…Football Manager: Live & Childhood Development

If you don’t like or haven’t played Football Manager you should probably skip the opening bit.

Unsure of how I’d been driven into a rage when I didn’t even care about my own 5-a-side games, I started again. Double click there… wait a little bit… another click there… wait for the inevitable 30-second freeze… and… a couple of clicks later I’m ready to go again. My beloved Barnet team, the reigning World, European and English champions, are to face bottom of the league Everton. Our form? WWWWW. Their form? LWDLL. With World Class players in no less than five positions we’re favourites to win. Except, I know we won’t win. I’ve played this fixture seven times and it’s the same every time: their regen goalkeeper has a worldie, my squad are incapable of finishing and my defence (having condeded single figures in both of the last two seasons) decide to go full. No matter what I do, be they tactical changes, starting XI changes or substitutional changes, the Gods of Football Manager have decided that I shall not pass.

Anyone who’s played FM knows that match. It’s the match that defines FM. It’s the match that puts you off FM for life. It’s the match that makes you a fan for life. You’ll have >75% possession, you’ll shoot over 20 times but it has been written in stone that you shall not succeed. Well, there’s a chance to succeed, but you have to acknowledge the fact that you’re playing an elaborate game of silly buggers with the Gods of FM and make stupid decisions to cover for it. If they get a red card you put on an extra defender instead of a striker, etc and so on. Do the exact opposite of what you’ve done for every other game, observe trial & error and you might get lucky on the tenth attempt. For the record, my Barnet team won that game on the millionth playthrough after I set them up ultra-defensively in a 3-5-2; FM’s confusing sometimes. Incidentally, it’s also the game that helped me kick FM to the curb after I finally admitted that it was too flawed and frustrating to enjoy any longer.

*The FM bit’s over*

Unfortunately, life isn’t like FM. There are no ragequits in reality. There are no points from which to reload and try again. If you screw up by, say, setting up like an absolute fish against the league’s bottom side, at home, then you have to live with it. Another parallel would be that stats aren’t as important in actual football. Your record-breaking amount of, let’s hypothetically say, crosses doesn’t actually mean anything.

My history in mind, I understood how Moyes felt at times today (yes, my experiences playing a video game are uncannily similar to managing the real Manchester United and thus qualify my opinions on doing so). Everything he thought he knew was failing while the opposition were getting away with murder. Did they put ten men behind the ball without a chance of scoring from open play? Cool, the football Gods will make it interesting by pulling your experienced, talismanic defender so far out of position that he’ll be found on the away pitch. Nice start bro, you’re 1-0 down now despite the opposition having done little more than string four passes together that one time.

However, my sympathy for Moyes was somewhat short lived. I’m not a professional manager by any means — and it’s even more poignant to note that Moyes’ wife has probably heard and forgotten more on the topic of football management than I have ever learnt — but I’m someone who underwent the developmental stage of childhood. The stage of childhood where I learnt that my action has a reaction and that I can manipulate that reaction based on my initial action. Sound complicated? I’ll break it down: During childhood, I learnt that putting my finger on the stove hurt while using my pleases & thank yous got me sugary goods. Based upon that early experimentation I quickly stopped touching not only the stove but other hot things.

As a result, if I were to be the manager of one of the most prestigious football teams in the world I’d fancy my chances at acknowledging a point of failure. I’d also, and forgive me if I’m getting too arrogant here, fancy my chances at trying a different approach. Heck, FM prepared me for that. If everything I thought I knew wasn’t working then it’d be time to try something else.

All of which makes the United game even more confusing. Plans A through Z were to cross the ball into the box from various positions and in different delivery styles. When we worked our way through the first alphabet why didn’t we try varying the actual crossing theme as opposed to the crosses themselves? Plan AA could’ve been something out-of-the-box like using Mata as a playmaker who tried to the thread the ball into players of the calibre of RvP and Rooney. A ludicrous idea, the likes of which you’d never try outside of FM, but surely worth a shot.

Alas, technical breakdowns of play from amateurs are boring to read. The point here was what everyone already knows; United’s gameplan was awful. The reason I’m bothering to write about United is huge for two reasons and unrelated to the hilarious over-reliance on crosses today. I don’t write about United because a) I’m too lazy to write about almost anything these days and b) there’s enough United-related content out there for me to see how my thoughts are redundant. So why have I been spurred into action?

Today feels like the straw that broke the camel’s back. There have been some idiots against Moyes before he was even hired but, for the most part, people have tried to support the new manager. Performances weren’t great and the results have been awful by United’s standards but SAF asked us to support Moyes, so support we shall. Personally, I still believe in Moyes. Since the summer my roadmap for the first seasons under Moyes has been as follows:

  1. A complete write-off. We might do well in the CL but otherwise I expect nothing from us. I expect opposition teams to try and get their revenge for years of hurt and us being unable to maintain our pride. From Moyes I actively expect him to be awful. For the first season he won’t know what he’s doing.
  2. A season to expect decent performances & results, the formation of Moyes’ style given the players at his disposal and a squad that begins to take shape under Moyes (ie. his players taking over from SAF’s).
  3. Business as normal. Challenging for trophies while playing decent football.

