Breaking Football Manager

Making England great again

The plan: Take an English Premier League football club and play an English-only team.

I love videogames that let you decide your own rules, and Football Manager is one of the best in that respect.

Starting your own world inside a world, such as ignoring the storyline missions in Grand Theft Auto 5 and instead becoming a taxi driver; starting an 18-nation game on Civilization and attempting to diffuse all conflicts to keep all 18 leaders alive for as long as possible; playing “catch” with plasma grenades on Halo multiplayer.

Already at the end of an era with the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, I felt the time was right for an overhaul.

This is part story, part tale of an experiment that I had on Football Manager 2013, lasting for around 20 seasons, before I really had to move on and get some real-life work done.

A statistic that has always interested me is the low percentage of English players playing in the Premier League, hovering at around 20%. Our new FA chairman, Greg Dyke, has uttered his dismay at the situation and is trying to drag English football into a new era by using the leagues to develop English talent, to make the national team stronger and able to compete with the world’s best teams again.

Instead, I used one club as a feeder team for the England setup.

Manchester United. Already at the end of an era with the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, I felt the time was right for an overhaul. Why United? They already had a great crop of English players; Rooney, Welbeck, Young, Zaha, Carrick, Cleverly, Jones, Smalling & Ferdinand. The work was half-done.

The plan? To field an English-only side. No foreigners allowed. Only players that could play for the English team could play for Manchester United.

The first juggling act is expectation; it pays to take less transfer money

Already boasting the world’s best commercial setup and the country’s biggest capacity club stadium, I’d be able to counter the problem of a much smaller pool of players to buy through paying my current crop enough to stay together for the next decade.

A few additions to the squad, then. In came Jack Butland from Stoke and Luke Shaw and James Ward-Prowse from Southampton. The rest of my first team would be filled out with academy prospects (again, English-only).

The idea is multi-fold; put together a team of Englishmen, and pluck the best English talent from the other clubs in the country. Eventually you’ll be picking up 15 year-olds for a few million Pounds, so the extra cash sat in the bank can be used to buy off agents to keep your squad together, and also invest heavily into the youth setup to develop your own players.

Eventually I managed to grab the England job, and here’s where it gets crazy.

What you lose in individual skill you gain in squad harmony. Everyone speaks the same language, so players settle quicker. Younger players can get in the team, so their skills improve better than with reserve team football. You’re never without your star striker because of an international call-up — your whole team gets selected, so league games are postponed along with the rest of the league when England play.

The first juggling act is expectation; it pays to take less transfer money and promise Champions League football to the board of directors, which can be achieved easily. In my game, I won the Premier League every single season from the get-go.

Eventually I managed to grab the England job, and here’s where it gets crazy. In real life you would be slaughtered for picking your entire own team’s players, but that’s exactly what I did.

And I put them in the first XI, too. I took the first 11 for Manchester United and started all of them for England.

Is this fair for the other clubs? No. Is it great for Manchester United? Hell yes!

The team collectively were gaining experience by playing games together, no matter the opposition. Premier League, Capital One Cup, FA Cup, Champions League, European Super Cup, Charity Shield, World Club Championship, European Championships, the World Cup. The same 11 played all of these games, and yes, we won the lot.

You end up with:

A lot of money (due to much lower transfer outlay)

Lower wages (because you tie players down to lengthy contracts)

A happier squad (because you’re winning 5, 6, 7 trophies a season)

Uninterrupted seasons (the whole squad goes on international duty together)

Players reaching their peak (because they play at the highest level, be it Premier League, Champions League or international game)

To settle any early questions — I’m a Fulham fan. I also tried the same up in Scotland with Hearts and using only Scottish players. Sadly the lack of money tore my squad apart as we could only ever finish 2nd to Celtic (with Rangers being in the bottom division), which stole away the elite European competition and the money gained from it.

Has anyone else done something similar?