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Football Manager 2006

Football Manager

Right now it’s 3 in the morning; I can feel the bristles pushing through onto my chin, there’s a weeks worth of newspapers and unopened post gathered on the doormat, mould is growing on the unwashed plates in the sink and Jim has rung precisely 11 times trying to find out where the hell I’ve been.

Right here, in all honesty. Days have floated by, nights vanished, family events been and gone as this review sat here in front of this PC living the experience that is Football Manager. As fans of the series will know, from the outside you just sit there with an expressionless face, not moving very much and rarely muttering a word. On the inside, you can hear the fans chanting “You don’t know what you’re doing”, you can feel your foot booting that water bottle across the changing room at your failing team and the half time pies smell tempting. Welcome to Football Manager, and the end of your life for the foreseeable future.

This team is apparently very disappointing.

Sports Interactive has bought the series a long way since the early days, implementing a visual match day engine and taking the series to another publisher being the highlights, as well as making sure that fans with lower spec PC’s weren’t alienated from the fun. Football Manager 2006 admittedly doesn’t improve much over its predecessor, the main reason being that 2005’s effort was pretty damn good to try and top. There’s a general feeling around that the newest addition, whilst undoubtedly being the finest the series has to offer, isn’t as much as an essential purchase as has been customary so far. Has Sports Interactive gone as far as it can go? Hopefully not, but if they were to pack up and leave for the hills tomorrow, we wouldn’t be left with something to be disappointed with.

Something our world-travelling Editor pointed out with last years joint review was how you set up the game and then go walk the dog, climb Mount Everest or even venture out to another galaxy, then return home to find the game just about finished loading for you to play. Not any more; you barely have time to dump the girlfriend over the phone in anticipation of giving up your social life, in fact you could just about boil the kettle in the time it takes to load up the database. Advancing through each day is lightning fast also, this on a machine boasting a hefty (sarcasm alert) 600-odd MB RAM, and once again you can set the match simulating to sit in the background as you devise training schedules, wind someone up in the media or scout the next Wayne Rooney.

‘Torn groin muscle’ sounds painful.

Mind you, it’s not as if training will take up too much time either. As something that has been under vast scrutiny from critics for some time now, SI appear to have simplified it so much that they’ve even taken away the option to have the assistant manager control the day to day running of the clubs players. Last years effort was a huge improvement and something we thought wouldn’t be touched much in years to come, but how wrong we were. You now change schedules with sliders; each regime has a main bar across the bottom, which slowly makes its way to the right as you increase intensity in different areas, so you can experiment by pushing sliders about to make a nicely balanced schedule. Alternatively you can just move the big slider, which will increase and decrease the amount of work in each area automatically.

Players are then assigned to each schedule by picking it from a handy drop box next to their name; playing staff can be sorted by all kinds of ways, from attributes to positions, statistics to morale. There’s even separate schedules for youngsters, to keep those coming through the ranks out of the way of the first team squad. Selecting staff isn’t a chore either, as they coach with regards to skills and not schedule. So you can have both midfielders and strikers with high tactical training schedules, and instead of the coach being torn between the two he’ll coach both; of course, the more players he has to coach the higher the work load, so you can assign more coaches to that area if necessary to take off the pressure.

Um, I’m kinda struggling to find anything witty to say about this screenshot.

Best of all it’s now far simpler to see how players are benefiting from training. There’s the handy little tick box from previous versions and now a cool training section under a players profile, where you can see how much improvement and effort they’ve been putting in over the course of months and seasons and your assistants opinion of both the players ability and his attitude in training. This means you no longer have to approach training via the menu, and instead can access it straight through the players themselves.

The media now play a far more involved role in Football Manager, with journalists flocking to ask your opinion on player performances after matches and creating their own wars between managers. What is impressive is the extra detail laid on in reports; when talking about Fulham for example, press releases will include things like “The Cottagers are currently on 5 games without a win, and manager James Frazer will be looking to correct this on Saturday against Blackburn”. They even include snapshots for players, such as goal statistics, transfer details and calling on past news stories. Manager responses to speculation and headlines are now grouped so you know which comments are negative, positive and neautral, without fouling up and wishing you’d have picked something else, and managers are much more likely to come out with comments about you and your team before and after matches. Damn you, Jose.

Players are far easier to manipulate this time round, with morale playing a big part in performances and actions during matches and media conferences. You can boost or grill players during matches with the aid of team talks at half time and after the game, so it’s now possible kick boots at David Beckham like Fergie and launch full on tirades as seen in Mike Bassett: England Manager. This means you can jeer up your side like Mr Mourinho and come out fighting to get hold of a game, but there’s also a chance your side can become confident and complacent on a lead and waste it away.

And this one. Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder, eh?

Perhaps my favourite part of Football Manager 2006 is the adaptation of the match engine into today’s defence-minded tactics. Teams are now more likely to play 4-5-1 and will often change tactics throughout the game, keeping you on your toes. It’s amazing once again at how you can swing a game with some simple changes, like setting a forward to run on the ball more in an attempt to coax a defender on a booking to challenge him and get sent off. There’s even a handy new time wasting meter, so if you’re happily winning 1-0 then you can instruct players to kick the ball away on throw ins, take time on free kicks and hold up the ball, whereas losing teams can be ushered forward with a faster pace.

As much as these improvements make a more enjoyable game, there’s no denying that if you have 2005’s edition and are hard on cash, you’re not missing out on some new feature that will change the way you play and think about Football Manager forever, as last years game was just that damn good. What 2006 has done is make things simpler for the manager, so you can run the club comfortably and have more of an effect on how players perform during games. It’s now much easier to turn a team’s fortunes round if you know what you’re doing, but just as easy to come crashing down again.

That said, the new patch (6.0.1) has somewhat destroyed all kinds of defence during matches, with players now unable to record many clean sheets. It would be unfair to judge the game on a patch that is work in progress, after all Championship Manager grew on fans notifying the developer of niggles and bugs within the game, so this is no different.

Football Manager 2006 takes the giant leap that it achieved with last years edition and adds nuts and bolts on to keep the experience fresh without alienating any fans. Anyone without the cash or time to buy this new version need not lose sleep over not having the latest adjustments at their fingertips, however those willing to give up wives and girlfriends and £30 will feel right at home.

10 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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