August 19th 2006. Arsenal play their first game in their new multi billion pound Emirates stadium, and by sheer chance it is against their oldest and greatest rivals, Tottenham Hotspur. It couldnít have been set up better for the Gunners; what better way to start this brave new era than by humiliating Spurs? Sure enough, just 120 seconds after kick off, Henry makes a blistering run down the left hand side, skinning new Spurs signings Emre and Glen Johnson on his way. He approaches the area from the left side and chips the ball over the Spurs captain Ledley King, into the path of the late arriving Van Persie, who leathers it into the top right hand corner with a fierce left footed volley.
The home fans go nuts and taunt the away fans, who already fear the perennial embarrassment of losing to their arch enemies, and mutually agree that despite a surprisingly successful first season in charge, maybe newcomer manager kalel just doesnít have the stones for this. kalel on the other hand has different ideas. At half time he singes their ears with his fiery half time talk, and questions their passion to win the game. Realising that taking the game to them will never work, he instructs his team to hang back in the second half, and to let Arsenal stretch themselves. He suggests that they play more on the break, with more direct play, and he makes the brave decision to take off fansí favourite Robbie Keane for another new signing, Greek international Angelos Charisteas.
Itís a bold move, Charisteas has only just arrived at the Lane, and is still not really fit for the new season, let alone the Premiership. Still, kalel tells him to take it easy, and just try and be a target for the long ball, and knock it on to Defoe if he gets the chance. The move is bold, but beautiful. Just 30 seconds after kick off Aaron Lennon find himself making a screaming run down the right, towards his own fans, and plays a beautiful early ball in to find Charisteas at the far post, who instinctively heads it firmly into the ground. The connection is not great, but the bounce seems to evade the keeper, and he scores on his debut, with his first touch of the ball no less. Kalel now has a dilemma, should he now switch his tactics again and try and defend the goal, or should he keep playing on the break and try and get a winner? Feeling that the momentum is with him, kalel decides to stick with the gameplan for a bit, and sure enough Spurs dominate for the next twenty minutes.
However, as the game draws in, a couple of the more experienced players start to flag, and Arsenal have a goal saved off the line by Michael Dawson after Davids makes a poor back pass to the keeper, which was intercepted by Henry. Taking the error as a warning, kalel decides to try and bank the draw, and takes off Davids and Charisteas, and brings on Gardner, to play five at the back and just Defoe lone upfront. He instructs his team to keep the ball in the oppositions half, waste time when appropriate, and even make a nasty tackle or two just to wind the clock down.
The plan works and Arsenal are restricted to pop shots from 30 yards, and these do little to bother the England keeper. Then, amazingly, in the 92nd minute, after what felt like a final attack from Arsenal and a tremendous 50 yard pass from Reto Zieglar, Jermaine Defoe suddenly finds himself one on one with the Arsenal keeper. Itís not unlike him to miss in these situations, and sure enough he calmly slots it home sending Lehman the wrong way. It feels like the silence hangs in the air for minutes as Defoe wheels away in celebration, and then the away fans erupt in rapture. They have beaten their arch rivals on this historic day, and they know the Arsenal fans will never forget it. It is a key day in Tottenham Hotspurís history, and itís all thanks to their courageous and, letís face it, genius new managerÖ
Another year, another Champ Man game. SORRY, sorry Football Manager game, sorry. Iíve not quite got that into my head yet, but it will come. It makes an important point though, and anyone that has not yet made the transition from Championship Manager to Football Manager for fear of it not being the same, can rest assured that it really is the same. Really. Iím not sure if there has ever been a game with a more subtle evolution that this particular series, and while this does lead to the obvious and somewhat true accusation of each new iteration being just an expensive patch, at least fans of the series know what they are getting. The same game, with a couple of tweaks, and the new teams and players updated, and in truth, thatís all they want.
So, as with Football Manager on the Spectrum way back in 1985, the first one I played, the game is still pretty much the same in principle. In a sense, this is actually a role playing game. You are a football manager, and you have the freedom to pick any team in the entire world, club or national, and manage them for as long as you are allowed, or until you choose to take another job, or even retire if you like. There seem to be several ways that people decide to go about playing this. Some, really do treat it a bit like an RPG, and take a non league job as their first. They then build up knowledge for the game and experience, and slowly but surely work their way up the ladder, until eventually they can take on a top team. Personally, this is not an approach I myself have ever taken.
I prefer to live out my fantasies, and to be the manager of my beloved Tottenham Hotspur. Iíve been doing this even since the top flight teams were put into the game, and itís interesting, as each new game comes out each new season with the latest team, and such is the simulative nature of the game that you feel like you have a good understanding of each new team as you go. This year for example, playing with Spurs is quite easy, as they have a decent side in real life, but in past years itís been much trickier.
