The New Football Manager Story P10 – The Big Time

The 24/25 season brought with it the pinnacle of English football for little old me. I’d somehow guided Blackburn Rovers to promotion, and now I’d rub shoulders with elite managers like Klopp and Guardiola.

I expected a tough season. The squad that won promotion was generally good, but retaining the talented loan stars was next to impossible. Palmer was gone, and he’d been pretty key to our efforts. I needed some new blood. To that end, I turned to young, upcoming starlets. I did manage to retain one loan player, Harwood-Bellis, originally of Man City, for my defence.

This was a far cry from Wealdstone. The Sunday League footballer was now a Premier League boss. It felt daunting. Pre-season action would begin at home against Scottish side Ayr. New and existing faces would come together in a routine 3-1 win. It wasn’t exciting, but it was a win, and an early chance for players to improve their match fitness. This was followed up with a trip to a club by the name of WSG Tirol. I’d never heard of them before; the Austrian side and Blackburn were taking part in the semi-final of the ‘friendly cup’. A 4-0 win booked a place the ‘final’, a day later, against FC Kobenhavn. Who plays games on two consecutive days?! We lost 3-1, though I wondered how much of that was due to players struggling for fitness.

FC Hermannstadt were next, with Blackburn the visitors once more. A 2-0 victory followed, and then it was time to for a much tougher friendly.

Blackburn would play host to Liverpool. In the game, they had followed up the 2020 Premier League title with another in 2022, and had won the Champions League in 2021, as well as the FA Cup in 2024. They also won the Carabao Cup in 2022. The previous season had seen Klopp and Guardiola swap places, so it would be the Spanish genius that I would pit my wits against. Somehow, we were two goals up after 13 minutes, and over the course of the game, new signing Turnbull would net a hat-trick in an unlikely 5-2 win. It was only a friendly; I expected a much tougher affair when there were points up for grabs.

Accrington Stanley were next, away from home. A 3-2 win felt like it was somewhat laboured, against opposition we might have expected to beat more convincingly.

Our final friendly was away to SonderjyskE. Try spelling that when drunk. We went behind early on, but rallied to win 3-1. Overall, pre-season had not gone too badly. Now the real work would begin.

Our first Premier League fixture, and the first of my career, would at home to Southampton. Southampton had defied all expectations last season, to qualify for the Champions League, with an amazing 4th-placed finish. I had to expect nothing less than a real challenge here. So it would prove. Southampton dominated possession. We saw only 34% of the ball throughout the course of the match. However, there is one statistic in football that matters beyond all others, namely goals. New signing Chalobah spotted Hyndman’s opportunity to run in on goal on 36 minutes, and Hyndman put his short-range effort beyond the reach of Southampton’s ‘keeper. That was enough to grant us a win on opening day.

It was a nice enough start, but whether or not it was a sign of things to come, who could tell? Our first away day would be against Aston Villa, and for most of the game, we were nowhere near competitive enough. In fact, we were a goal down at half-time, and on 83 minutes, we were two goals down. However, football is nothing if not unpredictable, and on 87 minutes, midfielder Andre Dozzell pulled one back. In one final twist, Reach scored an injury-time equaliser to hand Blackburn a somewhat undeserved point, but I was not about to complain!

We returned to Ewood Park for the arrival of Leeds. In my original FM21 career, I’d managed Leeds, and led them to Premier League titles. That was, in effect, another life. This Leeds side was not that Leeds side.

We drew 1-1, thanks to the ghost goal problem yet again denying me a win. That said, a draw was probably fair, on balance. Premier League action gave way to Carabao Cup action next, and the visit of Everton. A 0-0 draw led to a 3-2 penalty shootout victory, and then we were off to Watford, for the resumption of Premier League action. Watford, like Blackburn, were newly-promoted, albeit they had won the Championship at an absolute canter, so who knew how they expected their survival chances to go?

This was to be my 200th game in management. It was not a mark to remember. Dozzell got sent off, and we lost 3-0. After an international break, Blackburn hosted Wolverhampton Wanderers. A brace from Turnbull saw us take an invaluable 2-1 win. After that came the first of what I considered the heavyweights.

