Football Manager 2011 - review

THERE’S been a lot of hyperbole and trashy sycophancy about Football Manager 2011 since the game’s release.

With that in mind, I will offer simply this: Playing Football Manager 2011 is like making love to a beautiful woman.

A woman who understands you, a woman you want to understand, someone who can stop time with a glance or click their beautiful fingers and make weeks simply disappear.

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By comparison, FIFA and PES are scratchy VHS recordings of a 10.30pm ‘erotic drama’ on Channel 5.

To regular devotees of the Football Manager series, I’m not really saying anything new, but if you’ve never played it before or, like me, are coming back to the game after a few years out, it’s stuff worth knowing.

Developers Sports Interactive have an understanding of the nature, character and emotional intricacies of football that the aforementioned console-based behemoths are still light years away from understanding. A succession of screens filled with numbers and little green arrows, with the odd passport-sized photo thrown in, have never, ever meant so much.

As a summary for the complete novice, the game requires you to tinker with the tactics, training and teamsheet of your chosen side before, during and after games, which are, visually, of significantly higher quality than the last couple of years, all with the aim of achieving whatever constitutes success in yours and the board’s mind (keeping a debt-ridden team out of the relegation zone can be just as much of a buzz as winning the Champions League, depending on who you choose to take control of).

More experienced players may be interested to know there are now opportunities to negotiate through players’ agents, who each have their own personalities, and to tweak and manipulate individual training routines to get the very best out of your players. You can also set up the game to post your goals and achievements to the social networking world via Twitter or YouTube, which smacks a little of trying to catch a bandwagon it doesn’t really belong on but doesn’t detract in the slightest from the game if it’s not your bag.

For the longer term players, those who think nothing of 10 to 15 seasons in the hotseat, the dynamic leagues feature is now up and running, in which reputations of leagues across the world can rise and fall depending on the success of the teams within it.

What I have interpreted this to mean is that if you take charge of, for example, Copenhagen and win the Champions League repeatedly by attracting and nurturing world-class players, over time the Danish League grows in stature as a result and, in turn, better players are attracted to it.

As always, the clan of excellently-run fan-sites means you are never far from an answer to even the trickiest tactical conundrums or access to downloadable content, allowing you to keep your game completely up to date with the latest player/staff/referee picture, kits, logos and other artwork.

Few games enable you to form such strong relationships with the characters within it, or have such a strong reach into the real world. The mention on Soccer Saturday of real life players or managers happily plying their professional trade in the middle of League One will suddenly evoke random outbreaks of joy or anger across the country based on their performances within Football Manager. I’ve never met the man, but I now have a hearty distaste for Danny Wilson after he told the BBC Brighton and Hove Albion would struggle to win anything this season with me in charge. Neil Warnock, on the other hand, was really nice about me and I now keep half an eye out for how his QPR team are doing this season, with promotion to the Premier League a genuine possibility. See? See how it works?!

Minor silliness occurs from time to time with players’ comments seemingly not making sense in any galaxy, but considering the game effectively creates and controls an entire footballing world for your delectation, such rare and minor aberrations are easy to forgive.

Graphically, the animations and movement of players is improved on previous years, but still a little dated, and crowds in particular are disappointingly static, but the 3D view is no longer the gimmicky distraction of a couple of years ago and now provides quite an engrossing spectacle.

In short, anyone with a genuine affection for football and the desire to find out just what taking Crawley into the Premier League is like cannot afford to miss out on this game. You don’t even need to wait for the transfer window.

10/10