Machiavellian Moves: Cut them off at the Knees

Shithousing isn’t a new phenomenon. In Football or in Football Manager. Guido Merry for example has a great guide of shithousing in FM, and in FM23 appears to be having great success with it. If you take a look at some of my past series with the likes of Scarborough and Belfast you’ll see I’m no stranger to it either. Rather than having a traditional save series this year I’m wanting to dip into my saves for examples of the footballing dark arts. All largely inspired by the writing of Niccolò Machiavelli.

Since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved

Nasty Nick Machiavelli

Machiavelli was a medieval writer with a focus on statesmanship, politics and power. A lot of his writing was about the psychology and politics of controlling countries, governments and people. As well as how and when to wage war against others to consolidate power. A lot of the writing relates to how to manipulate, which is why we now use Machiavellian as a term to indicate someone who manipulates for their own gain. In fact, it is even part of a personality test (the Dark Tetrad) that includes other unsavoury traits like sadism, psychopathy and narcissism. Almost everything I look for in a defender.

Machiavelli & FM23

I’m going to be using The Prince as a reference for some of my FM23 experience. Now Machiavelli didn’t say anything quite as direct or gauche as ‘Cut them off at the knees’ but I think that’s what he was getting at with this:

People should either be caressed or crushed. If you do them minor damage they will get their revenge; but if you cripple them there is nothing they can do. If you need to injure someone, do it in such a way that you do not have to fear their vengeance.

Nasty Nick Machiavelli

Essentially strike them hard, do lots of damage, and leave them unable to recover. A philosophical reducer.

To reduce or not to reduce? That is the question

Now that can be done on the pitch. And I do love to have my players target the opposition with bespoke acts of violence. But I wanted to use this a bit more broadly. What happens on the pitch in FM23 is only part of the story. We have tools, sometimes, to cause damage without setting foot on a blade of virtual grass.

Mumbles Rangers

Let’s set the scene. It’s 2026 and I (or my Football Manager alter ego Rodrigo de la Vega) am manager of the mighty Mumbles Rangers in the Welsh 2nd tier. We’ve been there for a couple of seasons since they were promoted into the playable division. Our story so far has been one of painful mediocrity.

In our first season, we managed 9th, impressive considering we were meant to be relegation fodder. In our 2nd season we were within 3 points of the title but lost out on the final day. The next season we had a similar story of being a win away and finished 3rd. Every season came with the same issue—we bled too much.

Every transfer window was a feeding frenzy, and Mumbles were the team that had just been dropped into the piranha pool by a Bond villain.

At this level most teams are part-time or amateur, which means almost everyone is on a rolling contract without any protection. It’s making team building difficult, as a decent performance before a window can mean you just lose a player. Take 2025/26 for example.

Of those players, 5 of 6 were first teamers. In the previous window we lost 9. These aren’t fringe or back-ups but the core and spine of the team. What progress we make each year is undermined by the players we haemorrhage in the next transfer window.

Machiavellian Moves: This season

We are just about to enter the January transfer window, and we sit 3rd behind the coolly named Cardiff Draconians and a team that sounds like a sneeze. The vultures are circling, and I’m fending off bids for my stars as best I can by offering ridiculous promises and bonuses. I’m resigned to losing more players and dropping even further off the pace until I remember the wise words of The Prince above.

8pt gap

Almost all teams are amateur. That means I can put offers in for players at little cost and gut them instead. I don’t need to punch down here, I can look up and claw at the two teams above me. I check out their squads and find a few players that seem to be lynchpins for them. I’m going to sign them. It might not need them. It might not strengthen me massively. But it will make them bleed and if I time it right, leave them with little opportunity to bring in replacements.

Cardiff had a striker with 23 goals. Gwion Daffyd. He’s actually been on my radar for a while but I’ve always been happy with my strikers. But now it doesn’t matter. I could sign him and not even put him on the bench. 50% of Cardiff’s goals come from him. To say they rely on him is an understatement.

I forgot to take the screenshot before I signed him

Their next best player is midfielder Ioan Evans. He’s the next highest goalscorer and assist maker, with 12 goal involvements. Let’s sign him as well. Again, if I end up using him to cut oranges, that’s fine.

Now over to Ynyshir. Oliver Lanceley is again their main attacking threat with 14 league goals. Honestly, these teams could really do with sharing some goal scoring load out so they don’t suffer when a bad actor like me swoops in. I don’t know if we’re making this a thing yet, but I feel like I’ve really Elon’d them.

I also target Tom Evans. One of their strongest defenders (in terms of rating and stats anyway).

And that’s a wrap. I’ve brought 4 players in. I need none of them. I’ll probably play them as they do seem alright, but if they are flops for me that’s fine. I did also bid for a few others but they stayed strong and wouldn’t leave their clubs. It should have an impact though. I’ve removed the main source of goals for both teams, and the creative pivot of one and the defensive star of another.

Was The Prince right?

Did this outright negativity and bastardry bear fruit? We can only hope.

The Good News

To track the impact we had I worked out the points per game, and goals per game for Cardiff and Ynyshir before and after the transfer window. The numbers don’t lie.

Cardiff dropped almost a full point a game, going from a title worthy 2.21PPG to a mid-table fitting 1.28, They also dropped just over half a goal a game on average too. Clearly without Gwion they struggled. They only picked up 2 wins in their last 7 games. My timing wasn’t great though and they did bring in a replacement striker before the window shut who scored 7 goals for them.

Ynyshir only managed 1 win out of the last 7, and limped along with a few draws. A drop from 2.05PPG to 1.42 occurred, though they oddly managed to up their goals per game by about .2. More goals didn’t mean more points though and that loss of their defensive leader took it’s toll on the final results.

So, we hurt them. Noticeably. We caused them damage and gave them limited time to recover. Honestly they didn’t really recover and true to Machiavelli’s words we left them unable to respond. What made it sweeter was how well their plundered players benefitted us as well. Gwion got a hatrick on his debut and got 4 goals and 6 assists in total. Lanceley and Ioan Evans got a goal and assist respectively, and Tom was a solid option at left back for us. We hadn’t needed them but they hadn’t hurt, us anyway.

The Bad News

Unfortunately, as a team, we were terrible. We didn’t capitalise on our enemies weakness and ultimately Machiavelli would have been very concerned. 2 wins, 2 draws and 2 losses meant that were well and truly wasted the chance to close the gap and ended up 7 points behind 1st place still. Firmly in 3rd place for another season.

Yes, we reduced the gap to 1st by a point, and to 2nd by 5 points. But it wasn’t the turnaround we had hoped for. This wasn’t because the approach hadn’t worked though. It’s because we were terrible.

What if I play in a proper league? With money and that?

Would this still be viable as a strategy? Signing rival players just to weaken them? It really depends on how rich and petty you are, I guess. I can’t see it being financially a great strategy, as your opposition at the very least will get some cash from you and could strengthen. They might just say no. But if spending a bit of cash makes the difference between you and the financial windfall of a title, or European football, then maybe it’s worth the risk?

You can always just upset players as well. Some related techniques are covered here, but you could make big bids that upset and unsettle. Or even cheeky bids that upset players because they get rejected by the club. It might not be as effective as removing them from the team entirely, but locker room unrest can cause problems. Who knows, potentially you can start a bidding war that means a different team actually takes the player. Getting rid of the issue but costing you nothing.

What next Machiavelli?

Machiavelli wrote lots of bleak and horrible things and power and control. Which is great because it means I can find lots of bleak and horrible inspiration for being a bastard in FM23. This might not be a regular occurrence, and I’ll still write about stats, but I think there are a few more words of Machiavellian wisdom to benefit from in the future.