CM01/02: The Return (November ’07)

THE MISSION: You have returned to Championship Manager 01/02. You have won silverware with Everton. Now turn them into a genuine European powerhouse.

THE CATCH: Everton were in financial trouble. You had to play for nearly three seasons without resources. The books are balanced now, but all the legendary players have been snapped up by your rivals. Respond. 

PREVIOUS EPISODES: Pre-Season ’01; Pre-Season ’01 Pt2; August ’01; September ’01; October ’01; November ’01; December ’01; January ’02; February ’02; March ’02; April ’02; May ’02; Pre-Season ’02Pre-Season ’02 Pt2; August ’02; September ’02; October ’02; November ’02December ’02January ’03; February’03; March ’03; April ’03; May ’03; Pre-Season ’03 Pt1; Pre-Season ’03 Pt2; August ’03; September ’03; October ’03; November ’03; December ’03; January ’04; February ’04; March’04; April ’04; May ’04; Pre-Season Pt 1; Pre-Season Pt2; August ’04; September ’04; October ’04; November ’04; December ’04; January ’05; February ’05; March ’05; April ’05; May ’05; Pre-Season ’05 Pt1; Pre-Season ’05 Pt2; August ’05; September ’05; October ’05; November ’05; December ’05; January ’06; February ’06; March ’06; April ’06; May ’06; Pre-Season ’06 Pt1; Pre-Season ’06 Pt2;August ’06; September ’06; October ’06; November ’06; December ’06; January ’07; February ’07; March ’07; League Cup Final Preview; League Cup Final Special; April ’07; May ’07; Pre-Season ’07 Pt1; Pre-Season ’07 Pt2; August ’07; September ’07; October ’07

Everyone wants to be a football manager. Everyone wants to be in the dugout, drawing their plans together, leading the team to glory. What a life it must be. But no-one ever considers what it might be like when everything goes wrong. How it feels when the mob turns. I shall tell you how it feels. It feels lonely.

But amid the howls of frustration and rage, there is one measured voice of support. Like a despairing man slumped on a park bench with his head in his hands, I hear a burst of sweet bird song and I think that perhaps the world is not so ugly and brutal after all.

Three number tens seems a little like overkill, but I think the basic premise is sound. Aside from our blistering, and rather surprising, run of European form, we’re not going anywhere with 4-4-2. And it’s not like we’ve got a high pressure game ahead of us or anything. It’s just Liverpool. Away. We’ll try the 4-1-2-1-2 that seems to work so well for other teams. It’s not too dissimilar from ‘mad arse’, but it might offer a bit more security down the flanks.

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Usually, I’ll accept my fate if my players put in a decent performance only to lose by the odd goal. This is football. You cannot safeguard against ill fortune. But nothing really prepares you for losing a local derby to a last minute Jamie Carragher winner. This wasn’t one of those games where we dominate possession, rattle off dozens of chances and lose to a freakish snapshot. Liverpool made as many chances as us. It could easily have gone either way, though when Wayne Rooney equalised, I really did think it was going to be our day. It was not our day. Not even nearly.

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Fortunately, the board of directors were really understanding about the whole thing. That’s five league defeats in a row. According to the job information page, I’m not officially ‘insecure’ yet, but given the way I’m sweating through my pyjamas every night, I’d say that they might want to reassess their information.

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The media aren’t impressed either. Apparently, even though it’s only bonfire night, it will take a miracle to save us from relegation. I don’t think it will take a miracle. I think we just need some of our players to stop whining, to stop being unhappy because they’ve lost faith in my ability and go and win a fucking football match for once.

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It does feel that only the Champions League is keeping me alive right now. The mission is simple. Beat Benfica in Portugal and qualify for the second group stage of UEFA’s cash trough. Any other result is unacceptable. Indeed, given the league form, any other result may mean that the next couple of episodes of this blog are reduced to a sad commentary of the job pages and some particularly harrowing poetry.

But I didn’t see a lot wrong in the performance at Liverpool, so I’m going to keep the shape the same and jiggle the players around a bit. Rooney has earned himself a start and after two flat performances from Federico Magallanes, Cristiano Ronaldo can have a game too. Let’s try to think of this as just another football match and not the last wispy strand that’s holding the sword of Damocles above my head.

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Cruel. So very, very cruel. A bright start, a flurry of missed opportunities and then suddenly Benfica were two goals to the good, courtesy of their Japanese forward Koji Yamese. We toiled without reward until the 81st minute when Mauro Navas of all people dragged us back into the game. Cherno Samba, an even more unlikely scorer, drew us level two minutes later. Could we pull off quite the most remarkable turnaround in my tenure at the club? No, of course we fucking couldn’t. It ended 2-2 and we are out of the Champions League. We’re in the UEFA Cup now, if that helps? No? Okay then.

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Worse still, the Everton supporters were furious with our failure and, loyal to the end, I chose to defend my misfiring players. That only made matters worse. The fans are now incandescent with rage while my chairman is ‘mystified’ with my stance. Call me paranoid, but I feel like I might be in a bit of trouble here.

