Heart of Football

FM21 Challenges – (2) Return to European Glory or First Domestic Title

Christmas has gone, years go by, yet from a football point of view, certain things never change. At this point we normally begin to see the runners & riders in title races around Europe emerge as the champions begin to be crowned in leagues in both North & South America. It is also the time of year for Football Manager aficionados to rejoice as the latest edition of Sports Interactive’s brilliant game makes its way onto screens around the world.

Yes folks, FM21 has arrived and with it, there are a huge amount of challenges to satisfy one’s appetite. At Heart of Football, we have studied from A to Z all of the playable leagues to find FM fanatics some challenges that you will love to take on. In this second of a series of five FM21 Challenges pieces, we look at 10 clubs for you to manage on FM21 where the objective is to either win a European club competition once again or win a first domestic title.

FC Chornomorets Odesa – (Ukrainian First League)

Since the dissolution of the USSR and establishment of the Ukrainian Premier League in 1992, two teams above all others have established themselves as the dominant forces domestically. Both Dynamo Kyiv and Shakhtar Donetsk have won all but one of the 29 Ukrainian Premier League titles contested to date. Both teams have a domestic domination over their rivals similar to that Celtic and Rangers have in Scotland.

One of the largest clubs outside of this dominant duo historically has been Chornomorets Odesa. Founded in 1936, they first reached the top flight during the USSR era in 1965, spending a total of 25 seasons in the USSR’s Highest League. In the Ukrainian Premier League era since 1992, Choromorets have proven to be one of the strongest teams behind the dominant duo of Dynamo and Shakhtar. In 24 seasons spent in the Ukrainian Premier League, The Sailors as they are commonly known have finished third three times and second twice, in addition to having won the Ukrainian Cup twice.

The club have recently fallen on tough times, however. They were relegated from the Ukrainian Premier League at the end of 2018/19 and failed to win promotion back at the first attempt in 2019/20. Can you now lead Chornomorets back and win them a first Ukrainian title in the future? Dethroning Dynamo and Shakhtar will be a herculean task. The Ukrainian First League permits a maximum three foreign players in your squad and Chornomorets currently have a negative balance of minus ₤36,441. 

MKE Ankaragucu – (Turkish Super Lig)

Like several leagues outside of Europe’s ‘Big Five’, the Turkish Super Lig has for many seasons been dominated by a select few clubs. Since the first Super Lig in 1959, only three sides – Fenerbache, Galatasaray and Besiktas – have played in every edition without being relegated. These clubs are Turkey’s ‘Big Three’, and have won a combined 54 titles out of 62 completed seasons so far. The only other clubs to break this dominance are Trabzonspor (six titles), Bursaspor (one title in 2010) and Istanbul Basaksehir (one title in 2020).

MKE Ankaragucu are a much more modest club in comparison to the ‘Big Three’. They are ranked fourth in number of seasons spent in the Turkish Super Lig with a total of 52 participations despite never having won a title. Last season proved a disaster for the capital club as they finished bottom of the Super Lig with just 32 points from their 34 games. However, due to the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) opted against enforcing relegation from the Super Lig and Ankaragucu were given a lucky lifeline.

Can you now take advantage of this stroke of good fortune? Expectations are to battle against relegation, but the chance to win Ankaragucu a first Turkish title may just spur you on to persist with this save. The club is maxed out on its wage bill and there is a transfer budget of ₤467,027 available to spend. Turkish Super Lig clubs are allowed a maximum of 14 foreign players in their entire first team squad giving you a decent amount of flexibility when it comes to recruitment.

IFK Goteborg – (Swedish Allsvenskan)

Sweden’s Allsvenskan first took place in 1924 and in 96 completed seasons since, a total of 15 different teams have managed to win league titles. The most successful club in Sweden has been Malmo FF, who recently won their 23rd Swedish title in the 2020 Allsvenskan campaign. However, in second place on that list is IFK Goteborg with 13 titles.

