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.
Catch the end of Season 1 (and other posts) here.
Chapter 13: The Perks Of Being On Pre-Season
Captain's Log, 1 June. And so it is I have been handed a second chance. A bonus readmission onto the ride of life. Another spin of the wheel of fortune.
Like a man blessed with the type of sudden clarity that comes only from surviving a close shave with certain death, with my career seemingly in remission, I plan to wholly reinvent myself, my team and my cause, to make the most of this unforeseen opportunity - and this reinvention must begin today.
This is the first day of the rest of our lives, Oscar. No more doing whatever it was that held us back last season. Now, be honest, where do you think we went wrong? Silence. I know what you mean, mate.
As I sit gazing out of the window, the fingers of my left hand drumming against my chin, the fingers on my right stroking Oscar's comfortingly soft down, I remain deep in thought, wondering about exactly which changes demand to be made before all others. Then suddenly my phone buzzes with a text. It’s from Wednesday's Director of Football. It transfers news. We've received a bid from Burnley for... Barry Bannan!
I text him back as quickly as I possibly can ordering him to accept. “Bite they ducking hands off male!” I reply in my haste, before even bothering to glance in the direction of the finer nuances of the proposed deal. Suffice to say, the money isn't really the key motivating factor in this particular transfer. I take a look anyway. £6 million up front; instalments totalling £2.1 million over the next 12 months; another £1 million if Burnley win the FA Cup. It's obvious they're taking the piss with the last one but I'll give them that. It’s classic Dychey. I'm half tempted to chuck in a money-back guarantee if he's not lead a mutiny out of Turf Moor by Christmas.
By 11 June Bannan's club-record move to Burnley is all but done and I'm almost overwhelmed by it all. Before he leaves I make sure to find a moment to speak personally with him, during which time I tell him with genuine and wholehearted honesty that I’m delighted to be seeing the back of him. I echo the very same sentiment when Ben Walton of Sky Sports News asks me to clarify exactly what I meant after Bannan predictably talks out about his mistreatment. I shan't make the slightest effort to mask my true feelings regarding Bannan's impending exit, not for anybody. Not only is my career in remission, but some mentalist is offering to pay me millions of pounds to take the tumour off my hands so they can find a new home for it somewhere in Lancashire. I’m practically giddy.
Just two days later and Steven Fletcher is following Bannan out of the door, en route for Bristol, for a princely sum of £3.5 million (rising to £4.5 million dependent on the number of appearances). My only guess is they’ve not bothered to watch him play. Why else would they be willing to pay so much for him? Let's face it, he's no Lucas João.
Before June is up, the two spots in my squad vacated by Bannan and Fletcher are filled by all-rounder Conor Hourihane in midfield, picked up from relegated rivals Barnsley for the cut-price fee of £2.8 million, and Neil Taylor, who comfortably becomes our first choice left-back, plucked from Swansea for just £600,000. By the time we've replaced Fletcher's role as third-choice attacking alternative with Izzy Brown, loaned from Chelsea, I'm feeling not at all cautious in my optimism regarding the coming season. Suddenly I'm back to thinking about that 100 point mark we were unlucky to fall just 30 points short of last season.
Pre-season takes us to Portugal in mid-July as we kick off a summer of preparations away to second-tier Farense.
Though the game itself hardly lifts the curtain on our pre-season tour of Europe with a particularly memorable opener—a routine 3-0 victory the most we can muster—we are treated to two goals, albeit ultimately uncounted friendly goals, from a couple of our debutants.
Loanee Izzy Brown grabs his first in Wednesday blue to round up the afternoon's scoring with a vintage poacher's goal though not before Conor Hourihane smashes one home from more than 30 yards with a belting effort that goes down with the boys far better than his decision to sing a medley of ABBA singles at his team induction last week.
Upon our return to Sheffield, we are welcomed by a beautiful English rainstorm, through which we navigate our way to Hillsborough in order to take part in a friendly against French side RC Lens.
A second consecutive goalless first half worries me slightly but a second consecutive late salvo shoves any such worries deep into the darkened recesses of my mind. Last season's heroes Forestieri and Jones oblige with the goals. Next up we face the potentially troublesome Dartford.
'Potentially', of course, being the key word there. It's hardly a rout but a 3-0 victory does the trick. We even scored (twice) in the first half. Upwards and onwards to the next one.
For our final game of pre-season, we take on Moura, which sees us journey back to Portugal. Of course, we couldn't have played them when we were gallivanting around the Iberian peninsula a fortnight ago. That would’ve been far too easy, wouldn’t it? Far too economical. Still, it'll work as another bonding session with the lads; the travelling. Plus the airline food is better than the slop the boys are served back at the training ground. Sorry Rita, but, seriously, there are food stuffs that don't require blending. A great many are better off left solid.
Against Moura we're at our scintillating best again, hitting four without reply, to end our pre-season fixtures having notched 12 without having our defence breached once. Quite frankly—and I don't believe I'm getting carried away when I say this—if we don't win by at least four goals in our Championship opener at home to the recently relegated Swansea I'll be damn near distraught.