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 7: Fear and Loathing in South Yorkshire
Captain's Log, 15 December. Fifth at worst. With Alex Bruce sacked at Villa and Jimmy Shan sent packing by Birmingham in the last week—both of whom outlasted Alex Neil and Garry Monk at Norwich and Leeds, respectively—that's the position I'd finish in the Championship manager sack race should I be sacked tomorrow: fifth at worst.
I've no idea where I'd finish if we were all made to participate in an actual sack-race, though anywhere behind Mick McCarthy would be cause for great concern. The weight of those eyebrows alone.
Regardless of the number of competitors fifth wouldn’t be all that bad, given my relative inexperience, although I highly doubt I'll be handed my P45 completely out of the blue tomorrow, anyway, so I guess I shall simply continue to enjoy seeing my contemporaries drop like flies around me.
Although now I've said that I probably will be sacked tomorrow, eh. Ha, Nah, that's ridiculous, I'm not going to be sacked tomorrow... Am I? Shit, now I'm worried. I can't exactly phone the chairman and ask him "Hello, Dejphon? Hi, it's Will. Will Sharp. Manager of the club you own, Sheffield Wednesday. Yeah, hi, just wondering: am I going to be sacked tomorrow?" God, it's going to be a long night.
Good news, it's almost seven o'clock in the evening (of the following day) and I've not been sacked so I think I'm safe from my jinx. Any following jinxes brought about by this update I, of course, am powerless to remark upon until around this same time tomorrow but I refuse to let myself be dragged into an obsessive- compulsive routine by simple coincidences. I am the master of my own destiny. I am the architect of my own fate... It did work today, though.
Right, that's that. 17 December, still Wednesday manager. That's the last one, I swear. I'm better than this.
Over the last few days, when not checking my emails under a panicked sweat, I am able to conduct a fantastic piece of transfer business. Having been informed of a £1.1 million release clause in the current contract of Birmingham City's £6 million-valued winger David Cotterill, I am the first manager to pounce, triggering his release clause before his club can renegotiate a new contract without one. After agreeing on personal terms without a hitch the deal is confirmed. He'll join us on 1 January.
With Almen Abdi's fitness questionable at best, having only just returned from a four-month sojourn on the sidelines; Will Buckley's eventual return to parent club Sunderland at the season's end, and Forestieri's exit looming, I feel it is important to bring in some fresh attacking impetus sooner rather than later.
Still slightly tipsy from my transfer high, my pre-match team talk, I'm told by Bullen, resembles a scene from the film 300. To his credit, his comparison isn't far off as I do faintly recall screaming something along the lines of "THIS IS SHEFFIELD" before kicking a bin.
Whatever was said, though, fails to fire up the team nearly enough for the game ahead as we stutter to a turgid 1-1 draw with lowly Rotherham. Izzy Brown's sixth of the season with just over ten minutes left cancels out João's excellent opener, leaving me livid on the touchline. I'd hate to be a bin in our dressing room this afternoon.
Before Saturday evening can roll into Sunday morning news breaks of another two sackings in the Championship, Neil Warnock and Ryan Giggs lose their jobs at Cardiff and Wolves. I don't know whether to laugh or cry.
The next day I'm contacted by the chairman who tells me that the percentage of transfer revenue that I will be able to retain from player sales, which was previously 35%, now stands at 10%. At this rate, I'll be lucky if I see close to a million of whatever fee Forestieri eventually commands.
I immediately send my chief scout to spent the next month keeping a close eye on whichever amateur knock-about division it was Jamie Vardy started out in. "I'm gonna need some Vardys," I tell him. Plural.
Up next in the league we take on the Magpies. As powerless as they sound, the Magpies, given their ever-lengthening advantage at the top of the league, these are clearly no ordinary Magpies. These are artificially enhanced super Magpies, born not from Mother Nature but concocted in a dimly-lit lab somewhere, each monstrosity equipped with eight wings and four legs each. They've ship horns for chirps and don't fly so much as a jet through the skies; in a fashion even more perplexing than that odd rhyme which often accompanies any given quantity of Magpies appearing in eyesight of anybody in the slightest part susceptible to the suggestion of superstition. "Rafa Benitez's steel and carbon fibre army!"
