Football Manager 2017 pass-and-save diary, part one: A game of four halves
Four players, one manager
Two of us know far too much about football. Two of us know far too little. Together, we will create chaos for once-proud Premiership club Leicester City.
Here's the deal. In Football Manager Touch 2017 (chosen over the full-fat version as it'll move quicker), we take control of Leicester for the 2016-2017 season, which is effectively working just a few months behind what's actually happening now. That being that Leicester won the title last year, but are having a hard time this year. You ain't seen nothing yet, lads. Every quarter of a season, whoever's in charge passes their savegame onto the next player. As we're alternating between people who know what they're doing and people who don't, this is going to involve quite some degree of calamity and, hopefully, salvation.
It starts with me. Graham, Pip and Adam will follow. Adam has observed that if the club is not in the relegation zone when the save reaches him, he will consider it a great victory. Oh dear.
First order of business: it's time to return the venerable Ian Football to his former status and, indeed, glory. After years in the wilderness, Ian will lead Leicester to... wherever they end up. Ian is, however, anxious about how his time away from the spotlight might reflect upon him, and thus has adopted his best How Do You Do, Fellow Kids in order to appear contemporary.
After that, it's straight into Transfers, which just by sheer coincidence is the element of football management I know the least about and am therefore most panicked by. Going only on Adam's mention that lead striker Jamie Vardy is a wildly inconsistent sort of fellow and I should seek out an attacking midfielder to back him up, I wind up hiring a Scottish lad with a nice smile. He's not terribly expensive but his numbers seem OK, and it turns out that despite being champions Leicester have effectively zero money for transfers. By football standards, anyway: $10m sounds like Enormous Money to me. This game, man.
The fans are outraged. Though even I know that the fans are always outraged. I try to redeem myself by making a $3m offer on a German defender that the rumour mill said I was interested in, even though I wasn't. This is like Tomorrow Never Dies.
He accepts, and people say I'm clever again. Yes, I am Ian Football, worship me. Even so, I'm feeling deeply uncertain I decide to save the rest of my Transfer budget in case I need it later, although I have no idea if I'm even allowed to spend outside of the initial transfer window.
We're onto friendlies in no short order, which I'm reliably informed no-one actually cares about but they terrify me because actual football. Also, I swear the last version of FM I played was far more helpful in terms of telling me how to get started, whereas the tutorial here is hilariously useless.
The first match is against San Jose. I'm going to go right ahead and presume they're not up to much.
Obviously, they beat us. I make a point of fielding the Nice Scottish Boy, and this is seen as a heretic act. Perhaps it really did cost us our victory. At least it was only 1-0. I'd expected far worse.
Far worse follows, when someone called SK Rapid Wein takes it 3:2. It was 3:1 until the closing minutes, which is something to be thankful for. Oh Ian, Ian, has the world left you behind?
Fortunately, the next match is a win - 3:0 against Forest Green. Thank God, because Forest Green sound like a team of woodland gnomes, or perhaps Wombles, and that would have been a humiliation too far even for me.
We lost to Sevilla, 3:1 to them. But it's not that which concerns me - it's that it begins a dark streak of my team racking up a fearsome number of yellow cards. I try to direct them to play cautiously, but it doesn't seem to help.
A 2:2 draw in another Spanish friendly next, which though not disastrous leaves me feel ill-equipped to face what comes next. It's only bloody Manchester United, playing for whatever a community shield is.
Our subsequent 1:0 loss is the herald of a diabolical streak as the season begins proper. A 0:1 loss to Stoke is embarrasing as we were the favourites, but it's news that Jamie Vardy has injured himself in training needs between 2 and 6 months of recovery time before you can play again that really bursts whatever withered balloon I had left.
In training? Vardy, you gimp. You just want some time off to go and live in one of your forty-eight different mansions, I'll bet.
Our decapitated team duly suffers A 2:3 loss to Liverpool, then the gutpunch of a 0:4 drubbing from Arsenal. And there we go. Leicester is 18th in the table, bang in the relegation zone. It's only been a couple of weeks. I'm not sure I can even bring myself to tell Adam. Maybe I'll just pass the save to him without saying anything.
But first, I've got to battle my way through two and half more months of this misery. I do all I can to make my team play defensively, and that's how we get the miracle - a goalless draw against Man U (those bastards again).
This is last-scene-of-Ghostbusters territory as far as I'm concerned, and remarkably even the whingers on in-game Twitter seem to agree. Vardy? Who he?
That takes us to the first European Champions Cup match, a tournament I'm not even sure we'd be allowed to play in next year. It's against Dinamo, which sound like a Mexican superhero to me, but apparently they're a pretty even match for us.
I repeat the super-cautious approach taken against Man U, and, whaddaya know, we take it 2:1. It's only afterwards that I find out that the game was on Ian Football's birthday. There could be no finer gift. Well, other than my quarter of the season ending right now.
Turns out that the glory days have only just begun. We send Spurs packing with a handy 3:1, mostly thanks to a chap called Riyad Mahrez, fast becoming our most essential player. Vardy? We don't need no stink' Vardy.
Radio 5 name Mahrez and his colleague Slimani as part of their team of the week, and suddenly it feels like Leicester is a team to care about again. Our 3:1 victory against Everton confirms this - we're well out the relegation zone now, in 11th position.
And all achieved without our superstar player. I'm hopping in delight, astounded to be at least semi-competent. I haven't been offered a payrise yet, and I consider this to be scandalous.
Next it's a boring 1:0 victory against Napoli for the next Euro Champions Cup game, and the hot streak ends. 1:1 against West Ham, 2:2 against Hull.
What's changed? Oh, right. It's Jamie Vardy, back from the dead. A million shots on target, zero finishes. You are our albatross, Vardy.
Our final match sees Olympique Lyonnais defeat us 2:1 in the next ECC game. I feel dismal to be ending this way, although there's some comfort in the fact that Leicester remain top of our group.
My real disappointment, though? I'd expected this to end in flames and screaming. Hell, I'd hoped it would, because that would have given the next Ian Football on the bench, long-time football management fan Graham Smith, a far dicier situation to deal with. The ship is just about afloat - but he can he safely deliver it to harbour?
(I haven't used the nice Scottish boy since, I think, the second match. Sorry, nice Scottish boy).