Ode to the Side-Save: A Weekend at Curicó Unido

How’s it going, everyone? This week I wanted to take a small detour from our usual programming as I wanted to tell you all about a funny little save that’s been taking over. It’s a short-ish love letter to one of my fav things in FM, side saves.

Now, due to the way I play Football Manager (in short-ish bursts of leaning-into-the-screen-with-the-controller intensity instead of more of a background thing) and the type of save I enjoy the most (narrative-focused, how-would-it-look-as-a-These-Football-Times-article games that perpetually take me on tangents), I generally run more than one save at a time. 

The one-save fundamentalists right now…

I know, I know, it’s very much frowned upon in some circles, but I enjoy getting my head away from my main save and going on other adventures. These saves don’t usually make it to the blog cause that sort of misses the whole point of them, to play without the rigours of a main save. So what if I instant-result a game here or there; so what if I play matches on Key Highlights to speed through the season; so what if I literally rename my entire squad to their positions and pecking order cause I can’t be arsed to learn their names… it’s a side save.

However, sometimes the story becomes so compelling I have to bring it over here. This is the story of one of my shortest ones yet, Curicó Unido.

The little club that could

One of my favourite moments of the FM cycle for the past three years has come when I collab with FM Grasshopper giving club recommendations. Being South American does not a South American football expert instantly make you, so it’s always fun to dig into potential stories and consult with friends from every country about which clubs could be in the spotlight For the FM23 cycle I suggested shifting away from the usual easy/medium/hard recommendations and instead giving a case study for each of the six vanilla SA leagues, as could prove fun and also better suit my type of writing.

Now, me being me, this obviously sends my brain into overdrive thinking of potential saves. It’s not strange then that when FMG asked if I’d be doing the Nacional with Luis Suárez save this FM, I confessed I was keeping the saves I had created to do the squad analysis and such and was eager to play a few seasons with Nacional and Deportivo Cali. However, it was not the Tricolores or the Verdolagas who captured my imagination, but a small provincial side in Chile: Curicó Unido.

Not quite River Plate, but nice try

I had recommended CDP Curicó Unido as the Chilean case study for FM23. They are an up-and-coming club on the back of an amazing 3rd place finish last season. This had them playing in the Copa Libertadores IRL and while that success won’t become apparent until FM24, the squad was ripe for some overachieving. With the manager character based on a friend of mine who’s Chilean, I decided to have a go at testing out a tactic adapted from one done by the guys at View From The Touchline in the Christmas Tree shape. I had created the save and gone through the pre-season punishing my space bar like I was worked as a QC tester in a keyboard factury all the way back in December, then forgotten about. Now, I was ready for some laughs and a good time. Little did I know, the save would take over.

It all started with a fun win against one of the giants of Chilean football, Universidad Católica. Since this is my friend’s favourite team I shared it with him and continued to enjoy the game while we were chatting. I was instantly hooked as the tactic seemed to work wonders and we were taking the small relegation candidate to the top of the league. By the time I was done for the night, it was 2:48 AM and we were league leaders. That was a Friday-to-Saturday night and little did I know, but the side save was about to take over.

Early(ish) the next day I was ready for some proper action with Parma, but my muscle memory kicked in and I loaded the last saved game, which of course was Curicó. I decided to carry on a bit more until it was time to have lunch, and the team just kept on winning.

Happy days… FM doesn’t let you have too many of those per season

What’s more, I couldn’t stop playing. After stopping from lunch and returning, I thought I better get on with some stuff I had to do, but by then we had just six or seven games to go, we were in the Quarter Finals of the Copa Chile and I was just enjoying it too much. Playing incredibly fun football with lots of passing and short combinations, we were running rivals rugged with the help of loanees Yerko Leiva and Rodrigo Hidalgo. The FM gods were kind and the stupidly short squad remained injury free for most of the league, meaning we kept on piling up good results… could we… could we actually be on for a debut league title?

The title face-off

The Chilean season, like most South American leagues, runs on a calendar year basis, from February to October. You can imagine my desperation when results started to dry up around September. We had had the odd loss here and there, but now we were full-on bottle mode, to the point that when I texted my friend to inform him, he replied we were on full “It’s the history of the Curicó” mode. 

In all honesty, it had been coming for a while. Despite our flashy football, my laissez-faire approach to pre-season was costing us, as an already short squad was suffering under the weight of injuries to key players such as Yerko Leiva, right back Juan Pablo Gómez or Shadow Striker Federico Castro.

Not so happy days

Still, we soldiered on. All throughout the season, I had one key ace saved in my sleeve: the fixtures. See, like most seasons in Chile, Colo Colo were challenging for the title. While our rampant start to the season had given us quite a firm points cushion, and if we could hold it together for a while longer, it would perhaps be enough. 

You see, we were only playing Colo Colo away in the second to last matchday (the first leg, at home, was a 1-0 win in the good ol’ days). That meant that if we could manage to keep a four-point gap by then, we would be in with a good chance of winning it by just matching their result in the last game.

