Fashionably Late Review
Football Manager 2010

By Rituro - October 26th, 2010

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2009 looked to be a dark, dark time for Worcester City FC. If you believed the pundits in the media and the majority of the club’s supporters, Worcester was poised to be relegated from the lower echelon of the Football Conference – already a whopping five tiers below the fabled Premiership – into true obscurity in the English footballing world. The players, all on part-time contracts, looked resigned to their fate and had nothing but a brave face to put on before starting what may have been their last semi-professional campaign.

And then a spunky 26-year-old Canadian manager showed up out of nowhere to fill the vacant manager position.

Four seasons later, Worcester has truly confounded all critics by rocketing up to the Conference’s top tier, the Blue Square Premier division, and shown they are capable of holding their own with the best the Conference has to offer by holding a respectable mid-table position two-thirds of the way through the 2012-13 campaign. The FA Trophy – contested by teams in the Conference and below – is tantalizingly close for Worcester as well, with the squad having survived to the 4th Round draw where a tough Yeovil squad awaits.

As for the Canadian manager, he’s in the first year of a two-year extension to his original contract and is the darling of the board room and the supporters. If they only knew he was keeping one eye on the job market and taking more than a cursory look at the insecure manager positions in the higher leagues…

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Match prep area.

Even if you are not a fan of simulating management of a sports team, be honest: were you intrigued? Did the thought of guiding a perennial minnow to regional fame make you forget that, at its core, management games are pages upon pages of stats and numbers? If not, I understand. The battle between most sports games (Press X to score) and management sims (Click Continue to see if that unsigned Australian midfielder will accept your latest contract offer) is typically a one-sided affair thanks to graphical eye candy and more direct user interaction; however, those of us who do relish the thought of forcing a locker room full of misfits to bend to your playing style and become a lean, mean scoring machine, will be thrilled to know the preceding story –a true one from my own save file– is pulled from an amazing sim.

Football Manager 2010 is the latest iteration in the long-running series from Sega and Sports Interactive that casts you as the manager of a football (or, as we North Americans stubbornly call it, soccer) club anywhere around the world. Seriously: anywhere. Want to try and get the Canadian national team out of CONCACAF qualifying? Go nuts. Want to dip your feet in MLS, Korea’s K-League, Germany’s Bundesliga or Australia’s A-League? Have at it! Feeling brave and think you can work your way up from true obscurity by starting unemployed? Done, and best of luck to you on the open market as you will be competing with AI managers for any job openings that come up. No matter how you get your start, FM is no slouch in giving you a massive sandbox to play in once you arrive. Even on the “Small” database setting, you’ll have tens of thousands of real and game-generated players, manager, scouts, coaches and support staff to encounter, all divided up between free agency and real-life football clubs from the highest rung (Manchester United, Chelsea, etc.) to the mud beneath the pitch (where exactly in Canada do I find the Serbian White Eagles?). Clearly, depth –a mandatory component for a sim with a worldwide scope– is not an issue here.

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Intense? Maybe. Fulfilling? Yes.

Losing a newcomer in that much depth is fairly easy, especially a newcomer –such as myself– that has only rudimentary knowledge of foreign football leagues, let alone the backroom workings of a club. Thankfully, the game comes stocked with tooltips a-plenty for the novice user, not to mention the option to, at any time, ask your assistant(s) to do anything from offer advice to take over managing a section of your club entirely. After all, not all of us are enamored with the minutae of choosing the starting lineup for the youth academy – why not let the AI handle it? In this year’s version of FM, the backroom advice goes one step further into its own aptly named menu: Backroom Advice. Here, all your available staff will meet with you to offer their take on player development, tactical suggestions and scouting reports, all of which come with a second opinion and the ultimate call by you to ignore the advice entirely. It’s a great addition to FM for novices and pros alike.

It should be clarified at this point that not all of FM is page upon page of diagrams and spreadsheets. In fact, the main selling point to this series is its match engine, which simulates the game in all its fully rendered glory with players instead of boring text dashing across the pitch. Sure, the cardboard-thin crowd sprites and spartan stadiums won’t match FIFA 2010’s ability to recreate the glare of the Old Trafford floodlights bouncing off Wayne Rooney’s bald spot; but for a sim, this is the equivalent of watching Crysis on “Full”; sure, my left-midfielder might have earned a 6.90 rating in that last game with his great defending, but now I can actually watch him bungle his crosses and lose the odd footrace for a loose ball – telltale signs he needs some serious training in the offensive categories.

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As much control as you want.

Now, having played a few manager sims in my time, I was intrigued by the possibility of doing multiplayer in FM2010. While it’s nothing new to the series, it was new to me coming from DOS-era games such as Bundesliga Manager and the idea of having a fellow human to play with/against amongst the teeming masses of AI was very appealing. FM’s multiplayer is network-based, so those of you wishing to play over the internet (i.e., most/all of us) will need some sort of virtual network progam like Comodo or Hamachi. Once you get that up and running, it’s very straightforward to get a game going. In order to speed things along, a two-minute timer starts once the first coach wants to move to the next day; all other coaches must finish their tuns and click “Continue” within that time limit or -barring a must-respond item- the game will finish their turn immediately and move on. It might seem restrictive in theory, but in practice this is hardly an issue and serves to keep the game up-tempo.

Again, the big question remains – is this fun? If you think football involves uprights and cheese-shaped headgear, no; however, if your idea of fun includes late nights induced by the phrase “just one more turn”, Football Manager 2010 is a definite yes.

The sequel, Football Manager 2011, is due to be released on November 5th. When our reviews are “fashionably late”, folks, we mean it.

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