Heart of Football

FM Challenges – (5) Great geographical and through-the-leagues challenges

We are already well into 2021, 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 last of a series of five FM21 Challenges pieces a variety of different scenarios await the player. With each of these 10 club challenges, one either is at the helm of a club based in a unique geographical location or has to take a club up through the leagues.

CD Cobreloa – (Chilean Primera B División)

The first challenge comes courtesy of Chile. The failure to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup was a rare blip in what had been a terrific decade for the Chilean national team. Two Copa América wins in 2015 and 2016 were the highlight of a golden period for Chilean football. In fact, those triumphs were La Roja’s first two international tournament victories. Domestically, Chilean club sides have a similarly bare cupboard when it comes to Copa Libertadores victories, with Chile’s most successful club Colo-Colo being the only Chilean winners of the competition back in 1991.

However, a decade earlier, it was another Chilean side who were making waves on the South American continent – CD Cobreloa. Founded in just 1977, Cobreloa are ranked fourth in Chile for national titles won (eight), behind Colo-Colo, Universidad de Chile and Universidad Católica. They are the most successful club for titles won outside of Chile’s capital city of Santiago and just four years after their formation, they nearly achieved a remarkable feat. After winning the Chilean title in 1980, Cobreloa qualified for the Copa Libertadores in 1981. They made it all the way to the final before losing in a replay to Brazilian giants Flamengo. Cobreloa once more made the Libertadores final in 1982 before losing again, this time to Uruguay’s Peñarol.

Since the glory days of the 1980s Cobreloa have hit hard times, last winning a Chilean title in 2004 and currently residing in Primera B División, Chile’s second tier. This challenge constitutes a great geographical challenge because Cobreloa are based in the city of Calama, north of Santiago and in the middle of the Atacama desert, one of the driest places on Earth. Can you bring glory and a long-awaited Libertadores to Cobreloa, Los Zorros del Desierto (The Desert Foxes)? The club currently has a negative balance of minus  ₤519,305 and few transfer funds, while the board expect you to finish in the promotion play-offs in the first season.

Manaus Futebol Clube – (Brazilian Serie C)

Next up is another geographical challenge and another save for you from Brazil. Since the establishment of a national football league in the country, football in the country has been dominated by its Big Twelve or Doze Grandes clubs. Palmeiras, Santos, Corinthians, Flamengo, São Paulo, Cruzeiro, Fluminense, Vasco da Gama, Internacional, Gremio, Botafogo and Atlético Mineiro have won all but six of the national Série A titles between them in the competition’s history.

Unsurprisingly, all of these clubs – with the exceptions of Santos, based in the eponymous city in São Paulo state, and both Internacional & Gremio, based in Porto Alegre – are located in Brazil’s three major cities of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Belo Horizonte. When the 2014 FIFA World Cup was awarded to Brazil, it was decided that cities all over the country would host matches, not just the south-east of the country. One of these host cities was Manaus in Amazonas state, located as you can probably guess at the heart of the Amazon rainforest.

Historically, the most famous club from Amazonas state has been Nacional Futebol Clube, winners of 43 Amazonas state championships and the oldest club in the region. Recently, however, a new club has taken Nacional’s star from them; Manaus Futebol Clube. Founded in just 2013, they have enjoyed a meteoric rise, winning their first Amazonas state championship in 2017, the first of three in a row. At the end of the 2019 Brazilian Serie D, the fourth tier of Brazilian football, Manaus FC won promotion to Serie C for 2020, meaning the club would play at a higher level than Nacional for the first time. 

Ironically the brainchild of former Nacional board member Luis Mitoso, Manaus are one of the fastest emerging clubs in the Brazilian lower tiers. Can you continue this trajectory in the heart of the rainforest? There is zero transfer budget, no spare wage room and expectations are to reach the Serie C promotion playoffs, so can you make visiting rival teams ‘unwelcome to the jungle’ for ?

