featured FM Challenges

FM21 Challenges – (4) Historic feats, massive overachievement, and usurping large neighbours

A new chapter has begun, 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 a title race emerge in Europe and the champions begin to be crowned in leagues in both North & South America. It is also the time of the year for Football Manager aficionados to rejoice as the latest edition of Sports Interactive’s brilliant game becomes available to purchase.

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 they will love to take on. In this fourth of a series of five FM21 Challenges pieces a variety of different scenarios await. With each of these 10 club challenges, one has to either achieve a historic feat, overachieve massively or usurp the larger neighbouring club.

Fluminense FC – (Brazilian Serie A)

The first challenge on this list hails from South America and falls firmly into the ‘historic feat’ saves. Fluminense FC are a powerhouse of Brazilian football. Founded in 1902, the Rio de Janeiro based outfit have emerged triumphant four times in the Brazilian Serie A (1970,1984, 2010 and 2012) putting them eighth in the all-time standings, and have claimed 31 Rio State championships, second only to fierce rivals Flamengo.

One trophy that has eluded Flu over the years has been South America’s most prestigious: the Copa Libertadores. The nearest they came to a triumph was in 2008. That year, Fluminense made it all the way to the final, firstly seeing off Sao Paulo and then Boca Juniors in the quarter and semi finals respectively. Flu’s opponents in the final were LDU Quito of Ecuador. 

After a tense two-legged final, which saw LDU win the first leg 4-2 and Flu win the second leg 3-1, the tie finished 5-5 on aggregate after extra time with LDU winning 3-1 on penalties; a painful defeat for Flu. The second leg was at their home Maracanã stadium and in the competition’s group stage, Flu had actually gone unbeaten against LDU, drawing away and winning 1-0 at home.

So, can you now win Fluminense a Libertadores title? This will prove quite a challenge as your current balance is minus ₤704,399 and there is no transfer budget for new signings. An additional challenge on top of winning the Libertadores is to make Flu the dominant club in Brazil via most championship wins. Currently Palmeiras hold this record with 10 triumphs compared to Flu’s four so far. Something to make you persist with this save long-term perhaps?

FK Nizhny Novgorod – (Russian Football National League)

Next, we head to Russia for another ‘historic feat’ challenge and more specifically, the second-tier Football National League (FNL) with one of the division’s youngest clubs, FK Nizhny Novgorod. Cast one’s mind back two years and the city of Nizhny Novgorod will hold positive memories for England supporters. It was in this city of course where England defeated Panama 6-1, their second group-stage win of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Formerly known as Gorky between the years of 1932 and 1990, Nizhny Novgorod, (NN or Nizhny as its inhabitants popularly refer to it) has had a long history when it comes to the several football clubs representing it in both the Soviet and Russian football eras. The most successful were Lokomotiv Nizhny Novgorod, who spent 10 seasons in the Russian Premier Liga between 1992 and 2001. Lokomotiv NN then dropped out of the top flight and due to financial issues folded in 2006, before being revived as a phoenix club in the lower leagues in 2018.

In between the disbanding of Lokomotiv NN and their reformation in 2015, FK Nizhny Novgorod have emerged as the city’s dominant club in recent years. In only their second season of existence (2016/17) they won promotion to the second-tier FNL, and in 2018/19 they came within a whisker of promotion to the RPL. After a fourth-place finish, the club narrowly lost a two-legged promotion/relegation play-off 3-2 against RPL side Krylia Sovetov Samara. 

Your mission is to win promotion to the RPL in your first season with FK Nizhny Novgorod in order to achieve a historic milestone. The 2021/22 RPL season will be the 30th since the dissolution of the USSR. In the very first RPL season in 1992, Nizhny was represented in the top flight by Lokomotiv NN. So, to mark the 30th anniversary of the RPL, can you get this city, located at the near half-way point between Moscow and Kazan and closed to foreigners during the USSR era, a representative club in the top football league of the country?

Club Talleres de Córdoba – (Argentine Primera División)

Another ‘historic feat’ challenge from South America next and more specifically, from Brazil’s big rival on the continental football scene, Argentina. Argentinian clubs have been very successful in the Copa Libertadores. In fact, they have triumphed 25 times in the Libertadores compared to 18 from Brazil. Eight different Argentine clubs have won the Libertadores and Club Atlético Independiente hold the record for most won Libertadores titles with seven victories.

