Football Manager 2010
A new football season, and already things are looking challenging for the even the most seasoned of Football Manager fans. Ronaldo has finally jumped ship to Madrid for a world record transfer fee, Liverpool have lost their midfield maestro, Xabi Alonso, Arsenal sold two of their best players to rivals Manchester City, and Fulham finally solved their left wing problem with the astute signing of Damien Duff. The flurry of transfer activity has shaken up the Premiership, and this translates to Football Manager 2010.
For many people, England’s top division is where their maiden game will commence, being the best league in the world and all. Previous versions of Football Manager could be described as a doddle in this situation; get 11 fairly decent players onto the pitch and adjust your tactics according to their strengths, weaknesses and the scouting report on your next opposition. Minnows could finish in the upper regions of the table with barely a sweat on their brow – as a Fulham fan, I always used to set my expectations for the season as gaining a place in European competition, even with the lack of quality in the squad.
This sort of build up needs a good finish. Since playing Football Manager 2010 from release, the tactical system has been less-than-friendly to yours truly. You can’t sneak it a few drinks when no-one’s looking in exchange for a few favours; this bitch is rock solid. You used to be able to download a tactic from the developer’s forums and then just holiday between transfer windows, letting the computer play the matches whilst you dabbled in buying quality players and setting training schedules. It was almost as easy as Dennis Wise’s position at Newcastle United, earning £1 million a year for scouting players on YouTube.
This 2010 update changes all that; it takes everything you’ve been used to and throws it out of the window. For one, players at the top clubs are phenomenally talented, and the stark contrast between spending budgets for those battling for the title and clubs rallying against relegation hit home as hard as the consecutive drubbings you’ll inevitably encounter. Secondly, opposition managers actually play the game, instead of being mere profiles to emulate. Play high up the pitch and they’ll adjust tactics to take advantage of it, put three in midfield and they’ll drop a striker back to dominate your players. Watching the match engine is now essential if you’re going to notch up a decent winning streak.
Once you get into the habit of being beaten soundly, the media will start to hound your club and unsettle your players. Headlines such as “Frazer under pressure” will crop up in the news screen, and suddenly everyone starts to take an interest in widely discussing how many hours of football your striker has played without scoring. You go into every game determined to win and shove the critique back down their throats – it’s another element that spurs you on in the early hours of the morning, when you really should be in bed.
Football Manager isn’t a one-man experience any more either, and so you can take solace in those highly-paid backroom staff bringing up reports on opposition teams, tactics, training, player performance, you name it. They’ll even recommend meetings between the staff once a month to discuss things on their minds, and it helps to pay attention since they see some things at the club that you may overlook. Even scouts are more in-depth with their reports, suggesting ways to approach a match.
This wealth of information should provide useful, but sadly some of it isn’t as clear-cut as it makes out. The tackling statistic for players during matches can appear to mark against your team, but in reality, 50/50 challenges are now included. This means that players with low acceleration or bravery can appear to be having a bad game when in actual fact they’re just unlucky to miss out on such challenges. They could be challenging for the ball in possession and winning it flawlessly, let this isn’t reflected. The same goes for in-match reports from your assistant; he may complain that the opposition are dominating a particular area of the field, but he doesn’t state that that’s only in number and not by performance. If you’re playing a deep-lying 4-3-3 formation against a 5-man defence, the assistant seems to think that the target man is playing on his own against 5 defenders, when this simply isn’t the case.
Using the information that is perfectly valid, however, couldn’t be simpler. The tactics screen now comes in two flavours; there’s the old slider system for tactical whizz-kids, and a new menu-based interface for people like me who don’t know what they’re doing and solve things by shouting. Simply pick a formation, and then assign each player a role, such as your defensive midfielder being a deep-lying playmaker, meaning he’ll look to pass the ball forward and create chances, or a ball-winner, in that he’ll fly into challenges and won’t be expected to dazzle with the ball at his feet. This saves a lot of time, but also opens up another option come match day. For those, like me, who prefer shouting at your players to get the message across, there’s a drop-down menu whilst the game takes place that lets you issue instructions to the team from the comfort of the dugout. Get the team playing wide, narrow, further up the pitch or deeper; keep the ball, play long, play short, stick your foot in or stand off. The options are nearly limitless and allow you to keep your eye on the pitch and judge things as a spectator rather than delving into screens full of numbers that don’t explain anything to the untrained eye.
Completing this overhaul is a new interface, and for the most part it’s horrendous. Essential options such as shortlists are buried inside spring-out menus, and the toolbar-style links change with every screen rather than staying the same, meaning you have to switch to a particular screen in order to find what you’re after. What the interface does instead is put more emphasis on an underused feature introduced many moons ago, which is the concept of bookmarking. Instead of switching through screens and menus, a star can be clicked like that in the address bar on Firefox, which saves the page and can be accessed by clicking on your name. The home page can also be changed, and bookmarks sorted into folders. It is a very good system that saves a lot of time, but it does take an awful lot of that saved time getting used to it, and as such the effects are negligible at best.
Continuing with the light criticism, the match engine still isn’t full of life as it should be. Sure, we get crowds and blank advertising hoardings this year, but they’re just static and don’t react to what’s going on in the game. There’s no coaching staff walking to the touchline to shout instructions or substitutes limbering up either, they just warm the bench. In some ways Sports Interactive could be forgiven in that the match taking priority, but it’s the little things that add up to make the experience. There are also bugs still present, though markedly fewer than ever, given this being a series almost as famous for its glitches on release as it is for capturing the spirit of the beautiful game. Stutters during matches, linesmen flagging the wrong way for throw-ins and free-kicks, and penalties awarded and then completely forgotten about,with the players restarting with a goal kick. Incredibly infuriating when you’re battling away at the wrong end of the table and in need of a result.
Football Manager 2010 is an overhaul of the system, but I’m still undecided. Given that most of the changes are under the hood, playing it feels like you’ve just paid £30 for an update that could have been downloaded for free instead. The higher leagues are also much tougher to play in and compete against. Sports Interactive have pointed the series towards a more “hardcore” approach, rewarding those who put in the effort to watch matches in 3D instead of skipping by and taking the plaudits. I’m against developers who churn out yearly updates with little improvement (LMA Manager, Pro Evolution Soccer), but with Football Manager 2010, it almost feels like it justifies another investment.