Another year, another chance to prove your dugout credentials (at least virtually) to all those who want to listen. The latest edition of the extremely popular Football Manager series has been released and it won’t take many long to put in the hours of graft needed to take their hometown from relative non-league obscurity to the multiple-time Champions League winners, sifting through free agents, signing that Spanish or Italian midfielder that everybody else missed and even spotting the next wonderkid or two along the way.

Taking a job at a club like Liverpool, Arsenal, Barcelona, Chelsea or Bayern Munich would be easy. Test yourself!

But before you put your heart and soul into your latest project, why not consider the real-life Football Manager challenges that we’ve picked out at The Analyst as a good proving ground to test your managerial mettle?

Win A (Meaningful) Trophy with Newcastle United

Now this might seem like low-hanging fruit considering new owners with seemingly bottomless pockets have arrived to the north-east in recent weeks (eagerly awaits the in-game update), but the fact is Newcastle United just don’t win games – as Eddie Howe no doubt found out himself by glancing at this season’s table when taking the job, nor do they win trophies.

The pedants amongst you who frequent Newcastle’s Wikipedia honours section will rightly point out that the Magpies have indeed won domestic silverware by winning the Championship twice since 2009-10 and a European trophy in 2006, when beating Lillestrøm to pick up the defunct UEFA Intertoto Cup title. But to be frank, no one plays Football Manager to secure secondary honours – either domestically or in Europe, and no one would want to put that at the top of their CV.

The Magpies would know a thing or two about their team being the bridesmaid rather than the bride. Since 1973-74, Newcastle have lost three FA Cup finals (1974, 1998, 1999), a League Cup final (1976) and finished runners-up in the Premier League on two occasions (1995-96 & 1996-97) – a extensive list of near misses.

Now with theoretical unlimited funds in the transfer budget at your disposal, you can make Newcastle United a force and build a collection of the best players. The first port of call should be to find a Premier League-level striker capable of scoring 20 goals a season – the last Magpies player to do that in the top-flight was Alan Shearer in 2003-04 (22 goals) and he’s been a firm fixture in the Match of the Day studio for 15 years now. Find that man and you could send the club to their highest finish since the halcyon days of Alan Pardew in 2011-12 (fifth).

The 2006 Intertoto Cup trophy: big “well done for passing your Excel 2010 training” vibes.

Piggyback on David Moyes’ Success

Perhaps you want to ride on the coattails of a team upsetting the ‘big six’ apple cart in the Premier League this season? West Ham United find themselves in an unfancied top three spot as of November’s international break, with David Moyes rolling back the years to his peak Everton days. But can his throwback Hammers team go one better?

Top-flight success has eluded the Hammers throughout their history, never finishing inside the top two positions in the English top-flight and only twice finishing within the top five (third in 1985-86 and fifth in 1998-99). West Ham United have had 63 seasons in the English top-flight overall without any silverware to show for it – only one team in English league history have played in this division more often without a title to show for it. That club are Bolton Wanderers with 73 seasons, so that could be worth a punt for a longer-term restoration of glory project.

The question is – do you build up on the template that the Moyesiah has left you, or rip it up and start again? The future rebuild of the East Londoners offers intriguing questions with West Ham (28 years, 169 days) currently holding the third oldest average starting XI in the Premier League this season behind Watford and Burnley.

The Hammers are one of two Premier League teams not to give a single minute of play in the Premier League this season to a player aged 20 or younger (alongside Newcastle). They are also one of four English top-flight teams to hand 4,000+ minutes to players aged over 30 in 2021-22, including their now all-time Premier League top scorer Michail Antonio. Do you go all in on a team built around Declan Rice or cash in on the prized asset? There’s plenty of squad tinkering to be done.

Moyesy here, just after leading Kidderminster Harriers to the Fourth Round of the FA Cup on FM21 – what have you done with your afternoon?

Start at the Bottom and Work Your Way Up

Real stalwart players will of course know the real joy comes from building something completely out of nothing, working your way through the lower leagues and up the Football League pyramid, filling out that trophy cabinet as you go while turning away the advances of the Premier League chairman to stay loyal to *insert provincial underperforming EFL club nickname here*.

