Last time out, I’d referred to feeling burnt out. I’d played a lot of Football Manager by this point and, as with all things, there can reach a saturation point – I had done well with Liverpool, pretty well with England, but with AC Milan… eh, I felt as though I’d hit a wall. However I wasn’t ready to call time on my managerial career, so I kept the file running, moving it forward every so often, waiting for that spark to reignite my interest. It would happen via the most unlikely of sources – League Two and Chesterfield.
The 2026/27 Season
I don’t recall exactly when I began my adventure in League Two, but I do remember that Chesterfield were in a little bit of trouble, flirting with relegation and certainly not looking like a side that could be promoted. I had my work cut out for me – there was no big budget, I had to use what I had and use it wisely if I were to avoid relegation and aim any higher. I began to turn results around, sticking to the tactics that had yielded me so much success in the past. It pleased me to see the team respond and to climb the table – as they did, they appeared to be inching closer to the playoff places, which had seemed unlikely earlier in the season. A strong run of results (with a couple of defeats thrown in, just to make me nervous) saw Chesterfield squeak into the playoffs, whereupon they would dramatically impress me by going on to actually win the playoffs, earning promotion to League One for the following season.
I’m quite proud of this next season, for a couple of reasons. The first half of it saw my Chesterfield side at one stage go on a thirteen game unbeaten run to put them firmly in the race for promotion yet again. It was a tall order to expect two consecutive promotions but the team was playing well and getting results, making it a possibility – only it would not be one I would end up seeing out. I had a call (metaphorically of course – this is a game) from a club I just couldn’t turn down – one of the world’s most famous names, a club steeped in history – Real Madrid. They had dismissed Laurent Blanc (who had led them to mid-table mediocrity) in November, approaching me to replace him. It was in the end, if I am being completely honest with myself, an easy decision – not completely without regret, for my brief time at Chesterfield had restored my enjoyment of the game – to become Real’s new boss.
That big run of green results (wins)? Yeah, that was me. Not to brag, but I managed to turn Real around from a side that looked off their game, into one that ruthlessly hunted down La Liga’s leaders Barcelona. I enjoyed a fantastic 4-1 away win against them, which set me up nicely and seemed to knock them off balance. From at one stage looking like Real would not even qualify for the Champion’s League (unthinkable for a club like Real), to winning the title with games to spare, was an epic feeling. I don’t think I’d ever felt more satisfied with a title win than at that moment – but, there was still more football to come, with a Champion’s League final against a familiar foe – Liverpool.
The last time I’d met Liverpool in a Champion’s League final they had handed me my ass. 8-0 in any cup final is virtually unprecedented, least of all in the final of Europe’s premier club competition, so I was going into this with a certain measure of wanting revenge. Alas, it was not to be. A thrashing it was not, but the game finished 5-3 to Liverpool, after extra time. Still, I had done a league and cup double, humiliating Barcelona on more than occasion along the way.