The Football Manager Live Diaries - Part Seven
Apologies for the lengthy delay between instalments of the diaries - in addition to being busy elsewhere, I’ve become a little disillusioned with FM Live recently. While I’m now at a point far past the end of the season I’m writing about here, I’ve nevertheless found myself wondering if I’m going to carry on at the end of my three month subscription, and haven’t really felt the inclination to get around to posting these - although funnily enough, my current thoughts are echoed with how I was feeling at the end of this instalment. Anyway, I’ll discuss my issues with the game at greater length after I’ve finished recounting Dukla Patrick’s first season, so let’s get on with the final couple of chapters.
Last time, Dukla Patrick continued to struggle with patchy form, with too many goals leaked and not enough scored. A need was identified for a solid centre-back and a proven goalscorer, to improve the spine of the team, but options were scarce. Then Italian World Cup-winning Fabio Cannavaro popped up on the market, at a price that would have been just about affordable, but would also have ruled out being able to sign another player for about a season. We left off as I agonised over whether to take the plunge.
Now read on…
I don’t sign Cannavaro. In the end, I find a Spanish defender with the astonishingly difficult name Naxto Azpilikueta with an “instant buy” of £8K. So I buy him. Instantly. 6’3’’ in height, he should give us a bit of a boost in defending – and indeed attacking – set pieces. I also put in a wage bid for a striker called Roger Suarez. But later that evening, I then get a news alert. I’ve set up notifications for people who come on the market with a finishing rating of 18 or above, and someone’s put up a 30-year-old German, Sami El-Nounou, with finishing of 19 and an instant buy price of £7K. At that price, it doesn’t really matter if he’s crap – he’s in. Incidentally, he’s 6’2’’ – these two players have immediately become the tallest guys in my squad. I wonder if that’s genuinely something I should have been considering more, considering how crap we are at corners. My first choice ‘keeper is only 5’10’’, for crying out loud!
I throw my two new signings straight into the team in another variation on the 4-5-1 formation. I also put Roni and Gibanel on the transfer list, and change Stokholm’s transfer listing to an auction, with a starting price of £5K and an “instant buy” of £7K. I then notice, annoyingly, that I’ve only got a couple of days left to play my next-round cup match – that’s odd, as I didn’t know it had been scheduled (I didn’t even know who I’d been drawn against). I certainly didn’t get an announcement about it. The game could end up going to AI, now, if my opponent – who hasn’t signed in for three days – doesn’t show up before tomorrow. I send him a message asking when he’ll be online, and hopefully we can get it sorted.
Biggers Brawlers, meanwhile, are up next in the league. They’re seventh in the division, but they haven’t won in seven games, so maybe our luck could be in. The first half is pretty dire – a disallowed “goal” and three bookings for the Brawlers, and one for us – but I feel we can get something out of it (Oxley hasn’t had a save to make), so I push Garcia forwards to support the big feller up front, and I see if playing a quick, short passing game across our lovely wide pitch will help open them up. As we press for the goal, chance after chance going begging, I find myself – for possibly the first time – properly shouting my team on, as if I were watching Liverpool play. It’s weird. It just feels like a game that we have to win – because I know we can, and if we don’t, we might as well give up now.
Eleven minutes from time, one of their players gets sent off for a second yellow. It’s the first red card I’ve encountered in a week-and-a-half of playing the game. It’s got to be ours now, hasn’t it? Then in the 83rd minute, Liam Buchanan – brought on for the underwhelming Garcia on 70 – intercepts a back-pass on the edge of the area. His first shot is saved, but from six yards… he can’t miss. It’s 1-0, and I actually jump up, cry out, and punch the air. Unbelievable.
The remainder of the game – after I’ve taken off El-Nounou and gone ultra-defensive –are agonising, especially when the brilliantly-named Wilson Pantera gets one-on-one with Oxley in injury-time… and slides it into the side-netting. Finally, after four interminably slow extra minutes… the ref blows up. We’ve laboured to a 1-0 win over a scrappy, pretty shite, played-for-fifteen-minutes-with-ten-men side… and yet it’s quite possibly the best feeling I’ve ever had from playing a football management game. Phew.
