Just like Ottmar Did

It’s the 78th minute of the game. Höning goes with the ball. There, it’s the decisive pass to Zeidler and an unstoppable shot. Score. I nod approvingly and note two marks behind “Zeidler” and one behind “Höning” on my handwritten sheet of paper.

To this day, you can find various hints on the internet on how to effectively exploit your players in the legendary soccer manager Bundesliga Manager Hattrick: “Offer them contracts with a duration of 1 year and a salary of 200,000 DM. After they accept, immediately offer a new contract, but this time with a salary of 1 DM! Since nobody is satisfied with such a salary, a sulking phase of several weeks begins. After that, the players will be content with salaries between 2,000 and 15,000 DM.

Let’s be real: this is wrong on several levels. From a mechanical perspective, it’s a cheap exploit that’s so close to a cheat that the distinction becomes pointless. From a social perspective, it’s even more questionable, but at least not unrealistic, given my unsubstantiated ideas about the soccer business.

I have never resorted to such dirty tricks. In the hundreds of hours I’ve put into this game and its predecessor BM Professional, I’ve taken exceptional care of my team, ensuring their well-being and healthy club finances in equal measure. I’d rather spend a season longer in the lowly “Oberliga” than be a ravenous manager.

I may have missed the intended course of action a tad by playing like that, but I had a clean conscience. And because I am not only a person of integrity, but was also a child, I developed a reward system: In a complex and lengthy process, I brought all players to a reasonably equal salary level, despite very different skill levels. For some, this meant a huge jump in salary, and for others, I appealed to their solidarity in tough negotiations and with eloquent monologues. I won’t rule out the possibility that I was talking to the gigantic monitor. I… creatively expanded the game with both narrative and social elements.

I started the season with this more or less standardized foundation. Next to the computer, I always had a long list ready, on which I had written down all the players’ names by hand. Whenever a goal was scored, I proceeded as described in the introduction to this text, and after each game I went into “salary negotiations,” which consisted of offering the players in question a modest raise, which was gratefully accepted. Now, as I write these lines, I wonder what compensation model I came up with for defenders and goalies, but I’m sure it was elaborate and fair.

What I do remember: Against all reason, I rotated players like Ottmar Hitzfeld used to and brought the biggest duds onto the field so that they, too, would have a chance to get a pay raise. And my most successful player was allowed to stay at the club even when all the others had long since been replaced by new star players from Brazil and Portugal. He would become a legend of the club and went all the way from the Oberliga to winning the Bundesliga. His nominal strength was much lower than everyone else’s, but he was a permanent player until the end of his career. And scored reliably.

The Bundesliga Manager series (1989-2001) consists of seven parts. The 1991 and 1994 versions, called BMP and BMH by experts like me, accompanied me for many years, but like so many others I moved over to the more succesful Anstoß series with it’s third installment. The genre hasn’t been the same since. EA dominated it for years with their loveless Football Manager and spoiled any fun I had with it. And although the equally originally titled Football Manager by Sports Interactive is supposed to be great, I would rather spend another season with BMH or Anstoß 3.

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