The chef looked confused as he surveyed, once again, the array of ingredients – no, sorry, the solitary ingredient – with which he had hoped to make a classic dauphinoise, serenaded by a garnish of winter vegetables.
Shrugging his shoulders, the chef set about slicing the potatoes: it would have to be a plate of chips, because, after all, you can’t make a dauphinoise without cream, right?
And the above is the biggest problem I have to solve with Football Manager. When you start as a manager of Sunday League reputation, in the Northern Irish third division, you’re not going to be able to cook the French classics: arguably your most important task is to understand what ingredients you have been bequeathed, and make the best of them.
You’ll definitely not have any money – at all. You’re probably already up to your wage bill, and you can bet that the board are more than happy with your grand total of zero scouts, so your task is to pull rabbits out of hats with what’s already in the building.
Before we even look at Football Manager, be aware of the need to work with what you’ve got, at least at very low levels. After a couple of seasons, you’ll have a core of players with good personalities, who have some degree of versatility, and the green shoots of a youth system to help flesh out what you’ve worked so hard to build. By then, you might even been able to crowbar a few coins out of the dead hand of your reluctant, risk-averse board.
Getting to that point, though, is likely to be your biggest challenge as a manager, for the Northern Irish Premier Intermediate League, and others like it, are unforgiving on those who mistake a potato for anything other than a potato.
In other words: at least initially, you are not going to have any of the things which are beloved of the tactical cognoscenti: no sweeper-keeper, inverted wing-back, enganche, or complete forward. It’s rare that anyone can even cover two positions, and it’s almost as rare that a player can operate somewhere in between the lines – a defensive midfielder or attacking midfielder of any variety is a godsend. (Oh, and if you have such a luxury, or can somehow wangle someone on loan, don’t expect them to hang around.)
Your vision is all well and good, but you have to last long enough to be able to put it into practice. Until you obtain someone who can (relative to the level you’re playing at) bring the ball out, then you’ll have to be content with giving it some boot.
Time is the friend you need to be able to implement what the cognoscenti call your philosophy, and that time can be bought by moulding something which works in the short term. You can begin straightaway by trying to train greater care of the ball, or the odd favourable player trait, though you are probably casting your carefully-considered pearls before swine. In the meantime, you need results, and you’ll rely on percentage football, long throws, and loading the box from free-kicks. The good thing is that set pieces – the ability to keep ’em out, as well as score from them – is as relevant at Champions League level as it is on the park with a rope around the perimeter.
Absorb this particular lesson first – in the near future, there’ll be a couple of things to help you make the most of what you’re given when you first walk through the door.