- Premier League
The joys of managing Manchester United
Is the Manchester United job really that hard, David Moyes? We asked Iain Macintosh to fire up his review copy of 'Football Manager 2014' and find out the true perils, if any, of managing at Old Trafford.
It's important to start a job like this with a statement, so I make mine by telling Anderson that he's on the transfer list. He says that he's already on the transfer list. I take him off the transfer list and then immediately put him back on it, just so that he gets the point, the useless, tubby wastrel. Marseille make a £7 million bid and, with the help of a steel shoehorn, I force him out of the back door and away. He's not the only one to leave. Federico Macheda, Ben Amos, Alex Buttner depart and, because £18m seems a lot for the occasional step-over, Nani is out as well. I spend £15m on Michael Bradley and order him to kick everyone he sees, including Nani who is lingering at the exit door as if I might change my mind.
Two wins in the league and the formality of a Community Shield win over Wigan, but something is amiss at Carrington. None of the players are listening to anything I say and Steve Round claims that Wayne Rooney is struggling to motivate himself to play for me. I check my profile. I forgot to alter my experience levels on the start-up screen. When the players ask me to 'get out my medals', I haven't even got any from Sunday league football to show them. I switch to a 4-2-3-1 and use it as an excuse to bench Rooney. It feels good.
Two wins and two draws slow my glorious revolution, but I'm still unbeaten in all competitions. My reputation has risen to 'national', which is hardly surprising given that I've just replaced one of the greatest managers of all time, apparently without ever having kicked a ball in my life. Rooney is still moaning, so I set extra stamina work for him in training just because I can.
Four points from a possible nine in October and I just know that Rooney is giggling behind me on the bench. I decide to bring him back. My determination to get the best out of Shinji Kagawa in the 'enganche' role means that the only place I can put Rooney is on the left. He doesn't like that at all. An ambitious policy of taking every competition seriously is ensuring a smooth progression in the cups, but there really is no excuse for losing to Fulham. This is now officially more stressful than a computer game should be.
I swallow my pride, revert to a 4-4-2 and play Rooney up front alongside Robin van Persie. We annihilate Cardiff, Southampton and Crystal Palace in quick succession and a point at Goodison Park takes us to the top of the table. Rooney's got a look on his face that positively screams 'I told you so!' Success has never tasted so sour.
Five victories from six this month, the sixth game being an annoying single goal defeat to Manchester City (now managed by Jurgen Klopp). Rooney scores in four of them. Kagawa has barely played since I made my tactical switch and his morale has plummeted. I try to explain it to him, but he just walks away shaking his head and whimpering. Bradley picks up his fifth booking for attempting to amputate Christian Eriksen's leg at the knee. I suppose that was coming.
Another outstanding month sees us open up a nine point lead on Chelsea in second place. This high pressing, high tempo, overlapping full-backs style of football is working a treat. We breezed through the Champions League group stage, we strolled to the League Cup semi-finals. I'm so good at rotating the players that I can even drop Tom Cleverley into the team to give my first choice midfielders a rest. This is easy. I honestly don't know how Moyes has made such a hard job of this. I decide not to reinforce the team and save the money for the summer.
I hate this game so much. Strolling to victory against West Bromwich Albion, Cleverley gives the ball away and Shane Long equalises. Two minutes later, Long scores the winner. I open the wooden box that Sir Alex Ferguson told me I should only open in an emergency. It contains a large hairdryer. Five minutes later, morale across the squad plummets. I don't think I had the authority to use that hairdryer. The players hate me. Desperate for something to make me feel better, I drop Rooney. By the time that February draws to a close, we've lost three straight games in the league, suffered the indignity of League Cup elimination to Sunderland and we've lost the first leg of our first knockout round of the Champions League to Anderlecht. ANDERLECHT! I feel physically sick. No computer game has ever made me feel physically sick.
I take three real life days off from the game with stress and then return to my post. Maybe it's my fault. Maybe I've become complacent. I tweak my 4-4-2 to stop the full-backs leaving us open at the back and give it another go. Cardiff, Southampton, Fulham and Crystal Palace are all vanquished in quick succession. That feels familiar. We even beat Anderlecht 4-0 to reach the last eight in Europe. A trip to Swansea gives me the chance to go nine points clear six games to go. Naturally, we lose. I start smoking again.
A mixed month. Ten points from a possible 12 restores a healthy five point lead in the league, but a 4-1 aggregate defeat to Klopp's City in Europe feels like a bad break-up. The FA Cup is going well, but even that is a problem. I'd deliberately played the second string in an attempt to go out early and free up some extra rest in the run-in. I can't do anything right. I've had real life jobs that I haven't worried about as much as this one.
Hard fought wins against Tottenham and Aston Villa mean that we can spare ourselves two anxious last games against Manchester City and Chelsea IF we win at Sunderland. Predictably, we play for 85 minutes with all the attacking intent of a very sad hamster. Then, we break! Substitute Wilfried Zaha scampers down the right and pulls the ball back across the edge of the six yard box. Van Persie slides in and the ball bounces off his shin, off the post and then trickles over the line. It's the worst goal anyone has ever scored ever and yet it doesn't matter because I'm already halfway down the street punching the air.
We're even afforded the chance to win the double, and a great chance too. Stoke have been relegated, they've sacked Mark Hughes, their morale is abject. We go down 2-0 at Wembley, mustering a single shot on target. I sit for a while and stare at the screen in silent rage. It's been 21 years and I still hate this bloody game.
POST-SCRIPT: My obligations to ESPNFC.com complete, do I take the opportunity to quit the game and move on with my life? Of course not. Settling my scores like Michael Corleone, I sell Rooney, Cleverley and Hernandez and spend all of my money on Radamel Falcao, Victor Wanyama, Alex Sandro and Stephen Caulker. One more season. Just one more season...
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Iain Macintosh is the UK Football Correspondent for The New Paper in Singapore, writer for ESPN and the co-author of "Football Manager Stole My Life" from @backpagepress. You can follow him on Twitter at @iainmacintosh.