Halifax (HFX) Wanderers FC – (Canadian Premier League)

This edition of Football Manager sees the welcome addition of a new championship to its ranks; in fact, arguably football’s newest championship – the Canadian Premier League (CPL). Despite the fact that three Canadian teams, Toronto FC, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps, play in the USA’s Major League Soccer, the CPL was founded with its first season in 2019. The new league was set up to fill the void left behind by the discontinuation of the Canadian Soccer League in 1992, the country’s last professional national league.

One distinctive feature of the newly-formed league is that many of the foundation clubs are based in cities which do not have a professional team in any of North America’s main sports. Such examples include Forge Football Club, based in Hamilton, Ontario and York United Football Club (formerly York9 FC), based in York region, Ontario.

Another example is HFX Wanderers FC. Based in Halifax in the province of Nova Scotia, HFX Wanderers are the most eastern-based club in the CPL and act as a representative of Atlantic Canada in the competition.

So, as HFX Wanderers, can you outperform the other CPL clubs in larger, more well-known provinces? A mid-table finish is your target in the CPL with the media predicting that HFX Wanderers will finish fifth. CPL clubs are limited to a maximum of seven foreign players in the entire squad and no more than five foreign players in the starting XI on matchdays.

Pacific FC – (Canadian Premier League)

One doesn’t have to switch countries or even leagues for the next challenge on this list. So excited is Heart of Football at the presence of a new league on FM21, we have decided to put a second CPL side into our final installment. 

If HFX Wanderers represented the most eastern challenge possible in the CPL, Pacific FC represent the westernmost, based in Langford, in the Greater Victoria region of the province of British Columbia. The city of Victoria is of course based on Vancouver Island, nearly two hours away from the city of Vancouver by ferry. To give an indication of the sheer size of Canada, Vancouver Island is in fact the world’s 43rd biggest island, larger in size than both Sardinia and Sicily.

British Columbia’s best-known sports franchise is the NHL side Vancouver Canucks. However, since they joined North America’s premier ice hockey league in 1970, they have yet to taste Stanley Cup glory. Maybe achieving domination in the CPL with this FM21 save could be a remedy to Canucks fans’ woes? Can you bring some success to BC and Vancouver Island?

Maritzburg United FC – (South African Premier Soccer League)

The next save is yet another geographical challenge and switching continents, it comes all the way from South Africa. This save is an ideal one to do for gamers looking to do the ‘Five Continent’ challenge, where one attempts to win each continent’s continental club competition. In fact, if you wish to achieve this, you will have to play as a South African team at some point as it is the only African league available to play in the game.

Since the Premier Soccer League’s (PSL) foundation in 1996, South Africa’s highest football league has been dominated by the big city clubs of Mamelodi Sundowns, Supersport United, Orlando Pirates and Kaiser Chiefs, based in Pretoria and Johannesburg respectively. One side never to win the PSL since their debut in the league for the 2006/07 campaign has been Maritzburg United FC. Since reaching the South African top flight, the Pietermaritzburg-based outfit has never been relegated, but they have also never come close to winning a title, their best finish only being fourth place in 2017/18.

Despite its status as the capital of KwaZulu-Natal province, Pietermaritzburg is often overshadowed in terms of fame and status by the province’s larger and more well-known city Durban. Can you put Pietermaritzburg on the map and achieve great things with Maritzburg United? The objectives of this save are simple; win a debut PSL title, dominate domestically and then go on to win the CAF Champions League, Africa’s main club continental competition. 

Wellington Phoenix FC – (Australian A-League)

Our next challenge takes us down under to the Australian A-League. Since its foundation in 2004 and the debut edition of Australia’s first professional national league in 2005/06, the league has continued to go from strength to strength. Now comprised of 12 teams, in its short history the A-League has achieved some noteworthy milestones, most prominent of all being Western Sydney Wanderers FC winning the Asian AFC Champions League in 2014, just two years after the club’s foundation.

The most intriguing club in the Australian A-League though has to be Wellington Phoenix FC. Based in Wellington, in neighbouring New Zealand, the Nix, as they are commonly known, are the only non-Australian club currently playing in the A-League. Whilst association football is not yet the most popular sport in Australia, there is no doubt that it is even less popular across New Zealand, where rugby union in particular dominates the sporting landscape. 

