Review: Football Manager Stole My Life

Football Manager Stole My Life by Iain Macintosh, Kenny Millar and Neil White (Published by Backpage Press)

 

There was a moment yesterday when I had to mentally restrain myself from reinstalling Championship Manager 01/02. I’m not sure whether it was being reminded of David O’Leary’s propensity to take the Manchester United job or the constant mentions of Tonton Zola Moukoko that are contained within Football Manager Stole My Life from Backpage Press. I’m not sure how long the restraint will hold. Championship/Football Manager is arguably my favourite thing of all time.

As an ode to the aforementioned series, therefore, Football Manager Stole My Life (FMSML) is an immensely appealing endeavour. To this haplessly addicted fan, the book’s arrival in the post was an exciting moment. The initial inspection of the book, my sensual grappling with the front cover, revealed some surprising things. It is not the size of a normal book, and flicking through, is clearly presented like an overly long magazine. Freight Design have done an excellent job with the layout, even to this critical eye. Everything is clear and easy to read, and the allusion to the green of a football pitch throughout is a nice touch. The only minor criticism in this regard that can be made is about the usage of black and white images, but this is incredibly minor.

Aside from the aesthetic aspects of the book, FMSML is an immensely readable piece of non-fiction that should be appealing to those who are well acquainted with Sports Interactive’s series.

Earlier this summer, my football club was linked with Freddy Adu, the suggestion being that we had him on trial. It immediately brought back memories of trying to bring him to the club at the age of fourteen on Championship Manager 2003/04. The difficulties of doing so were myriad – age, work permits and the rest all hindered his move to England. The reality was, however, that everyone said he was “worth it”. Discussions between fellow enthusiasts always brought his name up. It brought some joy, therefore, to find out that Freddy Adu is “aware” of his history with the series.

The segment that involves them catching up with Tonton and other stars of games past is therefore of interest, even just as a reminder of those who have come before. In fact, it brings an excellent comparison to the earlier segment where the various researchers point out their successes in calling future stars of the actual sport. The arrival of “Luis Leonardo Messi” in the database in 2004 is heralded as a moment of excellence within the book. It is of note that he had done little prior to this point, yet was still granted the highest potential ability. I’ve often queried how the researchers get the future of football so right, so to hear from them about their processes is interesting. The reality is, however, that actual football sometimes contrasts heavily with the simulated world of Sports Interactive’s making. The same researcher, Ivan Abella Villar, said that Oskitz Estefania of Real Sociedad should have been a player of the same level, yet injuries and the like stopped that dream short. The contrasting successes of these two players, both introduced to the game in the same year, is just one example of how FMSML goes to lengths throughout the book to symbolise the fact that Football Manager manages to live in this bizarre world halfway between reality and fiction. Whilst it seems ridiculous that dots on the screen can quickly translate into full-blown opinions on actual footballers, stories told within the book show the occasional benefit. Tales are told about jobs acquired due to the knowledge of football gathered from the game. Football Manager is shown to be a tool for many in important roles, and aside from being fascinating, it also gives justification to anyone arguing for the need to click continue one more time before bed.

The written highlight of the book comes in the form of The Heidenheim Chronicles, written by Iain Macintosh. The tale of a manager in charge of the worst professional club in Germany, it would probably not be wrong to suggest that the emotions displayed within are Macintosh’s actual reaction to a game of Football Manager gone hilariously awry. Macintosh is clearly a long running player of the game, and with that breeds an expectation of success. The reality of my saved games in recent years is a feeling of being a managerial prodigy dropped into the footballing world. Gone are the days of yore where I felt constantly on a knife’s edge, between acceptable performance, and outright failure and sacking. Macintosh’s writing, which is absolutely excellent, draws incredible amounts of sympathy. There is literally nothing he can do. I’ve made my mistakes on recent versions, such as stupidly taking on the Australia job, where no success can be had. This is soul-destroying. As Macintosh himself explores through an interview with a psychiatrist elsewhere in the book, Football Manager is a world one can escape into and have complete “control”. This goes for everything from tactics to signings. Success usually follows. Heidenheim therefore symbolises perfectly what happens when things do not go right. It is an experience like no other. Madness generally follows. Insane tactics. Heidenheim should therefore be read by all fans of the game. It shows that we are not alone in our instinctive reactions to a bad run. A failed game can be more painful than anything. As a piece of fiction, all Football Manager addicts need to read this, incredible sympathy will be evoked. This snippet of text suggests that the great Football Manager novel should yet be written.

