After five days of my Football Manager challenge, there was just one problem: it had yet to start
If the prospect of winning The Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup within a month with Brighton seemed unlikely before, it now appears virtually impossible (hint: this isn’t going well). In fact, there’s probably a greater possibility of it happening in real life than in my virtual fantasy world.
It was also kind of ironic that, after having spent most of my early teens procrastinating by playing the game, I was now procrastinating from playing it.
Anyhow, I did eventually get the finger out, both literally and figuratively, and began clicking away vehemently while staring incessantly at my computer screen in the hope that diligence would slowly but surely yield a just reward in the form of clicks more successful than unsuccessful. And for such a complex, nuanced game, that’s what it ultimately came down to: clicking the right things rather than the wrong ones — it was sort of like Pong with a bazillion football statistics thrown in.
Accordingly, if nothing else, I am now a bonafide Brighton and Hove Albion expert — once the Mastermind call eventually comes, there is no other specialist subject I would dare pick. The free-scoring Leonardo Ulloa is currently a God in my eyes, the mediocre Kazenga LuaLua less so. Despite ridiculing him in the past, Stephen Ward has promptly become a personal hero that deserves a place in the Ireland team ahead of Andy Reid, Stephen Ireland and every other tragic outcast combined.
Moreover, in an attempt to get the fans onside, I immersed myself in the history of the club. I learned about that time they got to the FA Cup final, and all those other times they, erm, didn’t.
The difficulty of the task at hand was immediately apparent when I started off. The squad was rather threadbare. The valuation of most of my midfielders and strikers was mainly over £1million, whereas my defenders averaged around the £500,000 mark. It was clear where I needed to strengthen.
I made a cheeky bid for Adnan Januzaj that went nowhere. Andre Wisdom, Shane Cummings and Dedryck Boyata were all brought in on loan. Keith Andrews was given the heave ho and sent back to Bolton. Then suddenly, my funds disappeared. No more players could be invested in despite my vociferous protests to those B*STARDS (aka the board/an imaginary entity).
(A look at the Brighton starting XI)
The team’s pre-season was encouraging. We only lost 1-0 to Galatasaray — a team with players of the calibre of Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder. Such optimism was subsequently validated by the early league results — after six games, we had rather impressively won five and drawn one.
However, suddenly, disaster struck. All three of my main strikers picked up long-term injuries. The alternatives in the reserves were beyond awful, meaning I had to play David Lopez — an attacking midfielder — as the lone target man in a 4-3-2-1 formation due to my much-lamented failure to recruit any back-up strikers.
Predictably, the performance level diminished from thereon in. Everything seemed to go wrong — as Mick McCarthy would say, my backside was on the proverbial bacon slicer. The concession of late goals, ill-advised selections and angry fan demonstrations ensued. My striker-less period was a fallow one, and we went from being title contenders to struggling to stay inside the play-off spots. It was like The Notebook only ten times more tragic — surely no football manager had ever been the victim of such dire misfortune. Jesus wept, and then wept some more.
Luckily, my forwards returned from injury quicker than expected and results have consequently improved. I may still be six points off the league leaders but things are looking up. I have just been awarded the Manager of the Month award for January and retain hopes of a late push in the title race.
Of course, my social life has suffered somewhat. ‘My God, is THAT the time?’ has become my new favourite phrase. Work commitments mean I have forsaken any hope of watching movies/TV in favour of playing FM2014 whenever I can. And anyone who looks confused when I refer to this acronym is treated to a Roy Keane-esque glare.
In addition, my skin is paler than ever. Real-life managers complain that their job is bad for their health, but Football Managers obviously have it far worse off — notwithstanding the stress of it all, there’s also the obligation to never step outside the house owing to the increasing fear of encountering natural light.
Regardless, it’s been fun so far — the Champions League may be all but a distant dream, but winning the Championship remains a viable goal. Can I do it? Tune in on December 1st for the thrilling conclusion of my adventure. And don’t forget to bring your popcorn and best snide Tonton Zola Moukoko references!
Football Manager Handheld 2014 is now available on iOS and Android