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[FM22] The Ballad of Benjani - Phase 4 - The emotional high point has been reached - How far long will he keep this up?

13th Man

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  • 13th Man changed the title to [FM22] The Ruins of Pompey (aka attack of the wide-center backs!)
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Love the introduction! I can tell this is going to be great :D

Btw I have a soft spot for Pompey too after having a really fun save with them back on FM18 or 19 (I cannot remember). It was during this save that I originally discovered and purchased Erling Haaland before I had ever heard the name mentioned IRL. I think he had just moved to Salzburg. And he was a beast back then too...

I also remember the likes of Matty Clarke and Jamal Lewis tearing it up for me through the leagues, although I see neither of them are at the club anymore. All the best! 

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13 hours ago, karanhsingh said:

Love the introduction! I can tell this is going to be great :D

Btw I have a soft spot for Pompey too after having a really fun save with them back on FM18 or 19 (I cannot remember). It was during this save that I originally discovered and purchased Erling Haaland before I had ever heard the name mentioned IRL. I think he had just moved to Salzburg. And he was a beast back then too...

I also remember the likes of Matty Clarke and Jamal Lewis tearing it up for me through the leagues, although I see neither of them are at the club anymore. All the best! 

I did a few trial runs with Portsmouth in both FM18 and 19 (I think) but didn't end up following through for whatever reason.  I do remember Clarke and Lewis being players I keyed in on, but yeah, they're not at the club anymore.  I'm looking forward to really digging in this time though.

12 hours ago, SixPointer said:

Fantastic fanbase and a great rivalry throw in there a bit of a fallen giant and you’ve got me hook line and sinker! Another person going the real person route could this catch on! Best of luck and following as always 

The more I've researched - especially in my search for the manager (which is coming up) - the more I've gotten invested in this save.  The (soon to be named) manager is also perfect for me because he's probably the professional player that played the most like me of anyone I can think of, and he's perfect for the club.  It's just crazy how all the pieces have come together to make me especially excited about this save.  It's still relatively early in the season, but Portsmouth is kind of doing poorly in real life this season (16th in League 1) so maybe they should have hired my guy...

11 hours ago, Punch said:

Love the set up 

Thank you!  I may have had a bit too much fun writing it, but that's half the point of these things isn't it?  Well...for me it is.

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The Spark

Ah! You’re back! So good to see you! How are you today, anyway as I was saying…


[I’ll be mixing fact and fiction here, but the background/history is all true (or close to it) and taken from a variety of interviews and articles (not just Wikipedia). That it all conveniently fits my story is partially by design and partly dumb luck.  I tried to make it somewhat “realistic” based on what I’ve learned about the various characters (also known as real people) in this story. Point is, I’ve been down some rabbit holes!]




When Michael Eisner bought Portsmouth FC in 2017, he was buying a club that was just coming out of the darkest period in its history. The 2008 FA Cup win seemed like a lifetime ago for Portsmouth fans. After that it became clear that the club was £135m in debt after being used and abused by several faceless, maybe even fictional foreign owners, making the club an example of the perils of the Premier League’s completely unchecked ownership model.  Happily, things are different now *cough* Newcastle *cough*. What? Sorry. Something stuck in my throat.


Anyway, the club was on an express train to oblivion after administration and near total liquidation before a group of fans came together to save the club by purchasing it outright themselves for about £2.5m (or about £1,000 per supporter).  Fun fact, they started trying to buy it in 2009, and it took a lot of pressure from the UK government to get the previous owner to finally sell in 2013.  Over the next five years, the club stabilized and gained promotion back into League 1.


In Eisner’s offer to the Portsmouth Supporters Trust in the spring of 2017, the former Disney CEO presented a vision for the future that saw sustained success through careful, long term planning and building, but also a compelling story of an underdog club returning to glory.  He even made a montage which mixed real life successes of the Anaheim sports franchises (owned by Disney) and scenes from movies that he helped create - Miracle, Mighty Ducks, Remember the Titans, Angels in the Outfield etc.




Four years into Eisner’s ownership, Portsmouth have established themselves in League 1 and flirted with promotion every year. Yet each year they fell just short.


In the spring of 2021, Pompey needed a win on the last day of the season to get into the playoffs. Instead, they 1-0 lost to Accrington Stanley and dropped to eighth place. 


Eisner had been making steady investment behind the scenes, buying a training ground and moving forward with long needed renovation plans for Fratton Park and other club facilities, but that underdog to glory story had stagnated a bit.  They were close to making it to the next level, but just couldn’t quite make it. The team gave the fans a fantastic day at Wembley when they’d won the EFL Trophy in 2019 and made it to the final the following year, but rather than use that triumph as a springboard, it seemed like that was the height they could manage.


Eisner felt the early momentum of his arrival slipping away. Slow and steady had always been his plan, but he didn’t want things to go backwards. So he wondered what he could do to give the club a push in the right direction. Though he’d learned a lot about the sport he once knew as “soccer” he was aware that he had no business making player or tactical decisions for the club, but he could pick the manager. He’d already fired...check that...sacked Kenny Jackett, (the manager who’d gotten the club closest to promotion) after a run of bad results. The interim head coach Cowley hadn’t been able to pick up the pieces, though he managed to stop the bleeding.  When Eisner first arrived he kept with the manager, and in Cowley he went with his staff’s recommendation in picking a prototypical manager for this level. But it wasn’t working. Not like he wanted. He wondered why, and that’s when he thought about the underdog story he’d sold to the Portsmouth Supporters Trust.


Maybe that’s what was lacking - a narrative to rally behind. Maybe that was the missing piece. He’d stacked up the firewood behind the scenes, the passionate, loyal fan base was the kindling, but they needed a spark.


It was time to take a chance on something new. It was time to find someone to take the lead role in the unfolding story of Pompey’s rise from the ashes.


He asked his assistants to look for a manager that could provide that spark. He thought to look first at the club's history.  The obvious choice was to look to the FA Cup winning team of 2008 as the high point of Portsmouth’s recent past (while avoiding the ruination it put onto the team!).  Then manager Harry Redknapp had long since fossilized, and besides, he’d never want to manage a League 1 side anyway.  So they looked to the squad.  A few from that FA Cup winning team were pundits and then there were two coaches in Sol Campbell and Niko Kranjar. Sol Campbell had two unsuccessful stints as a manager in League 2, and Kranjar was an assistant in the Croatian u19 national team. Neither inspired Eisner, and it seemed like it was back to the drawing board. 


