I used to spend most of my waking hours in front of Football Manager, attempting to turn perennial mid-tablers Spurs into title contenders. Hours would fly by. I'd become so engrossed that my virtual team would spill over into real life, causing confusion. And it was pretty much the only game I needed. I even lost weeks to the Xbox 360 versions. But all this changed with the release of Football Manager Live, Sports Interactive's online version of the game that sees each team managed by a real person. From that day on the offline game didn't seem as engaging. So, with my FM Live team having to make do without me for a few days, I entered the more enclosed world of FM 2010.
Over the past few years Sports Interactive has gradually made the game more accessible, introducing tips displayed on every loading screen and a handy advisor system that holds your hand throughout the experience. This year the interface has undergone a makeover, with a tab system in theory making everything easier to access. It was baffling, at first, and even a long-time player it took some getting used to. It's also nothing like the interface in Football Manager Live, so addicts like me will find things especially awkward. Stick with it, though, as the guys at Sports Interactive clearly know what they're doing. By the time I was half way through my first season everything had fallen into place and the information I needed never felt far away.
Getting into the game is easier than ever, with menus more or less walking you through the entire process. The setup wizard asks which leagues you're ever going to want to manage in (the more you choose the slower the game will be to process data), and which team you actually want to manage - I chose Spurs of course. So, Sweary McMarmot (what I'm likely to do while playing and the stuffed toy sat on my desk) took over from Harry Redknapp much to the displeasure of the Tottenham faithful.
The home screen features next match info, fixtures, the news feed, your email inbox, league table, squad status (injuries and such) and pending transfers. All the basic stuff you need is right there, but look beneath the initial few screens and you find a wealth of options at your fingertips. Click through to a player's profile and you can set individual training schedules, offer new contracts or even put them on the transfer market.
Hidden in your team's page is the ability to create new custom tactics through an eight-step wizard (similar to what's recently been added to FM Live). You can tell players what to do during set-pieces, make your wingers target certain zones with their crosses, and more. If you're old-school you can switch to classic tactical controls, including dragging arrows around to make players make runs - something handled via a menu in the new tactics system.
The classic system also gets rid of the new touchline tactics. With the new quick access menu you can shout instructions at your players without leaving the action. Top level options allow you to switch overall tactics, such as defensive, attacking or overload (throwing everything but the kitchen sink forward), but there are more subtle options. You can shout out instructions to tell your team to get the ball forward, retain possession, take more risks, clear the ball to the flanks and loads more. It's another system that is already in FM Live and makes a huge difference to how you interact with your team during a game. You can still adjust things manually, and give half and full-time team talks, but these shouted commands are a great addition.