MU2020 September 2019 – Out of my Depth?

We’re playing Bristol Rovers at the Memorial Stadium in our Carabao Cup tie. The draw has been kind, gifting us a plum game at this League One minnow that should be a training exercise for my second stringers. But we’re heading towards full-time; the score is poised at 0-0 with my lads showing little semblance of inspiration. The usual areas are being dominated, however our shooting is wasteful and I’ve questioned my own logic in fielding Lucas Leiva, using a defensive midfielder when we perhaps ought to be showing the opposition less respect.

For the first time I’m beginning to wonder if I have what it takes to manage this side. The week before, we’ve faced PSV Eindhoven at home in the first match of our Europa League group. It’s been a decent draw for us. Along with the Dutch side we will be up against Espanyol and Arsenal Tula in Group B, in other words about as straightforward as it gets within a competition we’re fourth favourites to win (Sevilla, Arsenal and Roma, since you’re wondering). I’m so confident, in fact, that I go with the Stiffs. De Gea starts because he’s De Gea and the alternatives are horrible, but elsewhere I’ve handed starts to the likes of Jones, Pereira, James and Schmelzer, the latter making his United debut. The egg is still sliding down my face when the visitors take a first half lead. Pereiro latches on to a lovely Sadilek pass that scythes the central defence apart and slots home. It looks so easy, too easy really, and I start a round of bollockings that lasts until late in the game, when our blushes are spared by Martial coming on and scoring an equaliser.

Still, it’s a sorry way to start a European campaign. We’re going to need to improve, or at least pay this competition a little more respect, after all there’s no doubt we represent a considerable scalp for these teams. And it’s my fault. I’m on a high when we kick off, having returned from the international break with a 3-1 win at the Theatre over West Ham United. It’s a resolute afternoon’s work for us. Bernardeschi scores his first for United after just six minutes. Balbuena conjures an equaliser when he heads in Wilshere’s searching corner ball, exposing a weakness in our defending at set pieces that I will need to review. This just riles us into action, however. Before half-time, we score a quick double via Rashford, who converts a penalty and then turns provider for a beaut from Martial. The goals arise from sustained pressure, our men ranged around the West Ham penalty area, giving them no room to get out as we move the ball around crisply in search of gaps. It’s the sort of action that makes me purr, watching us work with conviction and intent to punish. It’s clear at this stage that the opposition are done. They know it. The fucking old cunt, he knows it. And so do we, pretty much taking the second half off as very little happens and we pocket the points with relish.

But then we can only draw with PSV, and later after a weekend that sees a full league calendar apart from us and Wolves, we fall away from first place. Things are suddenly a bit grimmer. We’ve got to get a result against Rovers. I sense the pressure beginning to build. People expect us to win. They demand that I get this one out of the way, and the Bristolians have even helped us out by getting Ollie Clarke dismissed for a reckless high tackle. It’s only Fred, Ollie, what’s he really going to do to you? Note to self – find a new home for Fred before too long. He’s not very good, is he? I demand we attack hard and often, bringing Mata on after his recent injury woes, and eventually something miraculous happens when Schmelzer scores from distance, spotting a bit of open field before as he’s about thirty yards out and releasing a rocket that defies Jaakkola and flies into the top corner. Phew! We will be away at Wolverhampton in the next round.

A short September schedule ends with a trip to that London, where we will face Chelsea. Even with their transfer ban, and without Hazard thank goodness, they’re a dangerous outfit. Kante, Giroud, Willian and Pedro can punish anyone, and we’re going to need to work very hard to contain them and not repeat the mistakes we made against Arsenal in August. Except that’s exactly what we look like doing when we concede from two corners. Tomori is the aggressor on both occasions. For the first, he heads direct and true towards goal. The ball hits the roof of Wan-Bissaka’s head and goes in, the goal credited to our luckless full-back who could do little about it. Shortly after, they’re ahead by two when Tomori is again left largely unmarked to head Pedro’s corner beyond De Gea. We really need to pull our sleeves up. Pogba knows what he has to do, lashing in a reply from distance to make it 2-1. We weather more storms, and in the second half, after I’ve once again replaced Lucas with Mata to give us better options in attack, Lindelof hits a long pass to Martial, who wrestles away the attentions of Zouma, dashes into the box and shoots low to beat Kepa. Somehow we’ve done it. Chelsea continue to threaten, and there’s a case to be made for them dominating us generally, but we’ve clinched a draw away to a major rival, and that seems like a better tone on which to end the month.

The board are happy, they reveal to me as we call time on September. The defeat to Arsenal continues to haunt them, and they found the PSV draw as vexatious as I did, but they sense things are going in the right direction. It’s a sentiment I don’t share yet, but if we continue to show the sort of spirit we demonstrated against Chelsea then things may be all right.

As far as the table is concerned, that solitary point at Stamford Bridge, coupled with missing a match, puts us in fifth place and five points shy of Manchester City, who are in rampant form. Aguero tops the scoring charts. De Bruyne is considered the division’s highest rated player, yet there’s plenty of time left to change all that and we’re rather nicely placed on the whole. At least our league visits to Arsenal and Chelsea are done with, and there are no rivals from the top drawer to face off against in October.

MU2020 August 2019 – Opening Salvos

Eventually all the planning, hoping and dreaming are done with, and it’s time to start the season. I’m always a bit nervous about kicking things off. What if it all goes wrong? What if this new game has some nasty sting in its tail and everything I thought I was doing right tactically and in terms of the players we need is rubbished? I wonder how David Moyes feels at times like these.

The schedule opens kindly with a home game against newly promoted Sheffield United. In real life Chris Wilder’s Blades are probably the Premier League’s surprise package, aren’t they? Whoever they’re playing they have no respect and go for it all the same, which has made for some refreshing viewing. We line up with De Gea in goal, Wan Bissaka, Shaw, Lindelof and Maguire at the back, Bentancur and Pogba supporting an attacking midfield trio of Rashford, Mata and Bernardeschi with Martial up front. It takes 16 minutes for us to take the lead. Mata fires in a corner and some poor marking allows Rashers to have a free header at point-blank range. Moore, in goal for Henderson, can only watch the ball sail beyond him. A few minutes later it’s 2-0. Bernardeschi has all the time in the world to lash his cross towards the far corner, where Rashford beats his marker – an ageing Jagielka – and heads home. It gets worse for the defender when he brings Martial down in the box. The easiest of penalty shouts ensures Rashers gets his hat trick with a coolly dispatched spot kick. There’s still an hour of match left to play, but it’s already over and we happily play out the time, giving players match practice and making the Yorkshire team look decidedly off the pace.

