It’s 3.39am on a weekday. I feel goggle-eyed, light headed and slightly exhausted. However, there is also a sense of relief as I type because yes, my Football Manager challenge is FINALLY over.
Before I reveal exactly how everything panned out, here is a list of things I plan on doing now that there is no longer an impending deadline for me to win as many trophies as possible with Brighton — visit friends, catch up on Breaking Bad, stop ordering takeaway and take the time to make some proper food, respond to my girlfriend’s text messages, reacquaint myself with natural light, ring my parents, confirm I am still alive and attempt to explain why they haven’t been able to reach me of late…
You see, this was no mere fun frothy series of articles/thinly-veiled advertisements for the latest installment of this infuriatingly addictive game/way of life. No, this was much more serious. As legendary Liverpool boss Bill Shankly once almost said: some people believe Football Manager is a matter of life or death; I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.
Hence, if I was going to fulfill my previously stated aim of winning the Champions League with Brighton within a month of starting the game, or even achieve my revised goal of getting the side promoted to the Premier League in that same time span, I was going to have to channel Shankly’s obsessive inner drive. Given that a considerable portion of my time would already be wasted on trivial things like eating, sleeping and earning a living, I resolved to devote almost any spare moments I had towards helping Brighton. Hence, that Breaking Bad box set would have to wait.
On the off chance you don’t recall, in my (quite brilliant) last piece, Brighton were six points off the Championship leaders and just over halfway through the season. The sky was the limit having gone unbeaten throughout December, with four wins and two draws securing yours truly the coveted Manager-of-the-Month award.
However, everything went awry shortly thereafter. Following a decent January, February was a complete disaster in terms of results. By March, all hope of winning the Championship seemed over, and reaching the Premier League via the playoffs appeared the only remaining viable goal, and even that was looking unlikely. So essentially, I was up Andre Villas-Boas creek without a paddle.
Nevertheless, after a five-match winless run created more angst than a new Nirvana double-disc compilation, a considerable degree of soul searching prompted the right response from the players. They all had a real hard look at themselves on that imaginary Monday morning in training, so it was no coincidence that results improved immeasurably thereafter. The key was my decision to allow more scope for player rotation.
The previously under-used veteran Spanish right back, Bruno, was handed a rare start. My soulless loan signing, Shane Cummings, who was clearly more interested in picking up his excessive wage packet than slumming it against teams such as Huddersfield and Bournemouth, was unceremoniously benched. And consequently, despite Bruno appearing virtually dead by the end of the game, he delivered an influential display as the team stuffed Blackpool 4-1.
More impressive still was the game that shall be referred to as ‘the comeback of the century’ from this day forth. Finding the side 3-0 down in the second half away to Barnsley, many managers would have given up hope. Nevertheless a change of both central midfielders inspired an astonishing last ten minutes in which three goals were scored and an invaluable point was earned.
With two games remaining, the team were in fifth place amid a congested top half of the table. Brighton’s fate was in my hands. Having just beaten promotion rivals Leicester 2-1 thanks to a late Leonardo ‘Messi-like genius’ Ulloa goal, it appeared that the hard work had been done.
All I had to do next was beat Yeovil, who were an average mid-table side; hence I was feeling pretty confident. Prior to the game, all my best players were fit and seemed to be raring to go. So what could go wrong?
Everything, as it turned out.
The game was essentially Ireland-Liechtenstein all over again. Brighton spurned chance after chance, with the normally reliable and experienced right winger David Lopez missing a first-half penalty. So naturally, in what may well have been their only attack in the entire match, Yeovil nicked a goal early in the second period and somehow managed to hang on.
That disaster left me in sixth position. The team’s fate was still in my hands, but I would need to equal or better the result of Ipswich — the team chasing me in seventh. Typically, my last game almost couldn’t have been any harder — Nottingham Forest were in third and chasing promotion. Could I pull off the possible?
Reader, they slaughtered me 4-1.
Agonisingly, I thus ultimately missed out on the play-offs on goal difference. The dream was over. I had failed. It was time to return to real life with my tail tucked firmly between my legs. Barely had the post-match press conference finished when I announced my resignation as manager and the subsequent decision to quit Football Manager for good. It was all very depressing. So long childhood/teenage memories, I thought — from now on, I would lead an impeccably mature lifestyle devoid of computer games and other frivolities.
On the plus side though, playing the game did give me an excuse to simultaneously get reacquainted with So Solid Crew’s back catalogue and in particular, their excellent number one hit single ’21 Seconds’. Did you know that each rapper on the track raps for precisely 21 seconds? Well, there you go!