Firstly a very happy 20th birthday to Championship Manager 01/02, arguably the most popular version of all. Just about time for me to share about this game, more on that later.
Since I had time to spare, I wanted to write something fun and could not think of anything better than sharing about my three most memorable accomplishment on CM/FM.
Whichever it is, neither is alien to most football fans. Even if you have never played these management simulation video games, I’m pretty sure in all the football conversations you had with family and friends, there has to be at least one story related to CM/FM.
Firstly, I must confess here that I’m not the biggest fan of any type of video game. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I hate them or something. It’s just one of those things, similar to Fantasy Football, that requires a “big” commitment which I have to be honest that I’m not prepared to give. Hence why, anyone who puts time and effort in managing their respective teams will always have my utmost respect.
Furthermore, it’s been more than a decade since I have dabbled anything related to CM or FM. There were moments that I was tempted to manage Huddersfield Town, with a dream of taking them all the way to win the Champions League, but eventually nothing happened.
We have to admit that, in whatever platform that is available, video games be it, CM, FM, FIFA, Fantasy has become an important staple in football. This isn’t just about a group of friends being dexterous with their fingers on any joystick, console or keyboard. We just can’t ignore the tremendous footprint these games have left in football from a cultural and social standpoint.
If you think the impact of football related video games is only limited to off the field, I’m afraid you have been missing a lot then.
It took a Chilean Football Manager enthusiast to discover that Stoke born Ben Brereton who plays for Blackburn Rovers had Chilean background via his mother and that he was eligible to play for La Roja. What followed was an online petition campaign which got the attention of national team head coach, Martín Lasarte.
As a result, Brereton was called up for the 2022 World Cup qualifier in June and was even included in the squad for 2021 Copa America. He is now a mainstay in the Chilean setup.
Similarly, Filipino legends, James and Phil Younghusband were both discovered by Philippines Football Federation when they had received an email from young anonymous gamer, playing Football Manager in PlayStation. The rest as you know, is history.
Former Huddersfield Town manager, Danny Cowley and his brother even admitted for being a huge fan of Championship Manager and that playing that very game is the catalyst to which ignited their passion to pursue a career in real football management.
Now continuing with my story.
The first time I was introduced to CM was back in 1998, during one of those times when I used to hang out with Alwin, one of our co-founder, at his home. I remember asking him what this strange game that you’re playing is all about? Despite his explanation, I was initially quite lukewarm about it. A part of me felt hesitant but it wasn’t that long after that I finally gave in.
At the beginning, I didn’t really take this game as seriously as Bill Shankly’s football is a matter of life and death mode. I don’t want to get into details but some of my early signings were quite scatterbrained to say the least. But with time, my attachment towards this game was beginning to grow.
So it gives me great pleasure to share with you on three of my most superlative accomplishment, be it on Championship Manager or Football Manager.
Liverpool, Season 1998/99 (CM2)
One of the reasons why I took charge of Liverpool is because I had a soft spot for them and not to mention my well known disdain for Manchester United during that era. But that’s all in the past now. Just like the late Gerrard Houllier, I too opted to look at the French market and start my revolution modelled on Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal.
After all, France had just won the World Cup and the now defunct channel Metrovision, had started to show weekly highlights on Ligue 1 with former national swimmer, Jefrrey Ong on narration duty. This allowed me to look out for great talents with a reasonable price.
For the core of the team, I still maintain the likes of Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen, Steve McManaman, Patrick Berger, Jamie Redknapp, Neil Ruddock, Stig Inge Bjørnebye and Paul Ince, who was my captain.
In goal, I brought in my favorite shot-stopper at that time, Jose Luis Chilavert. I even opted to hand him over the penalty and free kick taking duties (if you know, then you know).
To partner Ruddock in central defense, I had Jean-Sébastien Jaurès from Auxierre. At right-back, I did manage to snap Markus Babbel from Bayern Munich who could also be utilized as a centre-back when necessary. Bjørnebye was deployed on the left.
On the wings, I had Macca and Berger deployed on the right and left respectively. In the middle, Ince takes over the holding role while Pedro Barbosa plays behind the front two.
Up front, I have out my faith in the Fowler & Owen partnership. Backing them on a rotation basis, I had the likes of Nuno Gomes and Florian Maurice to beef up my attacking line up.
Other players on my squad that I can loosely recall, are Tony Vairelles, Niclas Alexandersson (one of two Mr Utility players available on CM2), Marc-Vivien Foé, Antoine Sibierski and Mickaël Landreau.
My preferred formation was the 4-4-2, as it was very popular during that era in the Premier League. Usually I will start with a diamond formation, sometimes switch to attacking or otherwise keep it simple.
Season 1997/98 was all about work in progress as I had to do some massive clearance (e.g. Jason McAteer, Phil Babb, David James and a whole lots of other names from the Roy Evans era) while slowly adding in the new names. Everything started to click the following season, just that I didn’t expect with a couple of games to spare, Liverpool have finally won the Premier League (unlike in real life, they had to wait a little longer).
Argentina, 2002 World Cup (CM3, Season 2001/02)
I don’t think there is a need for me to remind everyone what actually happened to Argentina at the 2002 World Cup. However as a supporter, I still like to think that squad was the best that ever was in the last 31 years.
Therefore, I took up the challenge to see if I can go all the way with the same squad (just a few minor changes) selected by Marcelo Bielsa. So what were the exact changes? I didn’t call up Claudio Caniggia, Gustavo López and Claudio Husaín instead, I brought in Juan Román Riquelme, Javier Saviola and Andrés D’Alessandro.