It’s based upon that roadmap that I want to make and offer my opinion. Firstly, I mean it when I say I’ve written off this season. I’ve found the comedy in the shipwreck that is this season. Moyes clearly has no idea what he’s doing and it’s really entertaining to watch. I can excuse it on the basis that he has to make his mistakes now in order to learn but, my oh my, it’s somewhat hilarious to watch those mistakes. 46 crosses by half time and the plan in the second half was to cross some more? Mate. Mate!

Just like a child, Moyes is having to experiment in his environment to find out what works and what doesn’t. I must admit, however, that I’m a bit surprised at how long it’s taking him to figure out certain things, particularly things that are marginally complicated. Yes, Big D, United are famed for their wing play. No, Big D, you shouldn’t play 95% of your play down the wings when Valencia and Young are in worse form than I am. Yes, Dave, I understand that Sir Alex was oddly not keen on Nani as well. No, Dave, you shouldn’t carry that on for the sake of carrying it on when Valencia and Young are contributing less to United’s play than I am. You know what Moyesie boy? You learn it for yourself and I’ll just laugh while you figure it all out. You have one year before I stop finding it funny, now go. Ok, just one piece of advice before you go, please stop saying stupid things in your press conferences. It’s not funny when you say you don’t know what you have to do to win, it’s just sad. Really sad.

Alas, I digress. In fairness to Moyes, we have low expectations of transfer windows at United. United’s fans are the least judgemental fans in the entire Premier League when it comes to expecting big names in the window. Somewhat pathetically, being linked to some big names will do for us. Maybe even getting to first base with them, if we’re feeling particularly naughty. However, this summer was a farce. Woodward was doing his absolute best to announce himself to the footballing world as the man most unlikely to secure a transfer… while living in the same region of Europe as Joe Kinnear. Let that settle for a minute before you continue. So, as I was saying, in fairness to Moyes, he didn’t really get much in the summer. He half-assed it a bit by finally securing Fellaini for an outrageous sum of money but, at the absolute least, it was a central midfielder. Having somehow gotten Mata signed in January he’s actually doing well.

From trying really hard to sign Baines and Fellaini in his first window to getting Mata in the second, it’s safe to say there’s been a large improvement there. I read a thoroughly impressive piece regarding Moyes’ transfer policy at Everton and it would be great to see some of that come into play at United. Most importantly, however, I want to see a plan.

I have my roadmap for Moyes. My roadmap means no less than any of the other words in this smattering of defecate that I call an opinion. What I would like to see is Moyes’ roadmap. When he signed Mata he said it was where he wanted the club to start moving. Where, exactly, is that? Are we going to sign a new squad in the summer? Are we going to give other youngsters the same chance we gave Januzaj? Are we going to sell them out of the blue like we did Tunnicliffe and Cole? Will we see players signed to fit our tactical systems? Are we going to use tactical systems that utilise players efficiently? If we’re going to use Rooney as a CM are we going to use Kagawa in his actual position behind the striker? Why does everyone up North hate Nani? When should we expect to start winning things again?

There are so many questions and not many answers. This season has been quite enigmatic, by all accounts, in that it’s been a massive car crash yet we seem incapable of analysing what went wrong. Or, in the very rare situations where we can detect what went wrong, we ignore it anyway.

Finally then, what is this poor, stupid fool of a writer trying to say?

Today was painful to watch (even as someone who expects United to be this season) but I still don’t think it’s squarely on Moyes’ shoulders. It’s a lot of fun to poke and laugh when the new boy does something silly but ultimately he’s becoming a massive scapegoat. The players have been atrociously bad this season (even if you assume SAF was getting an extra 10% of out them it doesn’t explain the drop in performance across the board) and Moyes’ only true sin, in my opinion, was replacing the backroom staff. He inherited a squad that needed freshening up and received no support in doing so over the summer — furthermore, players (*ahem* Vida) have decided to move instead of face the challenge, apparently shafting us on the pitch in the process.

I’m not saying there’s nothing wrong — I’ve managed to relate to the farce that is this season using my childhood development and my addiction to Football Manager — but I am saying that Moyes isn’t the only issue. I don’t have the stomach to argue with anyone because, ultimately, I don’t care enough. However, those are my thoughts on the matter. Believe it or not, these are the abridged ones as well.

If there’s one thing to take away from this mass of words, it’s this:

Football is a huge, complicated sport with bits that overlap and intertwine. Things can be messy, things can be straight-cut. Pointing at one person, calling them a witch and burning them at the stake is never a particularly good idea. Not only is it not that simple, it papers over the cracks until your next witch hunt. Enjoy it as much as you can, laugh where you can but don’t take it too seriously. It’s more than a game but it’s still there to be enjoyed.

(And most importantly, if you hate Moyes so much that my “defence” of him makes you angry, don’t bother telling me about it because I genuinely don’t care enough to argue with you.)