Football Manager 2017: The Journeyman Challenge (Pre-Season and August, Part 1)

This is my first saved game on the Football Manger 17 Beta. I have started as an unemployed manager, a former Sunday league nobody with no coaching badges. I want to work my way up the ladder in England, either by taking a club up through the leagues or moving on myself, then maybe manage abroad. But probably not, I’m not very good.

The playable leagues I’m running are England (Vanarama North/South and above), Germany (Bundesliga only), Italy (Serie A only), Spain (La Liga only). I’m also running the following as View Only leagues: Brazil, China, France, Holland, Portugal, Scotland. The game is running on a medium database and I’m using the Football Manager Dark skin that comes with the game.

Let me know what you think in the comments, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook as I’m sure I’ll be talking all things #FM17 on there as I play.

“A jockey doesn’t have to be born a horse.” — Arrigo Sacchi

I breathed deeply, and chucked the three envelopes into the postbox. There. It was done. No going back now, even if I wanted to. And I didn’t want to. No. Not at all. My sweaty palms were just because of the summer heat. Honestly.

My CV hadn’t taken long to write. How much can you say about an amateur football career ended prematurely by injury at the age of 31 and a few voluntary coaching gigs in the local community? I had sent by CV off in the hope that one of three clubs would be foolish enough to give me the job as manager. Bishop’s Stortford and Weston-Super -Mare in the Vanarama South league, and most unlikely of all, League 1’s Shrewsbury Town.

Unemployment in FM17

Sports Interactive/Sega

Shrewsbury were the first to knock me back, with a standard form letter thanking me for my interest but stating they would be moving forward with other applicants. Then, much to my surprise, both Bishop’s Stortford and Weston invited me for an interview. Being a gentleman – and being desperate for a job – I visited both clubs to discuss things.

Inexplicably, both clubs were willing to offer me the gig. Were they desperate, stupid, or just cheap and knew I wouldn’t demand much money? Who knows. After a day of deliberation, I picked Weston-Super-Mare. They had a seagull on their badge, and who doesn’t want to live beside the seaside?

The squad I inherited…well, it wasn’t great. Thankfully, the board were realistic and only asked that I avoid relegation. There were a couple of decent-ish players in there for this level, but not much to work with.

FM17 Weston-super-Mare squad

Sega/Sports Interactive

What the players lacked in talent (and boy, did they lack talent) they made up for in hard work, according to my assistant. He felt 4-4-1-1 would be a good formation to use, so I decided to use that as a base for my tactics.

FM17 Weston-Super-Mare squad report

Sega/Sports Interactive

What I needed first was more players. Leaders, maybe. Players without the first touch of a brick wall, ideally. A transfer budget of big fat zero meant my hands were pretty much tide, but a few hundred quid to spare on the wage bill meant that potentially loans, free transfers and non-contract players could be sought.

My first signing was Danny Stevens. The 29-year-old ex-Spurs trainee had league experience with Luton Town and Torquay, and his versatility (comfortable on the left or right wing) gave us options.

Danny Stevens FM17 player profile

Sega/Sports Interactive

He was followed through the door by Belal Aite-Ouakrim. The 31-year-old Moroccan had spent most of his career at Hendon without, as far as I could tell, pulling up any trees. But he added a bit of flair and technique, and could fill any of the two attacking roles in my planned 4-4-1-1.

Belal Aite Ouakrim FM17 player profile

Sega/Sports Interactive

Still my Chief Scout bombarded me with reports of players who could add something to our (frankly awful) squad. Adam Pepper, a 24-year-old central midfielder-cum-winger joined, as did promising 20-year-old centreback Josue Antonio and 34-year-old winger Tony Taggart, who was pretty good with dead balls (and not much else).

My Assistant Manager Mark McKeever saw fit to organise four pre-season friendlies. We won the first, against non-league Yate Town, 3-0. Results went downhill from there though, with defeats against three bigger sides – Aldershot, Bolton and Plymouth Argyle. I was not worried about the defeats, friendlies are all about getting fitness up and tweaking tactics.

