So the story begins Thursday 1st September 2016 as I embark on yet another save game on Football Manager 2016. A decision not to purchase the iminent 2017 version was hard, but I committed to a long term save due to not a lot changing from version to version.
My Virtual Character
I decided to roleplay me as an ex-professional footballer, no international experience, who had taken a few years out of the game to get all his coaching badges. I set up a world with all the leagues in the world in, but just England, Italy and Spain featuring as playable countries.
Starting unemployed in the 2015/16 season, I saw what the game would offer, deliberately turning down clubs that start the game without a manager, I wanted to play the game of applying for jobs where managers were sacked.
As Christmas approached and after turning down a few opportunities at unappealing jobs, I was surprisingly offered an interview at Premiership West Ham United who had parted company with Slaven Bilic.
Somehow, I managed to bullshit my way through the interview and was appointed manager of West Ham three days before Xmas.
And so my journey begins
With the team looking at a relegation spot and morale at rock bottom it would be a tough challenge. I first set about getting some staff in, with many leaving with Bilic, there where a few gaps that needed plugging before my first game on Boxing Day.
I went for experienced ex-players where possible by adding Ray Wilkens, Ludek Miklosko and Steve Stone to the coaching staff, who were joined by Frankie Bunn from Huddersfield and Fabrizio Piccareta as my Assistant Manager. Adverts were placed to fill the gaps for the U18 and U21 squads as well as the coaching staff and were filled over the next couple of weeks.
An away trip to WBA wasn't the ideal start, but we did well and took the lead on 64 minutes through Chiekou Kouyate. The lead wouldn't last for long though as Aaron Cresswell was sent off 10 minutes later, leading to WBA equalising. But a tough rear guard action saw the game out, a 1-1 draw wasnt' a bad start
A couple of days later saw my first home game, home to Stoke. With still only days to learn my tactical approach it was going to be hard on the boys, but they raced into a 3-0 lead inside 6 minutes with goals from Sakho and two from Valencia. Stoke got one back but Valencia got his hat trick in the second half to give us a 4-1 win.
My first transfer window. Well bugger all happened, there was no money for transfers, the squad was a bit thin and I was keen to not allow anyone leave and I wanted to give the current players a chance to prove themselves.
League form was excellent, seeing us extend my unbeaten start which featured a noteable home win agaisnt Chelsea. The FA Cup wasn't so succesful though. Drawing 1-1 away at Villa saw us lose 3-1 at home (aet) following a fractious affair that saw both sides down to 10 men.
Having survived the transfer window without losing anyone, the league form continued really well. An away goalless draw at United was followed by a 3-0 win over Liverpool, but we were brought crashing down to earth the following game, Arsenal beating us 4-0, but the lads bounced back with a 2-1 win at home to Newcastle.
A fairly average month, a win, two draws and a defeat, the boys were adapting well to the tactics (4-1-2-2-1) , we enjoyed good possession, just lacking that bit of quality to be consistant.
April and May 16
The business end of the season, too much damage had been done by Bilic to get European football, but our form since I took charge was encouraging. We were undefeated for the last two months of the season with 5 wins and 2 draws and we were scoring for fun, the last three games finishing 4-1, 4-0 and 5-0 against Spurs, Sunderland and West Brom respectively. We finished 9th and our fine form earned me my first Manager of the Month award for May.
Season Overview - The Winners
- Premier League - Man City
- FA Cup - Swansea
- League Cup - Man City
- Champs League - Juventus
- Europa League - Schalke
With a modest budget to spend, I was going to have to be clever in the market and raise money from player sales. However, due to only finishing 9th and me getting the best out of some players, they had loftier ambitions and drew the attention of other clubs, once heads were turned I was in trouble.
Approx 45m was raised in player sales during the summer
- Darren Randolph > Hull for 600k
- James Collins > Bordeaux for 165k
- Andy Carroll > Aston Villa for 10.25m
- Michael Antonio > Leverkusen for 10.5m (really didn't want him to go)
- Enner Valencia > Napoli for 23m (gutted he left, but couldn't persuade him to stay)
Only 15m spent on players, but I added what I felt was quality in week areas.
- Geronimo Rulli from Sociedad on a free (absolute beast of a keeper and a bargain)
- Jesse Lingard from Man U for 5m
- Fede from Racing Santander for 2.4m
- Moses Odubajo from Hull for 7.5
- Fernando Torres for a free after his release from Atletico
But as pre-season started, there were other twists and turns to my first experience.