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.
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After an underwhelming opening month that offered us just two games, we move to a monster month that thrusts seven upon our unsuspecting bodies. September will be absolute crucial to the future of this football team. Can we put down the foundations for another respectable season in the Premier League? Can we make the most of our first Champions League? Will the new look front line score any goals? The old one is now being broken up. We’ll be saying goodbye to Zlatan in the winter. Until then, he can lead the line for our reserves.
It’s our second game of the season and we’re already in a bit of a sticky spot. Thanks to their own incorrigible stupidity, Gabriel Milito and Federico Magallanes are both suspended, while exciting new signing David Pizarro is crocked for a week. This is not the best time to be playing in-form Leeds United.
Leeds were one of the front runners when we opened our adventures, winning the UEFA Cup in 2002 and finishing in the top six for the first three seasons. But Terry Venables could never quite kick on and, after a poor start to the 2005/06 season, he was sacked and replaced by Alex McLeish. The Scotsman’s first full campaign brought an encouraging 8th place. With seven points from nine and the recruitment of the exceptional Bojan Djordjic, they’re a force to be reckoned with again. And here’s us with Richard Rufus in the first team.
Gosh. Where did that come from? A thoroughly controlled performance, an emphatic victory and a hat-trick for David Villa. Leeds didn’t play badly either, they made a few chances and Gary Teale gave me a bit of a headache out on their right flank, but they just couldn’t get through. We had no such problems, scoring twice before the break and adding a third early enough for me to use my substitutes. In four days, we play Real Madrid. I want everyone as fit as possible because there’s absolutely no way that I’m going to Brendan Rodgers this.
I’m so excited to finally make my Champions League bow, that I go to the trouble of actually watching Real Madrid’s game against Espanyol. They win 4-0, which is hardly surprising given that they have Raul and Original Ronaldo up front, with fluent Spanish speaker Kieron Dyer in midfield. But it’s okay. My only real concern ahead of the game is that Xabi Alonso has suddenly announced that he’s unhappy because he can’t adapt to life in England. He’s been here nearly 18 months. His morale is still high, so he can stay in the team, but it’s something to think about. Will he need a proper break like Pepe Reina? Why can’t they just be friends and hang out in Merseyside together? Anyway, I think that Real Madrid *can* be beaten. They haven’t won the league on this game and they’ve only progressed through the two Champions League group stages on one occasion. They’re not all that.
It’s not what it looks like.
In every game, there’s always a chance that one thing, one inexplicable, unavoidable thing, will go horribly wrong. But when three things go horribly wrong and you just happen to be away at Real Madrid, there’s really nothing you can do. Richard Wright, who had risen to Pepe Reina’s challenge, had a meltdown. Madrid were four up at half time having had four shots on target. Alonso was worse than useless, giving the ball away almost half the time and failing to ever win it back. Thanasis Thi…Tis…Tha…the Greek lad was sent off shortly after the break, reducing us to ten men. It was a Grade A, cast iron, perfectly formed clusterfuck. I need to be alone.
The fallout is extensive, but I’m quite touched that the board are being thoroughly decent and philosophical about it all. The same can’t be said for the Everton fans, but they calm down when I defend the team and tell everyone to stop running around and screaming. We’ll see how long that holds.
A trip to Portsmouth offers a chance to make amends, but there will be changes. Now that we have two goalkeepers, Wright can pay the iron price for his failings. Reina will make his debut. Alonso can have a couple of weeks at home to think about what he’s done. With Milito still suspended, I can’t drop the Greek lad. I’m of a mind to drop Cherno Samba, given that he hasn’t scored in four, but he can have one more chance because, while I exude gruff-voiced malice at every turn, I’ve actually got a heart of gold.
Well, that was entirely predictable. When you really, really, really need a game to go for you, it will always go the other way. Referee Mike Riley disallowed an early Magallanes effort and gave Portsmouth a penalty when Danny Webber dived over the Greek lad. Fortunately, we got back into the game through Pizarro, but we should have had a winner. Established readers will take a glance at Andy Marshall’s performance and give a knowing nod. This is not our first rodeo.
We have to get a decent result against Benfica now, otherwise Champions League progression is going to be looking pretty unlikely already. But we have a problem. Too many of our players have dipped beneath 90% fitness. We’ll have to rotate both the full-backs and we can’t risk Magallanes either. I would play Rooney, but his morale has plummeted to ‘very low’ and he’s injured anyway, so he’s no use to me whatsoever. This season is getting out of hand already.
Another day, another man of the match for the opposition goalkeeper. In fact, it’s been another day when lots of things go wrong all at the same time, combining to form a SuperWrong, if you will. We made chances, but we either missed them or scored them, only to have the referee disallow them. Benfica had two chances to our eight with 20 minutes to go, but a desperate push for an equaliser simply allowed them to score a second. This isn’t going very well, is it?
