In late 2008 a young and innocent Will Sharp tossed aside his well-worn copy of FIFA 09 in favour of Football Manager 2009, eager to test himself against the juggernauts of managerial simulation. What he envisaged being a simple transference of skills and a continued domination of the digital football world soon descended into chaos as he found himself unable to even compete. Unsuccessful save after unsuccessful save cut short, the intervals between hopeful attempts grew exponentially until eventually, he stopped logging on altogether. Truly vanquished, he vowed never to attempt to conquer Football Manager again. Until now.
Chapter 3: The Good, The Bad and The Forestieri
Captain's Log, 24 August 2017. Having spent all of 30 seconds perusing the 'staff' section of my dashboard I find my way to the 'responsibilities' subsection, inside of which I find myself able to shirk, I mean delegate a great number of my duties regarding youth development and non-player negotiations to other members of my backroom staff.
After doing so I am immediately overwhelmed by a feeling of immense freedom. As though a weight has been lifted. As though I can, only now, truly focus on guiding the good ship Wednesday where it needs to go; through choppy waters and onwards towards the promised land that is somewhere around the top half of the Championship.
In our fifth Championship game of the season, we head to Griffin Park to take on 19th place Brentford, confidence coursing through the squad, anticipating with the expectation a second successive away win in the league. To a mix of passionate and keen listeners, I tell the lads I want to see them continue our decent run of form.
Sadly, despite a stunning opener from Fernando Forestieri, we come out 2-1 losers in a game BBC Sport calls "an absolute treat of a spectacle." Their chirpy match report, juxtaposed with a live view of the league table, showing us now as low as 13th place, tastes like bile in my mouth.
Back at the office, a knock comes at the door, it’s my chief scout Ken Ryder. He cheerily reports that now, with less than 24 hours of the transfer window remaining, he is ready to deliver his all-important recruitment advice. But my feeling of irritation quickly makes way for a rush of excitement as Ryder recommends that I bring in some extra midfield mettle which grants me the ideal excuse to get jiggy with it on deadline day. I willingly join the madness, albeit sans a yellow tie. I’m not that jiggy.
However with little over £1 million in the kitty, and scarcely over £5.5k p/wk available for reinforcements, I opt simply to sign the first promising free agent I spot in Ryder's list of recommendations, who happens to be ex-West Ham youngster Diego Poyet. Though the fans undoubtedly expected greater investment on deadline day—particularly given my tweet containing nine dollar bill emojis followed a winky face emoji—the response is very positive with supporter spokesperson Jerry Jackson informing the club of a near unanimous feeling of content among the fans.
After spicing up the final hours of deadline day by sparking a flurry of rumours regarding a potential eleventh-hour exit for Glenn Loovens, having accidentally placed him into the Under 23s squad only to immediately undo said action, with no more transfer dealings to speak of, we move on into September.
On the second day of the month I receive my latest board confidence update which informs me, in summary, Chansiri and co. are plenty satisfied with my management to date. Our incredible 4-3 win over Burton their most favoured highlight; Ross Wallace's poor form their biggest criticism. I'll say it now, if I have to throw Ross Wallace under the bus to stay in the chairman's good books I'll bloody well do it.
"What... What was that!? Did we just hit something? I… I think I can see something—someone—in the rearview mirror."
"IT'S NOTHING, DAVE, KEEP DRIVING!"
No hard feelings, aye, Rossy.
Talking of feelings, on the eve of our next game, unemployed-manager-turned-have-a-go-pundit Nigel Pearson does his very best to hurt mine by suggesting that a poor result at home to Wigan could very well leave me in hot water with the boys upstairs. But I am unmoved by his needless unpleasantry. With some ten days rest since our last game, sunshine predicted for the rest of the week, and the devilishly handsome Diego Poyet sitting between myself and my assistant manager, Lee Bullen, I've nothing to fear.
Frustratingly we are unable to make Pearson eat his words though we do show enough about us to prevent a loss and keep at bay the dreaded pressure he suggested would follow. A goal from Jacobs around the half hour mark sends the 30 or so travelling Wigan fans into raptures but, with just over 20 minutes left, Hoop-Dogg pops up with a deserved equaliser, salvaging for us a point.
The following Tuesday evening we are back out on the Hillsborough turf, this time to host Bristol City. Like us, Bristol have been all over the place, form wise, with a win, two draws and three losses from their opening six fixtures. Already slipping far behind the league's fast starters I find myself getting a little desperate for points. Understandably, though, as a win could take us as high as 8th.
In what is certainly one of our most pleasing performances of the season so far, the lads leave it late to overcome Bristol City. A cool back-post pounce from Marco Matias finishes a flowing counter attack, giving us the lead before the irrepressible Hoop-D-O-double-G adds a well taken second to put the game beyond doubt. Our result, along with those of our nearest rivals, suits us well. We climb up to 9th.
After the game, I attempt to lift Bristol City manager Lee Johnson's spirits by riffing on him for his decision to loan in Yaya Sanogo. “Brilliant banter, John” I quip, nodding in the direction of the lanky forward who at the time appears to be stuck in his jersey, mid-swap with Marco Matias, but the City boss seems to miss the joke entirely, as he simply shakes my hand before quickly departing. I'll have to give the joke another run out when we meet again at Ashton Gate later in the year.
Next up we go to unbeaten Birmingham to take on the league's fourth place team. Despite some lovely stuff at the business end of the pitch, including a hilariously forced own goal from Ryan Shotton and a much-needed morale-boosting, manslaughter-delaying goal for Ross Wallace, with his very first touch of the game, we're powerless to prevent a Lukas Jutkiewicz double adding to Clayton Donaldson's opener, resigning us to a 3-2 loss on the road.
Though Birmingham were good value for their win I can't help but feel if I'd mastered the pronunciation of Jutkiewicz's name before he'd notched twice we may have had a better chance at shackling him. In retrospect, my team’s defence was hardly helped by my insistence on their marking of "the old Polish one." I’ll take the flak for that one. Although it was only after the game was dead and buried that my assistant chose to inform me that Jutkiewicz is, in fact, neither old nor Polish. I don't suppose knowing that during the match may have helped at all. Cheers Lee.
On 24 September we host a stuttering Nottingham Forest and the game follows the trend set by many of our recent games; occasionally thrilling but ultimately frustrating. The home fans are all but ready to toss their match day programmes and head for the exits when Vellios gives Forest a late lead on 83 minutes. But our main man Fernando Forestieri, the diminutive and disrespectfully able Professor Xavier to our varyingly skilled X-Men, shows exactly why he has started every league game this season with a brilliant 92nd-minute leveller. Perhaps a little lucky not to come away empty-handed, we return home clutching our single point tightly.
I am worried by the thought of just exactly how long we can rely on the late heroics of Forestieri. Though we said goodbye to the summer transfer window just weeks ago, for the third game in a row, Marseille manager Rudi García sat in attendance as rumoured transfer target Forestieri shined, so it seems we'll do well to keep hold of the influential Argentine for the foreseeable future.
In the meantime, it’ll be wise to see if I can dig up some dirt on the lad. See if I can't give him a few extra incentives to stay in Sheffield. Desperate times call for desperate measures.