A Championship Manager Experiment

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Just how difficult is it to be optimistic and successful when being the manager of 2016 Blackburn Rovers FC? Using the world famous Championship Manager game, I see just how competitive I can make this Blackburn team and just how difficult a job being the Rovers Manager really is.

Starting in July 2016 using the game engine from the 2001/02 game with the current 2016 squads and leagues (October 2016 patch), I am going to try and get Blackburn Rovers back to the Premier League and beyond – providing monthly updates on trials, tribulations, and hopefully progress!

Pre-Season – June 2016:

Upon being announced as the new Manager of Blackburn Rovers Football Club I am advised that the Board’s targets for the season are to avoid relegation. I have a first team squad of 24 players including 6 loanees; and the reserve team is 18 players strong. The club’s finances are “OK” and I have a transfer budget of £7.25m (which is probably what Owen Coyle should have been handed following the sales of Hanley and Duffy. The total wage bill is £55k/week and the highest paid player is club captain Jason Lowe on £4.5k/week; the average is £1.3k/week.

My first real task as manager is to arrange the pre-season friendlies. In real-life Rovers faced SV Ried, Bury, Morecambe, Rochdale, Blackpool and Girona. Personally I don’t think the majority of these teams provided any insight in to how the squad would handle the Championship come the 6th August. So I have opted for teams likely to be of the same level and potential “curtain raiser” type games, with: Angers, Falkirk, Aalborg, Bolton, Everton and Hertha Berlin.

Second task: clear out the deadwood. Although I have a relatively healthy transfer kitty, to try and keep this as true to life as possible I am going to try and not spend this money, or this money in its entirety (as said before, Coyle should really have been given at least some of the Hanley/Duffy money). I don’t have much to play with in the squad, but I have made Wharton and Nyiambe available for loan so they can get some first team experience ideally in League 1, and I have kept Connnor Mahoney in the reserves but with a view to blood him in to the 1st team as the season progresses. Finally, I have promoted Lenehan to the 1st team to provide backup for the defence and central midfield.

Finally, I have started the hunt for free transfers, loanees and cheap deals – ideally I am looking to bring in exciting young players for the Premiership and/or abroad and provide experience with players who are just getting over the hill and/or have experience at Championship level, both staying up and pushing for promotion. Two names which immediately come to mind are Marcus Rashford and Fosuh-Mensah from Manchester United but it quickly becomes evident I have little chance of getting them.

Pre-season is not exactly a resounding success but hopefully by picking more challenging opponents I have better prepared my side for the slog of the Championship:

  • 18/07/16 Rovers 1 v 2 Angers (Marshall)
  • 22/07/16 Falkirk 0 v 1 Rovers (Samuelson)
  • 25/07/16 Aalborg 3 v 2 Rovers (Samuelson, Stokes)
  • 28/07/16 Bolton 1 v 0 Rovers
  • 01/08/16 Everton 3 v 1 Rovers (Williams)
  • 08/08/16 Rovers 0 v 2 Rosenborg (Hertha Berlin declined the friendly invitation)

At the end of pre-season the board have advised that they are looking forward to a long and successful era, so they obviously haven’t read too much in to the pre-season results. Either that, or they just haven’t paid any attention to them. During the pre-season games I have noticed that we have too many midfielders who are too similar – this has made selecting the central midfield difficult so a number of options have been tried, with me yet to settle on a midfield pairing. On the flip-side, it is evident that we don’t have enough quality strikers and not enough full backs.

Pre-season verdict: I can’t decide on my best midfield and/or centre back, I don’t have enough fire power and 4-4-2 doesn’t seem to be the answer. To solve my striker problems I have turned to David “The Nuge” Nugent who has signed for £1m and £5k/week.

Start of the Season – August 2016

The first game of the season is upon us and sees us away to promotion hopefuls Derby County, with the game being broadcast live on Sky Sports, putting my first game in charge properly under the spotlight.

15/08/16 Result: Derby 2 v 0 Rovers

It’s not a great start and I am still to settle on a formation – I tried out 4-4-1-1 but this didn’t work; I need to decide on a starting 11 and stick to it. The only positive was that moving Ben Marshall to just behind the front 2 for the last 10 minutes seem to make us more of a threat.

To try and bring a bit of steel in to the team and stop the leaking of goals I’ve decided to switch formation to a 4-2-1-2-1 with two defensive midfielders (Lenihan and Akpan) in front of the back four, one central midfields (Guthrie), and with two attacking wingers supporting the lone striker.

22/08/16 Result: Rovers 1 v 0 Nottingham Forest (Bennet)

It seems to have worked.

25/08/16 League Cup Result: Walsall 0 v 2 Rovers (Stokes x2)

29/08/16 Result: Bristol City 1 v 4 Rovers (Marshal, Bennet, Stokes x2)

31/08/16 Result: Rovers 1 v 0 Burton Albion (Nugent)

At the end of August we find ourselves 3rd in the Championship with a record of played 4, won 3 and lost 1 on a total of 9 points. The change to a more defensive approach seems to have provided that added protection to the back four and doesn’t seem to have led to the goals drying up. A positive start to the season. The only downside is David Raya is unhappy that he wasn’t allowed to leave the club to join Aston Villa for £1.5m and as a result has rejected a new contract. The reason for turning down the bid is because a) we are short on goalkeepers at the club, and b) I see him as the future number 1 of the club for a significant time.

September 2016

To start September off, the Board have announced that they are encouraged by the start I have made.

