The year 2005 was a big one for football nomenclature. Some odd planetary alignment produced a moment of metaphor: as the team behind the original Championship Manager decamped to Sega, the UK's real-life-footballing second tier was rebranded as the 'Championship'. Connotations of second place (to Football Manager's Premiership) have not been shaken since.
Following the cancellation of CM2009, Championship Manager 2010 is the first opportunity for the dev team to get a solid touch on the project. First impressions indicate that they've gone in two-footed. Default menus are clear but unwieldy: flicking between options requires irritating scrolling. General navigation is also inconsistent: hyperlinks are helpful in their frequency, but the useful 'back' button makes irregular appearances.
Keeping the underdog theme, I eschewed the Premiership for a stint in charge of Reading. My aim: get back to the big league in two seasons, symbolically casting off CM2010's position as the perennial second-rate citizen. My first obstacle: the presentation of CM2010's staple: statistics. Hit by a detailed wall of numbers, synthesising abilities into a vision of a player as a whole is a serious effort. The lack of an overall grading system beyond suggested monetary value makes retaining this information even more of a chore. Worse still, people pay over the odds, so the true strength of a player can be a difficult stat to gleam.
My season started badly, my team managing to lose five on the trot. Hmm. To the tactics screen! It's a bare first viewing: rather than fill every pixel with tactical sliders, game techniques are manually added. If your second striker has the build and skills to float around the top of the pitch, try adding the 'free role' box to his tab. It's an effective solution, eliminating the human desire to wiggle options purely because they're there. Players genuinely respond to their instructions: my wingers both had feet like traction engines - adding 'long shots' to their profiles stopped the rot and had me winning again by Christmas.
Beating the opposition keeper was a genuine delight in CM2010's 3D match view. Regularly seen as superfluous by die-hard management simmers, the perspective on the game is effective. Goals are worked realistically, players totter over after a heavy challenge.
Issues only creep in occasionally, with defensive clearances (or the lack of) a key problem. By extension, matches generally feel fair - there's a propensity for last-minute winners, both cruel and euphoric, but this can usually be rationalised as a simulation of football's emotional peaks and troughs. Less immersive is the non-player interaction.
Media involvement in your career is next to nil, positive or negative stories having no discernible effect. It's a strange decision not to push this side of modern management when the 'media' page is jammed full of authoritative footballing names. Back at Reading, March saw an unbeaten streak ten games long - yet the board were still 'disgusted' with my management. On course for the playoffs, I was accepting awards for manager of the month, but had absolutely no way to convince the suits upstairs of my worth.
The end of the season saw me limp into the playoffs with a late surge. Crashing out in the final, my team was, like Championship Manager 2010, not quite an all-conquering force. The extra year spent on the game shows: it's a hugely solid base upon which to build an assault on the top-flight, but a bit longer in the development training room would smooth out current foibles, leaving a management sim fit for champions.
While still weak in some key areas, Championship Manager 2010 is the first of the series that deserves the name.