I’m not too hot on football games – but I do like PES.
At least I did.
We spent many evenings together, many cold weekends.
I thought about what tactics I’d use on the way home from work, what players I’d pick and the rush of seeing a green upward arrow next to their name (For the FIFA fans reading this, it means they’re on form – and unstoppable).
Every night, without fail, no matter how tired I was, I’d fire up my creaky PS4 and boot up PES 2018.
I’d then make my way to Online Divisions – where I’d pit my trusty PSG side (I don’t actually support them – I’m a Man Red fan) against players from around the world.
I guess you could say it was a healthy relationship – we were in a good place.
You could even say we were friends. We shared laughs, pain, elation – a whole range of emotions.
Now, you’re probably thinking… why PES? FIFA 18 has Ultimate Team, and it’s soooooooo much better. Right?
Well, with my skills (I haven’t played football ‘properly’ for 10 years – and that was for the village D team) I’d have no chance on Ultimate Team.
PES was realistically my only option and, with a fraction of the players, my chances of actually winning were substantially higher.
For a while, I was right. There were a few losses here and there, but on the whole I was cruising through the divisions.
I had my own tactic too – start with Kylian Mbappe upfront, then move him to the wing and bring Edinson Cavani on at half time. Genius.
I even caused a couple rage quits – which I’m proud of, in a sick, twisted sort of way.
10, nine, eight… the top-flight league was within my grasp.
I scored worldies, tap-ins. I even formed an unhealthy urge to send videos of my goals to friends. None replied.
Surely a noob like me, who won thanks to lucky through-balls, glitches and an unhealthy reliance on Mbappe and co. couldn’t make it to the top?
Cracks soon started to appear.
By Division seven, I was up against far more superior players. The through-ball tactic was becoming less effective and foes were much more careful in possession.
My win rate slowly started to drop. Even lower-rated players were starting to find chinks in my once impregnable armour.
Something needed to change – it was time to hone my skills.
I visited the training ground almost every day for two weeks, religiously practising my finishing and passing.
It may have been against the AI, but I left each session feeling as though I was improving. Before long, I was ready to tackle the divisions again.
Yet again, I failed to progress, making sloppy errors, and missing absolute sitters.
It was as though every other player was improving at a much faster speed than I was.
The joy of winning started to feel like a distant memory.
One day, I snapped.
I was 2-2 against Man Red, with 88 mins on the clock.
I was against a far better player, but for once, was hanging on – waiting for my chance to pounce on a loose pass.
A fluffed kick from Anthony Martial gave my green arrow Mbappe the chance he had been waiting for.
The Frenchman charged through – clear, and only a hapless downward arrow David De Gea to beat. This was it, the turning point in my PES campaign.
At least I thought it was until the game lagged and De Gea plucked the ball from the Frenchman’s feet.
With just seconds on the clock, De Gea rolled the ball to Romelu Lukaku – one of Man Red’s most dangerous players.
He built up some speed and set off – dancing past Marco Verrati, who had got caught on something and was glitching on half way.
My grip on the controller became tighter.
Lukaku just had Kevin Trapp to beat – a big ask, given that my star keeper was on an upward green arrow.
As the timer hit 90mins, the Man Red player hit the ball – and with his strike, my chances of winning vanished like a fart in the wind.
With the PS4 controller clenched tightly in my sweaty palms, I squeezed as hard as I could.
The plastic had no chance.
The left side buckled under the pressure – the R2 button quivering before falling to the floor, limp and lifeless.
Triangle and Square stood firm for a while but soon followed suit – the former still buried in my sofa somewhere.
It’s at that point that I knew I’d become a monster – and the love affair with PES was over.