Despite what they say, for most of us football isn't a funny old game at all. As the fanatical supporters of each and every club throughout the world will tell you, a victory or defeat one weekend can affect their mood for weeks, even months into the future. The same could very well be said in terms of the various football titles available on our home consoles, particularly the ever frustrating, but ultimately rewarding Pro Evolution Soccer series. Despite the adoration each iteration regularly receives by the great gaming majority, it's a fact of life that it serves as one of the most exasperating brands of gaming ever witnessed.
Therefore, a spin-off title, venturing into that other slice of the football video gaming pie, the management sim, seems to err towards the side of 'ridiculous'. Surely a title that proves to be frustrating with you personally in control of the on-screen action would only be made more maddening when your on-screen avatars aren't performing as you command them. Nevertheless, Pro Evolution Soccer Management is here, and ready to be inflicted upon an unsuspecting public.
It's initially very obvious that this is a management sim aimed at the console gamer, rather than the PC gamer who'd laugh at any such title that didn't offer ridiculous amounts of depth. Upon initially starting and entering your chosen manager's name, you're then prompted to tweak their appearance, and clothing - certainly the kind of un-needed additional choices that most football management fans wouldn't be too eager to make. It only gets worse, however, as you're then forced to choose a personal assistant. These three females all come with a (very) short back-story, and you're free to spin them around and zoom in as you see fit. Thankfully, the zooming is restricted to the shoulders-and-above region of the body. Konami obviously didn't want to serve the pubescent teenage boys too well.
For fans of lower league teams, and by lower league, I mean anything lower than the top leagues for each of the major European countries, you're going to have to forfeit your management desires, and take on the reigns of one of the 'big clubs'. Each team is given an overall rating in terms of team strength, the funds that would be made available to the future manager, and what the board expects of the team for the coming season. Obviously each club comes with its unique strengths and drawbacks too: Chelsea, for example, has a huge squad filled with international stars, and millions in the bank, but anything less than first place will be a sackable offence. At the other end of the scale, the West Brom board don't expect anything more than avoiding relegation, due to the relatively sub-par players you'd be in charge of and limited financial opportunities. It's best to stick to a happy medium - Fulham being a particularly attractive starting option.
Making use of the cash you're given is fairly straightforward. After selecting the scouts you merely have to prompt them to 'scout' a particular area for a particular style of player. They'll come back a few days later with a list of possible players, and you can then proceed to make an offer or assign your scout to perform this task on your behalf. If you happen to make this second choice, you've the ability to set them to be a tough negotiator ("We'll give you 3 rupees and half a chocolate orange. No more than that!") or crumble to the player's every whim ("Oh yes, of course we'll allow you to slice off our legs and use them as comical umbrella stands"). In either case, it's a rather unfulfilling task, as the club you're purchasing from seems to lack any kind of personality whatsoever. It only takes a few hours to learn that offering a certain amount above the original price will get an immediate acceptance, and from then on it all seems rather too clean cut for my liking. It's certainly not helped by a lack of any real depth in this area, with no ability to set staggered payments, or future fees once a certain number of goals is achieved - something all other relevant management sims have offered for years.
One feature that will obviously draw in the Pro Evo loving gamers is the in-game match engine. The Pro Evolution Soccer 5 match engine is used here, with no cuts or graphical effects missing. As exciting as that sounds, let me ask you one question: Have you ever managed to watch more than thirty seconds of a CPU vs. CPU game on PES5? If the answer to that (which will amount to roughly 95% of you) is no, then just imagine being forced to watch five to ten minutes of that action for every single game you're in charge of. Still sound appealing? In its defence, you do have the option to speed up and slow down the action on the fly, allowing you to skip through the boring midfield battle and concentrate on the goalmouth action, but it's still incredibly tedious.
But even that could be overlooked if the tactical choices you make truly affect the game. Initial signs are good, with some depth to your tactical options, letting you set up your team as you wish. The flaw in all this, however, is the fact that no matter what wild changes you make to your team's tactics, you'd be hard pressed to notice any reasonable difference to your team's style of play during a game. You can set Luis Boa Morte to hold the ball up, or take players on down the wing, and he'll still perform much the same and to the same level. It's certainly not helped by your assistant manager pushing you towards the 'best tactical option' to undertake for each game, meaning you merely have to press a button a handful of times, rather than make those tactical decisions all for yourself.
In order for any management title to make a good enough impression and remain a game that's worth playing for a long period of time, it needs to at least give the illusion that your in-game choices matter. And this is ultimately where Pro Evolution Soccer Management stumbles and falls. The much un-needed 'fluff' grates far too quickly and the matches themselves are a bore to watch. Stick to Sports Interactive's Football Manager series if emulating Jose Mourinho is your dream, or give LMA Manager a try if you're limited to consoles. It's not a complete disaster, but certainly one of the poorer examples out there in today's hectic football management market.