It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Well… usually I pour out a few words at this juncture to explain why I’ve not written for such an elongated period of time. I could, but I’m not going to. Words of excuse seem trite at this stage and a little pointless.
Maybe you haven’t missed me at all…
Anyways. What have I been up to recently? Well, I’ve been trying my hand at football management. Granted, I’m talking the simulated variety here and not the pursuit that sees me caterwauling at youngsters whilst patrolling a touchline with ideas far above my station. In the past few weeks I’ve been lucky enough to receive a complimentary copy of Football Manager 2015 from the good folks at Cash Generator – they also deal in Nintendo DS.
Before I get into my exploits at the helm of Arsenal, I figured a few words about the game itself wouldn’t go amiss. Growing up I was very easily addicted to what was then called Championship Manager. Although many of my friends referred to it as simply, “a bunch of numbers on the screen”, I was hooked and could easily fret away the hours choosing tactics and trying to nurture the unknown Bolivian wonderchild I’d paid mere pennies to recruit.
It was a totally immersive experience. The modern variety, however, makes those memories pale by comparison. In what I call “death by statistics” everything you could possibly imagine is here; whether that be the ability to hold lengthy, often arduous, meetings with the board to the updated realism of ‘player power’ – it’s all meticulously recreated for you to explore. The most notable change from those games of yesteryear is the addition of a 3D match engine that allows you to watch your players as they scamper about under your direction.
During games you can communicate with the team both collectively and individually and tinker with a plethora of tactical options. To say the game is all-emcompassing is something of an understatement. I’ve played for 30 solid hours and don’t feel as if I’ve accomplished more than scratching the surface of potential. In short, it’s truly wonderful.
So, how did I do at the helm of the greatest team the world has ever seen? Woefully, that’s how…
Tactics seemed simple enough. I’ve been to a football match and own a Twitter account so I’m obviously qualified to send the players onto the pitch in a winning line-up… My choice was a 4-1-2-2-1 with a “regista” deployed in the holding position – I still have absolutely no idea what one of those is and believe any football hipster credentials I may have had died alongside that fact.
My first game in charge was a friendly against Arsenal’s U21s. I went into the fixture brimming with confidence. A humiliating 5-1 defeat later and I was beginning to question myself, my management abilities and the very fabric of space and time – the latter might have a significant amount to do with my recent adoration for Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar.
After the lacklustre display I was offered the opportunity to talk with my players. Needless to say I was seething and decided to vent my fury on Szczesny who had, to be quite frank, been bloody awful – In my imagination he was so despondent afterwards he progressed from cigarettes to shooting up heroin in the shower. Perhaps it was a touch knee-jerk, but he was immediately dropped and put on the transfer list.
More poor performances in meaningless friendlies followed, including a bizarre 4-4 draw with the mighty Darlington in which a full strength Arsenal contrived to blow a 4-1 lead in the final 30 minutes.
At this point, I could picture myself on the receiving end of a Twitter meltdown. Arsene Wenger faces cacophonous howls of derision the moment he so much as passes wind in an unsavoury manner, so it seemed fit that an unknown jackass blundering through pre-season would get both barrels.
My head was filled with the images of Tweets along the lines of:
“Another defeat. Stokes is clueless. George Graham wouldn’t have allowed this to happen. Sacking Arsene was the right move, but Stokes has had 2 weeks and enough is enough. #StokesOut”
“STOKES IS NOT THE CHOICE TO SUCCEED AT ARSENAL. HE MUST BE SHOT IN THE FACE AT CLOSE RANGE AND FIRED DIRECTLY INTO THE SUN. ARSENAL MUST SPEND ALL THE MONEY ON FAMOUS PLAYERS AND WIN TITLES AND GET MAN IN CHARGE TO WIN GAMES”
Things were not going well at all.
At this stage, the media began to get involved. This brings us nicely onto the one small complaint I have about the game. Whilst fielding questions from various journalists, there was no option that allowed me to roar, “Fu*k off, you catastrophic bellend!” to a representative of The Daily Mail. You can make both friends and enemies via you interactions and I fear I would have made immeasurably more of the latter given my propensity for being a touch hot-headed.
By now I imagined the board must have been looking at their appointment and questioning the sanity of my employment. I was expecting to be sacked very swiftly, even if the results occurred away from competitive football.
Then something magical happened.
As time progressed, and coupled with the signing of Geoffrey Kondogbia, the team slowly but surely began to gel with one another in the new formation and started to perform. Firstly we battered a hapless Barnsley 6-0 and then more than held our own against the mighty Barcelona – Neymar equalised on 87 minutes in a game Arsenal dominated and should have won.
I’d stumbled onto the concept of taking my time to prepare and discovered that certain players react better than others to certain demands. Some blessed souls require a pat on the back and words of praise, others are motivated by a raging fire being placed underneath their ass. It takes time to get to know exactly who prefers what, but once you have cracked it the results seem to come along.
As the friendly results got better and better, I found myself ready to manage a game with at least some meaning – The Community Shield. Manchester City were the opponents and all their mega-millions. The first half was one sided and at the interval Sergio Aguero had given the blue half of Manchester a deserved lead. During the break I opted to switch Giroud for Welbeck and the results were instant. Dat Guy Welbz hammered home and Ozil cross on 56 minutes and nearly added a 2nd 5 minutes later.
As the game headed towards extra time, Kompany felled Cazorla in the box and up stepped Debuchy to take the penalty – I’d somehow conspired to select him as the taker… Fearing the ball would fly violently into the stands I peered at the screen only for glorious surprise to wash over me as the net rippled and my first piece of silverware was obtained.
Arsene Wenger, you’ better watch your back.
I’ve not quite started the Premiership season as the constraints of time have prevented me from doing so. I’d like to extend my thanks to Craig Knight at Receptional for his efforts in securing me a copy of the game and his assistance throughout.
So folks, do you have a decent FM2015 story you’d like to share? Why not pop a brief synopsis in the comments for me and a few others to read. I’ll be back soon with more blathering and fluff.
Until that time, and as always; thanks for reading, you beautiful bastards.