Dafuge & Data: Varian Degrees of Success

The statistics will be light for this one. I’ve stolen FM Stag‘s witty reply to a previous update and decided to use to write a tribute to my (current) favourite striker – Ethon Varian. In the past, my favourite striker had been Kayode Odejayi for the Seadogs. Even after only one season before breaking my heart with his retirement. But now Varian has staked a claim to being my favourite striker in FM21. As I write this we are in the 2025/26 season, our very first in League Two.

Ethon Varian

At this stage in the game, Ethon is only a youthful 24 years old. He’s been with us since he was 19, and released from Stoke’s U23’s. Which is where he currently is in real life, bar the occasional loan move. You can see a little then and now comparison below.

Yes, this could get awkward. He’s real. If you read this Ethon thank you for scoring lots of goals. And no you can’t have a wage rise.

The goal you can see above isn’t actually that different from a lot of the ones he has scored for us. He has bagged 122 goals, in 195 appearances. Or 131 goals in 206 senior appearances, across the Vanarama North, National and now league 2. He reached 100 career goals last season at the ripe old age of 23.

He doesn’t seem to be slowing down. He’s at .6 of a goal a game and last year won the Top Goalscorer and Best Player award. The fans love him (though he’s only favoured so far), and he consistently outscores his xG which puts him in the same bracket at Messi, Zlatan and Ronaldo. He’s my lower league Zlatan.

Over the years he’s played either as a Pressing Forward or a Targetman and has been…grand at both really. He seems to be fairly robust and consistent which is key for a player if they’re going to make this sort of impact. He’s only really had two major injuries – a broken ankle and a broken wrist. And each time he’s bounced back. The last match I played was his return from the broken wrist in L2 and he scored a brace. Varian wasn’t even fully fit yet.

He currently holds the record for most appearances (due to his limited sick leave), and league goals, and…overall goals. He even scored the very first goal in our newly renovated Flamingo Land Park. Completely fitting for such a legend in the making.

Well, more than just the first goal. He also got the first hattrick. In that game. Nothing fancy, no tricks and twists. Just goals from a long throw, a long pass and a free-kick delivery.

Steve Anson

Now I’ve played FM a lot, and CM. I’ve been addicted for a while. So Varian isn’t the only player I’ve developed a soft spot for, real or regen. From the Mexican regen/face in the game that inspired my manager name to legends like Freddy Guarin, Kyle Wilson, Djibril Cisse, and even Tahitian wonder regens like Yannick Jannin. There have been a lot. But the player he most reminds me is from a FM09 save I had with Witton Albion – Steve Anson.

Most years I’ve played a version of the Dafuge challenge, and FM09 was no different. Just like I am trying to do with Scarborough I took newly promoted non-leaguers Witton all the way up to the premiership. I don’t think I actually won the title or the UCL but I did create a new top 4 threat and won a lot more silverware (League, FA and Euro Cup) than Witton will ever actually do in real life.

A key part of this was Steve, who joined early on in the campaign. League 2 I think. And then scored his way into the hearts of every Witton local. Every year he would grab 20+ goals without breaking a sweat, and without ever really looking like he should be able to do it. Even at 31, he was still embarrassing Premier League defenders, something he had no real right to do.

Better than their Attributes – Gestalt

I think the key thing reminding me of Steve here, is not just the volume of goals but the fact the goals seem to be at odds with their attributes. Ethon, in the game at least, doesn’t have stellar attributes. He might be our non-league Zlatan but he doesn’t share the attribute spread that other legendary strikers do. But that’s not stopping him. Even our own coaches aren’t convinced that Ethon should be at the top of the pecking order but yet he bangs them in.

Ethon and Steve are better than the sum of their parts. They are more than just the individual attributes in isolation. This is from the concept of Gestalt Psychology. When we process visual information we don’t break it down by all the individual parts, we see the whole. The individual attributes here for Steve and Ethon might be nothing to shout about but their performances are.

Like bigger names before them – Vardy, Austin, Antonio – they have risen through the leagues even if they don’t appear like a traditional all-star. And the reason for this, I’d wager, is that whilst they aren’t the complete player they are exceptionally one-dimensional players. A backhanded compliment if ever there was one but often they had limited roles and didn’t play as a complete forward. Rather than having lots of freedom they have very simple jobs to perform and performed them well.

