Iain Macintosh on the weird and wonderful experience of being addicted to Football Manager

The Set Pieces' journalist spoke to Off The Ball this week

The emergence of computer game Football Manager in recent years has become symptomatic of football supporters' increasing thirst for analysis of the sport.

Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher have been pioneers on Sky's Monday Night Football, where they break down the weekend's talking points and offer insightful analysis on the performance of players in the Premier League.

Football Manager 2017, by extension, offers fans the chance to get involved by operating all aspects of a modern day football club; signing players, taking teams for training and even dealing with journalists.

The game has become so popular, in fact, that one football journalist has over recent years become a regular columnist on his trials and tribulations as manager of first Everton and then Portsmouth, in the 01/02 version of the game.

Iain Macintosh, author of Football Manager Stole My Life: 20 Years of Beautiful Obsession, spoke to Off The Ball this week about the game and his new project into its latest version.

"The technology has come on so much. What you had 15 years ago was a very enjoyable computer game that is still fun to play now," he said.

Image: Everton's Paul Gascoigne runs past Sunderland defenders Gavin McCann and Claudio Reyna in their December, 2001 match-up. Steve Mitchell EMPICS Sport

"What you have now is this sprawling monster of data, this immersive alternative reality that you can build around yourself."

Macintosh, journalist with The Set Pieces website, pointed out the value that the simulation has to real life teams and that the depth in information has become another tool for those looking to improve their player knowledge.

"The database, which is put together by hundreds and thousands of actual scouts, is now linked up to ProZone. It's astonishingly accurate, not so much on subjective things like how good a footballer is at passing a football, but on real life important things, like where they were born, what passport they have and heights and dates of birth. The engine behind the game has become quite important."

His book chronicles his relationship with the game, and how it impacted on his formative years, all the way up to his adult life.

"It had catastrophic effects on my GCSE results and yet I'm still playing now as I approach my 40th birthday. I spoke to a psychologist about the nature of addiction and the nature of what it was that drove me to play this game. I've been playing since the first game came out back in 1992.

"I asked him was this a real addiction and he said 'yes, that is the nature of addiction'. It's doing something that delivers a hit of pleasure and in taking that hit of pleasure, it leads you to want another one. It's in the same way a drinker takes a drink or a drug user takes a drug."

The project (which you can follow here) sees him take charge of Everton football club like he did for the 01/02 simulation, and explains why people have followed it so closely.

"I think we unwittingly struck a chord because it was only really supposed to be a thing for the summer when nothing else was going on, but I think there was something about that game.

"People really loved it and people have great memories of it. So, suddenly, writing in great detail about this doomed game of Championship Manager became a cult hit. We got more hits from that than from anything else.

"It was wonderful for me of course because it meant I could just play it over and over again and get paid for the pleasure."