In addition to being one of Sweden’s most successful clubs, the club from the capital are a trailblazer for Scandinavian and Nordic clubs in Europe as to this day, they are the only one to win a European club competition. Blavitt (Blue-Whites) managed to win two UEFA Cup titles in 1982 and 1987, the first of which was won just three years after Malmo’s loss in the 1979 European Cup final to Nottingham Forest. The victory was the work of then-manager Sven-Göran Eriksson, a triumph which launched his long and successful managerial career.

Despite this deep, proud history, Goteborg’s last Swedish title came in 2007 and the hefty days of European glory seem a long way away. Can you lead a glorious renaissance? Winning domestically again is your first priority and expectations are mid-table in your first season in charge, make the top half in the second season and a title challenge in your third season. However, this challenge involves winning Goteborg a European title once more. The new Europa Conference League that starts in 2021/22 may just be the trophy to prioritise in fulfilling this objective. However, winning a third UEFA Cup/Europa League title would be quite an achievement.

KV Mechelen – (Belgian First Division A)

As mentioned in the first of our FM21 challenges piece, Belgian football’s first glory era was experienced during the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. The national team was a force in international football and the club game was very strong too. During this period, Club Brugge KV reached the final of the 1977/78 European Cup, losing to Liverpool, RSC Anderlecht won the 1975/76 & 1977/78 European Cup Winners’ Cups and the 1982/83 UEFA Cup. In addition, the Brussels club also lost in the 1983/84 UEFA Cup Final and the finals of the 1976/77 and 1989/90 Cup Winners’ Cup.

One side who many might not know too much about though is KV Mechelen. Hailing from Antwerp province in the Flemish region of the country, KV Mechelen are four-time champions of Belgium. However, their exploits on the continent turned eyebrows in the late 1980s. Having won the 1986/87 Belgian Cup, Mechelen qualified for the 1987/88 Cup Winners’ Cup. Here they came to Europe’s attention by defeating Dinamo Bucharest, St Mirren, Dinamo Minsk and Atalanta BC to reach the final against Dutch heavyweights Ajax. Mechelen then stunned the Amsterdam outfit in the final, winning 1-0 courtesy of a Piet den Boer 53rd-minute goal.

The Yellow-Reds defended their Cup Winners’ Cup title strongly the following season, reaching the semi-finals before losing to Italian Serie A outfit UC Sampdoria. Mechelen have fallen on hard times in recent seasons, having not participated in European competition since 1993/94. Can you revive their fortunes? With the introduction of the Conference League from 2021/22, an opportunity has emerged for leagues outside of Europe’s ‘Big Five’ to have a genuine chance of winning a European trophy. Expectations are low at the start of the game, which gives you time to ease yourself in. This will be a long save though, so make sure you are well-prepared!

1 FC Magdeburg – (German 3. Bundesliga)

Thirty years after German reunification in 1990, the country’s footballing landscape is in many ways a perfect reflection of how, despite three decades having passed, there is still a stark difference in the fortunes of West and East. One look at the 1. Bundesliga in 2020/21 demonstrates this. Only two of the 18 clubs in the league are from the old East Germany – Union Berlin and RB Leipzig -with the latter of those two only being propelled there thanks to huge investment by owners Red Bull GmbH. 

One of East Germany’s most successful clubs were 1 FC Magdeburg. With three East German Bundesliga titles between 1948 and 1991, the club ranks joint fourth in the overall standings. Despite not being as successful as Dynamo Dresden and Berliner FC Dynamo domestically, Magdeburg did manage to make history in 1973/74 in the European Cup Winners’ Cup. After defeating NAC Breda, Banik Ostrava, Beroe Stara Zagora and Sporting CP, Magdeburg reached the final. They then stunned Italian giants AC Milan by winning 2-0. Magdeburg thus became the first and only East German club to win a European club competition.

Like many former East German heavyweights, Magdeburg have fallen on hard times since reunification. The club has never been higher in the German football pyramid than the third tier where they currently reside. Your task is to restore their former glories and win another European trophy. Once again, the Europa Conference League may be the best bet to achieve this. The club’s objectives are to challenge for promotion to 2 Bundesliga by 2022/23, so you will have some time to get your philosophies into place should you choose Magdeburg as your FM21 save.

