Look at this man. Look into his dead eyes and feel your soul begin to curdle. He’s hideous. He has no pores. He’s a person suit. He’s a stocking full of yoghurt. After matches, Football Manager 2014‘s coaches let the air out of him, fold him up and put him back in the cupboard. He’s Emperor Septim’s son, here to tell you that Jauffre’s gone off on another one of his benders.
He cost me £5.5 million.
Come. Let me tell you about the off season.
Football Manager’s Classic Mode – added in the 2013 edition – ostensibly means that you can play a season of the game in a single day, or around eight hours. It’s true, you can. Even without relying on the terrifying gamble of the “Instant Result” button, you can man-manage your team to victory or failure in a swift, satisfying fashion.
But when the last match of the season is played and all my players go on holiday, it takes me another eight hours to play through the long summers. It’s my favourite part of the game.
If you’re not au fait with foot-to-ball – au fait-to-ball – the summer is when the transfer window opens. Every rich club in the world reaches into their pockets and starts throwing cash at one another in exchange for world class footballers, promising youngsters, sacks of oranges, rigged competition draws, match fixing, whatever.
It’s the “promising youngsters” part that leaves Football Manager with an interesting dilemma. At the start of the game, every footballer in its football simulation is a real footballer in the real football world. But after even a single in-game season, the older footballers begin to retire – with the exception of Ryan Giggs, who is 43-years-old in my current career, unemployed for two years and still considering his options.
This means that the game is being constantly depleted of its ball-men and needs to keep generating new youngsters to enter at the bottom of the game. This is how I came to spend £5.5 million on a sixteen-year-old from Brazil who looks like someone drew a face on a blobfish.
From the very start, part of playing Football Manager is finding “wonderkids.” These are real-world players that Sports Interactive’s network of scouts has decided are likely to become the next generation of millionaire ballkickers. You can find out who these wonderkids are by searching messageboards for advice from other players, and there’s a real pleasure in “discovering” them, buying them, and seeing them do well.
This is nothing compared to the pleasure of discovering a randomly generated player. Their name, their stats and their congealed waxy face is spat out by the game at the start of a new season, and they’re unique to you and your game. You’ll only find them by sending scouts to a region or playing around with the in-game player search function.
That’s what I spent this weekend doing. That’s what I’ve spent periodic weekends doing since FM2014 came out earlier this year. My Man Utd midfield is now anchored by Marcelo Gabrich, a 19-year-old Argentinian I picked up for £3.5 million. Look at his field of high green stats.
17 for passing? 16 for first touch? He’ll become even better in the years to come, but he’s already pushing players I’m paying a hundred times more out of the first team.
This has been part of my Football Manager experience since the series was called Championship Manager and I was a football mad ten-year-old. All my friends would play the game and all of us would play real football at a nearby park together. Sometimes while playing, we’d imagine ourselves as our favourite footballers – the stars of the most recent World Cup, normally – and we’d call out our names like commentators as we kicked the ball around.
Then at some point we started incorporating Championship Manager 2’s fictional players into the mix. We’d imagine ourselves not as Roberto Baggio, but Fabio Baggio, the generated youngster with an unlikely eleven ’20’ ratings who appeared after a nineteen-season long Championship Manager 2 Italia campaign.
I no longer regularly live-action roleplay fictional sportsmen, but the same fun of seeking out high numbers remains. It’s a little slice of the thrill of a collectible card game, I think, without the expense of buying rare cards. It’s a hook to keep me interesting and excited in the game through season after season, as I’m intrigued to find out how Gabrich and my other young stars turn out.
And it’s sometimes the only way I feel like I can really affect the success of my Football Manager teams. I’m still bad at getting the best out of my players tactically. I still can’t tell whether my mid-match tweaks to mentality or passing are helping or hurting. But I do know that a man with higher numbers does better than a man with lower numbers, and I’ve turned teams around with a few canny purchases.
That makes the last match of each season my favourite, because it’s the moment the real game starts for me. It signals that I’m about to spend hours poking and prodding my way through the game’s database in search of those diamonds in the rough. I just wish these teenaged “hot prospects” didn’t look like the kids Andrew McCarthy and Kim Cattrall never had.
Alright, I’ve said a lot of mean things about the face generation. Can I also say that I’m impressed by it anyway? Even if it dips into the uncanny valley and triggers a violent fear response, it’s a technological marvel that it works at all. There’s a freely downloadable version of the FaceGen tool that Sports Interactive licensed, and you can use it to create your own (watermarked) faces. You can even plug in photos of your friends and have it generate mashups of their bonces.
Alec and John mashed together:
Alec and John the footballer:
Now that’s a hot prospect.