Football Manager 2023: Simulating Betinho's Man Utd career
Unless you've been living in a cave, which would frankly be far more appropriate over Easter than the Christmas period, you will have seen the news this week of Betinho, a striker from the fifth tier of Portuguese football who inexplicably appeared on Manchester United's Premier League squad list ahead of their game against Nottingham Forest on Tuesday night.
I've unravelled the mystery that is Betinho's backstory here. And do you know what else I've done? I've loaded up Football Manager 2023 and played out a full season - or as long as I could before being unceremoniously hurled into the Old Trafford car park with all my belongings in a cardboard box - with Betinho as the starting striker for Manchester United.
You know. For science. It's a tough job but somebody has to do it.
Much like actually playing up top for United.
Here's how Betinho, with his stamina stat of 8, similar to that of an asthmatic Victorian child, got on. You are about to read the chronicles of a legend.
First things first. After taking over as the new Manchester United manager I was informed of the club's objectives in the transfer market. Sign high-reputation players. Check. Sign players under the age of 28. Check. There's only one man I know who fits neither of those criteria and his name is: Betinho.
Unfortunately, he doesn't want to join me at the Theatre of Dreams because he has just signed a new contract at semi-professional fifth-tier outfit Sporting Clube de Espinho, whose stadium is probably an upside down wheely bin, despite them accepting a £30,000 bid.
Talk about loyalty. Every other current player should take note. Here's a guy with some integrity.
Undeterred, I force him into Manchester United's squad using the editor, pausing only briefly to contemplate what I should set as the transfer fee. 20 quid. 20 quid is what I decide. 20 quid will do it. Betinho arrives on the rather substantial wage of £28,500 per week and has a transfer value of precisely zero. Which, to be honest, seems harsh. That means I paid way over the odds.
Unlike my usual saves, during which I will spend hours simply deciding whether it is a MEZ (a) or a CM (a) I need on the left of my midfield three to provide true balance, I will be using the default FM 4-2-3-1 gegenpress throughout my time in Manchester, only because it seems to suit the squad and should get the best out of Betinho's considerable goalscoring talents.
Just take a look. 13 finishing. 13 first touch. 13 composure. Sure, the rest is garbage but I can work with that.
After a quick comparison with Cristiano Ronaldo, another famous product of Sporting Clube de Portugal's academy, I discover that Betinho is actually the better defender of the two.
Sure, Ronaldo is superior on the technical, physical, mental, aerial and attacking side of things, along with having better speed and vision, but it's the defending I'm really interested in. Defend from the front and all that. That's just what I'm about as a manager.
As my United team will be nothing if not a meritocracy that means, for now, Betinho is my starting number nine. Although he will of course be wearing number 11, as he was when he inexplicably popped up in the United squad list in real life as an unexplainable act of God.
Quick side note: Tom Huddlestone is moved into the first-team squad and will very much be an impact player off the bench due to that shoulder shimmy he did against Reading about ten years ago.
Let's get this season underway.
Betinho scores on his debut to set United on the way to a smash-and-grab 2-0 victory over Liverpool in our first Premier League game. It's a tap in but who cares. Betinho was clearly made for the big occasion. What he was doing playing against actual farmers, genuine men of the earth, I'll never know.
Against Chelsea in the very next fixture he has an assist after 20 seconds, a sumptuous through ball for Rashford. He then produces a glorious second assist to win the game, crossing to the far post for Jadon Sancho to nod home in the 92nd minute, giving us a narrow 2-1 win.
Not since Romelu Lukaku has a player made such an instant impact for the Red Devils. Not since Romelu Lukaku has a striker been as powerful, as Herculean, as Betinho - despite whatever his strength rating of nine may suggest.
After just two games, Betinho's value shoots up to the £80,000-£300,000 range, which is a quality return on invest already whichever way you look at it. He cost less than four London pints after all.
Crystal Palace come next, a boring 0-0 draw during which I don't think Betinho touches the ball. He is rewarded with a 6.2 rating for his efforts. Against Liverpool, for instance, he was given a 6.9 (nice), despite scoring a crucial goal - suggesting he was absolutely abysmal aside from that. It may even be the first time I've seen a goalscorer earn less than a 7, but Betinho is nothing if not a pioneer.
