Football Manager 2006 Preview

Michael Anderson 19/10/2005

These are dark waters. The Football Manager, formerly Championship Manager, series is proudly the most addictive computer game in existence- and should come with some sort of leaflet for your friends and loved ones explaining what is happening to you, so they can cope better with their loss. To the casual observer, it is difficult to see why anyone would want to willingly give up hours of their free time staring at a screen on which nothing appears to be happening-Nothing explodes, you can't drive anything, there are no henchmen and the graphics make you feel as though you're working in a bank. So what's the appeal then? Pretending to be Sam Allardyce? Yes, actually.  
Football management games are best not compared with the likes of Grand Theft Auto, Halo or Mario Kart, as they are not related in any way, other than nominally being a computer game. A more appropriate comparison might be gardening- where weeks and sometimes even months of preparation go into creating something wonderful, be it a set of geraniums or a trophy-winning side, something truly beautiful that you end up caring deeply about. If I ever end up getting married or having children I'll be very pleased indeed, but I'm sure it won't top when my Everton lads of 2008/9 won the treble. Another similar pursuit I suppose is fishing, where patience, tactics and cunning are essential to defeating an unseen enemy, and can involve waiting, motionless, for hours on end. Also, it's always pretty cool to buy your own brother (Mark Anderson, Wrexham Reserves, 17yrs old, DR, £2,000) in a computer game. 
Since the Championship Manager series began many seasons ago it has constantly marked itself out from its management simulation competition by actually being challenging to play- on other titles like Premier Manager you could spend just two years at West Ham United and end up with Ronaldo, Zidane and Buffon winning 5-0 every week in your 140,000-seater stadium. This was mainly due to an insane transfer market which allowed you to 'negotiate' an £18.5m fee for someone like Chaka Hislop and watch as Barcelona and Juventus fought to secure his unique goalkeeping- totally unrealistic, although what Villa recently paid Liverpool for Milan Baros makes that seem like a bargain. With no serious demands made of one's intellect the games soon lost their appeal, although after playing Championship Manager for an hour or two, you hankered for those crazy, unrealistic, easier days.  
Uncompromisingly difficult, deep and complex, the series gained a reputation as the only serious choice for players over the age of 9. Deserved critical acclaim followed- and pretty soon everyone was managing a struggling Division Two side with about £80 quid to spend on players, suffering thrashing after thrashing from the likes of Colchester and Rotherham, appreciating the thankless, miserable saga that lower league football can be- and also experiencing the euphoric joy of just avoiding relegation to the Conference on the last day of the season. Unlike other games, you don't die or even get arrested- you get publicly sacked for your own incompetence by Peterborough, surely a fate much worse than death. 

Since the recent publishing split (where developers Sports Interactive kept the game and Eidos kept the name) the title to play is Football Manager, which brought a new level of sophistication to the genre. A more colourful experience, it added features like bitchy manager comments and improved the in-game coverage & media-interaction, which is, of course, part-and-parcel (like clichés) of being a modern manager. Its main success was that it slightly improved an already excellent game, which is what Football Manager 2006 also, thankfully, aims to achieve. 
The most striking new feature is the addition of team talks at half time, as well as pre and post match, which will affect your team's morale, confidence, form etc. Aside from this, there have been major improvements to the training section (an area I've always considered to be a bit pointless) and the in-game menus. Ray Houghton has once again been summoned to provide his expert advice about the dynamics of the game's math engine, provided they can stop him going on about that goal against Italy in USA 94, and many of the flaws from the previous game, including the fact that nobody born after 1990 ever turned out to be any good (3 for technique? Even I've got a 6 for fuck's sake…), which should- barring some horrible, horrible accident- leave us with the greatest footy management simulation until the next instalment.