We are away at Arsenal the following weekend. Despite the Gooners’ shortcomings we know this will be more of a challenge. Mata drops to the bench with Lucas moving into defensive midfield, the better to deal with the perpetual threat of Aubameyang. In an insipid performance that I hope will not set a template for how we play against the bigger teams, we aren’t very good in succumbing to a 2-1 defeat. The side works incredibly hard to equalise after Pepe’s first half opener. Lingard comes on and provides a killer cross that Martial is able to beat Chambers to convert, but we go down late to Ozil’s long shot decider. Privately I don’t we deserve anything more, though in public I’m happy to argue the toss with Emery, the gnomish Arsenal manager with a penchant for smug gloating in victory. For our part Wan Bissaka has been especially poor, failing to deal with Aubameyang on their left wing and in his throw-ins handing the ball back to the opposition time after frustrating time.

Hopefully things will be more straightforward the following weekend, when we’re travelling to the Xanadu of football that is Goodison Park and Everton. As seems to be regularly the case, the Toffees are always decent opposition but remain stubbornly short of the top tier, despite the massive monies they dole out on players by rote. In an interesting bit of transfer news they’ve drafted in Roma’s Javier Pastore on loan, and the Argentinian gives Luke Shaw a tough time on the flank, scoring early in the second half. Fortunately we’re good enough to get two of our own via a Martial brace, the forward particularly incisive where other squad members – Pogba, Rashers, notably – perhaps are not. Bentancur has a very good game, supplying the Frenchman for his first and dominating Gomes in midfield to cut off a vital supply route. Outclassed generally, the Evertonians start doing what teams in their situation do and go in hard, which leads to short-term injuries for Bernardeschi and Martial. They should be back for the following weekend’s adventure.

Although I think Bournemouth are where they are through merit – it’s a good team, several players we would consider to be covetable – I still believe we’ll win this clearly. The big news for us is that Juan Mata has sustained a hernia in training, after helping someone on the weights because he’s so fricking nice. Dalot comes in for Wan Bissaka, who’s short on fitness, and Martial’s recovery only makes him capable of making the bench, so Dembele gets his first start as our forward. We run riot, winning 4-0 against a side that rarely wants to leave their own half. When the statistics look like this you know you’ve had a good afternoon’s work:

Bernardeschi and Dembele both score their first goals for us. The former’s is especially good, a lovely solo effort that comes at the end of a dribbling action from around forty yards out. Moussa’s header, scored from a Bernardeschi free kick, is further evidence that we’re going to be dangerous from set-pieces. Rashford and Lingard also score, and I can’t even be bothered to get annoyed about the VAR decision that overturns Pereira’s late long shot because we’ve been so emphatic.

The table has us heading a small group of teams who’ve won three out of the opening four matches. No one has gone without at least one defeat, which is refreshing to see, and if we wind up here at the end of the campaign then it will be some achievement.

I quite like this school report grading style that underpins end of the month board reviews. They’re happy enough, understandably disappointed over the Arsenal result but otherwise things seem to be cool. The 4-0 win over Bournemouth has delighted them, as have the deals I have struck to bring in Bernardeschi and Lucas, neither transfer breaking the bank.

MU2020 Summer 2019 – The Squad

The media consider us to be fifth favourites to win the Premier League (City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Spurs, since you’re wondering). The schedule opens with a hopefully straightforward home game against Sheffield United, before we take to the road for the not inconsiderable challenge of Arsenal. August should give us a reasonable gauge of how the season will turn out. It’s difficult to see beyond the two big boys of the division, but who knows?

In the meantime, here’s a look at the 25-man squad we’ve assembled, the boys to entertain you, which would make a marked difference from what they did during the dirty Jose days, am I right?

Goalkeepers

In my account of the FM 2018 game with Manchester United, I called my blog De Gea Plus Ten. The reason for that, reasonably enough I’m sure you’ll agree, is the presence in my side of the demi-god that is David De Gea (28, ). Even if the gloss has washed away a little, David remains a great keeper with perfect reflexes. He’s still in the conversation when it comes to discussions about the best in the world, though that might say more about those sorts of conversations than it does the guy’s quality (how long past his best did people still bang on about Casillas? Cassy-arse, more like). In any event, we feel we’re in safe hands in David’s, er, hands, an important player for us who seems happy enough just to be here.

Every good side needs a great goalkeeper. We’re lucky in that regard, but you can’t say the same for the poor Joes who are warming the bench and haunting the reserves. United’s main back-up is Sergio Romero (32, ), who has somehow clawed his way to 96 caps for Argentina but is some way off the pace, indeed he’s turned out for his country more than half the number of times he has played for his various teams, over a career that stretches back to 2003. His best years were with AZ Alkmaar and Sampdoria, where he started regularly, but elsewhere it’s been a bit hit and miss, and in his four years here he’s made a total of seven league appearances. For all that Sergio looks a decent alternative if the worst comes to the worst for David, not that any of this will stop me from putting him up for sale when the opportunity presents itself.

As for Lee Grant (36, ), this season – his second with us – will be his last. I can understand the reasons why we acquired him. Sensible teams sign a third choice keeper, ideally someone who will only trouble the first team at the direst end of need. But he’s a makeweight, nothing more, and I guess he has to be happy enough with the £30,000 we’re paying him weekly for doing absolutely nothing. The future is hopefully represented by Dean Henderson (22, ), on loan with Sheffield United again and, on this occasion, getting to test himself and develop within the heady climes of the English top flight.

Right-Backs

We sold Ashley Young because he was ageing, on the decline and commanding a big wage for someone I barely expect to play. It helped my decision that we have Aaron Wan-Bissaka (21, ), a £45 million capture from Crystal Palace who spent the entirety of 2018/19 playing in such a way to wave his hand about, demanding the attention of passing bigger teams. These are early days for Aaron. The last season was his breakthrough, so our acquisition of him represents a gamble, though I think it will be a happy one. With natural pace and acceleration, and fantastic technique in the tackle, we want to see his numbers improve throughout his first term with us. His back-up, still considered a prospect by the club, is Diogo Dalot (20, ), signed from Porto for £19.5 million in 2018 and having made 16 league appearances for us. Part of me thinks we should have kept Ashley on as a wise old head and found a loan move for Diogo. He’s very raw. But he brings a nice complement of skills, excelling in the attacking areas whereas Aaron is more of a defender currently. My main aim for this year is to blood Diogo in Europe and see how it goes. He’s had an impressive pre-season.

