Month: October 2007

“Now we can concentrate on the league”; and Negotiate This

Suddenly, my first Master League season has gone the proverbial tits-up. I’m two-thirds of the way through the season and I am resolutely bottom of the league. I don’t think it’s possible for me to be more bottom of the league than I am right now. This is the most ideally bottom of the league I think I have ever been in any PES.

Here’s my record – it’s shocking. It’s something like Won 5, Drawn 7, Lost 3425. Goals for: 15. Goals against: 433,926. There is now no way I’ll be getting promoted in my first season.

It happened not long after the game where I scored the two wonder goals with Ruskin. I’m not superstitious enough to lay all the blame at Ruskin’s door. It’s not as if there’s some kind of set allocation of amazingness and good fortune that I used up all in one go with those two goals. I don’t think so, anyway…

Whereas previously I was holding my own and picking up solid results, all of a sudden I couldn’t score goals and I couldn’t prevent the CPU teams scoring goals against me.

The rot set in a few games before the mid-season negotiation period. I was eliminated from the Division 2 Cup. I lost the first leg at home 0-1, unluckily I thought, and drew the second leg 0-0. I was disappointed – but not too much. Being out of the Cup meant a few less games to tire my players while I went after the main objective – promotion. But I suddenly went on the mother of all losing streaks. I lost every game until the negotiation period.

Falling over that dividing line into the negotiation period was a great relief. Now, I thought, was the time to get my season back on track. Four new players was my target. I had 12000-odd points and my estimated end-of-season salary costs would be 9000-odd. I looked long and hard at my squad and knew that I should easily be able to trade in the dead wood, and even purchase some players outright with that spare couple of thousand points. I thought.

My first target was a certain player called Mathieu… I will write more about this PES phenomenon another time, probably when I finally get him. My PES Master Leagues only really seem to start when I get Mathieu.

In the first negotiation week (1 of 4) I tried to get Mathieu by trading Castolo. (No real loss to my team, as it has been a good few PESes since Castolo was really any good. I think PES3 was the last time, when he was called Castello.) Refused. The next week I tried to trade Gutierrez for Mathieu. Refused. In the third week I tried to buy Mathieu outright for 5000-odd points. Refused. In the final week I offered 7000 points, more than was sensible to risk a Game Over at season’s end for. Refused. Damn.

PES2008’s negotiation periods are affected by the team’s league position and overall prestige like no other before it. Being near the bottom of Division 2 (as I then was) perhaps counted against me. Whatever. I wasn’t too fussed, to be honest. While I was trying to snap up Mathieu I was also bidding for other players.

Which shouldn’t have been a problem, right? Wrong. I won’t recount all the gory details. To be honest I don’t really remember them. It was a case of Advanced Searching for medium-quality defenders, midfielders, and attackers (better by miles than any of my current squad) and placing a trade-in bid. All were refused.

By the last week of the negotiation period I had signed ZERO new players. I started to panic. I had a look at the Youth players under Search by Group, and saw three youngsters – 17-year-olds – whose key stats for their positions were almost all in the yellow or heading that way. I’ve got no chance of these, I thought, but I offered them contracts anyway.

Two of the three youth players were PES stalwarts: Schwarz and Shimizu. The other was some defender called Mattsson.

Luckily for me – I thought – they all accepted my contract offers. I went into the second half of the season with them in my squad. Having got rid of precisely zero players, I now had a somewhat bloated roster of about 30 players. Ouch. I’d easily be able to cover their wages at the end of the season – I’d spent nothing from my 12000 kitty, remember. And I could have lots of fun going for trade-ins all over the place in the full negotiation period.

But I still came out of the mid-season negotiation period thinking I had completely wasted it. Schwarz and Shimizu notwithstanding.

I put all three youngsters straight into my First XI. Here’s the new line-up:
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I dropped Iouga and moved Jaric to DMF. Zamenhof is actually a better keeper than Ivarov, so he went in. I brought in Baumann at CB as well. Mattsson went straight into the other CB slot. Shimizu fits in nicely as the right-sided AMF, and can play as a nippy CF on the right when called for. Schwarz is a natural CF, and currently belongs in the centre, in my opinion. I’ll try him out on the left in a few seasons’ time.

The new boys have done me no good. 17-year-olds have poor stamina. Schwarz and Shimizu play perhaps one game in three. Mattsson is a different prospect. He plays one full game in two, on average – he’s also pretty good, mopping up and clearing balls far more than any of my other CBs are capable of doing. Mattsson is actually the pick of the three right now.

