A game with roots dating back to the early 90s, Football Manager has become a phenomenon with players enamoured by the challenge of signing wonderkids from South America or leading a team from non-league to Champions League glory.
Yes, Football Manager has developed a cult following and a legion of devoted followers to a franchise that simply seems to grow year on year.
Indeed, many footballers have become famous in their own right not necessarily for their performances on the pitch but for their rise to prominence from boy wonder to global superstar in the world of Football Manager.
So, to help celebrate the full release of the latest instalment, we have taken a look at how some of the most iconic and infamous players of Football Manager fared in the real world…
Had Cherno Samba managed to replicate the simulated predictions in real life, perhaps we would have been speaking about him in the same breath as Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo (hey, we said perhaps!).
A prodigious 16-year-old on the books at Millwall on the Championship Manager 2001-02 game, Samba was the man to spearhead a plethora of gamers to global domination.
Things didn’t quite pan out the same in real life as the former England youth international took in spells in Spain, Greece, Finland and Norway before retiring in 2015. Samba scored on his English Football League debut for Plymouth Argyle against Coventry City in August 2006 but failed to net in any of his following 15 league appearances in England.
— Plymouth Argyle FC (@Only1Argyle) January 13, 2017
Freddy Adu’s is a genuine “what if?” story. The teenager was the man to sign on Championship Manager 4 and was tipped for superstardom after making his professional debut as a 14-year-old with DC United in April 2004, scoring his first professional goal later that month.
Adu had a trial with Manchester United but unfortunately never lived up to such high billing, with spells at Benfica and Monaco among a host of clubs he turned out for. In October, Adu announced he had signed for third-tier Swedish side Osterlen – his 15th professional club – after a two-year break from the game.
A player whose talent forced a positional rethink for David Beckham at Manchester United and was enough to displace Ronaldinho from his favoured No.10 position…on his own Championship Manager saves!
On the face of it, Kennedy Bakircioglu’s stats were solid if unspectacular (18 for technique, though…) but the attacking midfielder – part of a generation of Swedish talent with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Kim Kallstrom – was unplayable at times in the simulated world.
In reality, Bakircioglu failed to impress on trial with the Red Devils and he had a somewhat nomadic career with spells at the likes of Twente, Ajax and Racing Santander on his resume before retiring back in Sweden with Hammarby a couple of years back.
TONTON ZOLA MOUKOKO
A man whose name even to this day is revered by fans of the game. A special attacking midfield talent available for a pittance from Derby County, Moukoko was regularly sought out by players.
In real life, Milan were apparently interested in the teenager but sadly personal tragedy struck. Moukoko moved to Sweden with his brother as a child but the death of his sibling left him out of love with football at 18. Moukoko would return to Sweden and also had a spell in Finland.
True disciples of the Football Manager series will know full well that South America is a hotbed of wonderkid talent. Cruzeiro’s Kerlon was one such player on the 2005 game and life looked like imitating art when Serie A giants Inter brought the master of the famed ‘seal dribble’ to Italy.
However, Kerlon’s trademark trick – where he would flick the ball into the air and run with it bouncing on his head – never got an airing in the famous Nerazzurri jersey.
He failed to make an appearance for Inter, and a host of loans – including one to Ajax where game time similarly didn’t arrive – were unable to spark his career. Kerlon went on to play in Japan, the United States, Malta and Slovakia in a journeyman career before retiring in 2017.
One for the real old guard here, Ibrahima Bakayoko’s all-round attributes and clinical finishing meant he was a Championship Manager cert in 97-98 – although a tendency for injuries and a high fee (£5million, no less!!) were potential stumbling blocks.
However, away from the simulated world, Bakayoko earned the very harsh nickname “Baka-joke-o” during a spell at Everton that returned just four goals in 23 games having signed from Montpellier.
He was the first Ivorian to score a Premier League goal, doing so against Southampton in 1998, but the following season he was back in France playing for Marseille and he would represent 13 clubs in total.
— Everton (@Everton) June 12, 2017
ANTHONY VANDEN BORRE
If you played Football Manager in the middle-to-late noughties, then at some point or another you will have signed Anthony Vanden Borre, a wonderkid across several instalments who could be signed for a nominal fee from Anderlecht.
Nowadays, of course, Vanden Borre is arguably best known for Chris Kamara’s famous “has he?” gaffe on Sky Sports when informed by Jeff Stelling that the defender had been sent off while playing for Portsmouth in a game ‘Kammy’ was supposed to be watching.
A decent career that has included 28 Belgium caps continued when his former team-mate Vincent Kompany took him back to Anderlecht for a third spell after three years without a team, though largely to work with the club’s younger players.
Still a wonderkid on Football Manager in 2009, two years on from being acclaimed as one of the most exciting teenagers in the world by World Soccer. The Mexico talent showed flashes of brilliance when he made the breakthrough at Arsenal, but consistency was lacking.
After several loan spells away from the club, Vela finally found a permanent home at the last of those in Real Sociedad, where he spent a further six seasons. In 2018, Vela moved to MLS with Los Angeles FC. He has been involved in 77 goals in just 69 MLS appearances (54 goals, 23 assists).
Another player who Gunners fans will attest to the fact that his virtual prowess was not matched at the Emirates. His supposedly deadly finishing made him a must-buy on Football Manager 2011 but a move to Arsenal from Auxerre in 2013 brought little joy.
In English football, he netted just two goals in 31 appearances in all competitions for Arsenal and Crystal Palace combined, only to score a hat-trick on his first ever start for Charlton Athletic (his third overall). However, these were the only goals he got for the Addicks. He is without a club after being released by Toulouse in July.
— Football Manager (@FootballManager) November 10, 2020
A debut at 16 and a treble with CSKA Moscow before the age of 20, it doesn’t take a genius to work out why the statisticians at Football Manager had such high hopes for Akinfeev – one of the all-time simulation greats.
A couple of serious injuries and a high-profile error for Russia against South Korea in the 2014 World Cup meant that Akinfeev never quite delivered on the early promise.
Indeed, after keeping six clean sheets in his first 10 Champions League appearances, Akinfeev then conceded at least once in each of his following 43 games in the competition. Still, he is a legend at CSKA and has over 100 caps for Russia.
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