The Football Manager Live Diaries - Part Six
Last time : Dukla Patrick began their league campaign in the PFA Qual 4 with only three points from their first four games, before newly-signed and ageing “supersub” Peter Thorne scores on his debut and gives the club their first win of the season. Now read on…
I barely have time to react to the win before I’m challenged to a game by 5th place Quo Vadis. I have a feel we may struggle to replicate our success so soon, but I accept anyway. I start with the team that finished against Rock Socks – so that’s Rieloff on left midfield with Garcia and Farrelly in the middle – except I leave Thorne on the bench as an “impact sub”. I also flick on the “counter attack” option.
It’s not a good start, though – Andrea Dossena, of all people, crosses for a headed Quo Vadis goal in only the second minute. We look a bit outclassed, and unlike getting a grip on proceedings. But come the twenty minute mark, we start to keep the ball a bit better – and win a few free-kicks going forward – and I already like the look of Farrelly’s passing range, as he starts to spray a few balls left and right. But whereas against the Irish side the problem was simply not getting the ball, here it’s not doing anything decisive in the final third. It’s tricky, though. FM seems to favour a midfield-heavy approach – which is why the 4-5-1 and 4-6-0 are usually the formations to beat – but by the same token, these both leave the striker (in this case Buchanan) isolated, and so chances are at a premium except when the likes of Garcia take potshots. The winning goal on my last game only came because Thorne – who, by the way, I bring on again at half time here, along with Vujovic for Rieloff – managed to get his head to the one incisive pass that came from 40 yards out. I like to play a game that involves wingers getting quickly onto pinged passes out wide from the middle, and then crossing for a striker pairing to do something with – but the way FM works, it just doesn’t seem conducive to that.
Ah well, that’s something to ponder as I go down two goals (the second a late, textbook counter attack) to nil in a somewhat lacklustre game that sends Quo Vadis top, and ends our four-game unbeaten run. Meanwhile, with the transfer of David Gonzalez going through later that evening, I decide to start to get a bit tougher with trimming my squad – so Nikolai Stokholm goes on the transfer list, and I put Christian Araboni – who I realise has only scored one goal in all his appearances – in an auction with a starting price of £5K and a “buy it now” of £10K. My plan for the next game is to go back to 4-4-2, with Luis Garcia playing up front alongside Buchanan, and Gonzalez taking his place in the middle of the park. Let’s see how that goes.
Incidentally, there’s a point here to be made about tactics in FM Live. You may notice that with each game, I’m picking a formation that I quite want to play, or that fits the players – rather than tailoring it specifically to the team I’m about to face. That sort of approach is fine for basic management, but as anyone who wants to do really well in the FM series knows, it’s far more rewarding to actually spend time researching upcoming opponents, and in some cases picking a formation that directly challenges how they’re likely to line up. In FM Live, however, this isn’t really possible. When you know that you’re about to play a match – and remember that league fixtures aren’t played in a set order, it’s a “when you’re both online” thing – you only get five minutes before kick-off. That simply isn’t enough time to go over your opponents’ recent fixtures, have a look at how they’ve played, and then immediately go about picking a new formation and lineup to counteract it. I wonder if there isn’t room for a new option on the Skills page, one that if you learn it, would give you dossiers (akin to the ones that your scouts give you in the recent FM games) on upcoming opponents once a match challenge gets underway. I ponder opening a discussion about it on the forums – but that’s for later. Meantime, I’ve got a news alert.
Ohhh dear. Luis Garcia’s not happy with my selling Araboni (who was “instant bought” by Colchester Town). Well, you know what, Luis? Part of the reason that I’m selling him is that I want to play YOU up front, and he hasn’t scored anywhere near as many goals as Buchanan. If he were that much of a “star player”, he’d be playing better. So… sod him.