Shimizu and Schwarz are too easily shrugged off the ball, too easily tackled, too easily outpaced. Neither have scored a goal as yet. Shimizu has one assist. Coventry City have plunged to the bottom of Division 2 and are going to stay there until the end of the season.

Regardless, I am still playing the three 17-year-olds in every game I can. It’ll bulk out their stats and hopefully give them a flying start to the next season, when they’ll be 18 and just starting to really show their potential.

So the first season is mostly a write-off. I have about eight games left to play. Now it’s just a matter of getting to the end, having a great negotiation period, and starting again.

That’s a cracker. And that one is too.

Take a look at the two goals below.

Who scored them? Was it Castolo? Ordaz? Guiterrez? Diego bleedin’ Maradona at his peak?

Nope. It was Ruskin who scored them – and in the same match to boot. Ruskin. He got both of them with his right foot as well. Yes, that’s the default left-back, RUSKIN. The player who can barely muster an arthritic shuffle to intercept yet another CPU winger bombing down on my goal.

First is a long-range shot from distance after a good set-up pass from Macco. I’d have been proud and happy to score that one with Ronaldinho or Gerrard a few seasons hence. But with Ruskin? In my first season? The world has turned on its head.

Not happy with scoring what would probably have been my Goal of the Season, Ruskin thought he’d go one better.

Later on in the same game, I’m 1-2 down and looking for an equaliser. I’m using my ultra-attacking 1-2-3-3 formation (mapped to a strategy button) to get some pressure going. Ximelez, shoved over to the right, does some good work down the wing (for once in his miserable life), checks back onto his left foot, and floats the ball over to the other side…

And there is Super Ruskin once again, lurking just outside the box to dispatch a first-time volley high into the top corner of the net. One of the most picturesque picture-book goals I have ever scored on any ISS/PES game. My gast was indeed truly flabbered.

I actually lost this game 2-3. I’m now looking goggle-eyed at the foot of Division 2, and seeing Coventry City headed that way. This first season will not end well for me. Derby County just phoned me up from the real world to laugh at me. But what the heck. I’ve scored two unforgettable crackers.

Ruskin?

#The road is long… with many a winding turn#

Another day, another few hours of PES2008. My opening games in Master League went surprisingly well. I drew the first game 1-1. I won the second game 1-0. I drew the third game. Then I had an amazing match in the fourth game, coming from 0-1 down to win 2-1 in the final minutes. I played against Celtic, who look very fetching on my HDTV in their green and white hoops.

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(I know. These mobile phone snaps look terrible. There’s many a wag who would tell you that this is more or less what PES2008 looks like on the PlayStation3 anyway . But I’m not one of them. Really I’m not.)

I followed this up with a couple of poor results. Poor performances from knackered players led to a clutch of heavy defeats. Galatasaray trounced me 1-4 in a truly miserable defeat for the home team. As the first Cup game approached, I feared the worst. My already drained squad would be all but annihilated by two games in one week. Then I got a pleasant surprise. The player team has been seeded for the first Cup game and has a bye to the next round, said a popup message (in so many words). Whoo-hoo! No Cup games for me just yet. I celebrated by winning a few games in a row and drawing a few other games. Every little helps.

Here’s today’s completely random goal:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AqKZva-bEz4&rel=1]

Hamsun can just be seen blurrily putting the ball into the net. I’ll score a real cracker one of these days. Then you’ll see.

So, after the opening dozen or so games I am in the unusual position of being 7th in the Master League – it’s unusual for me, anyway. Usually I struggle to string two passes together with the Default squad players, then hit rock bottom and stay there until I get to the first negotiation period. This year, however, there are 20 teams in the lower division and it’s a helluva long way to that stage. Perhaps I am rising to meet the challenge. Or perhaps PES2008 really is easier than its predecessors, as the word on the street has it.

I’m sticking with the First XI for the moment. Yes, Burchet has jet-heeled boots and would be the more logical choice to play as right-sided AMF instead of Espimas. But Espimas has the precious Middle Shooting ability. Against Celtic he got me the equaliser from 20 yards out. Burchet is more or less playing every other game anyway, as Espimas’ stamina is among the worst of the worst. His AMF buddy on the other side, Ximelez, is probably my least favourite player in the entire squad. But he is the only left-footed midfielder whom I feel comfortable with playing there. You go onto the field with the players you have, not with the players you want.

My defence is atrocious. I am usually a good PES defender but this lot seem to like nothing more than passing the ball straight to the opposition, and singularly failing to clear the ball when I want them to. The efficacy of the sliding tackle has been more than a little nerfed this year. It’s no longer a true sliding tackle. It’s more a case of the player going to ground and sticking his leg out while barely moving off the spot. CPU attackers simply sail by them.