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And so to Fulham, and what feels suspiciously like a shit-or-bust sort of game. The Cottagers are alongside us in the nether regions of the league and represent our greatest chance of turning this slump around. But given that we’ve got a squad of unhappy players, a stadium of unhappy fans, a press box of unhappy reporters and, you know, that we’re fucking Everton, I think we all know how this is going to go.

It is for this reason that I stride to the gallows with my head held aloft. We shall play the ‘mad arse’ formation because it’s the last thing I can remember that worked. Admittedly, we have to go back to last season for that memory, but it’s all I’ve got. If I’m going out, I’m going out on my own terms. With an Everton side that defines me.

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Yep, that was an Everton side that defined me all right. Not only did we make their first choice goalkeeper look good, but when he was injured, we made their reserve goalkeeper look good as well. We had a perfectly good goal disallowed, a stonewall penalty turned down and Rooney wouldn’t have found the goal even if we’d have lit it up with a thousand spotlights and got 55,000 people to shout, “The goal is over there, you fucking tit. The big white metal thing with the net on, oh sweet Jesus Henry Christ, how can you be so fucking useless?”

And we drew 0-0. So it’s not even a result that will end the misery.

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The supporters are doing their best to make their case heard though. It won’t be long before the chairman listens, surely?

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But, no. International week comes and goes without me being summoned to the boardroom. That’s enough time for Gabriel Milito to recover full fitness. That’s not enough time for any of our strikers to complete an orientation course on the whereabouts of ‘the goal’, nor is it enough time for any of our disenchanted players to rediscover their confidence in me. But we have our captain back. The man who started this speed wobble by getting himself pointlessly sent off in a pre-season friendly is back. It’s only fair if he fixes it all again.

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Well, Milito was all right. But it’s the Greek lad who deserves the plaudits. And we are back. Back from the brink. Back from the edge of oblivion. Back in winning ways. And it’s all thanks to Magallanes. Again. His 50th goal for Everton might be his most important for my career prospects. We should have scored more, but Thomas Sorensen was made to look yadda yadda yadda, you know how it goes. But look…if we can end the month with a flurry of victories, we might just ride out this storm. I realise that’s quite a big ‘if’.

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Of course, it wouldn’t be Everton if I couldn’t inadvertently ruin everything with one misjudgement. The press ask me if I’m disappointed with David Pizarro and, given that he’s got an average of 6.62, I answer in the affirmative. What happens next is something of a surprise because when I defended my players after Benfica, the supporters were furious. Now they’re just as angry because I haven’t defended one of them.

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I think I may have reached a point where I’m so unpopular that people will be angry about anything I say, simply because I have said something. I am essentially the human personification of David Cameron’s twitter feed.

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But we’ll see if I’m still so unpopular if I can guide us to victory over Auxerre in the UEFA Cup. We’ve got to click at some point, haven’t we? Maybe that result at Sunderland is the catalyst for something extraordinary.

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Well, that was certainly extraordinary. After a drab first half that brings not a single shot, on or off target, I make sweeping changes. Three half time substitutions are a clear messages as to what I think abut their efforts. But then it all goes horribly wrong. First we lose David Villa to injury, then Li Tie to a red card. We have to play for 24 minutes with nine men. And somehow we survive. Auxerre don’t seem interested in coming at us and we escape with a 0-0 draw. Interestingly, this is our third clean sheet in a row, evidence that immediately calms the frustrated supporters and sees the gather outside the training ground to sing my name. In the dressing room, I can really sense the improved mood.

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I’m certain that we can keep this momentum going now, especially with Cardiff City at home. I’m a little limited on options because so many players are either injured, suspended or unhappy with my idiosyncratic style of management, but I’m sure we’ll muddle on with lips of the stiffest sort. We’re going to ‘mad arse’ our way out of this mess, I can feel it.

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We clicked! We finally clicked! Lots of goals and they came from the strikers. Just one shot for Cardiff and, astonishingly, they didn’t win the game with it. Improved performances all over the park. Tonight, I will go home, open a bottle of excellent wine and then drink myself to sleep in front of the fire. I deserve it.

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Just one more game remains this month, a trip to Cambridge to continue the defence of our League Cup. It is a massive banana skin. But surely even we won’t slip on it?

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This didn’t slip. Another fine performance. Another haul of goals for Rooney. Another clean sheet, the fifth in a row since the return to ‘mad arse’ tactics.

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It’s too early to say that we’re out of the woods. The fans still hate me, the chairman is probably sounding out exotic foreign replacements and half the squad refuse to eat in the same room as me. But it’s better than it was. We have NINE games in December, including a League Cup quarter-final and a chance to make the last 16 of the UEFA Cup. I’m not down. There’s everything to play for yet. And all of a sudden, I don’t feel so lonely after all.

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Championship Manager 2001/02 is freeware. If you want to replicate this challenge, or make one of your own, or even just indulge in some nostalgia, you’ll find all the links you need here. We’re running leagues from England, Spain, Italy, Germany, Holland, France, Portugal and Scotland and we’re using the 3.9.68 patch that uses 02/03 data, but doesn’t crash. Hopefully…

CM01/02: The Return (November ’07)
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