Let me cut to the chase on this. When compared to Football Manager, FIFA Manager 07 is made to look fairly ordinary. Strangely enough though, this isn't really a criticism. The quality of Football Manager is well documented, and it's difficult to imagine any game genuinely competing with it for some time to come. In which case, FIFA Manager is in far closer competition with the likes of Championship Manager and LMA Manager.
On first starting the game one is immediately struck by the quality of the presentation. Being an EA game this isn't too surprising, but FIFA Manager kicks even Football Manager into touch in this respect. Naturally, EA has all the licenses to player names, likenesses, leagues and all that other stuff, though strangely not the real names of opposing managers. Also present is a generous amount of music, with catchy rock songs, classical pieces and, quite brilliantly, the theme to the BBC's weekend sport show Grandstand. If, however, this selection isn't to your liking then you can use a music folder of your choosing and listen to your own tunes.
Whereas the presentation may be smooth and without wrinkles, the same can't be said for the interface. It's by no means awful, but there are rather too many instances where you'll have to trawl through several screens to get to where you want to be. This is particularly apparent with the news screen, which often presents news of information being available without providing a direct link to it. It seems like a rather obvious oversight, for example, to tell the player that a team scouting report is available, but force them to find it for themselves. Considering you'll get team reports on a fairly regular basis it seems odd that no-one noticed the problem.
In short, FIFA Manager 07 feels like a game that lacks any real design focus. Though there's a lot about it that is solid and fun to play, there are an alarming number of features that feel underdeveloped and tacked on for effect. One of the first things you'll be asked to decide is whether you'd like to be married, have a partner or even have children. This forms part of the 'Personal Life' section of the game, where you'll be able to spend money on various items and increase your personal fortune through your employment contract and personal sponsorships. You can even play golf... well you can press a button that results in you 'playing' a round of golf, though you don't actually do any playing.
Other potential activities include making presents to please your partner or having to choose between going shopping and going to a party. It's all rather meaningless and isn't something football management fans are likely to want or care about. Similarly, the press and journalist interaction, which is available before and after matches, has absolutely no bearing on the game other than to change the level of the press status bar from high to low.
Another seemingly hair-brained feature is the Career Mode - or as it's described on the box, the "Unearth Your Protégé" feature. This feature allows you to select a young player from your squad and actually control that player during matches. It seems like a bizarre feature to have in what is supposed to be a 'management' game, and I did check to see that the word 'manager' was indeed written on the front of the box. Without going into too much depth - since it's simply not worth the bother - the Career Mode is an instantly forgettable and rather aimless addition to the game. The controls are poor and it's not even remotely entertaining. That the feature isn't mandatory is its only saving grace.
Despite their best attempts, however, the developers have managed to keep the main component - that's the football guys - fairly focused and, though there are some irksome tactical issues, it creates a good game of football. Matches are displayed in a 3D match engine, no doubt derived from the main FIFA series, and as such it sports decent animation and player likenesses. It doesn't push the envelope visually, most likely to save on resources, but what it presents is more than acceptable. Matches are lively affairs too, with players passing the ball around convincingly and generally performing as you might expect. It's certainly a significant improvement over LMA Manager 2007 which, although visually superior, offers a rather sluggish and unattractive game of football in comparison.
When creating tactics you're free to select your formation, team orders, individual orders and plenty of other details that you'd expect to find. During matches there's a slider which allows you to switch the attacking/defensive attitude of your team, but it has the annoying effect of changing all the settings you might have made for individual players. Moreover, it's impossible to regain these settings within the match without redoing every setting by hand. Of course, you can workaround this by creating individual tactics for certain situations, but it's an unnecessary hassle in what ought to be a very simple part of the game.
Pleasingly, other aspects of the management side of the game work without too many complaints. The transfer system is very good, and contract negotiations are well handled. The training system is flexible, allowing you to take control or leave things to your assistant and decide to focus on individual skills for individual players. Indeed, all aspects of the game can be delegated to assistants and there's a whole raft of commercial dealings, stadium building and fan relations to dabble in should you choose. If anything there's a little too much to do, and it's a daunting task to tackle all of it at once without any extensive in-game guidance. Again, this highlights a slight lack of focus and at times it feels like features have been thrown in for the sake of it or because competing titles have them.
Ultimately, this lack of focus takes away from what is otherwise an enjoyable and occasionally addictive management game. Whilst on the surface it looks polished and well organised, delving deeper reveals some haphazard design. It's no better or worse than the likes of Championship Manager or LMA Manager, so if you're not a fan of Football Manager, but want a management game, you could do worse than picking up a copy of FIFA Manager 07.