Football Manager 2011 Reader Review
Itís that time of year again. The time when I have to say goodbye to a game that Iíve poured literally days of my life into, and start the whole thing again with a new version, which is sure to bring all the familiar feelings of joy, frustration, elation and despair, in what measure decided entirely by the team I find myself in charge of. Yes of course, itís the release of the latest instalment in SIís celebrated Football Manager series, and the moment where my degree starts to go down the drain.
So after a hassle free install (with the addition of a few logo and facepack files to spice things up a bit) I ask myself the usual question; which club is it to be this year? Shall I try repeat the successes of my glittering seven year Celtic career of FM2008? Or go for another Champions League and Premier League double with Arsenal as I did in FM2010? No. This year is about a new challenge: taking my own club Liverpool back to the top of European competition. Now some people may have a certain disdain for the way I play my FM. Many fans like to take on a lower league club and attempt to take them on a journey up through the football leagues. I have no doubt that the sense of achievement gained from that is fantastic, but itís not for me. I like to be in a familiar environment; the top end of European football where I know the players and the clubs inside out. And thatís always been the beauty of FM, it allows you to play it exactly how you want to, and write your own story along the way.
The game loads up, and Iím relieved that the post-release patch includes the changes to our ownership; good news for me and any other budding Roy Hodgson replacement. John Henry presents me with a £25m transfer budget and off I go, ready to embark on yet another long journey in the world of professional football management. The first thing you notice about FM2011 is that the presentation of messages has been improved. Messages are now organised by day, and you can expand or close the list of messages for a particular day, which is a useful feature should you be desperately searching for an important message that you looked over before. This is just one of a number of little changes which make the game more streamlined and easier to navigate.
I start off how I always do: with the hiring and firing of staff. The firing is exactly the same, but the hiring is now different. All contract negotiations now take place during real time, where youíre presented with a list of demands and attempt to negotiate if youíre unhappy with what the person or their agent has demanded of you. Itís a much more involving process than the simple method that was present before, where you made an offer, and if they werenít happy theyíd come back in a few days and demand more. It also helps to streamline negotiations, as you can get an acceptable deal sorted straight away, rather than waiting for a reply. As per usual itís an addition which adds more realism to the game, especially as staff/players will take a day or two to mull over the offer youíve given them and it means more tense live negotiations when the person in question is in demand by several other clubs.
Another welcome addition is a much more expanded level of interaction. Players will come to you with concerns and youíll be able to talk through their problems with them. This can make or break your relationship with a player, in particular if theyíre unhappy with you because theyíre not being played enough or they feel the team is underperforming. Unlike in previous versions itís not simply a one line affair. Itís like a real conversation, where youíll counter their point, and they may come back with another. This extends to board interaction as well, which has been given an overhaul. Now itís simply not enough to ask for more money for transfers or wages, the board may ask you to justify your reasons, and if theyíre not satisfied then youíre out of luck. It certainly adds another depth of realism, where you can be turned down at first, but then be able to talk them around and get what you want. You can also ask the board to negotiate a major transfer for you, which is a nice touch. I managed to convince Mr Henry that Scott Parker would be a great addition to the squad, and after some negotiation he accepted; now Parker forms a major component of my midfield unit and John Henry smiles at me every time he scores.
After sacking some less able staff and bringing some better coaches in we can look at the training and coaching options. Training has been somewhat changed, with easy to read information and itís easier than ever to set a new schedule and assign your coaches to their various roles. Backroom advice is improved, with staff now suggesting you drop or add players based on form (cue lots of staff telling me to drop Joe Cole on a regular basis). Also new is a match preparation mode, which allows you to set formations and areas to focus on specifically for the next game, a nice touch that can mean the difference in a tight derby fixture, providing you have an idea of what your opponents will play like of course. As with most other things you can simply set your assistant manager (or ass man as heís known in the FM community) to deal with it, but for the bigger games it can be worthwhile taking a couple of minutes to draw up a schedule yourself. After all, you donít want him taking all the credit for a hard fought derby win, followed by your job, do you?
A major grind for many fans since they were introduced were the press conferences. At first a novelty, they quickly became repetitive, dull and annoying. SI have gone someway towards making them more interesting this year, and itís definitely a good thing. Questions and responses vary more now, and theyíve thankfully gotten rid of the confirm button where you had to select your response and then confirm it, with responses now requiring just a single click. In terms of wider press interaction youíre able to say a lot more about other managers and players should you wish to, and rather than selecting an option in a non-descript menu youíre actually having a sort of conversation with a journalist. All of this impacts on the new media handling rating, which is measured in percentages like all of the other performance indicators now (such as domestic player bias, financial control etc.). Unfortunately thereís no option to change this to rank you on a scale from Joe Kinnear to Jose Mourinho, but I assume theyíre saving that for next year.
So after securing some new signings in the forms of Ibrahim Afellay, Tranquillo Barnetta, Diego Renan, Scott Parker and Roque Santa Cruz (on loan, damned if Iím paying a second string striker £80k a week!) I want to see them on the pitch, which is where the improved match engine comes in. There are more animations, the game runs smoother and it generally feels more free flowing and real than it has in the previous couple of games. The graphics have been marginally upgraded as they do look a bit smoother, but itís still a long way off FIFA and PESís looks (probably not a bad thing though considering the amount of fans that play on older computers and notebooks). Oh and thereís some new celebrations, some of which are fairly amusing, and really do add to that feeling of elation after youíve snatched a last minute winner. Milan Jovanovic doing a little jig after putting your team 2-0 up is certainly a sight to behold.
On the verge of the sack in October following an embarrassing 4-1 loss at the Stadium of Light, Iíve somehow managed to turn it all around, and we find ourselves in fourth place in January, with a two point cushion to boot. Signed up Taiwo for free to be my first choice left-back next season, and Christian Poulsen is on the transfer list after an amicable meeting between us resulted in us both deciding his leaving was for the best. The press are also hinting that Iím a possible replacement for Pep Guardiola, which makes me blush a little. This is what FM is all about, just like real football turning things from bad to good brings with it an immense feeling of achievement that is hard to match for other games. Whether its drawing until the 75th minute of a Europa League match against some Eastern European team that sounds more like a beer than a football team, only to win 2-0 in the last 15 courtesy of two Fabio Aurelio strikes, or coming from behind to beat your most hated rivals 2-1 with a last gasp Fernando Torres assisted Edwin Van der Sar own goal, the sheer emotion that comes with the game is as good as ever. Except now itís even better, because the small improvements which streamline the game a bit more and the new interaction features that add a new depth of realism to transfer negotiations, board meetings and press relations, all help to make FM2011 more of a joy to play. And based on that Iíd have to say itís the best FM to date.
If youíve not picked it up for a couple of years Iíd urge you to give 2011 a try, and if youíve never played the game before I couldnít think of a better time for you to get involved. The advisor system is a great help and can explain every aspect of the game as you play and the layout is easy to navigate once you get the hang of it. It may look extremely complex and overbearing to begin with, but once you learn the nuances it is probably the biggest and most rewarding time sink that exists in gaming. Believe me, youíll thank me for it, though I canít guarantee that your other half will!
Anyway where was I, oh yes, I think we need to have a little talk about this Lionel Messi fellow, Mr HenryÖ