Because No Good Story Starts With A Glass Of Milk

We’ve all been there.

That awkward moment, staring at the main menu. Struggling to decide on a save. Unable to commit.

Whether a function of “decision paralysis” or a bog-standard lack of inspiration, it is a feeling any long-term Football Manager aficionado understands all too well, especially at this stage of the annual cycle.

Our focus today is on how to resolve this impasse and get back to enjoying a save. How to fall back in love with the game.

When conquering the world with your favorite club isn’t as exciting as it used to be.

Let’s be clear.

This is not a list of “save suggestions.”

Nor am I going to offer you a laundry list of “challenges” you can pursue, in hopes that one catches your eye.

Rather, my suggestion is that when struggling to find enjoyment in a save, we are often approaching Football Manager from the wrong perspective — a desire to replicate a save we’ve enjoyed in the past.

Instead, my recommendations and suggestions are focused on taking a step back, so as to approach Football Manager from a new angle. That is when a renewed sense of purpose will arise, in-game, without a creeping, insidious sense of deja vu kicking in.

Without experimentation, a willingness to ask questions and try new things, we shall surely become static, repetitive, and moribund. 

Anthony Bourdain

Get Your Passport Out Of The Drawer.

It’s the obvious first step, isn’t it? When every save starts to feel the same, maybe that’s because they are the same.

Maybe you’re not managing the same club, but at a point certain saves (especially in the “big” European leagues) can begin to feel formulaic and predictable. Stale.

Broadening your horizons is a surefire cure. Not only will it give you a flavor for football culture in another country or continent, you also experience the joy [Editor’s note: is “joy” the right word?] of that league’s registration and squad requirements, and footballing history. The quirks of managing in a new league are often as befuddling as they are enjoyable, but there’s one thing they virtually always do — provoke you into approaching the game in a different way.

What do you mean, I have to name 3 gingers in the matchday squad?! We’re playing how many matches?! I only offered the kids a football contract, officer, I swear!!

The quirks are all fun and games, of course, until you’re docked points for non-compliance with Peruvian rules regarding minutes played by U21s.

Maybe you can’t pronounce the players’ names. Or find the club on a map. But you will be able to, in time.

In the interim, you will have to re-think how you build and maintain a squad, especially if you are in a smaller nation or league where your best players are always looking for a way out, and no one worth signing will return your calls.

The time-honored tradition of raiding smaller clubs for future superstars? You’ll have to re-think your plans when no one will return your calls.

While the new club or country might not ultimately be to your liking, at the very least you will have taken a break from “the usual,” which in and of itself can rekindle your passion for your “normal” save. And, you may have learned a new trick or two.

Take A Team You Hate To The Top Of The Game.

We all have teams that we despise with ever fiber of our being.

For me, that side was Leeds United.

Yes, you read that correctly. “Was.” During the FM17 version of the Nearly Men, I knew that I would have to manage Leeds — a side that I associated with the Don Revie-era, thanks in no small part to certain ex-pat British coaches during my formative years and a love for The Damned United.  

So, I instituted a rule in the save that has remained a fixture in subsequent versions — not only was I required to manage Leeds at the first reasonable, in-game opportunity, I had to play ultra-hipster tactics. (Keep in mind this is long before Marcelo Bielsa rocked up at Elland Road.) 

By focusing on their tactical street-cred, I found a true sense of purpose when I took over the job, in-game. Now? Leeds are one of my favorite clubs to manage on Football Manager.  My secret shame.

The point being? There is tremendous joy to be found in managing a club you despise, if you do it the “right” way.

Maybe you hate Barcelona. So, why not manage them and, in the process cast aside the mes que un club mentality while fielding an XI comprised of Nigel de Jong clones who have the tactical discipline of a mid-table Scottish Sunday League side. Football, taught by not by Cruyff at his most poetic, but Jose Mourinho at his most cynical, petty and vindictive.

Or, perhaps a Real Madrid squad comprised solely of side that only features youth academy graduates? Forget the Zidanes, its pavones all the way down.

The George Costanza Principle, applied to Football Manager. What could go wrong?

Establish “Rules” For How You Are Going To Play.

This is where many of the well-known, brilliant challenges come into play.

Take on the classic dafuge challenge, a youth academy-only challenge, or the Lisbon Lions challenge. Or, cannibalize these challenges to apply some of their “rules” to you own save.

