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Championship Manager 2002/03

There have been many many moments when I’ve stood up in front of the tele and told the manager of Fulham exactly how I think the team should play. Countless times I’ve shouted at Sven for playing Heskey and every week down at Craven Cottage 20,000 people would scream ‘shoot’ the minute we entered the 18-yard box.

Almost everyone involved in football, be it a chairman or a fan, believes that they can do a much better job than the gibbon on the touchline. Play 4-4-2, buy Ferdinand, drop Seaman and for god’s sake win the game! are what we all hear from the old boys in the back row. They remember the times when wages were capped at £100 a week, players had jobs outside football and the pitch was a mud bath.

Well, I remember a clever team of people called SI Games. They bought out the long-running and highly successful Championship Manager series to PC gamers, and ever since all football management sims have been compared to SI’s benchmark title.

Last year we saw the long awaited release of Championship Manager to a console, the lucky one being the Xbox. The choice wasn’t the usual ‘spin the bottle’ affair or who can offer more money but the case of system specs and ready-to-go hard drive. With the PS2 being so hot on the market it would be the most obvious choice to bring the people’s game to the people’s console, if only Sony could have pulled their fingers out and released the external hard disk in time.

Being the first CM outside PC territory, things were always going to be uneasy. SI had to get used to meeting deadlines by a publisher (Eidos) as well as the impressive specs of Billy G’s box of tricks. So it wasn’t a big surprise to see a basic game engine with no added features. Be fair, SI were just dipping their toes into the water before deciding where to go with their blockbuster series. With development of CM4 in the pipeline for the PC, conditions had to be right to continue future plans of releasing the latest instalment in order to kill of the competition.

As a stop gap between the debut title and potential benchmark instalment, SI Games had to give us an updated game engine with the latest stats and league updates to quench the public’s thirst. But will we fall for it? We sure will…

Starting with the trademark ‘Kick Racism out of Football’ logo comes the cheer of the crowd as Championship Manager flashes onto the screen. Whilst not nearly as loud as the celebrations of Xbox owners across the country, the atmosphere changes from the feeling that ‘the developers flung this out to get more cash’ to ‘this is a game made by football fans for football fans’. Gleaming from ear to ear as memories of our (Fulham) first win Premiership win against Sunderland flash through my mind, it seems as if a few changes have been made. Most notable is the addition of a soundtracks option, just like many more Xbox games so we can listen to Britney or Foo Fighters whilst designing our killer tactic or knocking Man-u out of the FA Cup. The sound is crisp and clear and is toned down during matches so you can hear the crowd chants and celebrations when you score a goal (or those of the opposition if you concede).

As you may have guessed the new addition has updated team rosters, colours, league position and transfer windows. Just as Sepp Blatter dictates, English clubs can only buy players during the close season and throughout January, making buying sprees a little tenser towards deadline day. Loading times and slow-down during gameplay have been almost completely eradicated so playing in later seasons is much smoother. Where Championship Manager truly exceeds any form of opposition is the level of depth the game has.

Tactics range much further than just plotting out 11 players on a field. Deciding where they stand or run when on the ball can be the determining factor between winning and loosing, as can deploying defensive duties. Each player can be given individual commands such as to dribble more, hold up play or cross the ball. With so many possibilities available it is easy to understand why so many of those PC gamers rave about it being the best around.

Players are are also much more than just names. Here they are portrayed as real humans and will react to poor results, media praises and attacks, financial inadequacies and most importantly, your actions. World-rated superstars will not be happy if they don’t get enough first team football and muppets who miss open goals from six yards will become agitated if slagged off in the press. Of course, defending players can also be done, but disagreeing with an attack on an inconsistent player may anger the fans and board. So many decisions…

Training your multi-million pound squad is as complex as Spaghetti Junction. Coaching staff have different attributes which can affect results of a player’s potential, playing staff may get upset with unfair training schedules and training hard everyday will drag down fitness and morale. And they say management’s a piece of piss? Buying new players isn’t a walk in the park either. Making a bid public will attract the attention of rival clubs, giving unacceptable roles will get negotiations broken down and then there’s contract demands. Depending on morale players might not accept new contracts and may even hand in a transfer request. Totally annoying a player will cause him to go absent without permission (in effect walking out on the club) and leave you paying his wages whilst unavailable for selection.

After all this fannying about there are matches to be played. Remember us talking about shouting at the manager? Well now you’re the gibbon on the touchline and everyone’s telling you what you should do. Of course, winning and buying high-profile players should shut them up, but losing and falling out with team members will get them after your head. It’s up to if Barthez goes up for corners, if Keane tries to kill the opposition and how much shouting at your centre forward will suffice.

The board have a much more active role than in other management sims, and will be in regular contact after impressive displays or poor form. And yes, during the course of the season you will mutter ‘go **** yourselves’ at least five times!

To sum up? Buy it! Honestly though, if you are in doubt then the least you can do is rent, but beware because it takes a good while to come accustomed to the complex system and knowing where everything is. As a helpful hand, SI Games have included a big list of CM web sites for you to gander at if needing help or want to share your latest top find.

As far as things go, Championship Manager 02/03 is the best management sim available on any console. Great presentation thanks to the hundred or so photographs of grounds and scenes in the beautiful game gives a great front to a complex but not too complicated immersive game. It’s like football in the real world, only without queues to the bogs or the smell of half time burgers. A football equivalent? Winning the Premiership, FA Cup, League Cup and conquering Europe. Several times. Proving all the doubters wrong in the process.

Some say football, CM and sex are the greatest things in life. If I weren’t still a virgin I would agree with them…

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in June 2002.

Gentle persuasion

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