I can’t stop. I need just one more fix. No-one will know. A few more hours won’t matter.
My name is Alex and I have a problem. It’s not drugs, alcohol, sex or even rock ‘n’ roll; it’s Football Manager.
Introduced to the game via an innocuous demo included with a copy of PC Gamer, once I had opened up the game I was instantly hooked. Here was a game that would allow me to prove all the theories I’d been spouting to friends about who should play where, what formations defeat others and what player my team should buy.
My first foray into the series came late in 2009. I quickly made up for lost time by spending more than 1,100 hours on the game, something that continued with each iteration up until the 2013 edition. By that time I had amassed nearly 5,000 hours and decided that enough was enough. Time to stop buying a yearly franchise and wasting my hours away.
All was well. I began to actually play other games. I stopped feeling that nagging urge every time I went to a football match or watched Match of the Day to try out a new tactic or player I had just seen.
But once you’re in, you’re never fully out again. I was given Football Manager 2016 to review and have now relapsed back into the abyss of raumdeuters, gegenpressing, tiki-taka and inverted wing backs.
To many the game is nothing but a spreadsheet that updates yearly, a game with none of the human input that games like FIFA have to draw the player in. Yet I still, day after day, return to my save. The problem is I haven’t had the same euphoric feeling of accomplishment that I get playing Football Manager replicated in many other titles.
The series is part simulation, part tactics and even part RPG. You collect your team of players, in much the same way you might collect a team of Pokémon. You train them, nurture them and teach them how to fight (read: play). You then send them out to do battle. Their success is your success. Every win is a feeling of triumph: you are Mourinho, you are Shankley, you are Clough. Every defeat is disastrous and, opposite to how a game should make me feel, stresses me out to no end.
Like a masochist, though, I come back for more and more. Whether it's to try out a new asymmetrical 3-4-3 formation or to attempt to relive my glory days of getting non-league Dover Athletic to the Champions’ League final. To the football fan Football Manager is akin to the beautiful game itself: at once intricate and frustrating, joyous and depressing. It’s the closest many will get to the true depth of tactics, training and analysis.
The more I pull away, the more it pulls me back.
My name is Alex and I am an addict. But I love every minute of it.