Football Manager's best players can technically be discovered by using stat-sniffing tools to reveal hidden information, but there's more to players than numbers. Where a high stat might mean a player is theoretically proficient at something, you also need to know how they perform on the pitch, whether they can do it on a rainy Saturday morning in Watford, and whether they'll play well with others, year after year, for the good of the team. That's why I'm here.
In the grand tradition pub debates everywhere I've built a fantasy eleven (plus substitutes) of the best Football Manager [official site] bargains I can find. None of this 'five attacking midfielders' nonsense either, this team is designed to play together in a proper modern 4-3-3 formation. (I resisted the urge to use one of the avant-garde strikerless formations I'm so fond of). Everyone on this list is under £10 million, available at the start of the game and good enough for the Premier League, Serie A or La Liga. As always, no list feature is ever truly definitive, and consider the prices an estimate as each game of FM15 is unique and the whims of the game's engine can result in strange fluctuations. Similarly if you think I've missed any great deals feel free to share your own in the comments.
Note: This article was written based on the January transfer update. If you're still using the original FM15 database then I can't guarantee any of these players will be available (but you should totally check out Martin Ødegaard and Dele Alli).
Click any of the images to see the stats larger.
GK Itumeleng Khune
Khune has been my go-to goalkeeper in Football Manager for around three years now. He's a commanding presence, able to dominate his penalty area and quickly distribute to defenders, which makes him an excellent sweeper keeper. The real attraction though is the price tag: only £1 million for a player who could easily tend goal for any club in the world. In fact Khune has only one downside, which is that he's a South African national and every couple of years you're going to lose him for a few games in January while the African Cup of Nations happens. For me it's worth it, just make sure you've got a decent back up (and I've recommended one in the substitutes below).
RB Pavel Kaderabek
Kaderabek is more of a wingback than a fullback, perfect for those who like to attack from deep. He's hard working, incredibly fast and has a decent cross, making him perfect for overlapping wingers and starting 'second wave' attacks after the first one breaks down. What he isn't is very good at is defending. His tackling, position and marking are all substandard, although his pace can help him recover from errors. If this worries you, you can deploy him on the wing, but attacking fullbacks are a huge part of modern football so I say take the risk.
CB Eder Alvarez Balanta
There's a lot of talent in Colombia in this years football manager, but few are better than Eder Alvarez Balanta. He's as much of a beast this year as he was in FM14. He's strong, fast, good in the air and reads the game beautifully. He has almost no weaknesses, is available for a piddling £4 million and is only 21 years-old. Buy him. Just buy him right now and he'll be the rock at the heart of your defence for the next ten years.
CB Nicolas N’Koulou
I searched far and wide for potential partners to Balanta, but eventually I settled on N’Koulou. The big draw for me was his reading of the game, his anticipation, positioning, composure and decisions are all excellent, making him a thoughtful, elegant defender (and a decent defensive midfielder in pinch). The price you pay for that is a slight question mark over his ability in the air: he’s got decent heading but substandard jumping. This used to be a red flag for me, but I fear the big target men less than I once did, so N’Koulou makes the cut.
LB Lucas Digne
I've had my eye on Digne for a few editions of FM now since the youngster has always had potential, but Paris Saint-Germain just haven't been willing to part with him. So imagine my surprise when I booted up this year's January transfer update and found they'd transfer listed him. £3 million gets you a solid fullback who can attack and defend in equal measure, but mostly you're paying for potential and lots of it.
DM Sergi Samper
One of the things I love about Football Manager is it acts as a mirror for the constant metagame of real life football. For example over the last few years the idea of the defensive midfielder as single-minded 'destroyer' has fallen out of favour, with teams instead using a deep-lying passer or 'regista' in front of the defence. There are a lot of good registas in this year's edition, but my personal favourite is Sergio Samper, who has astonishing passing ability and not much else (at least to start with). Be sure to grab him quickly though, as he's so good that in my save he became a first choice player at Barcelona within a year.
