I may have reached the point where I don’t completely suck at this game, and it came about pretty much by accident.
As I mentioned in the other thread, I started off with Watford: no money, no good players except for loans, no hope. Average youngsters. Strangely high expectations.
My best players were three loanees. Tom Cleverley (AMC), a youngster from Man Utd. Henri Lansbury (AMRLC), a youngster from Arsenal. Heidar Helguson, a striker from fellow Championship side Q.P.R. Only Jay DeMerit, the USA player, was a genuine Watford player and he was my captain and the rock in defence. Scott Loach, the young England keeper, provided the other bit of quality in my side.
Helguson either started the season injured or got injured during pre-season, I can’t remember. Lansbury started the season injured. Cleverley was my top goalscorer in preseason and a dominant figure, but then he got a serious injury and I had to cancel his loan contract. As you can imagine, this left me with very little quality at all.
My initial plan was to replicate Holland’s WC successes, with two physical DMs and a fluid attack of one striker and a pair of wingers/inside forwards, with a central midfield maestro. It didn’t work. Not least because I didn’t have the players for it, but because I really wasn’t playing to the strengths of the squad. I bought a very cheap youngster who’d starred in some England age group game, Raymond Putterrill - a left winger - and spent far too long trying to convince myself he could be a first team player straight off the bat. I did buy a more sensible option, a cheap but experienced defensive midfielder called Mathieu Boots from a Dutch side. At 34, he wasn’t going to be playing the whole season but I was eyeing up the chance to convert one of my spare defenders into a DM (he had the stats for it and was fairly comfortable in the role) so he’d do the trick.
Predictably enough I started badly and it got worse. Despite my last preseason game being a win over a full-strength Spurs side, Cleverley’s injury screwed me out of most of my attacking talent. I started panicking and never settled on an attacking lineup, although my defence rarely changed and were often my top performers. I tried turning an exciting youngster, Will Buckley, from a winger to an inside forward to a trequartista which worked decently but not quite well enough. The fans quickly got pissed off with me and things came to a head before a match against the runaway league leaders, West Bromwich Albion. I just couldn’t see a way past my problems. The board started making threatening noises and the papers reported the WBA game as being crucial to my hopes of staying in the job.
Predictably, we got smashed. The reaction wasn’t great, morale was down, and more rumours abounded. Then my game crashed. Reloading, it was back to pre-WBA. Sighing, I went through the whole process again… and this time won the game! I couldn’t believe my luck. That win gave me some breathing space, and Helguson’s return saw him go on a scoring spree. I finally settled on a formation - a 4-5-1 which was more of a 4-3-3, with 1 DMC, 2 MCs, and two attacking AMs acting as wingers, with Helguson as the lone striker. My wingers were Buckley on the right and Don Cowie on the left. Cowie was one I’d basically ignored up till now but he proved his worth instantly, scoring goals and setting them up. Buckley had previously shown an inability to score but was now banging them in on dangerous runs from his wing into the box. Helguson couldn’t miss. Ross Jenkins, a youngster in midfield, was turning into an absolute star, outshining Lansbury. Boots provided the glue in the DMC position, and my side’s tactics of Control and short passing meant that I could break down the most stubborn of sides.
Even so, a few losses meant that the fans and board were grumbling again. A few games later, I went on a winning spree. First I was unbeaten for a few matches, then we won four in a row, followed by a couple of draws. We went from flirting with relegation to being 9th in the league.
Then disaster struck - Helguson got injured, Buckley got injured, Cowie got injured, DeMerit got injured, Jenkins got injured. The core of my team just fell apart. Predictably, results suffered and I was forced to rely on youngsters again. Right now, I’m scrapping for results and trying to not drop too many points while waiting for the return of my better players. Cowie, DeMerit, and Jenkins are back, but Jenkins is agitating for a move to Sunderland and given that he’s unhappy and we have no money, I’ve slapped a £2.5m pricetag on him and am hoping they’ll cough up. If I can just avoid losses till Helguson’s fit again, then everything will be fine.
Anyway, this is a great game and it’s amazing how it stirs the emotions. Conceding a last-minute goal is a kick in the teeth, injuries make you despair, and unexpected wins bring a big smile to my face. Seeing youngsters like Will Hoskins, my very inexperienced striker, come on and score wonder goals are moments you don’t forget for a long time.
Football, bloody hell.