If you’ll pardon the understatement, we really need to get back on track. But again, we’ve been dealt a cruel hand. Newcastle United, unpredictable but frequently deadly under Martin O’Neill. Back in come Topper Harley and Steven Cherundolo, Magallanes is in the hole and Pizarro is fit again. This has been a very disjointed start to the season, we haven’t been able to field a first choice team yet. But we’re not going to be allowed a chance to settle, which is sad. We really can’t afford to lose this one.
If you were to pinpoint the moment when our promising season wobbled hard, it would be the pointless late red card that Milito received for trying to break David Beckham’s leg in the Charity Shield. In the next game, Magallanes was sent off for pointlessly shoving Michael Brown. And now, having pounded Newcastle to pulp, Mauro Navas takes a pointless red card for, and I quote, “landing a right hook on Phil Neville.”
Now look, we’ve all been tempted from time to another, but in a civilised society, you have to resist the urge to chin a Neville if they irritate you. It’s just good manners. And it’s completely tarnished a fantastic result, secured in spite of Danny Coyne’s best efforts to be the latest opposition goalkeeper to win a man of the match award against us. Having gone one goal down against the run of play, we responded immediately. Losing David Villa to injury was another blow, but Cristiano Ronaldo scored the fourth as an emergency striker, so it’s not all bad. The important thing is that we won and that we won well, but these needless suspensions are going to kill us if we’re playing two games a week.
No messing now. We need to beat Bordeaux home and away in Europe if we’re to have any chance of making it to the next stage. Failure here and I might have to Brendan Rodgers the last three games for fear of draining my squad in a needless pursuit of redemption. We’re not in great shape, but we’ll go with Ronaldo up front and hope that he can bring some goals. Same old Everton. Same old problems. And a new one too: Reina is unhappy again. The English lifestyle. This is growing tiresome.
No excuses. That was rubbish. A flat, passionless performance and it means the end of our European adventure. Bordeaux wiped the floor with us. I haven’t got anything else to say. I’m frustrated and I’m growing increasingly angry. Just imagine this: A very slow train journey, rain streaming down the window, a never-ending procession of deserted stations passing by at walking pace. The heavy scent of wet socks wallows on the thick air that seeps out of the train’s electric heaters. A man sits opposite you and he eats an apple furiously, as if he just found out that it had fucked his sister and never called her. Every crunch rips through you. You begin to notice that after every bite, he wraps his lips around the edge of the apple and sucks hard like a vacuum cleaner, slurping up every bit of moisture. You don’t want to be angry about this because the world is a horrifying place right now and there are worse things, surely, than sitting on a slow, smelly, hot train while someone gorges themselves on fruit, but right now you can’t think of what they might be. All you can think of is the sheer, primal pleasure that you’d take from kicking and kicking and kicking and kicking him in his wet, stupid face until he slumps lifelessly to the floor and all you can hear is the frenzied screaming of the other passengers, but all you can feel is a slow climax of satisfaction and the unfamiliar stretch of a smile upon your blood-streaked face. But at the end of the day, Gabriel, we got what we deserved.
Wednesday morning at five o’clock as the day begins, silently closing his bedroom door. Leaving the note that he hoped would say more. He goes downstairs to the kitchen clutching his handkerchief. Quietly turning the backdoor key. Stepping outside he is free. He (we gave him 18 months) is leaving (we sacrificed Li Tie, who took it really well.) Home (we gave him £35,000 a week, for fuck’s sake.) He’s leaving home after living alone for so many years (fuck off then, you ungrateful through-ball wanker.)
And so we close out the month with a trip to Derby County. They haven’t won a game all season, they’re in terrible form and their players appear to be depressed. But it’s not exactly sunshine and fucking rainbows at our place either, so who knows what to make of it all.
Sometimes, you’ve just got to laugh, haven’t you? Mike Riley disallows two goals, turns down two penalty appeals and before we know it, we’re two down to bleeding Derby. We came back. Somehow we came back. Mart Poom did his best and he’s the only reason we didn’t take all three points. But we take no consolation from that.
So, let’s review: We’re out of Europe already and we’ve disgraced ourselves. We’re doing fine in the league, but we’ve dropped four points to Portsmouth and Derby. Cherno Samba hasn’t scored once, Wayne Rooney hasn’t scored once, David Villa has only scored in one game. Pepe Reina is homesick for the second time in a month. Xabi Alonso is so homesick that he’s gone on strike and has subsequently been fined two weeks’ wages and is now on the transfer list. You lot can do whatever you like. I’m going to the fucking pub.
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…