The exploration of Football Manager’s beginnings is interesting, if not a tad confusing for those of us who are less acquainted with the names behind the game. It is also heartening to gain an excuse as to why purchasing every year’s edition of Football Manager is worth my time, as it provides benefits to organisations that deserve it. Furthermore, the segment about extreme habits provides some solace – I’m not the worst player on the planet. I have never gone on an open bus tour to celebrate a cup victory. However, I am mildly tempted to start emulating conditions for those tricky away European ties. Whilst the book suggests setting a wastepaper bin on fire to create an atmosphere akin to those travels to Turkey, I’m more interested in somehow making matches in Eastern Europe seem more difficult due to the inclement weather – after all, I am the sort of person who suggests getting Zenit and Sparta Prague in the group stages is a tough draw. The reality is that for a player of the game, there are enough moments and narrative beats that evoke thoughts and memories to make it a worthwhile purchase. If you’re considering purchasing it for yourself, consider no more. You will enjoy it, guaranteed.

The real question is the enjoyment non-players could glean from it. The stories of slightly insane players can still entertain someone who is not a fan, as demonstrated by my reading of them out to those in the vicinity to laughter, but this alone does not make up the book. The player profiles and the other referential items that make up a vast majority of the book would be lost on the average reader. Who is Nil Lamptey to them and what do they care? Why would learning about the environment in which the game was created (seemingly the same as that in which the game is often played) be of interest to them? The reality is, sadly, the book will be primarily read and enjoyed by fans of the game. This is not to say it will be niche – the majority of football fans I interact with are at least somewhat acquainted with FM. It merely means that before purchasing the book for a loved one, ensure they have an addictedness rating of at least “remember to call your work and ask for more sick leave”. You’ll probably already know.

Four Stars out of Five


 

Purchase Football Manager Stole My Life from Amazon for £9.09
Follow Amitai Winehouse on Twitter (@awinehouse1) to be repeatedly jabbed with a large ‘read me now’ stick whenever a new article goes up.

The Sale of Snodgrass: What does it mean for the future?

“When I was a boy / everything was right / everything was right” – The Beatles.

Why? Why why why why? Why? Was the gypsy curse never eradicated properly? Did something go wrong? As a child I pictured those damn red devils on the Manchester United badge laying down some sort of voodoo. It must have been some sort of dream, looking back on it. Alternatively, I actually have a direct line to Ferguson’s brain, in a Voldemort/Harry Potter-esque display of mind power, and him, the short ginger one and the one with the pedo-stache dressed up in devil costumes and put together some sort of devious spell that explains the up-fuckery that has occurred around Elland Road since I was a boy.

I turned 20 eight days ago, and the situation compared to ten years ago cannot be much more different. It was only the beginning of the fall. I remember hearing of O’Leary’s sacking one day after school, but I didn’t really understand why at the time. In the ten years since, we’ve arguably only had one decent season. That was in League One. Three of the four midfielders who featured in that side regularly will soon play for a team in the Premier League. We own none of the four.

There are myriad ways in which people have interpreted the departure of Robert Snodgrass. Some Leeds fans have criticized it as the typical movement of a player who has done what is expected and put self before side. They have uttered oft repeated phrases such as “no name on the back of the shirt is more important than the one on the front”.

