This is a new four-part FM17 Project series in which Sam Tighe writes about his attempt to complete the Pentagon Challenge – winning the Champions League in five different continents on the same save.
I entered my second summer with Nice with the bank balance at minus £25m, so sold off a few spare players to fund a couple of incomings. I started the season a further £5m in debt, but the knowledge of incoming Champions League cash kept the lights on at the training ground.
The group stage was easily negotiated with four wins and two defeats, beating Sevilla to first place. Once again I was dreaming of glory, but then, as the calendar flipped into 2030, I was finally forced to do something about a bank balance that had reached minus £40m.
The solution was obvious: sell a player. Barcelona, Real Madrid and others were all listed as suitors for many of my top performers, so I sold Simplice Lumanza, a 24-year-old central midfielder who started for the French national team. Thanks to Barcelona’s £41m bid we were back in the black, and the board was off my back.
But Lumanza’s absence was felt dearly as we lost the next two league games 1-0 to Saint-Etienne and Lille.
The “win now” strategy kicking back in, I made what was probably the most short-term move I have ever made in any edition of Football Manager: I spent £8 million on a 31-year-old Argentine midfielder named Cristian Zecchin and gave him a three-year contract. Replacing a 24-year-old with a 31-year-old, my Moneyball instincts were churning, but I pushed on.
We drew Arsenal in the Round of 16, which I was initially worried about. But it turns out FM has club characteristics spot on, and they crumbled when it mattered most. Nice then got a kind draw for the quarters in the form of Inter, who were ruthlessly dispatched 6-3 on aggregate.
The semi-finals pitted us against Manchester City, one of the strongest teams in the game. Leonardo Jardim was in charge, Daniele Rugani their captain and Paulo Dybala their star man; I started planning for 2030/31 in my head immediately. So confident was I that we wouldn’t win, I even went as far as applying for the Manchester United job when it popped up (they rejected me in favour of the current Crystal Palace keeper Steve Mandanda.)
But while fortune supposedly favours the brave, it also, on occasion, favours the cowardly, and we beat Man City 3-2 on aggregate (2-1 at the Etihad Stadium) to advance to the final. Bayern Munich would meet us there.
I played the final two Ligue 1 games (a 4-1 win over Lyon and a 2-2 draw with Nantes) with a strange feeling in my stomach. It had taken over 200 hours of ‘work’ to get to this point, and now all I had to do was beat Antonio Conte’s Bayern side in Cardiff.
The big night arrived and the feeling intensified.
We started terribly, going into half-time 2-0 down following some outright sorcery by Bayern winger Christian Crivelli. I bit my tongue and went positive with the team talk, and thankfully the boys went into the second half re-energised.
Hitting continue to start the second half, my girlfriend started trying to discuss flight dates to Canada for a holiday this summer. But she agreed to wait as soon as I had made the gravity of the situation clear.
What followed were five Nice goals and five shrieking fist-pumps. Captain Marco Filippi scored four and earned my eternal love. We did it; we turned a two-goal deficit in a Champions League final into a 5-2 win. The Pentagon challenge was completed in 2030.
I resigned the next day.
– Those who are MLS-inclined might be interested to learn that Atlanta United reached the semi-finals of the CONCACAF Champions League in 2027 (the year I won it with Dorados). They were the only non-Mexican representatives.
– Siyabonga Shai moved from Standard Liege to Borussia Dortmund for £31.5m in 2025 and, surprisingly, took Portuguese nationality over South African. I like to think I made that young man’s career.
– I won the Champions League first time, every time. It took me a while to qualify for the competition at times (four years in South Africa, actually), but when I got there, I found success immediately. I can’t really explain that, but I’m proud of it.
– I spent some time as South African national team manager. I thought it might boost my reputation a little and get some of the SA internationals to like me more and move to the Swallows, but it did precisely neither.
– When I arrived in Europe, it felt weird. Not weird as in I’d spent more than a decade elsewhere and had forgotten the continent’s customs, but when I loaded the leagues into the game ready for 2028/29, it naturally filled out over a hundred teams with players. I noticed it had been quite formulaic in how it was done, giving every team of a similar reputation a squad with, say, one elite player, two excellent ones, four very good ones, a raft of average ones and a high-potential prospect. Once I’d noticed this, it became easy to cherry-pick the sole elite player poor clubs had, and that sucked me back to reality a little as I exploited the structural way the game had built the European leagues. A small shame.
– Biggest transfer fees paid: 1. Moussa Camara (regen, pictured), £110m, Barcelona to PSG; 2. Kevin De Bruyne, £107m, Man City to PSG; 3. Kingsley Coman, £104m, Monaco to Chelsea; 4. Thomas Lemar, £101m, Monaco to Man Utd.
– Between the 2021/22 and 2029/30 seasons, the legendary Nicolas Rebellon scored 264 goals in all competitions for Monaco. But I think the important point here is that I found him.