ve never heard of, so I can implement my will when it comes to squad numbers. Outside of the usual UK-style 1-11, 12 is either a keeper who is genuinely competing with my number 1 or my first reserve right-back; 13 is a bench-warming keeper; 15 is a centre-half; 16 is a central midfielder; 17 is a winger; 19/29 are reserve strikers; 22 is my reserve right-back if he’s not in 12; 23 is my reserve left-back; 31 is third-choice keeper; and I tend to give 32 to a player I have on loan. Youth players generally get 40 and above.

Of course, in more recent versions of Football Manager, players’ favourite numbers are featured in the game (where applicable), and apparently, they can get a bit arsey if they don’t get them, but I’ve never really experienced problems myself. Mind you, it doesn’t help when the news item about the coming season’s squad numbers speculates about why you’ve moved players to different numbers.

(Image: Neoseeker)

So, what’s your plan for Football Manager 2018 – keep it real or amend squad number aberrations? If you’re in the latter camp, do your reserves always have ‘set’ numbers or are you fairly free and easy outside of 1-11? Let us know – tweet @squadnos or leave a comment!

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8 Comments

  1. Denis Hurley
    October 26, 2017 at 11:40 — Reply

    In the first version of CM3 in 1998-99, there was a glitch – when you signed a player mid-season and assigned a number to him, if you clicked ‘Back’ rather than ‘Submit’, he would have that number but it was possible to change it if and when you signed another new player.

    I also got a little thrill from getting a team promoted from a lower league where 1-11 was used and the beauty of a blank canvas.

    In what may be a sign of a personality disorder, I used to arrange friendlies for before the proper submission of numbers so that I could effectively number the squad twice – I’d go 1-11 for the first friendly and give out other numbers as needed, but there was often little correlation to the real numbers.

    Conversely, the last time I bought FM (the 2016 version, abandoned all too soon as it was so difficult), I used the in-game editor to allow myself the option of going 1-11. Of course, I’m so sad that I only used the editor for that and kits, not actually giving my team loads of money.

  2. James Neave
    October 26, 2017 at 11:56 — Reply

    I like to give the players the number they want and try and find the best solution if 2 players want the same number. At the moment I am slightly miffed I have a DM who wants 5 and a CB who prefers 4.

    I’m generally flexible outside of 1-11, but occasionally give numbers to players if there’s international significance. e.g my French ST wears 12. If I had a French GK he may wear 16, or a German Fwd may be given 13.

    Also, there’s 4 LBs in that England squad. Was it picked by Stuart Pearce!?

  3. Philip
    October 27, 2017 at 21:55 — Reply

    I must admit that this is one of my favourite parts of FM. I have my own set of rules for allocating squad numbers though:

    1. No player who was at the club at the start of the save changes their squad number.
    2. Once a new signing is assigned a squad number, it doesn’t change.
    3. Any player with a preferred number is given that number – any time two or more players want the same number, the more senior gets it. The less senior then gets the closest variation (e.g. if they wanted 4, they’ll get 44).
    4. If a player is sold and re-signed, they’ll get their old number back if possible and something resembling it if not (e.g. if they used to wear 13, they’ll now get 31).
    5. I like 13 to be an outfield player, and will often give it to one of my key players.
    6. I hate 27 – this is nearly always my third choice goalkeeper.
    7. 15 and 32 nearly always go to left-footed defensive players.
    8. 16 is a defensive midfielder’s number.
    9. I don’t like having two players who play in similar positions wearing consecutive numbers (outside of 1-11). I have an irrational dislike of substituting number 18 and bringing on number 19.
    10. I don’t mind high numbers but I do mind low numbers in the wrong place – I’d rather have a player wear 93 up front than 3.

    There’s probably more that I can’t summon up right now, but that’s just a taste of the level of thought that goes into allocating my squad numbers!

  4. JW42
    October 30, 2017 at 23:04 — Reply

    I have been a Championship Manager/Football Manager player since the halcyon days of CM 01/02 and have always been a bit of a squad numbers anorak so am rather pleased to find this blog post! There’s quite a lot of things I could say on this subject but I will focus mainly on the rules and biases I followed in a FM 2015 save managing Tranmere Rovers (who I have taken from League Two in 2014/15 to the top flight in 2020/21), my longest and most successful saved game.

    My number one rule is that in my first season, I always stick with the original squad numbers for all players. From the second season forward, I allow myself complete control of the squad numbers and re-assign numbers if I see fit to do so.

    – I tend to prefer my first team players to wear numbers below 30 and at absolute maximum 40. I would give first teamers higher numbers if they have a strong preference, but I haven’t encountered any who do.

