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; Matt enlists the help of Alex McLeish; Episode 18; The Pentagon Challenge.
MATT: It might be the sort of fixture that normally inspires a feeling of dread, but I’m looking forward to this. Aside from a 1-1 draw against St Mirren in our last game, we’ve been in decent form of late. And besides, I’m confident of rectifying that result in the replay. Alex McLeish advised that it’s imperative to perform in the cups now the league has gone – although perhaps I should put that to the back of my mind until the derby is out of the way.
While Celtic pretty much have the title wrapped up already – thanks to boasting a budget far beyond everyone else in the league – I’m confident we can match them at Ibrox. Alex nabbed an admittedly impressive 1-1 draw at Parkhead shortly before his sacking, so what’s to stop us from going one further and taking all three points on Sunday? That might even be enough to secure the backing of the board for another shot at toppling Iain next season.
I’m no fool, though, and looking at Celtic’s star-studded line-up, I know we’re best keeping it tight and trying to snatch a goal on the break, pushing on in the last 20 minutes if the scores are still level. We’ll go 4-1-4-1 again, mirroring Iain’s trusted formation – again, probably the most basic approach in the game – and stick to a structured shape while looking to counter at speed down the flanks.
Gary Mackay-Steven is dosed up to the eyeballs after another visit from Doctor Sergei, while Paul Hanlon returns from injury to replace Rob Kiernan. I’m also handing a debut to goalkeeper Jakob Haugaard, who signed from Stoke in January but has only just reached passable match sharpness after the reserve team manager refused to give him a run out until I promoted all the youth keepers to the first team and made them unavailable for selection. I am nothing if not petty.
IAIN: We have the second leg of our Europa League clash with Besiktas in four days, but it goes without saying that I have absolutely no intention of leaving any of my stars out against Rangers. Matt and I played a link-up tournament recently and I managed to lose 2-4 after leading 2-0 with 20 minutes to go. He was every bit as awful about it as you can imagine. He keeps emailing me screenshots. I’m not having that happen again.
Chopper Brown will play, Moussa Dembele will play, the assist machines Scott Sinclair and James Forrest will play. But we’re going to do things a little differently. First of all I initiate my maskirovka; my great deception. I join Matt in the meeting room we use for live streams, I put my laptop on the desk and I turn around to plug in the charger.
I know that Matt will look at the screen while my back is turned because he’s Matt. And when he does, he’ll see a bold new 3-5-2 formation with overly ambitious attacking wing-backs and a proper number ten. Will he panic and make a late change to his tactics? I hope so. It would be nice to draw him out of that horribly defensive 4-1-4-1. But if I can just make him question himself, doubt himself, fear himself…that’ll be enough. Obviously, I have no intention of *actually* playing 3-5-2. I’m sticking with my vibrant and exciting 4-1-4-1.
Rangers 0 – 1 Celtic
IAIN: What an abject game of football. We have thousands of people tuning in and this is a truly dreadful advertisement for the game. We take the lead after less than three minutes when AJ blasts one in off Hanlon’s backside and we really should double the advantage moments later when Dembele contrives to miss from a distance of approximately nine inches. But that’s really as good as it gets for us.
We can’t seem to get our game going. Chopper Brown and AJ both look very nervous and we are guilty of allowing Rangers far too much time on the ball. I make changes, but with little effect. I wait for Matt to switch from counter-attacking so that space will open up, but he refuses to do so. In the end, all I can do is switch to defensive, drop men back into supportive or defensive roles and start to waste time.
This causes much consternation with our audience, but I make no excuses. I am not here to entertain you. I’m here for my three points.
MATT: That was wholly undeserved. Yes, Celtic dominated possession. Yes, they created more chances. Yes, I cowardly refrained from switching to attack until the last ten minutes. But the only difference between the two teams was a third-minute own goal by Paul Hanlon, who’s quickly staking a claim for signing of the fucking century.
We kept it tight, as was the game plan, but we tested Eldin Jakupovic on only two occasions, which really isn’t enough when you’re at home in an Old Firm derby. I could blame Iain’s negative tactics, his negative instructions to shut the game down in the final half-hour, or even his negative face, but in truth it’s my fault we didn’t have a proper crack at it. And believe me, dear reader, that regret will return to haunt me on my deathbed. “What’s that grandad?” “Bastard Macintosh, *cough* *cough* *splutter*” “Mum?” “He’s gone children, he’s gone.”
Still, we have the Scottish Cup replay against St Mirren to look forward to, and if we can’t dust ourselves down for that then we truly are in the brown stuff. It’s safe to say it’ll be the biggest game of Football Manager I’ve ever played, and the pressure is already causing my stomach to make noises that sound like the air being let out of a balloon. I could burst at any moment.
ALEX: It’s the 19th February. I can’t remember for how long I’ve been unemployed. The minutes run into hours, the hours into days. I feel like Tom Hanks in that film where he befriends a volleyball, except I have no balls. Wait. That’s not what I meant.
I’ve learned that Raith and Dunfermline are giving their caretakers a fair crack of the whip before interviewing actual candidates. There’s nothing I can do to intercede on my own behalf. I’m trapped, hovering in a greying limbo of expensive cafés, YouTube videos of the Austrian second division, and idly flicking through my inbox in the vain hope that someone wants to drag me out of my indolence and thrust me back where I belong: the dugout. Even Frodo has started staying seated when I pick his lead up, his normally effusive enthusiasm replaced by a mix of exhaustion and worry.
