Football manager’s description of the target man emphasizes that physicality is crucial if you are to have any success using the role. According to the description in FM22, the target man uses his strength and aerial presence to bring teammates into play, rather than relying on technical ability.
Since technique is less of a factor, the target man role becomes appealing for most sides in the lower leagues, where many players do not have the necessary technical skills to play a short passing tiki taka style of play that is pleasing to the eye.
This is not to say that using a target man is crude and boring. I personally love seeing a target man go about his craft. Holding onto long balls and laying it off to his striking partner, or playing in the inverted wingers and inside forwards from the wide positions.
In real life, the target man is not restricted from playing a short passing game. Olivier Giroud, for instance, one of the most popular target men in recent times, excelled at Arsenal and France as a target man in systems that rarely resorted to long balls.
In the national team, Giroud would hold up play for the likes of Griezzmann, Mbappé and Dembélé, who would come in from the wide and central areas of the pitch.
Once the ball went out to the wing, he would then drift into the opposition box to await floated crosses, taking advantage of his excellent heading ability and jumping reach.
In football manager, this kind of short passing play with occasional crosses is best suited for a deep lying forward, as the target man is coded to attract more floated balls even when you are playing a short passing game.
Christian Benteke, of Crystal Palace, is an example of an old school target man complete with less than average technical ability for an elite striker playing in the Premier League. For a striker, he rarely gets on the scoresheet. However, his presence on the pitch ensures that the Eagles always have an outlet when they are under pressure.
Crystal Palace under Roy Hodgson would sit back, soaking in the pressure before firing long balls onto Benteke’s chest, who would then use his strength and physicality to hold on to the ball, before either playing in one of Wilfred Zaha or Jordan Ayew.
When using a target man in football manager, other players will also prioritize quickly getting the ball to him, then hope he will be able to hold it up for them, as they get into attacking positions. This kind of play works particularly well in tactics that rely on quick transitions from the defence to attack, most of the time bypassing the midfield altogether, just like at Crystal Palace.
Attributes Required In Football Manager To Play As A Target Man
First and foremost, strength and a good heading ability is paramount. Failure to have one of these and your target man will consistently lose aerial duels against the opposition’s centre backs, leading to quick turnovers against your team.
As most centre backs normally have a strength rating of between 14-16, I normally prefer my target man to have a strength rating of greater than 17, just to be certain he will not be easily bullied of the ball.
Balance and jumping reach attributes are also paramount to ensure the high balls are well dealt with.
When it comes to the mental attributes, aggression, anticipation, bravery and off the ball movement are key areas a target man has to excel in. Low bravery and aggression might prevent him from contesting for some balls that he might deem to too risky, while poor off the ball movement will hinder him from identifying the best positions to move into, in order to be most effective once he gets on the ball.
The technical demands of a target are only finishing, first touch and heading. Heading and a good first touch are crucial, but finishing in some tactics is not as important, as other players like the shadow striker or the advanced forward will be tasked with receiving the ball from the target man and finding the net.
FM Player Traits Suitable For A Target Man
The following traits will aid a target man in being more effective in his role;
- Plays with back to goal – Playing with his back to the opposition’s goal will make it easier for the target to easily receive and control long balls from his teammates before playing in his striking partner or the wide players
- Runs with ball rarely – The target man’s priority is holding up play for his teammates, running with the ball especially when there is no immediate support will only lead to a loss of possession.
- Stops Play – This is normally a negative attribute for most positions, but a target will benefit from it as it encourages him to hold onto the ball for longer, reducing the speed at which the game is played at, while also giving time to his teammates to move into better attacking positions.
Unsuitable FM Player Traits For A Target Man
The following player traits will make the target man less effective in his role;
- Runs with ball often – The complete opposite of the positive player trait above, running with the ball hinders his ability to lay off passes to his teammates.
- Comes deep to get ball – The target man should be an outlet when the team is under pressure. If he drops back with the team in search of the ball, the team will have no way to get the ball into attacking areas.
- Likes to beat man repeatedly – This player trait will also hinder his ability to lay off passes to his teammates. It is best left for tricky wingers with good dribbling and flair.
Football Manager Tactic With A Target Man
In the picture below, the target man is partnered with an advanced forward. The system relies on the target man receiving long balls from the defence and midfield, controlling it and either laying it off to his striking partner or directing it to the wide areas before moving into the opposition’s box to await a cross.
The fullback and the wing back will also occasionally swing in early crosses from deep when they have the space to do so. The right back is on wing back duty, as the inverted winger in front of him will primarily drift inwards, opening the flank for an overlap.
The left back on the other hand has a traditional winger in front of him who will run up and down the flank, so there is no need to make him more adventurous as they will just end up in the same spaces. An option is changing him to an inverted wing back, but I prefer using that role in more possession based systems.
The deep lying playmaker on defend duty will hold his place in front of the defence, while the box to box midfielder will pick his moments and try to join the attack on the regular.