During the FM15 cycle, I found myself falling out of love with Football Manager. I’d played it faithfully since the 1990s, but found myself stuck in a rut, unable to enjoy the game like I once had. I decided to give it one last try — one “final” save, as a swan song.

I fired up a youth academy-only save with IFK Malmo, and decided to document it on the SI forums. I’d never played with those limitations before (much less documented a save), and thought to myself that there was no way I would ever enjoy it given how much I loved the hunt for bargain transfers. In the end, I loved every moment of the save because I had to completely change how I approached everything — from squad building, to tactics, to my short and long-term goals. And, I fell back in love with the game.

While I haven’t played a youth academy-only save in years, it showed me that there was more to the game than I’d previously explored, and I found myself enjoying aspects of the game I had previously ignored (or assumed I would not enjoy). I began to appreciate the finer aspects of youth development, and developed the patience for it.

Break The “Rules.”

This is the necessary corollary to the suggestion of establishing rules for yourself.

There comes a time when expectation meets reality. When your dream of an all-conquering, youth academy-only Dulwich Hamlet side meets the brutality of the Championship. And, like the transfer junkie you are, you can’t help but dream of that Ivorian teenager, who just might be the next Didier Drogba…and could be yours — yours — for a mere $250k.

My only question being, can the “new” Drogba play as a libero?

Bottom line: there may come a time when a self-imposed rule is, in fact, crushing your spirit and desire to play a save. That is the moment when the rule needs to be broken instead of abandoning the save altogether. Whether it is a one-time decision or you fully abandon the rule is up to you.

The purpose of establishing rules is to create a new strategic element, to force you to approach the game differently. But no one need martyr themselves on the altar of Football Manager — you should never, ever, bin a save simply because you’ve set a rule for yourself that you no longer want to play by, or want to ignore occasionally. It’s a one-player game, after all. Play how you want to.

Though Your Eyes May Be Firmly Fixed On A Far-Distant Horizon, Don’t Forget To Set Short-Term Goals.

Often when we embark on a new save, we have lofty long-term goals — to win the Champions League, starting from the 11th tier, or to create the new Maradona. This is all well and good, and a critical element to enjoying a save.

Of course, it may take years in-game to accomplish those long-term goals. To keep things interesting on that long, windy road to glory, I’ve recently taken a page from LutterworthFox, and implemented short term goals via an “Achievement Hunter” element.  

A sample Achievement Hunter tracker, from Seattle Red’s Duruji Subsequent Threadsave.

By including both long and short-term goals, you not only give the save overall structure, you create a situation where: (1) each season can meaningfully contribute to the save, and (2) variety is built-into the course of the save as you look for achievements you can snare along the way.

What achievements can you look for? While the I focused on club, country and player achievements, there is not one way to do this.

One of my favorite twists on an Achievement Hunter (which I’m not brave enough to embrace) is from KibworthBull, who sought to have a player from every country in the game: (1) make an appearance; (2) score a goal; and (3) win Man of the Match, for his club. It’s madness — glorious, beautiful madness. But for those of who love hunting for brilliant young players from across the globe, it is a delightful side-quest that will take decades to complete, and can be run in conjunction with whatever long-term goals you have embraced.

Again, the choice is entirely yours as to what achievements you hunt — the more creative, the better.

Go On The Dole.

If you’re anything like me, you always begin a save with a plan. (It may be not be a good plan, but it is a plan.)

In a twist on the George Costanza Principle, if you can’t settle on a save because you can’t decide what your plan is, perhaps the solution is to follow Daz‘s example, and abandon any pretense of planning.

In short, let RNGeebus take the wheel. Start unemployed. Holiday out several months or years to ensure a unique playing environment. If you’re truly adventurous, start with fewer coaching badges and less playing experience to ensure that you have to work your way up the ladder.

The journey will be nothing if not unique, in the best possible way.

Choose A Club Based On Aesthetics Alone.

I don’t know about you, but there’s something about the aesthetics in-game that make me love a save. From Fiorentina’s glorious purple kits, to Duruji Kvareli’s home pitch inside the walls of an 18th century fortress in the shadow of the Greater Caucasus, something about these details fuels my enjoyment of those saves.

So, pick a club based on their kits, badge or mascot. Find a pristine stadium tucked away on Vancouver Island, to claim as your new home. Embrace the unique nature of your new club, and then go forth and conquer.

Forward Madison FC 2020 Away Jersey
The saucy 2020 away kit for Forward Madison, in the USL League 1.

Feed The Narrative In Your Head.

