Make benefit glorious nation of New Zealand

Season 2 of my time with Saint Etienne has yet to get going. I’m also now the manager of New Zealand, and there’s a summertime tournament to play – the Asia-Oceanian Cup, no less.

I’ve played the two opening matches. Drawn one, lost one, as above. Thumped by Uzbekistan – the shame. In my last few friendlies before this tournament I seemed to get into the groove playing with the New Zealand lads, scored a few goals, and got a few good results. But it all went to pot come kick-off here.

Here’s the Group Table with one match remaining, against Qatar – victory will see me through:

I’ll be playing that over the weekend.

It’s the perfect real-time time of year to be playing this new-to-me segment of Master League. The sun beating down. June. No domestic football. That latter one is a huge bonus. PES – and even FIFA – long ago overtook ‘real-life’ football in relevance for me.

This time next year we’ll be watching news footage of fans being tear-gassed and baton-charged in Russia – I predict the Russian police will win every single one of those encounters – and when the matches take place, I’ll be fulminating about the unpunished penalty-box grappling that has all but destroyed football as a legitimate sport. About 30 penalty-box infringements will take place per match. but there’ll be maybe 1 penalty awarded per match – if the referee feels like it. Usually none of them will be awarded. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this phenomenon isn’t that it completely destroys football’s credibility as a sport (which it emphatically does), but that precisely nobody really cares about it. I know exactly how that kid felt when he announced that the Emperor was in the buff.

But I’ll save that rant for next June. Now, today, I’ve got a one-time effort to stay in the Asia-Oceanian Cup.

I’m also searching for new players for my forthcoming Saint Etienne campaign. These are my current search criteria:Using my squad of average players (Peter Crouch and Regen Ronaldo and others are in the high 70s, but all others are high 60s/lower 70s), I need to take Saint Etienne back to the big time. When I pitched up a season ago they’d just won Ligue 1 and were in the Champions League. I avoided relegation with them on the last day of this season. In real life I’d have been sacked. Here and now, in fantasy life (fantasy life is best life), I get to go on and see if I can turn the ship around.

Just before the season ticked over to the next, I was offered the manager’s position at Watford. They were relegated from the Premier League last season. I admit I was tempted at the notion of another battle to get out of the Championship and then take on my old club in the Premier League. My finger hovered over the accept button…

But I backed off making another move. I’m all about stability in Master League. I felt that to move again now would only invite the devil in, and then I could easily find myself moving on at the end of every season.

Besides, I’ve only just got to know my players here at Saint Etienne. And having led them to the brink of disaster, I feel like taking them back to the top.

The Heat of the Blight

Season 1 of my new adventure with Saint Etienne has concluded. This is Season 12 of my PES2017 Master League overall. I transferred to Saint Etienne from Coventry City at the start of the current season.

It’s been a tough season. I’ve observing some rather stringent House Rules, to prevent the game running away with itself and becoming too easy. Here they are:

  • No player in the squad rated above 80 OPR.
  • Any player whose OPR hits 81 or above can still be picked but must be sold or released on Day 1 of the next transfer window.
  • New signings must be either Youths, Regens (sub-79 OPR), or Veterans in decline.

These rules have produced a very competitive, edgy Season 1.

Team Spirit spent most of the season in the doldrums – probably a good thing, on the whole.

Towards the end of the season Team Spirit picked up, and the quality of the matches dropped considerably.

Coincidence? I don’t think so. The fast-and-furious ‘thrash metal’ gameplay that is such a blight on Pro Evolution Soccer in its current phase – constant possession turnovers; ceaseless end-to-end flow; insta-responsive players who all feel the same; kung-fu slide-tackles galore, with not a referee’s whistle to be heard – seemed to increase, and I can only blame Team Spirit.

Such frantic, thrash metal gameplay takes everything that’s ever been great about PES, and all but destroys it. But it’s what the marketplace wants. Even the so-called hardcore fanbase wants this kind of thing, if the forums are any guide. So it’s what we’ve got.

But enough matches stayed good to make the overall experience still a solid 8/10, bordering on an 8.5.

Here was the table with 1 match remaining in the season:

I was facing relegation to Ligue 2. It was my own stupid fault, having squandered leads in successive matches immediately prior to this table screenshot being taken.

I needed to win my last match to stay in Ligue 1. I really wanted to win it as well. Relegation to Ligue 2 would have been interesting, but it’s a long, long slog to get through a second-tier season nowadays, with no guarantee of promotion at the end of it, as I discovered the first time around with Coventry City.

I won the final match 2-0, and waited to see how my players would react at the final whistle. I got a standard last-day sequence of cutscenes, and surmised that I’d survived. I’d have liked to see my on-field avatar David Pleating onto the pitch, but never mind.

Survived I had:

On to the next season now, with great enthusiasm and curiosity. I’m due to clear out a few players who are nudging the 80-81 OPR mark. I have already arranged to sell Regen Griezemann. But I might hang onto Regen Ronaldo for another season. He’s still only 76OPR, and pretty average.

I’ll be looking at the strikers. The Crouch and Friday partnership had a golden few matches in the middle of Season 1, but fell away badly toward the end. It might be time for Jarvis to take Friday’s place as first-choice. Or I might swoop into the Youth team for a no-name player and see what I can make of him. This kind of thing is what these Saint Etienne seasons are all about.

