Mr. Burns once said in The Simpsons that to succeed in business you must slay the following “dragons”: family, religion and friends. Substitute “religion” with “degree” and you have the perfect recipe for success in this virtual world, where with sufficient playing time, you actually begin to believe that you are the manager of Real Madrid, who happen to have won every trophy possible under your expert stewardship.
And then you wake up, and realise it was all a dream. Well, almost. Over the years, Football Manager has, quite literally, led to the breakdown of marriages, and contributed to social isolation far beyond the capabilities of other procrastination devices such as Facebook and YouTube. The amount of time users spent playing the game caused so much concern to its creators that they introduced a humorous “clock”, which informs you how long you have spent playing Football Manager in total, and on the day in question.
Personally, I’m both slightly proud and rather uncomfortable that I have spent 611 hours playing (and that is just on FM2011) in what is essentially a virtual world. In that time, I have succeeded at countless clubs, filled their trophy cabinets and signed hundreds and hundreds of players. Yet, like getting your character a good job on The Sims, it counts for nothing.
Fortunately, as a single man, I can afford to get away with such an addiction. But many cannot. Your girlfriend will not (and rightly so) put up with nights in spent watching you play the away leg of a Champions League quarter final managing Lincoln City or an equally inexplicable side. Nor should she.
The game has also blurred the boundaries between reality and fantasy. Players have been known to complain about their in-game stats, reflecting the esteem in which Football Manager is held. A friend of mine played last year’s incarnation of the series for such a long time that a “son”, bearing the same name, was generated for him. Yes, a son. You heard correctly.
However, Football Manager’s success makes it a surprisingly important part of modern football. This is in the real world now. Premier League clubs, including Everton, have been known to use the game’s vast network of players, more than 300,000, located by 1,500 scouts in 51 countries. Creator Miles Jacobsen calls it “the greatest spread-sheet in the world”. And who would argue with him?