Like the passing of the seasons, there are some dates in the football calendar which have come to be sacrosanct. The first Saturday in January? Must be the Third Round Proper of the FA Cup. The last day of August? You may wish to seal yourself into a concrete bunker for the day, because it’s the last day of the summer transfer window. So it is nowadays as autumn starts to turn to winter, with the release of big-selling video games such as Football Manager. Now, I have small confession to make at this point. I haven’t played Football Manager for the best part of a decade. Indeed, much as you can date trees by the number of rings in a cross section of it, you can date football supporters of a certain persuasion by whether they call this venerable title by its current name or its older name of Championship Manager. It will come as no great surprise to regular readers of this site that I fall into the latter of these two categories.
Despite having not played this game for some years, though, it is enough of a phenomenon for even the likes of me to be fully aware of its existence and the personality cult which surrounds it, and if there is one thing that we all know about Championship, sorry, Football Manager, it is that this is a game that has become a relentless pursuit of realism. No stone has been left unturned in the desire to make this game as much like the real experience of managing a professional football club, but looking in from the outside I cannot help but feel that in some respects the game still doesn’t quite go far enough. It may well be the case that this game is near enough to the real thing to push its more vulnerable players to the brink of a nervous breakdown, but this is the twenty-first century and, whilst it can often feel as if technology can help us to do anything to augment our experience of anything, there are still certain things that the company behind it could do in order to fully immerse the player in the experience of being the manager of a football coaching in 2012.
1. The Football Manager Sartorial Code: All managers should, upon starting their career, be given a selection of dress codes that they have to stick to throughout their time in the game. These could range from “The Englishman On Holiday In Florida” (also known as “The Pulis”), “The Former Player Who Hasn’t Quite Got Used To The Fact That He Is No Longer A Player” (also known as “The McCarthy”) through to “The Clearly Sexy And Sophisticated Because He Is Wearing A V-Neck Jumper & Tie (also known as “The Vialli”) or “The Slightly Unhinged Provincial Building Society Manager” (also known as “The Holloway”). Managers would, of course, receive icons onto which they could upload photographs of themselves, and they should, perhaps, be encouraged, to actually dress like this while playing the game.
2. Abuse or death threats by text message and bullets through the post: Next up is something so obvious that it is somewhat surprising that it hasn’t been implemented already. We all understand the pressures that managers are under, and that not every manager can win every week. On the whole, though, we largely also choose to ignore this. Our solution to this is simple. As part of the registration process, players submit their mobile phone numbers and, in the event that their team loses a handful of consecutive matches, they start receiving highly abusive text messages. If results don’t pick up, this escalates to the sending of a bespoke, engraved bullet with the players name embossed upon it as a reminder that failing to meet the expectations of the more swivel-eyed members of a clubs support is, that paraphrase Bill Shankly, much more important than life or death. Well, more important than life or basic human decency, to be more precise.
3. Introducing The AGM Cup in the lower divisions: Many Football Manager players choose to start their careers at the bottom level of the football food chain, secure in the knowledge that legendary status will await them should they take their adopted club to ten consecutive Champions League finals and with the built in comfort zone of knowing that they won’t care too much should they fail in their uphill battle. It is possible that many players consider these few seasons of scrapping their way up through the non-league game to be something of a chore, but there are ways of making it all a little more exciting, and introducing The AGM Cup would be one. For the uninitiated, The AGM Cup is the name given to the series of annual meetings of the leagues of non-league football at which the following years’ constitutions are decided, and it has come to be regarded as something of a catch-all phrase to cover the financial basket-casery of the lower divisions. On the one hand, a manager might find that his chairman and benefactor is suddenly and unexpectedly arrested whilst attempting to smuggle a few kilos of very hard drugs into the country in order to repay a historic debt to a man called “Tony The Snooker Ball In A Sock” and that his available funds for wages have suddenly dwindled to zero. It doesn’t have to be all bad news for game players, though. A manager might find that a suddenly financially stricken club has to release all of its players shortly before a crucial match and that his team lines up against eleven seven year-olds who stand on the pitch in shirts six sizes too big for them, too scared to move.
4. Compulsory midnight trips to deal with the predilections of certain players: We all know that there are certain players for whom management refers not only to the dressing room and the training ground. Premier League managers could have their careers made a little trickier by having to make clandestine trips to brothels to collect drunk players that are just about to do something that will guarantee them all sorts of unwanted tabloid interest over the next few days, or to sort out players that have decided that midnight on the evening before a top of the table local derby is exactly the right time to spend a quarter of a million pounds on a firework display without the permission of the local authorities or any knowledge of how fireworks actually work. If you can talk a virtual Mario Ballotelli out of setting his roof on fire when he has decided that this would be a really good idea, you probably deserve a pay rise or bonus of some description.
5. The England Manager Ridicule Clause: It used to be that ascending to the post of coach of the national team used to be the summit of a managers achievements. This long since ceased to be the case, but that’s not to say that the England managers job doesn’t come with a set of pressures that are unique to it. Upon successful application or invitation to this position, all potential coaches should be invited to offer one household item – ie, an umbrella – one character trait – ie, a unique approach to the English language which contains grammar-mangling phrases such as “Do I not like that” – or, in the case that they have chosen to not be English, merely their nationality, for the tabloid press to repeat mercilessly after their team (which, let us not forget, is usually just about good enough to finish just below the play-off places in the Championship) fails to beat Spain in Madrid until they get fired, decide that they can’t be bothered with all of this and resign or go absolutely crazy and lock themselves in a broom cupboard at Wembley Stadium with a tailors mannequin dressed up to resemble Sir Alf Ramsey.
6. Historical Re-Enactments: We all know that the history of international football is littered with incidents what would make for excellent mini-games that could be built into the existing Football Manager framework. For example, it’s May 1983 and you are David Pleat. Your task is to steer your Luton Town team to victory away to Manchester City and then run across the Maine Road pitch in a beige suit and brown shoes, avoiding the missiles being thrown as you head for Brian Horton to give him a big cuddle. Alternatively, it’s 1977 and you are Don Revie, formerly the most successful English manager of the previous decade but now the manager of an England team that looks it might not qualify for the following years World Cup finals. Your task is to commandeer a taxi to Heathrow Airport with a journalist from the Daily Mail in order to catch a flight to the United Arab Emirates in return for a briefcase full of used five pound notes whilst avoiding officials from the Football Association who are following you with the intention of finding out what the bloody hell is going on.
With these improvements implemented – and this is said with the caveat that, not having played the game for a decade or so, it’s possible that some or all of these have already been built into the game – we are confident that Football Manager can offer an even more all-encompassing experience for the budding Jose Mourinho. That’ll be £5,000 please, Sports Interactive and Sega.
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