Who do you figure has the largest football scouting network in the world? A giant like Juventus with their huge amount of loaned out players; the Pozzo family in charge of Udinese and Watford; Chelsea’s army of feeder clubs; or Barcelona as part of their renowned youth system?
The answer is none of the above. Instead it’s the computer game, Football Manager.
The game has a huge network of over 1300 scouts spread over 51 countries all around the World and the game has more than 300,000 players in its database.
The ability of the FM database to predict the future superstars is world famous and players such as Wayne Rooney, Paulo Dybala and Mateo Kovacic were wonderkids in FM, well before anyone but their mother and youth coach had heard about them.
In a case of real life imitating the virtual World, it should thus come as no surprise that many clubs are using the Football Manager database to supplement their own scouting.
In fact, back in 2008, Everton signed an official deal to use the database to search for players.
And today, we emulate Everton (and without a doubt many other clubs), by using the newest Football Manager update to scout for the next stars in Serie A
This update was released on the 1st of March and besides players changing clubs in the Winter transfer window, the update included several player upgrades.
Lesson 1: Andrea Belotti is becoming a super star
Name and club: Andrea Belotti, Torino
Value in Football Manager: £18 million (£11.5m before update)
Ability and potential: Top club with potential to be a World Class striker (Top-six ability with Champions League potential before update).
On the 5th of March, Andrea Belotti stole all headlines and raised eyebrows around the world with his incredible eight-minute hat trick in Torino’s victory at home to Palermo.
Four days earlier, SI Games released the Winter Update in its Football Manager franchise. Despite the obvious disadvantage of his hat-trick not having occurred, Andre Belotti’s scintillating form was rewarded with an upgrade to his attributes in the game.
This despite the fact, that when FM was released in November 2017, Andrea Belotti was already a hot topic on the European football scene.
In the meantime, he has only gotten warmer. When he scored the hat trick against Palermo every media outlet heralded his first hat trick at Torino.
Few noticed the fact that it was his first game in charge as captain of Torino, which speaks even larger volumes about the impact he’s having.
In Football Manager, Andrea Belotti has received an all-round update to his attacking stats and is now much better and cooler in front of goal compared to before.
In addition, his work rate has been improved and with his strength attribute increasing from 16 to 18 (out of 20) he is now one of the strongest strikers in the World.
One would hope Palermo negotiated a sell-on clause when they let Torino buy him in the Summer of 2015.
Lesson 2: Atalanta has been the surprise package in the Serie A
Name and club: Andrea Petagna, Atalanta
Value in Football Manager: £3.3 million (£750K before update)
Ability and potential: Top-six club with Champions League potential (upper half potential in Serie A before update update).
Atalanta has been the team to follow in Serie A this year and two of their young players have seen huge increases to their attributes.
The first one is Andrea Petagna. The wonderkid striker has been in excellent form all season and although some would argue he does not score enough for a striker, no one questions his technical abilities anymore.
Well, at least the scouts in Football Manager don’t. In the update, Andrea Petagna has received a huge boost to his attributes.
Almost every attribute has been increased, with the largest increases in technical stats such as passing (from 12 to 14) and first touch (12 to 14).
Add to this a further notch to his strength attribute (from 16 to 17) and it is clear that Italy can field an attacking duo of Andreas that are sure to wear out any defence for many years to come.
Lesson 3: Atalanta has lost their engine to Inter and the results are already showing
Name and club: Roberto Gagliardini, Inter
Position: Central Midfielder
Value in Football Manager: £9.5 million (£1.0 million before update)
Ability and potential: Champions League club with room for improvement (Serie A bottom half ability and upper half potential before update update).
The second Atalanta product with a huge stats increase in the update is Roberto Gagliardini.
In this fairy-tale story it’s incredible to think that on the final match day of the 2015-16 season Roberto Gagliardini made his Serie A debut for Atalanta.
Six months later he was transferred to Inter following a stellar first half season. He has continued the impressive form from day one and he’s been ever present in the Inter side since the transfer.
This has been rewarded with a huge boost to his attributes in the game across the board.
While technique and mental ability has seen a solid boost, the largest increases are within his physical stats, allowing him to develop from the type of mediocre central midfielder you don’t really see, to a proper engine and heart in the team.
The crowning touch? Last weekend, Gagliardini scored his second goal for Inter in a 7-1 thrashing of his former club Atalanta.
Although he is now lost for Atalanta, their backroom staff can be very proud of the work they’ve done with both Gagliardini and Petagna which is reaping huge rewards.
Lesson 4: The second Simone is having his breakthrough season
Name and club: Giovanni Simeone, Genoa
Value in Football Manager: £9.5 million (£1.0 million before update)
Ability and potential: Top-eight club with potential for the Champions League (bottom half ability and potential in Serie A before update).
Say “Schmeichel” and everyone thinks of Peter – and that’s even though his son is a reigning Premier League champion and current Champions League quarter finalist.
The same goes for Simeone. The wider football world thinks of Simeone as the coach of Schmeichel’s next Champions League opponent, Atletico Madrid, but Serie A followers know there is a new generation coming.
The name is Giovanni who’s having his breakout season at Genoa.
In the league the youngster has scored ten goals in 27 games – a very good rate for a 21-year-old striker.
This has not gone unnoticed by the Football Manager scouts in Serie A. Simeone has seen an all-round increase to his offensive game with everything from his finishing and composure in front of goal, to his technique, pace and movement off the ball getting a boost.
If the scouts of Football Manager are right, it won’t take long before Giovanni Simeone could be on the pitch for a team in the Champions League against his father’s Atletico Madrid.
Lesson 5: Dries Mertens is finally coming good on his promise
Name and club: Dries Mertens, Napoli
Position: Winger & striker (primarily a winger before update)
Value in Football Manager: £18 million (£14 million before update)
Ability and potential: Top-two ability and potential (top-four before update)
When Napoli signed Arkadiusz Milik in the Summer, everybody expected Dries Mertens to continue in his role as a left winger with an understudy role as striker when needed.
That all changed following the horrible injury to Milik and the failure of Manolo Gabbiadini as a striker. This has allowed Dries to play as a striker and he has repaid the faith in him by scoring goals for fun.
His goal scoring abilities has not gone unnoticed by the Football Manager researches who has given Dries Mertens a serious boost to his offensive capabilities.
Both his finishing and long shots have seen an increase from 12 to 14 respectively and with further improvements to his technique, vision and off the ball, Dries Mertens has gone from a ten-goals a season inside forward to a twenty-goals a season striker.
At an age of 29, it seems that Dries Mertens has finally reached his full potential and as fans of good football, we can only hope he has a couple of good years left in him.