After a solid 2-0 win against a struggling Universidad de Chile, things were looking good, but FM, FM never changes. Just a single point from a very achievable six against La Serena and Palestino meant we arrived at that key game not only without a points gap, not only tied on points but actually in second place due to goal difference.

I came to the game against Colo Colo ready to let it go. Qué será, será, what will be, will be. Early on, the Cacique seemed to oblige battering us with a number of close chances. But then, the unthinkable happened. I was celebrating getting to halftime without having conceded when out of nowhere a highlight started. A long Colo Colo pass was rejected by one of my centrebacks and Bayron Oyarzo, playing in place of Leiva, collected the ball and started dribbling forwards.

The last moment Colo Colo had a chance at winning the league

Like running away from a man possessed, the Colo Colo players dived away from his way, in what the ME surely think is “shadow covering the pass” but more often than not works as “giving the ball carrier a fast track to the goal”. In effect, Oyarzo got into the box before the defenders realised: The bastard is trying to score himself! It was too little, too late, and the attacking midfielder slotted it in the bottom right corner for Colo Colo 0-1 Curicó.

Going into the second half I fully expected the tendency to continue and us conceding two silly goals, but as the minutes went by nothing changed. ‘Till the last minute, I fully expected the highlight where your centreback forgets he’s playing a game of football and concedes a clear chance but it never came. It was done… league leaders, three points ahead of Colo Colo.

I texted my friend in bliss as all we had to do was just NOT SCREW IT in the last game.

Ode to the Side-Save

The ending to the championship was rather anticlimactic. By an error in the DB, the last matchday is not played all simultaneously, but rather at different times like every other one. That meant that Colo Colo visited Unión La Calera at 12:00, a full five and a half hours before our clash with Everton de Viña.

Ruining every bit of fun, they duly lost which meant I was welcomed by a “Curicó Unido win Primera División” email long before we went out on the pitch. Thankfully I must say, cause we tanked that game, losing 1-0, although I did send out an alternative team.

When the news appeared, regardless, I threw my hands in the air, in a sensation of glee as big as I’ve gone through with any of my regular saves. I jokingly sent my friend a gif of Lionel Scaloni’s iconic tear release after winning the WC, but the emotion was real. 

That chat as I commented on the title with my friend. The text can be read as “Thanks Colo Colo for being more of bottle jobs than us” and “This is how I look now”. The “(?” bit is used as a marker of sarcasm on informal chatter in Spanish. Yes, I did photograph the screen, sending screen captures on WhatsApp is a bit of a pain in the *ss

So, why did I enjoy it so much and why am I writing an ode to side saves? 

Well, for the one part, I think a change of scenery is always a good thing. Different players, different clubs, different everything, a fresh challenge. It was also that the intensity and the pace of it all were incredible. Right now, the game status reports 1 day and 9 hours of play on the save, but I think even that number is misleading, probably inflated by the number of off-hours I’ve kept the game open in the background and such. I went through the entirety of that season in the whole of a weekend, at times just curving myself over the laptop, in bed, chugging games. I went over the entire season in two sittings (three if you count me actually creating the save, building the tactic and playing the pre-season months ago).

That leads me to point number two, which is the way in which it all went. A few days back I tweeted a picture of a notepad of mine listing every scout in the Parma save as I had spent more time than I’m ready to admit deciding where and how to send them to scout, then jokingly pointing out that if people were asking themselves why my updates are usually so few and far between, that was it.

Main saves are sort of like a job to me. Not in the bad sense, but rather in that I take them very seriously and I try to explore every avenue, consider every aspect and think things through a lot. I enjoy working things out and the organisational bit. However, it does mean that since I don’t play the game as a background thing, I may spend a single playing session going crazy over which regions to send every scout I have…

Me planning the scouting setup for next season. Yes, I’ve used this gif before. No, I will always use this one gif when I want to look like a crazy person, sorry.

In a side save, I take a wholeheartedly different approach. I don’t have the smallest clue who Curicó Unido’s reserves are. I don’t have any idea if there are any high-potential players who could’ve benefitted from spending last season on loan. I don’t know if the staff could be improved on or if our training routines could be improved on. It’s entirely possible that our season-end drought could’ve been fixed by some slight tinkering of the tactics, that I could’ve noticed if the games were at anything but key highlights.

But… that’s not the point. 

I enjoyed Curicó Unido as a side save because it was a nice way of moving away from my usual way of playing and instead just plough through the season, joking with my mate and overall just being silly. I think that’s why I love side saves, they’re a breakaway from the usual. Whatever it is your usual style of play, I’ll always suggest a side save if ever you feel like it. I enjoyed my weekend at Curicó. 

But now leave, I have to sit down and plan Parma’s 2027 Summer Window strategy

However, until then… thanks for reading.

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