Finally, the other peculiarity about Wellington Phoenix is that despite playing in an Asian Football Confederation (AFC) competition, they are ineligible to play in the AFC Champions League as they are not considered an Asian club, perhaps owing to the fact that the New Zealand national football team play in the Oceania Football Confederation whereas Australia play in the Asian Confederation.

However, this unfortunate scenario should not put you off challenging yourself with Wellington Phoenix. Alongside Perth Glory, the Nix (when they were in their previous guise of New Zealand Knights) are the only other original founding member of the A-League to not have won the competition so far. Can you dominate in the A-League with Wellington Phoenix and prove it’s not just rugby union where Kiwis can get the better of Aussies? A-League clubs are limited to a maximum of five foreign players and the league operates under a salary cap.

FC Vaduz – (Swiss Super League)

We now head back to Europe for another unique geographical challenge. It is fair to say Liechtenstein has had few genuine successes in international football since competing in UEFA European Championship and World Cup qualification groups since 1981. This is hardly surprising given the size and population (38,749) of the country. Liechtenstein is unique amongst FIFA member countries by the fact that it does not organise a national football league. All Liechtensteiner clubs play in the Swiss footballing system at various different levels. 

Of all of Liechtenstein’s seven – yes, just seven – football clubs in the Swiss league system, the most successful is capital club FC Vaduz. They currently play in the top-tier Swiss Super League after winning promotion from the Challenger League in 2019/20. To illustrate how far ahead they are of the other Liechtensteiner clubs in the Swiss football pyramid, the next highest ranked, FC Balzers and USV Eschen/Mauren, currently play in the Swiss fourth tier. 

Being a club from one country playing in another country brings with it some crazy possible scenarios. Were FC Vaduz to win the Swiss Super League, they would as a Liechtensteiner club NOT be eligible to represent the Swiss Super League in the UEFA Champions League. However, despite not having a national league, Liechtenstein does play a national cup competition (which involves the seven Liechtensteiner football clubs in the Swiss football pyramid and their reserve sides). The winner of the Liechtensteiner Cup (which Vaduz have won 47 times out of 74 editions) qualify for the UEFA Europa League.

The only way, therefore, that FC Vaduz could theoretically qualify for the UEFA Champions League in the future is to win the Europa League. That is your mission, should you choose to accept it. Firstly, try to stabilise yourselves in the Swiss Super League after promotion. After this, winning the Liechtensteiner Cup year in year out and gradually improving each season in the Europa League is the next objective. Finally, win a Swiss league title and then the Europa League to make it into the Champions League group stages. Make no mistake, this is not for the faint-hearted, and represents a very long save for an true die-hard FM aficionado!

FC Sudtirol or Palermo FC – (Italian Serie C – Group B / Italian Serie C – Group C)

The next challenge is one which involves predominantly coming up through the leagues with a touch of geography thrown in as well. It is also the final challenge to give you a choice of one of two teams on our FM21 challenge lists. For this, we call by Italy once more at the regionalised third-tier Serie C.

The first team is FC Sudtirol of Italian Serie C – Group B based in the city of Bolzano in the province of South Tyrol in Northern Italy. South Tyrol is a unique region for several reasons. Without delving into politics too much, it is a province which has seen substantial historic support for seceding from Italy and joining neighbouring Austria. A cited reason for this is cultural and linguistic reasons as both Italian & German hold equal official language status in the province. In addition, owing to the snowy climate, South Tyrol has been much more renowned on the sports scene for producing a large proportion of athletes who go on to represent Italy at Winter Olympic games than for its football.

FC Sudtirol were only founded in 1995 themselves, and in the 25 years since their foundation they have enjoyed a rise from the seventh tier of Italian football to where they sit now, the third tier. Can you put South Tyrol on the sporting scene for something else other than its ability to produce Winter Olympians by taking FC Sudtirol all the way to Serie A? The board want you to reach the promotion play-offs. You have no spare wage room, however, you do have a generous transfer budget of ₤274,150 for this level.

