The Football Manager Project is back. A new manager, a new team and a new challenge. Editor of The Set Pieces, Chris Evans, has entered a fantasy draft competition with six real-life coaches and managers.
But can Tromsgodset Pieces upset the odds and bring the inaugural TSP Conference home?
I’ve never had that anxiety dream of being naked. You know the one where you arrive at school to find you’ve forgotten to get dressed that morning? It’s never been something my subconscious has served up for me before.
However, as I sit in front of my laptop, the Football Manager entry credits flashing up on screen, the angst associated with walking into a publicly embarrassing situation hits me hard. I’m about to be exposed.
When we decided to reboot the Football Manager Project, I knew there was potential for things to go wrong. I’d read enough of Iain Macintosh and co’s diaries of past campaigns to know there’s always a tendency for disaster to strike. Mishaps, rotten luck and rank bad decisions.
Yet when we concocted this hair-brained scheme to pitch me against a real-life qualified coach to see if the game truly lived up to its as-realistic-as-possible mantra, I knew I’d be swimming against the tide.
But as one thing led to another, one coach became two, became three. And before I knew it, I was setting up a game against six coaches who boasted an impressive array of former and present clubs among them – Chelsea, West Ham, Benfica to name a few. Let alone a current non-league boss who once held the title of being English football’s youngest-ever gaffer.
My coaching CV isn’t so sharp. I completed an FA Level One qualification as a teenager, although aside from that being half my life ago, I’m pretty sure attendance was the base requirement needed to pass the course back then.
Despite my heady qualification, I never put it to use. Although I do look back fondly on a moment several years ago when I advised my friend, a manager of a Sunday League team, to switch his speedy winger to play as a striker for the final minutes of a match they were holding on to. Minutes later, a ball over the top led to said winger notching from his new position and I nodded knowingly down the touchline like a counterfeit Jose Mourinho.
My record in more recent Football Managers is equally as chequered. As the game has become more detailed and tactics more sophisticated, I’ve suffered several demoralising winless runs I’ve had no answer for.
I’ve always considered recruitment to be my biggest strength in the game, so considering we’ve chosen to do a fantasy draft game – where there’ll be no transfers and a greater focus on in-game strategy – my chances of success are probably slim to none.
I’ll be testing myself against six coaches currently working their way up the ladder. Some currently hold posts with Premier League clubs, so there’s no messing about with these guys.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be playing each other twice in a mini league, with the final four going into a play off to decide the winner. The squads we’ll use will be created in the draft mode, with a transfer kitty of £500m allowing us to tailor a team to our own styles and whims. Aside from budget, the only other restriction is that all the players we select must turn out in the top five European leagues.
But before we kick off, it’s time to introduce the group who I’ll be looking to upset the odds against. It’s at this point, I want to say a huge thank you to the British Football Coaches Network, without who we’d never have gathered such a talented cast. Not that that does anything for my nerves.
The runner and riders
Craig Clark – A current under-18s coach at Scottish Premiership club Kilmarnock, Clark is representing the Tartan Army in our competition. UEFA A Licence holder Clark’s Killie youth side are currently unbeaten in 15 games, have reached the Scottish FA Youth Cup final for the first time in 16 years and recently helped teenager Liam Smith earn a move to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. While Clark is based in his native Scotland now, he’s also spent time working in China and Canada in the past.
Ben Cole – Cole is on Chelsea’s books as head coach of the club’s International Development Centre in Bangkok and appears to be a man on an upward trajectory. After starting out as head performance analyst for Reading’s under-18 side, he’s spent time at Cardiff City and two other roles in California. If that wasn’t enough, he’s also got a UEFA B Licence.
Adam Cooper – While things might not have been going particularly well off the pitch for Bolton Wanderers in recent years, Cooper has fared better on it. After joining the Trotters in 2017, Cooper is working his way up the ladder at the University of Bolton Stadium, where he now works as a foundation phase coach alongside being a first team analyst.
Konstantyn Garbar – A coach that’s as used to globetrotting as he is being on the training pitch, Garbar has worked in a host of nations, including Ukraine, USA, Germany and England. The UEFA A Licence coach last worked at Benfica in Portugal and despite clocking up plenty of air miles on his career journey, the Ukrainian still found enough time to feed a Football Manager addiction that’s spanned more than a decade.
Luke Hirst – Hirst is another man who can count an impressive string of clubs on his CV. Currently a coach with West Ham, he’s tasked with providing a link between the Hammers’ foundation and academy. In the past, Hirst has also spent time at Southampton and Chelsea, and got some added experience coaching in non-league with the likes of Hornchurch and Brockenhurst.
James Phillips – When Phillips took over non-league Romsey Town in 2014, the then-22-year-old became the youngest ever manager to take charge of a team in the FA Cup when the Wessex Leaguers kicked off their cup campaign. The self-confessed Football Manager addict has since gone on to manage a few other clubs in the south west and is currently head honcho at ninth-tier AFC Stoneham, who were sitting second in the table before the season was halted in March.
If I was to stand any chance of coming out on top – or at the very least, not depressingly bottom – against this lot, the draft itself was going to be crucial. We’d have every player in the five elite European leagues to choose from, so what could go wrong?