Tuesday, May 26, 2020
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Championship Management

Championship manager 01/02 (via FMScout)As something of a lapsed Championship/Football Manager player, the suspension of real-world football in light of the coronavirus has given many cause to look back- in between harking to the real world of the game as it was in the early Nineties. That was my own coming of age as a fan, & conversations with an old friend brought up our old Friday night ritual of revisiting the Champ games of a similar vintage, hours spent in his study poring over what, to the non- initiated, might have looked like a sort of virtual Ceefax...

 

 

Of course, the game changed almost as much as its parent sport down the years, to the point where it went from the preserve of the fan & interested professional players to a statistical tool for actual managers- quite the process of evolution, & a testament to the work of the Collyer brothers- who started out somewhat stereotypically hunched over a bedroom PC!

 

Paul would later remember of its early days in 1983 that “We didn’t even have Teletext back then as we had such a terrible TV signal. I would listen to the radio to get the results, then type them in to the computer and it would update the league tables on the screen. That was my first venture into football programming”.

 

As time wore on & new elements were added, mostly to simulate the feel of the sort of media scrutiny which has become part & parcel of the job for those in the dugout, they began to get more of an impression of the nature of the beast. Little wonder, then, that eventually the beast would swallow it up!

 

2014 saw the announcement that the Premier League & its clubs would have access to Sports Interactive's databases- which would be linked up to ProZone Recruiter, the online scouting platform of choice for those at the top of the tree.

 

Miles Jacobson of Sports Interactive said of the tie- up- “For years we’ve heard stories of real-life managers and scouts using our data to help with the recruitment process. From now on, it’s official…real managers around the world will be finding and comparing players using data and a search system that will be very familiar to players of Football Manager.

 

The information gathered by our network of more than 1,300 scouts around the world, combined with Prozone’s amazing performance data, makes this an invaluable tool for any football club that takes player recruitment seriously.”

 

You might be thinking that most probably should! And the game's highest profile disciple in a sense used it as a dummy run for eventually taking charge at Manchester United & trying to steady a ship which continues to veer somewhat off-course in the post Sir Alex Ferguson years...

 

His philosophy as a gamer has carried over to the pitch into the bargain. Quoted in the Manchester Evening News, he said "It's a fantastic game, I have learned a lot about football. I have learned a lot about players, especially young talent. It resembles real life, when it comes to who will be good players. They have done incredible research. I remember thinking the same then, that I do as a manager, you want to give young guns the chance, see them develop. “

 

From scoring as a substitute in the Champions League final to Championship Manager for Ole Gunnar Solskjær, then! Of course, the focus on youth at Old Trafford is nothing new, mind- the Busby Babes & Fergie's Fledglings serving as proof.

 

Amazingly he's been in manager mode from a very young age- "I was 7/8 when I started playing with my cousins. It was Commodore 64, 'The Boss'". Marseille manager André Villas Boas is another to have taken advantage of the shift from game to method of analysis, right from his appointment as chief scout under José Mourinho at Chelsea....

 

What of the players themselves? As Jacobson readily conceded, the mental side of football from a player's perspective, something which has benefitted from increased prominence in the modern game, is near impossible to replicate.

 

“A lot of the higher-profile mistakes [in predicting player performance] have been because either the players didn’t love football and it was just a job, or they couldn’t cope mentally. That’s very difficult for us to predict. Sixteen-year-olds earning 90 quid a week turning into 17-year-olds earning five grand a week is a huge shift, and a lot of them can’t cope. They think they’ve made it already.”

 

As if to illustrate the point, consider Cherno Samba, darling of Championship Manager 01/02. Then a youngster at Millwall, the 15 year old forward found the pressure too much following the Lions' rejection of a bid from Liverpool & hung up his boots for six months before leaving at 19 having never played a first team game.

 

“I had nightmares, I cried at night, I didn’t sleep properly. I was walking and living, but I was half-dead”. He retired through injury in 2015, having last turned out for FK Tonsberg in Norway's Second Division. A similar fate befell Tonton Zola Moukoko, beloved by Championship Manager players but in reality his promising start petered out from signing for Derby from Djurgarden of Sweden at 15 to returning to Scandinavia with Carlstad United having not played a first team game for the Rams...

 

He did, though, play Champ! Following a friendly against Rushden & Diamonds, he found himself somewhat confused. "Lots of people crowded around me after the full-time whistle, just because they wanted my autograph. I was thinking to myself 'why are they doing this?' My teammate, Ian Evatt, then came over and said: 'Tonton, you are one of the biggest players on this computer game!' - he showed me how to play and I kind of liked it!"

 

But the passing away of his older brother made for a sobering postscript. "After his death, football was not important to me. I could not concentrate any more. It was really tough because Fedo was the one who took me to Sweden. He helped me so much, so to find out that he had died was too much for me, really.”

 

Following a two year break he would retire at 28 having wound down his career with Atlantis FC of Finland. With varying estimates for when football resumes, it’s a sobering reminder if any were needed that it is just a game.

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