It would be fair to describe the FFT writing staff as big fans of the Football Manager series. While other children were out playing real football in the sunshine, we were combing the Austrian third division for wunderkinds, slipping on our Sunday best for cup finals and imagining which of our regens we'd be friends with at uni.
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Naturally, the release of Football Manager 2021 got us all bickering. Who had the best career save? Who uncovered the greatest gem? Who's lying about never turning the computer off and on again when losing a crucial match?
With that in mind, we set up a little Q&A with each of our writers and asked them to share their best tales, tips, cult heroes, teams and saves of years gone by. No, that doesn't make us cool, but the fact you're still reading this suggests you aren't either. We hope you enjoy!
How much do you play Football Manager?
Ed McCambridge: I’m completely addicted to it and have been for about 15 years. I remember one glorious summer of unemployment when I did nothing but play it for 10 hours a day instead of looking for real-life jobs. My dad actually had a sit-down chat with me about it - it was completely necessary.
Joe Brewin: In my heart, I will always love FM like a first romance. In my head, I’m now on the verge of turning 30 with a baby on the way. No longer can I stay up through the night to tend to the fortunes of Swansea City with my mate on a net game, then go to bed when it gets light again.
Mark White: I’m one of “those” people. I used to have a whiteboard in my flat with magnets on in a 4-3-3 formation of my old Sevilla team and had to explain it to a man fixing my washing machine.
What team do you like to start with?
EM: Hansa Rostock. Thirty-thousand fans in Germany’s third-tier and a great youth set-up? Ja, bitte. I’m a big fan of German football anyway, but the shorter seasons mean you fly through campaigns; there are only 18 teams in each division and just the one domestic cup to compete in. I also get a concerning amount of satisfaction in helping a former GDR team return to its rightful place in the top tier. I know how weird that sounds.
JB: League One or below was always my bag, trawling the place for bargains and youth products on loan. You can keep your Premier League dreams.
MW: You can’t move for young talent in France so last year I started with Bordeaux, building a side of mostly home-grown under-23s to challenge Paris Saint-Germain’s stronghold. I believe the fans still reminisce about my back four of Jamie Shackleton, Benoit Badiashile, Thomas Basila and Alphonso Davies. (Yes, I discovered Davies and played him as a left-back before Bayern made it cool.)
Do you ever manage your own team?
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EM: No. If you want to turn Fulham into world-beaters you have to sell everyone you love.
JB: Good God, no – there wasn’t much to break with a crap real-life Leicester side of the noughties, but that was always my fear. No one wants to get booted out of their own club.
MW: Last year I did a save with Arsenal, yes. I built my team with a 4-4-2 to resemble the Invincibles, eventually replacing an ageing Aubameyang with Mbappe, in that Thierry Henry role as the striker on the left. It’s much easier to manage your own club on FM when you literally do no worse. That was the saving grace of Unai Emery.
What is your greatest achievement on any version of the game?
EM: I once took Brighton & Hove Albion to the final of the Europa League, where we lost to Basel. My university housemates watched it with me and were very kind afterwards.
JB: Unlike everyone else who seems to play the game, I don’t have a tale of taking Sutton United into the Champions League final. Clearly, I just wasn’t very good at it. But on FM 2006, my favourite ever game was taking an Oxford side in the Conference up to the Championship, via LDV Vans glory. Gareth Jelleyman was throwing no wobblies in that team.
MW: I won the Champions League with Bournemouth a few years back. My friend Charlotte likes to remind me how I spent £35m on Tammy Abraham only for him to score three goals all season. One of them was the winner against Juventus in a European semi-final, so who’s the real genius?
Do you accept other jobs during the game?
EM: Never. I get Steve Bruce levels of satisfaction rejecting England too.
JB: Depends on how bored I’d get with a game – but rarely. I’d generally just find it more fun to start a new game with a random team, like… er, Sedan in France. They were absolutely terrible.
MW: I’m currently really happy at Benfica, I feel like my ambitions are matched by the chairman and I don’t want to comment on other vacancies at this time.
How do you watch the games?
EM: 2D match engine, maximum speed, key highlights only, no replays. I’m a busy man… Oh, and I also sit on an upturned bucket in my bedroom.
JB: 2D aerial view ‘til I die. Don’t give me any of that 3D nonsense.
MW: 2D match engine, high-speed. Just how Guardiola himself watches Manchester City, I believe.
What’s your go-to formation?
EM: 4-5-1, very rigid. The aim of the game is to win games, not play nice football and I don’t care how that makes me sound.
MW: 4-3-3. I like to sort my defensive midfielders first and then build outwards. I have a Bielsa-like obsession with converting players into other positions, too; I love putting a tough centre-back in midfield to play the Kante role or moving a midfielder into an inverted full-back role. It gives me satisfaction to think that fans see me as a tactical genius.
Who is your favourite ever player in the game?
EM: Yaya Sanogo on FM11 was an unbelievable goalscorer. The driving force behind the aforementioned run to Europa League final. I’d love to say he missed that one through injury but he just didn’t turn up - none of us did.
JB: Back to that Oxford game. As a 15-year-old, I’d never heard of Ibrahima Bakayoko. I certainly didn’t know he’d ever been an FM god in a past life. But there he was, a free transfer waiting to be picked in League Two, in his early thirties. I’ve got no idea why he said yes, but he did – and Christ, he was glorious. Top goalscorer for two seasons running, 35+ consistently, with silverware to his name. Then he realised he was much better than us and left. Tears on the virtual streets of Oxford.
MW: Real players? Yassine Benzia had a bizarre ability to just bag in important games despite average stats. Shoutout to Timothy Fosu-Mensah, too. Regens? Jarrad Richardson came through my Arsenal academy, won golden boots and captained England to World Cup glory in 2026. The Wilshere that never was.
Truthfully, have you turned it off and on after a bad result?
EM: Yes, and anyone who says no is a liar.
JB: I honestly can’t remember – but surely. Hasn’t everyone? I definitely have accidentally lost hours of play and then done worse when I had to replay those games afterwards, though. Imagine.
MW: Don’t we all? Two of my mates and I took this to the extreme one year though. We took over Real Madrid, signed 40+ goalkeepers to play outfield and put 55-year-old forward Peter Hinds in goal, pioneering a 5-5 formation purely of AMs and STs. We averaged a 25-0 loss every game but surprisingly only got sacked in early November. Half the Real squad announced they were retiring at the end of that season.
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