As I write this today, I am on the 16th October 2023 in my Football Manager 2015 career as manager of Cardiff Metropolitan University in the Welsh Premier League. I’m now in a situation, nine seasons in, when management of the club is becoming serious business.
You see, I played around with the pre-game editor before starting this game in June 2015. I changed things around to put Cardiff Met into the Welsh Premier, made them professional and gave them a few grand in the bank for my first season. I’ve never cheated in any domestic games, but I have reloaded after results didn’t go my way in European competition.
In the spring of 2022, I was knocked out of the Champions League by Manchester City in the Quarter Final, and lost to Manchester United in the first knockout round earlier in 2023. I’ve managed to, singlehandedly, raise Wales’ European coefficient to a sufficient level that from the 2024/25 season, Wales will have two clubs enter the third round of qualifiers for the Champions League, along with two clubs in the Europa League third round of qualifiers, and one club in the second round. This is an improvement from entering one club in the first round of the Champions League, and three clubs in the first round of Europa League qualifying.
The Welsh Premier League now sits 33rd in the European rankings with two and half stars, I can’t even remember how low down the rankings the League was at the start of the game. I have a win percentage of 75%, and haven’t lost in the League for two years, or 65 games stretching back to 2nd October 2021. I should be loving life, but this season looks set to be my toughest yet.
I have £20 million in the bank. That money is only there because of prize money and television revenue I receive from competing in the Champions League. My average league attendance at my 2000 seater stadium at Cyncoed Campus sits at around 420 fans a game. That’s fifth on the list, with the best supported team, and perennial runners up, The New Saints getting crowds averaging 1,200. They’re on a lovely upward curve, having doubled their attendance since the 2018/19 season. I require regular European competition to afford to survive, and will soon rely on other Welsh clubs to perform in Europe to secure automatic qualification to the Champions League group stage.
Thanks to the low reputation of the League, despite my recent European success, my club reputation sits at two and half stars, or “National”. My best players regularly have their heads turned by larger clubs, and those I keep, I have to pay extortionate amounts (£21K a week for some) to keep them playing for me.
My star defender, homegrown Kim Cahill was sold to Glasgow Rangers this past summer for £2.3 million. He had been eager for a move for a couple of seasons, and if I tried to keep him any longer, his unhappiness would have spread through the squad. The good news? There are a healthy number of clauses in the deal which mean money will keep rolling in after club and international appearance targets are met.
Harry Wilson, who started his career at Liverpool, came to me on a free signing after leaving Leeds last season. This summer, Sunderland snapped him up for £6 million, with add-ons to come as well. A tidy return for one season, but another quality player who has left. Money this time, rather than unhappiness was the reason. For a club struggling to keep a healthy balance sheet, I couldn’t say no to £6 million. With other summer departures, my central defensive pairing is reliant on a 30 year old Jack Baldwin who I signed a couple of years ago for £2.2 million, and loan signing, 22 year old Jef Deweerdt from Sunderland.
My lead striker is a 22 year old Italian, Christian Rega, on loan from Arsenal. He is now in his fourth season on loan from the London club, and I am paying £9K a week towards his contract, and £40K a month to Arsenal for his services. Without him, reaching the European knock-out rounds would be nigh-on impossible.
I have talented youngsters coming through the ranks (and Rafael from Manchester United), but am eternally juggling giving my first-team squad enough playing time to keep them happy and game time to develop my youngsters.
Recruitment (Rafael apart) is extremely tough. I can’t afford the transfer fees top players require, and the best loan stars often look down on my team thanks to our poor reputation. Judicious transfers are the name of the game, but losing two pivotal centre backs over the summer is a major blow as recruiting quality centre backs on my budget is extremely challenging.
I’m still having fun though, and it is with pleasure that I see our great training and youth facilities. I am hamstrung by my low attendances which are holding the club back financially, and improving my reputation through European football is a long term task.
This season might be my toughest yet, and I will face future battles to keep my top players when bids come for them. Can I improve our standing in the international game without losing my team? I don’t know, but I do know that management, it isn’t a walk in the park.