PICTURED: Awesome Me pursued by rubbish Everton players.
NOT PICTURED: Useless Liverpool teammates. Yes, even Stevie G.
I'm a huge soccer fan and, like most fans, I can not only manage a team better than any coach, but I can also play the game better than any footballer. I believe this can be said of any follower of any sport. In fact, as a Liverpool supporter, I would actually have done a better job than the fekking chairman; I wouldn't have sold to those American shysters, for a start.
Anyway, in Pro Evolution Soccer games you take control of the whole team which means that not only do you get to sign the great players you also get to play as all of them, passing from you as Ronaldo to you as Gerrard to you as Torres etc etc. But PES 2010, though, goes one better with it's Become A Legend mode.
BAL mode sees you play as, well, you. And only you. You pass to team-mates controlled by the computer and they pass back to you if they want to. You can wave frantically for the ball like an Aussie in fly-season (Jan to Dec fly-fact-fans) but even then you might not get it. You can go great long stretches of the game without seeing the ball, while your teammates stuff up, lose possession and let the oppposition run past them at will.
Now this is surreal enough when you're used to controlling everyone in your team, but BAL goes one better by allowing you to name your player AND assign him a commentary name. What this means is that if you share a name with almost any professional footballer (which I do) then the voice commentary in the game has that name stored. You find the name and assign it to yourself and, lo and behold, when you do anything of significance the commentators (either the tedious Jon Champion or the ludicrous Mark Lawrenson) will mention you by name.
Add that to the fact you can create, from boots to haircut, your own, if you will, soccer avatar, it can become a heady brew for any soccer fan as knowledgable and skillful as every soccer fan is. And as a footballer, I am, it must be said, something of a veritable Adonis, tall, muscular and with a much, much nicer goatee. Put it all together, and if you're the shallow, self-righteous type this can all easily go to your head.
And so it proves with me.
Because when you're controlling the whole team, if you stuff up it's your fault. But when you're controlling just you, it seems like everyone else stuffs up. For instance, being a full England international (as I am) and having, at the tender age of 26, won both the European Championships and the World Cup with England (as I have)AND the Champions League with Liverpool (which I have) AND being the Premier League top scorer AND assist provider (which I am) you'd think that when we go 1-0 down against France in the current World Cup because David Bloody James in goal has obviously been using his gloves to spread butter (no change there) and, in the 75th minute, I equalise after a huge solo run because none of my team-mates seem able to pass more than 5 feet (which they can't), that I might get some token of appreciation from the clueless monkey in charge of the team.
Perhaps a knowing wink, telling me always had confidence in my ability to turn it round. Or maybe the bench applauding me as I run by, pursued by admiring team-mates looking to give me nice, manly hug (that happens in football alot). Hell, even a thank-you note and a book token for Borders or something would be nice.
Instead, he substitutes me. And with me gone, France score again. And again. And England buckle like a belt. And this happens when I restart the match so that me not winning against bloody France, an obvious oversight by the computer, can be corrected. I restart again. And again. It only stops when I score two goals and then basically run around hogging the ball so nobody but me can touch it because half of them are the opposition and the other half are England and I'm not sure which mob does most to make us lose.
And what all of this does is give me a genuine insight into what it is to be a world class footballer. Not because of the trophies (of which I have many) or the Footballer of the Year accolades (yup, got them too) or the many, many Man of the Match awards I have (can't move for the things), but simply because of how you feel when you're by far and away the best player on the pitch.
It gets tiring to look for a pass from a teammate with all the vision of Ray Charles. It's depressing to arrow yet another incisive ball through the oppo's defence, only to see the teammate take off after it like a particularly leaden-footed cart-horse. And most of all it's exasperating when the manager thinks he knows better than you and takes you off.
So what PES 2010 does is make you painfully aware of exactly why Ronaldo left Manchester United for Real Madrid. And why Gerrard and Torres might sod off from Liverpool, for that matter.