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‘Football Manager 2023’: my journey taking England to the World Cup

Will McCue

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‘Football Manager 2023’: my journey taking England to the World Cup

Featured Image Credit: Harry Kane / FIFA

My favourite feature that I’ve done so far on GAMINGbible is documenting my season with Newcastle United on Football Manager - it was a rollercoaster of emotions and something I even read back myself every now and then. Seeing as it’s a World Cup year, I thought it only appropriate to dust off my suit and jump into Football Manager 2023 in an attempt to take England to glory in Qatar. Our friends at SPORTbible have shown off all the new features in this year's version of the sport simulator, including the inclusion of the iconic Champions League anthem. It really is a treat.

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Right, it’s time to jump on a plane to the Middle East to try and bring home football’s most decorated trophy: the World Cup. ‘Three Lions’, ‘World in Motion’ and ‘Sweet Caroline’ blast through my headphones for the entire seven hour flight as I dream of beer gardens across the country filling up with lager-fueled fans. They’ll probably have Winter coats on this time though, as the World Cup is being held in November/December for the first time ever.

Qatar FIFA World Cup / Credit: Alamy
Qatar FIFA World Cup / Credit: Alamy

Squad Selection

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The first dilemma I have to deal with is the 23-man squad selection. England have a depth of attacking quality and I want to exploit that, none of these overly defensive tactics that Southgate loves. Unfortunately, Mason Mount and Kieran Trippier are ruled out of the tournament with injury, limiting my options. Luckily, there are too many good English right-backs at the moment, so the latter is less of a concern. In real life, the likes of Kyle Walker, Ben Chillwell and Reece James are all out but in the game I don’t have that problem. I quickly realise how hard a job Gareth Southgate has, there are so many great talents in the Land of Fish and Chips but no matter which players he picks, people get on his back.

After attending games across Europe and studying form sheets, I’ve decided who’s on the plane.

England Squad / Credit: Alamy
England Squad / Credit: Alamy
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Goalkeepers: Aaron Ramsdale and Nick Pope. Even though Pickford has been sublime with three lions on his shirt, his time as number one is up. Ramsdale takes his spot for me and will be a crucial part of this campaign.

Defenders: John Stones, Kyle Walker, Reece James, Ben Chilwell, Fikayo Tomori, Luke Shaw, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Harry Maguire. Maguire is a bit of a meme in the footballing world at this point but again, he has never let Southgate down in an England shirt. I want to start AC Milan’s Tomori with Man City’s Stones as the starting pair in the middle. Probably Chelsea’s Chilwell on the left and the right will be whoever is in the best form.

Midfielders: Declan Rice, Jordan Henderson, Jude Bellingham, Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, Jack Grealish, Raheem Sterling, Kalvin Phillips and James Maddison. I’ll probably change the midfield around a lot but Maddison’s call up is well and truly deserved.

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Attackers: Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Tammy Abraham and Ivan Toney. A few goals in the World Cup and Kane becomes England’s all-time top goal scorer. He’ll be a lone striker in my eleven but the others will be used as super subs and potentially for penalties. I hope I don’t see a penalty shootout however, I’m not sure my nerves can take it.

My likely starting lineup will be:

My England Lineup / Credit: The author & Sports Interactive
My England Lineup / Credit: The author & Sports Interactive
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Group Stages

The time is now. The moment the entire nation has been waiting for, the world is watching, lads. Go out there and bring football home.

The opening game against local rivals Wales starts off rather slowly, with the first 45 minutes being goalless. Gareth Bale wants to put one top bins from 30 yards out and then get a round of golf in before the sun goes down but that isn’t going to happen today. After demanding more and throwing a water bottle across the dressing room at half time, the Three Lions enjoy a lucrative second half. Captain Kane slides one in the bottom left corner just 26 seconds in. The game remains 1-0 until five minutes to go when he gets a second, followed by goals from Phil Foden and Jude Bellingham. 4-0 Get in. Enjoy your round of golf, Gareth.

Our second fixture against Iran was never in doubt. Foden continues in the same way he left off by scoring 32 minutes in. Reece James pulls a hamstring before halftime meaning Kyle Walker gets his first minutes of the 2022 World Cup. 1-0 at half time, not bad at all.

