Football Manager is the best computer game ever made. You know that or you probably wouldn't be here.
How we've spent hours, years, decades of our lives invested in the fictional exploits of what are essentially a collection of numbers on a big spreadsheet is beyond me, but we have. By God we have. And we wouldn't change it for the world.
Real football may be gone but the virtual game is thriving. earlier in the year, Sports Interactive head honcho Miles Jacobsen announced records numbers of players loading up a save during lockdown for a chance to experience football again, or simply for some much needed escapism.
Here five 90min writers take us through the players (real or regen) who meant the most to us and why...
Danny Wilson: The Ballon d'Or Winning Glitch
- by Andy Headspeath
Near post flick-on. Four little words - or three words and a hyphen, maybe - that changed the course of history.
I, like everyone, love Football Manager for its immersive detail, attention to the minutiae, its world building and its realism.
However, I also love finding a glitch.
In Football Manager 2012, I stumbled across perhaps the greatest glitch I am ever likely to find when I took young Liverpool prospect Danny Wilson on loan to Malaga, with an option to buy for £2.8m.
The Livingston-born centre back arrived fresh-faced, pasty and like a fish out of water on the Costa del Sol. His stats were promising but not exceptional. My assistant manager played down expectations in the press conference (f-ck doing press conferences myself).
Still, I had hopes Wilson could do a job for us and lumped him straight into the action, with very little tactical instruction beyond telling him to 'give the fans something to cheer'.
There was one other thing though. In a rare moment of micro-management, I set up my corner tactics with Wilson (whose jumping stat was 16) dedicated to 'near post flick-on'.
Like Herbert Chapman's WM formation, Bobby Robson taking a swarthy young translator under his wing and Arsene Wenger banning booze and ketchup at Arsenal... it would prove another pivotal moment in the history of football management.
Wilson, the unknown British centre back, scored eight La Liga goals in his first season at Malaga. The season after it was 18, then 20, then 22. Virtually all headers direct from corners.
I pictured the opposition dismay every time they conceded a corner, the resignation from the fans, the desperate hoards trying to hold Wilson back like the tide and failing as the corner was lifted to the near post where it would be inevitably be drilled beyond the keeper.
In the 2015/16 and 2016/17 seasons, he scored 27 in all competitions and had an average rating pushing eight. The f-cker won a Pichichi.
Malaga won league title after league title, with Wilson popping up (quite literally) in the biggest moments. I made him my captain, despite his influence stat being 12 and him still not having mastered Spanish.
"I named my real-world dog Wilson in his honour"
His defending ability didn't really matter. He was fine. With all his match-winning goals, we could soon afford to flood the squad with traditionally 'good' players around him.
Wilson lifted three Champions Leagues as captain (scoring headers in two finals) and twice won the Ballon d'Or.
Of course, other teams would hate him, I imagined. Opposition coaches and pundits would complain it wasn't 'real football', countless column inches would be dedicated to pontificating on the death of tactics.
We wouldn't care. He was ours.
I pictured this unstoppable cheat player; a Scottish Ramos, Koeman and Delap all rolled into one. Coiffed and tattoo-covered, pale Gaelic skin turned a rich mahogany from years under the Andalusian sun, he would beam from the cover of every football magazine and be plastered over stories-high billboards, advertising products by walloping them with his head.
Sometimes, I would try to prove I could do the actual tactics bit of the game and take Wilson off corner duty. 'Stay back if needed', I would tell him.
However, whenever things would get a bit twitchy, when bums would begin to squeak, up he would trot again, like Batman saving Gotham no matter how ungrateful, unfailingly rise above the pack to bullet in the winner.
I tried the same shtick with other players on different saves; taller, more athletic stars with superior stats. It never worked.
As of 2023, after 10 seasons at Malaga, he has 148 La Liga goals in 318 games and more trophies than most clubs. All from near post flick-on.
I named my real-world dog Wilson.
The real, human Wilson is currently at Colorado Rapids in MLS after spells with Hearts and Rangers among others, unaware of his very specific virtual stardom. The real Wilson has 17 career goals and no Ballons d'Or.
If only someone had told him, 'near post flick-on'.
Victor Almandoz: Sergio Aguero's Record-Shattering Successor
- By Sean Walsh
No one thought Brentford could survive in the Championship. No one thought Brentford could win the Championship.
No one thought Brentford could survive in the Premier League. No one thought Brentford could win the Premier League.
Yeah, yeah, we know.
It was a rags to riches tale from Football Manager 2015, but the easy part was taking the Bees to the top - the obvious cliche is that the hard part was staying there.
As long as bigger and richer clubs were about, they would snap up my best players. Upon winning my first Premier League title, talisman Richairo Zivkovic - having just scored 38 in 37 - demanded a move to PSG. A £50m offer came in. My hands were tied. A third of Brentford’s goals were gone.
The search around Europe began, but no one was interested. Luka Jovic? No. Timo Werner? No. Munir? No. New false nine Adnan Januzaj...? No.
