Revelations: Forest for the Trees 3
Free to read: SCOUTED play Football Manager 24 and it's going badly
Catch up on Chapter Two before you read Chapter Three.
The tension around the training ground is palpable.
Nottingham Forest stayed in the Premier League last year by the skin of their teeth. Now a new campaign looms and a new man is at the helm. Me. In my short few weeks here I’ve managed to fight with the captain, fight with a well respected statesman and, according to my leadership group, lose the dressing room. Already.
Seven days remain.
I receive a post-game report from our victory in Italy. Brianza had most of the ball and we struggled to string passes together but beat them anyway. I can’t help but feel optimism about that.
The boys recover.
My scouts deliver a report on Brentford. It surprises me. They’ve undergone a summer revolution. In lieu of Ivan Toney, they’ve signed Spanish forward Abel Ruiz from Braga for £14.5m - seems everyone has money but me.
My scouts expect them to line up in a 4-3-3, with Ruiz flanked by Wissa (as an orthodox winger) and Mbuemo (as an inverted winger, floating inside to link with Ruiz).
They have big green lines drawn between their midfielders, as well as between their full-backs and wingers. I don’t have any of those. I’m sure that’s okay.
Alan Tate reminds me of our training schedule in the run-up to the opening day. I change my mind about the green lines and decide I probably want some of those actually.
Panic sets in and I switch all our training for the coming week to purely tactical - time to drill my ideas into the boys.
We’re going to sit and let Brentford’s fluency falter before hitting them on the break. It’ll be the perfect audition for the year.
Tate asks me to choose my captains for the season. After all the bullshit, all the nonsense they’ve put me through, with the dressing room disintegrating before my eyes, I decide to keep Joe Worrall and Ryan Yates in situ. Now is not the time for changes. I can only pray they step up as leaders.
I hold our weekly staff meeting. The usual notes are sifted through - one coach recommends I set up an individual training schedule for Worrall to improve his defensive positioning. Heh. Obviously I accept.
A scouting update arrives. The team are desperate for me to sign Keane Lewis-Potter from our upcoming opponents. I tell them to let me know if they find £40m down the back of a sofa somewhere.
The day is passing without note.
Fuck this. I can’t just sit here.
I type ‘scoutedftbl.com’ into Google. I navigate to two pages: ‘FM24 Wonderkids’ and ‘FM24 Bargains’.
I have £1.7m.
I’m looking first for a flexible attacker to take the pressure away from Elanga and Hudson-Odoi; someone to happily wait their turn right now, but slowly develop into a serious first-team contender. And because this is SCOUTED, they have to be young and talented.
I learn Sinclair Armstrong, an Irish attacker we’ve spoken about before on Notebook, is available for less than €2m. Option one.
I also learn Nestory Irankunda is floating around at Adelaide and available for a similarly paltry sum. Funny, but I seem to have a false memory of him moving somewhere else, a major European player - in an alternate universe, perhaps.
This is when I learn you have to load leagues in advance of beginning a save and therefore, in my reality, Nestory Irankunda was never born. I’ve Thanos-ed him from existence.
I ask my scouts to watch a selection of targets that are outside of my financial capabilities right now but that SCOUTED tells me I should keep an eye on: Antonio Nusa, Junior Kroupi and Lucas Gourna-Douth are all mid-budget buys for the future. I need to save my pennies.
For now, I focus on Armstrong as an immediate target for my pathetic warchest.
Scott McKenna is wanted on loan by Bournemouth. This seems like a deeply stupid offer to accept, but he wants to speak to them and I’m terrified of upsetting any more well-respected players, so I give my blessing.
The boys drill my tactics over and over.
We hold a team bonding session. Joe Worrall stands on a table and sings ‘Wonderwall’.
I laugh along, choking down my contempt.
We’re drawn in the Carabao Cup Second Round against Harrogate from League Two. I vow to make it a deathmatch.
The drills continue. They train and they train and they train.
In the dead of night, a man with a strong West-London accent snuck into Morgan Gibbs-White’s house and beat his ankle with a crowbar. Tonya Harding, you will pay for your crimes.
I frantically Google where Bryan Mbuemo lives but stop myself before I hire the hitman. I’m better than this. I’ll beat them on the pitch.
Reeling from this catastrophe, I face the press. I keep it calm, neutral and pray to avoid any more Felipe-shaped disasters.
It passes without incident. But for some reason, this dude hates me:
What’s your problem, Jamie?
Anyway, Andrey Santos also out of the Brentford game. Guess I pushed the boys a little too hard.
