Football: small boys in the park, jumpers for goalposts, rush goalie, little Tommy sulking when he isn't picked for the 'good' team, somebody being a little too eager in the tackle and making Johnny cry and take his ball home. As a kid, many of us want to be footballers. Once we hit the real world, though, and realise we're never going to cut it, only then do we dream of becoming managers. Ok, maybe we don't dream, but it's true. Well, armchair managers at least. But it's funny that in all those games played in the park, did you ever recall seeing a kid on the sidelines barking orders?
Pointless intro aside, Football Manager 2006 is the second incarnation of the FM franchise from Sports Interactive (SI) in partnership with Sega. If you've lived under a rock for the last year or so then read our interview with Miles Jacobson or preview for a bit of background. Otherwise, I'll assume that you're familiar with the franchise (and the concept of a football management game, natch), and we can focus on the game at hand. Like a successful football team, a game needs a solid foundation to work from, with enough creativity to win games. With that in mind I shall present this review to you in a form that makes sense in the context of the game. So here we go...
Team Name: Football Manager 2006
Manager: Adam Jarvis
Bio: Having spent countless hours playing each title in the series since Championship Manager 97/98, Jarvis feels that he has a wealth of experience in the genre, with management heritage going back to Football Manager on the Spectrum (plus innumerable D&H games - anybody remember them?) and has seen plenty of change in his time. Prefers playing a 4-4-2 (or variations thereof) which allows for the creative streak in his sides to flourish. Adaptable to change, but he wonders if the team he has inherited has enough to mount a defence of their title this season, following the runaway success of last season - FM2005 won everything in sight. Looking forward to the challenge ahead.
A formation that allows a team to build on a solid foundation of a strong defence, sturdy - but flamboyant - midfield, and the finishing touch coming from strikers that have seen it all. The team breaks down as follows:
'In the main the presentation isn't all that different from last year's effort...'
Goalkeeper: Every team needs a solid 'keeper. As is the nature of the position, though, they are best remembered for their mistakes. In this area there maybe is a potential fumble in the making. Even on a well-equipped system, the processing of background tasks labours a little, and there is some lag in the menus, requiring a second click before you get a response. Navigation through the various screens can sometimes grind, too - could we have a one-click option to get to the team and transfer screens (I know you can click on the team name at the top of the screen, but still)?
Also, whilst the media and player interaction has been expanded, it still doesn't always give you enough, especially when dealing with stroppy players. Furthermore, some of the possible responses you can give to other managers' comments are presented as positive, but on reading the news report it will say you react angrily, so it lacks a little finesse in this area. And I'd still like assistant managers to do more - such as organise new training schedules and provide better feedback on reserve players that need to make the step-up and so on. As I said, though, they are minor niggles. In the main the presentation isn't all that different from last year's effort, and there are no fundamental flaws with the title.
Defence: Every team needs a solid defence. Whilst it is true that goals win games, not conceding can't lose them. Whilst unspectacular, a 'brick wall' defence allows other areas to express themselves with confidence.
And so all the things you would expect to be in a Football Manager title are present and correct. You've got transfer wheeling-and-dealing, a tweaked 2D match engine that now shows benches at the side of the pitch, all the usual team choices, and it still provides very different experiences depending on who you choose to manage. Pick a big-name team and it's all about attempting to win things. Take a struggling lower-league team and it becomes a game of survival. Career managers will still love the way they can step-up the ladder until they hit the very top of the game, whilst fair-weather fans will love to spend money like there's no tomorrow at the Chelsea's of the world. Part of the beauty of the series has been that you can go as deep as you like to uncover the little gems in there, or play it purely on a superficial level, never getting into tinkering with player instructions, or training, or hunting out new, raw talent, and that is still the case with FM2006.
To be fair, SI could probably have stopped at this point and known that people would still buy it in their droves, just because nothing major went wrong, and because it has this year's stats. And given the way some companies are happy to release very incremental improvements as a full title, who could blame them - especially considering the dominance in the field they have - but they didn't. Not content to sit on their laurels, they wanted to enhance the feeling that you really are the manager of your chosen club. And they have.