As people who know me might very well know, I am a massive Football Manager fan. Borders on obsession some times.

In the previous game, I took Renate, a small Italian team near Brescia in northern Italy, from Serie C2A to Champions League success with my crowning achievement being the treble of Champions League, Copa Italia and Serie A not once but twice.

With the release of Football Manager 12, I decided to choose a different nation to take a team from the bottom to the top. This time, I chose Basque club, Real Union. Based in the Basque region of spain, near Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao, Real Union was once a might club - about 80 years ago, winning four Copa del Reys and runners up once. Relegated from La Liga in 1932, they slowly dropped lower and lower over the following decades before slowly working their way back up, including a 1 year spell in Segunda Division in 2009/10.

My goal is simple: take this team to Champions League success and win as much as possible en route.

Season has started off quite well, undefeated through 13 games in the league, with 12 wins and a draw and only having allowed 4 goals. What is really impressive, however, is our mighty performance in the Copa del Rey, where we just beat La Liga squad Villarreal 1-0 at Villarreal.

With a solid back line with 3 or 4 young guys interchanging as my CB pairing and two solid wing-backs, Britt up front as my leading goal scorer being fed by my wingers through a mighty counter attack, I feel promotion is something I can easily guarantee come midseason.

It’s a story that the football world will talk about for years to come. After two back to back promotions culminating in a return to the highest echelon of English football, Paul Lambert has been sacked by Norwich City and replaced by Gaz Plant, a man who has absolutely no prior management experience, proven by 11 heavy defeats in the first 15 games of the season. No matter how many times you play a Football Manager game, the opening day with a top flight club is always slightly surreal, with the club inexplicably sacking their old manager to replace him with a complete novice, naturally to the annoyance of the fans. Football Manager returns once again for the 2011-12 season, and despite that all too familiar opening, the changes made to this year’s iteration will probably make you think twice about that planned New Year’s Resolution of less Football Manager next year.

Sports Interactive have adopted the often cited approach of evolution over revolution for this iteration of the popular football management sim, and to be fair to them, there’s no reason to try and fix something that isn’t broken. Looking at the way the FIFA fanbase has been fundamentally divided over the enforced changes brought in by EA this year, it’s clear to see why Sports Interactive adopted a more conservative approach. Despite the similarities to previous years though, the additions provide a crucial new aspect to the game that can potentially change the course of your entire season.

This year more than any other is a good time for new players to join the football management game, as the development team have added in a clever new tutorial mode that brings you quickly up to speed on how to navigate around the many menus and complete an actual game of football. The tutorials themselves will provide nothing new to seasoned players, but for newcomers to the series, this really couldn’t be better, especially given that the game comes with no physical instruction manual. Each tutorial focuses on a particular aspect of the game, be it transfers or tactics, and gives you an interactive run down of how each part works. It’s simple, effective, and will no doubt help broaden the audience for the game further.

External image

Formations, tactics and a LOT of information. Welcome to Football Manager

But of course, once you’re up to speed with how the game works, the much more complicated task of being a manager begins, and as ever there are practically limitless possibilities as to how you will approach the game. At its most basic, you can simply pick the squads and watch the game unfold, while you let your Assistant Manager and the coaches take care of the rest. The level of support you get from your assistants can be tuned up or down using the handy Team Policy page, which allows you to assign tasks to the backroom staff to ease or increase your personal workload. In the end, the more hands-on you are with everything in game, the more you will get out of it. It just depends just how long you are willing to spend looking through stats and menu screens – at its heart it is still a very sterile game for the football purist.

One of the big new additions to the game this year is the ability to add and remove leagues from your database as you progress through the game, meaning you are no longer locked into whatever leagues you began the game with. Long time Football Manager fans will be relieved to discover this change, as it’s refreshing to be able to suddenly decide you fancy a management role in Australia and to simply be able to add that into your game.

There is also a greater focus on you customising the experience in your own way this year, and that is achieved through a multitude of new interactive options at your disposal. The most obvious is the new speaking tone system, which allows you to inject your own brand of management into what were before simply cut-and-paste situations. Take the half time team talk for example. If your team are 1-0 up, you might want to calm everyone down, so you would pick a calm response from the menu. However, if you’re 3-0 down and looking set for a record defeat, then you’ll want to go aggressive, and really start flinging the boots around the dressing room. Players will also come to you with grievances which are intoned with their current emotions towards the situation too. Players who are unhappy will appear aggressive while players with an innocent query will come to you with a calm personality state. It’s an interesting and simple new addition to the game that not only adds more of your personality into the game, but also creates more realistic scenarios.

