With the release of Football Manager 2017 this week, it is time we return to the genesis of the much-heralded Championship Manager series’ fledgling offshoot and see what footballing life would have been like had the alternate reality of Football Manager 2005 come true. Leaving the game to run for two weeks advanced the clock eleven years to 2016, and some interesting results have arisen, to say the least.
Messi sits with his feet up; looking around, he’s surrounded my memorabilia from a glittering career. He peruses his collection of trophies – eight La Liga, four Copa Del Rey and four Champions League winning medals. At the young age of 29, the five-time World Player of the Year starts to think of where else his career will take him and the dizzying heights he could still reach.
A knock at the door jolts Lionel back to reality. Instead of the plush Barcelona mansion he so often dreams of, he sees just drab walls in a fair-sized, albeit disappointing, two up and two down. He opens the door; Manuel Preciado, his manager at Murcia since his free transfer from Barcelona B in 2005, enters. His move from Rosario in Argentina hadn’t turned out quite how he or his family had hoped. They’d planned such great things for little Lionel. The growth hormones were going to help him surmount the final barrier between his undoubted talent and super stardom. He never, however, managed to make that final step. Frank Rijkaard was unable to put faith in the young Argentine, and Messi left with his tail between his legs to Murcia.
Leo is a first-team regular but is growing increasingly frustrated at constantly bobbing around mid- to low-table. Preciado has stopped by, as he does regularly to try and get the most out of his talented little player. He still holds out hope for Messi, who is yet to record a single cap for his country. Arsenal’s Fernando Cavenaghi and Newcastle’s Cesar Carignano have made up Argentina’s front-line for as long as anyone can remember.
Messi has just spent the closed season watching the European Championships. Defending champions after an impressive 2-1 win against Italy back in 2012, England went into the tournament as favourites. A strong team since their surprise win in the 2006 World Cup, Messi remembers how he looked on with envy as James Beattie won the Golden Boot, how he dreamt of the moment he’d be leading goalscorer in a World Cup.
Chris Kirkland had been solid at the back but the 2016 final proved too much as he let in a late winner from Sweden midfield maestro Kim Kallstrom. Tom Huddleston and Kris Commons bossed the midfield for large parts of the game and were unlucky to end up as eventual losers. Manager David Beckham has the team playing adventurous, expansive football that wins over neutrals like Messi.
But it was Colombia’s World Cup win in 2014 that hurt the most. Messi watched from home as his beloved Argentina went out in the quarter-finals to the tournament winners following a single goal from West Ham’s Jhon Jairo Mosquera. Mosquera, with 58 goals in just 73 appearances, has a fine scoring record, putting him right up there with world-class forwards like Arsenal’s Dagoberto; two-time World Player of the Year Rooney; or current holder Vagner Love, of Bayern Munich.
Messi looks to the English Premiership for inspiration; English clubs have comprised half of the Champions League winners pool since his professional career started back in 2005. The globe’s best managers continue to ply their trade in England, and he often wonders what it would be like to play under the likes of Steve Coppell, Paul Sturrock, Sammy Lee and Billy Davies.
He looks on at Manchester United’s star attacker Freddy Adu. The American is the World’s most expensive player and has helped United to victory in Europe’s top competition no less than three times. Two years Messi’s junior, Adu has totally eclipsed the player so many thought would become the best and most entertaining in the world. His partnership with Ronaldo is legendary, forming the infamous WAR front-line along along with Rooney.
Leo Messi leaves the house to stretch his legs. He finds that a walk around the streets of Murcia often helps bring himself back down to Earth when his thoughts drift to what could have been. He comes across a small park where a dozen or so kids have gathered for a kick-around and wanders over to take a closer look at the next generation of footballers. He spots two of them starting to get a little heated with each other; as he gets closer to identify the route of commotion, he hears them arguing over who will receive the honor of impersonating Freddy Adu. Messi turns around and finds himself surrounded by the little kids, all wearing Manchester United shirts with Adu written on the back.
His breath shortens and he feels a dark veil coming over him. He has to get away, away from his own failures.
As he wanders back to his house, hands in pockets, he sees a strange sight as a car lands in front of him. The wing doors open and two people get out: a tall, fuzzy-haired man with a lab coat and a younger, black man with a bald head in his late twenties. Messi thinks the younger individual bears an uncanny resemblance to Freddy Adu, but wipes his eyes and puts it down to the stress of the day. He peers inside and sees the date 01 July 2005 on a display below the dashboard. Messi finds himself involuntarily entering the car door, which closes behind him with a woosh…
Messi opens the door to find himself on the same street, yet everything seems so much newer, so much cleaner. He turns to his right and sees a small young man in a suit walking down the street. He recognises the young man as himself. It must have been the day he went to finally sign the contract to move to Murcia, leaving his Barcelona dreams behind.
Messi runs over to his younger self, shouting, “How would you like to be rich?” The younger Messi looks at his elder, puzzled, but responding, “Sure.” The elder continues: “Don’t sign for Murcia. Stay with Barcelona and you’ll be given your big chance. You’ll go from strength to strength.”
“What’s the catch?”
“No catch,” replies the older Messi. “But keep this a secret. And be careful. One day a crazy wild-eyed scientist or a black man with no hair may show up convincing you to move elsewhere, and if that ever happens…”