“Anyone else go into coaching from that side?" Eisner asked.


“Well,” an assistant said, “We did also have one player from that era come back and work with us this past year while he got his coaching badges.”


“Who?” asked Eisner.


“What was his name?…um…he also has a son who played for the u16s…I do think we cut him though...”


“Oh! Benjani…” added another assistant.


“Who?” repeated Eisner.


[Fade to black.]

January 28, 2008 - 8:30PM

[That's right, I’m doing a story inside a story inside a story. Inception, eat your heart out!]


A plane has just left the south coast on its way to Manchester missing one passenger.  It was the second plane he’d missed that evening. 


His name is Benjani Mwaruwari, a 29 year old forward from Zimbabwe. He was in the form of his life, having scored twelve in twenty three appearances for Portsmouth in the Premier League so far that season. Previously known for his physicality and workrate rather than his scoring ability, he was putting it all together for the first time in his career.  He wasn’t the best finisher, but his off the ball movement, his tireless work ethic, his strength and power, all combined to make a player who scored through sheer willpower rather than silky skill.




Along came newly rich Manchester City, who found themselves without any fit strikers. They decided that it made sense for them to throw £7.5m at Portsmouth just to get a forward that was scoring goals even if he didn’t stylistically fit into their long term plans.  


The story that came out later was that he’d taken a nap before heading to the airport and overslept.  Benjani’s apparent nap nearly kept the transfer from happening, which would have been a big problem as Jermaine Defoe had already arrived at Portsmouth as his replacement. He eventually would make it to Manchester just in time for City to file the paperwork before the midnight deadline. 


One might see Benjani’s nap as a careless act from a player who lacked professionalism, or a ludicrous act of near self sabotage. The Sheikh Mansour project was in its infancy then, but Benjani would still be getting a huge pay raise and most players would jump at the chance. It became clear, however, that it may have been Benjani’s reluctance to move from Portsmouth that led to his lack of urgency in getting to the airport.


"It was never my choice to leave Pompey,” Benjani would say in an interview only days after the move.  "There are some things in football that are more important than money and one of those things is a special relationship a player can enjoy with the supporters and the coach. I had all that at Portsmouth and I was really enjoying myself playing football in a very good environment and knowing that everyone was happy with what I was doing for the club.


"It was tough to leave Portsmouth and I was late leaving my home for Manchester because I kept asking myself all day whether this was all true," he added. "I kept telling myself that it was all a bad dream and I would wake up the following day and still be a Pompey player. But this was not a dream.”


Was it even a nap that had made him miss the plane? Or was that an excuse he gave or a story made up to cover up the players reluctance to move and to paint him in a bad light?


Either way, it has to be one of the more unusual interviews from a new signing. The only positive things he said about City were that he was getting paid a lot and that the manager Sven-Goran Eriksson seemed to really want him there.


In retrospect, Benjani showed his wisdom - while he became an instant hero at City by scoring in his first derby at Old Trafford, he soon found himself out of the team and was eventually sent out on loan to Sunderland to finish out his contract. 


After a year at Blackburn Rovers, Benjani actually rejoined relegated Portsmouth in 2011. The club, however, were in free fall after going into administration and the 33 year old Benjani was no help to Pompey as they dropped down into League 1 like a lead balloon.  Upon leaving Portsmouth a second time, Benjani released this statement.


“The times at Pompey were the best for me. It's sad to be going and, of course, it's hard to leave. It's hard to leave any team, but Portsmouth isn't just any team to me. I've never been anything but happy at Portsmouth. It's been a hard season for everyone at the club and these are hard times.”


Fast forward ten years...


Benjani finished out his playing career in South Africa and spent quarantine earning his Continental A license and managing a semi-professional team in England as he got his coaching badges. Part of his courses actually  included him assisting in Portsmouth’s academy.

Present Day

As he heard Benjani’s full story a few days later at a follow up meeting, Eisner felt like things had clicked into place. It was perfect - a former player that had not only talked on multiple occasions about his love for the club, but was known for his workrate and determination. It turned out many of the fan base considered him a bit of a cult legend or at least remembered him very fondly for a player that was only on the team for two years. His signature goal celebration was even to point at the fans to say, in his words “I like you! And I like you! And I like you!”




“I love it,” Eisner said with a definitive nod. “Contact him and schedule an interview.”


“Very good,” said his assistant, “but shouldn’t we wait until we decide on a manager before we start hiring coaching staff?”


Eisner cocked his head with a smile, “well, yes, we’ll talk with Benjani about coaching staff if we decide to hire him.”


There were chuckles in the room, especially from his sons.


“I’m completely serious,” Eisner said with a chuckle of his own.


“Um…dad,” one son leaned in, “he’s never managed before….”


“I’m well aware,” Eisner nodded. “But think about it. Think about the story. Imagine if we were the ones to hire a former well loved player, one who is hungry to do right by the club, loves the club, and we give him the chance to bring Pompey back to the promised land.”


“What if he doesn’t know what he’s doing?”


“Then we fire him and bring in someone who does.” Eisner laughed. “He’ll be delighted just to get this chance, he’ll be cheap and easily dismissed if he does poorly. But the upside would be huge.” He puts his hands in the air in the universal sign of ‘look at this headline’ “Former beloved player returns to Pompey, guides them to promotion…imagine the story! Imagine the fans! Now, I half expect him to make a fool of himself in the interview and then maybe we just stick with Cowley.  But, I also have a good feeling about this Benji.”


“Benjani,” corrected one assistant.


“Right, yes, Benjani. So get him in for an interview.”


[fade to black]

Later that day



Life happens fast when you’re a professional footballer, especially one as well traveled as Benjani. There’s rarely time for reflection. It’s even harder when you come from Zimbabwe (or any non-European country) and move between seven different clubs in three different countries over an eleven year European career. Between the travel, the new places, the new ways of doing things, the matches, the training, Benjani couldn’t do anything but let it all wash over him and do the best he could. The best he could was very good too, even if he never became a truly elite player. After he finished his career, he finally had some moments to breathe and to think. 