12/09/16 Result: Rovers 2 v 0 Barnsley (Akpan, Marshall)

16/09/16 Result: Birmingham 1 v 0 Rovers

19/09/16 Result: Rovers 0 v 2 Ipswich

23/09/16 League Cup Result: Scunthorpe 3 v 1 Rovers AET (Conway)

Three losses on the bounce are a concern but the last can be attributed to changes made for the cup. The disappointing result was Ipswich at home, what is a worry is the lack of goals.

26/09/16 Result: Rovers 0 v 0 Leeds – the rot has hopefully stopped

30/09/16 Result: QPR 0 v 0 Rovers

I finish the month of September off in 8th position and hopefully the two stalemates at the end of the month can provide a platform to build from again. However, scoring only 2 goals in 5 league games is a concern and I may have to look at changing formation to get more goals, however, this could be at the expense of the defensive solidarity which has mostly been evident thus far during the season.

October

The monthly Board appraisal is that they are pleased with general performance – the good start made may be detrimental in the long run this season, setting expectations a bit too high perhaps.

03/10/16 Result: Reading 0 v 2 Rovers (Marshall, Williams)

10/10/16 Result: Rovers 0 v 2 Huddersfield

During the month an offer is received for Ben Marshall from Leeds United for just shy of £1m which could be too good to turn down for a player who will likely want away at some point during the season. I negotiated the offer and to ensure we are not left short agreed a fee of £925k plus Stuart Dallas. The transfer will go through on the 1st January 2017. The only issue this may cause is that Marshall may have to be dropped for the remember of games before the New Year to get used to playing without him.

17/10/16 Result: Brighton 0 v 0 Rovers

20/10/16 Result: Rovers 2 v 3 Rotherham (Stokes x2) – we were getting murdered in this game in the first half so I switched formation to a 4-1-2-2-1 which bore fruits as we were 3-0 down at half time. As we have been struggling to find the net in recent games I’ve decided to stick with this formation for upcoming games.

24/10/16 Result: Preston 3 v 1 Rovers (Bennett)

It seems the switch did not work and only led to conceding more goals, perhaps an away game that is a derby wasn’t the best game to start trying it. Following two losses on the bounce I have decided to switch back to the trusted 4-2-1-2-1 to try and stop the mini-rot.

28/10/16 Result: Blackburn 0 v 3 Sheffield Wednesday

30/10/16 Result: Aston Villa 2 v 0 Rovers

October has not been a great month and has seen a number of losses which have then been followed by changes to formations and players which have not worked. We finish the month in 17th place, a drastic drop from 3rd in the space of two months. The board are still satisfied with general performance – which is a bit of shock.

November 2016

07/11/16 Result: Rovers 1 v 2 Cardiff (Nugent)

Following yet another loss I change formation to a 4-1-4-1 in an attempt to try and win the midfield battle.

21/11/16 Result: Rovers 0 v 2 Newcastle

27/11/16 Result: Wolves 2 v 1 Rovers (Williams)

Despite being a relatively short month due to international fixtures we have lost all 3 games and conceded 2 goals in each game and only scored 2 – this leaves us 21st in the division, with some supporters calling for change. The Board advise that they are satisfied with performance but concerned about recent form, adding, that I should ignore the calls for my resignation.

December 2016

05/12/16 Result: Rovers 0 v 4 Norwich – a four nil loss at home is never good, and does nothing to help the noises getting louder calling for change. To try and further stop the rot, the formation is changed yet again back to 4-2-1-2-1.

09/12/16 Result: Brentford 1 v 0 Rovers

13/12/16 Result: Fulham 2 v 0 Rovers

19/12/16 Result: Nottingham Forest 2 v 0 Rovers

The last thing I need on the back of a poor month was a big defeat at home to start the month and then three away games.

After the Nottingham Forest game I am relieved of my duties, which is no surprise given the way the last 3 months have gone. After a positive start it seems that my meddling with formations to get more goals and prevent 0-0 draws has been my undoing, and like Alan Pardew, I seem incapable of stopping a losing run. I am sacked on the 19th December sitting one place above the relegation zone with 20 points – in real life, at Christmas Owen Coyle had just 1 point more than me on 21 but sat within the relegation places. It is a disappointment as after the positive start I was hoping to at least get enough points on the board early enough to ensure survival with an outside chance of making the play offs but it wasn’t to be. What I can say is that maybe the job Owen Coyle is doing isn’t that bad given my experience.

My problem was keeping clean sheets and scoring goals – we could keep clean sheets but then couldn’t score goals. At least Coyle has got the strikers and midfielders chipping in with goals, even if we are conceding a lot at the back. That said, if I had been happy with 0-0’s I probably wouldn’t have got the sack and we would have been around mid-table. What this ‘experiment’ does show is that if Coyle can find a way of tightening up the defence, and we continue to score goals in real life as we are doing – we have half a chance of survival!

Experiment outcome = Failure

I think next time I start a game of Champ Manager I’ll stick to playing it as a game and aiming for football domination, rather than trying to stay true to real life. After all, when in real life would Blackburn Rovers win the Champions League by beating Real Madrid in the final with goals from David Goodwillie and Nelson Oliveira?

Experiment Attempt No.2

Despite only signing two players (Speroni as a backup keeper and Ryan Gauld for the future) I managed to get an 11th place finish, a Board who are happy with my performance, and a bright outlook on the next season. 

Season 1 – 11th placed finished, 64 points, 12 points off play-offs and +20 points above relegation

I like to think that had we started the season in real-life under Tony Mowbray we would’ve finished somewhere similar.

 

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