CM01/02: The Return (December ’06)

THE MISSION: Return to Championship Manager 01/02 and win silverware with Everton.

THE CATCH: Everton are in financial trouble. There will be no Cherno Samba for you. Not for a few years anyway…

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

The response to last month’s red card-influenced slump was predictably brutal, but I’ve learned not to take it on board now. Sure, it looks easy enough from the comfort of your armchair, but when you’re here; in the comfort of my armchair, it’s a very different story. As always, I try to remain true to my philosophy and remind myself that Everton have been converted from relegation fodder to a top six outfit in a relatively short space of time with an average net spend of £5.4m a season. And I am beautiful. No matter what you say. Your aeroplane banners can’t bring me down. But at least Mike is still with me. Sort of.

We start the month with sad news. Despite my best efforts, he is leaving us. I can understand why. I love him dearly, but I can’t possibly play him. He’s just not very good at football. I will miss him with all of my heart. I fear this may be like the ravens leaving the Tower on a Bosman.


When you’re on a poor run of form, beset by injuries, ravaged by suspensions and under fire from without and within, you really, really don’t want to have to play Liverpool. Ten times, we’ve played those red bastards. Ten times, we’ve failed to beat them. Ged Houllier’s over-priced cloggers are upsettingly efficient. And efficient is precisely the opposite of what we are, I fear. Still, we must do what we can. Ronaldo is suspended, the fake-tanned pillock, and so Thiago Motta will play in the number ten role. Jon Harley will take the left flank as I’m still angry with Mauro Navas. Hopefully, we’ll get some goals from Zlatan and Rooney. Hopefully.


Cancel work! Cancel school! Cancel everything! Dance in the streets! Paint the children’s faces blue! Tonight, we party like it’s 1985! They came to the Kings Dock to defend, but they couldn’t defend against us! No team on earth could defend against us! We swept them away, thrashing them 1-0 through a Thiago Motta snapshot! Richard Wright dealt with their few counter-attacks but we were never really troubled. You hear that, you red bastards? You never really troubled us! HA! What a day! What a game! What a team!


Hangovers all round, I’d wager. Now we have to build on that result. Let this be the moment that the story changes. Let this be the turning point. What a month we have in front of us now. The chance to overturn that deficit to Lens, the chance to move into the semi-finals of the League Cup, the chance to push for a Champions League place once again. We will have to do it without Thanasis Tsikitsiris though, he picked up an injury and is out for a month. This is Gary Breen’s big moment. We need to beat Lens 2-0, or by three clear goals to progress. I really think we can do it.


I asked for passion, I asked for desire, I asked my men to attack as if the lives of their families depended on their success. And they gave me everything they had. But we still lost. You would say that it was an extraordinary result, were it not for the fact that utterly dominating games and then somehow losing them is actually very ordinary in these parts. Our European dreams are over.


It is at this point that you may question the continuing survival of certain players and I understand your issues. You may demand that I move into the transfer market and sign better players. I certainly understand that. But for all the recovery off the pitch, for the new stadium and the improved revenues it brings, we still only have about £15m spending money every season. As it stands, we’re £1.3m in debt. We cannot buy our way to success. And more’s the pity.


We have to pick ourselves up and focus on the league now. A trip to Elland Road beckons where Alex McLeish’s Leeds United are right on our tail in the chase for a top four finish. I’ve lost Zlatan to injury now, so Cherno Samba will return to the team. We’ve also got lots of tired players, so we need to mix it up a bit around the team. Hopefully, this won’t cause too many problems.


That is the very definition of a hard fought win. A great goal from Cherno Samba puts us in the lead and then it’s backs against the walls for the rest of the game. Wright is outstanding, blocking Mark Viduka on four occasions, but there are good sturdy performances all over the team. With the marked exception of Rooney. This is the man who won the World Cup for England in the summer, but I can’t get anything out of him at all. He’s averaging 6.82 this season, which are the sort of numbers that constitute a sackable offence at this end of the table. Remember that I set all of my strikers a challenge this season. I said that I was going to sell one of them at some point, but I didn’t know which one. At the moment, it’s all of them.


The games are coming thick and fast again. Too thick and too fast, in fact. We’re tired and we haven’t had time to recover from the Leeds game before the arrival of Manchester United in the League Cup. John Toshack has been playing his reserves for this competition, but he may change his mind now that he’s within sight of the semi-finals. I sincerely hope he doesn’t. I’m going with the strongest team possible. It’s all or nothing now.


Toshack did not play the reserves, no. But it didn’t matter. They couldn’t find a way to contain Ronaldo and he tore them apart at the back. He opened the scoring in the first half and, though Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was able to equalise, we didn’t stay level for long. Jon Harley scored the winning goal and we held on with a degree of comfort. For the first time in my Everton career, we’ve reached a semi-final. Only Arsenal stand between us and a trip to Wembley. And possibly glorious salvation and an end to this interminable saga.