He thought about the ups and downs, the many transfers, the goals and the missed chances. He often always came back to the one time when he felt at home - at Portsmouth in 2008.


He had few regrets, knowing that he’d given his all wherever he went, but he did wish he’d spent more time on his fundamentals and studying the game when he was younger.  He also wondered what may have been if he’d had someone to take him under his wing rather than fending for himself in the crazy world of European club football, or just used him as a means to an end as his agents had. It was these thoughts that led him to pursue his coaching badges and make the transition into the back room side of the game.


Away from the adrenaline and the running, the game slowed down, and he began to see more of the whole pitch rather focusing just where he was and where the defender was.  He watched a lot of matches, even before he started studying for his badges. He saw the shapes, the spaces, and how the instructions changed how they interacted. Bouncing around so much, he’d been more focused himself and what he could control, what his instructions were, but he enjoyed seeing it all, and having a sense of control as manager of a lower league team, yet also working with the players to help them be as successful as possible.


When he got to do some apprentice work at the Portsmouth youth academy as part of getting his badges, he once again felt at home. It helped that his son was in the youth set up there, but it also reminded him again of the one time he felt settled, before Harry Redknapp sold him off to Manchester City.  Sure, his bank account had enjoyed that move, but he never found a footballing home again.  Even though things at Portsmouth had gone horribly wrong after that year, he wished he could have been there for it.


So when he saw an email from the club offering him an interview over the summer, he was thrilled to have made enough of an impression to be considered for the coaching staff there.


He couldn’t believe his eyes when he read that he was in consideration for the manager’s role. Even after rereading it several times, just to be sure, he figured someone had just forgotten to add u18 or u23s before the title, but even then it was like a fantastic opportunity. He wanted to ask what had made them reach out. Why? What had he done? Instead he wrote back with his availability and began to prepare. Almost as a joke, he even prepared as if there hadn’t been an omission and they were actually interviewing him for the first team manager’s position.


UP NEXT - The (second) return

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Love it, 08 to about 12 was where my football interest peaked (although it's coming slowly back again), and I remember the Pompey team, and story very well. Great write-up, I love stories like these, can't wait for the next installment.

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10 hours ago, john1 said:

Loving the intro and your depth in this story :cool: Can't wait for more!

Thanks! Coming soon!


9 hours ago, karanhsingh said:

Benjani! What a hero

Love the guy. Had kind of forgotten about him until I started looking for a manager to play as. When I found out he got his badges it was no contest.


8 hours ago, DefinitelyTaylor said:

I have completely bought into the Disney-esque story of Benjani taking the role. I also happen to love Benjani. :lol:

I’ll have to write some disneyesque songs to go with it! Here’s a taste…

[just long piano chords]

oh, I was once discarded, downhearted!

Sent off to City for a few quid!

(backup singers -Redknapp even joked they overbiiiiid, yes he joked they overbid)

But now I’m the boss!

[the drums kick in, a triumphant horn line plays, then the whole orchestra starts to move]

And it’ll be their loss!

Watch out world cause here I come to be the comeback kiiiiid!!!

[the strings climb higher and higher!!!)

[music cuts]

Cause I’m….

[huge brass hit before everyone comes back with soaring melodies]

Im Benjani! (Yes he’s Benjani)

6 hours ago, SixPointer said:

Play up Pompey with a Disney African feel to it! Man I can’t wait till the full games out to start writing up you inspiration 

I wrestled with starting before the main game came out, but decided that Benjani is new to management - so learning on the job is the way to go, and some curveballs will be about correct.

5 hours ago, Hootieleece said:

Mickey Mouse is a horrible Boss...just watch South Park and Shrek Movies! Lol.

Otherwise a great save. Hopefully you last and make this happen for the longterm.


As you’ll see, Benjani doesn’t trust Eisner further than he can throw him, but he’s not going to turn down this opportunity!

49 minutes ago, Netm said:

Love it, 08 to about 12 was where my football interest peaked (although it's coming slowly back again), and I remember the Pompey team, and story very well. Great write-up, I love stories like these, can't wait for the next installment.

True for me too. I had the time to watch SO MUCH of it then.

Glad you’re enjoying the thread!

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Nice choice - count me as another who followed the Prem closely in those years and has a soft spot for Pompey amongst other teams. I remember them coming pretty close to ending the Invincibles run before Man Utd did. I did a similar career rebuilding Charlton from L1 in FM21 as they are another team from that era I had a soft spot for.

Benjy is also a good choice for an ex-player to RP is. Good luck on south coast!

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5 minutes ago, Djecker said:

Nice choice - count me as another who followed the Prem closely in those years and has a soft spot for Pompey amongst other teams. I remember them coming pretty close to ending the Invincibles run before Man Utd did. I did a similar career rebuilding Charlton from L1 in FM21 as they are another team from that era I had a soft spot for.

Benjy is also a good choice for an ex-player to RP is. Good luck on south coast!

Who doesn’t love an underdog story? Pompey seemed the perfect underdogs back then…shame how it went but I’ve been glad to see them survive and stabilize.

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The (second) return [aka, the manager]

Fratton Park - 7 July 2021



“As a player,” Eisner said to the assembled press, “Benjani personified a hard working, team first mentality that resonated with the fans of this club, and I have every confidence that he will bring that same mentality to his new role as manager.  What impressed me the most, though, was his vision for the club. He talked at length about how Portsmouth was the one place he felt truly settled, the one place in his career where he felt truly at home. He talked about wanting to create a culture at this club that made all players, from the first team down through the youth academy, feel like they were part of a family.  Over the course of the interview it became clear that he was not just a good candidate, but the perfect candidate for this moment in the club’s history. 


But you’re not here to hear me talk about him, are you? So, without further ado, it brings me great pleasure to present to you the next manager of Portsmouth Football Club...Benjani Mwaruwari.”


Eisner finished his introduction, pausing only for a moment on the second part of Benjani’s name and pronouncing it fairly well, if maybe trying a bit hard. Benjani felt all the eyes in the room turn to him. Adrenaline surged through his body. It wasn’t unlike the feeling of stepping out of the tunnel  and out onto the pitch, only he couldn’t get it out by running and battling with defenders. But he was ready for this moment. He took a deep breath, leaned forward and launched into his prepared remarks.


