Hindsight, At Last
I like FM 2005 too much. I know I do. I can't help fawning over it embarrassingly, like a four-year-old with a kitten that burps soap bubbles. And a lot of that is because of these alternative histories.
I know that it isn't a game without faults. It has bugs and niggles, some surviving from its predecessor, Championship Manager 4, some new. Relationships with other managers and your players are overly reliant on formulaic statements and can become repetitive. It doesn't always get the right balance between making me feel important and making me feel like I'm just another manager in a ruthless and ever-moving business. Every time Rafael Benitez adds yet another central midfielder to the Liverpool squad, apparently basing his transfer policy on the age-old tactic of 'buying anyone that Wolverhampton Wanderers might want or need,' FM 2005 breaks reality, a little bit.
But all that only matters because, at its best, FM 2005 is plausible. Sometimes eccentric, sometimes absurd, but somehow still plausible.
I see hard times ahead, Middlesbrough
You know what? If Graeme Souness hadn't been fired the season before, and that sacking hadn't marked the beginning of a free fall from sanity that would ultimately conclude with Newcastle's relegation to the secondary tier of English football, I reckon they could have won the league in 2007. At least. Probably the UEFA Cup and everything.
And Messi could so easily have gone the other way. He could have been yet another example of the youngster who nearly made it big but fell at the last minute; another casualty of the aggressive recruitment policies of major clubs. Maybe he had the talent but not the nous, or trained hard but was just too small.
This makes sense in FM 2005; a game governed by factors partly pre-calculated and partly random, and by numbers rather than emotions or the human will. It doesn't matter how little semblance these events bear to what actually happened in the real world.
But then, is real-life all that it's cracked up to be anyway, really? In comparison to the normal, prosaic happenings of the past it simulates, FM 2005 is like catching the neighbours' mangy dog sneaking in and crapping a Fabergé egg on your floor.
The game can't unwage a war, rebalance a financial crisis, or even resurrect your goldfish. But within its bounds Luton Town and Boston United need never enter administration. Fernando Torres doesn't have to waste three and a half good years of his life at Liverpool. Mike Ashley doesn't even have to exist. Instead, Chelsea might get relegated, a non-Old Firm side could win the SPL and Didier Drogba might sign for Norwich.
All of these events are possible, except that last one. That's too ridiculous. Oh. FM 2005 didn't – couldn't – get everything right and that’s its most exciting feature – that it isn’t afraid to look foolish or to fail. It’s the only simulator that isn’t afraid to deviate or get things wrong, and that gives it both great grace and humour in a market clogged with titles that favour the safe path.