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.