After it was all over, Benjani could hardly remember what he’d said during the rest of the press conference and he didn’t care - it was in the past.  He needed to look forward. 

Becoming a manager had always been the goal when he started going for his badges and he’d spent a lot of time imagining what he’d do if given the reins of a football club. He’d gotten even more specific while “preparing” for the interview, so he was able to go on auto-pilot - just like he had when he started the zoom interview and saw that the Eisner clan was all on the call.

And now, confirmed as the new manager of Portsmouth FC, it was time to get to work.

The Producers (aka, board expectations)



“The fans are happy for the club to exist,” Eisner had said in the interview with a chuckle, “but I didn’t buy a…” he visibly paused to not say soccer, “football club to have it sit in League 1.  We’re not expecting to rocket straight into the Premier League, but we do expect to move into the Championship in the next two years.”


Benjani understood what his task was, and how long he had to achieve it.  The board didn’t care how he had the side play, they just wanted results.  They gave Benjani goals for the cups, but it was clear that they valued performance in the league as an absolute requirement.


In order to achieve these goals, Benjani was given a transfer budget of £0.  Essentially he was told that the squad was good enough as it was, and that if he wanted to change anything it would mean player sales.  This suited Benjani though, as while he did want to put his fingerprints on the club, he wanted to do so naturally, over time.

Principals (aka, secondary save goals)

Management was a results business, Benjani knew that, but he also wanted to stay true to himself and be the kind of manager he would have wanted as a player. He would have to carefully balance the two, though he believed that one could only be successful by tapping into your truest self. He came up with a handful of principals to guide him.


Loyalty - Benjani wanted to show loyalty to his players and his staff. He didn’t want to discard people the way he’d been discarded by Redknapp. Of course, this had to be balanced with competitiveness and the realities of the world. If a player didn’t fit or simply wasn’t good enough, Benjani wouldn’t stick with something that didn’t work, but he would try to do right by all his players. He also would give them every chance to prove their worth rather than constantly looking to improve and bring in new players.


This loyalty would include letting players go when they were given a good opportunity, but also trying not to let players get pulled into a situation like he did at City - where they’d become a stopgap or a backup when they were a star for Portsmouth. He would also try to do everything he could to bring youth players up into the first team. 


Eisner had talked about how important loyalty was to him, and it actually seemed like the man was being genuine when he said that Benjani’s emphasis on loyalty was a huge selling point.  Benjani was under no illusions that he would be the beneficiary of that loyalty, not for a while anyway.  Not when he’d so many suits say all the right things only to do the complete opposite once they had no use for him. 


He’d have to earn the loyalty of the fans before he earned ownership’s loyalty, and he’d get neither unless he got the team playing well. But it was worth the chance.  Worth the chance both to make Portsmouth a home to its players, but also to get his foot in the door.  He knew that once you’ve managed one club, others will always come calling.


Work hard, play fast - Benjani would expect his players to work hard on the training ground so they could play a fast and physical style. Yet at the same time he would spent plenty of time on tactical training and walk-throughs so that the players were completely comfortable in the system.


Simple for us, hard for them - Benjani wanted to develop a flexible tactic that would put his players in positions to succeed rather than relying on moments of magic from certain players. He wanted to make sure that players with the ball always had simple options and that the team would cover for each other on defense. He wanted multiple routes to goal in attack, and an aggressive defense that would force the opponent to fight hard for goals.

To play like this he’d need players that worked hard, never gave up, and could run all day. He had to balance this with his desire to do right by all the players at the club, and the realities of who could be brought in. One thing that would make things simple is that the players who aren’t invested in the team wouldn’t put in the work, and Benjani hoped they showed themselves out on their own.


Flexibility - Benjani wanted flexibility in his tactics but also knew that it wouldn’t be good to ask players to learn multiple systems and styles. Instead, he settled on a system that was fluid and flexible while looking, playing and feeling the same from the player’s perspective. The thing that changed was the spaces that each player was responsible for, not so much the movement or responsibilities.


UP NEXT - The dream [aka, the system]

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There’s no reason why those aims are attainable. Portsmouth have a decent squad - even if they have lost players like Jack Whatmough over the summer. Whilst playoffs are expected first season, it takes the pressure off a little that promotion isn’t wanted immediately.

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5 hours ago, DefinitelyTaylor said:

There’s no reason why those aims are attainable. Portsmouth have a decent squad - even if they have lost players like Jack Whatmough over the summer. Whilst playoffs are expected first season, it takes the pressure off a little that promotion isn’t wanted immediately.

Yeah, seems pretty reasonable. The squad is pretty solid for a League 1 outfit. Fingers crossed he can do it at the first time of asking, but it does relieve the pressure a bit to know he’s got two years 

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The dream (aka the system)

Benjani had played in and studied different systems, but In his first stint as a manager, he felt it would be wise to be true to his identity and create a system that reflected that. As a player, he loved the physical side of the game, loved the battle with defenders, but he was always tirelessly on the prowl for the open spaces - either moving into them or creating them for teammates. He would always imagine where the ball might end up from a bad clearance, or a missed header, and that’s how he got a lot of his goals. He also put constant pressure on the defenders, sometimes with the press, but also simply because he never stopped moving.


Zooming out, Benjani thought about the spaces on the pitch - space to exploit and space to defend - as well as pressure - both with and without the ball. 


Lastly, he’d always been about the fans, and as he considered how his team should play, he always knew he wanted to entertain. While individual brilliance was entertaining, Benjani was more interested in the brilliance of a stunning team goal.

The shape

Since he’d hung up his boots Benjani had become a fan of the three at the back resurgence. During his playing days, five in defense had meant a team was about to park the bus, but not anymore. With a new generation of center backs that could actually play football, the possibilities were mouth watering. He loved the idea of center backs marauding into the final third creating overloads and mismatches. He wanted to play physical, to have his team impose their will on opponents, and that was at the heart of a center back’s job.


He’d originally planned on implementing a 5-2-1-2 shape, loving the idea of a two striker system that remained solid at the back. But then one night he dreamed of a team in dark red in a 5-2-1-2 shape, unable to cope with a team in blue’s flank attack out of their 4-2-3-1. He somehow knew the final 4-1 scoreline, saw the Champion’s League logo in the stadium, saw the disappointment on the red team manager’s face, and, strangely, opera was playing in the background. The manager’s face came into view, the opera got louder, and though the manager spoke in Italian, Benjani somehow understood him.