We faced Whitehawk at home in our opening game of the season. The local newspaper claimed only 350 of our fans would be rattling around the 3,500 capacity Woodspring Stadium, and Whitehawk weren’t going to be much help either – only 10 of their fans were expected to make the trip from Brighton. My managerial career was going to be begin in absolute obscurity. But then, what did I expect? We would have to make the people of this sleepy seaside town want to see us by giving them something worth watching. I wanted that to start against Whitehawk.

FM17 first game

Sega/Sports Interactive

Weston-Super-Mare vs. Whitehawk

The day was finally here. My first ever competitive game in the dugout. Sure, no-one cared, and the staff members and subs in each dugout almost equaled the number of fans, but everyone has to start somewhere. I’m not Ryan Giggs, I can’t just demand a Premier League job.

Team Selection FM17

Sega/Sports Interactive

I agonised over my team the night before the game, but decided to keep most of my raft of new signings out of the lineup to begin with. Adam Pepper was the only one to make the starting XI. Danny Stevens had a slight knock that kept him out, while Aite-Ouakrim and Taggart would both start from the bench.

Things started well. Our captain and best player – right winger Dayle Grubb – put us ahead in the first few minutes. To say it was lucky is an understatement. Grubb overhit a cross from the right hand edge of the box that sailed over the Whitehawk goalkeeper’s head and into the net.

We held a 1-0 lead until the break. With neither side creating much, but with Whitehawk presumably set to come at us in the second half, I changed to a counter attack strategy. Our lead didn’t last long. A simple corner found an unmarked Sergio Torres at the near post and he lashed the ball into the roof of the net. 1-1. The rest of the game was a ding-dong end-to-end battle of two not-very-good sides accidentally almost scoring. It was like two drunks scrapping in a pub car park. In the end, a 1-1 draw was fair.

Weston-Super-Mare 1-1 Whitehawk

Sega/Sports Interactive

Just three days later, we faced Bath City away. I tried to do what I could with the lads in training, but what I saw didn’t fill me with hope for the season ahead. They were a willing bunch, for sure, but effort only gets you so far. Thankfully the 4-4-1-1 formation did OK in the first game. We created chances, but we also gave some up at the other end.

Bath City vs. Weston-Super-Mare

I decided only to make one change ahead of this game. Jake Mawford came into central midfield for Danny Wring, who wasn’t fit enough to start. Other than that, I kept faith with the team that started last time out. Bath were a decent team. Playing an old school 4-4-2 with two out-and-out strikers up front, I knew they could cause us problems. But, still, I hoped we would cope and maybe nick a draw…

Bath vs. Weston-Super-Mare FM17

Sega/Sports Interactive

Cause us problems they did. If you look at the stats it was an even game. We dominated possession and even had more shots, but only 2 of ours went on target, and none in the net. Clinical Bath netted 4 of their on target efforts. And that was the difference.

Normally I wouldn’t be angry, even after a 4-0 defeat, if I felt the scoreline didn’t reflect the game. But I was angry after this one, and let rip at the players. It wasn’t so much the scoreline as the manner of the goals that angered me.

For the first, the defence went to sleep after half-clearing a corner. Bath picked up the loose ball and worked it back out the wing. The ball was fired in low and my sleeping defenders stood and watched as Stuart Wilkin slotted in at the far post. For the second my defence saw fit to leave striker Stuart Fleetwood unmarked at the near post at a corner. The third goal was a counter attack that saw my ‘keeper parry a daisy cutter out to Josh Hutchinson for a tap in, and the fourth was the crazy decision by my left back Syd Camper to bat away a lofted free kick with his hand. They scored the penalty, somehow Camper was spared a red card. Presumably the referee felt sorry for him and us.

After that crushing defeat, I did what any good manager does. I went back to the transfer market. After Camper’s moment of maddness, I signed Joe Heath, a left back to replace him.

Joe Heath profile FM17

Sega/Sports Interactive

He was followed by French utility man Ladjie Soukouna. The fans were skeptical – Soukouna had been out of football since a spell with Plymouth Argyle back in 2011/12 season, but even after four years away I felt he could cope at this level.

