With bubbles swirling around my head at Upton Park, all I could hear was a crowd of West Ham United supporters chanting at the top of their lungs, “Sacked in the morning. You’re getting sacked in the morning … Sacked in the morning. You’re getting sacked in the morning.”
As if managing a team in the top flight of English soccer didn’t render enough stress already.
Those are the moments when you question your team sheet, the tactics you use, the players you have, and the instructions you give them before they go out on the pitch. But I had already done all that—painstakingly, over and over again—after all, anyone would if he or she had lost his or her first 15 games of the season and failed to score even one goal.
After another week of build-up and press conferences, in which the media questioned my ability to lead and select a squad capable of competing in the Premier League, a change had to come out of a match with the bad boys of the Boleyn Ground. Deflecting questions from the media about my tactics, I was a bit worried about how narrow of a side the Eagles were. With West Ham’s Mark Noble leading the charge in the middle, and Stewart Downing out on the flanks, the full backs would be in for a massive test against the Hammers.
Immediately, the team came under siege. Shot after shot went toward the Boston College goal, but most of them missed. Alex Kapp made six stops in the game and kept his first, and only, Premier League clean sheet.
After 25 minutes of being dominated by the Hammers, BC gained possession from a free kick in its own half. As the Eagles pushed the ball to the right flank, a ball from Matt Wendelken squeaked into the middle of the pitch and slipped through the West Ham defense. Isaac Normesinu ran onto the early cross and pounded it by Adrian to make it 1-0 Eagles on 28 minutes.
Upton Park was so silent, you could hear the bubbles burst.
Despite the victory, the BC men’s soccer team was stuck on a poor run of form when I used Football Manager 2014’s Editor to put all of the players’ attributes from decision-making to finishing rated on a scale from 1-20 into the most accurate soccer simulation available. In this simulation, each one of the team’s student-athletes is as realistically represented as possible. For example, Zeiko Lewis has an eye for the killer ball, but is not strong in the air, while Phil Sandgren is made to be as big and strong as he is in real life.
With this simulation, we can best answer the question: How would BC compete in the Barclays Premier League with the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, and Chelsea?
To best represent the team, I used the ideal starting lineup and tactics of the team’s coaching staff. The team plays a narrow diamond 4-4-2 and alternatively a 4-4-1-1. Each player is given instructions and roles that best represent what he does on the pitch against ACC opponents each week. The team plays a high-tempo, direct and attacking style, with a high-defensive line.
The Eagles held on until halftime, and West Ham became frustrated. Continuous fouling saw five players, including substitute striker Carlton Cole, pick up yellow cards. A lack of width from the West Ham full backs gave Mohammed Moro and Wendelken 1-on-1s with the opposing wingers, and they were able to cope. Len Zeugner and Atobra Ampadu did well at center back. When the official blew the final whistle, there was relief. BC had won a game in the Premier League.
Next week, heading into the Liberty Stadium to play Swansea, there was a renewal of hope. Sure, the team had only beat West Ham and had suffered 10-0 and 11-0 defeats to Arsenal and Manchester United, respectively, but sometimes a win is all a team needs to turn its season around.
But eight minutes into the match with the Welsh side, Jonjo Shelvey was slotting a penalty by Kapp and everything was headed downhill, again. A 6-0 loss was the result the team collected as it headed into a match with title contenders, Manchester City. The Eagles were star-struck by the opposition, and Alvaro Negredo was off the mark six minutes into the game. He struck again two minutes later, and his side was on its way to a 10-0 romp.
The losses kept on coming, and we were bottom at Christmas. Team morale was abysmal, too, as BC failed to score for another 10 games.
The Eagles’ only hope for silverware was the FA Cup, but a loss to Watford put them straight out of the competition.
Relegation to the Championship was assured by January. Stability in the upper offices of the club was lacking, but two things remained constant: One, everywhere the Eagles went, I faced chants of, “Going down, going down, going down,” and two, Toby insisted that the team keep the line higher and that Nana pass the ball.
Mid-May rolled around, and the Eagles were put out of their misery in an 8-0 defeat to City. Rock bottom of the table at the end of the simulation, the team had conceded 192 goals and scored a mere five.
According to the game’s match rating system, which rates each player’s contribution in on-the-ball actions (passes, tackles, shots, goals, assists, etc.), the top-rated players to start in more than 25 matches were Kapp at 6.31 and Normesinu at 6.25. The ratings are computed on a scale of 1-10, and each player starts the match at 6.7. Normesinu was the team’s top scorer with two goals, while Cole DeNormandie and Sandgren chipped in with one each.
Perhaps the competition in the world’s best league was too much for the Eagles, so football in the Championship, the division below the Premier League, would have to suffice. BC failed to avoid the drop, though. The team earned just two wins (against Leeds United and Blackpool), tallying 25 goals in the process.
I concluded that the team could not compete in the top 12 divisions in Europe, according to Football Manager’s ratings, so I put them in Skrill Premier, which is the fifth division of the English game and is otherwise known as conference or non-league football.
The team faired far better, and won 18 games. Lewis and Sandgren both scored in double digits and the team avoided the drop.
It is important to note that each of these seasons was simulated without the team being properly prepared for each match. Football Manager supplies users with in-depth reports about each opponent, and allows the manager to make in-game substitutions and changes to adapt to the match.
If changes were made, and the team was meticulously nurtured, it easily could have done better in each of the leagues—not by much, but by enough that a difference would be noticeable.
So, as I sat at my desk and reflected on operating a college soccer team in a professional league, I discovered that the result of my colossal, hard drive-busting, and time-killing simulation was that Ed Kelly’s team might be able to compete with the part-time footballers, who grind away their weekends in the fifth division of the English football pyramid. Even though games in the fifth division are poorly attended, there is comfort in knowing that there are not 35,000 people calling for your head.
Featured Image by Emily Fahey / Heights Editor