Whilst South Tyrol may not be renowned for having a great tradition for football, Sicily certainly has. Since the beginning of the 21st century, Catania, Messina and Palermo have all reached Serie A. It is with the latter of these three that an alternative challenge to Sudtirol is available. Palermo FC are the phoenix club to US Città di Palermo, who spent 12 seasons in Serie A between 2004/05 and 2016/17 before financial difficulties, eventual bankruptcy and reformation. Amongst Palermo’s noteworthy feats in Serie A in the 21st century were three fifth-placed finishes, finishing runners-up in the 2010/11 Coppa Italia and five seasons’ participation in the UEFA Cup/Europa League.

The reformed Palermo in its first season won promotion from Serie D in 2019/20 to Serie C – Group C for the 2020/21 campaign. Can you now continue the strong start to this rebuild and take Rosanero (The Pink-Blacks) back to Serie A and also participate in UEFA club competitions once more? Expectations are to reach the promotion play-offs in your first season in charge and like at Sudtirol, a generous transfer budget of ₤365,533 is available to spend.

Union Sportive Créteil-Lusitanos – (French Championnat National)

Our penultimate challenge on FM21 comes from France and is a classic climb through the leagues challenge. It is fair to say that one club in recent times have dominated the football landscape both in the country and their city, Paris St Germain. Since the Qatar Sports Investment takeover of the club in 2011, PSG have won seven Ligue 1 titles, five Coupe de France titles and six Coupe de la Ligue titles in the 2010s.

Football in France’s capital city beyond PSG takes place in the lower echelons. Paris FC, currently in Ligue 2, ironically joined forces with Stade St Germain to form PSG in 1970, yet then split from PSG to go it again as an independent club in 1972. Beyond this, there are two clubs in France’s third tier Championnat National from Paris and its suburbs. The first of these is Red Star, one of French football’s most historic and oldest clubs. The other is Union Sportive Créteil-Lusitanos, based in Créteil, a South-Eastern suburb of Paris.

The highest Créteil have ever reached during their 84 year existence in the French footballing pyramid is eight seasons in the second-tier Ligue 2 between 1999 and 2007. Unlike PSG, Paris FC and Red Star, they have yet to taste top-flight Ligue 1 football. Here is where you come in; take Créteil to the French top flight and give PSG a Parisian derby, or if you really crave a challenge, to even overtake your monied neighbours.

Deportivo de la Coruña – (Spanish Segunda División B – Group 1)

The final FM21 challenge is the only one on our list at Heart of Football which was a save from our FM20 range of challenges. Far from running out of ideas, circumstances occurred during the end of the 2019/20 campaign which meant we had to put this option on our list of FM21 challenges. We head to Spain for it and more specifically, Galicia’s most successful club in recent seasons; Deportivo de la Coruña.

Deportivo, or Depor as they are commonly referred to, first shot to prominence during the 1990s. In the 1993/94 La Liga season, the Galician outfit came within a whisker of winning the Spanish title. In the final game of the season against Valencia at home, Depor were awarded a last-minute penalty and a chance to win the title at the death. Miroslav Đukic stepped up to take the spot kick, but missed it to hand the late Johan Cryuff’s Barcelona a fourth straight La Liga in one of the most dramatic conclusions to a campaign’s close ever.

Depor compensated for this, however, by winning the 1999/00 La Liga title and famously, the 2001/02 Copa del Rey against Real Madrid in the final on Real’s 100th anniversary at Los Blancos’ famous Bernabéu home ground. Depor had some wonderful memories in Europe too, the most memorable of all being their run to the semi-finals of the 2003/04 Champions League. However, 2019/20 proved to be one of the worst seasons in the Galician club’s recent history as they were staggeringly relegated to the regionalised third tier of Spanish football, Segunda División B, for the first time in 39 years.

Can you lead them back to the top of Spanish football and revive the now legendary Super Depor days of the 1990s and early 2000s? There is ₤1,706,988 available for transfers, but the club is over its wage budget. One objective laid down by the board is to repair the club’s financial situation, meaning you may have to sacrifice a high-earning player or two in your squad. There is no grace period to get settled in either as the board expect a quick promotion back to Segunda after just one season in the Spanish third tier.



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