Football Manager 2021: From the Bottom to the Top Challenge

Any Football Manager fan worth their salt will tell you just how much they love building a team from the lowest possible playable division and turning them into a force to be reckoned with. I'm not criticising those players that enjoy taking control of their beloved clubs or seeing how well they can do with PSG or Barcelona, they are still fun challenges to take on, but building a team from scratch and guiding them through the divisions to the very top is just so much more rewarding.

I'm going to be taking a look at the lowest playable divisions from England, Spain, Germany and Italy and identifying some of the teams you could try to take to the very top of European football. This challenge isn't for the faint-hearted and will take time and dedication, so if you are a more casual player then perhaps this article will inspire you to reach beyond your comfort zone.

Starting with the National League North and the Conference South in England, I'm going to talk you through some of the standout clubs that you could try to build a future Premier League winning side with and just why they appeal to me. This guide has plenty of opinion and sentiment in it when it comes to the team selection, but you can try ‘the Bottom to the Top Challenge' with any of the clubs in these selected divisions, some will just be a lot trickier to manage early game than others.

England – National League North/South

Chester are my go-to team when it comes to the Conference North, mostly because that is where I'm from. I don't support Chester and have only been to one of their games, but I always check to see how they are doing. for those of you that don't know, Chester reformed a few years ago and were formally known as Chester City. Chester City played as high as the old ‘Second Division', or the ‘Championship' as we know it, in the early 1990s but were relegated on both occasions. These days Chester sit 5th in the Conference North and remain a decent-sized club for non-league football and one worth trying this challenge with.

In FM20 I guided Dulwich Hamlet to the very top of European football and my decision to take control of this particular club was purely based on their kit colours. Dulwich sport a navy blue and pink home shirt, or at least they did in FM20 and are a small club that play at the Champion Hill ground in London. Dulwich have never won a major trophy or even played league football before and that is another good reason to try your hand with the little London club.

Spain – Segunda B

The third tier of Spanish football is split into a verity of different regional divisions and the team that caught my eye, pulled on my sentimental heart-strings were the former La Liga champions Deportivo La Coruna.

Those of you around my age will probably have fond memories of Deportivo La Coruna from the late 1990s and early 2000s. With players such as Naybet, Tristan, Djalminha, Fran, Makaay and Silva, Deportivo won La Liga in 1999/00 and claimed the Copa del Rey for the second time in 2002. That team put in some impressive displays in the Champions League but like all things, it simply didn't last.

The once-great club now finds itself playing against the likes of Celta Vigo's B team and while promotion is on the cards in real life, it certainly isn't guaranteed. Guiding this team back to the top-flight might not be a huge challenge, but making them great again will be.

Germany – 3. Liga

There are a few familiar names, to me at least, that ply their trade in the third tier of German football, including the likes of Dynamo Dresden, Ingolstadt, Hansa Rostock and Kaiserslautern, but the team I would choose to do this challenge with is 1860 Munich.

1860 Munich are former winners of the Bundesliga, though, that was a long time ago and the club has lived in the shadows of Bayern Munich for far too long. Bayern are the dominant force in German football and always seem to be no matter what season you reach in your FM save.  Returning 1860 Munich to their former glory isn't a challenge many people will be able to stick with. The German lower leagues don't tend to offer much in the way of money to buy players and you will often have to rely on free transfers and developing your own youth players to build a team capable of making it to the Bundesliga and staying there.

This club has only recently become a third-tier side and the players they have available might be enough to get you back into the 2. Bundesliga at least, but that next step up will be tricky.

Italy – Serie C

Much like their Spanish counterparts, Italy's third-tier is split into regional divisions. When scouring through your options for the ‘Bottom to the Top Challenge' you will come across some familiar names that, if you are of a certain age, will take you back to Football Italia on Channel 4. Piacenza, Livorno, Perugia, Bari, Foggia, Catania, Juve Stabia and Palermo are all Serie C teams these days and all would be great options for this challenge.

However, my choice of team, and they always will be from now on, are Pro Vercelli. Le Bianche Casacche are from Piedmont and are a little club with a big history in Italian football. Between 1908 and 1922, Pro Vercelli won the Serie A title 7-times and remain one of the countries most successful clubs. Since the 1930s the club has gradually declined and eventually dropped down as low as Serie D in the late 1970s and mid-1980s.

In FM19 I managed to guide Pro Vercelli all the way to the top of Italian and European football, restoring them to their rightful place. I tweeted the club with an image of Pro Vercelli as Serie A champions to which they replied and since then, they have become my Italian team. Guiding a club that has fallen from grace is always exciting and adds a different aspect to your save, so why not give Pro Vercelli a chance, they are currently doing well in Serie C Girone A but gaining promotion is going to be a tough ask.