Euro 2016 approaches and, as an England fan, I once again feel pessimistic. It’s not that we couldn’t do well, it’s just that since my first soiree in to international tournaments in 1996 I’ve been disappointed more often than not. Actually, I’ve only been disappointed.
But it didn’t need to be like that. We’ve had good players! We’ve had a good team! Somewhere along the line we surely had enough to be able to lift a trophy? Or are all these italics for nothing?
No, I’m correct. We could have achieved more. I’m certain of it. But how I can I prove it?
Following on from my initial foray in to the world of Championship Manager 01/02, and taking inspiration from Iain MacIntosh’s frankly outstanding Everton series (seriously, if you’re a fan of Football Manager you have to check it out) I’ve dusted off my free download and I’m going back again.
I’m taking over England, and I’m winning us a tournament. And I’ll show you exactly how we do it here.
The game starts in July 2001. Shrek is the highest grossing movie in the UK, Hear’Say are Top of the Pops, and Top of the Pops still exists. What a time to be alive.
I load up the squad and look at the players who are going to lead me in to battle in Japan and South Korea in just under a year.
Yep, there’s Becks. Scholes-y, he’s there too. David Seaman, good old Safe Hands. Um…. Michael Gray? Okay? Ray Parlour? Good, I guess. Hang on… is that DION DUBLIN?
Holy sh*t you guys, it’s Dion Motherf*cking Dublin! The Golden Generation indeed.
Looking at the fixtures I see our next game is away to Germany. The game against Germany. We’re two months from when we beat them 5-1 in real life. Our finest footballing moment since ’66.
Meanwhile, we sit 6 points behind them with 3 games to go. These days we remember how good the performance was in the 5-1, but we forget how crucial it was to get a win. If we hadn’t we’d have had to go through the play offs. And no-one wants that.
I immediately look to tidy the squad up. Michael Gray comes out. 4 left backs in a 26 man squad is insane. I take Martin Keown out. Selecting Martin Keown for an England squad in 2001 is insane. Dion Dublin comes out as picking him for anything is insane.
Or… is it?
What if the Champ Man gods are trying to tell me something? What if leaving Kevin Phillips or Andy Cole at home is actually the right move? What if, in my time of need, Dion Dublin is the one I can count upon?
The Championship Manager Gods have spoken, and I have listened. He stays in.
Aw, that’s nice. I’ve literally done nothing but talk about Dion Dublin since I was hired, but thanks anyway.
Away to Germany, World Cup 2002 Qualification, September 2001
It doesn’t get much bigger than this.
I take the injured Gary Neville out, joined by Gray, Keown and Parlour, obviously. Dean Richards? Seth Johnson? Get out. Graeme Le Saux? Sorry, you’re a lovely bloke but we’re trying to win the World Cup here. Jamie Redknapp? A top, top player, but I can’t rely on you with your injury record. Same for Robbie Fowler. Andy Cole? You’re constantly offside, and we have Dion Dublin filling that role now.
In their place comes the future. Wayne Bridge, Jamie Carragher, Jonathan Woodgate in defence. Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and Owen Hargreaves in midfield. Alan Smith up top. To balance out this youthful exuberance I take the experience of Teddy Sheringham.
Dion Dublin stays very much in. He’s my game changer. I can feel it.
With an abundance of midfield talent and no decent left wingers (ah, early 2000s England) we’re going with a diamond formation. The back line picks itself, Hargreaves shields the defence as Becks and Gerrard run the midfield, Scholes provides the goal threat from deep behind Owen and Heskey. Big Dion ready to make the difference from the bench. Becks is captain and takes free kicks, corners and penalties. He can take the kit home and wash it after the game as well if he wants. He runs this show.
I’m excited, I’m nervous, I kind of need the loo, but we’re ready. Let’s do this.
Just as Katy Perry predicted we roared like lions. Our great rivals could barely hold us back as wave after wave of attacks infiltrated their penalty area. A Beckham corner was cleared, but Gerrard knocked it back in to the box where it was met with a stunning left footed volley from… Sol Campbell? Uh, okay. This is easy. Football’s coming home.
For the first 5 minutes, anyway.
For the remaining 85 we were absolutely dominated. Winston Smith had more control at the start of 1984 than we did in this game. We had an absurd 28% success rate on our tackles, I’m not sure Owen or Heskey were even on the pitch, and Germany hit the bar four times. Eventually their pressure paid off when Miroslav Klose powered home from close range.
After an hour I got desperate and brought on BIG DION, but even he couldn’t make an impact. Somehow, someway we hung on to take a point home, more through their inability to shoot on target from the dreaded “He has to score!” position than anything we did well. I don’t think the text commentary even mentioned us apart from to say “England withstood the pressure”.
So in summary, I took a generation-defining 5-1 battering and turned it in to a generation-damaging 1-1 bore draw, and automatic qualification is essentially out of the window.
Maybe this management lark is harder than I thought.
In then next episode we take on the rest of the qualifiers. You can find it here.
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