A machine, a flowerpot and a human adventure
© FIFA.com

On 23 May 2012 Bruce Grannec and his coach, Alan ‘Zal’ Brin, returned to their hotel room in Dubai after a long walk. Both were somber, the sting still visible. Earlier that evening, Grannec had blown a two-goal lead during a penalty shootout in the Final of the FIFA Interactive World Cup 2012.

When Bruce had pulled ahead, Zal began yelling from his seat in the audience, “ce n'est pas fini!" (It’s not over!). Zal’s words proved ominous as Alfonso Ramos clawed back to defeat Bruce. The penalty loss cost Grannec the world title, $20,000 in prize money and a trip to the FIFA Ballon d ‘Or 2012.

One year later, Bruce Grannec finds himself once again involved in a penalty shootout at a Grand Final. This time it’s during the semi-finals of FIWC13 in Madrid. If there are any scars from Dubai, Bruce hides them well. He calmly defeats Abdulaziz Alshehri from the penalty spot, then goes on to win the Final and claim his second FIWC title.

The victory is a relief for Grannec after a disastrous start to the Madrid tournament. With two defeats in his opening three games, the French champion faced an uphill battle from the beginning. Sasha Brodowski, Bruce’s manager, recalls the end of the first day in Madrid: “Back in the hotel room Bruce said to me and Zal, 'It's already a miracle that I’ve won a single game here. I'm glad that everybody will now realize that I’ve been a joke for so many years.' We all burst out laughing. That’s Bruce. That's his way of taking the pressure off.”

Sasha’s anecdote contradicts the image that most people have of Grannec. To many, he is the emotionless gamer with the impeccable record (four Grand Final appearances, four podium finishes) and the intimidating nickname, The Machine. “He has cold blood and he has respect for his opponent,” says Zal, “That’s why you don’t see him celebrating on stage after winning the title, because he knows what it’s like to lose a final.”

Since completing his studies in computer science last year, Grannec has focused solely on virtual football. He’s appeared on French television, has been the subject of a documentary film and is writing a book on virtual football tactics. The media interest has increased with each accomplishment. After his victory in Madrid, the French Football Federation (FFF) published an interview with the two-time world champion on their website. “In the beginning, when I said that I want do this this my family was surprised,” says Grannec, “but they are really supportive of what I am doing.”

Mother of 'The Machine'
“I thought I was Bruce's biggest fan," Zal says, interrupting the champion, "then I met Bruce's mom". Grannec holds up his left hand. “Five books,” he says, explaining that his mother has already filled five albums with press clippings, articles and photos about her son. “Sometimes I walk by her at home,” Bruce says, “and she’s watching one of my YouTube videos. She never stops.” The admiration however has a surprising twist. “Yes, my mom is my first fan,” Bruce says, “but my parents have never come to a tournament.” When asked why, Bruce thinks it over, then offers only: “Out of respect maybe, or the stress?"

Like Zal, Sasha decided shortly after meeting Bruce to dedicate all his free time to the champion. “For me, this is a human adventure,” says Sasha, “What Bruce brings to you in one tournament… it can't be defined. Even last year, ok we lost, but the experience was amazing. The emotions we lived. It's something you want to live again and again.”

Sitting in Madrid alongside Bruce and Sasha with the FIWC trophy in hand, Zal is asked what person from real football he would compare Bruce to. He pauses, then says: “Aimé Jacquet, because he did something amazing. He took friends, a team, not necessarily the best individuals and he managed to win the World Cup in 98. That's what Bruce has done.”

If Bruce is Jacquet, how would Zal describe his role in the team? The question causes Bruce, who has been sitting quietly next to his coach, to burst into laughter. “It’s funny you should ask,” Sasha interjects, “Yesterday while we were walking in the streets of Madrid, Zal turned to us and said, ”I am the flowerpot!”

Zal shakes his head, “like from the E.T movie” he says, pointing at Bruce, “because he takes me under his arm everywhere.” Zal’s sarcastic remark makes his teammates laugh. "My little flowerpot," Bruce says teasing him. In a machine so mysteriously constructed, perhaps a flowerpot under its arm is just what it needs.