Left-Backs

So the only natural player we had on the books when I joined was Luke Shaw (24, ). Marcos Rojo could fill in here, but oops I sold him. Matteo Darmian, excised to Parma, was another possibility, but neither was a left-back by trade, which leaves Luke, now a veteran of the side but with so much still to prove. While there’s nothing really wrong with him, particularly his mighty fine pace, he gives the impression of being one bad tackle away from a six month lay-off, which is why I have sought a second player for this role. I didn’t want to spend huge money, and after looking at the likes of Aaron Martin (Mainz didn’t want to sell) and Jordi Alba (transfer listed by Barcelona, but only gettable at a heavy price), I plumped for Borussia Dortmund’s Marcel Schmelzer (31, ). The German’s age should give you an idea of how long-term a signing I expect him to be. He’s here for now, because he can provide cover, because he’s here, but his numbers look absolutely fine and he’s amassed 16 international caps during his long career. Essentially I’ve put this one off for now, but I expect ultimately to draft someone in who’ll really challenge Luke’s place. It could even be Brandon Williams (18, ) who stakes his claim in the end. The teenager is spending the year with Bolton Wanderers, hoping to get in some quality game time and hone his skills. He’s some way off, but the place is potentially up for grabs.

Centre Backs

Successive managers have been adding central defenders to the squad for some time now, with none coming close to equalling the great Sralex partnerships of Bruce and Pallister, or Vidic and Ferdinand. Good money has been spent also, on players whose contribution has rarely come close to meeting their exorbitant price-tags. This summer, they went a step further and broke the world record for a defender to bring in Harry Maguire (26, ). Impressive spending no doubt, and almost certainly £80 million was bang over the odds for even a fine professional like Slabhead, but it does mean we have a tall, strong and organised centre-half who removes the need to look for someone to fill this role at the present.

Who partners him is a choice between several players who have happily failed to convince all their critics yet have something to offer. The pick is probably Victor Lindelof (25, ), whose qualities are much the same as Maguire’s, to my mind, and is clearly at least pretty good. He still has much to prove, though. The same can be said for Eric Bailly (25, ), a no-nonsense £32.5 million acquisition so under-valued that I’m recommended not to renew his contract due to the unlikelihood of him winning a new work permit. I respectfully disagree. It’s no effort to trigger the two-year extension to his deal, because I’m happier keeping this hard tackling strong man around than giving him away. The coaching team’s feelings, what feels like a blase attitude by the club to blowing big wads of cash money, is giving me a strong hint about the high rolling, consequence-free, short-term thinking that has brought United to where it is.

Phil Jones (27, ) is on the transfer list when I arrive, a status I quickly restore to normality. I don’t love Phil, or even think he’s much more than a squad player, but I think he has more to offer than just letting him go, at least until Chris Smalling returns in 2020 and I get to make the choice of who to keep between these two English, distinctly average ballers. The answer may yet be Axel Tuanzebe (21, ), the back-up on the fringes of our first team who will mainly be honing his skills in the Stiffs. I see him as a decent alternative at any rate, and you have to respect the presence of homegrown players who can come in and do a job even among such lavishly signed peers. All told, a reasonable group of players, with room for improvement and fortunate enough to have De Gea behind them.

Defensive Midfielders

United had no one to fill this role as a natural fit and I wasted no time in sealing a £15.5 million deal to bring Lucas Leiva (32, ) back to England. Despite previously spending a full decade at Liverpool, the Brazilian is only 32 and remains at the top of his game. I think we will appreciate his organisation, his technical abilities and his sense of leadership in one of the most important positions on the pitch. More critically, he gives us breathing room while we go and look for the younger, longer term future of this position. There are some great DMs available for a side with deep pockets like ours – we’d love to see Florentino Luis here, or failing that perhaps West Ham’s Declan Rice takes your fancy. Minds greater than ours are working on this, and in the meantime we get a top professional like Lucas to hold the place.

Central Midfielders

You think about the great midfield partnerships of recent history, like Gattuso and Pirlo, or Keane and Scholes, or Simeone and Veron, or Makelele and Lampard, and you appreciate that we aren’t there yet. I would argue we have half of that dream team when I arrive in the shape of Paul Pogba (26, ), and I’m sure he sees himself that way. In his bloated ego’s way he’s probably about right too. He’s my choice as United captain, part of my campaign to make him feel as though he matters, and in any event I reckon I’d be bonkers not to build the side around him, to provide a showcase for his vaunted talents. Technically he has it all, and his physical attributes are off the scale, so it seems our future lies in this pampered prince of a footballer, to whom we have promised Champions League qualification in order to keep him happy. And that seems a fair enough deal to me.

United have no one who comes close to meeting Paul’s levels of excellence. Not Ander Herrera, who was given away in the summer, nor Nemanja Matic, who I happily sold off upon my arrival. Don’t look for the answers in Fred (26, ), something of an albatross after being the subject of a loadsamoney bid and never hitting the heights. I’m ambivalent about him and make it clear that he’s no more to me than a squad player, Pogba’s back-up in reality. If we can find a buyer who is prepared to spend a bit of dough on him then fair enough, he can go, but for now Fred’s torturous time in England is set to continue. The other consideration is Scott McTominay (22, ), an Academy product who I don’t see as anything more than a squad option, but useful and willing nonetheless. Scott’s game time has increased in recent seasons. He’s like the modern Darren Fletcher, not a star by our standards but perfectly reasonable as a ball winning midfielder, and someone who can be viewed as a consummate team player.

I have spent the bulk of my transfer monies on Rodrigo Bentancur (22, ), a £50 million signing from Zebre who is expecting to do nothing less than grow into the deep lying complement to Pogba. A big ask truly, but I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think the Uruguayan was capable, and what has really impressed me is his high work rate, his sheer determination, a quality I want the entire side to develop as they push for the heights. Bentancur has built a winner’s reputation, and this is what I want the squad to have as a whole.  And if he helps to keep Mr Paul happy then I guess we’re all fine with that.

Finally there’s Academy honed Andreas Pereira (23, ), at the moment the third ranked advanced playmaker but who I hope will walk into Fred’s shoes before too long. Capable of playing in a more attacking role as well as centrally, the young Brazilian comes with a level of flexibility that I really appreciate, but he’s nothing like a finished product yet. He has a high level of technique and flair that might serve us very well in the years to come. Everyone loves a good dribbler, don’t they?

Attacking Right Wingers

Without a good, natural fit in this role we have had to put our hands in our pockets and came up with Federico Bernardeschi (25, ), part of the Juventus squad who became less celebrated as the signings around him grew flashier. I’ll admit to being excited about working with the Italian international, who ticks all the boxes as an inverted winger and brings a dedicated work rate to the cause. My hope that it all works out is underlined by his loan status, which will turn into a costly permanent transfer in summer 2020.

