By Kenny Millar
Co-author of 'Football Manager Stole My Life'
Every supporter must have visualised how they would slot into their dream team.
Maybe you are the no-nonsense Sunday League stopper who would make the ideal partner for Chelsea’s cavalier centre-back David Luiz, or the five-a-side trickster who thinks he would link up perfectly with Leo Messi.
Footballers are no different.
Kennedy Bakirciuglu is a name synonymous with the Championship Manager computer game series. This attacking midfielder was not just a star in the virtual world - in real life he played for Ajax and Sweden before moving to La Liga.
However, a nagging regret lingers that an early trial with Manchester United did not catapult him to the level he felt he was destined for.
He recalls: "I trained with United for a couple of months when I was 17 and it was a dream come true. I'd train with their first team and play with the second string at a time when their squad was packed with big names like David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, the Neville brothers, Dwight Yorke and Teddy Sheringham. They had Jaap Stam, too, who I later played with at Ajax. United were always a team that I admired.
"My problem was that I stayed in Swedish football for a long time. If I'd left earlier people may have known about me for more than just Championship Manager, but the way football works you don't always get what you deserve."
When United’s initial interest failed to lead to a contract offer, Bakircioglu played out his alternate reality on the small screen.
He laughs: "I stepped into Sir Alex Ferguson's shoes in the game. I signed myself for United. It was a case of what might have been. I played myself in the middle of the park, pushing David Beckham out right. I let him take the odd free-kick – he is the master, after all.
"His crosses made me look even better in the game.
"I also signed myself for Barcelona and I remember thinking it was great to see my name listed in that squad, even though it was just a computer game. I played myself in the number 10 position, shunting Ronaldinho out wide this time to make way. It worked a treat."
Bakircioglu has enough self-awareness to concede that his Championship Manager exploits have played a bigger part in boosting his reputation than any on-field achievements. It is not something that overly concerns him.
He enthuses: "I think it's fantastic! For the last 10 years people have mentioned me in relation to the game – friends, team-mates and complete strangers. I remember when I was still at Hammarby, travelling to play a game against SK Brann in Norway. After the match one of their players approached me on the pitch and told me what a good player I was for him in the game. That kind of thing happened from time to time.
"I also recall some people saying I'd refuse to sign for their team so I must have been picky about my clubs! I started to play the game myself after hearing that."
When we last checked in with him, Bakircioglu was resigned to leaving Racing Santander after an unhappy end to his time in Spain – marred by injuries and behind-the-scenes issues at the club that frustrated him.
A return to formative club Hammarby seems to be on the cards.
He reflects: "I've missed a lot of football in the last year so I just want to get back to playing and enjoying myself again. I know that I'm still capable of playing at a high level, even if United or Barcelona are maybe just beyond me now.
"But if they do need a No.10, they only have to call!"
Football Manager Stole My Life is published August 10 in paperback and across all digital formats by BackPage Press. It features articles and interviews about how the game takes over the lives of those who play it; the footballers whose international success has been predicted by the game and others whose careers have not been as stellar in real life. In a series of exclusive articles Kenny Millar (@Kenny_Millar) reveals the stories behind some of the greatest players you never saw.
By Kenny Millar
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