Protect the flanks!


When he woke up, he puzzled over the dream. He liked the 5-2-1-2’s ability to punch through the middle, liked the twin diamonds made on the right and left sides, linked together by the covering center back and the attacking midfielder - but the flanks were vulnerable. More so than in a 5-3-2, where the two outside center mids could help out on the flanks without giving up the middle - but he didn’t care for the way the strikers could be isolated.  So what to do?  That was the issue with three at the back, wasn’t it?  You couldn’t have the flanks and the center…


But then Benjani asked the question - what if I could have both?  Or rather, what if I could choose, not in general, but game-by-game?


He came to the 5-2-3 formation, but one in which the wide forwards sat narrow in possession - almost making a 5-2-2-1 - but peeled out wide in defense.  He’d still have the diamond, it'd just be one horizontal diamond.  When playing against wide formations or teams vulnerable down the flanks, he could use the 5-2-3.  Against narrow formations or teams vulnerable down the middle, he could use the 5-2-1-2.  But how to make it so that the players could shift seamlessly?  How could he make the two shapes remain the same system, but attack and defend different spaces?  He knew from his playing days that when a manager asked his players to learn two completely different tactics it rarely went well - the fluidity wasn’t there and the movement didn’t come naturally.  He needed to make it so that the players’ roles were the same, just their location on the pitch changed.




To keep the foundation of the team solid, he decided that the shape and roles behind the front three would be identical in both shapes.  He might tweak the roles game-to-game, to push a player forward and another back, but that was separate from the system.


The wide center backs would push up in support and be on hand to gobble up any loose clearances. They would also either overlap or underlap the wingbacks depending on where the space was.  The opposite wide back would stay back and make a back two with the holding midfielder just in front.  The holding midfielder would also be available to recycle possession and slow down a counter. The carillero would be the link - working between the boxes and emphasizing the right side overload which included the wide center back, the wing back, and, in the primary 5-2-3 the support inside forward.

The difference would be the front three, and even then it wouldn’t be as big of a difference as it would seem at first. 


In the primary tactic, the 5-2-3 would be the team's shape without the ball, but in attack the wide forwards would tuck in and create more of a 5-2-2-1 shape, pulling the opponent out of shape and/or creating space for the wingbacks and wide center backs down the flanks. The shape would be spearheaded by a player that was, ideally, much like Benjani had been - a physical, hardworking player that put the center backs under constant pressure. He might have that player drop deeper on occasion and push the wide forwards up, but he’d often want the forward keeping the defensive line pinned back to open space for his wide forwards to operate in.




Benjani wanted to be on the front foot and play fast and entertaining football. With the focus on the wide areas, he couldn’t expect to dominate possession, but he instead hoped to pull the opposition apart and look for switches of play. He would, for that reason, be asking the players to take more risks on the ball and play it quickly. He was hoping to play out of the back by having the keeper distribute short, but once the ball was in play he wanted to play fast and aggressive.




The horizontal diamond shape that the side started in gave a lot of flexibility of movement for the players.  If the wide forwards moved inside, the wingbacks could stay wide, and the WCBs could move forward into the channel in support, or over/underlap the wingbacks depending on what how the opposition reacted. The question for each player was always - where is the space?  Then he could move into it.  The same was true without the ball - players needed to ask where the space was, and then fill the space.  The only two static players in the system would be the holding midfielder and the covering center back - both tasked with seeing the field and sniffing out the danger.




The 5-2-1-2 would be used when Portsmouth needed to punch their way through the center or against narrow formations that could overload his two in midfield. This set up would look to hold onto the ball a bit more, playing quick short passes down the center and using the two forwards to put the backline under constant pressure.


Rather than a totally different tactic, the 5-2-1-2 was almost a rotation of the front three. The supporting wide forward would move to the center, the attacking forward would become the advanced forward in a strike partnership while the physical center forward would drop a bit into the pocket between the backline and midfield looking to hold up play and make runs into the box from deep.



The roles and expectations would be very similar, but the area they would attack and defend would shift.


Support forward




This player should be a good passer and, ideally, have a decent ability to shoot from distance.  They’ll look to tuck in behind the front two, dropping into the midfield strata when Portsmouth doesn’t have the ball, while looking to spring forward and either lurk in and around the top of the box or make late runs into it.  In the 5-2-3 he would attack the right channel, but in the 5-2-1-2 he would be more central.


Attacking forward 




Ideally this player would be a speedy, good finisher, and a decent dribbler. They’ll look to get into scoring positions as well as create chances for themselves.  In the 5-2-3, he’ll look to join the center forward in the box when in possession and still stay more forward even without - serving as a wide outlet, but still putting pressure on the opposition full back. In the 5-2-1-2, he would move into the advanced forward position and push the defense back. 


The Benjani Role




This player is the physical and emotional spearhead of the attack.  They will look to impose themselves physically, harass the opposition, and, of course, score some goals too.  This player would ideally be strong, hardworking, and determined.  In the 5-2-3 he’ll lead the line, but in the 5-2-1-2, he’ll drop into space, looking to hold up the ball and play in others as well.

Nose to the grindstone

Having a tactic and a system was all well and good.  But it was time for Benjani to find out if his ideas would actually work in practice...and it was time to meet the players.

UP NEXT - The cast

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Loving the system ideas!! The WCB can prove deadly. I’ve played ten games on the beta and am massively impressed with the role. And delighted SI never rushed it and got them right! I’m intrigued to delve in with half space overloads being my big thing. Back to the Atalanta days!!


does Benjani take off Harry redknapp as a wheeler dealer? 

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7 hours ago, Hootieleece said:

Great write up of tactics. I went down a similar path but differently.


Thanks! Looking forward to seeing how yours fairs as well!


5 hours ago, SixPointer said:

Loving the system ideas!! The WCB can prove deadly. I’ve played ten games on the beta and am massively impressed with the role. And delighted SI never rushed it and got them right! I’m intrigued to delve in with half space overloads being my big thing. Back to the Atalanta days!!


does Benjani take off Harry redknapp as a wheeler dealer? 