Jesse Lingard (26, ) is the alternative, a homegrown product who can play pretty much anywhere across attacking midfield whilst being master of none of those zones. There’s a welter of bad feeling from the supporters towards Jesse; they suspect that when it comes down to it he isn’t good enough. For now, I disagree. What impresses me is that he makes up for his comparative lack of technical qualities with a fierce determination and willingness to run himself into the ground. Every team needs that, and his graduation from the Academy is something on which we frankly can’t put a price.

Attacking Left Wingers

United are blessed here, lopsided really, with two top drawer practitioners and a plucky youngster who could develop into a star. The riches begin with Anthony Martial (23, ), who can play equally comfortably on the wing or up front, and who will almost certainly be fielded in the latter role for now. Van Gaal signed the Frenchman in 2015, and since then he’s gone on to make a varied contribution – sometimes essential, at other moments lacking form and suffering a string of niggling injuries. I really rate him. At 23 Anthony has room for improvement still, is a good finisher and rates very highly in terms of flair. Football is more exciting with people like Anthony being involved in it.

As I mentioned I will normally be using him as my striker, mainly because it’s a choice between him and Marcus Rashford (21, ). Both are natural wingers, but Anthony is closer in terms of his qualities as an outright forward, whereas the young Englishman is to my mind more devastating from the flank. The jury remains out on just how good Marcus is. Some see him as rated far higher than his actual ability, which is wholly unfair on a player who’s still developing despite being part of the United wallpaper for four years. Rashers is lightning fast, knows where the goal is, and crucially works and works and works to get the result. I think he is becoming an important part of the cause, and I am fully prepared to support him.

Which leaves Daniel James (21, ), signed from Swansea for £15 million in the period before I arrived. Daniel knows the drill – this season is his opportunity to grow into the side, playing back-up to Marcus and getting chances in the first team, where his talent as possibly the side’s fastest player is augmented with improving crossing abilities. The pressure is not on him, and he knows this. Only a fool would have their entire season depend on such young shoulders, whereas I think he could grow into something a bit special.

Attacking Central Midfielders

There are plenty of players who can fill this role – Pogba, Pereira, Lingard – but only one obvious choice, which is Juan Mata (31, ). Celebrated beard wearer and winning awards as the nicest guy you could ever hope to meet, Juan is one of those players who leaves you constantly trying to find better options while quietly making himself essential. I know what I’m talking about. I chewed over the idea of replacing him with James Rodriguez, on the Real Madrid transfer list but of course an utter superstar, and in the end Juan’s age acts against him. We’re a young side and the temptation is to usurp him for a much fresher model. For now we’re stuck with him, which is a bit like going into the shop to buy The Queen is Dead and leaving with Meat is Murder instead i.e. it’s okay and possibly better, in fact. Technically and in mental categories there are few who offer more, and the trick will no doubt be to keep him happy and then sell him next summer as he’s entering the last year of his contract and his powers are beginning to wane.

Strikers

United are potentially short on numbers here after the sale of Romelu Lukaku and our failure to replace him. For the record I’ve absolutely no problem with letting the Belgian go and getting good money for him. Lukaku on paper has everything, carrying the best qualities of much smaller men physically while still being a behemoth of a player, but in reality he seemed an ever more lumbering presence up front. Goodbye and good luck to him then, but mainly goodbye. I’ll miss his uncanny ability to score goals from the ball rebounding from bits of his enormous body and into the net.

In his place the choices are Martial, Rashford, and 17 year old Mason Greenwood (17, ), who I have sent out on loan to Aston Villa where hopefully he’ll play many games, help to keep the Midlanders up and return to us a better player. To fill the hole we’ve signed Moussa Dembele (23, ), who comes with the stigma of having excelled in the Scottish Premier League but is still perfectly good enough to act as second fiddle to Martial. Relatively cheap at £22 million, after he achieved an almost ‘one goal for every two matches’ record in his one season at Lyon, Moussa is just fine as an advanced forward and probably our best natural finisher. In reality he’s a stop-gap, someone we could get relatively inexpensively while we wait for the funds that allow us to procure a god, or wait for Greenwood to reach a level of divinity, yet the chance is his and hopefully he can take it.

MU2020 Summer 2019- Waking the Dead

The board’s vision is that I end the season in a Champions League place, to which I have the double whammy route of finishing in the top four or winning the Europa competition. The former sounds like less of a risk, the latter possible if I can emulate the exploits of my Arsenal game in FM 2019. This is a better side, so why the hell not try for both? In terms of recruitment then, this window will be a case of signing who I can and then embarking on a full rebuild from the end of the campaign, providing of course that I get to keep my job, though – and whisper this please – it should be stated that I am the best manager in the world and United are darn tooting lucky to have me in charge of them.

As it turns out the easiest position to resolve is that of right winger. There are a number of prestigious names who are only good enough for the transfer list at the start of the game. It’s tempting to go for James Rodriguez just because of who he is, but £47 million is a hell of a lot to buy out his contract and replacing Mata isn’t a huge priority this season. I love Douglas Costa, who Zebre (snigger) have decided isn’t worth being in their line-up, but if there’s one thing we have in spades it’s left wingers so there’s no point. I do however like the look of another Old Lady star, Federico Bernadeschi, available for a cool £51 million. I’ve never had the pleasure of managing him in a game before, so that’s something, and Juve are willing to let him join us on a loan deal. The mandatory future fee of £49 million at the end of the year is a bit of a gamble – what if he is rubbish? – but to me the 25 year old Italian looks entirely worth the risk.

We turn again to the listed players for our defensive midfield problem. There’s a real gap here. United have no natural DMs. Nemanja Matic is the closest, but he’s on our own list of the unwanted and I see no reason to change the status of a onetime good midfielder who’s prematurely entering his waning years. The man I want long-term is Benfica’s Florentino Luis, the youngster with what appears to be endless levels of potential, but for now all I need is a reliable figure who will act as a workhorse for the side week in, week out. So we opt for Lucas Leiva, the Brazilian who seemed to be at Liverpool for half a century but is somehow still only 32. Admittedly this is a short-term fix. Lucas is a solution for this season, but he’ll more than do, and he only costs us £9.5 million, potentially going up to around fifteen.