Still, there are no complaints so far. Not even from a benched Cristiano Ronaldo, whose body language suggests he is 'motivated' ahead of our fourth game of the season against Tottenham.
Betinho again opens the scoring, finding space between Clement Lenglet and Eric Dier, shrugging Dier to the ground like a rag doll and firing past Hugo Lloris. Sadly, every other member of my matchday squad lets him down and Dejan Kulusevski equalises late on for Spurs.
Diego Simeone is in the stands against Leicester, presumably to watch a player who can only be described as 'if Diego Costa had suffered a substantial blow to the head as a child', or 'the new Bebe'. You can see why he's so interested.
We lose 3-0. Luke Shaw, sweating regret and pasta sauce, is hauled off at half-time. Betinho puts in a solid (terrible) 6.0 match rating and fails to test Danny Ward, a goalkeeper who may as well have spades for hands.
Manchester City are up next. Erling Haaland vs Betinho. Clash of the titans. Gulp.
Haaland opens the scoring after six minutes. I fear a rout is on the cards.
But no! Cometh the hour, cometh the man.
Casemiro equalises with a screamer and wins a penalty for Betinho to smash home before Kevin De Bruyne levels for City after only 20 minutes. The world-class operators are all stepping up. Enter Betinho. Again. Who scores another penalty and then a tap-in to complete the comeback and a remarkable hat-trick.
What a performance. The £20 transfer fee repaid and then some.
With five goals in his first six Premier League games, Betinho is joint top scorer alongside Ivan Toney, who would share the same nickname if only he were Portuguese or Brazilian. As such, he needs a rest and Cristiano Ronaldo is temporarily resurrected from his cryo chamber for our Europa League game against Union Berlin.
He scores a brace and we win 5-0, a performance that is duly noted but ultimately ignored. We lose 1-0 to Leeds in our next game, with Betinho having another 6.2 stinker. What is it with this man? He's a world-beater against the top sides but starts playing like the Sunday League striker he is against lesser opponents. No offence, Leeds.
Actually, you're Leeds. Full offence intended. You're inferior opposition. Deal with it.
Ronaldo scores another brace in the Europa League, this time in a 4-1 win against Sturm Graz, well done mate, they're literally from the Austrian Bundesliga, and Roy Keane gives me and the team a good slagging off before our next game against Everton.
I can't hold it against him. It's his job.
We are 10th in the league but only four points off Liverpool in first place - a team we beat, remember. I do, however, notice that Betinho's morale is concerningly low and quickly discover the reason. He's worried our poor form will continue.
Right on cue to help resolve the situation, he drops another 6.0 masterclass as Anthony Martial spares my blushes to earn a 1-1 home draw with Everton. During the game, I check out the pass map and notice every player has at least a couple of lines to teammates other than Betinho, who has none.
Basically, either the team decided to ignore him for the entire game, or once he got the ball he failed to actually pass to someone else. Both are equally as likely. Ronaldo scores a hat trick in midweek against Olympiakos and now has seven goals in three Europa League games.
Food for thought.
Betinho, clearly spurred on by this furious challenge to his starting place from one of the greatest players of all time, promptly drops a 6.2 away at Newcastle - the highlight being a horrendous 1v1 miss when clean through on goal. Never mind, Donny van de Beek manages to do the job himself and we win 1-0 anyway.
At this point, it's impossible not to drop him. As I hit space and wait to switch Ronaldo into the starting XI for the next game a notification pops up in my inbox. He's suffered an ankle injury and will be out for up to seven weeks.
Betinho is either one lucky sod or he purposely injured his compatriot during training, knowing I'm too much of a purist to move Rashford from his favoured inside forward position to central striker. Either way, I'm impressed.
Betinho misses another 1v1 chance to win the game in a 2-2 draw with West Ham. He is given a 6.0. Even Qatari spice market mouthpiece David Beckham pops up in the media to have a dig.
David, pal, take a look at your son's little photography book of out-of-focus elephants if you're feeling critical. I just don't need this right now.
Beckham's words appear to light a fire under Betinho and he roars back with a beautiful left-foot volley against Southampton. He finishes the game with an 8 (eight!) rating and we win. Betinho even scores the winner against Brighton in the following match. He's flying now. We're flying. All the way up to seventh.
