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The Nearly Men of Africa – An Introduction

Let me tell you something, my friend.  Hope is a dangerous thing.  Hope can drive a man insane.

All football supporters have suffered the agony of hope.  The “what could have been” moments.  The heartbreak.  The days when your social-media-obsessed striker couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat.  

Barbosa at the Maracana, 1950.  Messi in the 2014 World Cup final, and then again in the 2016 Copa America final. Baggio in the 1994 World Cup final. Ghana at the 2010 World Cup. Bayern Munich in Barcelona, 1999. John Terry in Moscow, 2008.

For many, redemption comes in one form or another, some more glamorous than others. Titles won. Individual glories and accolades.  The heartbreak simply another chapter in the broader narrative.

For others, the heartbreak defines them.  Haunts them.  Overshadows all other accomplishments, triumphs and accolades.  The moniker of the “nearly men” is applied, and supporters grow old thinking, “what if…?”

This is the story of those teams.  Well… Another story about those teams…

Since its inception in 1964, 26 different teams have won the CAF Champions League.

19 clubs have reached the Final, only to fall short:

  • Africa Sports (1986)
  • Al-Hilal (1987, 1992)
  • AS Dragons (fka AS Bilima; 1980, 1985)
  • Ashanti Gold (1997)
  • Coton Sport (2008)
  • CS Sfaxien (2006)
  • Dynamos (1998)
  • Enugu Rangers (1975)
  • Étoile Filante (1968)
  • Ghazl Al-Mehalla (1974)
  • Heartland (1988, 2009)
  • MC Oran (1989)
  • Nkana Red Devils (1990)
  • Real Bamako (1966)
  • SC Villa (1991)
  • Shooting Stars (1984, 1996)
  • Simba FC (1972)
  • Stade Malien (1965)
  • USM Alger (2015)

Similarly, 8 different nations have brought home the World Cup. Yet, 5 have reached the Final only to return home with empty hands: Croatia (2018); Czechoslovakia (1934, 1962); Hungary (1938, 1954); the Netherlands (1974, 1978, 2010); and Sweden (1958).

For the past few years, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of bringing glory to as many “Nearly Men” clubs and countries as possible, focusing primarily on European clubs.

Credit where credit is due — the idea for this challenge originated with @smp20, who proposed it during the FM15 cycle.

My first documented attempt fizzled out early: If You’re Not First, You’re Last.  While success was only claimed in Malmö, that save laid the foundation for all that has come since.

The second attempt was 116 pages of utter madness, spanning 18 months real-time, culminating in 2091 after claiming an obscene number of trophies with Hakan Telleus and his son, Gunnar Vikander.  This was easily my favorite save of all time: If You’re Not First, You’re Last (Redux).

The third European attempt saw Jean Bleu rampage across Europe with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and John Drake, claiming 6 Champions League and 5 World Cup titles in 29 years: If You’re Not First, You’re Last (Re-Redux).

FM 18 – Jean Bleu, Career Overview

The FM18 cycle also saw the Nearly Men venture beyond European club football for the first time, with the Scottish Brendan Rodgers taking over at Ashanti Gold in Ghana, before moving on to Sudan: The Greatest Glory In Living Lies Not In Never Falling, But In Rising Every Time We Fall. While this save did not last, I have always regretted not continuing on with the African journey.

FM 18 – Brendan Rodgers, Career Overview

FM20 saw the Nearly Men return to Europe, as Nicolaj Bur claimed 6 Champions League titles and 3 World Cup titles, with his trusted lieutenant Zlatan Ibrahimovic at his side: I Am Not A Demon. I Am A Lizard. A Shark. A Heat-Seeking Panther. I Want To Be Bob Denver On Acid Playing The Accordion.

FM20 – Nicolaj Bur, Career Overview

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you may remember that I began the FM21 cycle planning to take the Nearly Men to South America, to tackle the Copa Libertadores.

As much as my head wants to join Stalin Pinzon at Cobreloa, following a brief sojourn to Ghana during the Bloggers Joint Save, my heart wants to return to Africa for a wide variety of reasons, including the fact that our daughter is Congolese.

Of course, the potential is obvious to anyone who follows football. None less than Nelson Mandela once described African football as “a giant that has been dormant for too long.”

And I’ve always had an affinity for the African game — one of my favorite football books of all time is The Feet of the Chameleon, by Ian Hawkey, who lovingly detailed the stories at the heart of the African football in the build-up to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

There are also numerous South American saves in the community right now that I’m enjoying — LutterworthFox’s Hall of FM-ame, in particular — and I want to continue enjoying those saves on their own merits, without my thoughts turning to my own South American journey.

Bottom line, the Nearly Men will go to South America. It may not be until the FM 22 cycle, but it will happen.

For now, we’re going back to Africa.

Per usual, there are no hard-and-fast rules beyond the concept of the save.

On the club side of the shop, once I’ve won the CAF Champions League, I must move on and can only accept a position with one of the sides listed above, or a club that manages to join this elite (!?) group of “nearly men.” Likewise, if a club manages to win the CAF Champions League another manager, they are removed from the challenge.

The twist comes with the international scene. I reserve the right to manage the above nations (or other nations who become “eligible” under the traditional rules of my Nearly Men saves); however, I will focus my efforts on winning the World Cup with as many African nations as possible. Per usual, if I manage to win the World Cup, I must immediately resign and move on to another nation.

In terms of the save setup, I am using Timo’s Megapack, and have loaded the top divisions from Algeria, Cameroon, DR Congo, Egypt, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Mali, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe, with lower divisions on view only.

I have also loaded the top divisions in Angola, Burkina Faso, Congo, Gabon, Guinea, Kenya, Morocco, Mozambique, Senegal, Tanzania and the Gambia on view only.

I have also loaded: (1) the top divisions from Belgium, England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain on view only; (2) all current international players (worldwide); and (3) all players from clubs playing in European, African and South American continental competitions. The goal being to find the balance between having a vibrant world outside of Africa (ensuring competition for the World Cup, and the poaching of players by clubs) while ensuring that the speed of play isn’t hampered by a bloated save file (due to unnecessary leagues and players).

I am also using kitpacks created by the mad geniuses behind FalopaFM, who have done a tremendous job creating kits for clubs across Africa (including some that will feature in this save), and custom-made the kits for our first club (to be revealed in the next post).

Finally, I have loaded the FtCS-branded reduced injuries file to cut down on injuries across the board, without giving myself an “advantage” over the AI.

Up next: we dive headfirst into the footballing world of 2024 and meet the manager who will (theoretically) lead us to glory.

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