Almost every sports and computer-loving male reading this article will agree with my first declaration; Football Manager is more addictive than crack. Not that I’m in the habit of consuming crack cocaine on any basis but I simply can’t see how any substance in the world can sustain a person’s attentions or fulfil its craving needs like Sport Interactive’s marquee game does.
Football Manager replaces. Its basic function is to replace. It replaces wives, kids, jobs, food, sleep, friends, pets, boredom and any other activity you can think of. Until you get sacked. Then its quickly shut off in a temper as you catch up on all the news and family time you’ve neglected until the irresistible urge to select “New Game” inevitable rises deep within your psyche. I first came across the management simulation game when it still operated under its previous incarnation as “Championship Manager”. My father purchased me “CM2” back in 1997 to go with the first family PC we had. Exciting and Innovative times that unleashed a lifelong addiction in me. Compared to the uber-powerful and detailed offerings of today’s technological era, back then the game was beautiful in its simplicity. Put two attacking wingers up the flank and you were soon securing trophies by the dozen. I recall winging 18-0 with AC Milan in one of my first games and demanding my parents come into the kitchen to see. The mistake of buying me the game soon became evident to my parents as they used to catch me still on the PC long after they had gone to sleep. “Just one more” would be regular cry of desperation.
Whilst the years went by and I grew taller, wider and older one thing remained constant. New and updated versions constantly came out, were purchased and the discs exhausted by relentless usage. Staying awake all night and going straight to school was a way of life. It can be said I came within a few percentage of missing out on a University degree due to the desire to sweep all before me with my young and up-and-coming squads which were always carefully put together in the early hours of each morning.
Is there any better feeling than creating a dynasty at a lower league club and transforming them Brian Clough-style into a dominating force? Or being selected to manage your nation? Perhaps the best feeling is when that teenage striker you took a punt on repays you with continuous 20 goal seasons and quickly becomes your favourite person, both in the virtual world and even the real one. I have often felt more love for those little clustering of stats and goals that represent footballers than I have done for family members. I would even dare say that its possible to fall in love with certain players such is the attachment that can be generated between manager and star!
The flip side of the game can equally be disastrous and can cause genuine disappointment to the player. I have felt worse about some of the sackings I’ve suffered than I ever care about real-life jobs. When you’ve created a squad with a great youth team ready to step in, have reached iconic status in the game and everything looks rosy, in comes the dreaded vote of confidence after an unusual cup exit to some random minnow followed by the sacking. Heartbreaking. Or how about the emptyness you feel inside when said 20 goal a season striker, valued at many millions and a key component to your happiness and success in the game refuses to sign a new contract and leaves on a Bosman free. I feel like crying just thinking about it.
Whilst the game strives to be as realistic as possible and has built up a reputation for its extensive scouting network (rumour has it Chelsea has used their database to check out possible future stars in real life) a cult has built up around superstar players who were sensational in the game and, to put it mildly, shocking in real life. Cherno Samba enjoyed mild fame in reality for the exploits his namesake produced in the game. Another superstar Championship Manager Signing player was Kennedy Bakircioglu, a force that would dominate whatever was in front of him. A personal favourite of mine was 17 year old Alessio Cerci from Roma’s youth team who was guaranteed to score at least 30 goals a season. A particular game I remember is a 10 year stint at AC Milan on Champ Man 03/04 where Cerci had amassed in the region of 240 goals in 250 games. Gerd Muller-esque!. Probably my favourite player of all time was Pablo Piatti from the 2008 incarnation of Football Manager. Available for 50k from Independiente, Pablo would sign for any time that offered him 1k a week. He regularly turned down AC Milan, Barca etc to sign for my League 2 clubs and proceeded to annihilate all statistical records before the inevitable Bosman transfer to a European superpower.
The occasions where a player such as Piatti would desert my team would bring me to almost tears and many a fist was swollen with wall-smacking temper tantrums. But why do we keep coming back after 13 years of sleepness nights and fractured relationships? To paraphrase Sir Alex Ferguson; “Football Manager, Bloody Hell!”