Football Manager
July 3, 2010 6:31 PM   Subscribe

They were one of history’s greatest teams. But by the late 2000s, Pro Vercelli were entrenched in the lower leagues, their glorious past forgotten. Until one day, a man bought a video game. Read the uplifting saga of a small-town Italian club, an unknown American manager, triumph, betrayal, passion, and several extremely good recipes, from start to finish

What the game is astonishingly good at is creating the feeling of realism, dropping you into a world that behaves both consistently and surprisingly, that’s small enough that it’s roughly comprehensible but large enough that it always seems to be vanishing at the edges. And within that world, if you pay attention and play with a little imagination, there is an endlessly unfolding narrative which you are capable of influencing but not of controlling, a story whose fantastic twists and high-stakes conflicts are more engrossing because the outcome hasn’t been planned in advance. And that, I suspect... is why this series is so beloved.
posted by Joe Beese (25 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
I'm really enjoying this as well. This guy is surprisingly funny. Thanks Joe.
posted by friendlyjuan at 11:01 PM on July 3, 2010

Well, that was a fun couple of hours spent reading that feature, thanks. I'm almost inspired enough to go on a campaign on my own, but playing FM is a huge time-suck (from experience).
posted by WalterMitty at 11:05 PM on July 3, 2010

I can't believe I just went from really wanting to rewatch Equilibrium (after an extremely long period of constantly streaming fireworks) to spending four hours completely engrossed by somebody's experience playing a game I don't really care about, about a game I never really cared to watch.

The man's no Salman Rushdie but god, if this isn't one of the beacons of fantastic niche blog writings then I don't know what is.
posted by dubusadus at 2:29 AM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Relatively talentless men like Brian Clough and Bill Shankly continue to win plaudits while my achievements are ignored (usually) or reviled (because I was late for dinner). But I know the truth, and I’m telling you, the truth is sensational.

Do you think Rinus Michels could have taken Forest Green Rovers to the Champions League? "

hahahaha genius. This guy is a comedy God. Reading now. Not a video gamer myself tbh, but i know a couple of people who are obsessive about Footy Manager and the like.
posted by marienbad at 2:37 AM on July 4, 2010

"I almost always start out with a weak club when I launch a new FM career, because honestly, it’s the only way to find a challenge even remotely worthy of my excellence. If I managed Arsenal, I’d wind up transcending the physical universe and achieving a radiant spiritual synthesis, and the new Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants movie doesn’t even come out till August. So I’m basically looking for the also-rans, the losers, the small, troubled, sentimental favorites: Go Ahead Eagles, say, or Merthyr Tydfil, or, if I really want to suffer, Newcastle United."

oh. my. god. brilliant.
posted by marienbad at 2:41 AM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Too long; did read.

I guess I'm a slow reader though; that took me all freaking evening. Fantastic, and totally engrossing! And I don't care a lick about football.
posted by aubilenon at 3:28 AM on July 4, 2010

So, how does work exactly?

You pick(or trade) your players, then the computer sets up a match?

Does it do it in real time? Do you have any control over the individual players in the game or is it all up to the computer at that point?
posted by madajb at 3:31 AM on July 4, 2010

Oh, I thought you meant the real Football Manager ...
posted by scruss at 4:02 AM on July 4, 2010

You're placed in charge of a club of your choosing at the beginning of the pre-season, when the transfer window has just opened. From there you do as club managers do - offer to buy players, set training regimes, deal with contract negotiations, arrange friendly matches and so on. You only have as much control over your players as a hypothetical manager might - so you can set tactics (and how!) such as formation, individual instructions (e.g. you, you hug the touchline when you get the ball, or cut inside, or tackle that guy HARD). When the match starts, you can issue 'touchline instructions' (e.g. up the tempo, start pressing them harder etc.) or make substitutions and so on.

It's not in real time, even the matches (although you can actually choose to simulate a match in real time if you're so inclined, the default usually involves the computer replaying the highlights and bypassing the uninteresting bits). Outside a match, you play on a day-by-day basis, with you issuing all your orders and changes until you click "Continue Game" (or its equivalent). When days go by with nothing happening the computer will just simulate it in the background (including what other clubs do) and bypass it until something happens which needs your managerial ministrations (e.g. a press conference, an injury to a player etc. etc.).

You'll play matches usually according to a timetable issued by your league and known to you before the beginning of a season. Most of your matches will be intra-league games with the occasional cup match thrown in, depending on which cup competitions your club is eligible for.

A lot of it can be automated, e.g. you can get a coach to take charge of reserve matches, or your assistant can handle contract renewals, attend press conferences and so on, but if you know what you're doing it's often better if you take charge of whatever you can yourself.

