It was my first start in the First XI at Portsmouth. I’m almost midway through my second season as a young professional footballer in PES2009’s Become A Legend mode. After a rocky start (it just felt wrong not to control every player) I’ve ‘got’ what BaL’s all about. I’m enjoying it almost as much as I’ve enjoyed Master League in its pomp, which is saying something.
I was nervous about my first start, and I played tight. I probably played more conservatively than at any time since I started playing this mode. I had an average match. It was the first leg of a D1 Cup tie, at home, against Sunderland. It ended 0-0 and I was pleased with my average performance. I was taken off in the 68th minute, which was fair enough. My stamina levels still need a lot of work. I thought I’d done enough to stay in the team for the next match, a full league match, and so it proved. I was selected in the First XI again.
After nearly a season and a half, I’m still learning my trade, still settling into the solo-player ethos of the BaL gameplay. I’ve finally worked out that the best way of getting the ball is loitering near the ball, rather than charging in and trying to take it. Your AI team-mates actually do want to pass it to you—you just have to coax them into doing it. Most of the time the ball will come to you if you position yourself intelligently. It really is an off-the-ball game as much as an on-the ball one.
I knew I’d need to play well to keep a regular place. A goal, or at least an assist, would do very nicely. My only goal in BaL so far is still that headed goal in training with Aston Villa last season. I’m so hungry for my first proper goal, in a proper match. Preferably one scored with my feet.
Sadly, I did not play well in my second full start. I was substituted at half-time. We were 0-2 down by that point. The final result was 0-3. My post-match rating was 5.5. Ouch.
I was disappointed but not surprised to find myself back on the subs’ bench for the next match. It’s pretty clear that I’ve got to play well to keep a place at this stage of my BaL career. I’m working on my game. I’m trying to get better. But this mode brings certain frustrations that I’m still not getting to grips with.
A big frustration for me is when one of our attacks breaks down and the other team streams back upfield and there’s absolutely nothing I can do to stop them. I can see their counter-attacking script playing itself out. They will keep the ball, and they will create a chance or get a corner, and I just have to watch helplessly. It’s this aspect of BaL more than any other that feels utterly foreign to me.
After sitting on the bench for the ENTIRE next match (easily the thing I hate about BaL the most) I was brought on as a sub in the next match. Only, I was brought on as a DMF. Uh? Never mind. I tried to get on with it, but then a few minutes later I was subbed myself. A caption appeared on-screen saying 4-3-3, as if that should be enough explanation for me. No, it wasn’t. In any real football match I would have been part of that reorganised team, part of the 4-3-3. In 30 years of watching football I can only remember a handful of occasions when an uninjured substitute has himself been substituted. I suppose I just have to mark this one down as yet another PES quirk.
Portsmouth are near the bottom of the league table at the moment. We started the season very well, but I wasn’t anywhere near the team back then. Since I’ve started making appearances as sub, and now getting a few starts, we’ve barely scored a goal, never mind won a match. It would seem to be all my fault. That’s strangely fine by me: what I caused, I can correct. I think Portsmouth will be relegated to Division 2. It’s far too early in my career for me to be the kind of one-man team I think I’d need to be, in order to turn this ship around. But I’ll stick it out here. The mid-season break is fast approaching. No doubt I’ll get a few offers from other clubs. But my mind is made up: I’m Pompey now and I’m Pompey for the next several seasons, until I’ve at least taken them to a D1 title. I’ll make my BaL name right here or not at all.
There has been another development. Last week, a few days after starting to play BaL seriously, I also started playing my old Master League save again, using the same BaL camera: Vertical Wide. It was in order to familiarise myself. The camera is a tricky one to use. It twists around when focus is on the wing, and the directional controls are always relative to your view. You can find yourself running the ball out of play if you’re not careful. The shooting values seem different too.
Playing my Master League save with the Vertical Long camera was like discovering a hidden 6-star difficulty level. My Coventry City team, packed with superstars, has taken some awful beatings. We’re 13th in the league table after 10 matches. I’m toying with the idea of starting a new ML career with the Default team, using this camera angle. But I’ve got enough on my plate right now. There’s only room for BaL.