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Football Manager

The Secret History of Manager Man (2004-2018)

Goodnight, Sweet Gaffer

It’s a well-worn truism that that the only constant in the world of video games is change. Systems, franchises, publishers: they come, rise to the top, and eventually disappear. Some come back, sometimes stronger than they ever were, but nevertheless we as gamers have long become accustomed to saying goodbye.

So it is for Sega, which recently announced that it is retiring its Football Manager franchise’s cover star Manager Man (Or simply MM, to his millions of fans) after 14 years of service. For the upcoming Football Manager 2019,  he will be replaced with a player-centric image:

Football Manager

It’s truly the end of an era. For as familiar and beloved as Manager Man became over his 14-year career, though, what was behind that sharp suit and intermittently-sculpted stubble? Surely he was just a generic player-substitute, right?

Wrong. Dead wrong. Let’s take a look back at the highlights and dark times of Manager Man’s career, and learn just how much there was to this most iconic of gaming mascots.

The Blistering Debut: Football Manager 2005 (2004)

Football Manager

A man takes the field. Unexceptional at first glance, with his neat tie and training jacket suggesting authority, with a certain grounded ruggedness. Yet beneath this sensibly-dressed exterior lurked a charisma that would change an industry. This was the image that did for video game marketing what Nirvana’s Nevermind did for baby photos.

The first thought we had upon seeing MM for the first time was: Where’s his face? It seemed like an odd framing choice for a mascot, whose definitive role tends to be the literal face of their franchise.

However, this tactic worked, almost immediately sparking the public imagination. Rumours surrounding the mysterious jacketed man’s true identity spread across the darkest nooks of the internet with a fevered pace. Some claimed that he was actually one of numerous speculated celebrities; some, that MM was possessed of a supernatural handsomeness that melted any lens that encountered it, forcing photographers to avert their cameras. Others just wondered if he was having tax problems or something.

Ultimately, however, it was the intended narrative that won out: Manager Man is the embodiment of the eternal struggle. Forever standing firm, always on the pitch, presumably chasing after the latest disgustingly overpaid star player to storm out of his office over a basic request. He represents stability, hard work, the need to stand with dignity against the storm of life. His game, once named after championships, was now simply about football..He is football, the people who love it, work to keep it alive. He is you. He is me.

He is the player.

Seriously, how could we not love him?

The World is Yours: Football Manager 2007 (2006)

Football Manager

FM2005 was an instant smash hit, bolstered not only by Championship Manager’s already sizable following but MM’s universal appeal. So warmly was the man and his game received, in fact, that Sega could get away with practically repeating the same image for FM2006 and still rake it in.

That’s what the overwhelming greenness of FM2007’s box art colour scheme represents: money, and the fistfuls of such Sega was making with its paradoxically nascent-yet-long-lived franchise. Even MM got a hefty bonus, here debuting the suited look that would become his calling card. Sure, that famous chin appears to have filled out slightly, and the stubble gives him a rougher, slightly unhealthier look, but he was an important man. Who could blame him for not always having time to eat right, or shave? Such concerns were quickly swept aside, as FM and its mascot  continued to take the gaming world by storm.

The Sincerest Form of Flattery: Football Manager 2008 (2007)

Football Manager

FM2008‘s initial release saw the first major controversy of MM’s career, as early copies went into the wild with the unthinkable: Manager Man fully framed, his face visible to the world.

The fan reaction was catastrophic, the dispelling of this rising icon’s mysterious, everyman charisma doing more damage to Sega’s stock value than a thousand ill-advised Sonic side characters. The company immediately went into damage control mode, claiming that the cover was an unofficial image using an actor, and not the true MM. It was later claimed that the image was snuck into production by a disgruntled Sega employee jealous of FM’s importance to the company (Rumours of the culprit’s name rhyming suspiciously with ‘Hugh G. Nekka’ have been neither confirmed nor denied).