Ipswich Town FC – (English EFL League One)

One club that has fallen on hard times lately, yet has made a significant impact on English football, is Ipswich Town. The Suffolk club are currently playing their second straight season in EFL League One, the third tier of English football. The 1956/57 campaign when the club won the old Division Three title and reached the second tier proved to be a catalyst that begun the club’s glory era. Under the management of the late Sir Alf Ramsey, Ipswich then won promotion to the top flight in 1960/61 before winning their first and so far only English league title in 1961/62. Just one season after these exploits, Ramsey then took the England national team job.

Sir Bobby Robson took over as manager in 1968. Under Robson’s guidance, The Tractor Boys once again achieved great success. An FA Cup triumph in 1977/78 was then followed by two second-placed finishes in the 1980/81 and 1981/82 English First Division (then of course the top flight). Despite just missing out on two league titles, Ipswich did make headlines in European competition as they won the 1980/81 UEFA Cup, defeating AZ Alkmaar 5-4 on aggregate over the two-legged final. At the conclusion of the 1981/82 campaign, Robson, like Ramsey before him, left Ipswich to take the England national team job.

Times have on the whole been tough for the Suffolk-based club since those aforementioned glory days. Can you bring the Ramsey and Robson successes back to the Portman Road faithful? Objectives are to reach the play-offs in the first season and challenge for promotion to the Championship. Beyond that though, one needs to win Ipswich another European club competition on this FM21 challenge. Returning the Tractor Boys to the Premier League will bring with it untold riches. Finances which could firstly qualify you for European competition (most likely the Champions League or Europa League) and then, if you prove as good as Ramsey or Robson win a second European trophy.

Aberdeen FC – (Scottish Premiership)

After 27 years in the Old Trafford dugout between 1986 and 2013, it can be argued that even the word ‘legend’ does not do justice to the truly remarkable job Sir Alex Ferguson managed to do at Manchester United. The legendary Red Devils manager arrived at Old Trafford at the height of Liverpool’s dominance of English football in the 1980s before retiring in 2013 having orchestrated the most dominant spell achieved by a club in modern English football. His honours included 13 English Premier League titles, 5 FA Cups, 4 League Cups and 2 UEFA Champions Leagues. 

Despite being most prominently associated with Manchester United, it is worth remembering Ferguson’s first shot to stardom due to his exploits at Aberdeen. No manager employed by Aberdeen since his departure to Manchester United in 1986 has come close to emulating his achievements. During his time in charge of The Dandy Dons between 1978 and 1986, Ferguson won three Scottish titles (1979/80, 1983/84 & 1984/85), four Scottish Cups (1981/82, 1982/83, 1984/85 & 1985/86), one Scottish League Cup (1985/86) and one European Cup Winners’ Cup (1982/83). Ferguson’s exploits at Aberdeen, in a league so strongly dominated by Celtic and Rangers, add further weight to claims that Ferguson was the greatest manager in history.

So, can you follow in Ferguson’s footsteps at Aberdeen and revive the glory days in Scotland’s north east? Aberdeen have already won Scottish titles, so this is a challenge where you have to win a European club competition (though of course, breaking Celtic and Rangers’ domestic dominance again is also something to strive for too!). The expectation is to qualify Aberdeen for the Europa League in your first season in charge, so you must hit the ground running. Like many of these challenges, the Europa Conference League might be your best bet for a European triumph.

Real Zaragoza – (Spanish La Liga 2)

Throughout the entire history of La Liga since its first season in 1929, only nine sides have ever managed to win Spanish football’s top flight. Compare this to 24 different clubs who have been crowned English champions since the first national competition in 1888/89. This does mean that when it comes to ranking Spanish clubs in terms of seasons spent in the top flight of their country’s national league, title-less clubs feature high up the rankings in Spain. One such club who this applies to is Real Zaragoza.

The Aragonese outfit have spent a total of 58 seasons in La Liga; only eight clubs have had more seasons in Spain’s top flight. These figures rank Zaragoza ninth in terms of historic performance amongst Spain’s football clubs. Just like fellow Spanish club RCD Espanyol, themselves ranked seventh overall in La Liga, Zaragoza (or Blanquillos – The Whites) have never won a La Liga title, their best finish being runners-up in 1974/75 to Real Madrid. However, that is not to say that Zaragoza do not have a famous history. The Aragonese have emerged victorious in six Spanish cups and famously defeated English giants Arsenal FC in the final of the 1994/95 European Cup Winners’ Cup.

