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FM20 Challenges: (4) Financial & stadium issues

Project Restart is now in full swing as the Premier League is set to return on 17 June, while the Danish Superliga is the latest to resume action with AGF vs Randers FC tonight. One common theme of concern among clubs of almost all levels and leagues has been the financial impact the lockdown will have on their balance sheet.

Perhaps you can find a way to survive on meagre resources with the help of our latest – and arguably most difficult – set of challenges yet. We’ve picked out 10 more projects for you to get your teeth into, all of which involve battling against serious financial trouble.

FC Minsk (Belarus, Vsheshaya League)

The Coronavirus crisis didn’t completely stop play; one of the few select leagues to soldier on was the Belarusian Vsheshaya League. Reportedly, broadcasters from 10 different countries bought television rights to satisfy demand for some action from famished football fanatics. 

Given this surge in popularity, there is a challenge from Belarus on our list: FC Minsk. This club from the capital were formed in 2006 from the demise of former club Smena Minsk. After a few yo-yo seasons between the top two tiers, FC Minsk returned to the top flight in 2008 where they have remained ever since.

Their best league campaign was 2010 when they finished third, their greatest achievement winning the 2012/13 Belarusian Cup. However, FC Minsk narrowly avoided relegation in 2019 and their financial balance is a troubling minus £44,131. Can you usurp BATE Borisov, Dinamo Minsk and Dinamo Brest? Belarus Premier League clubs are restricted to a maximum of 5 non-Belarusian players in their starting XIs.

Panionios GSS (Greece, Super League 1)

The next club falls firmly into the cash-strapped and plain difficult challenge list: Panionios GSS in Greece. Greek football’s Big Four of Olympiacos, Panathinaikos, AEK Athens and PAOK have historically dominated. Athens-based Panionios have never won a Greek title, but they have been a steady higher mid-ranked club throughout their history, twice finishing runners-up.

However, after failing financial licensing criteria at the close of the 2018/19 Greek Super League, the Greek football authorities forced Panionios to start the 2019/20 season on minus six points. Panionios also have a negative balance, no money for transfers and less than £600 spare on their playing wage bill.

This is a real challenge, definitely one for tactical and coaching experts to improve their current squad given financial limitations. Panionios is Greek football’s oldest club, founded in 1890. Uruguayan Álvaro Recoba and former Liverpool midfielder Ronnie Whelan had playing and managerial spells respectively at Panionios. Will you create a new Greek dynasty or tragedy?

Macclesfield Town (England, League Two)

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, English football was debating clubs’ financial problems at the lower end of the Football League. The tragic demise of Bury FC last September first brought it to fans’ attention, then just months later, financial problems emerged at another north-west English club; Macclesfield Town.

The Silkmen miraculously avoided relegation from League Two last campaign under former manager Sol Campbell. However, in December this season, details about the club’s dire financial situation emerged. Despite a four-point deduction for such financial issues prior to the coronavirus-forced stoppage this season, Macclesfield are 10 points above the relegation zone.

Can you carve out a silk road to success for the Silkmen? With a balance of minus £665,854, zero transfer budget, the league’s lowest wage budget of £18,626 per week and less than £100 per week spare for wages, this is quite a challenge. As if that weren’t enough, Macclesfield don’t own their Moss Road stadium either.

Coventry City (England, League One)

If ever there was a club who have experienced the full range of emotions over the past 35 seasons, Coventry City are that club. FA Cup winners in 1987, relegated from the Premier League in 2001 after a 34-year consecutive streak in the top flight, and spells playing in the Championship, League One and League Two. 

Highfield Road was the venue for many of the memories. Built in 1899, it became English football’s first all-seater stadium in 1981. However, in 2005/06 Coventry left Highfield Road for the Ricoh Arena, a facility not owned by the club. Rental disputes have seen the club  play home matches in 2013/14 at Northampton Town’s Sixfields Stadium and this current season at Birmingham City’s St Andrews stadium.

Prior to the coronavirus stopping play, the Sky Blues were five points clear at the top of League One. Can you continue the upward trend? Former youth team product James Maddison now shining for Leicester City highlights the strength of Coventry’s academy. Rent at St Andrews costs £250,000 per year, but FM 2020 says Coventry will return to the Ricoh for 2020/21. Use this to your advantage!

TSV 1860 Munich (Germany, 3. Bundesliga)

Since the 1970s in German football, one club has emerged as a dominant force: Bayern Munich. The Bavarians won 27 of their record 29 Bundesliga titles from 1971/72 onwards. However, prior to the 1970s another Munich club – TSV 1860 Munich, winner of just one Bundesliga title in 1965/66 – made headlines.

Recent seasons have been cruel to 1860, or Die Loewen (The Lions). The club were relegated from the Bundesliga in 2003/04 and haven’t since returned. Financial problems saw the club demoted to the fourth tier for 2017/18 before they won promotion back to the third-tier 3. Bundesliga for 2018/19.

After half a century in Bayern’s shadow, can you return 1860 back to German football’s summit? In 2017/18, the club returned to their former Stadion an der Gruenwalderstrasse home after renting the Allianz Arena from Bayern. However, 1860 don’t own their own stadium, paying 9% of each matchday’s income as rent to the local council. Their iconic club badge is worth a save alone.

UD Leiria (Campeonato de Portugal – Group Three)

The next challenge is Portuguese outfit UD Leiria. Leiria was a host city for Euro 2004 and the club’s renovated Estadio Dr Magalhaes Pessoa hosted two games. At this time, the club were consistently in the Portuguese top flight and now had a renovated 24,000-capacity stadium. A dream scenario?