We’re not out of the woods, of course. If teams below us win – or even draw – enough of their games in hand, then we’re dangerously close to the bottom. The only team who mathematically can’t catch us after 13 games played are Aston Villa Lions. But still – tonight isn’t a time to dwell on possibly finishing bottom of the league. Tonight, we celebrate. I decide against playing another game – why spoil it? – and log out happy.
Next time I log in, the signing of Roger Suarez has been confirmed – meaning I now have something of a surfeit of strikers. Ah well – I throw him on the bench (in place of Thorne) for my next match. I’d withdrawn my earlier bids for the two Sebs, in order to possibly juggle my finances for Cannavaro – but I not put in a bid for another one, a tall Argentinian goalkeeper called Peratta who, once again, isn’t getting a game at his club. His side are in the Weekend Casual Association, so I put a generous deadline of three days (it’s Friday, now) on the bid.
Up next are Chilton Foliat FC, and the poor buggers – despite being seventh in the league – are genuinely threadbare. They can only name one fit substitute, and it’s their second-choice ‘keeper. Not that this prevents me from taking great joy in an absolutely assured performance that sees us somehow run out 3-0 winners. Two goals from Luis Garcia – who only moments before his first I’d been contemplating substituting at half time – and a late one from Meszaros are the difference in my biggest win to date – small squad or no small squad, it’s a great achievement. Manager Andrew Fisher immediately challenges me to another game, for some reason – I figure I’m never going to get a better chance to win three on the bounce, so I accept. Hmm, I wonder if something will go horribly wrong?
I name exactly the same team, which is of course asking for trouble. And because there is no logic or reason to this game – and by “this game” I of course mean football rather than Football Manager Live – we lose. Only 2-0, so we still get the “aggregate” win, but it’s a shame to lose momentum so quickly, and with such a flat performance. Andrew also asks during the game if I’d consider selling Garcia – I have to admit that I’ve not been mega impressed with him (despite his excellent two goals in the first Chilton game), but there’d be little point selling just now as I’d struggle to make a profit with early sale tax. I tell Andrew that he’s welcome to shortlist Luis in case I think about selling him in future – but I’m not sure I will, because he’s still Luis Garcia, and unless I get my hands on Fowler, he’s likely to remain my talisman.
We carry our poor form into the next game, going a goal behind to Brentford in only the second minute. Gonzalez equalises midway through the half, with a lovely 20-yard strike after a layoff from the still-to-score El-Nounou, but Brentford go back in front before the break, and 2-1 is how it finishes. The game features a particularly awful performance from Rene Bot, who is already looking like a poor signing – I bought him as a centre-back, but he failed to establish himself there and so I switched him to the right-back berth that was supposedly his preferred position. But he’s been poor to average since replacing the similarly mediocre Waibel, and it might be time for yet another rethink of that troubled position.
With an altered lineup at home to Brentford next day, we’re better in the first half, but we still can’t make the breakthrough. But I bring on Buchanan for El-Nounou at half time, and the Scottish number 9 does it again, lobbing the keeper from the edge of the box after only two minutes of the second half. We hold on well and are good value for the win, but an absolutely gutting equaliser with a minute to go sees us held to a completely unhelpful 1-1 draw. It puts us up to 14th, but I’m still looking nervously over my shoulder at all the games in hand the people below us have.
Up next are the top-of-the-league Unusual Suspects. I give Suarez his first start, and make the surprise decision to recall Pinillos at right-back. I don’t expect any kind of result, even though we drew 1-1 with them at Ganymede Park earlier in the season, so it’s a surprise when a brilliant move involving Pinillos, Sanchez and Garcia results in the latter giving us the lead on 28 minutes. It’s rather less of a surprise when the Suspects equalise on 51, although it’s a horribly sloppy goal to concede. We have a good few chances to retake the lead, but we can’t make them count. That’s two games in a row, then, when we’ve deserved the win but conspired to turn it into a draw. At least they’re not defeats, but every game played without making significant progress is essentially drawing us closer to the bottom of the table.
This whole “leading then conceding” thing is becoming such a pattern that when Wallace heads us in front brilliantly from a corner after 18 minutes at home to the G String Diva’s [sic] I basically just sit back and wait for the late equaliser. Well, I mean, I switch to a more defensive formation at half time, but I still expect the equaliser. Should I be pushing on for a winner instead? I’m honestly not confident enough in our ability to score more than once in a game.
