Fifty years of hurt never stopped me dreaming. Fifty years! It’s been a lean fifty years for English football, with the approach of picking the roughly best players available (and, for some reason, Theo Walcott in 2006) not paying dividends. With that in mind, it’s time for a change. The best have brought mediocrity, so can the mediocre bring the best?
It is my mission to take England down an Alternative Euros path. I will be constrained by being unable to select any of the 26 players who occupy slots in Roy Hodgson’s provisional squad for Euro 2016. It’s up to the real-life wounded and the real-life rubbish to combine together to bring football home.
Because starting a game on Football Manager 2016 takes me back to July 2015, I am presented by infinite possibilities. Rather pleasingly, the likes of Luke Shaw, Jack Butland and Danny Welbeck can seize the chance to be the Three Lions that injuries have blighted in real life. It’s July 2015 once again! Who knows how Callum Wilson will do with a full season? Who can say that Tom Ince won’t be snapped up by Manchester United in January 2016, thus earning a guaranteed passage into England’s squad? Mark Noble, your time has come. Unless you have a terrible season, in which case Michael Carrick is sniffing around your place. Some might say No Vardy, No Party, but we’re not off to France to party. Charlie Austin, Andy Carroll and the boys are heading there to educate the continent.
There’s just one caveat to my jubilation at the opportunity to slot Scott Dann in alongside Steve Cook and call it an international defence; we have to actually qualify first.
|White suit, red tie. They call me Mr England. But that's not my name. Why can't they call me by my name? Why do I look like this monkey thing on the right? So many questions, so few answers.|
Roy Hodgson, generous soul that he is, has given me a comfortable cushion which I’ll have to try really, really hard to throw away. Six games in and five points clear of unintimidating Switzerland and Slovenia, even a novice manager like myself shouldn’t screw this up. Even John Carver could take England across the Channel to French shores. But you’d expect nothing less from the greatest coach the world has ever seen.
I rock up into my shiny new office to find the longest injury list for any international team. I instantly disregard the setbacks to Jack Wilshere, Fabby Delph, Jordan Henderson, Fraser Forster and Daniel Sturridge because they can’t come on this magical journey with me even if they prove to be the fittest guys in the history of recorded fitness. The welfare of Leighton Baines, Danny Welbeck, Ben Foster and Phil Jones will be of greater concern, for this quartet will be integral members of my squad. God help us all.
|Danny Welbeck plus 8.|
I clear out the existing squad of forbidden players and the injured, leaving me with only Luke Shaw, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott. This does not faze me, for I’m swept up in the excitement of getting to work with players of the calibre of the Ox and Luke Shaw.
I head to Wembley to meet the media for a relatively normal press conference, with the journalists blissfully unaware of the consternation that I will create when I announce my first squad. One reporter tells me that I have a reputation as a defensive coach, perhaps an insidious rumour started by incumbent captain Wayne Rooney. I quash this suggestion vigorously; if we’re going to lose in France, and presumably we will, then we’re going out in a blaze of goals.
|These rumours will completely dissipate when we line up in a swashbuckling 2-3-5 formation. I'll show them. I'll show them all. Especially you, Sam Lake.|
Another reporter tells me that Jordan Henderson is one of my key players, and adopts a puzzled expression at my maniacal Joker-esque laughing fit. I state my intention to move forward with a new captain, although all of the potential replacements they suggest are just far too sensible. Nobody is talking about Mark Noble, and I can’t fathom why.
Anyway, stop all this England nonsense and soak in the news that Chelsea have splashed out £13 million to take Ki Sung-Yeung from Swansea. England have dropped one place in the ranking down to ninth, and I’m still two months away from my first game. This bodes well. Our World Cup qualification group is announced, a moot point because I will have been sacked well before then.
Hey, being an international manager isn’t so bad though, giving me ample time to watch literally everything that is on Netflix. Have a look at my August.
|My house has never been cleaner. I've polished my plates so frequently that they are now transparent. Wait, why was I polishing my plates?|
But August soon subsides, and it’s time to name my first squad to take on the giants of Lithuania and the titans of Slovenia. Ray Lewington hands me his suggested potential squad but in an unfortunate coincidence I’m about to sneeze when he does so, spewing snot all over the paper and making Harry Kane’s name virtually unreadable. Sorry, Ray. I’ve spent August listening to Fleetwood Mac, and I’ll be going my own way.
|Spoiler alert: seven of those players do make my squad. But which ones? Oh, the tension.|