Carlos Tevez. Even at a cosy, vodka cocktail-fuelled gathering to informally discuss the exciting new features of Football Manager 2008, the subject of the Argentine's ownership still manages to dominate a third of conversations. To make matters worse, I find myself boxed into a corner by two massive Spurs fans, a Luton fan, two intoxicated Arsenal fans and - worry, worry - a Millwall fan, making my claret-and-blue-tinted opinions on the whole debacle somewhat unheard. It's just like reading the Daily Mail, only with an impending threat of violence.
Quickly realising my position to be a precarious one, I sneakily crawl through the Millwall guy's legs, who is conveniently distracted by a Spurs man's gnash-teethed, fist-clenched proclamation that it's still possible for West Ham to be relegated. "Is it balls," I think, albeit very quietly to myself, before darting a free man into the open kitchen area, and grabbing Sports Interactive's Watford-hailing bigwig Miles Jacobson by the shoulder: "Dude, Football Manager 2008 looks amazing! Can we sit down somewhere quiet to discuss all its fantastic new features in detail?"
He nods. I breathe a sigh of relief. And as we depart to safer grounds, there's just time for me to overhear the Luton man lamenting his team's summer transfer policy to only buy players over the age of 57. Ha, and yet they still didn't sign Teddy Sheringham...
(Just for the record, the above may be slightly exaggerated. And I very rarely call people 'dude' either).
And so onto the game...
The first thing that Miles tells me is that each Football Manager game tends to be an "evolution" rather than a "revolution", but with lots of "revolutionary features" stuffed into the mix. "A new Pro Evolution, for example," he says, "will usually only add two or three big things. We introduce five or six big things, but with hundreds of smaller features."
One of the big overhauls is with the international section. Miles shakes his head when I suggest this must mean a block on overrated Spurs middleman Jermaine Jenas being allowed to play for England. "We ignored the international part somewhat before," concedes Miles before going onto reveal that, as international manager, you now have the option of watching club matches in order to scout new talent and/or monitor key players' forms. There will also be assistants offering recommendations and player analysis, separate player morale for international and club games and the bonus of improved player pools, too. Plus, it's pretty nice that players now know when you, as international manager, are present at a game - nothing like putting Peter Crouch off his lumbering, lanky stride now, is there?
Elsewhere, the flow of matches has been oiled to make the matchday experience "more of an experience". The menus have been "sorted out", the interface is slicker, 'help' pop-ups aid novices wherever possible, and matches are tantalisingly introduced with screens detailing betting odds, pundit opinions and teamtalks. Plus, as in real-life, pause matches while fiddling about with tactics is no longer an option - instead, the game continues to flow while you frantically decide whether to change from 4-5-1 to a gung-ho 2-3-5. "It's all about realism," says Miles. "After all, the matchday is the most important part of the game. And the useability has been improved tenfold with a cleaner skin."
Next up, club financing has been revamped to take in consideration the ever-changing business model of the modern game. Of course, foreign buy-outs and investors ('sugar daddies') is nothing new to the series, but SI has now replicated the way in which big clubs will willingly splash vast wads of cash, despite being financially in debt. Likewise, player contracts have been made more realistic, with Miles admitting they may have got it a little wrong with previous versions: "We had various agents show us exactly how bonuses and contract clauses work in the real world," he says, "and that's something we've now incorporated into the game."
Further into the subject of finance, there are now options of utilising increasingly commonplace ticket pricing schemes too. For example, a midweek Carling Cup clash against Rochdale could attempt to have its attendance bumped by the introduction of 'kid for a quid' specials or 'bring a mate' half-price offers, which can potentially increase numbers further down the line if your team puts on a good show.
The focus on 'fan confidence' is another intriguing new feature. If your loyal following aren't overawed by your team's dour performances or if they feel your transfer activity makes Graeme Souness look like a wheelin'-dealin' genius rather than the hapless buffoon that he is, then expect their disquiet to be felt all the way to board level. Fan feedback will be given after every match, so you'll be sure to know the general reaction of signing Michael Chopra and Diomansy Kamara in a joint deal, worth GBP 28m. However, as in real-life, fans here can be fickle old sods and can dramatically change their opinions on the back of good or poor runs.
So, anything else to talk about? Of course. After an 'unsuccessful' experiment with gamers sending in their mugshots, 'face gen' technology has now been introduced to randomly generate the identities and individual characteristics of the 'fictional' new crop of players that break through, seasons down the line. As well as getting noticeably fatter, skinnier, older etc, SI has made sure that the ethnicity stats are all representative of real life. "It's a small feature, but we spent bloody ages on it," remarks Miles. "It just shows the level of extreme research we undertake at every level of the game."
And what about the match engine? "Well, it's another year spent working on it, making it better and smoother. We've still got Ray Houghton onboard, and you'll notice that the football is more fluid, more of that free-flowing Arsenal style of play. It just goes from strength to strength..."
Which is pretty much like the Football Manager series as a whole, then. If only West Ham can go from strength to strength, too. Fingers crossed that Craig Bellamy will refrain from bashing Tevez in with a rusty nine iron - at least until he finally ends up in Man United shirt. Then he can swing away... Fore!