The Ivory Coast and Ghana both reject my applications. I can only that it’s because my reputation has been unfairly maligned and the respective FAs have relied on hearsay, but having checked, it transpires they are more than aware of my achievements and just don’t rate me. Millie looks downcast and I point out that the great benefit of being self-employed is that you keep receipts for stuff, so she can probably get a refund for the guidebooks. She replies that she’s on PAYE and, by the way, have I sorted her workplace pension out. “I can’t do everything, Millie! I’m a very busy man!” I shout. She looks dubious.
However, Oscar Ramirez of Costa Rica is apparently looking ‘precarious’ in his job, so maybe there’s an opening. The coffee is great, and Millie is apparently a big donor to some sort of sloth sanctuary over there. I pray that Curaçao hand them the shellacking of their lives. I pray that Millie spells Rangers correctly in the application this time. I pray for some sliver of hope from somewhere.
There’s even a certain sort of emptiness in watching Matt’s Rangers career nosediving from afar. It’s certainly funny, if a little grim at times, and he can also now understand how utterly, unforgivingly cruel the game is, but it’s hardly a full-time occupation, watching a grown man cry. At least, I don’t think I can get paid for it. Let’s just hope Raith get in touch, or Ramirez goes full Stanger.
MATT: That feeling of dread I should have had before the Celtic game? Suddenly it’s arrived. I knew it was wise to wear black for the live stream, because any other colour would reveal the enormous sweat patches growing from my armpits. Oh god it’s warm in here.
At no moment in the last two games have we really clicked and, noting that a rapidly improving St Mirren have climbed from eighth to seventh in the Scottish Championship, I’m starting to worry. Even after we scored the equaliser in the first game, they enjoyed some fine passages of play, moving the ball around smartly on the edge of our box as I winced and whimpered.
I know Einstein supposedly said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, but 4-1-4-1 honestly seems like the ideal set-up for this fixture. In what is quite a rare occurrence, Rangers possess the better players, and so if we adopt a similar style to St Mirren, logic says our superiority should triumph. I’ve always been a fan of logic.
Come on lads, if we lose this our season is over. Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. “Are they One Direction lyrics?” asks Rossiter. For fuck’s sake.
St Mirren 0 – 0 Rangers a.e.t. (St Mirren win 4-3 on penalties)
I don’t really know what to say about that. You all saw what happened; do we really have to go over it?
I’d like to say it started so well. We had four shots by the time they got anywhere near our goal and it looked as though a fast-paced counter-attacking system had them on the ropes. But then St Mirren started passing it around with their tippy-tappy, link-up play. No wonder they’re known as the Championship Barcelona.
It was death by a thousand cuts. We had 17 shots but couldn’t fashion a single clear cut chance. Having to take off Macheda and Poyet, our two best penalty takers, is what killed us in the end. Either that or my total lack of conviction that means we have now gone 210 minutes without a goal – in all its live-stream glory.
— Mark Kinsella Fan (@MaxwellJumpAB) February 20, 2017
When Hardie missed the first spot-kick, I knew it was over. Rossiter, our fifth and final penalty taker, was down to 49% fitness. He could barely stand let alone strike a ball. Not knowing where to turn as Lewis Morgan, a former Rangers player, stroked home the deciding kick, I glanced over at Iain’s laptop. Dozens of emojis popped up on screen, each one pissing itself at my failure. Iain caught my gaze. “It’s okay, mate. They’re laughing with you.” But I’m not laughing.
Where do we go from here? I don’t even want to think about it. I feel sick. I feel ashamed. I would rather have been made to sit there naked for an hour and a half than have everyone witness that. Please, don’t worry, that isn’t the plan for the next live stream. The next live stream will just be Iain playing on his own, winning everything and smiling that smug grin of his. I really do feel sick.
IAIN: With Matt vanquished (and possibly crushed forever after his heartbreaking defeat to St Mirren) I can move onto the important business of the Europa League.
A good run in this competition is crucial to me because, there’s no getting around it, with our wage bill, we really should win the Scottish Premiership with a degree of comfort. But a long European campaign would go some way to proving I’ve actually taken Celtic forwards since replacing Ronnie Deila. If we don’t make it to the last 16, all the BetFr…BetBright cups in the world aren’t going to impress anyone.
I have to make one change. I wasn’t particularly impressed with Chopper’s bottle job against Rangers, so Callum McGregor will come in for him. I’d also like to see an improvement in our set pieces, given that we’ve been doing extra training on them for two days. But most of all, I’d like to see us win.
Celtic 2 -1 Besiktas a.e.t.
We never make things easy for ourselves and that upsets me. We start well, we dominate possession, we make chances, we take the lead, we settle into our stride, we shut the game down and then we go on and let Besiktas equalise in the dying moments. I am incandescent with rage. I spit my chewing gum out and hurl it at the computer screen. I am not at home to Matt’s gleeful goading. We did everything right, except score the second goal.
With the clock running down, it absolutely made sense to switch to defensive, to drop men back and to waste time. That’s how you protect leads. But someone forgot to tell Edlin Jakupovic not to launch the ball long. Oh no. Wait. Someone DID tell him. It was me. That lunatic punt nearly costs me European football because obviously Besiktas regain possession and obviously they go up the field and score. Fortunately, it takes more than that to stop this team.
We switch to control, we push up the field, we rock them back on their heels and then McGregor hits an absolute thunderbastard from outside the area and we reclaim what is rightfully ours: The lead. That felt good. Now we just have to keep our shit together and wrap up the league. We’re two games away from a meeting with Aberdeen. Win that, and we can shuffle all the other cups in the cabinet up a bit to make room for a new one. Lose, and the title that so many people assume is already won could very easily be lost.
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).