The Football Manager Diaries is a four-part season-long playthrough series which sees NYCFC Digital Director Mark Booth taking on the role of New York City FC Head Coach on the Sports Interactive video game, Football Manager 2020.
Chapter 1: The Home Opener
Right before the MLS season was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, just days ahead of NYCFC’s Home Opener vs. FC Dallas, I promised an editorial playthrough series of Football Manager 20 to run through the season in parallel to the real thing.
Alongside many more important things in 2020, this was shelved and put on the backburner… until now.
As we prepare to resume the regular season over the river five months later, we thought it was the perfect time to pick back up with the first installment of our series with me taking up the role of Ronny Deila on the pixelated pitch.
What could possibly go wrong?
For the uninitiated, Football Manager, an official partner of NYCFC, is the world’s most realistic football management simulation video game, which has been allowing supporters to rewrite history for more than 25 years.
Through a series of four chapters, I’ll be playing through the 2020 Regular Season as New York City FC, hoping to make a deep run into the Playoffs and bring silverware to the Boogie Down BX #ForTheCity.
To get there, I’m going to need to pull on all of the hard-earned experience accumulated through countless misspent teenage hours on the Football Manager series and get to grips quickly with the new features and gameplay modes on Sports Interactive’s most recent title.
With apologies to Ronny, the announcement is made to the supporters and it’s fair to say that I have some convincing to do, with eyebrows raised in all quarters and many fans pointing to my lack of experience and title-winning pedigree, but it’s like ol’ blue eyes said: If I can make it here…
First things first, I hold a team meeting with the players – unfortunately there’s no option to introduce myself as having transferred from the Club digital department which takes me out for a second, but I lay out my intention to challenge for silverware which seems to resonate with an ambitious group of players.
I meet with the board to align on our expectations (winning it all) and then it’s time to meet the media in my introductory press conference, where again my lack of experience is a big topic, as well as Maxi Moralez who is expected to be a key player for NYC this term.
Preseason is an epic nine-match marathon with games vs. opposition ranging from Atletico Nacional to Fresno, allowing me to tinker with formations and personnel and angle for the right combinations which are going to lead New York City’s Football Club to the Supporters’ Shield, the MLS Cup and the Concacaf Champions League.
Now normally when playing this game, I’d be using the preseason to flex financial muscle, but I feel it’s only right I should refrain from adding to my squad and use the players at my disposal, resisting the temptation to address the fans’ concerns on my inexperience with shiny, new expensive captures.
NYCFC are not especially known for great results in preseason, so perhaps I should be concerned that we win six of our nine friendly matches, including an emphatic 4-2 win over Red Bulls in our final warm-up for the opening day.
With Vancouver Whitecaps providing the opposition for our Home Opener at Yankee Stadium, I’ve settled on this formation to start with – not a million miles away from how Ronny has the team set up in most matches so far.
My emphasis is on fluidity, with Anton and Mata providing width from full-back, allowing Isi and Mitri flexibility to tuck inside and create triangles up the pitch in support of Héber.
That’s the plan anyway…
In order to have the right squad on day one, I added Nicolás Acevedo using the game editor (available on Steam), but unfortunately, this means I hit a snag right before the first match, with my salary cap now $3k over the maximum squad salary allowed.
Respect to the sporting recruitment team – this isn’t easy, but after a look through The Byline, Sports Interactive’s online bible of FM tips, I’ve found I can buy down contracts to reduce the impact of salaries which gets me under the threshold, meaning I can register and use Acevedo.
Phew… with that, it’s onto matchday…
The pre-match press conference is pretty straightforward with more questions on Alexandru Mitriță’s potential impact on the season, my thoughts on youth development and how important it is to get off and running with a win.
I resist the temptation at kidology or mind games at this early stage and bunt the questions in order to minimize the impact on the teams’ psychology going into our first proper game – as you can tell, I am taking this very seriously indeed…
There’s a very late injury concern with Anton, but he passes a late fitness test and is in the XI, with Joe Scally drafted onto the bench just in case.
I go big with the team talk, opting for a passionate “We’re favorites for a reason. Go out there and make sure the fans are left in doubt as to why.”
There is no reaction from the players. Not one. Nothing. Zilch. Is this thing on?
Despite that, the boys make a great start, pinning back the Whitecaps for long spells, racking up the attempts on goal, and eventually earning the reward on 20’ when the skipper, The Ringleader himself, opened the scoring for the season with a beauty from the edge of the box.
One to the good at halftime, I’m feeling pressure to elicit some kind of reaction from my halftime team talk. This time, I try “Things are going well, but I know you’re capable of even better.”
This has the desired uplift, with the players now apparently “ready to run through walls”.
That’s more like it.
With 20’ remaining in the match, I bring in Scally for Tinnerholm to wrap Anton in cotton wool for our next match, as well as bringing in Taty and GMS to chase a second goal.
With two minutes remaining, we get it when Maxi Moralez races onto a stunning lofted through ball from Keaton and slots past Kevin Piedrahita for the W.
That wraps it up, earns the points and gives me a winning start to life as NYCFC Head Coach with a clean sheet to boot.
With 31 shots to Vancouver’s 2 and 61% of possession, it’s the kind of start which I hope will lower some of those eyebrows raised on my appointment, but with a trip to Colorado up next, there’s no room for complacency…
Join us next time for Chapter 2 of The Football Manager Diaries where we’ll play through the first half of the season.
Until then… Come on New York.