These WCBs are fantastic. Sneak peak - first goal of the season was scored after only a minute gone, assisted with a cross from the left side WCB after he’d overlapped the WB. My celebrations were embarrassing because I was simply delighted by it happening!

In terms of wheeling and dealing, Benjani plans on being a reaction against Redknapp. He’ll look for a deal sure, but he’s looking to build a family rather than a band of mercenaries. He hated being forced out the door at Fratton Park in 2008, and doesn’t want to be like that. In other words, a secondary save goal for me is to NOT do as much transfers and try and build the team from within. I’ve tended towards the wheeler-dealer side previously, so I’m trying to challenge myself in that regard.

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Tactic in Action! [interlude]



We interrupt this touching, moving, and emotional film to bring you…




Here’s a few screenshots from a preseason game that show the 5-2-3 in all its beautiful glory!




This shot shows the main, in possession shape of the 5-2-3.  #17 is the PF, with #11 (IFa) and #10 (IFs) tucked in behind him.  #8 is the CAR with #23 as the holding midfielder.  #13 and #3 ar the wingbacks, with #15 and #6 the right and left WCBs.




This movement is magical for someone (me) who yearned for my outside centerbacks to attack the wide open spaces in front of them in my Livorno save. It's just a brutal right sided overload.  In between the two shots, #10 (IFs) pushes the ball out to #13 (WB) who holds up the ball and waits for the overlapping run of right sided WCB #15 before playing him in.  #15 then sends it into #10’s path, and he crosses it into the center for a tap in for #17.


From a defensive/transition point of view, also notice also that the left WB #3, the left sided WCB (#6), the holding midfielder (#23) and the cover centerback (#26) are all still back and while the opposition #9 could potentially be in a decent space to start a counter, there's still three Pompey players behind him.






These two contrasting passing maps show the flexibility of this tactic as well. Gosport were set up in a 4-3-3 while Den Haag played a narrow 4-2-2-2.  Both made extensive use of the flanks, but both found a great deal of success passing and moving against both shapes without the TIs changing at all.


(love this new feature by the way, as I often found myself wanting this but finding it too much trouble dealing with all the busy work of going through game by game...)




Of course, Portsmouth were a more talented team than either, and crushed both, but the key was seeing the movement, passing, and flexibility in action.


Now back to the film…




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3 hours ago, karanhsingh said:

Try out 3d - I have always been a 2d proponent on FM but am really impressed with the new animations.

Oh ha! I watch games in 3D - just much easier to show what’s happening in a screenshot  in 2d 

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The cast (aka the squad) 

When Benjani arrived at the club, he was surprised at how little the players seemed to know each other. He found out later that there had been a massive amount of turnover in the squad and over half the team had arrived only just before he had, most of them as end of contract signings.




Benjani was generally happy with the quality of players at his disposal, and glad that the majority of the squad would be coming in as a fresh slate.  The squad was made up of a lot of older players, with most of them over 25 and many of them approaching thirty.  This was actually a positive in Benjani’s mind, as age would create squad turnover naturally within the next few years, though at the same time it was many of these older players who seemed to have what Benjani was looking for.




Overall, it was a solid group and well suited to his tactic.  The weaknesses were dribbling and flair, and in his system both of those attributes weren’t especially important.

The Grinders




Thompson and Tunnicliffe would anchor the midfield.  Benjani could see from day one that the two had fight in them.  This is what he would often need out of his midfield - the willingness and desire to run all day.  With the main 5-2-3 shape emphasizing the flanks and the WCBs pushing forward, the central midfield would have to work hard.  These two looked set to embrace that challenge.  Yet neither were pure bruisers - they were perfectly comfortable on the ball.

The Tower



Raggett wasn’t the most active player, and wasn’t interested in running but he was big and strong and willing to throw himself about.  If he was played in the center, he’d only have to cover and mop up for the more dynamic team around him.  

The veterans





Freeman and Brown were both solid players in the later parts of their careers. Neither were particularly inspiring but Benjani knew they could be relied upon.

Williams was a player that Benjani wished he could have worked with a few years prior - he was still a good player, but in Benjani’s fast paced system, his lack of pace could expose him. His presence in the locker room would be appreciated, however, and he’d be useful to bring on sometimes.

Nearly Man


Harrison caught Benjani’s eye on the first day of training - he worked fairly hard, could score, and was pretty good in the air.  Benjani felt like he would make a very good spearhead for his attack.  He became a bit disappointed with his output, though, and in friendlies he seemed to shy away rather than embrace physical battles. Benjani figured he might be better suited to the wide roles when he could use his physical ability to create mismatches or build up a head of steam but not get caught in as many battles with center backs.

The vanguard 


Marquis was injured in preseason and so Benjani didn’t get a good look at him until just before the season started, but when Marquis took the field Benjani knew he had his starting center forward. He worked hard, put himself about, and had enough physically about him to lead the line.

The aloof one



Benjani saw that Morell had ability, but he wasn’t sure about his commitment and he wasn’t the most proactive player. He’d still likely be a first team regular as he was a good fit fit the carrilero role.

The Irishmen




Neither of these two inspired Benjani, but they both had the tools to be effective inside forwards, and were both versatile enough to play across the front line.  These two Irishmen were two of the only players to continue on from Portsmouth’s 20/21 squad.

The exchange students





Bazunu, Azeez, and Romeo (on loan from Manchester City, Arsenal, and Millwall respectively) were only on the team temporarily. Benjani would rather not use them much for that reason, but Bazunu was a clear improvement over their keeper Alex Bass, and Romeo’s speed would be deadly at this level. Benjani also felt that Bazunu might be allowed to stay a few years to develop before being called back to City. Azeez, however, was a player that he didn’t plan on using as more than a depth/rotation option. He was a decent player, but he lacked the mentality Benjani expected of his players, and wasn’t good enough otherwise to make up for it.

The “youngster”



Hackett-Fairchild was a raw player but his physical ability made him potentially effective at this level. At 23, he wasn’t truly young, but the coaches still thought he had good potential. The fact that he was homegrown also worked in his favor. He’d get game time in the lesser cups and late on in games when the defenders were tiring.

Mr Mercurial



Oglive was a player that confused Benjani. He either seemed to be spectacular or disappear. He was very good in the wide left role and could also fill in behind Brown in the wingback position.