Which shows how much I know. A horrible defensive error in the 53rd minute leaves Buchanan clear to tackle their keeper outside the box, and hammer home into an empty net. Why does this guy never score when he starts games? Right now I don’t hugely care about that, though – we’re 2-0 up, and we’d have to really screw up to throw this one away. Even we’re not that bad, though, and 2-0 is how it ends. We’re up to 13th with the win, but once again, it’s hard to judge exactly how much it counts when no-one around us are playing matches simultaneously.
After the game, I get yet another irritating instance of someone advertising a player on the mailing list, and then – despite them being signed pretty much straight away – not doing the courtesy of letting people know that they’re gone. The problem is, when someone sends a message, the game doesn’t indicate what club they manage – so there’s no way of knowing, when you click through to the player, that they’ve now moved. So it’s another occasion where I have to embarrassedly email the new manager of a player, to apologise for having made a bid for someone they’ve just bought. Sigh.
The next game sees yet another example of eerie repetition – another headed goal by the in-form Wallace, from a corner, this time in the 26th minute, away to JJ Kings. Sadly, we then regress into old habits – not once, but twice. First, Titus fucking Bramble, of all people, equalises with a similar goal with nineteen minutes remaining – but two minutes later, Roger Suarez’s first goal for the club looks to have secured us what would be a vital win over one of the teams biting at our heels. But of course, we couldn’t hold on to a lead if our lives depended on it, and we concede a stupid, stupid second equaliser for a 2-2 draw that does nobody any good.
10th-placed FC Raven are straight up next. We have the lion’s share of the chances, but we can’t convert a single one, and it finishes goalless. Another disappointing draw – it does mean we’ve gone five games unbeaten, which is fairly decent, but it doesn’t feel like we’re going anywhere fast. We do manage to score in the first half against 3rd placed Oxford United, though, thanks to an own goal after a Vujovic free-kick had hit the post. But at the risk of these diaries becoming ludicrously repetitive, the game shakes out in identical fashion to the JJ Kings match – an equaliser early in the second half, before we take the lead late on (another Vujovic-inspired own goal), and then throw it away with minutes remaining. 2-2 AGAIN. There must be something in the makeup of my squad that’s causing us to lose these late goals. Poor concentration? A high average squad age? I’m currently training up my skills to try and help boost Finishing skills in training, but I wonder if it wouldn’t be better spent on fitness coaching instead – maybe it’s a lack of it that’s causing us to tail off so badly in almost every game. I mean, we haven’t gone behind in a game since the defeat to Brentford, but in those six games we’ve also only won one. It’s intensely frustrating.
I’ll look into it later, though, as for now the deadline for “AI Rights” for my cup tie has passed (I never got a reply from my opposite number to that message I sent, either). Apparently this means that I “now have 24 hours to play against Ingleby F.C.’s AI-controlled team as a result of having been online for at least 30 minutes during more of the recent play times.” Splendid. I head straight on over to the match. It’s a dull one, but David Gonzalez’s 61st-minute goal is enough to put us through to the third round.
Having still heard no news on my bid for goalkeeper Peratta, when I notice an email from someone saying they’re looking to trim their squad and will consider offers for anyone, I put in a bid of £35K - £5K less than market value – for experienced German ‘keeper Hans-Jorg Butt. Heh, Butt. Manager James Dillon immediately replies with a negotiation – he wants 30% of any future profit. Fine by me, so I accept the deal, and Butt signs. Excellent – a tall, commanding, experienced ‘keeper, he should hopefully add a bit of stability at the back.
I also decide to look again at Ganymede Park, now that I’ve got some cash flowing in nicely. It appears that I now have a handful of “Glory Hunter” supporters (they’re not going to find any glory at our place, but whatever), as the page is now showing me their opinion of the ground. They want some pricier seats – so I oblige and stick a block of the nicest-quality seats in the Humph stand, at a cost of £238K. I also decide to splash out £20K on some scrolling pitch-side hoardings, to try and improve my advertising income (in a neat touch, if you have scrolling or electronic boards, you actually see them animated on-pitch during the match – although you only ever get Sega/SI/FM logos).