"'Could be the next Sergio Aguero’ his biography read, and that’s all I needed to know."
I was left with two options - stick with backup striker Jordan Rhodes (shudders) or take a chance on a relative nobody.
My search took me to Argentina, to Independiente, to one Victor Almandoz.
‘Could be the next Sergio Aguero’ his biography read, and that’s all I needed to know. £6.5m. Thank you very much.
We then won the league by 16 points. We won our first Champions League in a pulsating 4-3 final against Man Utd.
"‘Shut the f-ck up’ I would have told him if he weren’t just pixels in a simulation."
Victor Almandoz, 19, won the Premier League Golden Boot.
Victor Almandoz, 19, won the European Golden Shoe.
Victor Almandoz, 19, didn’t win the Ballon d’Or. That went to Lionel Messi for a ninth time.
But he was the best player on the best team in the world. The best striker I’d seen in a game.
‘We should teach Victor Almandoz to stop shooting with power’ my assistant Juan Carlos Calcedo kept telling me. ‘Shut the f-ck up’ I would have told him if he weren’t just pixels in a simulation.
The titles kept falling, but I stopped touching the save for days (not weeks or months, I’m not that dramatic) after a crushing Champions League final loss to Madrid on penalties. Victor missed one of the two that cost us (John Stones, who had 18 penalty taking, skied the other).
I didn’t want to look at him. Not at any of them. That should have been ours. I could deal with defeat, but we’d hit a wall, the cycle had ended. Players came, players left, players forced their way out, players begged to stay.
Almandoz was given the armband and was happy to remain in west London (following one year at the Valley due to stadium redevelopment).
The next season, he broke Zivkovic’s Premier League goals record - 39, a new high, and not taking a single penalty while Stones was still about.
We reclaimed the Champions League, smashing Spurs 6-0 in the final at Wembley. We’d seen off Madrid 10-2 on aggregate in the semis, Almandoz scoring twice at the Bernabeu. We’d slain our demons.
The weight was lifted.
And yet, Messi, now a hundred million years old and having played 20 games all year in central midfield for Chelsea, still won the Ballon d’Or.
Victor came second. What a fix.
Thierry Brisson: Eric Cantona and Thierry Henry All Rolled Into One
- By Scott Saunders
Football Manager is a great way of keeping occupied in lockdown. I'd share my 'hours played' number here if I weren't slightly embarrassed by it. You know, being 30 years old, fully employed and that.
I still don't think I've topped my hours played from Football Manager 08, 09 and 10 at uni, mind you. Three consecutive years of saves taking the mighty Redditch United from the Blue Square divisions all the way to kings of Europe are heights I may never reach again. They're the greatest times of my life.
Sir Scott Saunders managed some great players.
Mihai Boldor, the forward who took us from League One to a safe position in the middle of the Premier League with his ice-cold finishing. Pierre Makoun, the magic no.10 of FM10 fame. Aurelien Yomby and Mark Calderwood were true saints, and John Gray is as big a Redditch legend as you'll ever find.
Even the official Redditch United Twitter account recognised the success when I revisited a save bored and tired on a work trip a while back.
But nobody ever came close to Thierry Brisson. So proud of him, I was, that I kept a screenshot (keep scrolling).
Like Thierry Henry and Eric Cantona rolled into one...but miles better, obviously.
Brisson came in and took over this team. He could do everything. He'd stand over every corner, score every penalty and honestly - I've never seen any Football Manager player score as many free kicks. Every time a free kick highlight would begin I'd have to watch on and wait for it to get blasted in the net. The fella was unreal.
"The driving force behind the most dominant Redditch team the world had ever seen"
He'd score important goal after important goal, and even score when he didn't need to. He'd notch remarkable numbers for an attacking midfielder and was the driving force behind the most dominant Redditch team the world had ever seen. Even England captain Barry Tucker, who sat in central midfield behind him, couldn't believe what he was seeing.
But then, my biggest regret.
He's aged 31 in the picture, just a couple of days out from his 32nd birthday. And you know what I did?
I sold Thierry Brisson to Real Madrid. It wasn't even for a lot of money, but just purely because he was just a couple of years older than I am now and still earning £90,000-a-week - a hefty wage packet back then, even for an all-conquering Redditch.
Within a couple of months of game play, I'd lost my drive for the save. I couldn't go on, and couldn't forgive myself.
I'll never forgive myself.
Sorry Thierry, please come back.
Victor Alonso: Good Times at Goodison Park
- By Jude Summerfield
Ever find yourself strapped of cash at Roma, desperate to get some sort of reaction from your players and feeling like all those 'Demand More' and 'Get Creative' shouts are falling on deaf ears, even though the squad are supposedly focused, inspired or fired up?
And after all of that, have you been sacked with your team 16th in Serie A, leaving you to spam the 'Continue' button until some chairperson decides third in Italy's top flight is good enough to offer you a job in the Premier League?
