I'm pretty sure that everyone who enjoys the annual thrills of sports games has dreamt about leading their favorite teams to glory. Lord knows I have.
Scoring Arsenal FC's winning goal in a thrilling Champion's League final has been a favored daydream of mine for years now, but seeing as I'm pretty shit at soccer IRL, that flight of fantasy sure as hell won't be coming true anytime soon. I've come to terms with that now.
That why we have sports games, right? There's no better feeling than staying up 'til the wee hours of the morning with some mates in tow, in an attempt at winning the World Cup — and actually pulling it off!
But imagine with me, for a moment, that your monumental skill in a sports game actually landed you a coaching job outside of your treasured gaming adventure? How being really damn good at a computer game would see you becoming a manager of a football club...in real life.
What a stroke of luck would that be?!
From pads to pitches
Three years ago, the then 21-year-old Football Manager fanatic and Azerbaijan-born Vugar Huseynzade lived the dream of countless FM fans across the globe, as he was appointed manager of Azerbaijani club FC Baku due to his in-game credentials.
The club was beset with issues occurring behind the scenes, which led to the resigning of ex-boss Kamran Ismayilov after a mere 2 years in the hot seat. The role, which was offered to Huseynzade initially as a joke, fell into the gamer's grasp a mere year after joining the club in a non-football related, advisory role.
In an interview with Daily Mail, Huseynzade revealed how he came to become a real-life manager after over a decade of playing Champ:
"I met with the president in Lithuania we had a short speech. He made a pragmatic joke I should contact him when I’m done with my education to manage for them in the future.
That’s how it happened, first I was not quite keen. I was working with the club from 2011 and at first I had nothing to do with the football, then when he saw the passion I had, he offered me to be the manager."
The Business Management grad, who had been playing FM since it was known as Championship Manager, even managed to fend off 1991 European Footballer of the Year, Jean-Pierre Papin from getting the role — and he was quite the coach at the time.
Coming to terms with the shock of handling day to day of football in a realistic setting was, naturally, fairly jarring for the man, but if there was anyone ready to handle the challenge, it was him:
"At FC Baku it’s real people, real feelings and real emotions. I would never have expected that after the game you go to the changing room and there would be so much emotions but I have seen it."
The transition from couch coach to real-life manager was made easier by being surrounded by sympathetic and experienced staff members, namely FC Baku's head coach Bozidar Bandovic:
"I get very big support from Bandovic because he was doing very big things before – he was playing for Red Star Belgrade."
But what of the most important staff at the club — its players? How would the 21--year old go about getting his team, comprising mainly of older players, on his side with no actual experience to his name?
"There is respect with the players. They show respect to me and I show respect back. The biggest thing I am very happy about in my job that I have done is make everybody to be together. We had problems in that some nationalities would only mix with their own.
This is what I have tried to do and I have succeeded. I made the group be together all the time by taking them out. We go to movies, we go to restaurants. We like to have fun."
So how did the mix of FM genius, no real life experience, and a happily fed and suitably entertained team come to amalgamate? Well, when Huseynzade first stepped into the role, FC Baku were languishing in bottom place. A spell in the league's lower division would await them.
But then, rolling in like a knight atop a football shaped pony, Huseynzade managed to elevate the team to a spot within the league's top 6 — a mere 16 points away from a place within UEFA's Europa Cup. Which would lead into more time spent competing in one of European football's greatest competitions. That's one way to rally your troops!
But it wasn't only coaching success that came to Huseynzade via the means of Champ, he also acquired a keen eye for a transfer. Using the game's outstanding scouting system, Mr. Manager managed to net Marius Pena, a striker from the Romanian league, whilst searching in the game.
"It was actually a big success, he scored six goals from his first seven games. Normally when a player comes into the team they need time to adapt, especially for a country like Azerbaijan which is far away from Europe (...), but surprisingly he was very excited and he started to play very good from the first game."
Football Manager's scouting system is so expansive, it is even being used by TV giants, Sky, to analyze footballers on Sky Sports segments. So powerful and thorough, over 1,300 scouts have researched over 600,000 players to provide maximum efficiency when searching for the right players to complement your vision. And it is astounding!
So all of this wasn't bad for being a champion at Champ, huh? Now I'd better start polishing up tactics in wait for Arsenal's call...