At left-back all we really require is someone to act as cover for Luke Shaw. I’m no Jose Mourinho and so I don’t think there’s very much wrong with the English full-back’s contribution, yet he ever seems one bad challenge away from being out for six months with an injury; having an alternative is just common sense. Again I go for the short-term option, picking up Borussia Dortmund’s listed player, Marcel Schmelzer, who’s available for £6.25 million. He isn’t great and he ain’t bad, but he’s 31 and still has some use in him for one or two seasons. Obviously the true aim would be to capture a proper option, someone who might actually be an improvement on what we have. The dream is to have a full-back who’s as good as Raphael Guerreiro, the Portuguese with strong attacking instincts who graced my 2018 United side. Guerreiro has been part of Dortmund since 2016 and will be a costly signing, but possibly worth it.

The need for a striker isn’t absolutely critical. We have various options we can call on – Marcus Rashford… Anthony Martial… Mason Greenwood if we want to go for the hipster’s younger option. Only the latter is considered to be a natural front man, though Rashers and Martial can both play here equally comfortably. I have my own doubts about Greewood. His potential is enormous but I don’t think he’s quite there yet, and shoving him into the spotlight at 17 looks a bit desperate to me. Far better I feel to give him a season on loan elsewhere and hope to see the development for when he returns, so we agree a deal with Aston Villa that will make him theirs for the season. They will pay his full wages and use him as a regular starter. In the meantime we need to look at someone to fill in. The choice is between Andrea Belotti of Torino, or Lyon’s Moussa Dembele. Both are seasoned enough and know where the net is, and I go for the latter because (i) he’s younger (ii) he’s cheaper, at £20 million (iii) I have had Belotti before, and the returns were mixed. After developing origins at Fulham, Moussa has scored goals at wherever’s been paying him. He was sensational at Celtic, and prolific with OL, and if it doesn’t work out then we still have Martial and Rashford.


That leaves central midfield as the one area that needs addressing. United start with four players. There’s the superstar, who’s going nowhere. There’s also Fred, ascribed as something of an albatross after we paid over the odds for him last summer. He’s all right, but I don’t see his longer term future as being at the Theatre (of Dreams); he does however have this season to prove his worth. Scott McTominay is a decent midfielder but I don’t think he’ll ever be anything more than that and his greatest worth to us lies in his homegrown status. Matic is going to be moved off the payroll as quickly as possible. So we need a regular starter, a player on whom I’m prepared to spend heavily. My first choice is Roma’s Lorenzo Pellegrini, who I’m advised has a minimum fee release clause of £27 million. That’s too crazy a sum to be true, so I fire off an offer that his club is of course obliged to accept. Perhaps it’s a measure of United’s reduced status, or maybe the player just loves his life in the Italian capital, but he ends up agreeing a new contract with Roma rather than join us, and I’m disappointed about this. We draw up a list of possibilities, and I end up chugging another £50 million to FC Zebre for Rodrigo Bentancur, their 22 year old Uruguayan DLP. Agreeably on the FMdB app he’s described as a ‘Maestro’ and he certainly looks like exactly that, with some room for development but on the whole a potential perfect complement for showman Pogba. With these two combining we could have a really good midfield.

As for the outgoing, there are several players listed when I arrive. I have a soft spot for Phil Jones, or to put it more precisely he’s good enough to remain with us for now, so I remove him from the reams of the damned. Matic does one, leaving for Wolves in an £8.5 million deal. Good riddance. I have no room in my line-up for Marcos Rojo, who’s surely long since lived out his usefulness in Salford. Guangzhou come up with the £12.5 million required to make him theirs. I decide to end our association with Ashley Young, who for reasons best unknown signed a new deal recently, however with two right-backs already on the books there’s very little point in keeping him around. After rejecting an initial flurry of suitors, he agrees terms with Trabzomspor and leaves for £3 million. The departure of these three adds more than £300,000 into the weekly wage budget – just what does money mean at Old Trafford? I’ll find out eventually when Alexis returns and adds his enormous salary to the pot, won’t I?

FM2020 – Welcome to the Theatre

As much fun as the Arsenal Nationalist Challenge has been to play, and as short-lived (I did expect to keep it going over several seasons, at least until the team was fully Anglicised), there’s no denying we are in the age of Football Manager 2020 now. The beta version is currently the one I’m playing, with – at the time of writing – the full edition available in a week’s time and saved games being carried across, so it seems as though there’s no time like the present to start getting in there.

Traditionally my first game on a new FM will be with a big side, something easy to help me get to grips with it, though in truth that’s just an excuse and I find, the older I get, the less willing I am to put myself through the long-term tedium and penny pinching of managing in the lower leagues. This then, will be a save I run for as long as I don’t get bored with it. Hopefully it will involve some jumping around and international travel, with leagues from England, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Croatia and the Netherlands loaded. The set-up that’s lucky enough to be getting my services is none other than the former big dogs of the EPL – Manchester United.

So in previous years, that long period of time from the mid-1990s through to earlier this decade, United were serial winners and something of an easy touch for any manager. Guided often kicking and screaming by management model and red-faced bully boy Alex Ferguson, there was something of the steamroller about the Red Devils for what felt like an eternity. The secret to Fergie’s success was his willingness to adapt his tactical approach and the players who fit within it. The early league title wins quickly gave way to Fergie’s Fledglings, because the likes of Ince, Kanchelskis and Hughes were just not good enough, and irritatingly he was exactly right to change things like he did. Time after time the Glaswegian updated his squad in ways that seemed bizarre, but turned out to be prescient. Sell Beckham to Real Madrid – are you stark raving mad, sir? Apparently not, with Goldenballs making way for the profitable era of one Cristiano Ronaldo. Teams and managers that could challenge United came and went. Dalglish’s Blackburn. Newcastle under Keegan. The emergence of cosmopolitan Arsenal, led by Arsene Wenger, and Mourinho at Chelsea. The one constant was Manchester United, often in the mix, just as likely to be winning by a hefty points margin, never an irrelevance.

Fergie – Sralex by this point – finally retired, and in a turn of events so bizarre that you couldn’t have scripted it, they have been poor ever since. ‘Poor’ is a relative term, of course. United have always had a good team and will perpetually occupy the table’s higher reaches, but the relative lack of success, especially in the Premier League, has defined this as a fallow post-Sralex era. Their fall has been so pronounced that nobody seriously talks about them as title contenders anymore. In fairness the torch has been passed on to the new powerhouses at Liverpool and Manchester City, both coached by top drawer overseas managers who have introduced unprecedented technical levels and attacking dimensions to the English game. Chelsea are a threat and when it comes to Emery’s Arsenal you can never really tell, but at best United are talked about as a side that’s somewhat off the pace and constantly rebuilding.