CM Lucas Romero
Back in the 90s, conventional football wisdom was that there were three types of central midfielders. Creators, who passed the ball to start attacks, destroyers, who took the ball from the other team, and 'breakers' who rushed forward to receive the ball in attacking positions. Footballers are more multi-talented now though, which is why Lucas Romero can do all three at once. He's capable of playing as a deep playmaker, a ball winner or forward thinking midfielder in a pinch, but I prefer to use him as a box to box midfielder, contributing all over the pitch as a result of his impressive energy levels.
AMC Yoann Gourcuff
While most of the players on this list are young talents Gourcuff adds a more experienced edge. At 27 he’s spent several years playing high level football at Lyon, so you can be sure he’ll be comfortable in the champions league. He can potentially play on the wing, behind the striker or in central midfield, but wherever you put him he's going to offer some excellent technique and passing ability
RW Wellington Nem
Another star from a previous edition. Wellington Nem was a top class attacking midfielder a couple of years ago, before going off the boil a little. Now he's back as a winger with some impressive dribbling skills. Nem can play on both the left and right wings, but prefers the right even though he's left footed, so that he can cut inside and run at the goal.
LW Lorenzo Insigne
Lorenzo Insigne should be a relatively familiar name for international football fans. The Napoli winger is quick, creative and capable of running at defences and scoring goals. He even has Italy caps to his name, and at 23 is one of their potential future stars. So why is he available for a mere £9 million? I don't know, but snap him up before the universe notices.
Elkeson is one of those classic flamboyant mono-named Brazilian strikers, which is why I was surprised to find him plying his trade in China. No offence to the Chinese Leagues, but this man is far too good to be playing for Guangzhou, snap him up quickly for a lethal but technical point to your attack. Theoretically you could also play him in midfield, but that would be a terrible waste of his excellent finishing ability.
GK Alex Smithies
Smithies has been a solid cheap backup keeper for years now. While he isn't as good as the old days, when he was a potential future England number one, he's still a solid bench filler. It might seem weird to pay more for a substitute keeper than a number one, but that's just a marker of how cheap Khune is.
DC/DMC Stefan Strandberg
Strandberg isn't a superstar, he's just a solid defender at a rock bottom price. For only £650k you'll get a man who's good in the air, positions himself well and can even pass the ball a bit. Just don't expect him to be exceptional at any of those things. You get what you pay for.
RB/LB Vasilis Torosidis
There are two things I really like about Torsidis. One is that he can play both right and left back, making him a godsend when filling out the subs bench, the other is that his years at Roma give him experience of playing high stakes football. Other than that he's just a solid fullback for a good price. Prime bench filler.
DMC Francis Coquelin
Coquelin has been a revelation for real life Arsenal this season, but sadly FM Arsenal haven't got the message and tend to transfer list him immediately at the start of the game. For a reasonable price you can pick up a player who's not quite as good as his real-life counterpart, but still a solid defensive option for when Samper doesn't quite cut it.
CM/AMC Lucas Evangelista
Evangelista can potentially play defensive midfielder, central midfielder, behind the striker at left back, and on the left wing (a bit), and he's fairly good at all of them. His real talent lies in running at people, creating a spark and bringing a stale game to life. This is why he's a great guy to have on your bench, even if you'd be reluctant to ever put him in the first team.
AMRLC Andrija Zivkovic
Zivkovic almost made the first team for this article, but at the last minute I decided to err on the side of experience, and relegate the youngster to the bench. Despite being only 17 he's fully capable of playing at the highest levels, either on the wing or in midfield, and will only get better with age. Give him two or three years and he'll be first team material easily.
ST Andreas Cornelius
Cornelius is my 'Plan B'. Which is to say he's affordable, talented and really, really big. Sometimes even the best teams need to resort to getting a big man out and using him as a human battering ram to smash through a stubborn defence, and that's a job Cornelius does with great value for money.