Anyway, it’s on to my next game, at home to Aston Villa Lions, with Gonzalez making his debut. After a bright start, though, with the front trio linking up nicely, a terrible mistake from Gunnarsson concedes a gift-wrapped goal. Frustrating, as the Lions – sitting 16th in the league – look like a team I should really get a result against. We’re creating the chances, particularly after bringing on Farrelly and seeing some lovely passing moves as a result, but the finishing’s just not there. At least… not until I bring on Peter Thorne, and he scores a lovely goal from the corner of the area. Didn’t I say he’d be an impact sub? It gets even better, though. In the fourth minute of injury time, substitute Laszlo Mezsaros uses his fresh legs to sprint clear of the left-back and put in a cross from the byline. Luis Garcia heads it not once, but twice – first against the ‘keeper and then against the crossbar – but David Gonzalez simply can’t miss with the rebound, and his debut goal is a glorious late winner. It’s hard luck on my opponent – who leaves the match without saying a word – but honestly, we were good value for the win. We remain 15th in the table, but only the team directly above us has played the same number of games (seven), with everyone else having played at least eleven. Win just two of those games in hand, and we can make it as high as 11th.
Straight up for one of those games in hand are LA Fallacy, the first side whose fixture is getting within five days of its auto-resolve date (I’ve also got a cup game in this situation, so I’ve emailed my opponent to ask when he’ll be around). They’re 7th in the league, so it’s a genuinely brilliant surprise when Garcia latches on to a long ball from the keeper and scores a sublime lob from the edge of the area. But a dodgy penalty – saved by Valladares with the rebound scored – sees them equalise, and to be fair, not against the run of play. There’s to be no third successive heroic substitute goal from Thorne this time, though – instead, it’s us that concede the sickener, with ten minutes left. Fallacy’s manager Tom Barcham is, to his credit, magnanimous – almost embarrassed – in victory, but it brings our mini-revival to an abrupt end.
I’d started to look at centre-backs again before being interrupted by Tom’s challenge, but the result makes the need for reinforcements seem more urgent. My cautious spending has meant that I’m currently fairly flush – so I decide to see how the market’s looking. It’s not amazing (and the assorted current/ex-Reds I’ve had my eye on in the past have all been snapped up), but I like the look of Dutchman Rene Bot, so it’s in with a wage bid. If I miss out on him, it might be temping to wait until the “hidden players”, now starting to show up on searches but currently unavailable to sign, go on the market in a bizarre system that seems to involve holding a bunch of players back.
As if to emphasise my need to shore up the defence, we’re 2-0 down at half time against Oxford United – who are managed by a Finn, strangely, who doesn’t support the real Oxford United (but lives in Oxford). I realise I’ve been neglecting the more social aspect of the game recently, so I get a bit chatty about the University, noticing that its logo is his club badge. On the pitch, though, a headed goal from Gonzalez isn’t enough to get us back in it – despite a couple of frantic goalmouth scrambles late on – and it’s another defeat.
I next hop online at the time that Mathew Page, manager of AC Angmering, said that he’d be around to play our first-round PFA Cup tie. He’s in a different division, albeit the same level of the pyramid – the PFA Qual 1, whereas I’m in Qual 4. He’s also got a horrible pink, black and yellow kit. And, er, Ryan Giggs, worryingly. It’s 0-0 at half time, when I suddenly find myself worrying that I haven’t changed my penalty taker lineup since early in the season – so haven’t taken any newer signings into account. Oh dear. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, then – the game doesn’t let you change the list mid-game, and will just assign them randomly if you’ve not got a full list picked. Thankfully, a lovely move from Gonzalez and Garcia sees the latter tuck home on 60 minutes – drawing a “ggoal” comment from my opponent – but a free-kick stupidly conceded by Waibel sees a headed equalizer with only ten minutes to go, and it’s extra time. It looks set for the outcome neither of us want – Mathew hasn’t set his penalty takers either – when gloriously, the ball falls to Meszaros six yards out and he stabs home in the 116th minute. It’s a tad unfair on Mathew after a tight game, but he wishes me luck in the next round. So our cup odyssey continues!
The good news continues later that evening, with my revised bid for Rene Bot enough to capture him at £4,251 wages. I throw him straight in for a debut away to the 4th-placed G-String Diva’s [sic], and it’s a good performance from the side (although Bot himself is a little off the pace as he’s out of practice) but we just don’t put the chances away. It’s therefore unbelievably galling when they score in injury time with only their second attack on goal. Even manager Matt Hartley admits that they didn’t deserve it. But that’s no consolation. Two league defeats in a row, despite the cup win between, leave us looking in a bit of a mess. We’re running out of games in hand over the teams above us, and there are four teams below who’ve played fewer.