Two established names within the English Football League who’ve never been to the top table are Lincoln City and Port Vale. They have both had 109 seasons (including this one) in the Football League without ever playing in the top-flight. Two other Midlands(ish) teams with 100+ seasons without ever playing in the top-flight are Walsall and Chesterfield if those selections don’t pique your interest.

Take on the Port Vale post, win the treble and you could find yourself with a Vale Park stand named after you, firmly pushing aside the likes of Robbie Williams, Jonathan Wilkes and Phil “The Power” Taylor as the most famous Valiant.

Port Vale’s biggest fan won Soccer Aid in 2016 – something Port Vale cannot win in FM22, so don’t even try.

Break the Old Firm Dominance

But wait – the football world doesn’t revolve around the Premier League (as much as it may seem like it does) and you can take a job outside of England. Your managerial calling lies north of the border with the opportunity to end an era of dominance.

The Scottish top-flight title has been exclusively held by one of the Old Firm for 36 successive seasons, with Rangers and Celtic winning 18 league titles each since 1985-86 onwards. The last non-Old Firm team to win the title were Aberdeen in 1984-85, with Alex Ferguson collecting a second league crown in a row before heading south to build another dynasty.

Seeing as Aberdeen were the last ‘other’ team to win the title and they finished second in four successive seasons between 2014-15 to 2017-18, they seem the ideal club to break the stranglehold…that is if you can quickly fix the current team that finds themselves marooned in mid-table mediocrity.

Fergie won actual trophies that you can touch at Aberdeen. You can try to win some to look at in a computer game, though.

Continental Breakfast

Maybe the opportunity to manage in the granite city isn’t as exotic as it sounds, and you fancy trying your luck on the continent instead. Forget Italy or Germany, the sunnier climes of Portugal could be an ideal first stop. The last 20 years of the Primeira Liga have been dominated by the ‘big three’ in Portugal, with Sporting CP (2), Benfica (7) and Porto (11) collectively picking up every title since 2001-02.

In the competition’s history, only two teams have managed to wrestle the title away from the dominant trio – Belenenses in 1945-46, who are currently residing in the Portuguese fourth tier, and Boavista in 2000-01. The Chequered Ones have long lived in the shadow of their city rivals, Porto – can you lead them to their second-ever top-flight Portuguese league title?

Crossing over the border into Spain, we find Real Sociedad top of La Liga seeking a first top-flight championship in 40 years (1981-82) so they could be the right candidates to find immediate success.

But that could be too mainstream for your liking – the hipster within you could be screaming for something a bit more obscure, somewhere quieter like Belgium. Brussels’ Union St Gilloise aren’t exactly a worldwide name but have plenty of history to write about, winning 11 national championships. The problem is they all came between 1903-04 and 1934-35. Fast forward to the present day and USG are back in the big time after a 48 year absence and in true Football Manager fashion, they are currently top of the first division, built upon a team full of free transfer journeymen scoured across the globe. When life imitates art etc…

Boavista’s 2001-02 Champions League side, a year after winning the Portuguese title.

Dutch Courage

Maybe club management isn’t for you. You might fancy a less hectic schedule and not have to deal with the issues of transfers or working to budgets? If that’s the case, being an international team coach could be the option you’re after.

One task could be to successfully take the Netherlands to the 2022 World Cup (as they have just sealed in real life) and then go on and win the tournament (as they have never done in real life). No team have reached as many men’s World Cup finals without winning it than the Dutch, with second-place finishes in 1974, 1978 and 2010.

Mexico have participated in (16) and played more games (57) than any other nation in men’s World Cup finals tournaments to have never won the competition. You could take this job, but you’d have to successfully navigate them through a tricky CONCACAF qualification campaign beforehand. Another option would be to take the Qatar job and manage them as they host and appear in a World Cup finals tournament for the first time. One thing is for certain, you’d be paid well for it.

Stamp your authority on the Dutch side – let them know you’re there.

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