You can see it in Varian and Steve’s attributes. Well rounded physically, can finish, head, are composed and can move well off the ball. That’s all they needed to move into dangerous positions, beat defenders to balls, and put the ball away. And because I never asked them to do much else they excel.

With Ethon there are a few other factors that have contributed to his current success. First of all is that as a pressing forward he has a fairly good killer instinct. I’ve heard the PF role described as the striker who gives a shit role. He presses, he hangs off the shoulders of defenders, he’s alert and in dangerous positions. He’s a hunter.

Varian Centric Tactics

In addition to this natural instinct (and determined nature), the current Qa’pla tactic means he’s being supported by two targetmen. He frequently has a 6ft + (up to 6ft 8) players either side of him crushing defenders in the air, drawing attention, and the nodding the ball on for him into space.

You can see it below in the beautiful goal against Bolton. The TM draws a defender, beats him in the air to nod it on ahead of Varian who has already beaten his man. Calm little dink and he collects his goal bonus.

Most of his goals are some sort of variation of this. A long ball, a flick on, a set piece. All situations where he just has to beat one or two players and calmly finish. He doesn’t need to do anything complicated. So long as he has the pace and nous to do this he’ll keep scoring.

1000 goals?

If you trawl through the forums at SI you might come across some challenges, in the same forum as Dafuges, around 1000 goal strikers. They are a great read. Now with .6 goals a game on average he is prolific but I don’t think he is 1000 career goals level. Based on the numbers he has 10 more seasons in him, being generous. Let’s say that’s 45 games a season on average, so 450 games left in the tank. That’s 270 more goals, taking him to about 400 career goals. Which is great but not close. And that’s assuming he doesn’t break a leg, decline or struggle as we meet better teams.

It is however more than enough to set a Seadogs record that will be very hard to beat.

The Understudy

When I started writing this Ethon has just broken his wrist. I was devasted. He had about 11 goals in 12 games, was on a great run. Varian had just scored that beauty against Bolton (the same game he later broke his arm in). That left him out for 4-6 weeks and me worried about whether he would find his scoring boots when he returned. I needn’t have worried as, spoiler alert, he got a brace on his first game back.

For those 4-5 weeks though I considered how best to replace him. My targetmen wouldn’t fit into the pressing forward role so I brought in a breakthrough prospect I had signed in the summer. A Man City regen reject, Joe Fairs.

When I was recruiting in summer I was pretty happy with my first team options upfront. But wanted some backup and players with potential. Joe fit the bill but not because he was meant to be the next big thing, but because, to my eyes, he looked like a junior Ethon.

He can finish and head, he is reasonably composed and good off the ball, and physically he is well rounded. And when he plays… he plays like Ethon. Off the shoulder, beating the last defender and calmly finishing. Over the 4-6 weeks Ethon was sat on the sofa Joe bagged an impressive 7 goals. For me, the most important thing was he scored them the same way, in the same style Ethon did.

It drives home I think, especially in the lower leagues, that you don’t need to spend a huge amount of time and resources getting the best all-round players. You need those that excel in the tasks you have set them, even if they are limited in other ways. When your tactic is pragmatic and built on lots of square pegs in square holes, just invest in some good pegs.

Its the almost moneyball-eque approach of getting value and buying goals. Varian is on £550 a week at the moment. Let’s be nice and say he’s always been on that. Over 5 years that is an outlay of £143k. Or just over £1k a goal. I don’t need to spend more on a fancier player unless they can get more goals, or the same goals for less money. I think £1k a goal will be hard to beat.

On £170 per week though Fairs might offer some value, even if his game is one dimensional. Well, because his game IS one dimensional.

What next for Varian?

He’s only 24 so Varian has plenty of time to develop. And importantly plenty of time to become a legend. So far no one is sniffing around trying to sign him so before Christmas, I’ll try and extend his contract again. Whilst I’m pleased I don’t have to fight bigger clubs off for him I have to admit it’s a bit jarring when he’s not popped up on the radar for bigger clubs. I think it’s a little unrealistic that such a prolific striker, which such a low transfer value/wage, hasn’t be tagged as a potential risk to take for a bigger league club. I’m not saying he should be in the top flight (we will get there), a league 2 or 1 team should really be willing to take the risk.

I’ll be keeping Varian as long as I can and hopefully I’ll keep him scoring for as long as possible. He’s hoping that we’ll have another positive striker update in 5+ seasons time with Varian plying his trade in the de la Vega Stadium.