A new cover – with the true, chin-only Manager Man fully restored – was rapidly issued, and the scandal (which had quickly been dubbed ‘Facegate’) eventually faded into Internet apocrypha. If nothing else, the controversy proved the level of investment the public had in our ball-clutching hero.

Hail to the Gaffer: Football Manager 2009 (2008)

Football Manager

If FM2007 was MM’s coming-out party as a lucrative personality, FM2009 saw him transcend gaming to become a true cultural icon.

Celebrities and world leaders clamoured for the briefest photo opportunity with the mascot, while high-powered CEOs trailed wherever he walked like lovestruck puppies, desperately hoping for even the slightest crumb of management wisdom to drop in his wake. His humanitarian trip to Tibet to help the Dalai Lama teach Wonderkid scouting tips to impoverished children was not only the biggest news story of the year, but earned him the Nobel Peace Prize.

MM’s personal life was equally busy, and if anything even more fervently publicized. He was romantically linked with some of the world’s most famous and glamorous women, including more than one former Spice Girl. This may go some way towards explaining his public war of words with David Beckham during this period (Beckham, of course, lost – which will come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever heard the guy attempt to speak).

The green tinge of FM2007’s cover makes way for bright gold, signifying that Manager Man has now risen to become a true king of sports gaming. However, his stiff, rigid-backed pose on this cover suggests a haughtiness uncharacteristic of the MM we came to love. Commentators also noted the loosely-done tie, and the fact that MM is looking more haggard, even a bit older than expected on this cover. This only further encouraged long-persistent rumours about MM’s health, rumours that Sega would consistently deny.

For now, however, MM was on top of the world, and untouchable.

The Lost Year: Football Manager 2013 (2012)

Football Manager

While Football Manager remained a hugely lucrative franchise for Sega, as the years went on it was hard to deny that it was gradually losing ground in the market. The yearly release schedule had led to growing criticisms of staleness, with a series of tweaks and new features failing to revitalize the game’s now twenty-year-old engine, or relieve the sense of burnout among the fans.

Things had been going steadily downhill for Manager Man also. The mainstream audience had eventually moved on to new icons, and the waning quality of the franchise began to diminish his potency as a celebrity. The invitations from the glamorous and powerful had trickled and stopped, his mantelpiece grew dusty from a lack of new awards, and the Dalai Lama had stopped answering his texts.

A hugely costly divorce from Princess Albina of Uzbekistan and the failure of his other business ventures (such as the male stubble balm Turf Massager), plunged him ever deeper into a depressive funk from which, some feared, he would never reemerge. Worse still, the persistent rumours about his health were gathering pace, with his recreational drug use becoming an open secret in the industry.  

Rumour has it that this year’s photo shoot was a difficult one, with our hero seeming, to use one bystander’s euphemism, ‘pharmaceutically distracted’ and uncharacteristically sullen and aggressive. While the image on first glance seems to depict MM cheering his team’s success, rumour has it that it is in fact a recreation of the ‘You’re tearing me apart, Lisa’ scene from the infamously bizarre film The Room, which was enjoying its tenth anniversary at the time. This, MM allegedly insisted on despite repeated entreaties by the photographer and publisher reps in the studio.

Note his team in the background, huddled as one with their backs to MM. If any one image conveyed the discord surrounding the franchise and its mascot during this period, it would surely have to be this one.

They Think It’s All Over: Football Manager 2015 (2014)

Football Manager

Two years later, things only seemed to have gotten worse for Football Manager and its mascot. FIFA’s Ultimate Team Mode and PES’s Master League made FM’s menu-based gameplay seem archaic in the eyes of many fans, and provided the strongest challenge to the series’s tactical supremacy it had ever faced.

MM’s wildly gesticulating, unkempt appearance on FM2014’s cover gave observers little hope that he had cleaned up his ways. These fears were confirmed by his arrest only a month after that game’s release, found in possession of amphetamine pellets wrapped in rounded coconut healthfood treats (A popular narcotic in footballing circles at the time, commonly known as ‘Blatter Balls’).