It is no surprise that Argentina’s capital city, Buenos Aires, and its surrounding suburbs have provided the location for all eight of Argentina’s Libertadores winning clubs. Since the first edition of Argentina’s football championship held in 1891, no side from Córdoba, Argentina’s second biggest city, has ever won a title. In fact, only two sides from outside Buenos Aires province – Newell’s Old Boys and Rosario Central – have won titles, both hailing from Rosario, the third-biggest city.

Currently, the highest ranked side from Córdoba in the Argentine league pyramid is Club Talleres de Córdoba, who play in the top flight Argentine Primera División. Their highest ever finish was in the 1977 campaign, when they finished runners-up to Independiente. After a shocking relegation to the third tier in 2008/09, Talleres have recovered and won promotion back to the top tier in 2016.

So, can you end the city of Córdoba’s wait for an Argentine title by triumphing with Talleres? The club have ₤3,127,464 available as a transfer budget and over ₤9,000 per week still free on their wage budget. See this as a two-step challenge; win an Argentine title for the city of Córdoba, and then become the first Argentine side from outside of Buenos Aires province to win the Libertadores. Argentine Primera División sides are restricted to a maximum of five foreign players in their squads. 

Arenas Club de Getxo or Real Unión Club de Irún – (Spanish Segunda Division B – Group 2)

The final ‘historic feat’ challenges sees us return to Europe, more specifically to Spain. It is also another either/or challenge, with the option of choosing one of two teams to do it with. November 1928 saw the Spanish Football Federation agree to create a first national championship (La Liga) played out in a round-robin league format to take place the following year in 1929. The first edition comprised of 10 clubs with qualification to participate in it dependent on results from previous campaigns in the Spanish national cup (Copa del Rey). 

Seven of the original 10 teams that formed the first La Liga in 1929 are familiar names: FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, RCD Espanyol, Atlético de Madrid, Athletic Club, Real Sociedad and Racing Santander. However, there are three unfamiliar names; CE Europa, another Barcelona club just like Barca themselves and Espanyol, while the other two unfamiliar names hailing from the Basque country, just like Athletic and Sociedad – Arenas Club de Getxo and Real Unión Club de Irún. 

It is no exaggeration to suggest that both Getxo and Irún have fallen on hard times since being founding members of La Liga. Getxo, based in the eponymous town just eight miles north of Bilbao spent seven seasons in La Liga before being relegated in 1934/35. Getxo last played in the second-tier Segunda in 1943/44 and have spent most of their history in the fourth tier of Spanish football (Tercera División). 

Irún are located in the eponymous town right by the border with the French Basque Country, some 17.7 kilometres from San Sebastián, where Real Sociedad are based. Irún have spent only four seasons in La Liga since its inception, dropping out of the top flight in 1931/32. Since that relegation, they have fared slightly better than Getxo, spending most of their history at the third level of Spanish football (Segunda División B). In addition, Irún have spent more seasons in Segunda (10), the last of which came in 2009/10, than Getxo (6). 

Both Getxo and Irún, now Segunda División B members, are part of Spanish footballing history. Can you now achieve the feat of getting one of them back to La Liga and keeping them there in time for its 100th anniversary in 2029? Irún are considered the bigger of the two clubs, demonstrated by their expectations to finish in the promotion playoffs in the first season. Getxo on the other hand are expected to battle against relegation. Think of this challenge as either managing a mini-Athletic (Getxo) or a mini-Sociedad (Irun), owing to Getxo and Bilbao being located in Biscay province, whereas Irún and Sociedad are located in Gipuzkoa province.

Wycombe Wanderers FC – (English EFL Championship)

The next challenge falls into the category of ‘massive overachievement’. It comes courtesy of England’s second tier, the EFL Championship. For 2020/21, one of its participants will be making its debut at this level of the English football pyramid; Wycombe Wanderers. Founded in 1887, Wycombe, or The Chairboys as they are colloquially known, were an amateur club for much of the first 100 years of their history. In fact, they only participated in the fifth tier of English football, The National League, for the first time in the 1985/86 season.

