Every dedicated football fan has done it at some point. It’s that moment stood in your dingy local, surrounded by sweaty obese men ironically clad in identical sporting uniforms, when you’re 4-0 down in the 80th minute and your manager takes off Swifty McSpeedyballs and puts on a pudgy defender in his place. A collective groan goes up, and you turn to your nearest neighbor and announce:
“I could bloody manage this team better than him.”
Well, Championship Manager has allowed us to do just that for years, and rival Football Manager too. Football Manager 2011 won’t win any awards for originality or imagination, as it isn’t a huge leap over the previous incarnation Football Manager 2010, but hardcore fans will still delight in the updated team rosters and handful of extra features that have been shoved in for the new season.
A wide selection of international leagues are available in Football Manager 2011, but this being good ol' Blighty, we tested out a term in the Premier League, taking over as the Fulham boss. Come up with some fictional history and stick a gormless photo of yourself into your profile, and you're chucked the reins a month before the 2010-2011 season begins.
Newcomers to Football Manager will no doubt find the interface a little intimidating at first, comprising as it does of several menus, spreadsheets and tables. However, Football Manager 2011’s layout soon becomes second nature, with all of the main areas - upcoming fixtures, squad status, player lists and of course your inbox - all within easy reach. There's a handy tips box that walks you through the most important aspects if you're still a bit lost.
As usual your inbox is the main source of info in Football Manager 2011, everything from board updates to transfer rumours and news. Some of the time you can reply with set responses - for instance, when your board offer advice or set their expectations, you can either go along with them or tell them where to shove it (in polite terms obviously, this is a family game after all).
Most of the responses are sadly dull and predictable, and the same goes for press conferences (why can’t we tell the BBC to blow it out their arse when they ask a tedious question for the fifth time running?). Still, at least you have the option of storming out of a conference, which seems to do surprisingly little to your reputation.
There's a separate news tab that gives you more in-depth rumours and gossip if you have time, and a boardroom section that gives you updates on your general performance and confidence levels. It's all presented clearly, and we loved reading fictional rumours of Tevez telling Mancini to go do one after a personal dispute. If only there were more exciting rumours, maybe some Chelsea stars found driving at 200mph on a coke-fuelled bender with three strippers and Wayne Rooney's missus. At least it would add a touch of reality to Football Manager 2011.
A huge array of real life players are included in Football Manager 2011’s roster, and each has their own individual profile, complete with tons of attributes. You can even see how much they earn per week, although I'd advise you keep some razorblades handy when you discover how many 15-year-olds earn more per week than you do in a year. Still, the endless stats are like some wonderful drug to be absorbed by anyone who loves the great game, and make it even more fun to scout out new talent for your team.
Our favourite part of Football Manager 2011 is definitely putting together the perfect team. You’ll receive constant scouting reports and pleas from player agents, as well as rumours of a club’s interest in some unknown foreign talent, all of which are great tip-offs. There’s nothing more satisfying than snatching a potential starlet from the grasp of Fat Sam or Sweaty Face Redknapp.
Of course, to do so you’ll first have to make the player an offer he can’t refuse. Make a bid and it’ll either be rejected (possibly with a reason), or accepted - in which case you enter negotiations. The player will give his wage demands, which are usually ridiculous bordering on insane, and then you make an offer (which can laughably be as low as £1 a week). If the player isn’t happy then they’ll come back with fresh demands. This back-and-forth always seems to last for three turns, which sadly takes some of the tension out of it, but it’s still fun seeing who will back down first.
Matches themselves will be familiar to Football Manager stalwarts. You begin by choosing a formation, which players to start with and which to stick on the bench, and various tactics you wish to employ. The match then plays out in blocky 3D, like a game of Fifa 1994 that you have no control over. The 'sound' is little more than a generic crowd noise, although to be fair this is the only time in the entire game you'll hear sound which always jerks you awake during late-night sessions.
Admittedly it’s better than the old text updates, and you can replay goals and even upload highlights to YouTube if you so desire, which is a nice touch. However, as with all football management games, a lot of your success depends on luck as well as judgement.
On one occasion, for instance, we employed the imaginative tactics of playing with Bobby Zamora in goal, with a fierce strike partnership of Schwarzer and Zuberbuhler up front. Not only did Zuberbuhler score a cracking goal from 40 yards, but we drew the match 3-3. So, Mr Hughes, there you have it - the Swiss demon is the answer to your current crisis up front.
As Football Manager 2011 is essentially a spreadsheet (albeit one with a clunky 3D engine), the system requirements are slim. Anything more powerful than a pocket calculator should run it (or a Celeron processor with a gig of RAM as the box puts it). Footy fans will find plenty to keep them up ‘til the wee hours, although it still has some glaring limitations that have plagued these titles since we were tiny budding managers.