Manchester City need to spell end of fantasy football

I remember well my football manager exploits as a child on my Amiga 500 – aside from spells on Sensible World of Soccer, it was Premier Manager all the way.

The challenge was always the same – taking Wigan Athletic from bottom of the heap to the top.

And to do that I knew a cheat that gave me, as manager, unlimited funds. I could buy any player I wanted. I redeveloped Springfield Park. I won a lot of silverware – or at least I should have. If there had been the option I’d have even given away free cups for the assembled media to fill with all the sweets they wished from a range of jars and bowls.

That computer game felt like the first throws of fantasy football.

And now, Manchester City get to do it for real.


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The key to my Premier Manager success was an eight-character code – for the Blues, it’s eight words: Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. That and a �220m takeover in 2008, opening up a �650bn-plus fortune for Manchester City to delve into.

The 13-year-old me had a pot of only �1bn.

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Not everything on Saturday was plush – our pool car had to sit at the ground’s only rubble-surfaced car park, where one boulder almost removed our exhaust.

However, the Etihad still oozed two things.

Firstly, money. The stadium area originally built to host the 2002 Commonwealth Games is in great nick. There are employees by the bucket-load – it felt like there was someone on every door, with the sole task of standing there waiting to open it.

And secondly, theme park. The painted floor, a covered stage ready for the pre-match gig, several big screens and rows of restaurants, bars and stalls – including Harvey Nichols no less, primed for the discerning pie and Bovril punter.

And on the pitch? Well the movement, tempo and work rate of Roberto Mancini’s millionaires will see them crowned Premier League champions in May as far as I’m concerned – and that comes from someone who sceptically wrote off their chances in this column a couple of months back with a “flash in the pan” comment.

“Keep up the sublime football by the time a cold December comes around and I’ll be impressed,” said I. Rest assured, I was. Very.

But for all the wonder at such a talented group of stars playing the game in such a pure and faultless way – I cannot remember one misplaced pass or bad touch from a light blue shirt – there is a sour edge.

Manchester City have plucked some of the world’s best talent at prices that, collectively, only they can afford.

No, it isn’t fair. It is financial doping. Even German giants Bayern Munich, who City face in their defining Champions League match tonight, agree.

Fifa’s fair play rules will aim to minimise the effects of owners’ fortunes but in truth, clubs will find a loophole here and a clause there that gives them enough to work with.

We’ve had similar before of course, like Blackburn in 1994-95 – but Manchester City have blown their figures out of the water.

It all scores another line through English football’s competitive nature that has arguably made it more popular than La Liga or Serie A.

Eventually, Premier Manager got boring – probably because the �1bn made it too easy, yet playing broke wasn’t desirable either.

We walked out of the Etihad on Saturday with our cup of sweets – an opulent gesture, much like Manchester City’s squad.

When a good proportion of clubs elsewhere are struggling to pay their tax bills, such opulence should not sit well.

If only to keep the game healthy and people’s interest, you either ban the use of cheats or you share them around.

Because if the ideas of Fifa, Uefa and the Football League to curb financial doping fail, it won’t be the footy computer games we get bored of.

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