    – It therefore follows that, as young players establish themselves in the first team squad, I give them lower shirt numbers. In my save, Chris Mackey (a talented homegrown centre back) was handed 46 in his first season – he then moved to 35 the next campaign, and as his standing in the squad improved Iater moved him up again, first to 24 and later to 15.

    – I do give first teamers numbers above 30 if no other suitable shirts are available, but I move them down the order at the first possible opportunity, usually the following season. For example, midfielder Stewart Murdoch joined on deadline day in my first season and initially took number 33, but moved down to 23 the following campaign, which he retained for the rest of his time at the club.

    – I like to hand players numbers that they wore for at least one of their real life clubs. For example, Will Grigg took number 9 when that shirt became available, the shirt he has at Wigan, and Stephen Warnock wore 28 (his Liverpool number) in his two seasons at the club.

    – I very rarely move player numbers down, and usually only either when 1) a player who holds a low number is no longer in my plans or 2) the change is to a player’s favoured number. I think I have done the former only once in six seasons, and have yet to.

    – If a player in the first 11 numbers changes position, I only tend to change their number if it is a dramatic change. When I signed Liam Craig ahead of the second season I gave him number 11, as I mainly planned to use him as a left midfielder. He has played more games since then in the centre but has retained his number (although I am considering moving him to number 8 for the upcoming season).

    – I almost never give number 13 to any player other than a goalkeeper, and in six seasons with Tranmere this shirt has almost exclusively been worn by the third choice keeper.

    – I don’t usually give players on loan numbers in the first 11, unless they fit the player’s position and there are no numbers under 30 available.

    There’s probably more I could think of but that provides a decent summary.

  5. Mark Schueler
    November 6, 2017 at 12:52 — Reply

    This is one of the things I spend longest on in FM!

    1) When I take over a club, the numbers are left as they are
    2) A player keeps his number until:
    a- He is no longer going to be used
    b- A more suitable number becomes available
    3) I think long and hard about giving preferred numbers if they are ‘wrong’

    As for the numbers:
    1: GK
    2: RB
    3: LB
    4: Defensive CM
    5: CB
    6: CB
    7: RW
    8: Attacking CM
    9: CF
    10: Second CF/AMC
    11: LW
    12-22 are the same as above, but with 12 for the RB and 13 for the GK. This is slightly less hard and fast, though!

    Higher numbers are given out on a ‘DHCP’ first come first served basis.

  6. Tha man
    November 8, 2017 at 15:42 — Reply

    My way of numbering reserve players in a championship squad of 23.

    13. Reserve keeper – 22. Reserve keeper no2
    12. Right back– 15. Central defender – 16. Central defender – 14. Left back
    17. Right midfielder– 18. Central midfielder– 20. Central midfielder– 21. Left midfielder
    19. Big striker– 23. Small striker

    #21 and #23 is interchangeable. #22 is the number to avoid since it should only be used by reserve keepers.

  7. James
    November 11, 2017 at 00:55 — Reply

    I have a slightly different method, often depending on players. 1-11 are as you say, although I have given #8 to a striker in the last few seasons due to being a mid-season signing, it was the only number lower than #30 being unassigned and he ended up scoring loads with the number.

    12 onwards it’s different. I don’t know why, but I’ve always given my reserve keepers either #13 or #24, with #17 either going to my RB or RW, and 19 and 20 reserved for strikers. Other than that I’m fairly flexible although I try and save #25 for a star signing as it is my favourite number.

  8. Stephen
    November 23, 2017 at 00:51 — Reply

    I think I have similar ‘rules’ to everyone else, except that I’m partial to giving 13 to a 2nd choice left back and 14 is deliberately left vacant (if I’m playing as Arsenal) or given to an Henry-esque player if not. Where there’s a chance, I’ll give 1-11 players their countries’ correct number for their position rather than the teams. E.g. a Brazilian left back gets 6 rather than 3 if both are available.

    In general I like to stick to an n+10 rule for players above 11 (i.e. if they’d naturally be an 8, they get 18 etc, and as wingers tend to be able to play either side my first backup gets 17 even if they’re naturally left-sided.) Young players/higher reserves get 28 or 38 etc. if they’re naturally an 8.

    The rule that I like most though: if a player is a first choice starter, it’s better to give them a wrong 1-11 number than a high number. I like to start with a team that had ‘wrong’ numbers and gradually evolve towards my ideal rules, not actively trying to introduce exceptions but preserving any that turn up naturally.

    E.g. I ended up (as a result of new signings, not wanting to strip old players who used to be starters of a 1-11 number, and changing my regular formation) giving my star left winger #3.

    Eventually I ended up with an almost Brazilian back 4, with

    – – – 9 – – –
    -3 -10-7-
    – -11-8- –
    6–5-4–2

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How to number squads in Football Manager