Well, believe or not, that's part of the story in my current Football Manager save. Sure, it's not particularly extraordinary, but here is an extraordinary thought: Everton winning lots of trophies. In the modern era.
It turns out all you need to succeed at Goodison Park is a pair of white trousers, yellow shoes, a brown jacket, a pink shirt and a black tie.
And while Fiete Arp, Bayern Munich's young striker and potential real-life successor to Robert Lewandowski, has contributed more than his fair share of brilliant performances during my suave manager's six-season career on Merseyside, it was a regen by the name of Victor Alonso who stole my heart (and the European Golden Boy award) during the 2026/27 season.
But first, a bit of background. This not real, computer avatar started his career at hometown club Villarreal in 2020 before moving to Real San Sebastián - or Real Sociedad - in 2024.
"Maybe it's wrong to fall in love with a projection in a video game, but I don't care. "
Plenty of scouting, five goals in 18 league games and £20.5m later, and our hero is a Toffees player. But with Arp, a useful Moise Kean and a Brazilian wonderkid by the name of Dequinho, Alonso is not expected to feature on a regular basis - even when the manager went a bit crazy and played with a deep-lying forward and two advanced forwards.But our hero was not content with a spot on the bench. Instead, he grabbed his manager's attention with four goals in one game - Brighton, 2026 Euro Cup winners strangely enough, feel the pace merchant's wrath as he hits the back of the net over and over again.
But it's his performance in the Euro Cup final at the end of the 2026/27 term which really endeared him to Everton fans.
In the 22nd minute, he's in the right place at the right time to head in at the back post from Dequinho's cross - the Brazilian was playing with injections, the absolute warrior.
Then, after Dequinho's goal had put Everton 2-0 up, our hero latched onto another cross, smacking the ball almost with contempt into the top left corner from just inside the box.
Now, maybe it's frowned upon and wrong to fall in love with a projection in a video game, but I don't care.
Alonso fired in 18 league goals in 21 appearances that season, finishing as the second best goalscorer in the division, with a further 12 strikes in cup and European competitions. He was only supposed to be backup for Arp, Kean and Dequinho, but instead he's now the main man.
He can't be dropped. He has to be one of the two advanced forwards playing just in front of the deep-lying forward.
I had dreams of grandeur when I first took over at Everton, and we even won the league in 2025, but with Alonso up front and a few other tasty regens in midfield, the sky truly is the limit.
Until we start the next season badly and I get sacked.
Louis Austin: The Stockport Legend Whose Story Ended in Tragedy
Fair Stockport is where we lay our scene. This is a story of love, loyalty and tragedy. This is the tale of Louis Austin - my favourite Football Manager regen of all time.
I first laid eyes on Louis as in my first ever youth intake. I was besotted instantly. There he was, 16 years old with 18 determination, a 'Fairly Professional' personality and a completely bald head. The stuff FM dreams are made of.
His technical stats were nothing too incredible but more than acceptable for a National League North left-back and so, just days after he arrived at the club as a youth trialist, Louis made his Hatters debut in a 2-1 win over Solihull Moors.
Playing in front of him that day was 17-year-old Gary Robson, a tricky winger signed from Welsh champions TNS for a whopping £5,000. After the game, I treated the pair to a VIP booth in one of Stockport's famed Under-18 night clubs. They deserved it.
Four months later, the duo would be back on that same nightclub dance floor only this time they were toasting our promotion to the National League. After this, the club went full-time and I made sure that Louis was the first player to pen professional terms - signing a three year deal on a frankly staggering £160-per-week.
"A 'Fairly Professional' personality and a completely bald head. The stuff FM dreams are made of. "
The step up in quality didn't phase Louis. He played over 40 games as we romped to the National League title... and then the League Two title... and then the League One title - all in successive seasons.
Throughout this run of an unprecedented, four straight promotions Louis and Gary remained unmoved down the left-hand side. Players came and went, but I was never tempted to cash in on these two homegrown Stockport legends.
The Championship proved a tougher nut to crack but following a mid-table finish we clinched a runners up spot with Louis once again starting the majority of games.
Surely the Premier League would prove a bridge too far for our shiny-headed protagonist? Well, not exactly. Though Louis was finally displaced in the starting XI by a ludicrously talented Argentine called Paulo Insua, I couldn't resist giving our now club captain a cheeky run out in the Carabao Cup.
As we've already established, miracles happen when Louis Austin's on the pitch, so of course he led us to the final, where we somehow managed to best bitter rivals Manchester City 1-0.
The Hatters were going on a European tour - or so we thought. Just after this, my laptop packed in and the save was lost forever.
I mourned Louis' virtual death for several weeks before coming up with the only appropriate way to honour his legacy.
And so, on my current Stockport FM19 save my managerial avatar is called Louis Austin. It seems like the magic is still there - given we've replicated three out of the historic four straight promotions so far.
Thank you for everything Louis.