The idea for this new feature came from the realisation that, somewhere in the deepest, dustiest depths of the spare-bedroom closet in my house, lay a copy of Championship Manager 99-00.
As a fan of Iain MacIntosh’s superb — and often hilarious — series for The Set Pieces, in which he chronicles the travails of trying to win silverware with Everton in the 01-02 incarnation of the game, I’ve decided to borrow the idea for The Busby Babe, and see what I can do with Manchester United.
And what better moment in time to relive than the aftermath of the most historic season in the club’s history?
It’s well documented that one of the few regrets of Sir Alex Ferguson’s time at Old Trafford, was his inability to build on the Treble season of 1999 and win the Champions League more often.
Nine years seperated Fergie’s first and last European Cup triumphs, so I’m going to fire up the 17-year-old management simulation and see if I can’t get it done sooner, so here goes...
This is the lay of the land in July 1999. Peter Schmeichel has left to join Sporting CP, leaving a void that, of course, wouldn’t be truly filled until Edwin van der Sar signed in 2005. But for now, the lanky Dutchman has only just moved from Ajax to Juventus and has no intention of leaving Turin.
That leaves us with Mark Bosnich and the infamous Massimo Taibi (for any fans too young to remember the Italian "stopper", here’s a clip of him at work). So suffice to say, I’m in the market for a goalkeeper. But in fairness, Taibi’s ratings are pretty impressive, so regardless of how he turned out in reality, he might be worth a shot here.
Aside from a new keeper, I’m short at the back. A top-quality centre-half to partner Jaap Stam will be top of my list, while I’d also like a versatile attacking midfielder to add a bit of depth. I’ve got £45.5 million in the kitty, and I fully intend to spend it — value in the market or no. And to be fair, that might not sound like much for a side with ambitions of retaining the Champions League, but in 1999 it could get you quite far.
Before I get the chance to splash some cash, though, I’m already fighting off bids from big-spending Barcelona. They’ve just signed Edgar Davids from Juventus for almost £20 million (anyone who played CM around this era will remember just how awesome the Dutchman’s stats were) and now they are after two of my best players.
I rebuff both offers swiftly. I’ll get nowhere by repeating one of Fergie’s greatest mistakes; in this alternate reality, Stam stays. He can say what he wants about me in his autobiography, here’s far too vital (and terrifying) for me to question him.
And I’ve sent shockwaves around the continent by acquiring the ideal partner for the Big Dutch Man. Adding beauty to Stam’s immense brawn will be Alessandro Nesta. I’ve also snapped up promising French centre-back Phillipe Christanval from Monaco as one for the future.
And while scouring the continent, I’ve spotted the opportunity to bring a taste of 2016 to 1999. Before the ego has become a thing of legend, before the spat with Pep Guardiola (who is still a key member of Barcelona’s playing staff), before he’s even made his name at Ajax, I Dare to Zlatan!
For the time being, Ibrahimovic will develop in the reserves (there are no youth teams in CM 99-00), and if he doesn’t turn into the player we know today, the £170,000 fee is no great loss.
Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger’s transfer dealings are mirroring reality as Arsenal sign Robert Pires from Marseille.
Pre-season sees me take the boys on a four game tour of Sweden. I don’t put too much stock into these games, but we did fine. I’m going with a flat 4-4-2 for now — after all, it didn’t serve my predecessor too badly last season. But these games are all about getting sharp and match-fit for the coming season. Three wins, and a loss against IFK Götburg when I field a second-string side will do.
When we get back to the country I manage to tie up another transfer deal. That versatile attacking midfielder I was looking for comes to us in the shape of Ludovic Giuly. The Frenchman will be useful for his ability to play on either flank, and will deputise for the injured Ryan Giggs in the early weeks of the season. And I enjoy the added bonus of having beaten Arsenal to his signature.
The fixture list has thrown us a soft-ball for the opener (famous last words!), but the second and thrid games of the campaign will put my team to the test. We’ll need be on our game early-doors this season, no time for adjustment.
With the Charity Shield match against Arsenal fast approaching, I’ve got about £10 million left in the coffers and I’m weighing up which goalkeeper I’d be best served spending it on.
I’m starting to empathise with Fergie here, I can see how he got Schmeichel’s succession so horribly wrong: there are plenty of world-class strikers and midfielders around, but a real shortage of top-drawer keepers.
I turn to my scouts for advice, but they’re about as useful as an ejector seat in a helicopter. The best they could do is tell me that 21-year-old Gianluigi Buffon would be "a useful addition to the squad". Enlightening, thanks fellas.
But then I see that Real Sociedad have had a bid accepted for a player who’s far too good for them. I can’t let this happen. This may be my personal bias interfering — which is always dangerous when playing Championship Manager/Football Manager — but this guy was born to pull on the famous red shirt. We may not need him per se, but I want him. Bid submitted, budget blown, welcome Riquelme!
Or at least, welcome in a few weeks once we’ve sorted a work permit.
This means there’s no money left for a goalkeeper, but I’m fine with that. Taibi will be given a chance to show that he won’t be as incompetent for me as he turned out to be in reality.
Plus I’ve transfer listed a few surplus players to raise some "Oh Fuck" funds, in case we get desperate for another addition. I’ll listen to offers for Mark Bosnich, Jordi Cruyff and Jesper Blomqvist, as well as some of my reserves.
But for now, that’s it for incomings. I’m happy with my squad. Bring on Arsenal!
Join me next Wednesday to see how we get on in the Charity Shield and the first month of the Premier League season.