What we see on the cover of FM2015 is, for lack of a truer phrase, a broken man. His suit is clearly unironed, his stubble even more unkempt. Raising his fists in the ‘Tearing me apart’ pose again, the most worrying part of the image is how he has turned his back to the camera, and by extension, to us. The darkest implication of his pose is, at first glance, invisible to all but the most observant viewers. MM is not just facing away from us, but west by northwest from the camera’s perspective, which happens to be the Sacred Direction of Mourning of the Hopi tribe of Arizona. MM was, by this time, a well-travelled man, and it made sense that he would be familiar with many foreign customs. Besides, if he wanted to make his message less immediately obvious, why not express it using the symbolism of football’s great No Man’s Land, the United States? That in itself suggests his growing disillusionment with the Beautiful Game at this time: he was understanding it like an American, the saddest way a football man’s love can die.

A player attempts to mimic his gesture, desperately trying to share some joy in the moment, but in the far distance we see that the goalkeeper has been brought to his knees, possibly weeping at the haggard, stricken face of the man who once brought with him such potential and hope for the future. Here, at the darkest point of the Football Manager franchise and MM’s life, that hope seemed gone forever.

Building from the Back: Football Manager 2017 (2016)

Football Manager

2017 was a year of recovery for MM. Forced into rehab after a drunken brawl with Crash Bandicoot at the BAFTA Awards, he emerged from the treatment a much calmer and more thoughtful man.

As always, you can see this in that year’s game cover. While he is still facing in the Hopi Direction of Mourning his body language is relaxed, more confident. His arm is raised in a gesture of instruction, even supplication, held level in front of him to suggest calm waters. Interestingly, his palm is facing the camera as if he were gesturing his players – who still have their backs to him but are this time active, again contributing to the cause – back into the fold.

By extension, this invitation to reconciliation is extended to us, the fans, and there’s an honesty about the request that we had not seen from Manager Man in years. While the dark times were not fully over, there’s a new resolve to his demeanour here, a determination to consolidate and regroup. For the first time in too long, fans were starting to look to the future with hope.

Football (Manager)’s Coming Home: Football Manager 2018 (2017)

Football Manager

FM2018 saw the franchise finally overcome years of adversity and creative torpor, with the most focussed installment in years impressing critics and reassuring long-suffering fans.

Manager Man appears to have shared in this new lease of life. The suit looks better-kempt than we have seen in a long time, and his cheering looks genuine and energetic. While this year had been his quietest in the public eye, by all accounts MM had used the time well. Ongoing treatment and therapy empowered him to maintain his sobriety, and mend many of the relationships broken or left neglected over the course of the decade.

Not only is he facing the camera again, his orientation – south by southeast – is the exact inverse of the Direction of Mourning, a declaration of new life in defiance of death. MM wanted us to know that he was reborn, refreshed, and at full strength once again. MM has seen the pinnacle of success all the way down to the dankest depths of despair, but for once it was all in service of a happy ending, and to go out on this image only puts the seal on an immortal legacy.

The Future

It’s impossible to tell how the Football Manager franchise will fare without its figurehead, but it’s heartening to know that Manager Man is forever enshrined in the hearts of gamers and football fans alike, and that he’s ready to move on to bigger and better things.

The first step: Hollywood, with the announcement of Row Z: The Manager Man Story, a tell-all biopic charting MM’s rise, fall and redemption. Naturally, it takes a legend to portray a legend, which is why he will be played by the reanimated corpse of John Hurt:

Football Manager

Besides, we’ll be seeing a lot more of MM on our screens in his new role as a pundit. All of us at Doublejump would like to thank MM for his years of service, wish him the best of luck in his new career, and extend our condolences to all those Sky Sports cameramen who’ll be forced to constantly frame him from the chin down.

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