A while ago I attempted to write down what I consider to be my best ever career on a Football Manager sim – one that I am quite proud of actually (insofar as one is proud of what they achieve on a computer game). My first effort to jot down my career stalled due to lack of effort on my part – so here we go again!
The game I achieved this all on is the 2012 edition of Football Manager – so we’re going back a few years, and I’ll admit my memory of it all is fuzzy. I am actually still playing through the save in question – but as a different ‘character’, so to speak, having retired the manager I plan to talk about.
FM2012 starts in the summer of 2011, so the sides you take charge of are notably different to what they look like right now. Being the lunatic that I am, I chose Liverpool (naturally, since they are the team that I support) to play as.
Rewinding to 2011 means the squad is different – Steven Gerrard still had a few years left in his prime, Luis Suarez was still a Red, and the likes of Stuart Downing, Craig Bellamy, Dirk Kuyt and Peter Crouch were all still at the club. Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger were still on the scene too, a certain Raheem Sterling was an up-and-coming starlet and there was plenty of work to do if Liverpool were to be transformed from also-rans to regular title contenders.
Liverpool are handicapped to begin with by having a meagre budget in the opening season of the game, so I didn’t have much in the way of resources to improve the squad. I set about training my youth team hard – something that would serve me pretty well in the future – but to begin with, I knew I had to try and work with what I had.
This would not prove to be easy. My almost instinctive reaction to management sims is to get annoyed with them if results don’t go the way I feel they should – and by ‘annoyed’ I mean thunderous rage. Patience would be needed, and I told myself to make a conscious effort to show it. Defeats and trophyless seasons were inevitable – such is football. Could I keep my temper in check?
I am crap at devising my own tactics for these games. I’ve tried but my success record with self-made tactics is woeful. Having quickly decided against creating one myself, I turned to the Football Manager community for ideas. There were quite a few tactics that all promised good football and more importantly, good results, so I was spoiled for options, but in the end I went for a tactic by Cinema M – I would provide a link to the tactic to give them due credit, but I can’t presently locate one!
The best way to describe the formation would be as a ‘4-1-1-2-2’. A flat back four would be supported by a defensive midfielder, starting slightly to the right-hand side of the pitch, whilst a central midfielder would start higher up the pitch and to the left. Two attacking midfielders would be on either flank, with two strikers. When attacking, the wingbacks would get forward to support the wingers, whilst one of the strikers would play more as a creative forward, dropping back a little to link up with the central midfielder (who would also be pushing up a little). The defensive midfielder would be expected to move a little higher up the pitch, to collect the ball if things went awry.
Pace would be an important element to a number of positions. It goes without saying that the wingers and wingbacks needed pace for both offensive and defensive duties, whilst strikers with good positioning and acceleration were desired for the formation. The STCL (as the game styles the left-sided striker) would also need to have good heading, as one of the formation’s attributes was creating a lot of chances from corners, aimed at the STCL.
One joke my friends used to make of me when playing football games (the likes of FIFA for example) is that I followed the three Ps – Passing, Possession (which is a side effect of good passing anyway), and most importantly, Passion. You may be wondering how you can possibly instill passion into a bunch of computer-simulated players – by instilling simulated passion of course!
I tend to look for players who suit the first two Ps (which overlap anyway). To begin with, I had Gerrard (though he starts out injured), Henderson (who wasn’t quite the player he is now, but had the potential to be), Maxi Rodriguez (not actually a bad player and quite versatile), Lucas, Charlie Adam and Jonjo Shelvey, all of whom could play in the middle.
My preference was to go with Gerrard in the centre (when fit) and Hendo on the right, with Downing on the left. Certain situations, injuries and suspensions would occasionally force my hand – Rodriguez would sometimes play on the right, though I preferred to utilise him as a backup DM. Bellamy could play right or left AM – a good thing for him, since he wasn’t up to much as a goal scorer! Kuyt would switch between the right wing and a striker role, and Crouch was played a fair bit, but the painfully obvious issue for me that I remember from the 11/12 season was a lack of goals. If Suarez was out of form or absent for any reason, the goals dried up.
Nevertheless, in some respects the season could be regarded as a success. The likes of Skrtel, Agger and Carragher in defence (along with Enrique and Johnson) gave the team a solid foundation. Reina was a reliable ‘keeper. I won the FA Cup and guided the Reds to Champions League qualification via 2nd in the Prem – vital in terms of future finances and club prestige.
As alluded to earlier, my initial transfer budget was small. I was able to make one signing, one made with the future in mind – a young striker by the name of Harry Kane. He would pop up here and there, mostly in cup games, with a view toward getting him experience. Having achieved Champions League qualification, I would have a bigger budget going into the 12/13 season, to further bolster my squad.
Suarez: Goals 67 Games 44 (yes, that is correct)
Kuyt: Goals 19 Games 43
Bellamy: Goals 12 Games 31
The quest to rebuild had begun in earnest. With a bigger budget, I went after a new, established goal scorer, and signed Giuseppe Rossi from Villarreal to partner Suarez. The two of them would score 92 goals between them, with a further 10 from Gerrard (who had missed much of the previous season through injury). Charlie Adam was a surprisingly solid performer, and Downing was in fact one of my key players. Enrique was immense in the left back role, whilst Jack Robinson came up into the first team and would make 24 appearances, with an average rating of 7.15 – not bad for a youngster! Kane scored 9 goals in 19 games, but was frozen out by Suarez and Rossi.
The opening phase of the season was incredible – my team won their first 15 games in all competitions, and won my first 12 Premier League matches – including a 4-0 away win against Arsenal and solid wins over Chelsea, Man City, Southampton, Swansea and Stoke. They say the number 13 can be unlucky – well, my 13th fixture was away – to Manchester United.
The details of the match are lost to the sands of computer code, but I was helpless as my team were crushed 5-1. Shortly thereafter, Stoke put Liverpool out of the League Cup. Was my season becoming unstuck?
It certainly wasn’t in Europe. I had topped my Champions League group, dropping just two points in the process. Crushing wins over Sunderland (6-1), Fulham (3-0), Villa (3-0), and Leicester (7-0) sandwiched a 1-0 defeat to fierce local rivals Everton – setting up what was to become a theme of away defeats to Man Utd and Everton, season in, season out.
As the season wore on I would avenge my Old Trafford thrashing by dishing out a 4-1 hammering to Utd, and whilst my memory of the details is hazy, I do remember a thrilling 3-2 away win over Sunderland – Harry Kane grabbing a very late winner as the title race heated up.
I would end up achieving something I hadn’t expected – I guided Liverpool to the league title, in only my second season in charge! This would be Liverpool’s 19th title, but this was not the final accomplishment of the season.
I mentioned earlier that I’d comfortably qualified from my Champions League group, and my form in the knockout stages was impressive. Liverpool dispatched Olympkais, FC Porto and Marseille to reach the final – held at Wembley. My opponents? Manchester City.
I won, 2-1, thanks to a last-minute-of-extra-time goal from Rossi. Needless to say, I was pretty pleased! A Premiership and Champions League double hadn’t been on the cards – I’d been hopeful of being involved at the sharp end of Both competitions, but to win both of them? I hadn’t conceived such an idea in my wildest fantasies.