Rob Smyth – The Joy of Six: great Championship/Football Manager players | Football

The daddy of Champo Manager. The Godfather Part II. The Sopranos. The OK Computer. The Fawlty Towers. The Alan Carr. The Allen Carr. The Two Pints Of Lager And A Packet Of A Crisps. Hang on, we lost our way a bit there. Anyway, it’s a fact that more thirtysomethings remember the name of Tonton Zola Moukoko than the name of the bloke who sat next to them at school. That said, not everyone could spell it: Moukoko, who now plays in the Swedish lower leagues, was actually spelt Mokouko on the 2000-01 version. At that stage he was a promising youngster at Derby, apparently courted by Juventus among others, and lent an exotic bent by the seven syllables of that majestic name and his Swedish/Ghanaian background.

Available for around £500,000 from Derby – who didn’t even play him in the first team – he gobbled up goals and assists like a powered-up Pac-Man, and was absolutely devastating in the hole behind a lone striker. Even now he has a Facebook appreciation group: men whose upper lips remain defiantly stiff at funerals go a big rubbery one when they remember the time he banged in two in the last four minutes to overturn a 1-2 deficit at home to Grimsby in the Champions League semi-final of 2014-15. His success and reliability took man-love to new, twisted levels of absurdity. Champo Manager has, of course, been cited in more than 35 divorce cases. It’s one thing to call your partner by the wrong name during boudoir funtime, quite another to call them ‘Tonton’.

2) Mark Collis & Ferrah Orosco (AM C & D RC)

Wish fulfilment comes in many forms – most of them while you’re asleep and therefore not awake and being you – and the chance to make oneself a star of English football was always likely to prove irresistible for the geekier end of the fraternity. That’s what Mark Collis and Ferrah Orosco, who worked on the game, did in the 1993-94 end-of-season edition: both were put straight into lowly Cambridge’s team as fully fledged England internationals. Reports that Graeme Souness tried to sign them to play alongside Ali Dia at Southampton three seasons later, after a tip off from Roy Race, are unconfirmed.

Then, for the 2001-02, a programmer called Tó Madeira decided to illicitly slip himself into the game as an almost peerless goalscorer (available on a free at the start, too). Some internet forums suggest he was sacked as a result but, due to the credit crunch, the Guardian can no longer afford to fly us to Portugal to investigate, so we can’t be sure.

There are few more chastening experiences in the mezzanine hours than realising you’re still playing Champo and you’re up for work in, ooh, 12 minutes. Maxim Tsigalko was the sort of man who made you do that. Available for Dinamo Minsk for a pittance on the 2001-02 version – although not in England, because he couldn’t get a work permit at the start of the game – Tsigalko went on the sort of preposterous scoring runs whose conclusion you simply couldn’t wait until the morning to see.

For some he even managed 100 goals in a season, which gave a whole new meaning to the notion of boys in darkened rooms getting off on the Maxim Hot 100. To do this, however, you usually needed to have him man-marking the opposition goalkeeper, an ultra-successful but entirely unrealistic tactic which, without question, is the most tragic cheat employed by anyone ever. If you can’t play this fictitious, contrived and brilliantly unrealistic game honestly, then what’s the point of anything?

The Scandinavian market was the H&M of Champo Manager: the place where you could pick up umpteen supercool bargains for next to nothing, while most of the punters were ostentatiously purchasing similar quality stuff for thrice the price over the road. The pick of those bargains, for many, was Tommy Svindal Larsen, an absolute beast in the 1997-98 version who could be poached from Stabaek for a few coppers and a Werthers Original: an M C who was master of a lot more than ceremonies. Eight out out 10 cats said they’d stared quizzically at their owner as he/she sang a song about Larsen to themselves at 2.38am on a Saturday morning.

In real life he played 18 times for Norway, and had a spell in the Bundesliga with Nuremburg. In this alternate reality, he’s right up there with Pelé, Maradona and Moukoko.

In Fight Club, shortly after his condo is burned to the ground, Ed Norton’s character says: “When you buy furniture, you tell yourself, that’s it. That’s the last sofa I’m gonna need. Whatever else happens, I’ve got that sofa problem handled.” That certainly applied to Michael Duff: once you got him from Cheltenham, usually for as little as £24,000, you knew you wouldn’t need another first-choice right-back for the best part of 15 years.

The quintessential American male, Mr H Simpson, can’t live without Duff; around the turn of the century, the quintessential English male, Mr S B’stard, couldn’t live without Michael Duff. He was the model pro. Mr Reliable. Gary Neville without the shop stewardry and bumfluff moustache. Cafu without a free bus pass.

Michael Duff

2020 update: Championship Manager legend Michael Duff is now manager of Cheltenham Town. Photograph: Nizaam Jones/JMP/Shutterstock

He was one of the good guys, too: even when he was playing for England (in real life Duff has played over 20 times for Northern Ireland) he never asked for more than around 12 large a week. You could fine him four weeks in a row for no other reason than you’d had a bad day at work and had nobody else to take it out on (what do you mean you didn’t live alone?) and he wouldn’t complain. This was sort of the bloke you’d be happy to see go out with your sister. In fact, even your girlfriend. If only you had one.

It was always excruciatingly apparent that those who invested 110% of their free time in a management simulation had long since had a few of their fingers prised away from reality. But Champo Manager could alter perceptions in more insidious ways. During Chelsea’s 3-1 win over Barcelona in the Champions League quarter-final of 1999-2000, a friend opined that “I never effing rated Ruud Hesp”, only realising the absurdity of the comment when it was pointed out that, away from a dusty, kebab-stained 14-inch PC monitor, he had never previously seen Hesp play.

The reverse was true of Ibrahima Bakayoko. When Everton signed him for £4.5m in October 1998, thousands of tragics thought he was a sure thing to succeed. Approximately 0.00% of them had seen his work at Montpellier, and were basing it purely on the fact he was sensational in Championship Manager 1997-98, well worth the £10m+ fee you often had to pay to secure him. Everton paid a lot less in real life – but on the pitch they got even less: four goals in 23 games.

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