THE MISSION: Enter the world of Football Manager 2017 and beat your bitter rival to claim glory in the Scottish Premiership and bragging rights in Glasgow.
Episode 1; Episode 2; Moneyball Rangers; Episode 3; Episode 4; Episode 5; Old Firm Preview Part 1; Part 2; A Message From The Board; Episode 6; 5 Things We Learned From The Old Firm Derby; Episode 7; How To Play Catenaccio In FM17; Episode 8; Episode 9; Episode 10: The First Cup Final; How To Play Like Atletico Madrid In FM17; Episode 11; Episode 12; Iain returns to Everton; Episode 13; Episode 14; How To Play Like Chelsea 04/05 In FM17; Episode 15; Episode 16; Episode 17; Alex McLeish advice.
IAIN: It’s imperative that we get back on track swiftly after that unexpected defeat to Motherwell and, frankly, we have no excuses now.
The transfer window has closed and our much admired star players should all be ready to focus on the run-in. Moussa Dembele is sticking around, though after a month on the naughty step, he’s well short of fitness. I’m throwing Chopper Brown and Leigh Grassiths back in, even though they have issues (Brown wants more strength in depth, which is insane given our enormous squad, Grassiths is still upset that I haven’t financially ravaged his colleagues for their mistakes.)
An added incentive, as if I need any incentive other than staying well ahead of Matt, is that Inverness boss Richie Foran was very rude about me last time we met. I realise that he’s simply an abstract construct built from lines of unfathomable computer code, but that’s bang out of order and I want him fucked right up.
Inverness Caley Thistle 1 – 5 Celtic
Well, that was very satisfying. Very satisfying indeed. We were 2-0 up before they had their first man sent off and 5-1 up when they had their second man sent off.
The only disappointing aspect of the game came after that second dismissal, when I switched to overload and pushed everyone forward in the hope of breaking Foran like a twig in autumn, and we didn’t make a single chance worthy of a highlight. But I’ll survive. We are dripping with goals and Motherwell is nothing but a memory.
MATT: It’s Hamilton up next for Rangers, and we need a win. A convincing one at that. A 4-3 defeat to Hearts in our last outing was no great embarrassment, but people have been laughing at me on the internet for signing so many crocks during the transfer window. It would be nice to prove them wrong.
— Robert Cheesewright (@RobCheesus) February 13, 2017
I know Robert has a point. I know Jack Hendry hasn’t made a single appearance in the four weeks since we loaned him from Wigan. I know we should have insisted on a medical for Julien de Sart, especially when he was carried into Ibrox on a stretcher. But without wanting to lower myself to simply saying “Give Iain stick, not me”, I’d really appreciate it if you could cut me some slack.
The performance against Hearts was encouraging, at least in an attacking sense, but we’re going to have to open up a bit more at home to Hamilton. I don’t want people calling me a Cautious Colin on top of everything else. We switch to 4-3-3 with Macheda leading the line and Gary Mackay-Steven and Barrie McKay on the flanks. There’s a debut for Paul Hanlon, too. Let’s hope he can last 90 minutes.
Rangers 2 – 0 Hamilton
I’m not asking for much. All I want is to come across as semi-competent at this game, as though the hundreds of hours I’ve invested haven’t all been for nothing. But if my players will continue to make me look like a dick, what am I supposed to do?
After 17 minutes, Mackay-Steven hobbled off. After 81 minutes, he was joined by Hanlon. Another two new signings who have clearly been put together with Pritt Stick and string. Sometimes I wonder if I’m playing Theme Hospital instead of FM17.
Still, we carved out a 2-0 victory thanks to Macheda’s second-half brace, which takes his tally to six goals in the last four games. It’s difficult to feel too optimistic, though. Every point matters at this stage, and with McKay also having to go off with cracked ribs, we could be short on numbers for the next game.
ALEX: Twenty-one days, and the jobs I’ve applied for have still not yielded interviews. The transfer window has been open, and I suppose it makes sense that a club might not ask prospective managers in for interviews amid such turmoil.
I know the Raith fans want me, and I? Well at this point, I’d take anything. Even Frodo is begging me to get a job. He’s been complaining of shin splints from over-walking, though in my present state, my nagging catastrophic interior monologue says even Fro doesn’t respect me anymore.