This is obviously true. Leeds United, as a concept, will exist far longer than Robert Snodgrass’s playing career. It already has, and barring any extenuating circumstances, will continue to do so well into the future. Given that he has left the club, Snodgrass’s time will certainly be little more than a footnote in the annals of the history of the club. He was a good player, at times excellent, and last season he was one of very, very few shining lights. A wand of a left foot, and ball control that impresses, Snodgrass is far too good to sit in the Championship.

There is a flaw to the concept that the players don’t matter, only the club itself. Leeds United, in its current conception, relies upon several things. The most important of these is the perception of its own fans.

For Leeds United fans travel up and down the country to support the club. Despite a season that was worse than average, Leeds took the most away supporters in the football league to stadiums. In the eyes of its own fans, Leeds United is still a big club. There is a limit to this belief. It is impossible to maintain this thought once it actually becomes a delusion. This becomes clearer and clearer as more players depart to clubs that should be lower on the food chain – the Norwich Cities of this world. When players escape from Elland Road at the first true opportunity, when these people are literally paid to be there, how can any less be expected of fans?

I am not concerned for the current generation. Clearly the time has come and gone for the current fans of the club to wave the white flag, when Histon and the rest beat us on wind swept pitches in the lower reaches of league football. It is their children I am concerned for. Whilst my year of Leeds fans at school were all committed to the concept of Leeds United (as I detailed in an article for The Square Ball), even given our upbringing outside of the usual spheres of footballing influence, the same cannot be said for my younger brother’s contemporaries. A mere four and a half years younger, from what he says the majority of those in his year group do not support Leeds United. He only ever saw one game of ours in the Premier League live (a loss to Spurs), and awaits the day that he’ll see another. Those younger than him do not even have that. Why, given the choices available in this world, the free broadcast of football teams who play the game in a manner that can only be dreamed of, would those younger than us choose Leeds? With this generation of comfortable parenting, which mothers and fathers will allow each other to plunge their children into the depressing world being a Leeds fan has become? If things don’t improve, if we don’t keep our best, who will have any impetus to support Leeds thirty years from now?

So Snodgrass has left. Yes, in reality, he is not Lionel Messi. He is not even Junior Hoilett. For a generation of kids, born into the doldrums of the lower leagues, however, he is, or was, a hero. I was lucky when I grew up. I arguably got to see one of the world’s best defensive partnerships (at the time, even though I did not realize it). I got to see a genuinely world-class striker in Mark Viduka, on his day. I even had a hero who had grown up in the club, who turned down bigger moves (even though he has since been vilified…and I’m not talking about Smith). Things went bad, but by then I was committed.

We weren’t always big. It took a mindset shift generations ago. We had to become the best. People seem to increasingly think that doesn’t matter, as long as we’re still Leeds. But these people remember the best. Within time, we’ll just be another side. We’ll still know We Are Leeds and what that means, but what will that mean to those younger, who never experienced it?

Who do the kids have to love? Who will the children idolize? They’ll be gone next week.

Follow Amitai Winehouse on Twitter @awinehouse1

Rodolph Austin

Opinions on Rodolph Austin

Rodolph Austin

Leeds United and Neil Warnock have confirmed interest in Rodolph Austin, and press from Norway seems to suggest that not only have Leeds got interest in the player, but negotiations with SK Brann are underway. With £200,000 already rejected, and Leeds seemingly willing to push higher in order to secure the Jamaican, it is clear that this is an important target for Warnock this summer. Whilst highlight packages of Austin have proliferated on the internet (including below), these can be deceptive, as football fans around the world have discovered. Who can forget Nacho Gonzalez’s signing for Newcastle thanks to the YouTube browsing Dennis Wise. Similarly, Filipe Da Costa looked like the real deal according to Mr. YouTube, but we all know how that worked out.

With that in mind, I’ve tasked myself with getting the ‘lo-down’ (which is what I believe the kids are saying these days) on Rodolph Austin from those who know him best. We’ve got information from a journalist from Bergen, who is working on the Rodolph Austin transfer story for Bergensavisen. We’ve also got a report from a man who has seen pretty much every game Austin has played for Bergen, Asbørn Perry Sve. Svend Karlsen, Leeds fan, Norwegian and editor of Leeds United ‘Peacock News’ of the Scandinavian Supports club. Synthesized below are these opinions.

