Football Manager: the diary of a descent into madness

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Written by Iain Macintosh

While putting together the book, “Football Manager Stole My Life,” my co-authors and I trawled hundreds of personal accounts of virtual chalkboard addiction. We spoke to games journalists, psychologists and actual, real life footballers who had been afflicted. We even went back and played innumerable seasons of classic Championship/Football Manager too. Just for research. Oh Christ, here come the sweats.

We never set out to help cure anyone. All we wanted to do was to let people know that they were not alone. That there were others like them out there, wandering this world in body while their minds were elsewhere entirely. Probably scouting the Eredivisie for 19 year-old wingbacks. All roads lead back to Holland.

What follows is an amalgamation of stories designed to show you what lurks in the shadows of this hidden world, a bit like those one of those videos about heroin that they used to show you at school. This is what can happen when you play Football Manager too much.

DAY ONE: You feel a frisson of guilt that you’ve just spent three hours on a pre-season campaign, but you shrug it off with a smile. It was fun, wasn’t it? You assigned most of the more mundane tasks to your assistant, because you don’t want to waste time on stuff like coaching, do you? That’s what coaches are for. You’re just happy enough to make a jokey bid for Lionel Messi and then play some games. And you did well too. There are now four Japanese second division teams who won’t forget your name in a hurry. Well done, you.

DAY TWO: The season didn’t start well and you think you know why. You were too casual yesterday. You just threw a team out, you didn’t prepare them on a game-by-game basis. You didn’t even work on set-pieces. Who are you, Harry Redknapp? While your partner is watching television, you devise an intricate corner routine that sends your strikers to the far post, hopefully dragging the opposition defenders with them, while the ball goes to the near post where your towering central midfielder lurks ominously. It pays instant dividends and you win the next game 3-0. You’ve never felt such a profound sense of satisfaction. This set piece is probably what Hawking meant when he described looking into the face of God.

DAY THREE: After reading an article about Manchester United’s ‘Class of ’92’, you resolve to pay more attention to your youth players. When your partner heads upstairs for an early night, you plough through until 1am, carefully tailoring individual coaching routines for every member of your U18 squad, teaching them new skills, assigning them new roles. They won’t all make it, of course, there will be some casualties. Not all can earn the fabled black card. But every youngster deserves a chance, an opportunity to make the most of their potential. And that’s what you’re going to give them.

DAY FOUR: Your partner is out late tonight. You don’t mind. In fact, you’re quite keen that they stay out longer because European qualification is still mathematically possible. You need to find an edge somehow. You take over the youth team completely and use them to experiment with a back three, leaving one defender to cover, using another to push up and support your midfield. This might be the x-factor you’ve been looking for. At 2am, you step away from the laptop and wonder if your partner is actually coming home. You pad up the stairs and check the bedroom. They’re already home, already asleep. You never even heard the front door.