I’ve been playing Football Manager on Windows for about 12 years. Not constantly, obviously. I take breaks for sleeping, eating, and maintaining a career. My obsession might go some way to explaining why I have spent the majority of those 12 years as a single man. Although I’m never really alone, because I have my team. I’m not the only one who thinks like this. Rumour has it that no other game has been named more during divorce proceedings. Every year I eagerly await the new version of the game, and it absolutely kills me that it doesn’t come out until November. It’s been OK the past few seasons because I’ve been able to get my hands on beta versions, which means I can start playing a few weeks early. Bugs and all.
Probably the most important thing you have to do in FM15 is expand your scouting network. Doing so means more players show up in your searches. Whatever club you choose, my advice is to get hold of the scouts Patrik Anderson and Ronnie Rosenthal. Both are available on low wages, will go almost anywhere, and bring a wealth of international knowledge.
When I first started this year’s version I played two games in the Championship with Cardiff City, and got sacked both times. Once during the January transfer window when I was mid-table, and again after seven games of my second season after I had failed to win promotion. Vincent Tan is one intolerant bastard. After that, I decided I needed a different challenge and started a game with Bristol Rovers of the Vanarama Conference, logic being that having just been relegated from the Football League they should have a decent enough squad for the division. Plus, I’ve always liked pirates.
It’s an entirely different game over at the Memorial Stadium. The bookies make you 1-10 outsiders to win the league, but you have a core of decent players. Neil Trotman and Tom Parkes make a good centre-back pairing, and in Jamie White and Ryan Brunt you have two solid forwards (even though Brunt hasn’t scored in real life for about two years). Left wing is also in good shape, with arguably your two best players, Angelo Balanta and Andy Monkhouse, vying for game time. Unfortunately, that’s about it.
The club are properly skint. But you do start the game with about £70,000 in the bank, which you are better off converting to wages so you can offer prospective signings better deals. Upon arrival, I cancelled the pointless loan signing in midfield and sold Mark McChrystal and young goalkeeper Kieran Preston. He’s a good prospect, but I thought I might be better off cashing in. An SPL club will pay in the region of £130,000 for him, and I inserted a substantial sell-on clause. I factored that money into my wage budget, too, and offered some existing players new contracts on reduced terms. I find giving them impossible bonus incentives is a good strategy, like telling a centre-back you will give him £12,000 for hitting 20 league goals, or a £1,000 bonus for every cap he wins for his country, knowing he is about as likely to win international honours as I am.
Then it was time to go shopping. By that, I mean, it was time to go rooting through the free transfers. A problem area is centre-midfield, which I addressed by snapping up ex-Man Utd prodigy Jack Rudge. He’s only 19, but has great potential, and is worth his place in the team just for his corners and free kicks. Other options are Damien Mozika and Tim Jakobsson. A decent right-sided midfielder is also required, Johnny Gorman can do a job out there. In defence I brought in Slovakian U21 right-back Kristian Kostrna and utility defender Daniel Boateng. Kostrna went straight into the first team, being a dramatic upgrade on Daniel Leadbitter, and though I originally got Boateng for cover because he can play in a few positions, he soon forced his way into the team. 28-year old Spaniard Manuel Ruz is a fantastic option at full-back and would easily be one of the best in the division. The thing is, he isn’t cheap. If you sign him it will fuck up your wage budget.
The U21 team also needs some love. I replaced Preston with Alex Gott, another young Scot who has even better attributes, and brought in Emmanuel Monthe (LB), Billy Simpson (CB/DM), and Heath Harrison (CM). You can pick up all four for a combined £500 a week or so. The object here is not to find players for the first team, but talented youngsters who can fill a gap in an emergency, with the ultimate aim of improving them and selling them on at a profit.
This being the lower divisions where the onus is more on kick and rush rather than technical ability. I started with an attacking 4-4-2 formation with a defensive forward playing off a more advanced attacker, two wide midfielders (one in attacking mode and the other supporting) and a ball-winning midfielder. After some experimentation, when I had the luxury of choosing from a full-fit squad, I settled on this first XI:
Steve Mildenhall (GK)
Lee Brown (LB)
Tom Parkes (CB)
Daniel Boateng (CB)
Kristian Kostrna (RB)
Andy Monkhouse (LM)
Ollie Clarke (CM)
Jack Rudge (CM)
Johnny Gorman (RM)
Jamie White (ST)
Ryan Brunt (ST)
Bench: Puddy (GK), Trotman (CB), Lockyer (CB/RB/CM), Balanta (LM), Taylor (ST)
So how did it go? Pretty fucking well, to be honest!
By Christmas I was top of the table, with White banging in something like 22 goals in 25 games. Brunt also got into double figures before getting injured. Boateng, Kostrna, Rudge and Gorman all established themselves in the first team , and by that stage were worth a cool £500,000 between them.
However, my squad needed to be slimmed down a little, so in the January transfer window, out went Leadbitter, Lee Mansell and Jake Gosling, all on free transfers to get them off the wage bill. I also tried to get shot of Stuart Sinclair and Ollie Clarke, but I wanted fees for those and nobody was interested. In came forward/right-winger Alex Nicholls and defensive midfielder Gary Deegan. Both the optimum age of 27 and with experience of having played in higher divisions,
In the second half of the season I won the FA Tropy, beating Southport at Wembley, and finished second in the league behind Gateshead (who?). I had led for long stretches before falling away, but was secretly glad to qualify for the play-offs as even that exceeded all expectations. There, my team beat Woking 3-1 on aggregate in the semis, and Kidderminster 4-2 in the final. Promotion and a return to league football was the prize. At the end of the season, White was the highest scorer not just in the league but possibly in the known universe with 45 goals from 55 total games and Rudge topped the assist chart with 17. Brunt and Monkhouse also did well. All things considered, it was a successful season. Though I was a bit peeved at not winning the Manager of the Year award. What does a man have to do?