Captain Fantastic, Harry Kane, has one hand on the golden boot trophy as he effortlessly scores five goals with aplomb. Two of which are penalties but that doesn’t matter. A real performance for the ages.

England vs Iran / Credit: The author & Sports Interactive
England vs Iran / Credit: The author & Sports Interactive

We’re officially qualified for the knockout stages now, however a draw or better against the USA will ensure a first place finish in the group stages, and more importantly a potential easier round of 16 tie as we’ll play second place in group A.

I switch up the team sheet a little, resting a few players and giving others game time in hope of boosting confidence for later stages. James Maddison starts in the CAM position and Harry Maguire leads the defence, much to the annoyance of thousands on Twitter.

In the third minute we have a free-kick in a dangerous area. Debutant Maddison swings in a curling cross onto the head of, none other than, Mr Kane. Merely five minutes later, Maguire trips up Reyna in the box to give the USA a penalty. Tweets are flooding in as they equalise. This is the first goal we’ve conceded so far though. Thankfully, Bukayo Saka loops a header over their goalkeeper to give us the lead once again. The Arsenal man is one of my favourites so I throw my fists into the air and run around the room.

Fikayo Tomori, after having two amazing performances in a row, picks up a second yellow on the stroke of half-time. It could be tricky to see out the game now. Kalvin Phillips and John Stones are brought on to bolster the defence and I give Harry Kane a well deserved break. We finish the match with a 0.6 xG as we scrape the victory through the skin of our teeth. Sometimes you have to grind out results the hard way.

We win the group with a 100% record, the only country in the competition to do so. Elsewhere, current holders France top their group as well as Brazil, Argentina, Portugal, Spain and Cameroon.

Final Group Stage Standings / Credit: The author & Sports Interactive
Final Group Stage Standings / Credit: The author & Sports Interactive

Round of 16

Holland await in the round of 16 after coming second in their group on goal difference. The British media have written us off after an unconvincing performance against the USA but I have faith in my players. It will come good.

It doesn’t come good as a goalless, very boring game goes to extra time. I blame it on the nerves. Knockout football is an entirely different beast. I genuinely think to myself that I could just rage quit the game if we lose, to save my run and this feature. Henderson hasn’t shone so far but he’s put in a seven out of ten every game, which is exactly why I picked him. His 32-year-old body is tired now though after playing three games in the space of a week.

“Come on Jordan, don’t do it for me, do it for your country.” I say with my best David Brent impression.

Extra-time goes the same way as the first ninety minutes, finishing 0-0 and sending us to a penalty shootout. Every Englishman’s worst nightmare. Oh, and Declan Rice is sent off with precisely 0.1 seconds to go. Cheers Dec.

Declan Rice playing for England / Credit: Alamy
Declan Rice playing for England / Credit: Alamy

Frightening flashbacks of Italia ‘90, France ‘98 and Germany ‘06 flicker through my mind. But then I remember the last World Cup, where England broke the curse to beat Colombia on penalties in 2018. We can do this. Holland miss their first two penalties and I see the glory in tomorrow’s newspaper headlines appear before me. That is until Raheem Sterling and Luke Shaw both fail to hit the target. We only needed one to go in to win!

Sudden death penalties result in me not having any nails left but Aaron Ramsdale puts us ahead once again with an inspiring save. Ivan Toney steps back and slams home - yes! My girlfriend asks why I’m screaming at my laptop in the front room. We’re through to the quarter-finals!

England Players Celebrate / Credit: @England on Instagram
England Players Celebrate / Credit: @England on Instagram

Quarter-Finals

I swear under my breath as I see we have to take on the World Champions, and probably the best team on paper in the tournament, France. Tomori is back from suspension at least but Declan Rice’s red card means he leaves a gaping hole in defensive midfield. I brought Kalvin Phillips for this very moment, however I go for a tactic that France manager Didier Deschamps won’t expect. I start Trent Alexander-Arnold in his place. This will either go down in history as one of the worst managerial decisions ever or a tactical masterclass.