My parents live slightly west of London. As a boy, when I’d drive into the city - most likely to see my darling Arsenal - we’d take the M4. On approach to London the motorway ends and three lanes become two. The road slopes upwards onto a ramp that runs above concrete and past billboards and highrises and deep into the city’s heart. It’s grey, all of it, all save the adverts that bombard windscreens and wipe their neon shadows on the glass. Few places in London are quite so cyberpunk or accidentally brutalist.
Some ways along that road, the concrete parts and reveals a nondescript grey hanger on the right hand-side. From the road, it’s near impossible to tell that hanger contains a football pitch open to the city air.
I walk onto that football pitch and breathe deep. In the pre-match quiet I can hear the road. Then my team streams past me in red and white training gear and their shouts drown it out.
I sit in the Gtech Community Stadium’s technical area as my coaching team takes the warm up. Tate finds me and whips out his iPad like it’s a lethal weapon.
He and the staff have qualms with my team selection. Murillo shouldn’t start, Tavares should be out there, the midfield’s a mess. I tell him, respectfully, to shut up and trust the process.
My first Premier League game begins in perfect horror. Abel Ruiz, Brentford’s brand new signing, scores within 15 seconds.
Ten minutes later, he scores again.
The boys are all over the place. Sangaré shouts and screams but his unit are dejected, heads down.
Their early-game plan executed to perfection, Brentford give us the ball and sit, content to soak up whatever we can muster. To my surprise, we pick ourselves up and threaten, forcing a handful of saves and otherwise growing in confidence. As the shock of the opening ten minutes wears off we settle into our rhythm. Callum and Ant stretch the play, Awoniyi pins back Pinnock and throws his frame around.
Then we lose the ball deep in their half and they spring forward like a coiled snake. Within moments they’re racing towards Odysseas in numbers, Wissa and Mbuemo moving at breakneck speed. The ball is pulled back from the right and drops into the path of Jensen - he blazes wide.
I sit back, shellshocked. They lured us into a trap and pounced. This is the difference, I realise, between an experienced, wily Premier League manager and me, an unorganised idiot.
At half time I struggle to find my voice. A realisation is dawning and I look around that changing room at the men who have trusted their reputations to me and I can barely look them in the eyes. I have sent them out to their doom. All my funny talk of deathmatches and beefing Brazilians and fighting my captain has lead to this - the chance to be ridiculed on the country’s biggest stage by professionals who understand how much respect such competition deserves.
I feign steel and tell the boys their finishing must improve. One by one they rise and I see fire in their eyes. They’ve been here before. I haven’t. What gives me the right to curl up and cry at the first setback?
They lead the way back out onto the pitch.
Brentford start brightly again but this time the boys are equal to it. We rebuff their advances and, in a few careful passes, rush forwards ourselves with numbers. Callum is found in space and breaks past the last defender - his shot is saved and ricochets out for a corner.
In the far corner of the stadium, our Forest faithful roar.
The ball swings in and meets Niakhate’s head. His effort pings off the crossbar and falls back into the mixer - a Brentford defender scrambles it clear. The noise gets louder.
The third corner is pushed out of the box at the first attempt. It lands at the feet of Orel Mangala. The big man shuffles his feet, moves the ball into space and blasts an effort towards the bottom corner. It’s edged around the post by fingertips.
The moment of pressure ends and Brentford play out. Our moment is gone as quickly as it came and the momentum leaves us. We never find it again.
For one beautiful moment I believe Awoniyi is through on goal - but no, he’s offside. I make some changes and shuffle my cards, but the game is gone. Odysseas makes a great save at the death from Wissa, but it spares us nothing but goal difference.
Our glorious Premier League debut is over. We lost.
I’m not good enough at this job. Guiding a small Premier League team to survival takes a kind of discipline and dedication I have not applied.
To break the fourth wall for a minute: if I continue this save at my current level of understanding of the game, things are going to get messy very quickly. Losing 2-0 at Brentford is no disaster, but the fact I barely understand how to improve the side definitely is.
The players have spent all pre-season training while I’ve been fucking around. It’s time for me to do some training. It’s time for me to spend hours on YouTube, watching videos on tactics and wonderkids and improving my backroom staff.
It’s time to build a save worthy of the SCOUTED name.
Look, I think the idea of being sacked three months in is very funny in principal, but probably really embarrassing in practice. And it would bring this series to a screeching and premature holt. And I have no doubt that’s where I’m headed.
So I’m going to take some time to suck up FM knowledge like a sponge. I’m reaching out to friends and colleagues and the FM mega-nerds I’m blessed to know.
I’m going to FM bootcamp, to stop the rot before it takes hold.
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