Final preparations completed, I arrive at the imaginary stadium, give my imaginary team talk and stride purposefully to my imaginary dug-out. The referee blows his whistle and the 3D match engine bursts into life….
Or rather what happens is a set of stumpy figures blink and jerking their way around the pitch. I almost feel sorry for the virtual spectators dotted around the screen, but most importantly, especially for a manager, it’s actually quite hard to tell what’s going on. I’m helped by a small commentary box in the corner and pictures which flash up on the screen – such as a goalkeeper gratefully clutching a ball to denote a save, but its hard to really read the ebb and flow of the game and nigh-on impossible to tell if my tactical-system is working.
What the game does provide is a smattering of statistics; shots on target, tackles and pass completion rates, but this leads on to an interesting point – can you read a game of football through numbers alone? With it’s reliance on statistics the management-sim seems to emulate the methodology of one Charles Reep, a man whose work is credited with the popularising of the long-ball game. Later management sims do seem to address this issue and with more powerful computers watching a game in a management today is not too dissimilar to watching an actual match, but the legacy is still there – strip away the graphics and it’s still a numbers game at heart.
Despite this not knowing what’s going on I manage to blunder to a 0-0 draw against Northampton, a respectable enough result for my managerial debut against league opposition. Bath city however, punish my naivety and approaching half time I’m 3-0 down. A scrabbled goal just before the break saves a little face and the game finishes 3-1. Looking for someone to blame the stats tell me that Drewett and Holtham both had bad games rating them 25% and 45% respectively. Feeling vindictive I set both their training schedules to hard.
I sense however, that the problem runs deeper than two underperforming players. I need to make a few more changes to the set up at Merthyr. If Liverpool’s success was built from the boot-room then so will Merthyr’s be. I head off to the job centre with the aim of putting together my own crack back-room team securing the services of a head coach at £195 a week.
My first win comes in my first home game against Albania’s Partizan Tirana with Hutchinson grabbing both goals and the man-of-the match accolade. ‘Hutch’ scored his first after 9 minutes, not long after I decided that the grating in-game music which had hitherto been running on a loop would have to be turned off and though Tirana snuck one in before half-time to make it 1-1 Hutch netted again on 49 minutes for the victory. Granted the opposition are not the strongest the game has to offer, but at least I have turned a corner after the Bath City defeat.
I now feel I’ve spent enough time with my squad to have an idea of which areas I want to strengthen. On my shopping list is a new goalkeeper (mine isn’t bad, but it always tends to be an important position in management sims so I want the best my money can afford), a defender, and a mid-field playmaker. As a new manager I also want to stamp my identity on the squad, to feel as if I am managing my team, not just one I’ve inherited. How you buy players is unsurprisingly a crucial part of a management sim. In PM3 for transfer-listed players there is a bidding system, rather like an auction, where if you decide to buy a player a biding war ensues with any other interested clubs also tabling bids. This takes place over several rounds during which the details of the bid can be amended. The details include transfer feel player fee, weekly wage and length of contract. At the end the player chooses the most attractive bid.
Signing a player is however, rather difficult. To stand any chance of improving my squad I need to sign a player from a higher division, but convincing anyone to take a step down – even for more money – is impossible. I bid on Hope, a midfielder with a rating of good**. Out of contract and therefore available on a free I offer a 10k signing-on fee, £275 per week and a 2 year deal which is upped in the bidding-war to a signing-on fee of £55000, wages of £290 and a 4 year deal, but the player opts for the lesser offer from division three Bury. For these virtual players glory still takes precedence over hard cash.
For someone who has tended to seek success through the transfer market, rather than a mastery of tactics it’s frustrating and I head into my last friendly without making any additions to the squad. Home to Spora Luxembourg; the Hutch puts me into the lead at half time. Spora however, get one back to escape Penydarren with a 1-1 draw.
Pre-season now over it’s time for the real football to begin with an away game against Yeovil town. Can I sign anyone in time?