Still, the Owls will give 'em what for. Particularly as chief scout Ken Ryder has pointed out in his report to me that Newcastle have conceded 6 of their 13 goals this season between the 61st and 75th minutes of games. With an armoury buffed by that kind of incisive intel on our opponents, how can we not win? Cheers, Ken!
Against Newcastle, we inevitably lose, as our pre-game odds of 10/1 teased, but the manner in which we lose is particularly disappointing. 0-0 at half time, I tell the lads we’re doing well, hang on in there and a point could be ours. But shortly after the break Ritchie nods the Geordies into the lead. Then, with 77 minutes on the clock, we are awarded a penalty. Unfortunately, penalty taker Barry Bannan harbours a grudge like no other and opts to put it straight into Karl Darlow’s grateful grasps before shooting a devilish glance in my direction. He’ll stop at nothing to see me out. Lo and behold a short while later it's 2-0 and game over for the weary Owls.
After the game, with us now staring down the barrel at just one win in five, Chansiri tells me he wants to meet immediately to discuss recent results. I can tell from his tone he has a thirst for change. It's also made somewhat evident from the words “we are considering your position at the club.”
To cut a long story short I escape the meeting with my job still intact but only by the skin of my teeth. Appeased somewhat with a promise that the next month will see us rise up the league, my protestations seem to keep the guillotine at bay for now, but my head remains very much still on the chopping block.
Still, 13th or not, we’re only five points off of 2nd. Have a heart, Dejphon. A couple wins here, few victories there, and we’ll be laughing.
With my morale at an all-time low, the very next day, my old pal Hoop-Dogg decides to pile on the misery by declaring from out of nowhere his wishes to move to Norwich City immediately. Talks go less than perfectly. He calls the switch a “dream move.” I laugh, he angers. The Barry Bannan Coup™ gains another fully-fledged affiliate. If they come in wearing ‘Sharp Out’ badges, I swear, I'll fucking lose it.
The day before the grand opening of the January transfer window we travel to Preston, desperate to right our wrongs from the reverse fixture and come away with all three points. Sadly we are destined to repeat our mistakes as we twice throw away leads to draw with Preston again, this time 2-2. I feel the hangman’s noose tighten a notch. A vast array of execution methods awaits me.
In the next game, we invite Wolves to Hillsborough, my mood in desperate need of lifting. Just when I needed him most, from the depths of despair, after being handed a rare start, Steven Fletcher pulls out the performance of the season, hitting a superb hat-trick in an invaluable 4-2 win; in the process completing an excellent league double over Wolves. If only Dejphon Chansiri had a deeply ingrained and irrational hatred for Wolverhampton Wanderers, my job would be safe as houses. I’m sorry I ever doubted you, Fletch-Dogg! Bah, no, you can tell I’m forcing it. I still miss you, Gary.
Before the sun sets on match day 25, news breaks that Chris Hughton has lost his job at Brighton and Preston have also parted ways with Simon Grayson. With the baffling regularity of double sackings seemingly transpiring in this season’s Championship, I can't help but wonder who I’ll be paired with when I inevitably lose my job. I respond to the thought with a whisper: “dibs on Benitez.” That may keep me safe in employment for just a while longer.
In the FA Cup third round fixture that follows I ring the changes, bringing in the likes of Wildsmith, our young third choice keeper; right back Caddis, centre back Sasso, as well as second choice wingers Buckley and Wallace; all of whom I believe could do with a run out. I hope with genuine sincerity that my timely squad rotation will see me rewarded with the type of performance that will later impact a selection headache preceding our next league game. Instead, I'm left embarrassed on the sideline as we fall not one but two goals behind.
With not nearly enough about us to even trouble third-tier Bradford’s goal, we’re powerless to prevent the upset and we exit the competition at the very first hurdle placed before us. Awful. I can hardly bear to look at Bannan when I return. The bin takes a third kicking.
Still, no need to panic. It's not like I promised the chairman vast and immediate improvements, just a couple of weeks ago. Exiting the FA Cup at the hands of lower league opposition shouldn’t do me any harm at all.