It's the same against Nottingham Forest, who are rooted to the bottom of the table. Betinho misses a sitter but does eventually score in a comfortable 3-0. That's three in three and it appears all it took to finally motivate this enigma of a man, this riddle, this mystical ego, was for David Beckham to say he wasn't very good.
Already qualified in the Europa League, we go down 1-0 at home to Union without Betinho. Who cares. I've been holidaying those games - that's Steve McClaren's problem. Betinho, oh god Betinho, what a player, scores a hat trick inside 37 minutes against Southampton on his return.
His acceleration (11) and pace (12) is too much for the Saints' backline to handle. My personal highlight is the opening goal, scored from the spot, which I let play out as though Ronaldo was going to take it himself before giving Betinho the instruction to snatch it out of his grubby little hands.
Betinho earns an 8.8 rating and I realise afterwards that his best performance to date has come on my in-game birthday. Thank you, Betinho. You have given me more than you'll ever know.
Things are going well. Betinho has six goals in four games and we're up to fourth place, only seven points behind league-leading Liverpool. Yet, somehow, Bruno Fernandes gets all the credit in the press for providing two assists. Talk about a media agenda.
Betinho misses a penalty against Hartlepool in the Carabao Cup (a 3-0 win) and is barely present as we lose 2-0 to Aston Villa in our last game before the World Cup break. Surprisingly, despite 11 goals in 16 games in the Premier League, along with two assists, he isn't deemed good enough to warrant a place in Fernando Santos' Portugal squad for the tournament.
Ronaldo, his backup, is. They crash out to Serbia in the round of 16, Ronaldo announces his international retirement and comes back from Qatar to totally f**k my s**t up. That's right. The complaints about game time have started.
Come in, Cristiano. Take a pew. How can I help you? I understand your concerns but I can't drop Betinho given the form he is in.
He says he hasn't seen anything from Betinho that should keep him out of the team.
Ronaldo, with all due respect, you are an impact sub now. Get used to it.
He says don't be so ridiculous. He says he can't believe I have the temerity to suggest such a thing.
I'm the manager. What I say goes.
He storms out. He slams the door. I know a sweaty interview with Piers Morgan is coming very soon. There's not much I can do about it now.
We return to Premier League action against Wolves on Boxing Day, with Ronaldo where he belongs, glued to the bench, watching Betinho miss tap-ins, and Betinho where he belongs, too, always a yard offside, always fluffing his 1v1s.
It's a 3-3 thriller. Betinho finishes with a scarcely believable 6.1 rating, having contributed exactly nothing. He stays on for the entire game regardless, just to send a message to Ronaldo that his behaviour won't be tolerated.
Away at Fulham, we have nearly 70% and win 2-0 thanks to a Bruno free-kick that is spilled straight to Rashford and a penalty. It's agonising but I'm not paying attention when the late penalty is awarded, leading to Bruno taking it himself rather than our designated spot-kick master Betinho. Who knows, had he scored his match rating of 6.4 might have jumped all the way up to like, I don't know, 6.8.
Furious with myself, I vow to never let such a thing happen again. I am currently being given Cs across the board from both the board and the fans during my performance review. We are fifth in the Premier League and into the Europa League knockouts.
I have a 20 quid striker banging them in. Sort of. When he feels like it. What more do they want? Honestly.
Arsenal, level on points but ahead of us in fourth, turn us over 2-1 at Old Trafford. A classy 6.1 rating for our star man. The newspapers tell me the jury is still out on my managerial performance so far. Enough is enough. I give Betinho his first official warning about his poor form, despite him consistently dropping the worst match ratings in the entire squad, game after game.
A job well done, I put my feet up and holiday through two cup ties against Port Vale and Oxford United that Steve handles with relative ease. We're been drawn against Arsenal in the Carabao semi-finals, a fixture I may even consider taking charge of.
Betinho, well-rested and having taken his official warning seriously, powers in a towering far post against Everton at Goodison Park before Yerry Mina equalises in the 96th minute to make it 2-2. In the press, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer demands more from Betinho. He may have a point. 12 goals and two assists in 21 starts and an average rating of 6.74 is starting to look, well, a bit dreadful.
We draw 1-1 at home to West Ham next. Big Bets drops a 6.2. United are sixth in the league and slipping. Against Bournemouth, I'm forced to rotate my entire team other than Betinho due to fatigue. No matter, Betinho carries the B team to a heroic 2-2 draw, scoring both, only one of which is a penalty.
