The Football Manager Live Diaries - Part Four
Last time : pre-season rolled on in earnest (albeit in rather unspectacular on-field form) for Dukla Patrick, and the revolving-door of players began to turn, with the first of the starting squad sold and a sudden glut of potential transfers threatening to wreak havoc with the club’s finances.
Now read on…
Of course, next day, I’m not entirely destitute. I am now in debt after the signing of Rezes – to the tune of about £3K – but at the moment I’m making profit of around £24K each day. I think that now, if I can find a central defender at a decent price, I should leave the squad as it is for the beginning of the season, and try and save up some cash to improve my stadium – in order to then bring in further income for transfers at the end of the season. So off I go, but the transfer list isn’t turning up much in the way of possibilities – so I decide to just look at all players under my criteria (wage demand of less than £1500, aged less than 30, with decent heading/marking/tackling stats). Danish defender Anders Egholm looks decent, and more importantly, he’s not getting a game at his club, Dazzler United. His market value is £10K, with an acquisition fee of £8K, so I decide to bid £6.5K – with 30% of any future profit I might make on him – and see where it gets me. Annoyingly, though, in the time I’ve taken to make the bid, his manager’s gone offline – I want to get things moving quickly! Nevertheless, I set a deadline of four hours’ time for the decision.
In the meantime, I think it’s time for my side to get a bit more match practice, so I’m about to hit the match finder, when… ooh! I’ve been challenged! By a team called “Mackie’s Maestro’s” [sic]. Not sure how he’s found me or why he’s chosen me, but it’s worth a go, so we head to the Stephen H Stadium in Aberdeen… and are promptly beaten 3-1 in one of our weakest performances so far. Oh well. I then realise that it’s been a few hours since my last skill finished “learning” (I was adding the “Counter Attack” option to the instructions screen, for all the good it’s done me so far), so I head on over and decide to spend a quick hour improving my “man management” and “finance” skills. Because, let’s face it, I’m a superbly sociable person, and I’m GREAT with money, so I might as well have my gaming counterpart match my real-life self, right?
I then decide that we need a few more games under our belt before the season starts, so I rattle through a few quickfire games. My first random pairing is Frigg OFK again! My first chance for revenge on someone that’s previously beaten me! Unfortunately, a dull-as-ditchwater match ends 0-0 – an improvement, but hardly retribution. Next up are Chiu-nited at Ganymede Park, but only an injury-time strike by Buchanan earns us a 1-1 draw after a sloppy own goal and a great performance by Brad Friedel in the opposition goal. LDD is the poorest run of form I’ve had, and I need to do something about it. I resolve to rejig the attacking options in my next match.
I then get a news alert – my bid for Oliver Doll has expired. It turns out that Knocknaheeny Celtic’s manager hasn’t signed in for days. This is the same problem I had with Fowler, and it’s getting frustrating – interacting with managers in real-time over transfer bids is clearly one of the game’s greatest appeals, but also an Achilles heel when it comes to being online at the right time to get your bid accepted for the right player. I decide not to re-bid for Doll just yet, until I’ve seen how I get on with Egholm.
For the next game, I go back to 4-4-2, and I decide to give new signing Vujovic a shot up front alongside Buchanan. I still think Roni/Buchanan is probably my best pairing for this formation, but Vujovic doesn’t seem comfortable in a standard left-midfield role (he gets a red, rather than green, dot on the tactics screen), preferring to be more attacking – but I don’t usually like playing my wide men pushed so far up, at least not from kick-off, so he’s starting to look a bit like a square peg in a round hole. Let’s see how he does leading the line instead, then.
Opponents Alex’s Allstars have a strange, striker-less formation, and I’m pleased to see us show more verve and fluidity in our forward movement in the opening quarter of an hour. But after failing to score we seem to lose momentum, and we fall behind again on 35 minutes. How can we go behind to a team with no strikers? I’m fuming at half time, and it’s one of those occasions where I wish the game had a “team talk” feature. As it is, I have to console myself with hauling off three players, Vujovic having failed to grasp his opportunity up front. My “all out attack”, defensive midfielder-less formation backfires horrendously, though,, somehow falling to 4-0 before ten minutes of the second half are up. This is atrocious. All of a sudden, I’m suspicious about Alex’s formation. How is he scoring so many, with no-one actually playing up front? I suspect skullduggery, and resolve to investigate further in the forums later. Meanwhile, I’m entirely sick of the sight of my team, and I replace a further three of them midway through the half. Not that it helps any, and 4-0 turns out to be a blessing, as it’s honestly the smallest hammering we deserve. I don’t want to watch this team any more tonight, so I elect to log off, leaving them to stew in their own juices for a while. The game is recommending that I learn “Perception” level 3 (it’ll help me learn scouting skills, apparently – and with this useless no-wins-in-four lot, I’ll need them!), which will take 24 hours, so I leave it to that – pausing only to bid £5,000 in a transfer auction for a 34-year-old American defender called Craig Waibel – and prepare to pick up again in the morning.
I awake to the slightly exciting news that I’ve been assigned my league! I’m in the PFA Qual 4, a league where performance will then determine league levels for the following season. Joining me in the division are the aforementioned Stephen Hawking’s Football Boots and Harchester United. I’m disappointed, also, to see that my recent form has affected my ranking so much (I’m down a full 100 places) that I’m the third-lowest-ranked team in the division. I resolve to try and improve that by the time the season kicks off by playing some more matches in the evening.
