Notoriety can be a peculiar thing. Although almost anyone with any sort of interest in football will know the name Jean-Marc Bosman – he of the Bosman ruling – even if the man himself donned a replica shirt with his name on the back and lunged in on you with a two-footed horror tackle whilst you were queuing in your local JJB Sports, you probably still wouldn’t recognise him.
Despite entering the annuls of history as a legal precedent first and a footballer second however, Bosman’s role as the father of modern day player power is perhaps the most defining one on today’s game – and something that’s nowhere more evident than in the Football Manager franchise. Notoriously a series that’s more proficient at the cold mechanics of the sport, the far-reaching repercussions the self-serving Belgian’s unintentionally altruistic agenda have slowly but surely seem FM warming to the human side of the peoples’ game, and resulted in this latest edition being the most complete and subtly progressive to date.
With each new Football Manager continuing to sell by the stadium-load, and nearest rival Championship Manager currently out of commission on the physio’s table, developers Sports Interactive have, unsurprisingly, decided against adopting a scorched earth policy for this season’s outing. But neither have they just mown the grass, repainted the lines and put up some fancy new nets. The astute additions that have been made and their seamless integration give FM2011 greater personality and depth than ever before, whilst still ensuring that the intimidation level for newcomers is as low as possible, and that series devotees are immediately back in their comfort zone, cocooned in the warmth and familiarity of a thousand spreadsheets.
Pride of place amongst the new features in FM2011 goes to the more realistic system by which you communicate with players, their agents and your backroom staff. These interactions now play out like real conversations, with you selecting from a pre-set list of topics and comments and text-filled speech bubbles popping up on screen as the discussion progresses with a basic, but natural, back and forth.
Amongst other things, you can call squad members into your office to consult them for advice, ask them to mentor younger players and praise or criticise them. Players can also grasp the nettle themselves and knock on your door to enquire about issues such as why they’re not playing, and how you deal with these delicate matters can not only prove decisive in whether your relationship with that individual improves or breaks down, but whether team unity is enhanced or the dressing room becomes unsettles, with stories of disquiet leaking out into the press.
At the mere whiff of the words “money”, “contract” or “transfer” however, your access to a player almost always becomes suddenly re-routed via their agent. And although these representatives in FM2011 are all fictional, they’re every bit as blunt, parasitic and financially focused as any in real life.
Continually shoving their stable of clients under your nose, constantly trying to wring every last penny out of a deal – to the point where they often unashamedly inform you that the more you grease their sweaty palms, the more they’ll grease the wheels – and pulling no punches in making it abundantly clear why their most prized asset inexplicably doesn’t want to swap Madrid for Macclesfield, FM2011’s agents do an impressive job of recreating the seedy and emotionless business side of the modern game.
The new communication system also comes in extremely handy in utilizing the full arsenal of abilities of your backroom staff. A single click on the correct tab takes you straight to a dedicated screen where you can run through all their pieces of advice – from switching a player to a new training regime, to scouting a promising youngster – like points on a meeting’s agenda – with you making the final call.
Consolidation and ease of use are also at the heart of the revamped, more schedule focused training options and the new match preparation screen, where you can tailor your plans to individual opponents by focusing on up to three different formations and a range of areas of play. FM 2011 also introduces a set-piece creator but, unlike the one in that recently debuted in Championship Manager, rather than building intricate and frequently erratic moves on the training ground, here you instead issue individual players simple but precise instructions such as attack the near post, or hang on the edge of the box, and leave it up to them to apply these in the most intelligent ways.
In previous Football Manager games there was always a noticeable disparity between the volumes of pre and post-match information you were given and the limitations of adjustable tools you actually had at your disposal. In FM2011, the two still aren’t in proportion, but the training, match preparation and set-piece features, combined with the communications system mean that the gap between the two has been substantially reduced. And when you get onto the pitch, things are also looking better there as well.
Ever since its inception, Football Manager’s 3D match engine has come in for a yearly drubbing from almost every quarter; this despite the fact that even Charles Babbage could probably get it to run on his computer. In FM2011, those with complaints over the system’s shortcomings will be pleased to hear that it’s much improved. It’s still not FIFA 11, in fact it’s nowhere near – there’s a tendency for teams to rely on hoofing the long ball and players seem to skate across the pitch and collapse into tackles as if reprising Torvill and Dean’s Bolero – but matches are now entertaining and, most importantly, informative.
With every new release, Football Manager continues its apparently unstoppable creep towards encompassing every facet of the footballing world. The triumph of FM2011 isn’t that it’s finally realised that goal, nor that it’s perfect – odd navigation, 3D match engine and transfer issues see to that – but that its ease of use manages to belie its vastness while many of the debuting features delve further into a new, emotional dimension that the series has only scratched at before.
If you buy without fail every year then FM2011 is a surprising joy, if you’re new to the series then you won’t find a previous version that’s superior and if you’re the kind of person who buys every other year then you’re in luck that this latest annual update will be notorious simple for being the best ever.
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