Flint's Off on One

Every Johnny Cooper and his dog nowadays thinks he or she knows everything about football. Be honest, how many times have we all screamed blue murder at the telly for a supposedly ridiculous decision? Discard Joe Hart just because he can’t pass? Pfft, baldie must have got sunstroke. Pick Marouane Fellaini again? Special One my arse. Ollie Burke’s “moving back to the big time” – you’re having a laugh! Actually you would be right to chuckle at yet another priceless Paul Merson pearl of wisdom like that classic.

My point is we are all obviously so better qualified than the professionals steeped in decades of experience and education, it’s one of life’s great mysteries that we’re the ones sitting on the sofa while they are swanning around in the dugout. Right? Ho ho ho… (Oh come on, are you totally oblivious to what’s coming in a few days’ time? Of course a crap Christmas reference had to be made…) So what do we do? Play it out on Football Manager* of course.

(*Other football simulation games are available. Let’s be honest though, they’re shite in comparison.)

Ah, the wondrous virtual world, where the rights and wrongs of that charade known as ‘real life’ are sorted. What could be more beautiful than scouring the under-18 squads of the Azerbaijani third division for potential gems? Raiding every country’s youth squad, tweaking tactics, somehow staying within budget – the procrastinator’s wet dream.  

Your marital/parenthood status will have a significant influence on the style of management you bring to the table. Personally I still drift back lovingly to the glorious, simpler days of Championship Manager 97/98. When Bakayoko meant Montpellier’s finest son, Ray Wilkins was still knocking about on the pitch, and ‘3D match engine’ was still some mythical fairy in the mind of Paul Collyer. The immersive nature of modern incarnations are too much for me, but remain stunning resources of data and knowledge.

So far so good, right? Well, that’s my frustration; the idiotic craving to always be better. My personal and professional motivation are fine, thank you very much, but it’s the obsession with more. Better yourself – always. Be better than everyone else – sure. What was ever wrong with trusting yourself without needing to peek over the garden fence though? In my personal opinion, the greatest games ever made were Super Soccer and CM 97/98; no need to make any more. As a certain Ms Furtado once warbled, why do all good things come to an end? If a Portuguese/Canadian songstress can’t find the answer, then there’s no hope.

It’s a fine balance, admittedly, but I feel I should clarify what it is that riles me. Personal betterment is essential, and healthy competition even more so. Every once in a while, a product comes along that is so brilliant it defines a genre. The problem is that this is never enough; the best must be better. MOST REALISTIC MATCH ENGINE EVER! IMPROVED GAMEPLAY! EVEN MORE LEAGUES THAN EVER BEFORE!

OK, I get that there are a million different types of consumers, so to not appeal to as many of them as possible would be commercial suicide. Actually it isn’t the developers that are the issue. If there’s a demand, satisfy it. It’s the demand itself – in other words, you lot. Why strive so hard for a virtual representation to be as realistic as possible when you, erm, have the real thing outside? Why demand a realistic 3D match engine when you can have brilliantly flickering template messages? I remember the moment I found out that tapping the spacebar sped up the messages. Screw fire and the wheel, THAT was a discovery.

At a recent FIFA tournament in my local Siberian pub, I made it through to the knockout rounds in the same way I won my first-ever game of poker – through sheer and utter incompetence. In a nutshell, I’m beyond shit at FIFA. The others were serious players, but they simply couldn’t work out what I was trying to do. The bitterness as they lost to this incompetent fool wasn’t lost on me. This wasn’t simply frustration at having lost; it was a snobbish indignation at beginner’s luck.

I couldn’t help thinking how much better the Super Nintendo’s sublime basics were superior to the terrifyingly accurate images on FIFA. Twenty-five years ago, you could only run or kick in eight directions, and there were just three types of kick. Now – apparently – you can even control your celebrations, not to mention do all kinds of insane tricks. Back then though it was a great leveller; the better player really did win, not the nerd who studied the secret moves.

On the other hand, times change. However much we want to cling on to those cherished moments in the past, we change too. I sure as hell don’t listen to Mmm Bop anymore (ok, shoot me), and I now understand why people drink beer. With no adaptation or development, I shudder to think how dull and narrow-minded we would we be. Football gaming itself is universally accepted to be a better place for the mind-blowing realism and data.

Hang on a minute – I’ve just undone my own argument. If we should embrace change, developers can’t be blamed for breaking new ground, and nostalgia is still attainable, then who can I be angry at? The only idiot left in this whole mess is… me. Ah goddamit – after weeks of moaning at other people, it turns out I’m the problem.