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Last Updated: Friday, 5 November, 2004, 09:07 GMT
Football Manager scores big time
By Phil Elliott
BBC Radio 5Live

For the past decade or so the virtual football fans among us will have become used to the annual helping of Championship Manager (CM). Indeed, it seems like there has been a CM game for as many years as there have been PCs.

Screenshot of Football Manager 2005
FM2005 could blind you with statistics and information
However, last year was the final time that developers Sports Interactive (SI) and publishers Eidos would work together. They decided to go their separate ways, and each kept a piece of the franchise.

SI kept the game's code and database, and Eidos retained rights to the CM brand, and the look and feel of the game.

So at the beginning of this year, fans faced a new situation. Eidos announced the next CM game, with a new team to develop it from scratch, whilst SI developed the existing code further to be released, with new publishers Sega, under the name Football Manager.

So what does this mean? Well, Football Manager is the spiritual successor to the CM series, and it has been released earlier than expected. At this point CM5 looks like it will ship early next year.

But given that Football Manager 2005 is by and large the game that everybody knows and loves, how does this new version shape up?

Details, details

A game like FM2005 could blind you with statistics. It has an obscene number of playable leagues, an obscene number of manageable teams and a really obscene number of players and staff from around the world in the database, with stats faithfully researched and compiled by a loyal army of fans.

But that does not do justice to the game really. What we are talking about is the most realistic and satisfying football management game to ever grace the Earth.

Screenshot of Football Manager 2005
Matches are shown in a top down 2D view
You begin by picking the nations and leagues you want to manage teams from, for instance England and Scotland. That will give you a choice not just of the four main Scottish leagues, but the English Premiership all the way down to the Conference North and South.

Of course you might be looking for European glory, or to get hold of Abramovich's millions, in which case you can take control at Chelsea, or even Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan ... the list goes on a very long way.

Once in a team you will be told by the board what they expect of you. Sometimes it is promotion, or a place in Europe, sometimes it is consolidation or a brave relegation battle. It might even be a case of Champions or else. Obviously the expectations are linked to the team you choose, so choose wisely.

Then it is time to look at your squad, work out your tactics, seeing how much cash, if any, you have got to splash, having a look at the transfer market, sorting out the training schedule and making sure your backroom staff are up to it.

Then bring on the matches, which are once more available in the ever-improving top down 2D view.

With the exception of the improved user interface on the surface, not much else seems to have changed.

Tweaks and improvements

However, there have been a lot of changes under the bonnet as well - things like the manager mind-games, which let you talk to the media about the opposition bosses.

The match engine is also much improved, and it is more of a joy than ever to watch. In fact just about every area of the game has been tweaked, and it leads to an ever more immersive experience.

Screenshot of Football Manager 2005
Format: PC (tested), Mac
Graphics: 7
Sound: 8
Gameplay: 10
Enduring appeal: 10
Overall: 9.5
With a game that is so complex and so open-ended, there are of course a few glitches, but nowhere near the sorts of problems that have blighted previous releases.

With so many calculations to perform the game can take some time to process in between matches, though there have been improvements in this area. And a sport like football, which is so high profile and unpredictable itself, can never be modelled quite to everybody's satisfaction.

But this time around a great deal of hard work has been put in to ensure that any oddities that do crop up are cosmetic only, and do not affect gameplay.

And if there are problems further down the line, Sports Interactive have indicated their usual willingness to support and develop the game as far as possible.

In all there are many more tweaks and improvements. If you were a fan of the previous CM games, then FM2005 might make you forget there was anything else before it.

If you are new to the genre but like the idea of trying to take Margate into the Premiership, Spurs into Europe, or even putting Rangers back on the top of the tree, FM2005 could be the best purchase you ever made.

Just be warned that the family might not see you much at Christmas.

Football Manager 2005 out now for the PC and the Mac


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