Butt gets to make his debut almost immediately, as my opponents for the third round of the cup, R.B.R. Lions, are online. The home side are top of the PFA Qual 1, which is worrying, and it shows as they dominate the first half with an adventurous, attacking formation. They take the lead on 37 minutes, a rebound poked home after Butt fingertips a thunderous free-kick onto the crossbar. I make a few changes at half time, switching to 4-4-2 and also removing Rieloff, who’d been getting into a running scrap with their right-winger and had picked up a booking into the bargain. Wallace misses a great set piece chance early in the half, and it’s as close as we get to drawing level. Our cup adventure and our unbeaten run of form have both come to an end in one fell swoop. I tell manager James McDermott that, naturally, I hope he goes on to win it, so that I can take pride in being knocked out by the winners. He doesn’t reply, the git. Hope they get knocked out in the next round.
Our next match is a visit to Salford, who’d beaten us 3-1 on the opening day of the season. With Vujovic injured, I decide to reshuffle to a 4-4-2 formation, with Garcia on the left and Farrelly back in central midfield, and also recall ageing supersub Peter Thorne to the bench. Salford take the lead halfway through the first half with an incredibly frustrating counter-attack goal, after Buchanan had lost the ball in attack and a long ball over the top saw us completely torn apart. I make wholesale changes at half time, and amazingly, that man Thorne – who’s not been in the side for ages – does it again, with the second half barely minutes old before he breaks through to score. On 72 minutes, Sidney Govou is inexplicably sent off for the opposition, and I even admit in the chat box that I’ve no idea what it was for. It’s something of a gift, but Salford get an even bigger one with a penalty on 85 minutes, dispatched by Maccarone. It’s a bit unfair – a draw would have been the right result, and it’s disappointing to come away beaten when we should have taken advantage of the extra man.
Things get worse over the next few games, as we go into an absolutely wretched run. We’re dispatched in textbook fashion by Stephen Hawking’s Football Boots, before taking on Mudhuts and Pies with a new 5-3-2 formation. We play some superb, flowing, wide football, exactly as I want us to – although I don’t know if it’s down to the new formation or the bizarre, extremely narrow one employed by Mudhuts – but can’t find the goal. Peter Thorne – who’s recently, sadly, announced his retirement at the end of the season – comes off the bench to give us the lead, before Butt saves a late penalty to seemingly give us the win. Only… after four minutes of injury time are indicated, Mudhuts equalise. In the fifth. With an offside goal. It’s absolutely soul-destroying (my opposite number’s subsequent positive feedback, calling me “sporting after [his] undeserved equaliser”, is little consolation), and we limp through a 2-1 defeat (another Thorne goal the only highlight) to Graves Park Rangers. Even their manager recognising my team name and making a Half Man Half Biscuit reference can’t cheer me up. Due to having now played 28 games, we’re still 14th in the league – but our “projected” points figure puts us third from bottom. It’s diabolical.
And it’s not much better off the pitch, either. Everywhere I turn, I’m thwarted in my attempt to sign players – ones I identify at other clubs are invariably owned by managers who never sign in, and free agents are always snapped up by teams with far more money than me. I sell Gunnarsson and Roni, but my attempts to sign a decent centre-back are constantly thwarted. Oh, and Chilton Foliat’s manager won’t stop bloody bugging me to sell him Luis Garcia. It’s all adding up to a feeling that the game isn’t fun any more. My team, despite being ostensibly decent, are useless performers, and I don’t know how to improve them. I don’t think my knowledge of football and tactics is bad, but there’s clearly something I’m not doing right. Not being able to identify what it is is ruining my enjoyment of the game, and even if I struggle through to the end of this season, I’m not sure right now if I’ll want to carry on into the next, or simply start again elsewhere…
Will Dukla Patrick finish bottom of the league? Will a late-season foray into the transfer market yield any sort of success? And will they still be in the PFA Qual next season? Will everything tie up neatly, or will it be just like life - quite interesting in parts, but no substitute for the real thing? Some of these questions may possibly be answered in the final, strangely moving instalment of the Football Manager Live diaries.