I decide to hold a slightly lower defensive line as well, in the hope of reducing the effectiveness of Kylian Mbappé’s terrifying speed. I make myself a strong cup of tea and press ‘Start match’. Here we go.

Surprisingly, it’s the 40th minute and we haven’t conceded. We haven’t scored either but Mbappé’s match rating of 6.6 suggests that my tactics could be working. Maybe?

Out of nowhere, 19-year-old Jude Bellingham thunders the ball into the top right corner, past Hugo Lloris’ outstretched arm. The sound of the ball hitting the sweet spot of the net gives me goosebumps. We could actually do this. Half time comes around too soon as I tell the lads that I’m proud of them. More of the same please.

Jude Bellingham / Credit: Alamy
Jude Bellingham / Credit: Alamy

PSG’s wonderkid is subbed off! Jurgen Klopp is taking notes as Trent overperforms in the middle of the park. Never in doubt. The referee’s whistle rings around the packed-out stadium as he points to the spot. Penalty to England! Harry Kane does what he does best and fires it home. 2-0!

Antoine Griezmann chips Ramsdale for a consolation goal but VAR rules it offside. We still haven’t conceded a goal from open play all tournament and are through to the semi-finals!

Semi-Finals

At this point, I’d been so focused on the France game, that I hadn’t been checking results elsewhere. We have to beat Cameroon to advance to the World Cup Final, no mean feat. This Cameroon side have broken the ceiling, becoming the first African country to reach a semi-final, ever! Shame we’ll have to put their story to an end. The other semi-final sees Spain take on the USA. I don’t know how the Americans have made it this far either.

John Stones is out after getting too many yellow cards so I move the versatile Kyle Walker to centre back and Alexander-Arnold back to his favoured right back position. Twenty minutes in - as supporters back home are queuing up for their second pint of the game - Harry Kane once again converts from the spot after Saka is taken down in the box. The Spurs striker is almost nailed on for the Golden Boot after he curls another in before the break. I try to get everyone on in the second half so they can tell their grandkids they played in a World Cup semi-final. The game ends 2-0 and we’re into the final for the first time since 1966!

Semi-Final results / Credit: The author & Sports Interactive
Semi-Final results / Credit: The author & Sports Interactive

Final

Well, well, well, here we are. The stage is set. Just 90 nail biting minutes to go. During the Holland game I never dreamed we’d actually reach the final but the boys have done it. I respect people who actually suit up in real life for finals in Football Manager but I don’t have the energy for that right now. I’m in a hoodie, about to bring football home by beating the USA.

“You’ve got to hold or give but do it at the right time. You can be slow or fast but you must get to the line.” I sing with my players before we step out into the Lusail Stadium in Qatar.

The last game against the Americans was a cagey affair but we came out on top. This match starts in a similar fashion, with few chances and several yellow cards for both sides. 0-0 at half time and Henderson is run into the ground. Maddison comes on with a fresh set of legs, a tactical decision after he linked up with Kane in this fixture in the group stages. Ramsdale makes some outstanding saves to keep us in the game and the partnership between Tomori and Stones continues to be the surprise of the tournament. In the 78th minute James Maddison slides past his man and sends a tricky through ball into the box. Harry Kane strides through and side foots the ball underneath the American keeper.

I turn ‘time wasting’ up to a maximum as we see out the game and win the World Cup!

World Cup Trophy / Credit: Fauzan Saari via Unsplash
World Cup Trophy / Credit: Fauzan Saari via Unsplash

Roundup

There we have it, World Cup winners! Hopefully Southgate can bring it home in real life this year too. Harry Kane gets the Golden Boot by some distance with twelve goals. He also wins player of the tournament, with Aaron Ramsdale and Kyle Walker coming second and third respectively. Some haul for the English lads. USA were undoubtedly the surprise of the competition and it’s nice to see some of their players in the team of the tournament, too.

Team of the Tournament / Credit: The Author & Sports Interactive
Team of the Tournament / Credit: The Author & Sports Interactive

What a journey, every up and down (mostly up) gave me a lovely boost of serotonin. Some matches I genuinely felt as anxious as if I was watching a real match. I’m off to celebrate - oh and maybe accept my knighthood too.

Topics: PC, Sega

Will McCue
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