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 8: João Unchained
Captain's Log, 15 January. Diego Poyet you beautiful, bearded bastard. Hoping to bounce back from our FA Cup disappointment at the first opportunity I return to a more familiar, full-strength XI to face Huddersfield, which this week includes Poyet; with the young Uruguayan filling in for the still-injured David Jones.
In the end, the game presents just a solitary strike and it is Poyet who scores it, a smart rebound ending some penalty area confusion after Huddersfield fail to clear a corner. Rejoice, the three points lift us up to 7th.
The following few days are dominated by transfer dealings. I'm happy to sell Atdhe Nuhiu to Rapid Wien for £900,000 but am forced to reject unsatisfactory bids for Forestieri and Lees, from Marseille and Watford, as neither come close to matching the fees I'd want to sell two of our most vital starters.
Forestieri says nothing, evidently, we both agree he aired his feelings more than adequately earlier in the season, but Tom Lees bemoans my unwillingness to let him leave for the Premier League. Reluctantly I agree to let him go should a club offer £9.5 million for him. To think I only made him vice captain a month or so ago.
Maybe I'll anonymously ring the tabloids and tell them Lees has a drug problem to try and quieten the adoring whispers from the division above. A little white lie couldn't hurt, could it?
Away at Brighton on the 21 January, we pick up a fantastic win. We're frustrated in the first half but in the second, with a much more accomplished performance, João makes Brighton pay, punishing two lapses in defence with a brace of expert finishes.
After the game, a number of posts on social media are brought to my attention by the club's supporter spokesperson, all of which are singing the praises of one Sheffield Wednesday star in particular, our main man up top, Lucas João. I know what needs to be done.
As a treat, I call him into the office and gesture with a smile and a nod for him to take a seat in my leather recliner. Once he's sat I perch myself on the arm of the chair and lean forward to open up the lid of my laptop to reveal the aforementioned posts and I scroll through them, one hand on the laptop's trackpad, the other over João's shoulder, reading them together.
João's face is a picture as he takes them all in: "What a performance from João, my favourite player", "Incredible from João, proud to have his name on the back of my shirt", "João flukes two goals against Brighton and now he's world class? Nah." I try to scroll quickly past the nasty ones. I tell him I'm proud of his recent form and he thanks me for my support before he leaves. "See you later, Dad!" he calls out. We both chuckle. "Don't worry about it, champ." I say, "see you in training."
A few days later we take on a Brentford side seemingly drifting aimlessly in mid-table against whom sadly, despite keeping a second consecutive clean sheet for the first time this season, we are only able to claim a point as we too fail to score.
The frustration doesn't sit with me for long though as I receive a board confidence update that allows me to breathe easily for the first time in a month.
"We are delighted to inform you that following the promise you made to the board, we are now satisfied you've done your utmost to keep it... As a result of the improvements you have made as manager the board have cancelled any plans to relieve you of your role at the club." Thank god.
Though they make sure to make me aware I'm not completely off the hook with an ominous parting message that states "going forward, the board hopes you won't give them a reason to regret their decision" I am suitably relieved and can sleep with the light off once more.
The good news just keeps rolling in as Ian Beckett, player liaison officer, emails me telling me that he believes Gary Hooper no longer wants to leave the club for Norwich as—and this is the part of the email that almost causes me to spit-take over my laptop—11th place Norwich "no longer seem to be interested in Hooper's services." What a crying shame.
And to top off the kind of week that ashamedly bland dreams are made of, Mr Chansiri also finds his way into my inbox with news of a "successfully negotiated restructuring of the club's remaining debts" which will, he says, aim to "ensure the club remains a competitive force in the future." Tonight, gentlemen, we feast like kings! Bring me the takeaway menus.
January's transfer deadline day proves to be as busy as ever, the highlights of which include loaning a newly injured Paul Caddis to Inverness Caledonian Thistle; watching Forestieri's hopes build, plateau then die as Marseille boss Rudi Garcia follows up months of watching the midfielder closely by bidding exactly zero times after I knock back their first poor offer; and having to rely on another João double to earn us a point away to strugglers Bristol City.
Before the night is up João is named Championship Player of the Month, while Poyet places third in the young player's equivalent. The four of us; João, Poyet, Oscar and I celebrate by laying together on the training ground canteen roof, naming constellations while watching for shooting stars long into the night.