The Soccer Manager 2016 Challenge: September
Posted on 26th October 2015
The term ‘World XI’ and Watford FC might appear to be as dubious a partnership as Roy Evans and Gerard Houllier, but the newly promoted Premier League outfit are notorious for their global range of players.
Loading up their squad list at the start of Soccer Manager 16 reveals an astonishing TWENTY THREE different nationalities.
There are more tongues going on than a youth disco.
Which prompts the obvious challenge – give the Watford squad a homegrown overhaul, while avoiding relegation.
Without wanting to sound like a questionable UKIP campaign, my mission is to transform the Hornets’ line-up to contain players solely from English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh or Northern Irish backgrounds.
It’s something approaching mission impossible – I’m no Tom Cruise, but I am similarly diminutive, which should qualify me for a starring role.
This is my diary as I play through the challenge.
To read August’s diary, click here.
Phew, what a flurry of a first month proper at the helm.
Though my rebuilding of the squad isn’t complete, I’m relieved that the window has shut for a few months – after signing 13 players for more than £40million, and shipping out 19 to make space for them.
And, actually, the squad has at least retained its strength, with arrivals such as Phil Jagielka (90), Phil Jones (89), Joe Allen (88), and Steven Davis (88) all upgrades.
The one shortfall is in goal, with Paul Robinson (82) a three-point drop on the departed Heurelho Gomes and Giedrius Arlauskis.
With working with what I’ve got in mind, I plough £250,000 into improving the training ground, investing the 200 Coins I’ve earned from results so far to effect the upgrade immediately.
My youth coaches inform me of a new prospect in my squad, Welsh midfielder Lloyd Dummett, who has a potential rating of 90.
Currently rated 70, though, he has a long way to improve – and is already 19. I’m not pinning my hopes on him becoming the next Kenny Jackett just yet.
Next up is another of the league’s ‘day out’ fixtures – a trip to Liverpool and Anfield, where new boys Scott Sinclair and Wayne Routledge will make their debut.
Talk about in at the deep end.
From the off, Sinclair is a livewire – pulling makeshift left back Emre Can (88) out of position and dragging an early shot wide.
Liverpool don’t heed the warning, though, as he repeats the trick, finding Davis in the area to give us an unlikely lead.
A minute later, and it’s the other debutant taking centre stage, Routledge heading home from a corner and, before that’s even sunk in, the referee has awarded us a penalty, which Troy Deeney dispatches – three goals in five incredible minutes.
Another five minutes later, and it’s four – Davis again finding space in the area to cap a, frankly, ridiculous first half.
The second half is one of the most boring 45 minutes of football you’re likely to see, but there were no complaints on the Watford bench.
It’s quite a contrast from our previous return home from the North West, after the brutal spanking by Manchester United.
I receive a text saying the board is ‘very pleased’ with the result, and that they hope the team performs ‘just as well’ in future fixtures.
Yeah, right-o, 4-0 away wins are the norm at Watford.
Next up, we host West Ham, and I’m obviously not making any changes – this lot were dynamite last time out.
And the match starts as though nothing’s changed, with Routledge streaking down the left, before squaring for Sinclair to break the deadlock, their instant impact continuing.
All is well, and Robinson even makes a save. This management lark is easy.
And then everything changes.
West Ham hit back twice after half time, first Cheikhou Kouyate heads home a left flank cross, and then Manuel Lanzini – a veritable midget, which I can say as a short-stuff myself – nods in a corner. It’s a sickener.
They’re all over us, and only wasteful finishing from Andy Carroll stops the result from being a formality.
He’ll rue those misses, as we snatch back a share of the spoils when Shane Long pokes home after some penalty box pinball.
Boy, that was tough, and my squad is shattered. Four days later, we have another visitor from the capital, as Millwall show up for the League Cup second round.
With a paper-thin group to select from, and Premier League survival a priority, I have to make changes.
Yeah, I’m gonna do a Wenger and stick out the reserves – making ten changes, with Robinson remaining in goal as the only constant.
And, long story short, we get knocked out. Two down at half time, we rally slightly after the break to half the deficit, but there’ll be no more League Cup exploits for Watford this season.
With just three days until the next match, though, the sacrifice at least means a fully fit team for the trip to Crystal Palace – the sort of match where the points are on offer.
Those wingers might be the greatest signings I could’ve made – and all on an impulse.
Panic buying? No, never. Brilliant recruitment, more like.
Anyway, Sinclair and Routledge combine to give us another away lead, with the former’s deep cross headed into the area by the latter, where Long has learned to lurk – the Irish international poking home his fourth goal of the season.
Another good bit of business.
Signing Robinson, less so – as he flaps at a Yohan Cabaye (91) free kick, and presents an open goal to the obliging Dwight Gayle.
A flurry of yellow cards are handed out – this match is more testy than my underpants – which overshadows the spectacle of the second half.
Just as I accept that it’s petering out for a draw, up pops Gayle (84) again to snatch all three points for the Eagles.
Worse, midfielder Davis is ruled out for 11 weeks by injury, and I get an arsey message from the board.
I have little choice but to spend the 500 SM Coins on sending him to a top notch surgeon and getting him fit back for the next match.
Next up are Arsenal, in a Super Sunday clash – with the Gunners knowing that a victory over little old Watford would send them top of the league.
For little reason other than trying to avoid laziness, I make some tactical changes: swapping Ben Watson into the line up at the expense of James McArthur, emphasising the importance of wing play, and crossing my fingers behind my back for the duration of the clash.
Jagielka hauls down Olivier Giroud (91) early on, and that’s just about that, I conclude – but Robinson, always my favourite signing, claws the resulting penalty away beautifully.
Alexis Sanchez (94) gets another chance from the spot in the second half, when Joe Allen trips Mesut Ozil, and this time Robinson is helpless – the useless git.
They waste so many chances to double their lead, it’s ridiculous, and I start to expect an equaliser.
I throw on the inspirational Deeney to tie up the Roy of the Rovers storyline nicely, and he promptly makes a hash of three decent openings.
Arsenal hold on, and I’m relieved only to have to play them twice a season.
A very brief news story from the Watford Observer drops into my inbox – “Lee Price will be upset with their team as they lost 0-1 against Arsenal.”
Concise, but to the point.
But, overall, I’m rather satisfied with how things have gone – we end September in the heady heights of 13th, above the likes of Newcastle and Everton.
Although, at this early stage, we’re just two points off the drop zone.
Still, I’ve lasted eight league matches at the helm, which must be some kind of record for this club.
About the author – Lee Price
Lee Price is a journalist and author with a passion for football, and crucially, virtual football management.