But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We’re not consistent enough to entertain ideas of silverware just yet. But we have a chance to do something about that. The transfer of Federico Magallanes is about to go through, freeing up £3.6m in spending money. And I’ve been watching Pepe Reina very closely in recent weeks. He might just be the man to put some pressure on…oh, for God’s sake.


That’s disgraceful. If they couldn’t afford the fee, why did they bid? Now I’ve got an unhappy Magallanes in my reserves, up for sale with no takers. And the club is £1.2m in the red. Where the hell are FIFA to protect good honest football clubs trying to sell off their heroes at short notice?

But we have to shake off that disappointment and focus on the visit of Blackburn. They’re a defensive side under Nicky Law, so we need to make sure that we actually take our chances. This is not exactly our strong suit…


That went a lot better than it might have done. For the second time this season, Ronaldo sees red. This time it’s for a brutal two footed assault on Michael Carrick that gives Blackburn a penalty and, shortly afterwards, the lead. I move Rooney back into the number ten role, leave Samba as a lone striker and, oddly, we play brilliantly. Both frontmen are in excellent form and it’s actually a surprise that we don’t score more. Ronaldo picks up a four match ban from the FA and a two week fine from me. He’s upset. I really couldn’t care less. Idiocy must be punished.


I’ve had the press on the phone. They want to know if Everton, currently third and just four points behind leaders Manchester United, can be considered title challengers. I think about this for a bit, because you should always think before you speak to journalists, and then I say, “You know what? I think we *are* challengers. Why not? We can beat anyone in this league, we’ve proved that in the last month. Granted, we can quite easily lose to anyone too, but if we have a strong second half of the season, there’s nothing we can’t achieve.”


So with that pressure piled onto my players, we get ready for the visit of Ipswich Town, struggling in 18th under the gentle aegis of Wally Downes. For the first time in three months, we have six days to prepare for the game and it will be nice to have lots of 100% fit players for once. Navas is no longer upset at me for fining him after he spat at someone and got himself sent off, so he can come back. I miss him. It’s hard to stay angry at him for too long.


Not a classic, but a deserved win nonetheless and it’s our fourth in a row, so I’m not going to get too upset. Breen, who has been excellent since he returned to the team, opened the scoring in the first half with a bullet header, but we let Ipswich back into the game and that was disappointing. At half time, I tinkered and dropped Rooney back into the number ten role that technically, he shouldn’t be suited for, but sometimes is. There was nothing to suggest that this is the tweak I’ve been waiting for all my life, but it did mean a return for Zlatan, who scored the winning goal. I’ll just pretend that this was what I was trying to achieve all along.


It’s Boxing Day, so the football matches continue to pile up. We are starting to look very tired. Ronaldo is still on the naughty step, but I have to put him in the team for Crystal Palace, bottom and looking pretty shabby themselves. Rooney is so exhausted that he has to be left out of the match day squad completely. But we should still have enough to do them.


Well, that was comfortably the worst performance of the season. When we’ve lost games this season, we’ve generally played well and just wasted chances. But we didn’t put a single shot on target here. Not one. Indeed, at half time we had failed to get a single shot *off* target. Palace were playing a simple 4-4-2 with one winger cutting in and another making runs down the touchline. They hadn’t discovered some new kind of super-tactic. But for someone reason, it was neutralising us in a way that we haven’t seen for many years.

For all our problems, we always make ten chances or so every game. And so I had to mix it up. I had to match them. It was time for 4-4-2 and a faster, more direct style of play. We had to get in their faces and remind them who the blue dogs of war are, the impetuous South London charlatans. And so that’s what we did. But nothing changed whatsoever. Two shots off target. That’s pretty poor. I’m going to have to hope that this is just the fatigue. Because if we play like that against someone good, we’ll be in serious bother.


We close out 2006 with a trip to Villa Park and hopefully, an improved performance. We certainly won’t be making any sort of title challenge if we drop more points over the Christmas period. Changes are required, sadly, but what can we do? Ronaldo is suspended, De la Peña and Tsikitsiris are still injured and so is Jon Harley. We do have one option though. We can give Magallanes another go. It’s better than leaving the poor man to rot in the reserves.


Oh. Hello, old friend. It’s a tight game, a typically Everton game in that we have lots of chances, they have a handful and we sweat out the 90 minutes in a state of desperate anxiety. And then in the last minute Magallanes goes on a solo run and wins the game at the death. What a player! Whose stupid idea was it to try to sell him anyway?


We still mourn the loss of European football, but this has been an impressive month. Manchester United have been removed from the League Cup equation, we’re into the semi-finals and we’ve taken 16 points from a possible 18 in the league. January will be tough. But we will be ready. Slowly, but surely, we’re getting there.


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 (December ’06)
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