As the Carabao semi-final is a two-leg affair, with an FA Cup trip to Middlesbrough I frankly can't be bothered with sandwiched in between, I decide to let McClaren roll back the years and pretend I'm in the Caribbean until our next Premier League game.
With my laptop now sounding like a jet engine, I come back to find that after managing to win 1-0 in the first leg at home and beating Middlesbrough 3-0, Steve then proceeded to oversee a 5-1 thrashing at the Emirates, ending our slime-green dream of Carabao glory. Betinho did not feature in any of the three matches.
He's quickly restored to the starting lineup against Crystal Palace (1-1, 6.4) and Newcastle (2-1 defeat, 7.1, one assist ). Phil Jones agrees to join Sassuolo on a free transfer. Honestly, good for him. Not sure how that will work out for Sassuolo but at least he gets a little jaunt away in Emilia-Romagna.
At this point, with United in seventh and Champions League qualification quickly fading, I realise my days may be numbered. I'm regularly seeing murmurs of discontent in the social feed tab of the game and receiving vicious tweets such as the following, from the superbly named Mackenzie Gormley:
"Play our best players. It's that simple."
With my job on the line and energy-drink fuelled revenge on our minds, we rock up at Arsenal. We go 2-0 down in the first half. Betinho pulls one back after the break and there is hope! We lose 3-1.
At this point I should point out that Betinho and Bruno Fernandes have formed quite the partnership, bonding as close as their little orange line on the tactics screen would suggest. Having just missed each other when playing for the Portugal under-21s, for whom Betinho scored two goals in four appearances, it's great to see.
The fans continue to criticise my tactics. Someone named Eddie Barron calls me stubborn. The papers tell me PSG are about to swoop in for Bruno. My other assistant Mitchell van der Gaag has to explain to the press why we didn't bring Ronaldo on despite chasing the game. We are eighth in the league table with Chelsea away to come.
I am the dog at the table with a mug. I am surrounded by flames. They are engulfing me. Everything is fine.
I bravely holiday on with my fingers crossed and miraculously find myself still in the job. Nicky Butt warns me about Mason Mount. My inbox tells me I am feeling the heat as United's slump continues. The board tell me they expect the team to lose the game against Chelsea, which is exactly the confidence boost I need.
In a frantic and desperate bid to keep my job, I make exactly no changes to the team or the tactics and hope for the best.
Betinho misses a half-chance. He misses another. It's 0-0 at the break but the boys look fired up. Oh boy do they look fired up Bruno and Betinho, a modern-day Rui Costa and Batistuta, combine to open the scoring.
Sadly Mateo Kovacic, a man with five Chelsea goals in over 200 appearances, decides this is a fine moment to go on a mesmerising solo run and spank one top bins.
With hope draining, that man Betinho pops up in the 89th minute to win the game. Rashford scores two minutes later, before a Kovacic own goal and Pulisic consolation make it 4-2. What on earth just happened?
Betinho, awarded Man of the Match for an inspired 8.2 performance, did everything I asked of him. He may win very few headers and get very few shots on target but he has 17 goals and three assists in 26 appearances.
You just can't argue with numbers like those.
Despite Betinho's heroics, I'm at a C- grade across the board in my performance review and Benfica hitman Goncalo Ramos is recommended as a top target.
I don't think so, lads.
I entrust Steve with our fifth round FA Cup tie against City, which he loses, nice one Steve, and retake the reins in time for Nottingham Forest, who have jumped up to 16th. Betinho scores a brace in a 3-0 win.
He then follows it up with a whirlwind first-half hat trick against Fulham, picking up a knock in the process. I don't have the heart to sub Betinho off so he limps on until the bitter end as we win 4-1. Thankfully, it's only a bruised shin.
It's no exaggeration to say the man is singlehandedly keeping me in the job at the moment and this experiment has gone on far longer than I had originally intended. Especially as I keep handing important fixtures over to Steve, who safely navigates our Europa League knockout tie against Porto on my behalf. Finally. It's about time he repaid all that faith shown in him.
When I return, I'm delighted to see Betinho has been named the Premier League Player of the Month for March, with five goals in two games and an average rating of 8.35. After a swift pat on the back and ta very much, Aston Villa are swept aside 3-1, with Betinho's awful twin brother taking the field for that one.
