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13th Sep 2019

The Football Manager 2009 wonderkids who never made the grade

Reuben Pinder

Remember Brek Shea?

Football Manager holds a significant place in the world of football. It is not just a computer game, it is the closest most of us will get to realising our dreams of leading our childhood teams to European glory. The game’s attention to detail is scarily thorough too. Well, most of the time.

On the whole, the boffins at Football Manager hit the mark when it comes to evaluating a player’s skillset; their stats are even used on Sky Sports News to inform pundits on a player’s capabilities. But one cannot see into the future, and inevitably they can get some stuff wrong.

Players with huge potential on the game, more often than not, don’t fulfil that potential in reality. Various external factors that a video game cannot account for come into play and affect a player’s career path. This is not a negative reflection on the game, just a fact of life.

To mark the ten-year anniversary of FM 2009, we took a trip down memory lane to reflect on some of the careers of nine players that FM 2009 led us to believe would become world beaters, starting with Stoke City legend Brek Shea.

Brek Shea – FC Dallas – DL, AMLC

Brek Shea’s career has not taken a conventional route, even for a player coming through the American system. Big things were expected of the Texan after he turned professional straight out of High School, bypassing the college system. A torn meniscus ruined his first professional season but he bounced back, playing wherever he was asked for FC Dallas before moving across the pond and joining Stoke City in 2012.

The Jack of all trades made just three appearances for the Potters and endured two loan spells (zero goals, 14 appearances) in the Championship before moving back to his homeland, where he found a home at Orlando before joining the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Perhaps a victim of his own versatility, never really nailing down a position, and the deceptive lack of quality in Major League Soccer (at the time), Shea never justified the hype. Moral of the story? Never trust a man who calls himself “Brek”.

Davide Santon –Inter – D/WB/AMR

A quintessentially Italian full-back – competent on both sides of the pitch, defensively solid (most of the time), but nothing spectacular in the final third – Davide Santon was an exciting prospect during his early days at Inter. Unfortunately, he then had the misfortune of being managed by Alan Pardew at Newcastle United.

Since then he has moved back to Inter, spent the majority of his time on the bench before the club realised there was a reason they sold him the first time, and sold him again, this time to AS Roma.

It’s difficult to express quite how average a footballer he is at the top level. He’s the Jake Bugg of full-backs. He’s a cheese sandwich. He’s nothing to write home about but he will fill a hole.

Armand Traore – Arsenal – D/WB/ML

Believe it or not, pace merchant Armand Traore played ten matches for Juventus before they realised that no, he was not the answer to their problems at left-back. After his brief spell in Italy, Arsenal shifted him to Queens Park Rangers (where all promising talent goes to die).

He is now playing at Çaykur Rizespor in Turkey. Well, I say playing, he has not made an appearance for anyone since 2018. Çaykur tried to sell him in January this year but received no offers and subsequently moved him down to their U21 squad to adhere to Turkey’s foreign players quota.

Anderson – Man Utd – AMC

Ten years ago, Anderson’s career seemed to be following a path well trodden by several Brazilians before him: From Brazil, to Portugal, to one of Europe’s biggest teams.  He very rarely scored goals but his youthful dynamism and creativity in midfield was an asset to Manchester United during their dominant years towards the end of the noughties.

However since the start of this decade, his form has taken a downward turn which has landed him in – yep, you guessed it – Turkey.

Giovani Dos Santos – Tottenham – AMRLC, FC

I expected big things of Giovani Dos Santos ever since I watched a segment on ‘the new Ronaldinho’ on Revista de La Liga (RIP). Those big things sadly never happened. Instead Dos Santos went on to have a career of peaks (leading a recently promoted Villarreal side to European football) and troughs (being loaned to Ipswich just six months after leaving Barcelona for Tottenham).

Since that turbulent start to his career, it has settled somewhere in the middle. Moving to LA Galaxy at the age of 26 would be considered concession of defeat by some, but as a Mexican international, a move to Los Angeles is understandably appealing.

This summer he returned to his native Mexico, joining Club América this summer.

His career has not exactly mirrored the disappointment of Brek Shea, but neither did he live up to the high expectations set by Football Manager 2009.

Fran Mérida – Arsenal – AMLC

After he made his first team debut at the age of 16, big things were expected of Fran Mérida, described by Arsène Wenger as “an absolutely amazing player”. A series of promising performances earned him a two-year contract in 2008, with many hoping he would play a pivotal role in Arsenal’s midfield for years to come. But just two years later, he rejected another contract offer from the Gunners having played just six times in two years.

He enjoyed one good season at Atlético Madrid but was quickly cast aside by Diego Simeone after his arrival in 2011. Since then he has bounced around from club to club, gone to Brazil, come back to Spain and eventually settled at Osasuna, helping them return to the Spanish top flight last season.

Adel Taarabt – Tottenham – AMC

The poster boy for untapped potential, Adel Taarabt was not only frustrating for the fans cheering him on, but for every neutral watching him twist and turn through helpless defenders too. The Moroccan Zidane’s first taste of the Premier League came at Tottenham, where he struggled to make an impact after Juande Ramos stripped him of his squad number, which Harry Redknapp would later restore.

Despite his evident talent, Taarabt needed a move down to the Championship to really show the world what he could do. It was QPR where he would be afforded the freedom he so craved, allowing him to run riot in a league he really had no business playing in. Like when someone brings their older brother to an after school football match. You really pitied the poor defenders who made pointless efforts to stop him in his tracks.

However, the problem with Taarabt, the reason why he never made it to the very top, can be explained perfectly by this passage taken from his Wikipedia page:

“Taarabt went on to state his intention to sign for one of the top clubs in Spain: ‘I hope to be playing for one of the top four in Spain next season – Real Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia or Sevilla. I have contact with good teams and I know that they want me. Now I just have to hope they can agree a deal with Tottenham.’

2010–11 season

Taarabt was to make his debut as a full QPR player, as the club signed the Moroccan for a reported £1 million.”

Jozy Altidore – Villarreal – S

Much like the aforementioned Brek Shea, Jozy Altidore fits perfectly into the group of players who are ‘very good in MLS, terrible in the Premier League’. Like a transatlantic version of the ‘Huckerby Zone’. Two goals in 30 appearances for Hull City, three in 52 for Sunderland and three in 22 during his time in Spain does not exactly scream ‘natural goalscorer’.

However, since his return to MLS in 2015, the American forward has managed to score at a rate of approximately one in every two games for Toronto. Safe to say Football Manager got this one wrong.

Nathan Delfouneso – Villa – S

When Football Manager 2009 came out ten years ago, Delfouneso was a promising 18 year-old with bags of pace and three career goals to his name. Ten years later, he is in his late 20s with slightly less pace and… 41 career goals to his name.

If you ever needed a reminder not to get overly excited about a footballer just because they are really quick, take a browse through this guy’s goalscoring record. His most prolific season came last year when he got nine in 46 for Blackpool. He has never reached double figures. It makes me quite sad just writing those words.