Missing pieces


Benjani was a bit worried about the lack of depth in the wingback positions. He had two players that could play both roles well, but they were both also the starting wide center backs. 


Happily, a right sided center back made himself available in Andre Wisdom.  




At first, Pompey couldn’t afford his wages, but then a bid came in for the third choice attacking midfielder and the player was interested in a move.  The transfer freed up enough money that Portsmouth could match his demands.  Benjani had a bit of regret later, feeling like he’d given Wisdom too big of a contract at £6k/w, but he looked set to be an excellent player that would contribute in the two years he was signed for.


UP NEXT - The helpful mouse

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The helpful mouse


[Credit to @Hootieleece for reminding of me of this South Park reference that was perfect for this scene]


6 August 2021


“Benjani!” Eisner begins as soon as he enters the zoom call. “How are you? How’s training? You ready for Fleetwood tomorrow?  Great stuff in preseason - a 1-1 draw with Norwich!  Fantastic!” 




“Now it's time for the real deal!” Eisner continued,  “Teams that need to win. So, I promise not to call you before every game,” he chuckled, “but did you get the email I sent with all the best sports speeches in movies links?”


“Yes!” Benjani replies with a thoughtful nod, “very inspiring.”


“I just love watching those! Never fails to get me motivated! Now, I would save those kind of speeches for the big games, but I’d say tomorrow is a pretty big one in a way, isn’t it? Maybe dip into those links for some inspiration, right? We want to hit the ground running with a win, especially against a team like Fleetwood Town!”


“Yes sir,” Benjani replies with a nod, “the squad is raring to go tomorrow and I’ll make sure to send them out in the right frame of mind.”


“That’s great, that’s great! I’m sure you will,” Eisner pauses. “Oh, and no need to call me sir! But anyway, can I just ask - which one of those speeches are you thinking of using tomorrow? I mean, obviously not stealing one, but which one are you thinking of drawing from?”


“You know,” Benjani pauses looking up, “I was thinking of using little bits from here and there. And, like you said - I shouldn’t use them all at once!  But…definitely the line about this is our time.”


Miracle! Perfect! I love it. So glad I could help. But now,” Eisner cracks a smile, “It’s your time, Benji! Looking forward to tomorrow. We’ll be watching!”


Benjani let out a long breath when Eisner left the call.


“I guess I should probably open and at least skim his emails in the future,” he cuckles to himself.


The truth was, he did feel pretty good about opening day. After a successful preseason, he felt like his side were already learning the system well and working well within it, and that he had a good handle on his first choice eleven.

Now it was time to see if it worked when the matches started to count.




UP NEXT - Once upon a time...

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Wow I did not realize that Pompey have had such a huge turn-over... wonder what happened there?!

BTW don't write off Curtis - I don't think I have ever played a game against Pompey on any FM where he has not got on the scoresheet. He's like a League One (very) poor man's Cristiano Ronaldo.

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6 hours ago, karanhsingh said:

Wow I did not realize that Pompey have had such a huge turn-over... wonder what happened there?!

BTW don't write off Curtis - I don't think I have ever played a game against Pompey on any FM where he has not got on the scoresheet. He's like a League One (very) poor man's Cristiano Ronaldo.

Kind of crazy. I haven't kept up with the team in the last few years so didn't realize until I looked at the transfer history.

Curtis been good so far, but got injured in the third game, and the team definitely suffered without him in it.  Back again and scoring once more.  Got two in his return game and another in the next!  But that is to come later, for now...

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12 hours ago, Djecker said:

Very nice

Thanks!  I may have enjoyed that little too much.  I had the scene in my head and I've done some work in film scoring (music for film), so I'm a bit familiar with the mechanics and just decided to roll with it.


9 hours ago, Hootieleece said:

Quite a twist on a career update! To write a screenplay. Are you thinking of selling the rights to Disney?

If the buy it....you might have more time to play FM!


I should sell the screenplay!  It'll be my golden ticket!  I might need to tweak the way I'm portraying Eisner, but maybe they'd like it because he is a former Disney CEO and may have been forced out?  I saw some inklings of that, but wasn't my main topic of research.... And every Disney movie needs a villain!  (Except Moana, that was just lots of misunderstandings)

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Scene 2 - Honeymoon

[I can’t keep up the “production values” of the last few installments, and you're probably getting tired of it anyway, so here’s a more standard update!]


Things have started off well for Benjani, and he has Portsmouth playing excellent football. In their progressive 5-2-3, they’d given teams all kinds of trouble with not two, but three players attacking the flanks and channels.




Unbeaten in August, Pompey added two comfortable wins in the League Cup against Championship sides. Luton was 3-1 until the 94th minute, and the 3-0 thumping of Millwall at The Den was quite satisfying. Even better, both times he fielded rotated sides. Against Luton, his side also showed its tactical flexibility by playing well in the 5-2-1-2.


Progress was slowed a bit in disappointing draws against Shrewdbury and Doncaster, but even in both games Pompey created a fair amount but struggled to convert. 




It was only five (league) games in but Pompey were looking very good from both a goals scored and a goals conceded point of view. 




The goals scored stat was definitely screwed by the 5-1 Crewe game, but Portsmouth were actually scoring less than expected based on xG overall.




They were scoring plenty, but Benjani hoped to improve in terms of shots on target and xG per shot. Both were low because Pompey were putting in a lot of crosses. Even if they were crossing well, Portsmouth were over reliant on headed goals.




While the crossing statistics were fantastic, Benjani felt like crossing nearly fifty times were game was a bit too much and he hoped to find a way to vary his attack.




On the defensive side, however, Benjani was very pleased. They were not conceding or giving the opposition many chances. It was likely a combination of player quality and Benjani’s proactive (but not gegenpress) defensive tactic.




Those two draws that they should have won had cost Pompey top slot in League 1, but they were well within the playoff places and only four points back from Ipswich. Benjani wasn't getting to confident just yet though, because they were only four points ahead of 11th placed AFC Wimbledon.


The one thing that gave Benjani pause was that his side were yet to come up against a team in the top half, but you can only beat what’s put in front of you…


UP NEXT - Stop Using Your Head!

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Scene 3 - Stop Using Your Head! (A kind-of, sort-of montage!)

[Quality and movie-ness of updates subject to change without notice…but here’s another…]

We're gonna need a montage!!!



