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 6: The Incredible Sulk
Captain's Log, 24 November. Some birthday this is. Just as I'm blowing out the candles on my owl-shaped cake, Fernando Forestieri arrives with a face like thunder. He slaps the candles from in front of my pouted lips, mid-wish, and declares the need for a private talk immediately.
In my office, he tells me that he has wanted to play in a better division for some time and that knowing of interest from Marseille has meant he can no longer hide it. I take off my party hat and tell him rather cautiously that I don't see any use in discussing any transfer deals without a concrete bid to reference, especially as we are only in late November. I tell him to calm down and gesture towards the Black Forest gâteau on the table back in the dining room, smiling.
Forestieri flips his lid. "No that's not good enough," he barks, "you have to agree to let me go!" I tell him that he's welcome to leave as soon as I conclude a deal for his replacement, though of course none of this can be done for at least another month.
Forestieri rummages around the floor on all fours, in search of his lid. Upon locating it he places it back down on the edge of the desk, tentatively, only to then flip it again. "I'm not willing to risk Marseille losing their interest! I need you to offer me out." You should be so lucky, sonny boy.
I tell him in no uncertain terms that he is being incredibly unprofessional and that until a bid is made I am unwilling to discuss the situation at any greater length. Forestieri signs off by telling me he's more than a bit miffed and his morale indicator drops due south—"abysmal” it reads—its colour matching Forestieri's mid-rant complexion to the very shade.
A day later I am contacted by Luis Teixeira, agent of Lucas João, who tells me that his client would like to withdraw his formal transfer request, effective immediately. I accept without deliberation. See, Fernando, not that hard to get along, is it?
In Wolverhampton, a few days on, I'm reminded just what we're capable of achieving when we work as a team: a 2-1 win, goals from Reach and Hooper take us up to seventh, our highest position all season.
BBC Sport reports that the jury is still out on my work at Wednesday thus far but they do take a moment to call my start to life at Hillsborough "steady" so I put that straight on my CV and look forward to our upcoming game at home to Preston. With them in 19th I'm hopeful of another win.
Before our next match day arrives, though, I am given a surprise cup check by an urgent breaking news segment on Sky Sports News in the form of an official press release from Norwich City announcing the sacking of Alex Neil. Languishing in 18th, Neil becomes the Championship's first managerial casualty of the season, 18 games in. I'm just glad I'm not the first head to roll.
Against Preston we're frustrated to within an inch of our sanity, a tightly packed 4-5-1 enough to stifle us into submission, the direst of 0-0 draws successfully ground out by the away team.
After the game, I invite my opposite number Simon Grayson to a customary tankard of ale over which we can discuss the day's proceedings. He tells me he'd love to but he only applied his conservatory extension’s third coat of mohair beige this morning and says that it's not going to watch itself dry. I end the night drinking in front of the TV with Oscar perched beside me.
In the FA Cup Third Round draw we're handed a home tie against one of two League One sides; Northampton Town or Bradford City. Hardly the type of fixture you’d tell your grandkids about but we'll take it. From small acorns do great cup runs grow?
Evidently, my rousing FA Cup-inspired monologue is mistimed at best, coming on the eve of a league game away to Reading, as the lads take their eye off the ball entirely and fall to a routine 2-0 defeat. Just a point from our last two games, the chasm that opens up between the playoffs and ourselves appears monstrous in size. But a local derby at home to second-bottom Barnsley offers us an immediate shot at redemption.
Redemption is exactly what we earn. An early goal from Hoops settles our derby day nerves and though he exits early with a wrist strain his replacement, Lucas João, reasserts his own merits by capitalising on a late lapse in the visitor’s defence to score our second and wrap up a faultless 2-0 victory.
The post-match presser offers me ample opportunity to throw Paul Heckingbottom to the wolves. Our superiority as local rivals, their awful league form, his hilariously 19th-century surname; the ammunition is near-infinite. Instead, I simply applaud my team. Though still as low as tenth, and with a less than convincing set of league stats, just two games off of the halfway stage we sit only two points off of sixth, four points from second.
Rafa Benitez's Newcastle continues to play in their own one-team mini-league; played 21, won 18, drawn 2, lost 1, some 21 points clear as it stands. Still, there are no less than 11 or 12 clubs fighting to fill the other automatic promotion spot beneath them and I've no qualms admitting that we believe we're right up there with the best of them.
Meanwhile, we're also a huge 12 points clear of the relegation zone, so that's nice. On Saturday we invite rock-bottom Rotherham to Hillsborough, though only because we have to.