Its fair to say the faithful at Zaragoza’s La Romareda home stadium have had tough times recently. The club have not participated in La Liga since 2012/13 and seem to make a habit in recent seasons of choking in promotion play-offs. Given Zaragoza have already won a European club competition, your challenge here is simple – deliver a first La Liga title to Zaragoza. The club’s board do expect promotion to La Liga in your second season in charge in 2021/22, so you are under pressure from the start here. A transfer budget of ₤1,103,274 from the start should be a big help to you though.

FC Metz – (French Ligue 1)

It might be crazy to think it now given the scale of Paris St Germain’s recent dominance since their Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) takeover in 2011, yet prior to this and Olympique Lyonnais’s domination in the 2000’s, France’s Ligue 1 was one of Europe’s most competitive football leagues. In fact, since the first Ligue 1 season in 1930, 19 different sides have managed to win titles. Some of the winners of Ligue 1 in past campaigns include some shock names at first glance such as RC Lens, RC Strasbourg and Montpellier HSC. 

One club which has been an ever-present in Ligue 1 for a large chunk of its 90-year history has been FC Metz. 2020/21 represents the 61st season the Lorraine-based club has spent in France’s top flight, a figure only Lyon, Rennes, Sochaux, Saint-Etienne, Bordeaux and Marseille can better. Les Grenats (The Maroons) have managed to win two Coupe de France and two Coupe de la Ligue titles, yet an elusive first French Ligue 1 title still escapes them. The closest they managed was a second-place finish in 1997/98, where they narrowly lost a tight title race to RC Lens, (who themselves won their first and only title so far) on goal difference.

So, can you deliver a first Ligue 1 title to the faithful at Stade Saint-Symphorien? Initial expectations are to avoid relegation, so prepare yourself for a long save. You are maxed out on your wage bill and there is only a modest transfer budget of ₤2,284,586 for new transfers. However, Metz have historically had a reputation of having one of the best youth academies in France. Use this to your advantage in your quest for a historic first championship victory.

Vitoria de Guimarães – (Portuguese Liga Primeira)

The final team on this list of challenges hails from Portugal and its top flight, Liga Primeira. Like Turkey’s Super Lig, the Portuguese Primeira Liga is noteworthy for its relatively low number of different champions throughout its history. Since the first edition of the championship in 1934, only five different teams have won a league title in 86 campaigns. Three of these – SL Benfica, FC Porto and Sporting CP – have won a staggering 84 out of 86 between them. These three giants of the Portuguese game are known as Os Tres Grandes (The Big Three). 

The sheer scale of these three clubs’ dominance shows itself by the fact that the team who are the final challenge to undertake in this list have never actually finished second in the Liga Primeira throughout their history. Yet, based on seasons spent in the top flight and total points accumulated, they have an overall historical ranking of fifth amongst Portuguese clubs. This team is Vitoria de Guimarães. 

The northern city of Guimarães is historically famous for being the medieval capital of Portugal. It is widely believed to be the birthplace of the first King of Portugal Afonso Henriques I, a historical figure in the foundation of the country in 1139. In fact, one of the nicknames of fans of Vitoria de Guimarães is Os Afonzinhos (Those of Afonso). Like the trophy dominance of Portugal’s big three, the vast majority of football fans in Portugal (widely believed to be between 90-95%) will support one of Os Tres Grandes. However, Guimarães residents are different, with Vitoria widely acknowledged as having the fourth largest fanbase and attendance figures in the country.

Can you therefore give these loyal and passionate supporters something to cheer by winning them a first ever Portuguese title? Qualification for the Europa League is your target in your first season and you have a transfer budget of ₤913,752 to help you achieve this objective. Vitoria share a fierce rivalry with fellow northern Portuguese club SC Braga, who themselves have never won the Liga Primeira. Therefore, what better way of giving Guimarães residents eternal bragging rights over Braga than becoming the first of the two clubs to win a Portuguese league title.



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