Several months ago, I came within inches of ordering a kit from an Italian football club 99% of the people in America have never heard of. 1) Football = soccer. Kit = jersey. The club is Associazione Calcio Siena, or A.C. Siena. The player wears the number 10, and his name is Luca Longo. He holds just about every record there is to hold in the Siena record books, including 552 league appearances and 243 league goals for Siena. For Italy, he was capped 140 times and scored 58 goals. 2) In international soccer, a “cap” is an appearance for your national team.
A.C. Siena no longer exists.
It has been a swift and painful journey down for Siena. The team was in the top division of Italian football, the Serie A, as recently as the 2012-13 season. However, a series of very unfortunate events resulted in the club being forced to go into bankruptcy just a year after that last Serie A season. Because of that bankruptcy, the club could not register for the 2014-15 Serie B season and it was forced to fold. Let’s run through the events that led up to that bankruptcy.
- Summer 2011: Siena finishes in the runner-up spot in the 2010-11 Serie B season and earns promotion to Serie A.
- Summer 2012: Siena’s return to the top flight is rewarded with a respectable 14th place finish, eight points clear of relegation back to Serie B.
- BACKTRACK TO JUNE 1, 2011: This happens. To be honest, match-fixing scandals happen a whole lot in Italian football. But this one was pretty big. Siena is implicated in the scandal but not formally punished until March 2012, when they are docked six points for the 2012-13 Serie A season.
- Summer 2013: Starting six points (or two wins) behind most of your competitors is very difficult to overcome. 3) For the record, two other clubs were docked one points, and one club was docked two points. None of these clubs were relegated. Siena finished in 19th place, eight points away from safety. Siena would have to return to Serie B for the 2013-14 season.
- Summer 2014: Siena are forced to start that season even further back for the previous one—they are docked eight points for “financial irregularities.” 4) As were the clubs Reggina and Bari, though they were only docked three points and one point respectively. Bari was docked a further three for their role in the scandal described above. What exactly are “financial irregularities?” In other words, they weren’t paying their players on time. They had registered for this season by the skin of their teeth; relegation takes a hard financial toll on a club. Despite the eight-point penalty, Siena missed qualifying for the promotion play-offs by just one point. Had there been no penalty, they would have finished third in the league and held the top seed for the play-offs. Instead, they remained in Serie B, failed to register for the next season, and declared their bankruptcy.
Siena has reformed, and is now officially Robur Siena Società Sportiva Dilettantistica, or Robur Siena S.S.D. They will start from the bottom, so to speak, mired in the fourth tier of Italian soccer, Serie D. 5) Something similar happened to the legendary Scottish club Rangers F.C. when it was forced to go into administration due to massive debts a couple of years ago. Serie D is not a professional league and, if you know your alphabet, you can conclude that it promotes to Serie C, which then promotes to Serie B, and so on. Long story short, it will be two years at the very least before Siena can even return to the second tier.
Now, you may very well be asking yourself a very important question: Why the fuck do I care?
Well, I have a confession to make. Luca Longo does not exist.
He is a fictional creation.
He is a randomly generated player created by the video game Football Manager 2012. He was born in Potenza, Italy (a beautiful place), on December 15, 1995, but he wasn’t. He entered Siena’s youth system in 2008, but he didn’t. He made his first-ever first-team appearance during the 2014-15 Serie B season, but that hasn’t even happened yet. And I almost bought his kit.
Football Manager 2012, and many other sports video games like it, routinely create thousands upon thousands of players that do not exist in real life. Their attributes, birthdates, birth places, physical appearances, and even in some cases their likes and dislikes are all randomly generated. Most of these are players you will never see or hear of during your time playing the game—the matches you don’t play or watch still have to be played, because you might want to sign one of those players one day.
The difference between Football Manager and a game like FIFA is the perspective of control. In FIFA, you control everything your team or player does on the pitch. If you’re a skilled enough player, you can control every last movement of the ball so precisely that you render CPU-controlled opponents literally unable to win possession. However, in Football Manager, you play the role of the manager only. You do everything a manager can do—set tactics, sign players, issue commands during matches—but you have no control over the players themselves. You tell them what to do and if the players are good enough they will do it well and if you are good enough those tactics will lead to wins.