The thing is that this isn’t anyone’s idea of a bad team. With some tweaks and squad padding I reckon it should be possible to get this lot back to the top, possibly in our first season but almost certainly before too long. United have an uneven squad, showcasing some great youngsters and a number of at best ordinary long-termers we should be looking to move on quickly. They have bags of cash, so this is pretty close to a sandbox of a game. Over a few years the squad can be entirely rebuilt, reflecting the footballing philosophy to which I aspire and not necessarily needing to scrimp and save on the players involved. If I can resolve the Paul Pogba issue – world class player, potentially disaffected, powerful enough for the entire team to be built around him – then I see no reason why this shouldn’t be a great success.

I should point out at this stage that I once had a fine three seasons with United back on Football Manager 2018. I even took the time to blog about my achievements (click here) and will state here and now that I fully intend to recycle old material from those former writings. The team hasn’t changed an awful lot since that time. They’re a couple of years older, obviously, and while there’s no longer a Fellaini to cope with the issues surrounding Alexis Sanchez have only been put off for a year while he’s at Inter Milan. I found Romelu Lukaku to be a frustrating striker, capable of utter brilliance on his day but a lumbering shambles way too often. What to do with Phil Jones and Chris Smalling was as much a question then as it is now, though I’m grateful that United have sorted out one defensive headache with the acquisition of Harry Maguire. The key players from that game – De Gea, Pogba and Martial – are still in residence, but so are Mata, Lingard and Matic, about whom I’m going to have to make some tough decisions.

Back in that 2018 save the first season was the revelation of Gelson Martins, at the time an expensively acquired but instantly brilliant right wing acquisition whose mazy dribbles made my team something to get excited about. I wouldn’t put it past myself to go for the Portuguese all over again. He’s at Atletico Madrid now, with a possible breakthrough on the cards though just as likely he’ll only make it on to their transfer list. I have £100 million to play with as a transfer budget, and I have identified the need for a natural attacking right winger, but whether he features or not is down to costs. As you will be aware from following football, there are a few gaps in United’s roster that are yet to be addressed. I don’t fancy navigating a full league calendar, plus cups and the Europa League, without having two players for each position, so there’s work to be done. We need a left back, a defensive midfielder, a deep lying playmaker for central midfield, a right winger and a striker to beef up the numbers. While a hundred million big green ones ((C) Steve Bruce) sounds like a lot, we are Manchester United and as such demand a certain calibre of footballer. Pedigree players cost a lot of money, so the budget might not stretch as far as I would like.

Thoughts on Football Manager 2020

Morning all (anyone?). Apologies for this site’s lack of activity over recent days. After being away, I did exactly what I said I wouldn’t do and started tinkering with the beta version of Football Manager 2020.

In my wiser moments I come to new editions of the game fairly slowly. This is done deliberately to give Sports Interactive time to resolve bugs and glitches, and so that I can get on with downloading facepacks and the like that other people spend an inordinate amount of time putting together. Beta editions are fine, but they aren’t the finished product and under normal circumstances I give them a wide berth and at least wait until the full game can be procured. On this occasion I pre-ordered it very early and, gee’d on by various people and especially YouTubers for whom I have a lot of time, have got in there with the early birds. Oh well.

My first impression is that FM 2020 looks and plays just like FM 2019, but with a few tweaks and modifications; in other words more in the shape of a data update than an entirely new game. I can use my old tactics with this one, which is great for a lazybones like me, and in a show of smashingly obvious rhetoric I’m comforted to find that the players who were good last time are just as good here.

Apparently there are improvements to the graphics, something I confess I am yet to spot. The settings on my PC are high, but for all the world it looks more or less identical and perhaps this is a feature that will be better realised when the full game is released. Similarly the official blurb has gushed that this edition will feature a raft of enhancements to the match engine. Again, and I’m saying this from the perspective of someone who’s very happy with how it played in FM 2019, I haven’t really noticed the difference. This could be me. It might be working on a level of subtlety that takes playing half a season to fully appreciate the work that’s gone into it, but for now I can’t.

A far more noticeable new element is the laying down of club visions. This is good. I like it. If you have seen the movie The Four Year Plan, about the aim by a new board at Queens Park Rangers to exact a long-term scheme for progressing the club from the brink of bankruptcy, then you’ll get this bit exactly. Now, managerial targets have been an essential facet of the Football Manager experience for longer than it’s been called Football Manager. They are the measure of your potential success in the job. Meet or exceed those agreed targets and you get to fight for another day. Fall short and you could be sacked. They’re the fundamental measure by which your success or failure as a manager can be assessed. And now they’ve been overhauled into a far more comprehensive outlook, a vision.

It makes sense for clubs to have a plan covering the next few years, and your brief is to make their annual signs of progress a reality. Aspects of the scheme are revealed to be essential (do it or else!) or desirable (we’d prefer it but can allow some latitude), governing expected league places through to the calibre of players they want you to bring in.  I’m sure the most winning part of this will be how the vision changes as the random factor of your management is added to the mix. If you surprise a club that expects a top-half finish with clinching the title, will they suddenly demand nothing less than glory, year after year, or will they treat your achievements with a little sobriety…?

Similarly, signing players comes with more scope for outlining what individuals can realistically expect to happen should they sign on the dotted line for you. As with club visions, this forms part of a longer term plan for how you are going to use your players. For instance, a plucky youngster you recruit with ‘the next few years in mind’ may feel the same as you, that his early experiences will involve football in the stiffs, mentoring programmes and loan moves, but ultimately he will want that work and development to be leading somewhere. You’d want the same thing, right?

There are other areas that I’m yet to get my head around. I’ve taken control of AC Milan, one of those teams I like to have a go at from the start, and I am spending my first few days setting what I’m prepared to do and the tasks I want to delegate to my staff. Training, for instance. I’ve never been able to get my head around training. I’m a little perturbed that the staff are looking to bring in youngsters of whom I have no knowledge. On the one hand I’m happy enough with this, but I thought player recruitment was my preserve! Looking through the Staff screens and checking through who has responsibility for what, I’m presented with a minefield of options, almost as though il Rossoneri are a massive set-up with multi-faced modus operandi. I’m sure this is part of my familiarisation with the game and that I’ll get there eventually.

So that’s what I’ve been up to recently. On the whole FM 2020 reminds me a lot of those old editions of Championship Manager 3, in which it was clear the SI team was more or less happy with their package and offered little more than enhancements and data updates with each new game, and that’s fine with me. I don’t think there’s very much wrong with the current product and I’m used to it. Too many changes and I would almost certainly be put off, so it gets a cautious thumbs up from these quarters.

ANC October 2019 – We’re Human After All

The continuing adventures of the Arsenal Nationalist Challenge – you can read it from the start and follow the guidelines here.

