After a woeful tournament, England are back in action. No, not them. The real England. The only ones that matter. The ones who will lead me to victory on Championship Manager 01/02.
The World Cup was a disaster. I had guaranteed winning the trophy, but instead we got knocked out in the Quarter Finals on penalties. The most English of results. Worst of all, we don’t have the 5-1 against Germany to lean in to, or even the 3-0 against Denmark.
Still, we move on. Things don’t stay the same. Alan Shearer has signed for Celtic. Pep Guardiola has joined Chelsea… as a player. Oh, and this happened:
You must be delighted, Alan?
They change for us too. We now need to go through the arduous task of qualifying. Well, I say “arduous”, our group is pretty straightforward.
Armenia (away), Euro 2004 Qualifier, August 2002
The squad changes too. I’ve given David Seaman international retirement whether he wants it or not, the performance against France enough for me to write him off.
I also have to leave out Steven Gerrard and Gary Neville, who both tore their groins… in the same match. I don’t even want to know how that happened.
In to the team come Paul Robinson and Shaun Wright-Phillips, and I find room for a young Celtic centre back called John Terry.
Meanwhile, we have the issue of Big Dion. His performances in the World Cup will be talked about for generations to come, but I set him an ultimatum; win the World Cup, or you’re out. He dragged us kicking and screaming to the Quarters, but that’s not winning the World Cup. It may sound harsh, but rules are rules. He has to be dropped.
just kidding he’s starting.
As expected we dominate the game and get the breakthrough around half an hour in when Carl Cort scores a header from a corner. Owen pounces on a rebound from a Beckham free kick just a few minutes later and we’re home and dry before half time. Dublin hits a post and Cort hits the bar, so we take our foot off the pedal to save ourselves for the next game. Then, disaster strikes. Beckham heads a nothing ball in to his own goal and we’re pegged back, but thankfully goals from Dyer and Owen mean we take home a 4-1 win.
Still, that stings. A 3 goal win doesn’t do justice to how we played. We had 14 shots on target to their ZERO. That’s right, they didn’t have a single shot on target and we still managed to concede.
Georgia (home), Euro 2004 Qualifier, September 2002
We make a couple of minor tweaks, but you don’t change a winning team.
Dyer opens the scoring, Owen follows up when Beckham misses a sitter, and Beckham atones with a 25 yarder. All in the first 20 minutes. This is going to be easy.
So easy, in fact, that we don’t bother to play the remaining 70 minutes and take away a 3-0 win. Good enough.
Romania (away), Euro 2004 Qualifier, October 2002
This one might be a little harder.
If there’s one game that I’m worried about in our qualifying campaign it’s this one. It’ll be made harder by the sheer volume of players that are missing. Along with Seaman’s enforced retirement, there are injuries to Beckham, Dyer, Gary Neville, Brown, Bowyer AND Owen. Robinson and Wright-Phillips aren’t playing for their clubs and lack match fitness. Woodgate is dropped when he falls to the Michael Duberry clause of the “Anyone who can’t dislodge Dominic Matteo from a team isn’t allowed to start” rule.
In other words, we have to make a few changes. Some come in for their club form, some for their good taste:
I’m nervous, though. this could be a really difficult match given the squad changes and the rowdy Romanian fans. We stick to our Simunic-on-Sulejmani tackling…
… but we go defensive. We stick men behind the ball and abandon our short passing for a more direct approach. Butt man marks Mutu, Campbell manages their other striker, Rio floats between them. I hate it when England play like this in real life, but we’ll keep it tight, take no risks and look to sneak a 0-0 draw.
Lithuania (home), Euro 2004 Qualifier, October 2002
We continue our Eastern European adventure, but not without significant changes. The loss to Romania may have been almost entirely my fault for wimping out and going defensive, but I can’t take the blame, right? I have to pass the buck and take it out on my employees. That’s proper management.
Scholes was embarrassing against Romania and, frankly, hasn’t offered enough for too long. He’s out. Phil Neville is out for getting mugged off by Academia midfielder Marinescu for the Romanian goal. Joining them on the naughty step is the false dawn of the New Alan Shearer, Carl Cort.
Let’s get a big win here. This is getting embarrassing.
We start off a little slow, perhaps because were distracted trying to work out what formation Lithuania are actually playing…
Three goals in seven minutes before the half time whistle takes the pressure off, and 5 minutes after that David Dunn finishes it off. Dublin may not have scored, but his leadership took us through a high pressure situation. Good lad.
Spain (home), Friendly, November 2002
We finish the year off playing the Spaniards in the world-renowned “Unknown Stadium”.
We go with a strong team (minus Michael Owen, who’s injured for a change). I want to try that 4-2-3-1 we used without practice in the World Cup. I rest Big Dion so I can test alternatives.
Today’s alternative: Chelsea’s Carlton Cole. That’s right. Carlton Cole once played for Chelsea. Let that sink in.
Hmm. We only have four shots but restrict them to three. We take two of ours, they only take one of theirs, so we win. A win’s a win’s a win
We don’t play all that well, but we were 2-0 up until the last minute when they scored a 30 yard consolation.
Still, I’ve learned what I need to: if we need to bore people to tears to nullify an opposition, we could do worse than this formation. I’ll remember that when we’re in a tournament. I imagine it’ll come up A LOT.
And with that we wrap up 2002. A year that promised so much with the friendly win over Germany and the exciting performances in the early stages, but petered out when it really mattered. We then put automatic qualification in the balance with my needless tactical tinkering and a loss to Romania. If we’re to end the next year with a shot at lining up victory at Euro 2004, we need to learn the lessons from this year.
I wouldn’t count on it though. I am the England manager after all.
You can find out how 2003 went here.
You can also take a look at the previous episodes using these links:
- Episode One (the Germany game)
- Episode Two (the qualifiers)
- Episode Three (build up to World Cup 2002)
- Episode Four (the Group Stages)
- Episode Five (the Second Round)
- Episode Six (the Quarter Final)
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