After leaving Real Madrid with mixed feelings, I took charge of the Spanish national side, who by this point (2032) had fallen pretty far from their peak of 2010 (in the game). A major point for me was to promote to the national team Antonio José Roa, a name that would ultimately come to hold a lot of in-game meaning. I’d brought him through the ranks of the Real Madrid youth system into the first team there and he’d excelled, so it seemed only right to bring him up to the top level. My tenure with Spain was short, but sweet – some good results in European Championship qualifying and some brave performances in friendlies gave me a sense of pride. However, I was about to be asked a question, one filled with temptation and danger…
There’s an old saying, ‘never go back’. Generally speaking, we move forward in life. Returning to old pastures, even if they hold happy memories, can be risky. What if you erase all that goodwill? In football this runs very true – Jose Mourinho discovered this when his second spell at Chelsea turned sour. Kevin Keegan experienced the same thing with Newcastle United. So, when Liverpool approached me with a view to returning, to have a second spell as their manager, what would I do? In the end, I was unable to resist the siren call of the club I love, so I agreed terms and headed back, though not to Anfield, as by this point Liverpool had been firmed settled into the Dalglish Arena. This was a much bigger stadium than Anfield and allowed Liverpool more clout through greater income. However, Liverpool, since my original exit in the summer of 2018, had not been as successful in some aspects, as I had expected. The Reds had won three more league titles in the fifteen year gap, though they had won five Champion’s League titles, which represented a fantastic record in such a prestigious competition.
So, how would I manage?
I moved immediately to sign Antonio José Roa, as I was all too aware of his potential and his ability to play in the centre of the pitch, but also on either flank. He was a must buy. From there, I more or less kept faith in the team I’d inherited, which featured one of my final signings prior to leaving in 2018 – Patrick McKay, who had gone on to become a club legend in the meantime. Another Reds veteran was Yakubu Cole, who, despite getting toward the end of his career, still scored 22 goals in 37 appearances for me. McKay featured mostly as a substitute but 11 goals in 29 appearances, largely from the bench, is a good return. My star man though, was Yanis Messaoudi. 51 goals in 35 games proved massively important as my return to Liverpool was a resounding success. The Premier League title wa mine, as was the Champion’s League. It was the perfect return!
Roa meanwhile, in 34 games scored 11 goals and averaged 7.67 out of ten per game – which is, in FM terms, very impressive. He wasn’t the top performer but he was close – only Messaoudi and my strong defensive midfielder Luis Sosa, were better.
I’d reshaped the team over the summer, with some players that I would go on to be very proud of. I poached another of my former Real Madrid players, Javi Ruiz, who could play up front or on the left. I signed lethal English striker Ellis Piper and yet another Spaniard, by the name of Ezequiel. From my youth team came defender George Westwood and ‘keeper Daniel Critchley. Messaoudi was again my top scorer, with an amazing 69 goals in 51 games, which powered my team to a second consecutive league title and a second consecutive Champion’s League title. This was also the year in which my team completed the Treble, enjoying FA Cup success as well.
The success and goals kept coming this season as well, but the scoring duties were more shared. Messaoudi continued to bang in the goals, with 49 in 45 games, but Ezequiel scored 29 in 40 and Piper hit 55 in 49 appearances. A new rising star via my youth team, Mathew Holt, would score 16 times in 34 games as well. As a result, by the conclusion of this season, my Liverpool side had written themselves into legend, with three consecutive Premier League and Champion’s League trophies. My return to the club, filled with the potential for so much to go wrong, had been an emphatic success, with more still to come.
What can I say? I’d been lucky to end up at a club that had the resources to mount sustained title challenges year after year. It wasn’t simply the fact that a fourth Premier League title and a fourth Champion’s League title awaited, nor a second Treble in three seasons. It was the manner in which this Liverpool side won as well. Each title was won at a canter, with the narrowest margin being six points. Each season saw plenty of goals scored and this potent attack was married to a tight defence. I was beginning to wonder at this point just how far I could keep this run going.
Title number five was a formality, Champion’s League title five meant my Liverpool side had equalled Real Madrid’s record of five consecutive European Cups. This season also saw my team win the League Cup, thus completing another Treble of sorts. I had some more young English players appearing, Eddie Towler and Alan Hazelden in midfield, Josh Clapham at right back. Messaoudi continued to be a prolific goal scoring machine and everyone kept playing magnificently. The push was on to make history.
Piper, Messaoudi, Ezequiel and Holt were all on top form in the league, as title six was wrapped up with ease. However, there would come a point that made me decide, enough was enough, which was to come so close to an amazing goal, yet fall right at the end.
My team had reached a sixth consecutive Champion’s League final. I had beaten some good sides in the previous finals, including Manchester United and Arsenal, but this time around, I was facing Italian side Fiorentina. They had been one of the sides to beat my Real Madrid team in one of their ill-fated finals, so I wanted a little bit of revenge. Alas, it would prove to be a step just beyond the capabilities of what was nonetheless an incredibly successful side. A 3-2, extra-time defeat left me deciding it was time to retire. What else could I achieve?
The decision to quit – metaphorically and literally as far as the game was concerned, was in hindsight a bit rash. Had I carried on more silverware would have almost certainly befell my Liverpool side, but had I been a real manager I’d be reflecting upon a tremendous (and for an English club, unprecedented) run of domestic and European titles, a, run that would echo in the annals of history and cement my squad as one of the all-time greats. To retire at that point, in my late fifties, would hardly be dishonorable.
So there you have it. The saga of my best, most satisfying Football Manager career is complete.