Perhaps it’s over-confidence. We come into our Champions League home game against RB Leipzig thinking that we’re more or less invincible, and as always it’s at moments like these when football bites you on the arse. The visitors are a good team. They have Timo Werner and Emil Forsberg, who can undermine anyone. And we let them do just that, falling to an enterprising attack that ends in Forsberg drilling home from a Yedlin cross defying everyone in the box. Suddenly we look very ordinary. Grealish, Lacazette, Maitland-Niles and Gray have poor games. Kolasinac plays like someone who knows he’s on Barcelona’s wanted list and carries on as though his head’s already at the Nou Camp and not on the job in hand. It’s poor stuff, and I let them know it.

For the visit to promoted Birmingham City I ring the changes. Grealish is dropped to the bench, the best thing for him after his wretched display in the Leipzig game. Chambers, Holding, Chilly, Rice, Guendouzi, Nelson and Smith Rowe are all picked to start. Suddenly we seem to be much less certain of ourselves. The swagger that was in our game in September has gone as everyone is conscious of making errors, even against an opponent we should by rights be sweeping aside. Fortunately the Brummies are even less confident than we are, let alone talented. They’re capable of making mistakes, ignoring certain players during attacking moves, which makes them culpable as we turn the screw. For our first, Nelson puts in a cross that connects with Guendouzi who’s just outside the box. Unmarked, he’s able to sweep forward and fire past Wildsmith, as the defenders try and pick up our lads who have been busy drawing them away. The second is even more training ground, Lacazette sweeping across the area to head in Nelson’s searching cross from the left wing as Dean fails to keep pace with him. Luiz gets our third after the break from a set-piece, and it’s over by that stage. Birmingham do what teams that have run out of ideas tend to and start committing fouls, but we emerge unscathed and ready for an international break.

While our luck with injuries isn’t as good as it was last season, we don’t get the slap in the face of our players getting crocked on duty for their countries. We return to action on 19 October with a Premier League commitment at Molineux to take on Wolverhampton Wanderers. Nuno has rung the changes for this season. Fish-out-of-water Cutrone is back in Italy, playing for Roma. Jimenez has moved to Newcastle; Neto is now at Leicester City. Wolves have most pointedly augmented their attacking ranks, paying a grand total of £67 million to recruit Deeney, Lingard and Januzaj. None of these ought to be threatening to us, but it turns out to be one of those vexing days when we never really get going. Plenty of possession and shots, but nothing we do gives us the advantage, while the gold shirted players do even less and only keeper Rui Patricio comes out with any kind of credit. 0-0 is satisfying to nobody.

Back at home in the Champions League, we’re up against AS Roma with a sudden need to bag some points after the Leipzig debacle. The ‘She-Wolf’ represents formidable opposition with Edin Dzeko taking a starring role, along with the likes of Justin Kluivert, Diego Perrotti and especially Enzo Pellegrini supporting their attack. In a previous save I had a lot of fun managing Pellegrini, so I know how good he is as he scores from a free kick, his speciality. Fortunately we score four of our own to put the tie beyond doubt. Lacazette, Guendouzi and a brace from Pepe cause the damage. I’m particularly pleased with the latter, seeing this as evidence that the right winger is back to his best. Of course that’s totally the wrong thing to think, as a clumsy Fazio challenge leaves the Ivorian writhing on the ground, what emerges as a four-week layoff with our injury of choice, the classic twisted ankle.

Not the very best thing that could happen in the build-up to a crunch home match against Manchester United. Ole is banging on about the return of former Gunner Alexis Sanchez after his season out on loan, and the Chilean starts in attack for them. Carlos Soler is another threat on the right wing. But we’re good enough to go ahead in the first half, Ross Barkley volleying in from outside the area to give us a lead that until the 93rd minute. Deep in injury time, with the black-shirted opposition pressing for an equaliser but on the whole passing between themselves aimlessly in our half, Lewis Cook is reprimanded for an off the ball incident and United win a free kick 25 yards out. Mata takes it and his effort sails beyond our wall and into Leno’s net, the perfect effort. Mata’s a nice guy, ask anyone, but at that moment I think he’s a complete c***… Or maybe the fault’s ours. we didn’t press our advantage when we had it, maintaining a fragile one-goal lead and focusing on defence. Rice has had a good game, but we didn’t push for more and United are capable of punishing anyone in that situation.

Drawing two games in October isn’t the end of the world, but I don’t like how human we look all of a sudden. Perhaps we aren’t as good as we think we are, but equally it could be down to injuries.

There’s still a Carabao Cup commitment to complete before the month ends. At the Emirates, we’re entertaining West Bromwich Albion who are riding high in the Championship. Managed by Slaven Bilic and featuring one-time future stars like Livermore, Austin and ex-Gunner Kieran Gibbs, they’re decent but do-able, I reckon. The first half however is frustrating and goalless. The usual problems – loads of pressure, plenty of opportunities, chances for the opposition restricted, and sweet FA to show for our efforts. I shuffle the deck. Maddison, still short of fitness, comes on for Barkley. Gray replaces Nelson and Wilson makes way for Eddie Nketiah. These changes do the job, Nketiah and Maddison scoring to put us through, and even the injury to Emile Smith Rowe is revealed to be negligible.

Bilic is his usual grace-free self, asserting that Arsenal aren’t as good as they think they are. He has a point though. By our standards October has been at best mixed. Nelson wins the award for Young Player of the Month, which I think is generous and probably reflects on the lack of choices elsewhere. We don’t feature in any other monthly honours, understandably enough, and we’re all demanding better in November. The League Cup quarter final draw chucks in a home tie against Tottenham, which I’m grateful won’t take place until early in December.

Memories of Football Manager 2010

If you listen very carefully you can hear the drumming of thousands of fingers against hard surfaces as the entire Football Manager community waits for the 2020 edition of the game. It’s as though everyone has done everything that it’s possible to do on FM 2019, which I can kind of understand. Sure, each game you load is an entirely new adventure, a world of possibilities in which nothing will be exactly the same as in the past saves, but all the same you can argue the main beats have been discovered and played to death by now.

While our watch continues, the scene has been thinking of ways to fill the gap and I’ve been enjoyed the series by Work the Space looking back at previous iterations of Football Manager. The nostalgia fest began with FM 2009, something so old and antiquated that WtS was seriously struggling to get to grips with it. But the real fun came with the 2010 video, partly because he liked it but also, from a personal perspective, it’s a game I particularly loved.

