There’s nothing wrong with the game itself. There’s no harm at all in spending a lazy afternoon getting Exeter City into the Champions League. There are far too many people, however, who seem to have lost sight of one of the most fundamentally important aspects of the top-selling management simulator, Football Manager… brace yourself… isn’t real.
This may seem obvious to most of us but there’s a significant number of fans who seem to genuinely believe think that endless hours spent hunched over a laptop tapping the ‘ask your assistant’ button like an obsessive-compulsive chicken pecking at grains in a farmyard is actually comparable to running a real-life football club. There are many infuriating aspects to this delusion but perhaps what chafes the inner thigh of reasonable football folk the most is how easy these people believe it is to build a successful team by simply cramming the high profile pegs into the correspondingly shaped holes.
Internet forums and radio phone-ins (admittedly, not the most quality-intensive mass media outlets) are bursting at the seams like Micky Quinn’s sweaty Pringle with keyboard Keegans eagerly imparting nuggets of 24-carat managerial gold such as ‘If we bring in Goetze and Martinez this summer, we’ll win the treble next season’. Smugly convinced of their own genius, these self-styled Lex Luthors of the technical area seem blissfully oblivious to the fact that, in real life, multi-million pound transfers are slightly more complicated that pressing a giant ‘make an offer’ button strategically placed on the managers desk or that, given number of clubs chasing his signature, the latest apple in European football’s covetous little eye may wish to plant his pips in somebody else’s garden.
Even if a manager is able to dazzle the flavour-of-the-month starlet with the gleam of last year’s Carling Cup runners-up medal, it’s worth bearing in mind that there’s no guarantee this high-price addition will be a success. Reserve teams the world over are populated with players that hand-rubbing fanboys were hailing as the ‘the last piece of the jigsaw’ before the ink was even dry on their lucrative contract. Chelsea have spilled millions of oily rubles in the direction of the Champions League trophy with nothing to more to show for it than an star-studded list of ex-managers. Real Madrid splurged the gross GDP of Central Asia in the early 2000s, feverishly buying up the best players (and underpants models) from all over the world and while three league titles and a Champions league are not to be sniffed at, given the bi-equine nature of Spanish football the return on their investment was comparable to that of an Icelandic sun-lounger emporium.
The reason this approach rarely works is actually pretty simple; footballers are more than just severed heads floating above spreadsheets on a monitor; they’re human beings, real ones with thoughts, feelings and gargantuan egos all of which need to be carefully handled to produce the required results (okay, thoughts may have been a stretch but the point still stands). They may not be the most complicated souls you’ll ever meet but the average player is far more complex than a series of zeros and ones burnt onto a CD-ROM on a Tokyo industrial estate. Despite what Sega and slow-paced Brad Pitt movies would have you believe, managing professional athletes remains more art than science and spending £35 million on a flash-in-the-pan striker doesn’t automatically mean he’ll be hitting cows arses with your particular banjo.