Monthly Archives: November 2010

More Than A Game…

My Football Manager journey began back in 1993. I was playing the Commodore Amiga, the game was called Championship Manager and the makers went by the unimpressive name of Domark. If you are wondering how this relates to the game currently known as Football Manager then this story is probably not for you.

Domark were soon swallowed up by Eidos, who developed the Championship Manager series into a global phenomenon before splitting from the brand name to create Football Manager. But let’s start at the beginning.

The 1993-94 version must look appallingly primitive now. Back then it was a statistical paradise for a 12-year-old boy. I’d previously had to get my kicks from homemade top trumps and a dice game called Wembley (don’t ask). Sure, there’d been football management games before but when it came to statistics the original Football Manager of my childhood could provide only the most rudimentary of detail. Mark Hughes was an ‘an eight’. Peter Beardsley was ‘a nine’. Ergo, Beardsley was better. Painful.

Here though was a game with a plethora of detail providing subtle nuances beyond the intellect of well, anyone really. The trap had been set and a generation was about to caught hook line and sinker …

The mid 90s brought GCSEs, A-Levels and with it the PC. Of course every young boy needed a PC to pass his exams. It was obvious. It was also obvious that I had to purchase CM 97-98.

Now there are computer games and there are cultural phenomena. I’d suggest CM 97-98 falls into the latter category. This was the game that set the parameters and the clichés for much of what was to come. Tales of hours, days, weeks, months and even marriages that were thrown down the drain in pursuit of one more victory; Stories of taking Altrincham to the Premiership or Telford into Europe; the kid down the road who was now in the 2086-87 season. CM 97-98 had it all. It was also perhaps the first game to introduce the concept of ‘the Football Manager legend’.

Wonderkids and bargain free transfers. Typing those words and phrases into google search will see you transported into the netherworld of Football Manager. Over a decade ago the concept was new but the principle was the same – and for many it began with Crewe.

Crewe Alexandra had a reputation for possessing a fine academy and boy did the CM programmers run with it. Danny Murphy (AM-C) and Neil Lennon (DM-C) were the must-have players at that time and when I say must-have I mean it – if these players averaged less than 9.30 for you then, in the eyes of your peers, you were clearly tactically incompetent and had no more right to live on God’s green Earth than a weasel. When you throw in Darren Purse (D/F-C) you had the first batch of FM legends. The pioneers of what was to come.

By 2001, the game had – as Jamie Redknapp (M-C) might say – literally exploded. An entire counter-culture and mythology surrounding this so-called game existed. Teenagers were taking print-outs of their teams to show friends. Sleepovers that should have been dedicated to alcopops and fledgling attempts to remove girls’ bras were descending into all-nighters of a very different variety. Many a night at my friend’s would see me woken at 5am by the click-click noise of Kris sat in near darkness, silent and muttering about ‘one last game’. Only it wasn’t really a game was it. It was something more.

After all, a game ought to have an outcome; an ending. With CM there is no end-of-level baddie … no mission completed … there is only the next season. This wasn’t a game. This was something approximating to a life.

By the time Championship Manager 2001-02 came along – now known as Championship Manager 3 – it was a sophisticated creature that provided training regimes and an in-depth scouting system. In fact there was now the nagging doubt at the back of your mind that you were putting more time and effort into your management than the average Premiership manager was for real. It is a belief that Harry Redknapp and numerous others have seemed determined to confirm in either word or deed ever since.

And, of course, more legends were being created. There were characters from Zlatan Muslimovic (only the player Ibra could have been) and Stefan Selakovic to, err, Mike Duff.

Trouble was brewing, however. The creators and programmers of Championship Manager, SI Games, split from the publishers Eidos and confusion reigned supreme among devotees everywhere. Fans of “Champ” were now faced with a decision – stick with the product they had come to love or follow the talent. Not since Eric Bristow and co left the British Darts Organisation had sports fans been faced with such a decision. But it was soon clear that the creators of the game had taken the secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices with them – the King was dead, all hail the King. Enter, Football Manager.

Fans were accustomed to slight interface changes after all, and the name change could be dealt with. So those in the know put their faith in SI Games and were rewarded. The five years since have seen the game develop more and more, even coming to reflect the increased role of agents and the media in the modern game. But perhaps there is still some nostalgia for the games that launched the phenomenon…

After all, who really has the time to ensure that every player has individually specific closing down tactics; that the opponents are being shown on their weaker foot; that the temperamental striker is being given a kick up the arse in the team talk while the teenage full-back is being suitably relaxed… and that’s just the match. You’d better make sure you don’t say the wrong thing in a press conference, make a bad call in contract renewals or asked too much of the board – oh and be sure to be scouting the entire world on a weekly basis while you’re at it.

Football Manager is now a high-maintenance girlfriend. Which, incidentally, is another thing you won’t stand a chance of keeping in your life if you get sucked into playing this game. But then, that’s just the sort of tough decision you’re going to have to make if you want to be a Football Manager.

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Matt Lawton has been rather unlucky to have this article become his most read piece. In truth, it appears to be the work of an over-zealous and dangerously ill-informed sub-editor as there is no mention of Xavi’s unworthiness in the report itself. Even so, in a week where the little master pulled the strings in a stunning 5-0 demolition of Real Madrid it feels appropriate to once again drag this Daily Mail monstrosity up for another appearance.

