The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.

We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.

Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.

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My Greatness May Be a Metaphor

Like many of you, except that in my case it’s actually deserved, I’ve learned from playing Football Manager that I am the greatest football manager in the history of the world. It’s true that my abilities have, unaccountably, failed to create much of a stir in the outside world. Relatively talentless men like Brian Clough and Bill Shankly continue to win plaudits while my achievements are ignored (usually) or reviled (because I was late for dinner). But I know the truth, and I’m telling you, the truth is sensational.

Do you think Rinus Michels could have taken Forest Green Rovers to the Champions League? Do you think Carlo Ancelotti could have instituted a Brazilian box midfield that turned Heerenveen into the most powerful team in the Eredivisie? Do you think Alan Curbishley could have ignited Raith Rovers in a fiery resurrection that would see them routinely annihilate Chelsea? Hush, Mr. Prime Minister; it’s still the middle of the night.

In real life, Moor Green F.C. were forced to merge with Solihull Borough after an arson attack destroyed their ground, bringing a tragic end to a club that was founded in 1901. In Football Manager 2007, they instead set out on a glorious 15-season run that saw them win five successive promotions, multiple Champions League and Premier League titles, and a dominant position among football’s wealthiest clubs. What do you think was the difference? Here’s a hint: it wasn’t Fabio Capello.

I almost always start out with a weak club when I launch a new FM career, because honestly, it’s the only way to find a challenge even remotely worthy of my excellence. If I managed Arsenal, I’d wind up transcending the physical universe and achieving a radiant spiritual synthesis, and the new Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants movie doesn’t even come out till August. So I’m basically looking for the also-rans, the losers, the small, troubled, sentimental favorites: Go Ahead Eagles, say, or Merthyr Tydfil, or, if I really want to suffer, Newcastle United.

After that starting-point, though, I have to choose between two approaches to playing the game. In one, I’m working to turn my tiny club into the Real Madrid of the future; in the other, I’m looking to win fast, get noticed, and get hired by a bigger club. When I take the first option, I don’t even worry about results the first couple of seasons; instead I apply my genius to getting the wage bill down, selling older players, improving my scouting and training systems, and maximizing transfer funds in order to buy the talented, inexpensive young players who by slavishly following my instructions will eventually prove themselves worthy to join me in glory. When I take the second option, all I care about is immediate results: that Serie B club I want to join isn’t going to flutter its eyelashes over the fact that I cut administrative costs at Sorrento, so I look to make quick fixes, bring in overpriced veterans, utterly ignore the youth team, and do whatever I can to bring home that Smythdon-Cowley Vase-Winner’s-Vase that just might be my ticket out of there. That town wasn’t big enough for me anyway.

Here’s the point, and I’m raising it purely speculatively: I have two approaches to Football Manager, one of which is meticulous, patient, and scrupulous, the other of which is reckless, all-action, and wild. One’s designed to secure the club’s long-term future, the other’s more likely than not to destroy the club’s long-term future, but in a way that makes me look awesome in the semi-transparent envelope of the present. Does it say something about the way football works today that I think of the responsible up-building technique as my “videogame” style of management, and the crazed quest for instant glory as my “realistic” style? Is that the least bit telling? What would it say about modern culture if Grand Theft Auto IV included an option to go straight and do people’s taxes, and somehow that seemed more exhilarating and transgressive than one more night strafing prostitutes?

Not that I care, particularly. I’m fresh off a 9-0 toasting of Inverness Caledonian Thistle, and I’m off to taunt Guszt√°v Sebes’s memory. 33 consecutive unbeaten matches between 1950 and 1954? Dude, I won four straight European Cups with Aston Villa. Don’t let the door hit you when you’re climbing in the back seat.


My Greatness May Be a Metaphor

by Brian Phillips · July 27, 2008

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