Asbjørn Perry Sve has had the opportunity to watch Rodolph since August of 2008, after a mooted move to Stoke failed due to a lack of international clearance. Sve has seen essentially every game Austin has played for Brann Bergen, as a season ticket holder and by viewing away games on television.  In a description that will delight Leeds fans, and goes a long way to explaining why Warnock is such a fan, Sve refers to Austin’s “never say die attitude”. He’s also seen as the “bone-breaking kind of midfielder any opposition hates to play against” by Svend Karlsen, who has seen him in action many times as a man who follows the Tippeligaen closely and has reported on teams for years. Rune Ulvik, journalist for Bergensavisen, says that Austin is “feared by his opponents”. This, to be honest, sounds like the sort of player we have been missing to run the midfield for a while now, something Svend refers to with the belief that he “commands the midfield”. Sve similarly suggests that this is the case, as although he is “no talker”, he “leads by example”.

Asbjørn says that whilst, at first, he had a “problem of timing” tackles, the club have since worked on his game and he’s improved immensely in this regard. Given that our other option currently is Michael Brown as a tough-tackling defensive midfielder, Austin seems to be a step up, given he now combines his desire with an ability to not merely focus upon the shins and knees. In fact, Sve refers to Austin’s tackles as being “immense”. Ulvik refers to him now being a “very strong tackler”.

In terms of the technical aspects of his game, both Svend and Asbjørn have referred to Austin’s “fantastic crosses”. All three of the people we contacted believe that Austin possesses pace, with Svend particularly pointing out that Rodolph Austin “is quicker than the average midfield-anchor tends to be”. Furthermore, Sve puts focus on his ability in front of goal, referring to him as having a shot in the “Hasselbaink class”, and also points out that he is the club’s regular penalty taker. In 2011, when he was voted the best player in the Tippeligaen, he scored seven goals in 25 appearances (each team plays 30 games a season, there is no injury worry). Clearly this is no slouch in front of goal, in statistic and opinion.

There is also already a Leeds connection in place. Sve talks about how Austin has played alongside both Eirik Bakke and Gylfi Einarsson, in fact displacing Bakke from the center of midfield. Bakke could only find a place up front when competing with Austin. Hopefully these two ex-Leeds names have told Austin about all the positives that surround playing for our club.

When asked about the disparity in quality between the two leagues, both Asbjørn Sve and Rune Ulvik point out that there is a difference. It is clear to both that not just any player can make the step across with ease. However, Ulvik reckons Austin is “well above average”, and he thinks he will “do just fine”. He’s also been called, officially, the best player in the league before, so clearly this is not just a player of normal standards.

As to why this move is being allowed to take place, Austin has let his contract run down, and at this point, he could agree a move for free that would take place six months from now. Svend is also of the belief that Brann are keen to buy back Eirik Huseklepp from Portsmouth. Brann therefore need to generate cash to achieve this (they are no longer heavily backed by private investors as they were when Austin came to the club). Svend’s sources suggest that SK Brann are ready to sell at about £350,000, and that Leeds will likely come back with a further offer having heard this asking price. “If Leeds pass the £300,000 mark,” said Svend, “I think they have a deal”.

The only real fear now is that someone will beat us to the deal. Clearly with so many sources, biased and not, in favour of him as a player, he is a worthwhile signing at £350,000 and with years of football ahead of him. Warnock also rates him heavily, so professionals are in agreement about Austin. Leeds fans have already taken to him based on the video footage, with #rodolphaustinfacts a common hashtag on twitter. A signing worth making I feel.

Follow Amitai Winehouse on Twitter (@awinehouse1).

Credit and great thanks goes to Asbjørn Perry Sve (@perrysve), Svend Karlsen (@svendleeds) and Rune Ulvik (@runeu) for their help in researching this article, and providing much of the content.

Video footage:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWBNYJbz0xQ