I've taken anywhere from 2-4 hours to complete a single season, and I automate all reserve and U-18 matches and skip a lot of press conferences. Playing 20 seasons - and writing them all up - is pretty impressive. Or he's got a lot of free time. Although he did do it over an entire year, so fair play to him...
posted by WalterMitty at 5:19 AM on July 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

Thanks for posting this - I'm no fan of football, or the football manager games, but this is great.
posted by YAMWAK at 6:20 AM on July 4, 2010

As someone who has just spent the whole year getting Stevenage Borough from the Blue Square to the top of the Premiership, I can't describe how much fun I'm having reading this.
posted by garius at 7:34 AM on July 4, 2010

There's something sort of thrilling about watching someone work with utter confidence and competence, even for something as trivial as a game I know I'd never look at twice otherwise.
posted by rollick at 11:36 AM on July 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

This is damn fantastic. Rivals the Saga of Boatmurdered from Dwarf Fortress, and that is saying something.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:43 AM on July 4, 2010

I used to play Baseball Mogul and would have done something like this had blogs been around back then. Hell, maybe I should do something like this.
posted by reenum at 1:51 PM on July 4, 2010

I've always been fascinated by the massive depth of Football Manager. I just don't know enough about the ins and outs of football to have any idea what I'm doing. I think if I'd grown up anywhere other than the US this game would be my number one time suck.

Most other sports have something equivalent (Eastside Hockey Manager and Out of the Park Baseball to name two). Now if anyone would make a basketball management sim that was half-way decent I'd be a happy man!
posted by thecjm at 2:07 PM on July 4, 2010

This is damn fantastic. Rivals the Saga of Boatmurdered from Dwarf Fortress, and that is saying something.

Exactly. "Sounds like DF", is what I thought after reading more of this than I'd intended to.
posted by ersatz at 3:59 PM on July 4, 2010

This was an awesome post, Joe. What a great read, and I don't even like soccer.
posted by Malor at 5:31 PM on July 4, 2010

Count me as another who maintains only a dilletante's interest in the Premier and Champion Leagues, and none whatsoever in football managing or simulations thereof, but who has, today, become enthralled by this blog. Thanks for posting this - what a great read!
posted by Flashman at 8:10 PM on July 4, 2010

This is great! I now have a terrible Football Manager jones that hasn't manifested itself in me since the late 90s (back when it was still Championship Manager). There's also many great little anecdotes, like the story of Oliver Kahn, a man of incredible comic ridiculousness (for the full story, go into the comments). Here's my favorite Oliver Kahn anecdote, from Tor! The Story of German Football by Ulrich Hesse-Lichtenberger: "Kahn once agreed to take part in a penalty shoot-out for charity in which he faced children who could collect money for an orphanage by putting one past the famous pro. Then he saved every single spot-kick because he couldn't stand to be beaten."
posted by Kattullus at 8:59 PM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

posted by WalterMitty at 1:10 AM on July 5, 2010

I dreamt about Pro Vercelli, Luca Neri wanted more playing time, Paolo Martini, Riccardo Caprioli and Michele Proietti all had outstanding games. It was more interesting than my dreams usually are.
posted by Kattullus at 9:26 AM on July 5, 2010

This post (plus Steam's perniciously timed sale price) forced me to take the plunge into FM2010 not knowing much about it, or about soccer at all really, and since then I've been playing it like a junkie.

For some reason I settled on the Vauxhall Motors club, lingering at the bottom of the Blue Square North league and have been trying to whip them into shape. The experienced FM guys seem to already know the best people available at any price range, so no matter what team they picked they'd bring in the same bargains and hidden gems—but I have no idea who these guys are, and I'm trying to keep as many guys from the original team as I can anyway. I like to imagine Vauxhall has given imaginary-me a car (their cheapest, shittiest car) as a token of their asscocation.

I suck at it pretty bad. Maybe it's because I picked a 4-3-3 which made it nice only having to search for generic center midfielders and strikers, but this doesn't seem to result in many successful attacks. Well, at least I'm staying ahead of relegation.
posted by fleacircus at 1:51 AM on July 19, 2010

This post (plus Steam's perniciously timed sale price) forced me to take the plunge into FM2010 not knowing much about it, or about soccer at all really, and since then I've been playing it like a junkie.

I tried the demo when that sale was on and realized I was hideously out of my depth. Is there some kind of easy mode?
posted by juv3nal at 5:13 PM on July 19, 2010

The big, wealthy clubs might be easier? Or at least have more options because of having more money. But that's probably not what you mean. I think it's a little like DF where you just have to hold your nose and jump. The fun seems to be trying to master the complexities of it.

For example, I wound up making an Excel spreadsheet (fun "game" huh) [screenshot] with all the players on my team and the stats that are important to their positions (according to the tactics screen when you click on a position). It's helped me recognize the names and start to internalize what the stats really mean and what each position needs. Watching some games all the way through instead of in "highlight mode" also helps reveal stuff that's boring to a spectator but interesting to me, like why my team's attacks fizzle so often.

The spreadsheet is also good when I go searching for new players; I can enter their stats and see how they measure up against the rest of the team. (The in-game comparison and charting stuff is not very good.)
posted by fleacircus at 5:57 PM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

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