Frouch or Criday?

Closing in on the end of Season 1 with Saint Etienne. I think it’s my 12th season on PES2017 overall. Or the 11th. I will have to check. Whichever it is, this is the longest-lasting PES since PES2012. Not bad going.

With 32 league matches played and 6 remaining of the Ligue 1 season, I have finally, painfully, hauled myself out of the relegation spots – but not by much:

Results have picked up, but not enough that I can be certain of avoiding relegation.

At least I got one player into the February Team of the Month, for the first time at Saint Etienne:

Friday is great at the moment, almost as good as he was in my promotion season with Coventry City back in Season 2. He’s getting goals galore, and of course last week’s sumptuous long-ranger is still fresh in my memory. I can’t see me scoring a better goal on PES2017.

The quality of the matches are consistently among the best I have played on PES2017 as a whole. Having lesser players really makes the difference.

I am also playing New Zealand friendlies occasionally, and experiencing matches that are just as good. I’d lost every match with New Zealand until the most recent friendly, against the UAE, where I went 1-0 down after a brave, battling opening, and thought ‘here we go again’. Then I stormed back to win 3-1 with my star striker, C WOOD, getting two of them and performing like 1980s Mark Hateley on fizzy pop.

Back in Ligue 1, Friday and Crouch up front seem to have gelled. Crouch (good touch for a big man, of course) is a great link-up striker. In one match I came back from 2-0 down to win 4-2 – with Friday getting a hat-trick, all of them laid on by Crouch, who scored the odd one himself.

My Team Spirit is up to the 85-90 range, depending on who’s picked. This is offset by the bad players I have in my squad – so bad they’re good.

That New Zealand-UAE match was a great, great match – the kind of match that we often say to ourselves was one of the best games of computer-game football we have ever played. While I was playing it I wondered just what makes playing football games often so good, but watching other people play them usually such an empty, rather pointless experience.

If I had that New Zealand-UAE game to show here, or the one where Friday and Crouch linked up so well, I wouldn’t post them. Because why? Because the elements that go to make a great football game experience do not translate very well to third-party observation.

Which is my farty way of saying that when it comes to footy games, you just have to be there.

Just as nobody can taste your food for you, nobody can look at a football game you’ve played and see why you thought it was so ace. Something to bear in mind over the coming months when it seems we will be seeing a lot of PES2018.

The Youth Vote

House Rules are the long-term future for me in PES. The only outstanding issue with them is how to manage them, and how to tweak them to make sure things don’t ever stray again in the wrong direction. How to maintain the optimum experience. For now I’m delighted with the House Rules I have.

Results have slightly picked up, and performances have too as my Team Spirit has climbed through the 70s and low 80s.

I got to mid-season and bought regen Peter Crouch from Leicester.

Crouch – my highlight of PES2015 and scorer of my best goal of that year – is currently a 78OPR 24-year-old.

Which means he’ll likely soon be hitting my Logan’s Run-style 81 OPR mark and have to be transferred. Or I might adjust my House Rules when I get to that point. All depends.

One of the most unwelcome features of this Master League is the extraordinary array of Youths that the game provides you with. It’s an obvious sop to the new football gaming crowd who want to play with superstars, and do flicks and tricks and handstands and whatever else they think is ‘awesome’, or whatever the proper young-people-today term is.

I encounter quite a few under-25s at my workplace, many of whom are keen football gamers. Either they haven’t heard of PES at all (very common among late-teens), or they’ve heard of it but are dismissive of it. Which begs the question of why Konami bothers trying to court this demographic with PES’s superstar-themed branding, marketing and content.

I suppose there’s an economic imperative in play, which means Konami can’t not do things to court that market.

And so we have the likes of C RONALDO and A GRIEZEMANN popping up in our Master League Youth teams — which they just have, for me. All so those notional teens and twentysomethings can have the thrill of seeing Ronaldo doing his Johnny Wilkinsonesque free kick stance thing.

Note that I’m 2-0 down to Lyon here, and had the vague hope that Ronnie might stick one away and kickstart a recovery. No such luck.

Lyon went on to score one of the most sensational AI goals ever scored against me in any PES. It’s right at the end of today’s mini-compilation — also worth watching for a decent Peter Crouch long-ranger:

What an AI goal that was, eh? I’ve remarked before how much more threatening the AI is when playing with lesser players/low Team Spirit, and a born-again AI remains very much part of the born-again PES2017 experience.

I signed Ronaldo and Griezemann. Perfectly in keeping with the letter of my House Rules, if not quite the spirit. They’re rated 76 and 75 OPR each, both 16-year-olds, both very average at the moment. I’ll sell them post-season for sure, releasing them into the wild where they will hopefully come back to haunt me.

It’s a bit churlish of me to attack this aspect of Master League. One of the big draws of my longest-ever ML campaign, in PES5, was the Panini sticker album of great names I assembled in one mammoth squad.

Ah, but that was a PES that withstood such treatment. Old-school PES never got easy for me, no matter how many superstars I picked up.

I remain near the bottom of the league:

5 point adrift with so many matches left to play means I’m not panicking just yet. Another reason not to panic is that I wouldn’t mind a drop to Ligue 2. I’ll do everything I can to avoid it, but if relegation happens it wouldn’t be terrible. I would enjoy the challenge of leading Saint Etienne back to the big time.

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