The series may be labelled a glorified spreadsheet in some quarters, but no-one can doubt the success, brilliance and popularity of Eidos' Championship Manager series. Basically, if you fancy yourself as the next Arsene Wenger, then there ain't no better place to ply your trade.
Following a presentation of the game in London yesterday, which unveiled improved loading times and a brand new 'spreadsheet' look, we caught up with Beautiful Game Studios - the new developer behind the titles (creator Sports Interactive is now working on Football Manager 2005) - and spoke to senior producer Dave Rutter on the project...
In Championship Manager 5, players are now rated out of 100 instead of 20. However, in real-life, you get lots of players with proven ability who never seem to do it at other clubs for whatever reason. Is it possible to buy a highly-rated player, like a Diouf, a Fowler or a Postiga, who just, well, flop?
Rutter: Well, we've obviously got the statistics and attributes that are seen on the screen, but there's other stuff going on underneath that you're not going to be able to see. However, I think it's fair to say that if a player has got good stats and they're playing at the peak of their ability, that's what you're going to get.
If however, for whatever reason, they manage to get through the screening process literally on a number of flukes, that's also possible. But there is a lot of stuff underneath in addition to ability.
So there are other factors that can affect a player's performance?
Rutter: Absolutely. I think it's fair to say that in all of the versions of Championship Manager, morale is the number one thing you need in your team. Having a good team captain helps, having good management ability helps, and also, making sure your players are happy in where they're living, what they're paid, what their training conditions are like, and also, whether they're actual performances are any good.
One of the things we're looking at is the disciplining of your players. Whilst you might be able to tell a player off for getting a red card or playing badly, in previous versions, 9 times out of 10 I think it's fair to say that the player will get annoyed. Basically, we're making sure that a good player who is professional and is performing badly will react differently when they are disciplined.
There are all sorts of different personalities involved. If you reprimand a player, some of them can deal with it and take it on the chin, and as a consequence, you should see an improvement in their performance. Similarly, you'll have prima donnas who won't take it, and will just go mad... Who will go AWOL and who just don't turn up for training.
Obviously, you use agencies, fans and various other sources for grading players' attributes. But how accurate are their personalities implemented? For example, is Beckham the king of the media or Barthez an unpredictable clown?
Rutter: We've tried to do what we can. Obviously David Beckham will have a good media personality and handle the media well, even when he's been treating unreasonably. It's a case of players that we're more aware of, we'll tailor their personalities accordingly.
For players we're not, we're planning to feature them randomly, as it would be unfair to have players, say from Greece for example, who are fantastic professionals and we turn them into egotistical nightmares. So we're going to be as careful as we can, bearing in mind, there are legal issues too. We couldn't say things like 'this man is a horrible person' because we'd get sued.