The world of Football Manager- you can leave the game behind for, but you never truly quit with it, as many an Englishman who has spent many hours into it can attest.
So when the opportunity came on a Steam sportsball sale (Steam sales, that great butcher of wallets and bank accounts- and needing a game that could run on an integrated graphics card given I fried the last one I had in a terrible water-based accident, I took it and started to return to the world I had left sometime ago.
Football Manager 2018, like others in it series, is an incremental improvement over its predecessor. This time the game introduces an element called Dynamics, which basically presents a ton of information about the social and interpersonal hierarchies (to an extent that is relevant on the pitch), and who is considered by the team to be leaders (helpful when you’re trying to decide who to give the armband to. That’s the probably the most significant new feature. Oh, and the occasional snippet of some of your footballers coming out as homosexual to the football public at large.
Usually the sort of team that I go for is mid-table teams with a solid track record of developing talent from their youth academies (in real life), which in this case turns out to be FC Nantes, a team in France (well technically that western tip in a place called Brittany, which is partially Celtic / Gaelic than truly French), whose days at the top of the French game had long since waned, before being eclipsed by giants like Olympique Lyonnais, AS Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain, the latter of two which are backed by multi-billionaires. The team had historically produced many of the game’s greats, such as Claude Makelele and Marcel Desailly, who graced the ‘98 World Cup winning side, so the goal was self-explanatory to me from the very get go.
One of the joys of Football Manager is that success is determined by what you set out to do. For some it’s taking their beloved local small-town side to the heights of the European glory. That, or a formerly legendary team that had seen better days. For others it’s to finally smile when they roll out a first eleven nurtured from their club’s youth academy. For the very darn few- both.
The squad, is extremely mediocre in terms of technical skill, but neither their mental game, and their ability to run really fast was nothing to write home about, but at least better than their skill with the ball. With a team like this, my first idea was to play a counter-attacking, direct game, getting the ball up the front to minimize the time that they would be on the ball owing to their relative lack of talent.
The result turned out to be extremely lacklustre, as my players found themselves losing the ball, and lacking in either the speed nor the skill to be a goalscoring threat. Without being able to present that threat, the opponents could just sit back and play their natural game, grinding out for a single goal to close a boring 90 minute affair.
Sit, back, calm down, think, re-think. I tested the reverse strategy. Passing the ball, to one another and slowly, slowly just pass our way through, keeping possession of the ball as long possible- working on the logic that if the opposing team does not have the ball, they can’t score.
Voila! The possession stats on the metrics were through the roof in my favour. And with the ball on me all the time, we kept up the pressure on the opponent’s goalkeeper. Eventually the goals come in and in and in, whilst my backline, dependable, if remarkable, stemmed the tide and keep the occasional clean sheet. I do a small fist-pump. Shame I wasn't wearing a suit and tie or tracksuit at the time.
I then booted up a new game, and tried playing as a big team- Olympique Lyonnais, in the same league, applied the same strategy, with bigger finances and the best backroom staff that millions of simoleons can purchase. Sure watching the team dominate the opposition through sheer talent has its perks. But I didn’t get the same joy out of it as I was managing a mid-tier team.
Booted a new game and back on the FC Nantes train I go. It’s much more fun working to the top on your own terms than to inherit the good stuff already.