Let's call him Worsinho.
The fixtures come thick and fast, with Betinho returning to provide an assist during a 2-0 win against Wolves and score a dramatic late winner against Southampton. We're back up to fifth, with Newcastle only a point ahead and firmly in our sights.
Seven straight wins in all competitions comes to an end as Steve draws with Arsenal in the Europa quarter-finals before Betinho gets an assist and a goal in an emphatic 4-0 home win over Leeds. Finally! He's taking the minnows seriously.
With that, United jump into fourth and I can almost taste that sweet, sweet Gazprom with only six games remaining. Steve even bounces Arsenal out of the Europa for me. Everything is coming up Milhouse.
On the home stretch, Rashford and Martial sink Brighton at the Amex despite another Worsinho outing. A six-goal thriller follows against the league leaders Liverpool at Anfield, where Betinho, initially playing like Worsinho, is anonymous all game until a poacher's goal in the 81st minute. We do, however, inevitably bottle it from a corner in stoppage time to only earn a point.
Still. It's now 12 games unbeaten and both the board and fans have upgraded my efforts to a B-. Up next is Spurs, who succumb to an Eriksen goal and Lloris howler which is duly snaffled up by Betinho. I weigh up whether to take control of our upcoming Europa League semi-final against Lazio but decide that, ultimately, Steve has gotten us this far, it wouldn't feel right.
Yeah. That was a mistake. Steve draws the first leg but gets spanked 5-0 in Rome. The eternal FM cheat code Ciro Immobile scored four, obviously, and we can only draw with Brentford in between, leaving us in the rather precarious position of fourth with only a two-point cushion between us and then Newcastle and Arsenal.
Our final two games? Manchester City (second) and Leicester (third, somehow). Perhaps more importantly, Betinho is second in the goalscoring charts, only two behind Haaland with 26. Who is injured for our derby! He has broken ribs! F***ing get in. That's him done.
Champions League qualification and Betinho topping the scoring charts against that big Viking freak would really render this whole pointless exercise a resounding success. Are you telling me there's a chance?
Youri Tielemans, because that's obviously what City need, even more technically gifted midfielders, scores twice and we lose 3-2 at the Eithad, despite Pep Guardiola's rondo-freaks going down to ten men in the second half.
Betinho, however, does get himself on the scoresheet. Not only that, he gets himself on the scoresheet by converting the single hardest type of chance known to man: an Aaron Wan-Bissaka cross.
Betinho is now within touching distance of the Golden Boot with one final game to play. Arsenal beat Brighton to leapfrog into fourth but it's hard to care so much about that anymore. A date with destiny awaits.
David Coote awards us a penalty with four minutes on the clock. Betinho steps up, knowing that he can level Haaland on goals if he scores.
Keylor Navas saves. Keylor Navas. Where the f**k is Danny Ward when you need him? Why is f***ing Keylor Navas playing for Leicester? No wonder they are in third. F**k sake. Worsinho had no chance.
Vardy scores and we're 1-0 down at the half. There's still time.
In the second half, I sub out wingers and full-backs to spark the time into life. I even bring on a horrendously unfit Donny van de Beek. We equalise. Betinho, never one to vaingloriously chase personal accolades on the cost of the team, lays a chance on a plate for Martial. The Frenchman doesn't miss. 24 minutes remain.
In the 78th minute we go ahead, but it's through van de Beek rather than our star. Minutes later a glorious chance goes begging as Sancho cuts back to Betinho. Navas, f***ing Navas, pulls off a wonder save to tip it around the post.
That was the moment.
The game peters out but the victory is for nothing as Arsenal beat Fulham at home to secure fourth place and qualify for the Champions League for themselves. This one, really, really hurts. Even the news that Leeds are relegated and Guardiola is sacked for finishing second does little to soften the blow.
Two goals. That's all Betinho needed. He missed one penalty himself, sure, but I can't help but think of all the sitters along the way. 30 goals was right there for the taking. And what about that penalty I accidentally let Bruno Fernandes take? That is now going to haunt me for the rest of my life.
Betinho's final stats for Manchester United read:
39 games, 27 goals, six assists, four Player of the Match awards, four hat tricks and 64 offsides (the most in the Premier League) and an average rating of 6.92.
Not bad for 20 quid.