The gift that keeps on giving.

In Search of Armando Paredes

My latest piece for In Bed With Maradona …

It’s a small world these days and football is no different. Even a bumbling fool like me can easily contact experts across the four corners of the globe at the click of a button. But details of one man elude me. He goes by the name of Armando Paredes.

Paredes first piqued my interest when reading a piece about South American wild men. The usual nutters were there from Edmundo to Rene Higuita. And then there was Paredes – an Ecuadorian lunatic with a rap sheet the length of Linford Christie’s schlong.

To read on click below …

In Search of Armando Paredes

England – What’s Left to Say?

“The story of British football and the foreign challenge is the story of a vast superiority, sacrificed by stupidity, short-sightedness, and wanton insularity. It is a story of shamefully wasted talent, extraordinary complacency and infinite self-deception.”
Brian Glanville, Soccer Nemesis, 1955

“Speed was made a fetish. Quick was equal to good. No, better.”
Willy Meisl, 1957

Over 50 years on … What is there left to say?

WSC #286 – Safe Sackings

The latest edition of When Saturday Comes is now on the shelves, featuring a piece by me on the subject of Safe Sackings, in which I argue the case that – contrary to popular opinion – some managers are in fact given too much time in a job.

For that story and much more besides, go pick up a copy at your local newsagents or order online by clicking on the link below:

When Saturday Comes #286

Wolves 2-1 Man City – Chalkboards

It’s one of the first rules of blogging really – don’t just regurgitate the opinions and analysis of the mainstream.

I’m going to break it here. Mainly because I cannot resist. But also because who could possibly have known Match of the Day would get this one spot on! It probably helped that (a) Lee Dixon was on the panel, (b) Dixon is a City fan so may have actually watched the game, and (c) .. it was blindingly obvious:

City’s Lack of Width

Manchester City lined up in a 4-3-1-2 formation with David Silva behind a front two of Emanuele Adebayor and Mario Balotelli. Both Balotelli and Silva pulled wide to receive the ball but the lack of natural width was remarkable with James Milner and Gareth Barry tucked inside to support Yaya Toure. 
The problem was exarcebated by the fact that Wolves were playing a 4-5-1 with attacking wingers in Matt Jarvis and Stephen Hunt. The City full-backs Micah Richards and Jerome Boateng therefore faced a twofold problem. Firstly, they were obliged to get forward, out of their comfort zone, to provide the width in City’s formation. Secondly, they had two wingers to mark playing high up the field and pinning them back. 

City Dominate Cente – But Give Up the Wings

You see some interesting chalkboards on the Guardian site. However, you rarely see the Opta stats illustrate such a stark contrast between two sides that, in terms of passes completed in this match, were pretty evenly matched. Michael Cox of Zonal Marking illustrated Wolves’ wingplay through the use of heatmaps. Lee Dixon used images from the game to show how Wolves bypassed the tight midfield three of City. Here I’ve gone for the pass completion data:

Guardian Chalkboards powered by Opta data

Stephen Ward hugs the touchline

As the chalkboard shows, Man City had a stranglehold on the centre of the park and, as you may expect, Yaya Toure completed more passes than any other City player. In contrast, Wolves barely completed a pass within the centre circle, but that this did not prevent them having the majority of the ball (53% of possession). They were helped by the fact that two of the best passers on their side are the full-backs Stephen Ward and Kevin Foley. Given City’s formation it is little surprise that the two men played more passes than anyone else on the field – clearly playing into Wolves’ hands. Ward, in particularly, held the width to an extraordinary degree – as illustrated on the chalkboard opposite – where he completed most of his passes without venturing more than a few yards from the touchline to do so. On the other flank, it was Foley who advanced to hook over the cross for the winning goal. Both Wolves full-backs, therefore, were able to take advantage of the fact that they had no direct opponent for large parts of the game.

Mancini: Reactive not Proactive

Of course, while Foley and Ward are extremely comfortable on the ball, their weakness this season has been in a defensive capacity. Each player has conceded a penalty in recent weeks when an opponent has ran at them – Foley on West Ham’s Victor Obinna; Ward against Spurs’ Alan Hutton.
The obvious change that Robert Mancini needed to make was to bring on Adam Johnson to have a run at one or both of the full-backs – with the dual bonus of exposing their weakness and cutting off a key supply line to the Wolves wingers. Remarkably, Mancini only turned to Johnson half-way through the second half when City were a goal down and, crucially, just seconds after Mick McCarthy had brought on George Elokobi for Stephen Hunt. Elokobi is a limited footballer but a far more resilient defensive opponent and with Ward now covering ahead of him the Wolves left flank had effectively been reinforced. As a result, Johnson arrived on the pitch at the very moment that the window of opportunity to expose this weakness had been closed shut.

Conclusions

This was an important win for Wolves and, on the face of it, a shock victory against their highly paid opponents. However, it is hard to imagine that a side will turn up at Molineux more determined to play into the home side’s hands. Wolves’ ball-playing full-backs were given the time and space to pick out key man Matt Jarvis, while City clogged up the midfield to no avail.
Mancini identified the problem too late to save the game. He’ll need to think quicker in future if he is to save City’s season .. and his own job.