Alas not. Financial problems, and a subsequent reformation, saw Leiria drop to the fifth tier in 2012/13 before returning to the third tier for 2013/14 where they have remained since. The 2012/13 campaign also saw Leiria playing home games in the nearby town of Marinha Grande due to high rental costs at the Dr Magalhaes Pessoa before returning to Leiria the following season.

Portuguese football, dominated by Benfica, Porto and Sporting, has only ever had five champions. Can you dethrone Os Tres Grandes with Leiria? José Mourinho rose to prominence here before moving on to success at Porto. Maybe an FM challenge for interpreters or special ones? An alternative challenge is SC Beira Mar, another former top flight team in the same division as Leiria.

Black Leopards (South African Premier League)

The next challenge takes place in South Africa, the only African league playable on FM 2020. It is a real underdog challenge and comes courtesy of Black Leopards FC. This club is based in the town of Thohoyandou in Limpopo Province in the north of the country, which shares a border with Zimbabwe, Botswana and Mozambique.

Black Leopards’ highest finish throughout their history in South Africa’s top flight was eighth. Fighting against domestic giants such as Orlando Pirates, Kaiser Chiefs and Mamoledi Sundowns has proven difficult – hardly surprising when Thohoyandou has a population of just 69,453 inhabitants compared to Cape Town’s 3,776,000 and Johannesburg’s 5,635,127 inhabitants.

So can you take the fight to the big city teams? Expectations are only to finish 13th out of 16 in the first season and you are at the limit of your wage budget. Bringing a domestic and African Champions League title to Limpopo province would prove an astonishing achievement. South Africa top-flight sides are allowed a maximum of five foreign players in their squads.

Newell’s Old Boys (Argentina, Primera División)

Next we go to another new continent in South America with Newell’s Old Boys. Based in Rosario, Argentina’s third most populous city, the six Argentine titles won by The Lepers is the most won by any club outside of Buenos Aires province. Newell’s is also famous for being the first junior club of Lionel Messi before his move to Barcelona in 2000.

The last title won by the club was the 2012/13 Clausura championship, and according to FM20, the club is currently experiencing a difficult financial situation. Newell’s balance is minus £948,490, they have zero transfer budget and less than £500 spare on their wage budget of £135,840 per week. Argentine top flight sides are restricted to a maximum of five foreign players.

Newell’s is an enjoyable challenge: a chance to dethrone the Buenos Aires giants like Boca Juniors and River Plate, and finally win Rosario’s biggest club a first Copa Libertadores crown. Expectations are only a 10th placed finish in the first season, a good job given the finances. Maximise youth facilities which have produced the likes of Gabriel Batistuta, Walter Samuel, Gabriel Heinze, Mauricio Pochettino and Maxi Rodríguez.

Córdoba CF (Spain, Segunda Division B – Group D)

The next challenge comes from Spain and takes place in one of its most historic cities, Córdoba. The Andalucian city’s football club, Córdoba CF, were founded in 1954 and have spent just nine seasons of their history in La Liga, the most recent being in 2014/15. After a 21st-placed finish in Spain’s Segunda in 2018/19, the Green and Whites were relegated to Spain’s third tier for 2019/20.

There are two major reasons why Córdoba is challenging. Firstly, they are spending £70,930 per week on wages, over £4,500 per week more than their wage budget of £66,352 per week, so forget about signings for you to stamp your mark on the squad upon your arrival in Southern Spain. You will have to make do with the players you have. You are pre-season favourites to win your division too, so no pressure…

The second challenge is the promotion system in Spain’s third tier. Winning your regionalised group does not guarantee promotion. The top four teams in each group qualify for promotion play-offs. The four group winners face off against each other, the victors of these games win an early promotion. The two losers get a second promotion chance against two other sides who prevail in games between sides placed between second and fourth in their sectors.

Gloucester City AFC (England, National League North)

For our final challenge in this instalment to be special, we head to the English sixth tier and more specifically, Gloucester City. Based in a rugby union-mad city, football has unsurprisingly struggled to make an impact. In fact, The Tigers have never been higher in the English pyramid than its sixth tier.

The toughest obstacle in this challenge is Gloucester’s stadium situation. In 2007, the club’s Meadow Park stadium was flooded, at one stage sitting eight feet underwater. A combination of an inability to secure insurance due to the stadium’s location in a flood-risk area and sewage water contaminating the stadium has meant Gloucester have not played in their home city for 12 years.

After spells playing in other Gloucestershire towns such as Nailsworth, Cirencester and Cheltenham, Gloucester now play home games in Malvern, Worcestershire, 20 miles from their former home. There is zero transfer budget, less than £500 spare wages on your limit of £6,315 per week and home games in Malvern means paying rent of £45,000 per year. Considering all the above, Gloucester fans have certainly had it tough and so will you, should you accept this challenge.

30 years-old sports fanatic from near Wigan, United Kingdom. Season ticket holder at Wigan Athletic in the second tier English Championship. Alongside Heart of Football, writes for Its Round and Its White. Passionate about all football, English Premier League, English Football League, Spanish La Liga, Italian Serie A and other European and World football leagues, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League and International Football. Favourite Moment: Being at Wembley Stadium in May 2013 to watch Wigan defeat Manchester City in the 2013 FA Cup Final.

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