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Sports Interactive have been making Football Manager Sims for a long time, with their first game (of the Championship Manager series) released back in 1992. In 2004, Sports Interactive and then publishers Eidos Interactive went their separate ways, with Eidos retaining the rights to the Championship Manager trademark. Sports Interactive, still rightful owners of the source code continued work and the series would be called Football Manager from 2005 onward.

At time of writing, I’m currently onto season 2 with Romanian giants Steau Bucharest after having lead them to both the league and cup titles in season 1. The goal of this save game for me is to try and establish the Romanian league as one of the big European leagues and win the Champions Leagues with Steau. It’ll also be a good stress tester of the dynamic league reputation system. I’ve also perhaps spent a little too much time fiddling and checking out the data editor (among other things). But moving on..

I can’t decide who to manage
One of the first things you’ll likely notice is that there are so many leagues and clubs to choose from, you might just have a hard time picking. There are a total of 51 playable nations in Football Manager 2011, with 117 playable leagues and cup competitions (includes international and continental ones). You can pick as many nations and leagues as you like, but bear in mind that the more you add, the slower the game is going to go. I’ve managed a 3 star rated speed for my Steau game that has something like 19 nations selected on my laptop (a lot of the leagues I don’t ever intend on managing in are set to viewable only which helps).

Once you’ve selected the nations and leagues you want, Football Manager 2011 will set the game up and take you to the pick a club section. Like in previous versions, you can get a run down on a target club’s information before choosing them. If you can’t decide which club to manage first, there is an option for the game to pick you a club or, if you’re looking for a challenge you can start as a free agent and find a club while the game is running.

The Difficulty Slider
I’ll note that there isn’t a difficulty slider feature in the game per say but you as the player have the option to make choices and tweaks that will make the game either harder or easier. On the easy end of the spectrum, you can opt for the casual gamer route where by you select one of the bigger clubs and are only interested in signing players to see how the team goes. There are plenty of options that allow you to give as much or little control over team affairs to your assistant manager (or another member of the coaching staff) leaving you with little to do but sit back and (hopefully) watch the wins roll in. Don’t want to watch the games? You can select go on holiday and the game will sim to the specified time with your assistant in charge of everything.

On the other end we have the purists route. They have their hand in the pie so to speak, running every aspect of the club from the first team right down to the under 18’s. You can alter and create your training schedules in accordance with how you want players to develop, develop your own tactics down to the finest detail and change them based on your tactical observations of your upcoming opponent. The purists might even make it harder on themselves by opting to manage in the lower leagues where the quality of players is very poor and the clubs have no money. Most people will undoubtedly fall in between.

Dynamic League Reputation
In Football Manager 2011, the reputation of a nation’s league on the continental stage will change based upon the performances of it’s clubs in the continental club competitions available to them. As a league’s reputation improves, the quality of players that will be interested in signing for clubs in that league will also improve. Consistently performing on the continental stage might see the amount of entries that league has into the competitions increased.

The pendulum can swing the other way too, which happened to be the case with my Steau game mentioned above. If clubs can perform badly then they can expect to find it harder to sign quality players and might just lose a spot or two in the continental competitions. There’s an old saying that success breeds more success..

Attack of the Agents
Ahh agents, the scourge of modern football of which many of the problems afflicting it could in some way be attributed to their presence in the game. But… this isn’t real life, this Football Manager 2011 and this feature has been in my experience so far a blessing in disguise. Every now and again agents will offer you players that are in their agency whether they are at a club or without one currently. Some of these alternatives might be players that slipped through your scouting network or someone that you didn’t think would be a possibility for your club (i.e. out of your league).

With the good comes the bad. There are those agents that are only in it for the money and you can spot these guys one of two ways; they demand quite a large agent fee compared to the signing on fee the player is getting (or are insistent on a large agent fee) or they demand over the top wages for the player you are offering a contract to. Speaking of which, offering contracts to players is now real-time. This means if the agent (or player if they don’t have one) rejects your offer, the negotiations aren’t always over. Unless they cut off negotiations themselves, they might suggest terms and you can continue making offers until they stop it or you give up.

The Devil is in the Detail
There are more things that have been added to the pre-existing system and improvements made, such as new contract clauses and board request options. The ability to interact with both players and manages has been improved and you can now have private chats with players. There are more options to tweak training, match analysis offers up more information then ever before and the media have far more questions and answers to which can be posed to managers in interviews. I prefer not to use the 3D match engine (because I play on a laptop, yeah I know!) but as is with previous versions, Sports Interactive have made more improvements over the previous version.

Aside from the game, Football Manager 2011 also ships with a data editor (as have all PC versions as far as memory serves) which you can use to manipulate various game items. Want to transfer Lionel Messi to your favourite club? You can do that. Want to a lower league club loads of money? You can do that. Not only can you edit existing objects but you can also create. From players, managers, coaches and other people, you can also create your own clubs, leagues and even countries and continents. The data editor can allow you to extend your experience with Football Manager 2011 far beyond where the base game can take you.

This is perhaps the best iteration of the Football Manager series to date; the level of detail, realism and amount of options available has me putting this game on high with my previous favourite by Sports Interactive which was Championship Manager 02/03.

For fans of football manager simulations, I give this a 9 out of 10. If you’re not a fan of them then it might be wise to stay away. The sheer amount of information could overwhelm those new to the genre.