I usually try and avoid writing in the first person, but for this there isn’t any option. This is a break-up song; it needs the self-indulgence of the all-feeling “I”. So, please bear with me while I explain why, as soon as this is published, I will be uninstalling Football Manager 2011, and I will not be returning to the series.
The first thing that I should make it clear that this is not a statement on the quality of the game. It is, considered dispassionately, magnificent; the finest installment since they decided to really ramp up the feature-cramming. Where 2009 and 2010 were often unbalanced and janky affairs, the rough edges and counter-intuitive stumbling blocks diminishing the experience, 2011 is a triumph.
And yet, and yet. My disillusionment is down to one tiny new aspect of this glorious behemoth, and as hard as I have tried I cannot find a way to reconcile myself to its existence. It was, for the game, an inevitable and necessary step towards greater realism, but it’s broken me.
Greedy, grasping, grubby gobshites, squatting on your negotiations like a foetid toad, polluting this most joyous of fantasies with their halitotic belching. “Give me money,” they croak. “Give me money. Else I’ll take this player — this young, knock-kneed, slip of a lad, lost and alone in a large and dangerous world — somewhere else. I know you’re the best option for his development. I know you’re an upwardly mobile club with a strong youth policy and opportunities for first-team football. I know you’re offering a cracking wage for a hot prospect, and he’ll have the chance to learn from some excellent professionals. But, y’know, where’s my slice?”
There is, tragically, no option to “End negotiation by taking a claw hammer to the face of the gurning snake-oil merchant ruining your day”.
IRL, of course, football (like so many other aspects of this lunatic world) has long been a mechanism for the diversion of cash into to the pockets of leeches whose moral bankruptcy swells in proportion to their wallets. Agents are among the more malignant of football’s tumours, their livelihoods contingent on the exploitation of the planet’s weakness for its most perfect of pastimes. And now they’re invading my computer.
Now, it would be perfectly reasonable to ask why I am so distressed by made-up people demanding made-up money in a sub-element of a simulation of a sport. It would be equally unreasonable of me to retort, fuck off, I just am. So let’s look at it.
For me, and I suspect for others like me, Championship and latterly Football Manager has always been a little more than just a game. It is, of course, an exercise in escapism, and yet that doesn’t quite nail it. It is also an exercise in self-centred creation; it is a first-person narrative in which you participate and interact with a world that, in real life, you are (or at least I am) removed from but fascinated by. It is the giddiness of not only participating but actively shaping football, or at least a version of football, that drives players into suits for the 2017 FA Cup final, or into replica Derby shirts with MOUKOKO on the back.
I am vaguely reminded of Douglas Adams’ Life, the Universe and Everything, in which one scene sees Zaphod Beeblebrox forced to step into the Total Perspective Vortex, a torture device which shows its victims “one momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation, and somewhere in it a tiny little mark, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, which says, ‘You are here’.” The victim, unable to handle that much perspective, is destroyed.
Spoiler alert: Beeblebrox survives the Vortex. He learns (to his complete lack of surprise) that he is the most important man in the universe, but is then a touch crestfallen to discover that this importance was entirely due to his having been forced into a simulated universe, created entirely for his benefit. That’s the parallel, I think. Football, out in the real world, doesn’t care about you. Football Manager, on the other hand, does.
-END OF ASIDE-
Enter the oleaginous money-sponges. By introducing agents, Football Manager has conceded, finally, to the subjugation of football to the wider scheme of neo-liberal endeavour. Up to this point, it was just about possible to convince yourself that every single character you might encounter in the game — players, managers, coaches, scouts, physios, journalists, whoever — was fundamentally a football person. In the (computer) game because they were of the (real) game.
Not so the agents. Agents are in the (computer) game because they are parasites of the (real) game. I know I’m being precious and over-sensitive, and I’m sure that (a) there must be some decent agents out there, and (b) I’ve happily dealt with any number of simulated money-grubbing whores in previous editions, but this just feels different. Final. I put up with it in real life because I don’t have a choice; well, this is my tiny and pointless protest. My insignificant Alamo. The Charge of the Trite Dismayed. Not only am I flouncing out, I’m slamming the door behind me.
Farewell, Football Manager. It’s not you, I suppose, and it’s not even really me. It’s just … well, it’s just football. Sigh.