FM21 – A Blaugrana Tale, Chapter 1: Introduction

This guest series is written by my good friend Harry, who has chosen to make himself miserable for your enjoyment. Let’s go along for the ride on what is sure to be a roller-coaster ride to the, well, either the top or bottom of the European football mountain. -Isaiah

Chapter One – Introduction

Throughout my managerial career my name has rung out from many stands and been howled ruefully by opposing supporters: heads were turned when my Orlando City team won the Supporters’ Shield by 25 points; ‘Neymar’ became a popular boy’s name in Yorkshire when the 18-year-old joined Sheffield Wednesday, then in League One, and became their all-time top scorer on their way to a hattrick of Premier Leagues; bloggers furiously chronicled my exploits as Coventry won League One, conceding only 16 goals, and followed that up with a Champions’ League three years later; people gasped as Kaiser Chiefs knocked out Milan to win the Club World Cup; and fans had to come up with a whole new range of chants as Tonton Zola Moukoko and Cherno Samba helped Arsenal knock Man Utd of their perch at the beginning of the century. 

 

And, of course, if any of you point out that all of this was on a computer simulation and not in real life then that is violence. 

But there comes a time in a manager’s life when he wonders whether it’s all getting a bit too easy. Wouldn’t it be better to throw myself into a real challenge? Take a proper basket case of a club and try to make something of it? 

And so, with an air of crushing inevitability… 

In only the third strangest thing to happen to Barcelona in the summer of 2020, Ronald Koeman is turfed out of the hot seat after a day and replaced by me. As we all know, there’s a big rebuilding job to be done and I can’t guarantee immediate success. It’s going to be a long and rocky road and I think we should all calibrate our expectations to an appropriate level. So I’m glad the board is fully behind me. Well, let’s take a looksie round the squad shall we? 

In goal, I’m not too worried. Ter Stegen is the clear number 1 and Neto is a big step down but I’m not overly worried. He’ll be good enough for the first couple of months while MATS is out and then can find himself a nice comfy spot on the bench. Besides, second choice goalkeeper is a pretty tough position to buy for and I want to avoid shopping there until I have to. 

Right back is a bit more tricky. Sergi Roberto works hard and is nice to have around as a mascot and reminder of when the team actually used to win European ties by large margins but I’m a bit more suspect about his, well, ability to play football. Sergino Dest is a bit more of an unknown quantity. My coaches rate his potential quite highly so we’ll hope he reaches that pretty damn quickly. 

Jordi Alba is kind of the opposite of Roberto: talented but his physical attributes mean we’re going to need good cover for him. Firpo is fine but not going to get better. Definite room for improvement. 

Oh dear. Pique is the best defender but he can’t run, which might be an issue. Neither can Araujo but he isn’t even a good defender in the first place. Umtiti is basically dead by this point and I need Frenkie de Jong for the midfield. Lenglet is, well, Lenglet. Another definite item on the shopping list, although I don’t know if going back in time to sign Carles Puyol c.2008 is possible in this edition of the game. 

Wait a minute, hear me out. The midfield looks… okay? It’s a bit like one of those Brazilian or Argentinian domestic teams where everyone is either a veteran or a youngster but there’s definitely something to work with there. Pedri, Alena and Puig look like they might turn into something special, with the emphasis on might. I have strong doubts about Busquets and Pjanic, especially for the season after this but, to borrow a phrase heard a lot in the Barca boardroom recently, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. 

A few things to ponder here. Griezmann is great and Messi is Messi so we’ll just have to find a way to keep them out of one another’s way. Ansu Fati is good and is only going to get better but I am still, all these hours later, wondering what exactly Martin Braithwaite is. We could definitely do with some cover here, although I suppose that’s how we ended up with Braithwaite in the first place. I wonder what Olivier Giroud is up to these days? 

There’s not much available in the kitty but I suppose Coutinho’s salary doesn’t grow on trees. A centre back and a left back for starters, I think, and then a striker if there’s anything left over. Shouldn’t be too difficult. 

But first let’s meet the players. In they shuffle, taking their seats and talking amongst themselves. “Where’s Xavi?” I hear them say. “Who’s this bloke? Is he a warm up act?” 

I’m touched by their good natured joshing as they turn their expectant little faces up to me. 

Was it something I said? 

Next – Transfers and pre-season

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Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater New York City area with his wife and daughter.