39 Million pounds later

I'm going to go out on a limb and say you know at least one person who plays Football Manager and as such, those same people annoy the tar out of you through their insistence to tell you everything that happened in their game, lower-league stories, heroic comebacks, epic transfer deals. Football Manager 2011 is the latest attempt to turn people like me into zombies with thoughts of Slovak playmakers running through my head at 3am on a school night.

SI, the company that publishes FM and Championship Manager before 2005, have never made a big song and dance about new features. A sign of confidence in their ability, the rabid fan base and a welcome change, allowing you to find out what's changed. The big change this year was the way you talk to your players. If FM2010 was like using a fax machine, this season's instalment is like using Facebook Chat. I immediately told a defender he was ‘surplus to requirements'.

The interaction module actually reminded me a lot of Alpha Centauri, with attempts at diplomacy either ending in all out war or the opponents' total capitulation. My 4th choice centre back opted for the latter and was quickly sold but other players aren't so submissive. Trying to offload aging club icons (think Carragher or Totti) is impossible and it's to SI's credit that the virtual world that you immerse yourself in is so in-depth, it is difficult sometimes to separate reality from fiction.

The urban myths always come up every year and you might be nodding your head in gentle approval at names like Kallstrom, Bakayoko and Lukaku as previously unknown players that shot to stardom, in part, due to Football Manager and their worldwide network of scouts.

Buying players is more frustrating than ever, with the AI often asking you to pay more than other AI sides. That's not the only headache, with agents looking to get the best deal for their clients, leading to a lot of money leaving the game completely. It seems a shame that you can't instigate a public policy of not paying agents at the risk of attracting lower-quality players. If you want to buy anyone remotely decent, you will have to pay agents.

So talking to players (and agents) has changed, with their personalities more defined than ever but how does the famed match engine stack up? Being a fan of the 2D flavour, goals are believable, with virtual Aguero running around defenders like his real-life counterpart. The reverse is true, buy an old defender and watch your goals against tally skyrocket. The field is a bit simple and I can't imagine anyone using it beyond key moments in the game at the fastest speed. During games on 3D, I find myself wondering what they could do if they had, say, the Pro Evo engine adapted for their use.

Oddly enough, I don't mind that this isn't a huge focus, because I'm not playing the games, Detachment from the whole experience happens, but you're always interested, through sideline instructions and substitutions. Stats over the course of the season seem to check out although one thing to mention is the insane amount of goals your centre-halves score from corners. Both my cloggers ended up in double figures for the season - something of a freak result perhaps?

With a huge variety of leagues from across the world, it's almost unfair to talk about how deep the game is. You could manage anywhere from Wales to South Africa if you like, creating a new challenge each time you start a game. Inevitably, you'll try and buy your favourites but there are few better experiences that picking an obscure player (scouting is a succinct process with each player rated out of 5 stars) and building him up into the next goal scoring superstar hero. Enough things happen each day that keeps you busy as a manager and the game allows for this, with a wide range of delegating options available - things like specific training, press conferences and friendly matches can be handled by an assistant, in case you fancied boycotting the media, Sir Alex style. Inevitably, you will - press interaction is boring after your 5th match or so and is something that really needs work on.

Sports Interactive have always nurtured their community and made the game moddable. This year added the option to integrate with your Twitter, allowing you to tell everyone your results and who you bought (allowing you a
wry smile when someone has sold a non-leaguer for £35m, the cheats). A vibrant scene produces skins, transfer updates and everything in between (I found a pack that changes all the agents to real-life representations). Having downloaded the game on a netbook through Steam, the game trundles on at an acceptable pace, although your mileage may vary according to the number of leagues you've loaded from the 40+ nations available.

The feeling of detachment is amplified for international management. It is probably an accurate representation of the profession, with months between games and frankly, not much to do. A lot of the experience is pressing spacebar and virtual Capello is not an occupation many people will be taking up until something beyond watching games is added.

Ultimately, there is and always has been enough of an addiction with Football Manager to continue playing "just one more match" and before you know it, it's 8am and you wonder where the night went and why you've spent your transfer budget on that Mexican Under 21 striker that you KNOW will win you the Champions League. And like everyone else who's played the game, you've got your own unique story and you can't wait to share it with everyone else.


You cannot do worse than the real Liverpool right?