Qualification for the World Cup was a matter for formality. Once that was settled it was all about preparing for the big tournament.
My lineup and formation? Well again, I opted to stick with Bielsa’s preferred 3-3-1-3.
In goal, Pablo Cavallero was my first choice. Walter Samuel, Roberto Ayala and Mauricio Pochettino formed my back three. The wing-backs were also obvious choices, Javier Zanetti and Juan Pablo Sorín on the right and left respectively.
Diego Simeone in the holding midfield role. Playing behind the front three, it was a no brainer, Juan Sebastián Verón. Claudio López deployed as a forward left but on the right I used Saviola instead of Ariel Ortega. While it may not be El Conejo’s preferred role, I just felt that a player of his calibre (we’re talking about 2002 here) being kept on the bench is a crime.
Lastly, it was either Gabriel Batistuta or Hernán Crespo, used on a rotation basis for the No.9 role.
I struggle to recall exactly which other nations were grouped together with Argentina but I can confirm it was nothing even close to what actually it was in Japan/South Korea. None of that group of death thing ever happened.
For the first three group games and the round of 16 tie, it was purely breeze through with no resistance at all. Once I had to face Belgium in the quarter-finals, I could sense there was trouble in the air. The team was struggling to contain the Red Devils offense and there were a few close calls.
At this stage, I decided to take some advice from my two assistants, Alwin and our other co-founder, Bala. After a nil-nil draw at half time, we turned things around in the second half, winning 2-0 to progress to the last four, thanks to a few tweaks on the line up.
We switched to a 3-4-1-2 formation. Verón was asked to drop deep alongside Simeone. Batistuta and Crespo, the dream partnership up front. Behind them was either Riquelme or Aimar.
In an intense semi final clash against Brazil, we won 1-0. In the final, we then proceeded to overcome Italy by 2 goals to one. Argentina, just as the bookmakers placed them in real life back in 2002, were now CM3 world champions.
Juventus, Season 2005/06 (Football Manager 2005)
I must say that managing Juventus was something else. In the beginning it was more of an experiment but ended up being one of my proudest achievements on FM. However the manner in how I accomplished this is something you will find it hard to believe.
At the time in real life, most of the top English players weren’t keen to move abroad. So I wanted to change all that with my Juventus team. I brought not one but three players; Jermaine Defoe, Michael Carrick and Ledley King.
Why? Because these are the only three players that were keen to speak and negotiate with me. The rest (e.g. Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard) didn’t even give me a chance.
I opted to use a weird formation, 3-2-3-2 that would serve best for my purpose. Gianluigi Buffon was in goal so that’s not going to change. In front of him, I had three man centre-backs in the form of Fabio Cannavaro, Lilian Thuram and King.
Supporting them were two holding midfielders, Patrick Vieira and Carrick. My three man attacking midfielders consists of Pavel Nedvěd in the middle, Mauro Camoranesi and Gianluca Zambrotta on the right and left wing respectively. As a backup, I also had Gianluca Pessotto who is quite a utility player in midfield.
Up front for me, I had Zlatan Ibrahimović alongside Defoe who was my sure starter. Yes, in my team Defoe was ahead of the likes of Alessandro Del Piero, David Trezeguet and Marcelo Zalayeta.
At first, I was struggling partly because I was using a different kind of formation (e.g. 4-3-3, 4-4-2) and the most obvious message I get from Alwin and Bala is that I’m not using the right players. Like who in their right mind will bench Del Piero or Trezeguet!
However I was adamant in continuing my English experiment. With some adjustment in my formation and starting eleven, I started to rip the rewards thanks to my patience in sticking with my line up.
In real life, season 2005/06 was always to leave black mark in Juve’s history no thanks to the Calciopoli saga. However that was not the case in my game though. Once my team started to hit all the right notes, there was no looking back.
Both Defoe and King became one of my best buys ever in my history of playing CM/FM. Defoe scored and assisted plenty thanks to the formidable partnership he established with Zlatan. I could count on them so much that even Del Piero or Trezeguet rarely featured in my plans.
In spite of having Cannavaro and Thuram, I have to give some form of laudation to Ledley King as well. Throughout the season, he was a “Wall” for me and gave me so much comfort at the back. Not forgetting Carrick, who proved to be a worthy signing for me in his own right.
Apart from these three, I also managed many other teams in either CM or FM with varying degrees of success and lots of shortfall as well. However looking back, I like to think that the teams which I have shared here seem to have a bigger significance on a personal level for me. Allow me to elucidate this further.
When I opted to manage Liverpool in CM2, in real life they had fallen way behind compared to their glorious years in the 1980s. As with Argentina, everyone knows what happened to them in the 2002 World Cup and why Bielsa’s uncompromising tactics was in many ways the biggest culprit of all that. When English players going abroad became a rarity, I wanted to make it happen with Juventus and prove it can work.
As I’ve mentioned in the beginning of the article, I’m not the biggest devotee when it comes to computer games. On that account, it’s really hard for me to really keep going after attaining something. So most of the time, I will just end up starting a new game instead of just continuing from where I’ve left off.
Let me remind everyone again that we are talking about a video game here and my article was only meant to be a fun read. In case if you were hoping for some CM/FM gaming insight, my apology for putting you in a crestfallen situation.
However I do hope you do find this an enjoyable read. Hopefully it will rekindle some of your own memories of CM/FM and would love to hear them as well. We would really appreciate it if you could share them on the comment section below.