Forza Fiume Football Manager
I love Football Manager. If I were to be cast away on a desert island I’d remain relatively sane, albeit sun bleached, if I had access to Football Manager. Saying that, in recent years I’ve found my enjoyment waning. Perhaps my engagement and enjoyment is directly correlated to the real world success of my beloved local team, Swansea City. As Swansea ascended the footballing pyramid, in-game success became easier and easier as well. Life is easy in the money-flooded Premier League. However, all that money is too much to handle for my frugal mentality. I enjoy the challenge of running a tight financial ship, balancing the books through shrewd scouting, discovering an unpolished diamond floundering in the lower leagues, buying him for next to nothing and selling on before the player starts to decline in ability. However, I’ve never been afraid to sell my best players should the price be right – it is all very proto-moneyball.
So with Swansea not really being that appealing from a frugal financial standpoint, I’ve been searching for a new challenge. Well, to keep my engagement levels high and give me a new challenge, I’m going to harness the chairman’s moneys and use it to propel HNK Rijeka into the upper echelon of European football. All the while my ultimate goal will be getting the offer of the Swansea City job. This lofty goal of being offered the Swansea job is something that may never happen, I might be a total flop at Rijeka and be sacked before Christmas. If that is the case I’ll move on to the next club that will have me and attempt to continue my mission.
HNK who? Okay, let me give you a some back story.
Little over two and a half years ago Croatia and I became entwined in a way I would have found plausible only if you had told me that it was the plot to the latest romantic comedy starring Drew Barrymore. Croatia is stunning. Naturally stunning, with an architectural beauty crafted by being passed around Europe’s warring empires for millennia.
Communist-era architecture, with a style that somehow has never been in or out of fashion, feels as brutal and modern now as it must have upon completion, envelopes Slavic churches; all that while the brilliantly blue Adriatic Sea plays home to over a thousand islands. Unbelievably, I’ve not even scratched the surface of the historical complexity that comes with being part of almost every empire, republic, and kingdom to have graced Europe. Croatia has, at one time or another, seen some of Europe’s highest cultural highs and participated in some of Europe’s darkest moments. These moments and highs have all left their own legacy, whether in the form of jingoistic nationalist rhetoric or Socialist realist sculpture, Napoleonic-era forts and Viennese-style mansions.
For the most part, my time in Croatia has been spent in Rijeka. Rijeka is the third largest city in Croatia, found on the Kvarner Bay at the northern part of the Adriatic Sea, in the West of Croatia. Historically, Rijeka has been the prize of many a nation, predominantly due to the natural depth of the Adriatic and its ability to accommodate seafaring craft from any era.
No sooner had I started becoming accustomed to my temporary summer residence that something hit me. Take 10 Celsius off the temperature and I could have been back home in Swansea. The tell-tale signs of a city struggling to deal with a dwindling industrial importance, that distinctive smell of a city that lives on the sealine, and the visual signs of a city that endured heavy and sustained bombing during the Second World War. Once-modern concrete buildings, hastily built in the aftermath, stand out like rotten teeth against the buildings that were untouched by the scars of war.
The parallels of Rijeka and Swansea don’t end there, they even extend to the cities’ respective football teams – HNK Rijeka (Hrvatski Nogometni Klub Rijeka/ Croatian Football Club Rijeka) and Swansea City. Both teams have had turbulent histories while flirting with cup success, the major difference being that Rijeka fans expect to challenge for the title, which is difficult when the league is dominated by Dinamo Zagreb, who have won the league 17 times, consecutively for the last ten seasons, and all this in a league that was established in 1992. Contrast that with the Premier League, Manchester United have only won the Premier League 13 times in the same period.
Rijeka have never been hugely successful, partly down to the fact that they’ve always faced domestic super-powers. Under the umbrella of the Yugoslav First League they battled with Partizan Belgrade (Fudbalski klub Partizan), Red Star Belgrade (Fudbalski klub Crvena Zvezda Beograd) and fellow Croatians GNK Dinamo Zagreb. Both Serbian teams were very much in their prime during the final decade of the now defunct Yugoslav First League.
In the Croatian First football league (MAXtv Prva Liga) Rijeka have fared little better. Domestically, Dinamo dominate, with HNK Hajduk Split and Rijeka battling it out for second, below that there is a huge drop off in quality. The Croatian league feels like what the League of Wales would be if the Welsh teams playing in the English league structure were forced to play in their own domestic league.
The haves and the never-will-haves. This is easily understood by looking at the stadia of teams in the Croatian top flight, where the same division features teams only three clubs with capacities greater than 10,000 and Rijeka aren’t currently one of those. However, the limited capacity has never held back Rijeka and it was this fearlessness in the face of adversity that made the purchase of Rijeka all too irresistible for Italian entrepreneur and Jeffrey Tambor look-alike Gabriele Volpi. Volpi, just like Tambor’s character George Bluth Sr in American sitcom Arrested Development, has felt the piercing eye of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations investigating his wealth. This gaze was so fierce that in 2010 Volpi was listed in a rogues gallery report (Keeping foreign corruption out of the United States) full of people whose wealthy has possibly been gained through less than legal means.
So join me in the next installment when, fingers crossed, I’ll have successfully guided the team through preseason training, friendlies, the comings and goings from Stadion Rujevica, and what is happening 1222 miles away at Swansea’s Liberty stadium.
But most of all, I aim to still be employed.
Here are a few other rules I’m going to attempt to comply with (the 10 commandments if you will).
- Don’t buy players needlessly. Attempt to establish youth networks and develop our own players.
- Scout, scout, scout and scout some more. Don’t buy players based on stats alone. Use the wisdom of the scouting network and director of football.
- Don’t hold players hostage. If a player wants out, try and get the best transfer fee achievable. Morale is king. One rotten apple can spoil the whole kettle of fish.
- Sell any player if a club offers more than they are worth, but try to replace them before they are sold.
- Don’t get attached. When players approach 30, try and move them on. Caveat – goalkeepers are worth holding onto for another 2 to 3 years.
- Don’t suffer from ‘New manager syndrome’ – Just because you have a transfer budget doesn’t mean you need to use every single penny.
- Football may be a globally spoken language but Croatian is not. New players should have basic understanding of Croatian or at very least be fluent in a major European language.*
- Defense is key. Over everything else a solid defense will give a foundation for success.
- Try to run a financially profitable club.
- Don’t cheat. No abusing the save/load – Saving before a big game and rage quitting when I lose.
*Will not apply if I become a manager of team outside of Croatia.