The appointment of Martin O’Neill as manager in 1990 represented a transformation of fortunes for both manager and the club. O’Neill, a European Cup winner with Nottingham Forest, would go on to coach Premier League clubs such as Leicester City and Aston Villa over the next two decades and it was his spell at The Chairboys which propelled him to managerial stardom. In O’Neill’s first season in charge, Wycombe won the FA Trophy, then in 1992/93 they won the National League title and promotion into the Football League for the first time. 

It has been onwards and upwards for them ever since. After the 2019/20 EFL League One season was curtailed early due to Covid-19, the club found themselves in the promotion play-off places. Under the management of Gareth Ainsworth, The Chairboys defeated firstly Fleetwood Town in the play-off semi-finals and then Oxford United in the play-off final to reach the Championship for the first ever time. 

Despite this meteoric rise, the Championship will prove a huge challenge for Wycombe. Are you up for it? Your mission is to see how much further up the English football pyramid you can take The Chairboys. You are predicted to make an instant return to League One for 2021/22, have zero transfer budget and are maxed out on your wage bill.

Real Salt Lake – (Major League Soccer)

The next ‘massive overachievement’ challenge comes from across the pond in the United States. Set to hit 30 participating franchises by 2023, it is no exaggeration to suggest that Major League Soccer (MLS) is currently gathering a status as one of professional football’s fastest growing leagues. One feels it is only a matter of time before every major market in the US will have a side in the league. In fact, two such markets, Austin and Charlotte, will host MLS expansion sides starting in 2021 and 2022 respectively.

Of course, the glitz and glamour of playing for a franchise located in cities in Florida, California and New York City is attractive when it comes to attracting signings, but how good are you when it comes to managing a smaller market team? One such MLS side is Real Salt Lake (RSL), based out of Salt Lake City, Utah. Just three years after the city successfully hosted the 2002 IOC Winter Olympics, 2005 saw RSL’s debut in MLS. Only five years into their foundation, the club won an MLS Cup, defeating David Beckham’s LA Galaxy 5-4 on penalties after a 1-1 draw after extra time.

RSL’s 2009 MLS Cup triumph was a triumph of an underdog smaller market team from a more rural, mountainous state triumphing over the big city, Hollywood glamour of LA Galaxy. In fact, out of all the current cities and metropolitan areas to have an MLS team, Salt Lake City is the smallest by population. Your challenge therefore is to overachieve like crazy with Real Salt Lake. Win future MLS Cups and bring CONCACAF Champions League crowns to Utah. Before undertaking an MLS save, if you are unfamiliar, it may be a good idea to read up on how the draft system, salary cap and Designated Player (DP) rules work.

King’s Lynn Town FC – (English National League)

The next challenge comes back in England and sees you drop out of the English Football League into the fifth-tier National League. King’s Lynn Town FC were founded in 2010 as a phoenix club to the original club of the eponymous town, King’s Lynn FC, who folded in 2009 as a result of financial problems. Since the re-founding of football in the town with the new club, King’s Lynn Town and their supporters have not looked back.

After a meteoric climb up the English non-league football pyramid since re-foundation, The Linnets reached the sixth-tier National League North for the 2019/20 campaign. Under the management of Ian Culverhouse, the club were sitting second in the 2019/20 standings behind York City when the National League North campaign was curtailed early due to Covid-19. Despite being second with 64 points compared to York City’s 66 points, King’s Lynn had only played 32 games compared to York City’s 34. Therefore, because of the season’s curtailment, on a points per game basis, King’s Lynn had an average of 2.00, compared to York City’s 1.94. It was The Linnets, who were therefore promoted to the National League, their first ever season at level five of the English pyramid.

Here is where you come in. This challenge is one which will involve you usurping a larger neighbour. King’s Lynn are based in the English county of Norfolk. The major football club in Norfolk is of course Norwich City of the EFL Championship. Can you take King’s Lynn Town above Norwich City in the English football pyramid and develop a new rivalry for Norwich alongside that which they already have with fierce East Anglian rivals Ipswich Town? Think of this challenge as trying to replicate what happened in Spain where Villarreal (a small town club in the Valencian region) usurped Valencia (the big city club from the same region) in England and Norfolk.