There is a third way of playing the game, and that is to treat it as a chance to see the footballing world from many points of view, whether itís the glory of taking on Real Madrid or Manchester United or one of the worldís other biggest clubs, or maybe taking on Svenís role as the England manager, and seeing if you can win the World Cup. Or maybe you want to try a bit of Swiss second division football, or go and help one of the South American teams to break onto the world stage. Each job will bring completely different challenges, and it really is an immense and unfeasibly rich game, that has enough content to keep it fresh forever, let alone for just one year until the next one comes.
Gameplay itself is obviously similar regardless of which team you take on. You have control over pretty much all of the day to day affairs, such as training schedule, buying and selling players, staff hiring and firing, contract handling, wage negotiations, and so on. If you decide not to get involved with all this and just want to stick to the games, then you can assign a large portion of this responsibility to your assistant manager, should you have one, and at its simplest the game can boil down to just match tactics and the transfer market if you like. These are probably the most significant roles you have, and are the most important in deciding how well you do, although the training does also seem to have quite a major effect. This aspect has thankfully been both simplified and improved since the somewhat random feeling training programs of previous years, and each ability (shooting, fitness, defence etc) now has a simple slider for how much training in that area the player is getting. These sliders relate directly to stats that the players have, so now it is very easy to see how the training is affecting players, and you can get a good balance quite easily.
The only other new feature that I have noticed is that you can now give players a half time talk as well as after the game. While this feature is a nice touch, and an important bit of realism that was lacking before, I canít help feeling that itís a little easy to use effectively. The final words of the commentary as you go in from half time usually give you a pretty good hint on what to say. If for example the commentator says ďSpurs have played well this half and have been unlucky to scoreĒ, then you would be well advised not to give them a bollocking, and likewise, if the comment is ďSpurs look like half the team are still in bedĒ, then hugs and kisses all round will have little effect.
In terms of graphics and sound, if these are the things that are important to you, then this really is not the right game. It has not come on a huge amount since my Speccy version, although the viewable games, although still top down (which is the only way to have it in my honest opinion), do now seem to be much more realistic then before, and despite the top down views you quickly get a sense of the players and their various attributes. It really is amazing how much character a small circle with a number on it can have. As for the rest of the game, although not overly pretty, it is wholly functional, and the menus are easy to navigate and allow you to just start playing straight away without wading through the epic manual. There are now tutorials included too for the first time, so you can get a quick lesson on any feature should you not know how to use it. It is worth mentioning though, that although this will not require the highest level of graphics card to play, the sheer volume of data involved with playing out games of every league in the world is immense, and even if you choose to only run Premiership and ignore every other league in the world, it can still make the fastest of PCs chug along when updating all the stats after each game, and Iím yet to have the pleasure of playing a game with all the leagues activated.
The ChamÖFootball Manager games are all about living out your fantasies. If you do not fantasise about being involved with football, and taking a team to the top, then I strongly doubt that this game will push any buttons. It sits with games such as Crammondís Grand Prix series and the MS Flight Sims as a ďserious simulationĒ, and unless you have more than a passing interest in the subject matter, it is more likely to put you off forever than convert you. Having said that, despite the rhetoric, it is a game, and it is immense fun to become absorbed in it. The opening section of this review was a genuine account of one of my games, and such was the satisfaction it gave me, I was able to recall the minute details of the game from memory, as if it had been a real game. In fact, this season I have been constantly surprised when I have seen Tottenhamís real life line up, as it feature players that I have sold or have long term injuries in my game, and I have genuine problems with the lines of reality blurring. It is an infectious and rewarding experience, and is one of those rare games that allow you to feel not just that you have achieved something in a game, but such is its scale, it can trick you into feeling like you have achieved something in reality.
To give it a rating is hard, as fails in so many areas that are generally considered important to rate a game highly. There is little in the way of technical nor game play innovation, it has hardly changed in twenty years, and there are better graphics on mobile phone games from two years ago, let alone PC games. And yet, perhaps the gameís greatest achievement is that it is so absorbing, so well balanced, that not only do you not notice or care about that lack of pizzazz, if it were available you would reject it. Why have photo realistic representations of the game, when they would not be as easy to view and see the success of your whole team as with a top down view? All you can ask, is what can it do better? What more could you want? And short of being able chuck pizza at Alex Ferguson after a game, which I do appreciate canít happen, I honestly can not see how this game could do what it intends to do any better than it does.
9 / 10