In the meantime, I investigate this whole 4-6-0 formation lark. It seems that it’s quite a point of discussion on the FML forums, with some claiming that its use is akin to cheating, and others raving about it as “the future of football” (a view they all appear to be getting from Jonathan Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid book, something I really must read at some point). The thing is, though – I’m aware that it’s a tactic that’s been successfully deployed by the likes of Roma and Manchester United in recent years. But in those teams, it involved deploying a talented “front four” at a deep-lying level, and having them all rotate to take the forward role at any given time when in possession of the ball. It’s confusing, and, with the right players, can work brilliantly. The problem is, you can’t play it the way Roma and Utd do/did in Football Manager. It’s possible to tell two players to swap positions – but what you can’t do is tell four players to swap “positions” with empty space. Clearly, the tactic works in the game – but not in the way that it does in real life, and that’s enough, in my book, to make it a “game-breaker”.
Now, personally, I think that discovering a “beat-all” tactic and then constantly employing it is as close to cheating as it’s possible to get in FM, so I’m loathe to start using it regularly myself. I ponder giving it a try in a meaningless friendly, just to see if it really does work – after all, where better to prove its effectiveness than having it help a bunch of players low on form and confidence thrash someone? – but then realise that even without working the way it’s supposed to in real life, it probably still also requires a whole bunch of specific team and player instructions to make the most out of it. I really wish I’d chosen to specialise in tactics rather than scouting, now. Sigh. Oh well, one for the future, maybe.
Meanwhile, Waibel’s transfer has gone through, so I decide to stop looking for a centre-back. Not because I’m going to play him there – but because I think he can fit in at right back, with Sansoni dropping back to marshall a new-look backline. I also decide to try and give the boys a confidence boost for the next match, by looking for teams of only one-star reputation. Sadly, this doesn’t work – clearly everyone else has built up their teams’ reputations by now – so I take off the filter and try again. Ah, that’s better. Hello, Leopards FC. It’s a fairly lively opening half – and Waibel already looks to be a decent passer of the ball down the flank – but despite some good chances from the wingers whipping diagonal crosses in, it’s 0-0 at half time. The defence are playing well – everyone but Sansoni rating above 7/10 – but there’s no cutting edge. I decide to switch from the short passing game to something more direct, to see if we can get the ball up front more quickly. Nothing doing, though, and it finishes 0-0. I’m disappointed with the lack of incisive attacking, but pleased that we look a bit more solid at the back – hopefully it’ll give us confidence for the next game, which I decide to plunge straight into.
FC Baboon are the opposition, but after a tight first half they painfully take the lead on the stroke of half time. Action is needed, so I go more attacking – Francisco on to play in the hole behind Buchanan, replacing one of the defensive midfielders. It doesn’t work, though, and we let in a sloppy set-piece goal on 70 minutes, and it’s three after 77. This is appalling. Since the win over Rafa’s Barmy Army, my record reads : P6 W0 D3 L3 F2 A11. Something has got to change, and so despite previously feeling happy with the squad, I have to go on the hunt for some creativity. I also set up my first player auction, with Kim Jung-Kyum going on the market with a starting price of £5K and an “instant buy” price of his acquisition fee, £10K. My coaches had previously come to me and said they thought he was past his best, but a good influence on the youngsters so worth keeping in the squad – but I’m not paying wages for influence, especially when they’ve just said exactly the same thing about Pinillos. Kim reckons he hasn’t been given a fair chance, but sod him. I need attacking flair, and for attacking flair I need COLD HARD CASH. Let’s hit the markets.
I immediately spot a creative-looking – and influential – Serbian named Ifet Taljevic, at the brilliantly-named A C A Little Silhouett’o Of Milan. I bid his acquisition fee of £14K, so let’s see how that shakes out. Meanwhile, let’s see if we can actually score, after a three-game drought, by switching to a front pair of Roni and Araboni, at home to Keefe Town. And finally, gloriously, in the 43rd minute, Roni capitalises on a dropped corner to slot home from a couple of yards. It’s not pretty, but after 312 long, painful minutes of football, it’s a goal. Finally. And it’s all that separates us at the end. Even the commentary declares it a poor match, but I don’t care – the jinx is broken, and we can go into the season tomorrow on the back of a win. After heading over to the Skills screen to start learning “Player Tactics” (which will enable me to, eventually, set individual runs for each player on the pitch), I decide to bring my pre-season programme to a close. This is how it’s gone :
That’s a record of P16 W5 L7 D4 F16 A23. It’s not bad at all, despite that horrendous recent run – I reckon I’d be fairly mid-table if that had been league form, as I’d have 19 points, although the goal difference of -7 is disappointing. Still, onwards and upwards from now on! And, unless the signing of Taljevic goes through overnight, this is the squad – and first eleven – that will start the season :
How will Dukla Patrick fare in the league? Will they capture a creative head for the middle of the park? How has this article series managed to stretch to four chapters before the season has even properly begun? Some of these questions may possibly be answered in the next inexplicable episode of the Football Manager Live diaries.