That’s part of why that game fascinates me so much. Steam tells me I poured 1,355 hours into Football Manager 2012. That’s a bit much as I freely acknowledge I often left the game running in the background. But that’s still a shit-ton of time. I played through nearly twenty years of in-game time, finishing up in around 2032. By then I had won the 2026 World Cup with the USA, four Champions League titles with Siena, and a bunch of other crap. None of it was real, but…
Part of what sets Football Manager apart from other titles like it is that every player has their own personality. Some players are meek and shy and don’t like the spotlight to be shone on them—if you single them out before a game as the opposition’s best player, they will falter under the increased pressure more often than not. Other players are egotistic to the point of parody—I once had a goalkeeper complain about a lack of playing time even though the club’s starting keeper was also the starting keeper for the Italian national team. I showed his ass the door.
A benefit of the in-depth player personalities is that your players feel more real. Longo started out as one of those shy and meek players—I awarded him the captaincy at a relatively young age and he got stressed about it because he didn’t feel he could handle the pressure. He also expressed concern about some of the older players getting jealous of him. I told him that he was the player most fit to be captain and to continue to play confidently. He held the captaincy for over a decade after that and grew into a player who shined on the pitch but deferred the reverential treatment off it.
But why Siena? Well, they hired me. As a rule in Football Manager games I always start out unemployed, wait for job offers to open up, and I take a job wherever I can. Then, I go from there. In this particular game I held jobs at three different clubs (one in Germany, one in the USA, and one in England) before settling on Siena. What made me settle on Siena was the presence of Luca Longo. His potential was rated at five stars at the tender age of 19 and I wanted to see what he could do.
Part of why I grew so attached to Siena was my playing philosophy. To quote myself in a fake interview I did with myself for a website project, “We were family first and teammates second. Trust was more highly valued than skill. That’s why I only brought in or sold players when I had to. You could argue that I treated it like adopting a child or putting a child up for adoption.” 6) Yes. I am a weirdo. I was very loyal to my players, and I can name at least a dozen of them off the top of my head. Aside from Longo, we have:
Stefano Della Corna, who scored four goals in a Champions League Final; Duplex Wamba, who has an awesome name; Ahmed Ahmed, who also has an awesome name; Lapo Pastine; Alex, who is Brazilian so he only has the one name; Andrea Gaetani; Fabrizio Bovio; Renzo Volpi; Taras Lysenko; Adalberto Roselli; Yuri Dainese, our goalkeeper; Frank Watson; Jean-Charles Castelletto (a real person, actually!); Mame Biram Diouf (also real!); and countless others. 7) I see you doing the thing where you twirl your finger around the side of your head. Stop it.
The culture of trust I built up with these players was actually, incredibly reflected in the game.
I’m going to be perfectly and absolutely honest, here. That made me tear up. A lot. That message made all the time I put into that game worth it. So what if they’re fucking virtual. These guys would die for each other. They are players on a team but the level of trust is so high that any one of them would take a fucking bullet for the other. Now, say what you want about sports video games and video games in general. But that is god damn beautiful.
Unfortunately, my journey with Siena to the top of the world did not reflect real life. The bankruptcy hit Siena so hard that even their legendary pro basketball team had to file bankruptcy and start over from the bottom of the league. That was a huge deal—they won seven straight domestic titles from 2007 to 2013. Imagine the Detroit Red Wings winning seven straight Stanley Cups and then going bankrupt and basically vanishing off of the face of the earth. It’s a stretch of a comparison, but the similarities are there.
But I’m tied to this club for life. Whatever cosmic powers led to me meeting virtual football player Luca Longo at virtual Siena in virtual 2014 means that I will live and die for Siena. As a result of the bankruptcy, the online store no longer exists, so I don’t think I will be able to get that kit anytime soon. I’m going to make sure to not miss my opportunity when and if it ever comes back. My trepidation before was that he wasn’t even a real player. But he’s real to me, damn it.
So what if it’s just my luck that the one obscure European football team I end up strongly rooting for is the one that gets implicated in a massive match-fixing scandal and also goes bankrupt. I’m not a fairweather fan. Because of the stories a simulation video game offered to me, I am Siena, even though I cannot speak a lick of Italian nor can I even name a player currently on the team, partially because I cannot speak a lick of Italian. It all just goes to show you that there is always a story somewhere. I look forward to the new era of Robur Siena SSC. Forza Siena!