Football Manager often blurs the lines between computer gaming and reality, with the game being cited in over thirty divorce cases, but also being used by professionals within football to scout talent. Not all that talent, however, is as good in real life as in the game.
Whilst the vast database of players can take credit for spotting wonderkids before the world’s biggest clubs did, there have been some shockers when it comes to predicting who will develop into the next generation of world superstars.
Some players on the game develop into Ballon d’Or winners and world-class superstars but go on to be your standard mid-table journeymen in the real world.
Whilst this doesn’t mean they had a terrible career, it is always a bit of a shame seeing your FM legend, for whom you had a special shirt printed after they won your non-league side the Champions League in 2025, turn out to be bang average when you close your laptop.
As a result, when you’re bragging about how you took Woking from the National League to the top flight in six seasons, there is often a case of ‘if you know, you know’ when mentioning some legends of the video game who were actually nothing special.
We’ve listed 13 of them, and the more hardcore FM players will nod their heads and smile to themselves as they’re reminded of their own in-game heroes from years gone by.
One of the greatest wonderkids to never actually produce wonderful moments, Carlos Fierro was a 19-year-old striker on FM2012, at Mexican club Guadalajara. It is not an understatement to say he became better than Kylian Mbappe could ever dream of within the game.
Signing him cheaply as a teenager would almost guarantee trophies, and he would develop into a predator in the box with searing pace and fantastic off-the-ball stats.
However, reality is often disappointing, and Fierro sadly never came remotely close to the glory many would see him reach in the game.
Although Fierro made nearly 200 appearances for Guadalajara, he only scored 20 goals, which would often be his total within a few months on the game.
A few loan spells within Mexico and MLS followed, and the forward never even developed into an international, despite a few appearances for the Mexican youth sides.
A bronze ball and a winners’ medal at the 2011 Under-17 World Cup was as close as he came to stardom and he currently plays for Juarez in the Mexican top flight.
The Argentinian journeyman striker has forged a decent career for himself in South America and Spain, with a season on loan at West Ham. But this pales in comparison to the monster he became on FM19 and editions before.
A centre-forward who operated best in a front two, he would be available relatively cheaply and would guarantee goals.
In the 2018-19 season in reality he was on loan at Deportivo Alaves in La Liga. But when deployed as an advanced forward with a strike partner in-game, he turned into the modern-day Gabriel Batistuta.
To be fair, Calleri did once score a Europa League hat-trick against Wolves for Espanyol, giving us a small glimpse of what could have been.
Once the next Pablo Zabaleta, the right-back was a cheap signing to make on FM17 who would evolve into a top-quality attacking full-back and an Argentina international.
If you could secure a work permit, Peruzzi would be available for less than £10million from Boca Juniors on a relatively low wage but he would become so much more.
Fans of a ‘Moneyball’ approach to FM – sign cheap and young, sell big and replace – would adore Peruzzi, as his value would treble overnight.
However, back in the real world, while Peruzzi did forge out a career that saw him win five caps for Argentina, he never left his home country, and never truly settled at a club, moving on from Boca in 2018.
Now at Alianza Lima, the 30-year-old’s hopes of becoming a legend anywhere outside a computer screen are pretty much gone.
Josh McEachran was a real-life wonderkid at Chelsea, destined to become the next Frank Lampard.
“I used to watch Frank a lot in training every day and he talked to me a lot. I aspire to be a player like him,” McEachran stated in 2012.
In Football Manager, he succeeded in this endeavour, developing into a superstar more often than not and becoming a mainstay in anyone’s team.
The 30-year-old plays for Oxford United in League One in reality. Anyone who had him captain their side to Champions League glory will sadly never see him hit those heights.
Once mooted as the next Sergio Busquets, Samper would be available for a range of low prices, depending on which edition of FM you were playing between 2014 and 2018, and he would come good in almost all of them.
A defensive midfielder with high passing and technique stats, Samper went on to play regularly alongside Andres Iniesta, but for Vissel Kobe in the Japanese top flight. Earlier this year he returned to Europe to sign for Gerard Pique-owned FC Andorra.
Not quite the deep-lying playmaker who would grace thousands of FM teams.
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Those that know, know.
The next Nicolas Anelka at PSG on FM12. A forward in the Romanian first division right now.
A pacy winger coming out of the Ajax academy was enough to get anyone excited, and his rapid explosion on every FM save made Kishna a must-buy.
A failed stint at Lazio saw the Dutchman end up back at hometown club ADO Den Haag. And he’s currently unattached.
A Ballon d’Or looks unlikely now.
The Paraguay winger was once a legendary inside forward on the game, with high dribbling, speed and finishing stats that saw him rack up the goals.
Once the talk of the town at Roma, Iturbe has played for 12 different clubs in his career, including a failed loan move to Bournemouth.
He did become a full international for Paraguay, but he was destined for greater things in the virtual world.
Everyone was signing Markovic on FM at the start of the decade. A wonderkid at Partizan Belgrade then a treble-winner at Benfica, the Serbian winger would turn into Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery combined.
In reality, it looked like he would hit the heights, as Liverpool paid £20million for him in 2014. It was all downhill from there, as failed spells at clubs including Hull City and Fulham eventually saw him return to Belgrade with his tail between his legs.
“I had no problem with Brendan Rodgers and we had a bond until, for some reason that remains a mystery to me, he changed,” the winger explained of his former manager in 2016.
“He stopped playing me and then at the start of the season he didn’t include me in the squad, and nobody explained to me what was going on or what his plans were, so I decided to leave.”
A promising young talent, who to his credit did perform well as a wonderkid at River Plate, Driussi made a big move to Europe as Zenit St Petersburg signed the forward for around £15million in 2017.
He did well enough in his first couple of seasons but fell off the grid completely until he bought his own contract out in the summer of 2021.
Still just 27, Driussi plays for Austin FC in MLS.
In our FM saves, he was Messi reincarnated. A versatile striker under six feet tall who could guarantee goals.
Maybe the most gutting disappointment on this list.
Once labelled the ‘German Messi’ at Werder Bremen, Marin’s ridiculous dribbling ability meant that on FM, the term was justified.
In reality, he was one of many players to move to Chelsea and later regret it. Marin eventually played for 12 different clubs and was last seen turning out for Ferencvaros in the Hungarian top flight, though he’s been unattached since 2022.
Search for a player, set the dribbling rating to 18, and he’d be the one your scouts in 2012 would beg you to sign.
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Eder Alvarez Balanta
One of the best ‘unknown’ players in the history of Football Manager, the Colombian centre-back was always an instant purchase on most saves in 2014.
Ranked in the top three highest potential players alongside Paul Pogba and Marquinhos, his career did not pan out like the other two.
A spell at Basel followed his successful breakthrough at River Plate, but Balanta now plays for Club Brugge.
The 30-year-old would be a team of the season regular within the game, and would almost always become a world-class defender at the highest level.
He’s not bad at all in reality, but he was the Virgil Van Dijk of the FM world.
A lethal striker at FC Copenhagen, then a Cardiff City flop, it would be unfair to suggest that Denmark international Andreas Cornelius has had a below-average career.
However, his ability on Football Manager was beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Cornelius as an advanced forward in a 4-2-3-1 was cash money for goals on FM14 and has won the Ballon d’Or in countless saves.
He was destined for Barcelona in the game. Instead, he moved back to boyhood club Copenhagen last summer, and he’s yet to score a league goal in his second stint with his boyhood club.
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