As an older gamer my relationship with the series goes back decades, certainly enough years in fact to be seriously embarrassed about it. I have wasted my life on this stupid thing, but there are worse things to do and as I’ve always argued playing FM increases my knowledge of and abilities in economics, geography and memory retention. That’s my excuse anyway. For me, FM has to strike a delicate balance between playability and depth. Too easy and it’s boring. Overly detailed and I fail to get into it, bouncing off the outer shell before moving on to other things, which in this instance means earlier and more comfortable versions. I realise that this isn’t really the game’s fault. It’s mine. I’m not known for my patience, and with new releases that take on a raft of fresh features and try to push the envelope I tend to get appalled and shy away. It happened with Championship Manager 4. And it occurred again when FM 2011 came out. Gah! It’s all so new, and I packed away my belongings and returned to 2010, where I remained until tentatively reaching for the new once again, years later, with the 2017 edition.

In fairness to me FM 2010 was a smashing game, on which I ran two lengthy saves that I played for many seasons. There was the traditional starter with Arsenal, who still featured the likes of Fabregas, Van Persie and Arshavin, before I went for a really ambitious odyssey in charge of Manchester City. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Too easy, right? And yes you’re correct, but in the summer of 2009 the Blues were in the first wave of their oil money backed revolution. Awash in cash but the squad was still made up of the rump of their pre-gajillions players with a few additional stars grafted on to the exoskeleton. You had Tevez, Adebayor, Barry and Lescott, but you also got to handle the likes of Stephen Ireland, Michael Johnson, Martin Petrov and Nedum Onuoha. Micah Richards was still in the frame; he might still become a ‘thing’. Wright-Phillips patrolled the right wing. Joe Hart was playing his formative loan season at Birmingham City. Robinho was with Santos for a year, but you’d get him back and then you could either try and integrate him or sell the entitled son of a gun. More importantly, you started with wads of transfer funds, and a season objective of qualifying for Europe. Not even the Champions League. Just Europe.

Your mission, therefore, was to build a super team of your own, handed more or less a blank (i) slate (ii) cheque book to assemble Man City as you saw fit. It was a super sandpit of a game. Armed with the Etihad treasury and FM Genie Scout, I set about trading until, as the season began, I had a 4-3-3 formation that featured Hugo Lloris in goal, Philippe Mexes and Gio Chiellini in central defence flanked by Richards and Domenico Criscito. My midfield three had Gareth Barry in the middle, alongside Moussa Sissoko and Claudio Marchisio. On the wings were Youann Gourcuff and an 18 year old Eden Hazard, already good enough to star for this team. For that first season Tevez and Adebayor (who was a machine) could stay, but Craig Bellamy and Roque Santa Cruz were sold as I prepared for an end of season big money offer for future real-life City god, Sergio Aguero.

That first campaign was a dream. City slowly grew in confidence and togetherness and claimed the Premier League. It helped that we had no European competition to take its toll on my players’ health. From there we embarked on a quest to dominate all life in football. The likes of Neymar, Fabregas and Wilshere all became leading lights. I remember winning the Champions League for the first time at the end of season three and squandering more than a hundred million on Cristiano Ronaldo, learning in the process that the preening player we all love to hate develops an aching love affair with whomever he’s playing for at the time, just a big kid who wants to be the best he possibly can be rather than the self-obsessed rapscallion he tends to be portrayed as. We honed Jonjo Shelvey, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Rodwell into world class stars. Aguero broke all the club’s scoring records. Hazard stayed for long enough to become the side’s talismanic force, a new Giggs who won just about every club and individual honour it was possible to claim during a storied career.

Buoyed by my success, I really went for it and started a new save as Middlesbrough manager. Boro had just been relegated at the time and were facing a new life in the Championship. By this point I knew the game pretty well, had figured out my preferred tactics and the players who worked best within it. The first challenge was to get the team promoted again. Much chopping and changing took place, as I pulled apart the soft underbelly of a roster that had been knitted together by Gareth Southgate (whatever became of him, I wonder) and started again. Searching the globe for decent, cheap players and loan signings, I drafted in Arsenal’s Carlos Vela and Aaron Ramsey for the season. Bargain basement players and freebies signed up, the likes of South African Peter Masilela, who cost us something like £30,000 from Maccabi Haifa and was a fine left-back. Vincent Enyeama was a brilliant cheap keeper. Boro had clung on to some old stars, like David Wheater and Gary O’Neil, but it didn’t hurt to draft in Moroccan international midfielder Ait Ben Idir for £40,000 knowing he could do a job for us. At the time, Adam Johnson was just a rapidly improving young winger, with little idea of what the future would hold in reality.

We won the Championship and in our first Premier League season finished fifth. More cheapies again made the decisive difference. Boro didn’t have much of a transfer budget but there were normally decent players out there just waiting to be shown a little faith. Nigerian striker Victor Obinna, transfer listed by Internazionale and available for £1.2 million, turned in such a good body of work that he was named Player of the Year. We claimed the title the following season and then never let it go for the following five, enhancing the squad and finally winning the Champions League in our second visit to the final. Man City were the main threat and always sharked around our stars. Mark Hughes’s services were retained as they continually breathed down our necks, but they could never quite overcome us.

As Boro were sold to a more generous Board, who opted to build a new stadium and name it after yours truly, I made a difficult decision of my own and jumped ship to AC Milan. I’d always wanted to manage in Italy, and the Rossoneri had slipped to mid-table, despite having the basis of a good team with players like Bruno Zucilini, Pato and Etienne Capoue gracing the ranks. More success followed. For the following five years I won everything, year after year. Serie A. Coppa Italia. And then the Champions League, where we put in such a show of overpowering whoever was unfortunate enough to oppose us that the game seemed easy and yet comforting. The only time we choked in the latter was when we eventually met none other than my alma mater, Middlesbrough, at the final stage. Now managed by a former coach of mine, Michael Owen, and still featuring in goal the services of a keeper a few of you may have heard of named Manuel Neuer (who we got on a free when his Schalke contract ran out), Boro overcame us 2-1 to end our run of four consecutive European Cups. Ah well, if you’re going to lose then it may as well be to someone you love, right? Wrong! We met them again the following year in the semi-final and overwhelmed them. No one gets between me and my shiny prize!

So there you have it, a mazy dribble through some FM 2010 memories, and I’m shamefaced enough to add I’ve recalled everything I’ve written above purely through what I recall. The game has that power, the capacity for its best saves to linger in your mind, don’t you think? Watching the WtS video I see now that there was much about it that just lacked compared to what we have now. The 3D matches were positively primitive, those tiny stick figures and lack of perspective, even if for a long running gamer like me it was a long leap from the ancient days of information scrolling across the screen, let alone the ‘marbles’ we got as an interim. At least one PC upgrade since then, I haven’t even downloaded 2010 to my current machine and I probably never will. Things move on, but the reminiscences of those golden times remain.