As for the X-tackle… Don’t go there. It’s more common to concede a foul or poke your toe into thin air than it is to come away with the ball. It’s a mystery how I haven’t conceded 40 goals already. Every game finishes with the CPU teams having had 12 or 15 or 20 shots on goal. I rarely get even half that.

Overall, though, I can feel myself easing back into the comfortable groove of Master League on PES2008. The length of the first season is slightly worrying. Also slightly worrying are the frequent occasions when the game forces me to play at home in my away kit. (Stupid Konami, taking out the pre-game kit selection process. Or is its omission an oversight? Nobody knows.)

If I didn’t have to go to work I would be making a much bigger dent in this first season. I have a day off tomorrow, though, so I should be able to put a good few hours in. If I want promotion in this first season, I’m going to need at least four new players – good players – to do it. I really want to get to that first negotiation period. If I’m in the top 10 at that time, I think I’ll have a chance.

Master League: Game On

After twenty minutes spent editing all the English league team names, I turned my attention to PES United. Every year this is the team I take over and play my Master League career with. I always change their name to that of my home-town club – Coventry City – and edit the kit to the traditional (and world-famous) Sky Blue colour.

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I was concerned that PES2008’s trimmed-down Edit mode wouldn’t let me do what I needed to do. But it was fine. Yes, it’s a poor Edit mode this year. I feel a lot of sympathy for fans who love nothing more than to spend hours tinkering with players and kits and boots and logos and whatnot. But the bare-bones Edit mode happens to be adequate for my modest needs.

The only thing I usually do that I couldn’t do this time was add a shirt logo. At the moment I cannot be bothered messing around with EyeCams or whatever it is I need to use to transfer images into the game. I would have liked simply to add some text and use that as a logo, but even that function is denied. Curse you Seabass!

I zipped through the Master League setup screens, impatient to finally get going. I chose Top Player difficulty with 10 minute matches, and I selected the Teamgeist ball to play with. When it came to choosing the transfer market levels, I went with Normal for everything.

And so to the formation screen.

I was interested to see some additions to the Default squad players. As well as the usual and expected Ivarov, Ruskin, Minanda, and Castolo et al, there’s a handful of new faces. Baumann, El Moubarki, Van den Berg, Ettori. They’re all around the 20-years-old mark. I think they’ve been added not just to bulk out a seriously stamina-challenged squad, but to provide you with some youngsters to develop over a few seasons. Ordinarily you can’t get rid of the Default players fast enough (I’m looking at you, Ximelez). If you still have any of them in your squad after a few seasons, you’re not doing things right. But this crop of new players looks promising – especially Van den Berg. I’ll be keeping a fond eye on all of them.

As ever, the main formation has got to be a 4-3-3. And, again as ever, setting up an initial First XI is a matter of choosing the best of a pretty bad bunch. Here’s the formation and selection I started with:

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I know. With these players, it’s a formation that cries out: Attack me! But I have found that I cannot play with any other style of formation. Playing with two up front just feels wrong. With a 4-4-2 or a 3-5-2 I can never seem to make things happen. It’s 4-3-3 or bust for me. (I do kind of cheat on this a little by having two alternate formations assigned to strategy buttons, and I use them on the fly in the midst of games. But they’re very special alternate formations, and I use them in a peculiar way.)

I put all the defenders’ and the DMF’s defensive arrows on full. I set up a couple of attacking runs for the AMFs and CFs. (They haven’t worked out too well and I’m chopping and changing them from game to game.)

Then I was ready to play. I had chosen to play in Division 2 of League B, after a few minutes’ confusion over just which League had all the English clubs in its Division 1. After messing around for a while I finally just swapped out the entire Division 1 of League B for all the English clubs. This way, when I get promoted, I’ll be taking part in a virtual English Premiership. That’s the way I like it. However, I did not change any of the clubs in Division 2. Consequently I find myself playing in a real mish-mash of a league. Celtic and Rangers are there. Galatasaray are there. Rosenborg are there. River Plate are there. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. Never mind.

I forget now who I played in the first game. Whoever it was, they were all over me. I was cursing the Default players’ treacle-slow movements and response times. I viciously cursed their oil-tanker-like turning circles. I went 0-1 down. Then, somehow, I scored my first goal. Nothing special, really. But the first cut is the sweetest, or something.

The game ended in a 1-1 draw. Overall I was much happier with the Default players than I have been at the start of Master League in the last few PESes. This year they seem more resilient and more capable on the ball, relatively speaking.

I got a shock when it was time to choose my team for the next game. Barely any of the First XI had more than half their stamina left. It’s going to be a long, hard season.

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