The year is 2035. I am the manager of Leeds United.
The year is 2035 + 10 days. I am no longer the manager of Leeds United. I got sacked.
When I wrote last week about winding forward time by holidaying for 20 years in the Football Manager 2016 beta, I thought that would be the end of the story. I’d continue to play the game in silence. But that’s because I expected the story to be a long, close-run relegation battle with an anti-climax no matter what happened.
I didn’t expect I’d win my only two games in charge and then be dismissed by the team’s owner.
Let me explain. When I interviewed for the position at Leeds, I was asked about my previously poor dealings with the press. I didn’t know that I’d had any poor dealings with the press. In twenty years of holiday I hadn’t really had any dealings with the press, although this might be the precise problem. It’s possible that I had failed to respond to two decades worth of press enquiries. It’s possible that my phone has been ringing and my inbox has been sending out of office responses for the majority of the 21st century.
I responded that I hadn’t had much experience with the press and that this experience wouldn’t come till I had the opportunity to manage a big club like Leeds United. (Flattery is useful in job interviews, I find, especially if you’ve been on holiday for two decades and therefore have no experience). I got the job, but this conversation in the interview translated into a promise to the team’s executive that I would improve in my handling of the media.
Press conferences are a contentious feature in Football Manager. In part because they have little to do with football – with matches, and winning, and tactics, and players. In part because there’s so bloody many of them – one before each match, plus in-tunnel pre- and post-match interviews, plus random press queries.
In part because, in their current implementation, they are kind of garbage: badly scripted dialogue trees which fail to reflect context or offer opportunity for meaningful personal expression. Sometimes you will be offered two possible answers to a question. Sometimes you will be offered six answers to a question, where four of them all basically say the same thing. Sometimes there is a blatantly obvious option missing. Sometimes the game misinterprets your answers, in ways which could be accurate press malice but which just as often feel like game design failures.
In my ten days in charge, I did a few press conferences. An opposing manager called me inexperienced and said I was doomed to fail in my new job. I dismissively called his comments childish. I was asked about a player on my team who had been agitating to leave, and whose pleas I had accepted by placing him on the transfer market. I was asked by the press whether this was a good idea, and whether it undermined my authority to other players, and in both instances I responded that I felt that I was making the best decision for the team since unhappy players benefited no one.
And that’s when I was fired. I don’t know if it was for the latter comment, which seemed innocuous, or the former comment which was days prior and also seemed relatively tame, or some combination of the two and something else I said. But either way: ten days, two won games, an exit from the relegation zone, and I was out of work again.
This feels to me like a failure of game design; the systems at work were opaque and therefore appeared random. It feels like a failure of simulation: some real managers are far more volatile than my calm answers and survive even amid other failures; a team charging through managers so quickly would appear to be in disarray; and there are fans and manager associations who would be angry at such an speedy dismissal.
In the days that followed I was asked by the in-game press, of course, about my thoughts about the firing. I could say that I was angry about it, but not why. I was confronted with a rumour that I had quit over some disagreement, but there was no clarification on what I had said that had been deemed so wrong, and no way for me to tell the press explicitly that I did not quit or that “The gits fired me because of what I said to you.”
And so the year is 2035 and I am no longer the manager of Leeds United.
I am the manager of Leicester City. I have traded a Premier League relegation battle for a Championship promotion race. I have made yet another promise to improve my dealings with the press. Every email and phone call I receive is terrifying. I will let you know how it goes.
This post was written for the RPS Supporter Program. Thanks for your funding!