Blackburn were at home again, against Chelsea. Chelsea’s in-game history had produced a Europa League win in 2023, but aside from that, their trophy cabinet had been bare longer than a club with their resources would have liked. They’d made a moderately good start to the season, and were 7th after five games, unbeaten as well. They held onto their unbeaten start, by beating us 2-0.

We put aside league duty, and had an away day at Barnsley in the Carabao Cup. It took a while, but Blackburn emerged with a 3-0 win, and we needed the confidence ahead of our next match, a Premier League trip to Manchester City. Alas, we could take no confidence from our trip, for City unleashed their considerable firepower upon us, and we crashed to a heavy 5-1 defeat.

Blackburn’s next challenge was a home game, against Liverpool. We’d beaten Liverpool in a pre-season friendly, but this was real, and I did not expect a similar triumph. Sure enough, we did not take a win, but we did earn a 1-1 draw, which had to be a morale booster. Afterwards, the team had a breather, thanks to international duties, ahead of a home tie against rock-bottom Norwich. However, we could not exploit the weakness of Norwich, and ended up drawing 1-1 yet again.

A trip to Arsenal was up next, and I had no illusions of points here. Sure enough, we succumbed to a 3-0 defeat, and did not create a chance until the 82nd minute. Our league form was starting to become a serious problem, so the question was, what could we do about it? Prior to the resumption of league action, we’d host Peterborough in the Carabao Cup, and thus had the opportunity to get a morale-boosting win. A 2-1 win wasn’t the most convincing of performances, but the result mattered more, and then the team was off to the south coast. Bournemouth would be our hosts. On this occasion we fared a lot better, with a nice goal from Macleod and a late winner from Lenihan giving Blackburn a vital 2-1 win.

Could we make it back-to-back Premier League wins when we hosted Crystal Palace? Well, we should have, having led 2-0 with only a short time to go, but the team conspired to snatch a draw from the jaws of victory, and I made it clear to them I was not impressed. The international break granted time for the team to recover, ahead of hosting West Ham, who had started the season quite brightly. Once again we had the lead, and once again we threw it away to draw. Another draw followed, away to Leicester, in which Turnball scored an absolute screamer, and it was rapidly becoming clear we were the draw specialists.

Some potentially very tricky away fixtures were up next, Burnley and Everton. Both sides were doing quite well, and I didn’t know if my win-shy side could take many points out of these games. We got a point in a rather thrilling 2-2 draw against Burnley, in a rather topsy-turvy affair. Against Everton we were pretty powerless, losing 3-1, and never looking at the races. Next was a monstrous task. Whilst Blackburn were at home, we were entertaining 2nd-placed Manchester United, so I expected nothing from this one. Sure enough, we lost 2-1, but to the ghost goal phenomenon, which was harsh on the team, given the performance. I seriously considered restarting the game at this point, for I was in a bad mood, and not keen on accepting yet another phantom goal that went against me.

The fans were on my case regarding tactics, so against Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup Quarter-Final, I switched things up. I also earned my Continental A Licence, which would assist me in my coaching of the team. We ended up progressing to the Semi-Finals on penalties.

I had handed a debut to a young striker (well, Carabao Cup debut) by the name of Jed Chamberlain. How would he develop? Could the team use the Villa result as a springboard? Well, next we’d host Tottenham Hotspur. Spurs sat in 9th, and were having the sort of average season that too many Spurs fans are used to. We salvaged a draw late-on, thanks to a Buckley header, and then made the trip to Swansea, who were rock-bottom of the Premier League. This match would mark the halfway stage of the 24/25 season; could we mark it with a rare win? In case you were wondering, Chamberlain made his league debut in the match.

We lost, 2-0, and I gave the players the silent treatment afterwards. We had now gone eight games without a win, and I was getting pissed off.

EDIT 1/5/23: I was so pissed off that after losing the next game, I decided enough was enough with this career mode. Nothing I did was working, and the ghost goal problem never benefited me. It was time to shut this thing down.

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