Ladjie Soukouna profile FM17

Sega/Sports Interactive

I wasn’t done there. On the recommendation of my scouts, Jack Maloney, a 21-year-old winger-cum-striker with pace joined us. As did Ben Harrison from Nantwich Town as a back-up defender, Jesse Kewley-Graham to add some attacking menace to central midfield, and the versatile ex-Maidenhead man Mark Nesbit.

Jack Maloney profile FM17

Sega/Sports Interactive

Jesse Kewley-Graham profile FM17

Sega/Sports Interactive

Mark Nisbet profile FM17

Sega/Sports Interactive

Finally, I felt like I had options everywhere. Maybe not good options, but options. Going into our third game of the season, another away fixture against Welling United, I decided to change from the 4-4-1-1. Would it give us our first win of the season?

Welling United vs. Weston-Super-Mare

With more depth in the defensive midfield position, I switched to a 4-3-2-1, with wingers and a shielding defensive midfielder.

Welling Utd vs Weston-Super-Mare

Sega/Sports Interactive

Would it bring us our first win? No. Much like the Bath game, we had more possession and more shots, but wasted our chances. Thankfully, we didn’t concede 4 this time, but one was enough to seal all three points for Welling. Once again it was from a set piece, a corner saw us beaten – yet again – to a header at the near post. 1-0 to Welling, and we huffed and puffed but could not blow their house down.

Welling Utd vs Weston-Super-Mare FM17

Sega/Sports Interactive

Two defeats in a row. New signings, none of whom were particularly impressing, and a formation change. Three games into the season and things already looked as though they could unravel. Tom Meechan – on loan from Newport County – had started up front in the first two games and had been largely anonymous. I started Elliot Richards in his stead against Welling, but he didn’t do much either. And according to my coaches, Richards was my best striker by far. I was not sure what to do. We needed goals, and soon.

After Welling, we returned to the Woodspring Stadium for the visit of Poole Town. They were going well, in 7th place, while we were second from bottom of the league. We needed a win.

Weston-Super-Mare vs. Poole Town

I decided to keep faith with the 4-3-2-1 and with Eliot Richards up front. It’s not as though I had any top clash finisher waiting in the wings anyway. In front of our home fans (well, a few hundred of them) I wanted a win.

Weston-Super-Mare vs. Poole Town

Sega/Sports Interactive

I wanted a win. We needed a win. And we bloody well got a win. Not only that, but Richards up front bagged a brace!

Things started off badly. Another corner. Another sloppy goal. This time Mark Nisbet misjudged a simple clearing header. The ball sailed over him into the path of onrushing midfielder James Granger, who was quickest to react to poke the ball home. 1-0.

I barely had enough time to get mad before we were level. About five minutes later centreback Josue Antonio channeled Leonardo Bonucci to bring the ball up the half way line and loft a through ball over the Poole defence. Richards rushed onto it and slotted it past the ‘keeper for 1-1.

We went in at the break level and in the second half we largely reverted to type. Nice play here and there with no end product. Eliot Richards went back to his anonymous self in the second half, before getting lucky with his second goal. Left back Heath swung a low cross in and Richards and Poole defender Jamie Whisken battled for it. Whisken stuck a leg out to clear but only diverted the ball into the leg of our falling striker. The ball bounced off him and in. He celebrated like it was the world’s greatest goal, and hell, so did I. It was 2-1. We closed out the game for a vital, memorable, much-needed three points.

Vanarama South 4 games

Sega/USports Interactive

After four games we were sitting 18th, just outside of the relegation zone. If we’re there come the end of the season, I keep my job. Dispiritingly, Bishop’s Stortford, the side I turned down, are comfortable in 6th place with two wins. The bastards.

I wanted to build on the momentum of our first win, but knew it would be tough. Up next, second place Dartford (home), mid-table Margate (away) and early leaders St. Albans City (home) would end the month.


2 thoughts on “Football Manager 2017: The Journeyman Challenge (Pre-Season and August, Part 1)

  1. Pingback: Football Manager 2017: The Journeyman Challenge (August, Part 2) | davidfoxwriting

  2. Pingback: Football Manager 2017: The Sunderland Challenge: Pre-Season | davidfoxwriting

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