Let’s be honest. Once we hit continue, each one of us is engaged to a certain degree in the make-believe world of our save.

I’ve never been one to shy away from that. Quite to the contrary. I drink directly from that particular crazy straw. (I, for one, firmly believe that if Luke Shaw hadn’t obtained that permanent restraining order against me, he would be enjoying our shenanigans in Georgia.)

For all the stress, drama and insanity that we endure on a daily basis, a little escape can’t hurt. So, put on a suit for your team’s in-game cup final. Provide live commentary in your best Gary Neville voice…and then answer back as Jamie Carragher. Lean into the the story of your save in your own head — not the wins and losses, but the story behind those wins and losses.

The point being — make the save about something more than just who you’ve signed, and what competitions you’ve won. Maybe your manager has an utterly rational dislike for Roberto Mancini because he keeps taking over clubs after you leave, and winning titles with your players, like the utter slapnut **** he is. Lean into it. Trust me.

Everything Is More Fun In A Group.

There is a special joy and pain in managing a side with several of your best friends, in a joint save — an endeavor that can take on many permutations, but essentially boils down to you and a group of friends take turns working towards a common goal.

It can go hilariously, hopelessly wrong. It can also be mind-bending fun, to have a half-dozen people hanging on every moment in that Cup final that you’ve each spent weeks working towards.

So, get yourself a group of friends, build some consensus on the basic parameters of the game and “rules” you will play by, and have at it.

Fail. Spectacularly.

I often find that in Football Manager, like a good game of Crusader Kings, you have the most fun when things fall to pieces.

If you’re looking for something different, take over a team in a relegation battle or on the cusp of bankruptcy.

Not good at tactics? Build one anyways, modeled after something you enjoy.

Maybe you manage the “great escape.” Maybe you don’t.

Maybe the tactic is an utter failure — more Lampard than Tuchel.

But don’t rage quit. Winning all the time is boring. Embrace the pain. Welcome adversity. When the moment of redemption comes, all the headaches and heartbreak will have been worth it.

On a slightly smaller scale, don’t be afraid to make objectively “bad” decisions if they make some sense, in your in-game world.

My tactics typically employ a hyper-aggressive, attacking libero. As a result, I did not hesitate to deploy a player as a libero who had a 1 for passing and vision. Why? Despite those attributes, he was objectively my best player. He was immense.

It’s also why I bought a world-class forward for $109 million, to play as your libero. Why?! Reasons, that’s why.

The legend that was Miguel “Katchip” Katchipwisayla, a man born to play as a libero for Seattle Red.

Will the risks you take pay off? Maybe. Maybe not.

That’s what makes it fun. With the right mindset, failure is just another step in the journey — the moment your traditional “hero’s journey” becomes a revenge story.

Stop “Doomscrolling.”

If there’s anything I learned during lockdown in 2020, it was a new word.

No, not that word. That’s reserved for my OnlyFans, and only my OnlyFans. Hence the name.

“Doomscrolling,” the art of wallowing in bad news about a particular subject. Whether it is on social media or the forums, I’ve found two things to be inherently true in the FM community: (1) everyone has an opinion about the latest Football Manager; and (2) more often than not, there is an echo chamber of negative opinions.

And, let’s be honest. As a lawyer, I love overwrought hyperbole. It’s practically a job requirement.

But the reality is that for all the valid concerns and issues people might have with Football Manager in a given cycle, I typically enjoy Football Manager as-is. It isn’t perfect. But I don’t expect it to be.

Again, this isn’t to say that there aren’t legitimate concerns or issues being raised and discussed in the community. Or that we should all just be fan-boys.

Rather, my point is that we all have a choice as to whether we’re going to let these issues get in the way of us enjoying the game. Three-striker tactics are broken? Then don’t use them. Or, use them. Whatever floats your boat.

The more we wallow in the concerns of others, the less we will enjoy the game. It’s as simple as that.

The most important step a man can take. It’s not the first one, is it?

It’s the next one. Always the next step.

Brandon Sanderson

I will close with one final suggestion — one that is as straightforward and obvious as my first suggestion.

Just because you don’t immediately fall in love with a new save, that alone isn’t reason to delete it and start anew.

Give it time. Let it percolate for a few sessions, before you make any conclusions.

Like a particularly-determined amoeba, the save may simply need time to wriggle its way into your brain and take up permanent residence. And once it does, your world will never be the same again.

But in a good, non-brain-eating way.

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Because No Good Story Starts With A Glass Of Milk