I drift into punditry, trying to look interested. Ally McCoist, who’s recently been trumpeting Matt’s Rangers, blanks me in the green room. Millie promises she did send out those job applications. Twenty-one days becomes twenty-six. Is there any hope? Any future? Will Frodo ever look at me the same way again?
Avram Grant is sacked, and I apply to be the manager of Ghana. I also throw my hat into the Ivory Coast ring. I’m on autopilot. Millie’s bought a couple of Lonely Planets just in case. I’ve told her there’s no funds for expenses, but she says it’s ok. I think her parents are sending her money.
I know I should be paying attention to what’s happening in Scottish football, but beyond seeing Iain smugly racing away with the league, I can’t look. I spend my time reading back issues of World Soccer to learn more about Ghana. It’s quite relaxing, actually. Millie installs a new coffee machine. I could get used to this.
IAIN: Ross County are in a relegation battle and I really just want to plough through them without leaving any margin for error. I pick the same eleven, but switch to the higher line, controlling game-plan rather than the counter-attacking that I generally prefer.
I just want to swipe them off the board and move on. I am, of course, very aware that saying things like this before a game usually invites disaster, but I am a creature of habit.
Celtic 4 – 0 Ross County
For once, a game that goes exactly to plan. We rattle in four goals before half time and then knock it about amongst each other for the rest of the night, chatting idly about our hopes and dreams.
Ross County barely make a chance of note and I’m able to get some vital game time into Dembele and new signing Julian Green.
MATT: A midweek trip to Kilmarnock is exactly the sort of match we should be winning if we want to steal third place from Hearts. I take a gander at Lee Clark’s squad and let out a snort of derision. This lot are crap. Even Alex must have beaten them.
A quick scan of Rangers’ results reveals he lost 2-0 at Ibrox at the start of the run that eventually saw him lose his job. Defeat to Kilmarnock. At home. I would have handed him his P45 in the tunnel right there and then, Carlo Ancelotti-style. Except Ancelotti actually won a few games.
My Rangers side are not going to lose this. If there’s one thing Matt Stanger teams don’t do, it’s lose to Kilmarnock. Or stay fit. In fact, I can confidently say I have never lost to Kilmarnock on FM17. We might draw with Kilmarnock, we may even grind out a mediocre 1-0 victory. But we don’t lose to Kilmarnock. I simply will not stand for it.
Brimming with confidence, I revert to the tight and compact 4-1-4-1 formation that saw us concede four times to Hearts. Iain claims he has some sort of copyright on this system, but really it’s the most basic approach possible and I can’t believe he ever thought it would fly at Celtic with the talent and the wage bill afforded to him.
McKay and Mackay-Steven are both out, so Forrester comes in on the left and Tavernier pushes up on the right with Lee Hodson playing at full-back. Rob Kiernan replaces Paul Hanlon at centre-back, while new signing Chris Kane remains on the bench – mainly to avoid injuring himself.
Kilmarnock 0 – 1 Rangers
What did I tell you? We do not lose to Kilmarnock. We hammer Kilmarnock. We destroy them. We pulverise them. We win 1-0 thanks to a Gary Dicker own goal. Sweet, wonderful Gary Dicker. Gary Dicker, the brother I never had. Gary Dicker, the name of my first born. Gary Dicker, the only beneficiary of my will. I hope this isn’t legally binding.
Almost as encouraging as the victory is that everyone escaped injury. Either that, or Steve Ferguson has told the players about our little chat at Aberdeen and, even though some of them have broken legs, they valiantly hobbled onto the team bus, smiling and nodding, wiping the sweat from their brow as the pain coursed through their body.
Delighted with back-to-back wins and clean sheets, I excitedly tell Iain and Alex that we’re turning a corner. “I’ve won my last two games by an aggregate score of 9-1,” says Iain. I quietly walk outside and key his car.
IAIN: Matt has clearly earmarked the Scottish Cup as his target for the season and so I’m tempted to play my strongest side against Motherwell just to ensure that I can thwart him, but I have other priorities. We play Besiktas in the Europa League three days later and I need everyone fresh for that.
I know it seems silly, given that Motherwell did me in my own back garden at the end of January, but we’ve played 44 games already this season and I have to keep my eye on the big picture. Kieran Tierney, Cristian Gamboa, Chopper and Grassiths will all come out and Dembele will make his first start since The Unpleasantness.