Istanbulspor – (Turkish TFF First League)

The next save is another ‘usurp the larger neighbour’ challenge, the second of four in this guide. It comes courtesy of Turkey and comes in the form of Istanbulspor. Founded in 1926 by students from Istanbul High School, they established themselves as one of the largest clubs in the country outside of the big three of Galatasaray, Fenerbache and Besiktas by winning a Turkish championship in 1932. However, this championship was in the days before a round robin league championship (Super Lig) was established in Turkey for the first time in 1959.

Founding members of the Super Lig, Istanbulspor have spent 23 seasons in Turkish football’s top league since its foundation. Their highest ever placing was a fourth-placed finish in 1997/98. Their best performances in the Turkish Cup has been reaching the semi-finals twice (1964/65 and 2003/04). In fact, in over 90 years of existence, Istanbulspor have played at all four levels of Turkish professional football and even had stints in the amateur leagues. Currently, they play in the Turkish First League, the second tier of the country’s football pyramid.

Your challenge is to take Istanbulspor to the top of Turkish football and surpass Gala, Fener and Besiktas. You are already maxed out on your wage budget and have just a modest ₤59,010 for transfers. Turkish First League sides are allowed just six non-Turkish players in their squad and only five in their starting XI.

FK Viktoria Zizkov – (Czech National Football League)

For the third ‘usurp the larger neighbour’ challenge, we heard to the Czech Republic and Prague. Sparta Prague and Slavia Prague are the two big forces football-wise in the Czech capital city, but Viktoria Zizkov are also a famous club steeped in history. They were founded in 1903, making them one of the oldest football clubs in the Czech Republic and based in the Zizkov district of Prague. Viktorka, as they are commonly known, were initially a huge success by virtue of winning the Czechoslovakian League in 1928 and seven Czechoslovak Cups between 1913 and 1940. 

Success even came to the club after the Velvet Divorce of 1993 which saw Czechoslovakia separate into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Zizkov recorded two third-place finishes in the Czech Republic 1. Liga in 2001/02 & 2002/03 alongside winning the Czech Cup in 2000/01. Zizkov also enjoyed success in European competition, once famously knocking Rangers out of the UEFA Cup. Last season during a visit to Prague, I took in a matchday at Zizkov’s quaint 5,037 capacity stadium.

The club has fallen on hard times of late as they have not participated in the Czech top tier since 2011/12. However, thanks to FM21, you have the chance to fix this. Can you take Viktorka back into the top flight and then surpass the likes of Sparta and Slavia to become top dogs in Prague? A top-half finish is the expectation, you are maxed out with your wage budget, although there is ₤253,310 in transfer budget to spend.

Sparta Rotterdam – (Dutch Eredivisie)

The last FM challenge in this section is also the final ‘usurp the larger neighbour’ challenge and we head to the Netherlands for it. Think of the city of Rotterdam and football, one instantly thinks of Feyenoord. European Cup winners in 1969/70, Feyenoord are one of Dutch football’s ‘Big Three’ clubs alongside fierce rivals Ajax Amsterdam and PSV Eindhoven having won 15 Eredivisie titles. However, Rotterdam also has a noteworthy and historic second club in its ranks: Sparta Rotterdam.

Sparta, or De Rood-Witte Gladiatoren (The Red-White Gladiators) are actually the oldest professional club in Rotterdam, having been formed in 1888, 20 years earlier than Feyenoord. At the turn of the 20th century, Sparta Rotterdam enjoyed their golden era, winning five Dutch championships between 1908 and 1915. These championships were won prior to the founding of a round robin league (Eredivisie) in the Netherlands, which was established in 1956. Sparta are actually only one of four clubs other than the ‘Big Three’ (the others being DWS, AZ Alkmaar and FC Twente) to win a championship in the Eredivisie era.

Despite being formed 20 years later than Sparta, Feyenoord have established themselves as a much more successful club. So, can you reverse this trend and make Sparta the dominant force both in Rotterdam and in the Dutch Eredivisie? Expectations are to finish mid-table, you are maxed out on your wage budget and have a budget of just ₤342,687 for transfers. However, your youth academy is one of the Netherlands’ best and there are expectations from you to develop players using it.

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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