I think I need a star striker. I like Buchanan and Thorne (and Roni, come to that, but his form has started to drop off), but it’s clearly not enough. We’re simply not scoring enough goals. Despite having signed Bot, the finance page gives me a transfer budget of £150K – which allows for an acquisition fee of £60K, rather higher than I’ve been looking in the past. In the meantime, I place Francisco on the transfer list – and get an offer of £28K, which is tempting, even though 90% early sale tax means my profit would only be £900. Checking out the transfers emailing list, meanwhile, I see an excellent looking player called Valery Klimov. He’s 35, but with excellent stats. I place a bid for him, but it’s only when following it up with an email to the manager that I realise that he’s actually already been sold. D’ohhhh. This is frustrating (not least because I could have got him for my £10K bid if I’d been online 20 minutes earlier) – there was absolutely no obvious way to know that he’d been transferred in the short time between the message being sent and my reading it. Clearly, if you want to get players advertised in the cut-throat market of the mailing lists, you have to work quickly – but it’s hard to find something good because it’s just as full of people desperate FOR players. But yeah, I think a bit of courtesy from people who use it to sell players wouldn’t go amiss – sure, if it’s a good few hours later, then you know you’re likely to have missed out. But if you sell someone within ten minutes of advertising them, a quick “so-and-so-has-now-left” message would be polite. Muttermuttergrumble – I’m just annoyed, because swapping Francisco for Klimov for a net outlay of minus ten K would have been a terrific deal.
After some scouting around, I find myself with bids in for two players called Sebastian – Gonzalez, a striker, and Pereyra, a goalkeeper. Meanwhile, it’s time for some more games. I’ve been trying to avoid playing teams I’ve already faced once until I’ve played as many of the league as possible – but most of the teams that are usually online tend to be return games. So upon getting a challenge from Quo Vadis, I accept it – might as well get it out of the way, after all. It’s a pathetic performance. We’re constantly muscled off the ball or simply beaten to it, and we’re two down at half time. I go all-out second half, with an attacking 4-3-3 and Thorne as the target man (a newly-learned addition to the tactics screen). Gonzalez gets us back in it on 50 minutes, but it’s not enough. This is starting to become a frustrating pattern, actually – early two conceded, before a failed attempt at a comeback. It’s not good.
The next match, though, marks my lowest point in the game. An absolutely, unforgiveably appalling performance sees us beaten 5-1 by Graves Park Rangers. This is bottom-of-the-table form now – we’ve lost four league games in a row. Furthermore, squad morale – which has previously stayed fairly solid – has dropped entirely. I have a clearly pressing need for better defenders (Bot has turned out to be nothing short of useless) and a striker who can actually hit the target. But of course, that’s what everyone else wants. The email list is full of people who are too lazy to actually do some scouting, saying “NEED A STRIKER WHO WILL SCORE LOADS OF GOALS WILLING TO PAY £150K”, as if someone’s going to turn round and go “Yes! Have my leading goalscorer! I was just waiting for someone to ask in a non-grammatical fashion!”
Heading to a search for defenders, I discover something very interesting. Fabio Cannavaro is available. He’s 36 years old, but he’s Fabio Cannavaro. He’d sort out my defensive woes in one fell swoop, surely? His acquisition fee is £275,000. He’s asking for £35K per day wages. I have £220,000 in the bank (after the sale of midfielder Francisco for £28K), and a further £250K overdraft. I can afford the fee. The wages would cost me around £980K for the season – in other words, I can just about afford him, but I’ll basically have no money left whatsoever. For the entire season.
I stare at his statistics.
I stare at them a bit longer.
Should I go for it?
Will Dukla Patrick spend all their money on a World Cup-winning captain, or just spend some of it on someone a bit more sensible? What amusing body part will their new first-choice goalkeeper share a name with? And will Chilton Foliat ever stop asking if they can buy Luis Garcia? Find out in the next nailbiting installment of The Football Manager Live Diaries…