I just hope that this isn’t too cautious because I honestly don’t think I could cope if Matt actually wins something this season. It has not gone unnoticed that after an opening month of Bob Bradley-style hopeless shuffling and reshuffling, he’s started using my solid-as-a-rock 4-1-4-1. He is a clear and present threat to my way of life.
Motherwell 0 – 1 Celtic
Fortunately, Motherwell are not. It would have been nice to earn a wider margin of victory, but they barely touched the ball and we were always comfortable.
Dembele got the goal and we spent most of the second half playing over-cautious keep-ball, something we do quite a lot on account of my growing awareness that this league, and indeed this project, is now mine to fuck up.
MATT: It’s Scottish Cup fifth round weekend and, following my unlikely pep talk from former real-life Rangers manager Alex McLeish, I’m suddenly feeling pretty nervous about our hopes of progression.
I shouldn’t be. St Mirren are down in eighth place in the Championship and we’re at home with back-to-back wins and unsoiled sheets. The players know what they need to do. But I can’t help thinking this is a banana skin.
“Please don’t fuck this up,” I blurt out in the dressing room before the game. “What boss?” asks Julien de Sart. Thankfully he’s the only one who heard me. I shoot Steve Ferguson a telling look and he immediately knows what to do, bundling De Sart into the broom cupboard. Welcome back, Steve. How does it feel to be in the circle of trust?
Spotting that St Mirren like to pack the midfield, I stick with the 4-1-4-1 formation. There’s a recall for Mackay-Steven on the left, who’s been receiving injections all week in order to be fit for the game. A friendly Russian doctor came over to administer the procedure. Very highly recommended. Apparently he worked with their Olympic team.
Rangers 1 – 1 St Mirren
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Or so they tell you.
What they don’t tell you is that lemonade is the same colour as piss, and if you don’t sniff the glass first, you’ll end up drawing 1-1 at home to St Mirren in a match that carried all your hopes and dreams. Granted, the saying wouldn’t be as pithy.
I knew I was right to worry. There was something not quite right about the team this week. I could sense the complacency when we took Thursday off to go bowling. “Perhaps Laser Quest isn’t a good idea?” suggested assistant manager David Weir. In hindsight, I probably should have listened.
It was all going so well. Before facing St Mirren, we had won four out of the last five games. At no stage of the season apart from once had Alex done that. But when John Sutton opened the scoring after four minutes, it was clear we had a long afternoon in store. Mackay-Steven only lasted 15 minutes; Sergei was nowhere to be seen after the game. Tavernier equalised in the first half, but in truth we didn’t deserve anything more.
We’ll just have to win the replay. It’s an extra game we really didn’t need after Monday’s live stream against Celtic, but beating Iain to silverware would be the most satisfying feeling since keying his car ten minutes ago. This game really changes you. A fortnight ago I had a family and my own home. Now I’m staying on Iain’s sofa and he keeps making us watch You, Me and Dupree. It must be his favourite film.
IAIN: I don’t want to be in the Europa League and I don’t think I should be in the Europa League, but while we are, we may as well try to win the thing.
Naturally, we’ve been given a tough tie, facing one of our fellow Champions League drop-outs, Besiktas, but we’ve got the away leg first and that’s the way I like it. We haven’t got Chopper Brown, of course, because he was sent off against Basel, just one of the five red cards he’s picked up this season. But he’s a mate, you know. So what can you do?
AJ will come in for the Chopper and Dedryck Boyata, who’s been so good that I don’t know why I doubted him, will retain his place at the back. Dembele will continue ahead of Grassiths because he isn’t a fucking grass and doesn’t make me sick every time I look at him.
Besiktas 1 – 1 Celtic
I’ll always take a draw in Turkey. Especially when we get caught on the break and concede after 70 seconds. Matt grins so broadly at this development that I’m fairly sure I could close my laptop and post it into his mouth without it touching the sides. I miss Alex so much.
Fortunately, this is one of those times when we concede because we got a bit unlucky, not because we’re so utterly wretched that I spend every moment of the game chewing the inside of my mouth until I can taste hot blood.
We’re actually all right. We work the ball around, we limit them to long shots and, midway through the second half, we get our reward when Tierney finds Patrick Roberts at the back stick with a great big cross. Now we get to bring them back to Glasgow and I know we can do what needs to be done there.
I just hope that we can do what needs to be done in Glasgow in the next episode…
Football Manager is widely available for download, but you know that already because you’ve bought it already. If you want to replicate this challenge, we’re using the release day database with six full leagues (Scotland, England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France).