In the first instalment we took a quick detour down Depression Drive and Anxiety Avenue to catch up on the latest developments. With the background established and Christmas looming, my shot at glory moves ever closer.
So, just one question remains…
My 2014 save began at Sutton United down in the Conference South and as fascinating as that experience was, I have no desire to simply repeat what went before.
I thought about taking a fallen giant and restoring them to glory. Perhaps Newcastle who come with a good squad and huge potential, although I would feel bad about making Rafa unemployed, digital form or not. Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday, Rangers, each held a certain appeal but none leapt off the screen at me.
Part of me has always fancied a Mourinho-esque save, that is bouncing round the top divisions of certain countries, winning the league and then moving on. No long term planning, just amassing the best team in the shortest period of time and then heading off to the next destination. But in a way I had that experience when playing a two-player game back in 2003. And besides, I have an itch to scratch.
The dilemma I often find myself faced with is whether I approach FM as a true management simulator or a chance to manage my favourite team. Having tried and failed with the latter for so many years, it was the former that gave me such satisfaction. But I finally feel ready to go back and so this save will be based around managing Liverpool.
Managing Liverpool brings with it an immediate influx of anxieties, some echoes from earlier FM experiences, some new;
- Can I resist the temptation to compare myself to Klopp’s Liverpool?
- What formation do I play? Should I just copy Klopp? How do I get the roles and duties right?
- What if the real life team perform better than mine? What does that say about me?
- What if I fail? What if I get sacked?
- What if I succeed? Will I still want to continue?
- Will this blog be as interesting if based around just one division rather than promotion and relegation?
- I have been away for two years. I feel out of the loop. What has changed? Will I know what I’m doing?
It is a tangled mess of anxiety, which helps to explain the relative calm that came from basing myself elsewhere. But therapy taught me the importance of confronting and challenging anxious thinking. This is a battle of wills that I choose to accept.
Besides, there are some really important positives. Firstly, over the last couple of years I have felt somewhat removed from football generally and Liverpool specifically. Yes, yes the kids and all that. I rarely make time for Match of the Day, Super Sunday games are watched on my phone while I cook the roast and evening games are viewed from the ‘comfort’ of the exercise bike. But it goes a bit deeper. Playing FM, and given its incomparable scope and realism, you get under the skin of the club, getting to know all the players and staff, right down to the youth team and physios. Without that, and with more limited time (and desire, frankly) to read up on football news, the squad as a whole feel new and fresh. I welcome the chance to reconnect and to once again envelope myself within the body of the club.
Secondly, I have a reasonable starting point. One of the thrills of the Sutton save was discovering players and their best positions but it could also be frustrating trying to figure out if someone was miscast or just crap. Here, I have a standing start. I know the strengths of Coutinho, Firmino, Mane and Moreno (okay, not so much) and so I can focus more on the tactical side of things, putting into place some of the skills that I learned in my previous save.
Third and finally, there is Steven Gerrard, or rather the absence thereof. In all my previous Liverpool saves, from circa 2004 onwards, the success of a save came to hinge less on my overall managerial exploits and more on how Gerrard played. Forget the result, forget the league position, forget the trophy cabinet. Did Gerrard play well? Did Gerrard score? If not, why not? If I can’t get Gerrard right I must be a failure.
My teams would be constructed around Gerrard to a fault. Using Rafa’s 2008 team as the template I would seek to utilise Gerrard in the AMC slot. He must be on attack of course because he’s a goal scoring superstar hero (one for you Sensi fans out there). But that meant the roles around him had to change to fit. Regardless of what other players I had or what roles their strengths warranted, they were sacrificed for the skipper. He had to be captain. He had to take penalties and free kicks. he had to be playmaker. In truth this was a repeating pattern, having been victim to the same mentality over Robbie Fowler’s performance in CM 93/94. But in FM, with its myriad of options, this obsessive behaviour reached its zenith.
With Gerrard gone, there is a certain freedom. I still have an idea of tactically how I want to set up (more on that later) but I no longer feel the need to shoehorn one player in at the expense of all others. Everyone is equal, everyone is expendable. The team comes first.
And hey, I could always bring him back as a coach…
In the next instalment we take a look at what the team has to offer and start to work through deciding on a tactical shape and strategy.