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Notes from the dugout: We give Football Manager 2005 a trial

We've been putting the beta version of Football Manager 2005 through its paces for a month. Here's the post-match report

What more can we say about the epic Football Manager 2005 versus Championship Manager derby that hasn't been said before?

Nothing. But we've got a theory. We reckon that the long-running Championship Manager series has such a loyal, dedicated and active fan base that anyone with any interest in taking a virtual Leyton Orient line-up to the Champion's League final already knows the score.

So here are the classified results for you if you've missed out on the action. Sports Interactive, the guys who created the Championship Manager series, split from former publishers Eidos after last November's release of Champ 03/04. They took the code and their staff to Sega, but had to leave the Championship Manager brand name with Eidos.


Thus Football Manager 2005 was born. Essentially it's the footie management game you've always known, loved, and spent far too much time playing for years and it's due for a November 5 launch on PC.

We've been playing the pre-production beta code for over a month now. Here's the most telling initial reaction: it's kept us up at night, made us forget about personal relationships, and stopped us from eating regular meals. Same old Champio... sorry, Football Manger.

On the Chalkboard
As a Champ veteran the first thing you'll notice is the interface has been made smoother, sleeker, easier to navigate, and somehow more appealing. Menus are accessed from a drop-down taskbar running along the top of the screen and a sidebar offers all the options you need quickly.

It's a slight shock to the system if you're used to Champ's previous interface, but only in the sense that Football Manager's desktop makes more sense. It helps that the whole interface can be customised to your taste, with sidebars moved, menus shifted and skins added until you're totally happy. It's a strange reverse engineering process that, after about five minutes of acclimatisation, makes you feel more comfortable than ever.

And if you're new to the series rest assured that you'll be able to understand the labyrinth of stats and screens with greater ease than ever before. There's nothing flashy or innovative. It's just common sense.

It's admirable how keen Sports Interactive is to involve the fans with their projects and many of the improvements have come from focus groups and endless forum discussions. One of our favourite improvements is that your squad is now listed in a single line by default, and that you can view your whole squad - and select your team - in the tactics screen.


Sounds simple, but what a difference it makes. There's a real feeling that you can action your managerial decisions quicker and more effectively in every section. Coupled with the souped-up processing speed that Sports Interactive promise will help the game run about 45% quicker than before, the hours spent tinkering are set to go even quicker.

Footballing Brain
That's not to insinuate that Football Manager is dumbed-down in any way. In fact, it's smartened up considerably. The most notable additions occur, once again, in the tactics screen. LMA Manager-style slider bars have replaced the old simple on/off boxes for every tactical setting, and several new ones have been added such as defensive line, rhythm, and width.

On top of that, you can now assign specific roles to players such as playmaker or target man. These responsibilities automatically allocate a tactical set to the player involved, making tweaking the on-pitch mentality of your star player a breeze.

And the increased depth of tactical options doesn't muddy the strategic water. Conversely, it helps it become even more crystal clear. We noticed that our team and individual players reacted instantly to tactical changes. Every tweak has an immediate and tangible effect on the way your team performs.

This is partly thanks to the improved match engine. Our favourite big addition is the opportunity to watch games in a split-screen format, so you can keep one eye on the match and another on the scorelines rolling in from around the league. Our favourite little addition is a ball with black panels so you can appreciate the movement and spin better, but all in all everything looks better, moves better, and portrays a far more accurate reflection of a game of football.

Gone are those infuriating moments when your keeper retreated from a loose ball in the box or your defender deserts the forward bearing down upon goal. They're replaced by players with more intelligence, more skills, and, if their stats allow it, a delightful sense of flair and imagination that could be as entertaining as the watching the real thing.


Of course, this also applies to beefy, strong players. The point is that you can identify individual playing style better than ever before, and that these playing styles come together with your tactics to create a more involving and realistic depiction of a football match.

More More Morale
But with realistic behaviour comes realistic personalities, and in the world of football that can mean tantrums and tummy rumbling as big egos are stroked - or stoked. Football Manager introduces a far more interactive gameworld where comments made by the press, other managers, other players, and yourself have a tangible and lasting effect on all concerned.

Sports Interactive are calling this a move towards a "football RPG". You're free to comment on other managers and have to speak to the press more often. While this was a very limited, black-and-white process in Champ that you could easily manipulate in your favour, it's far more involving in FM.

Sure, you could tell Jose Mourinho he's a cocky, arrogant bugger, but your words could fire up his team to perform better in your upcoming clash, or place more pressure on your lads to perform on the day. And if you get beaten your team's morale could plummet, but hump Jose all over the pitch and spirits could soar. But then your boys could get complacent and slip up the next week against bottom of the table opposition. And so on...

As your game progresses and the seasons pass, your relationships with other managers and players should overlap to form an even more involving and personalised gameworld than ever before. One of the great things about Champ was always that it let you create your own footballing legend. Football Manger should give you more freedom than ever to write the script.


Post-Match Analysis
When we spoke to Miles Jacobson, MD at Sports Interactive, he told us that Football Manager was the embodiment of what Championship Manger 03/04 should have been. Scary. While we must stress that we've been playing unfinished code that is still being tweaked and polished as we speak, we're already having premonitions of sleepless nights, broken promises, and desolate social wastelands.

But let's not forget the competition. Eidos' Championship Manager 5 is being developed from the ground up by a new team. Some legendary names in videogame football like Steve Screech, who worked on the Kick Off series, are involved, and early appearances of the game have been positive. It's listed for a PC release on 29 October, but we've heard rumours that it could slip to mid November.

There's no doubt that this is the most important face-off in the history of footie management games. It's a local derby that makes Arsenal-Tottenham, Liverpool-Everton and Rangers-Celtic look like friendly kickabouts in the park. We'll be in the dugout bringing you all the coverage.

For now, there are a few things you can do to prepare yourself. Cut off any relationships, get yourself a comfy seat, and lock the doors. Football Manager's coming home.