Scene opens with a tracking shot on Benjani leaving his office and walking to the training pitch. He’s wearing a track suit.

[Need something like Eye of the Tiger or Highway to the Danger Zone but just different enough that we don’t have any copyright issues.]

Gotta Make a Tactic

Tempo - 140bpm


[A steady bass line rolls along with driving drums and occasional short, sharp guitar chords. For the musicians out there, the Bb’s are on the “and” of three, and the chords change on the “and” of four. Hold the Ab and Bb for full value.]

Cm / / / | Cm / / (Bb) | Cm / / / |Cm / / Bb |

Ab / / / | Bb / / / | Cm / / / | Cm / / (Bb) |


Cm                             (Bb)

(Backing vocals)

Making’ a tactic, gotta make a tactic

Cm                 (Bb)

(Lead vocals)

Benjani loves the 5-2-3 e     e!

Cm                             (Bb)

Pompey’s gettin goals as you can see e e!


But he’s not gonna stop


He’s gonna get to the tooooop!

Yeah he’s…

Cm                             (Bb)

Makin a tactic, gotta make a tactic!


Benjani heads out onto the pitch and the music fades to the background as the players gather around him. 



We’re in good form. After Saturday’s win over Cambridge we’re top of the league and won four on the trot…




[With a little gleam in his eyes]

Thing is, and I didn’t think I’d ever say this as a manager

but I want you to stop using your heads so much…


There was a bit of laughter from the team.






We see a series of crosses heading over the bar or straight into the keeper’s hands.









It's been working for us so far.  Yes I know.  But twelve attempts and only two with feet?  Oh, and what was one of those attempts with a foot?  






Lee Brown [left WB] gathers the ball on the left, looks up, and sends a looping through ball for John Marquis [CF] to run onto and slot past the keeper.







It was the fastest goal so far this season! Twenty three seconds, John!


The team cheer and thump Marquis’ back.



But do you know what I liked so much about that?  It was Lee [Brown] playing John [Marquis] in right away.  You didn’t mess around, you just put the pass in.  Fantastic.  We need more of that.  That’s why we’re going to try playing a bit narrower against Blackburn tomorrow.  We can’t just fling balls into the box.  That’s an arrow to have in the quiver, but when they’re sitting back goalkeepers will love having those nice balls to catch after we loft the balls softly into the box, yeah?  Let’s cross a bit deeper so that we can run onto the ball.  I’m not liking these lofted balls.  They’re working, but for how long?





🎵Makin a tactic, gotta make a tactic!🎵




Harrison and Harness both score with headers, and then there’s an endless series of easily saved and off target headers from crosses.



And after a game in which Portsmouth were on top for seventy-five minutes, Blackburn came storming back in the final ten minutes and win 5-4 on penalties.









Well, okay, we’ve talked about how and why we lost that game, and it’s not because of the crosses…




They got those two chances and they took them, they won on penalties.  It’s fine.  That’s the League Cup and what we want is the league.  BUT! But we keep putting crosses in and keep making it too easy on them.  Yes we scored two, but then...not so good otherwise.  Alright, let’s start playing through the middle a bit.  Let’s look for our midfielders and see about switching the play, changing the angle.



🎵Makin a tactic, gotta make a tactic!🎵












Benjani sighs



Well, that was just kind of…




#%€@! It was utter £^#\ing #%€@!!!


Benjani nods



Yes. Couldn’t have said it better myself. But…it was better balanced.




...let’s see how it goes on Tuesday at Burton…





Harness cuts in from the left, finds a yard of space, and hits a screamer into the top right corner from outside the box.









That was also kind of…


Benjani motions to Turncliffe.







Thank you…

But we got the three points and we managed a good balance between working the ball into the box and just lumping it in.  But I think that’s where we need to go now. Work the ball out of the back, work the ball into the box.  We’re going to back off a bit - still play fast, but a little less wastefully, yeah?





🎵Makin a tactic, gotta make a tactic!🎵





[probably Sky, so long as they’ll pay us for advertising]






Portsmouth finish their September in strong form, winning four out of five in the league and falling narrowly to Championship side Blackburn in a Carabao Cup game that they really deserved to win.





It was tough to lose that one in a penalty shootout, no doubt, but Pompey’s league form is nothing to be ashamed of.  They’re scoring almost two a game and conceding an average of one every third game.  That’s just excellent, and shows why they’re top of League 1.



They’re not quite the most prolific crossers in the league, but they’re up there.  And the thing is, so far, it’s working.  It’s taking a lot of shots to get each goal, but Pompey continue to score, with Harrison looking especially dangerous scoring nine so far this year.




Yeah, his leaping ability when coming in from the left has given rightbacks nightmares!



With all the goals they’re scoring, their excellent defense has often been overlooked. Not only are they the best defense in the league by goals scored, they also allow the fewest shots and the lowest conversion rate of any team in the league.  They allow less than ten shots a game and not even four percent of them are making it past loanee Bazunu in goal.



The question is, can they keep it up through a busy October?




Music fades back into the foreground as we see Benjani working with his players, sometimes coaching, sometimes playing with his squad in training.


Cm / / / | Cm / / (Bb) | Cm / / / |Cm / / Bb |

Ab / / / | Bb / / / | Cm / / / | Cm / / (Bb) |


Cm                             (Bb)

Makin a tactic, gotta make a tactic!


Benjani wants less crosses


Even though there’ve been no losses!

Cm                      Bb

[Lead vocal]

He won’t stand for goo - o - d

Cm                          Bb

They keep hitting the woo - o - dwork.


He’s gotta be the best


Gotta put it to the test.

Cm                             (Bb)

Makin a tactic, gotta make a tactic!

Cm                             (Bb)

Makin a tactic, gotta make a tactic!





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  • 13th Man changed the title to [FM22] The Ruins of Pompey (The Ballad of Benjani - Phase 1 - Charge to the Championship)
On 08/11/2021 at 06:08, karanhsingh said:

Nice I think you seem to be improving the tactic step by step and making it very solid. 

Thanks! It continues in the next post, where Benjani finally gets what he’s looking for.


23 hours ago, Fudal said:

How many people can say they created an FM story with a score :lol:

Incredible man, keep it up!

Glad you like it! I was tempted to actually record it, but FM already takes up too much of my time as it is…

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