Your interaction with the squad and backroom staff on the whole have also been given a tweak, with Team Meetings allowing you to address the entire squad and bring up any issues that have arisen. The meetings are particularly noteworthy because of the back and forth you can have with multiple players in them, as they will often interject with their own opinion on the current discussion which you will need to deal with. The backroom staff are also more vocal in their reports, with Team Reports in particular being much more thorough and useful than before, although the lack of a weekly report on who is progressing well in training is an issue for those of us who are hands-off in that area, especially if you’re trying to pick an in-form squad.

External image

The new match engine is better, but you’ll probably still prefer 2D

The already slick and responsive transfer system has also been improved, with scouts now returning regular, and much more informative, reports on players that you may be interested in, although the viability of these signings do vary wildly, so tread with caution. The big change here though is in the contract negotiations, where you can now lock down areas of the contract you will not negotiate on. This makes dealing with agents a lot easier, as you can stop them forcing a high appearance fee by locking it out, and move the money around to benefit you the most. A small change, but one that will make a big difference on the end of month financial report.

Of course the action that you will talk about the most happens on the pitch, and this is the area that has had the least refinement since the last iteration. The absolute plethora of tactical options open to you are still easily accessible via quick menus in game or the main tactics screen, and at first it is frightening the level of change you can make to your play -  whether or not the changes work in the game is often as much up to chance as judgement though. The 3D match engine has been tweaked once again to provide a slightly more realistic set of animations, but in the end, it still doesn’t look great as players run isometrically towards goal. Many years since its inception, it is still preferable to watch the 2D match engine, if only for that wonderful imagination factor it brings with it. It’s amazing what your mind can do with coloured circles on a pitch.

Of course, the frustration is still there. There will always come a time when no matter what you do will have no impact on the game whatsoever, and your team will inexplicably get 6 put past them, despite defeating Chelsea the week before. It’s part of the game, and in some ways it is part of the charm that your bubble could burst at any moment. Nonetheless, it remains frustrating that the game gives you little to no pointers on how to improve a poor run of form, a feature that would be especially helpful for newcomers; or for those of us who lose 10 in a row. Newcomers will also surely be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of options in the game, and despite a brilliant new “How To…” system, even seasoned veterans will eventually stumble across a feature they had not seen before a few months down the line. Simply put, it’s a big game and you need time and dedication to see it all.

For football fans, Football Manager 2012 really is a no-brainer. It’s got everything an armchair manager could want and the improvements to the game this year put you and your particular brand of (mis)management in the dugout like no other version of the game has yet. It’s also a great jumping in point for anyone curious about the world of football management thanks to a brilliant new tutorial system and a helpful “How To…” guide to send you on your way. The options are overwhelming at times, and you may get stuck in the worst run of form in football history, but the sheer addictiveness of the game will keep you coming back time after time. Let’s face it, that player you just got on loan could turn your season around, and one more game won’t hurt will it?

Finally lost my first game as Real Union manager, against 4th placed SD Lemona. Shame, but luckily 2nd placed Osasuna “B” also lost, so the 4 point lead we hold in Second Division B2 still remains.

Things are going great so far, though. Only a small hiccup with one of the free transfer veterans I brought in at the start of the game for depth getting annoyed he wasn’t getting any playing time. Already found a possible suitor for him, so he is a free $14k as far as I’m concerned. Besides, even if Britt goes down I still got solid depth at striker and AM. The only player I can’t afford to lose right now Ibanez simply because I have nobody else on the right side, plus he has been a gun setting up and scoring goals left, right and centre.

The Countdown Has Begun

Hello boys and girls,

In case you didn’t know, less than 30 days remain until the release of Football Manager 2012 on PC and Mac. Consequently, there will be many changes to this blog over the coming weeks.

First, if any of you visited the blog in the past couple of weeks, you might have noticed the numerous theme changes that I’ve made in a bid to improve the layout. I reverted back to the original for now but the new final theme should be in place either this weekend or early next week. It’s gonna be a work in progress up until release day but at least the general layout will be done by next week.

There is a strong possibility that I will make video blogs for my FM12 story so if you have a YouTube account, be sure to suscribe to TheFutbolFanatik. Don’t worry, the vids will be posted here as well. And if I find, it’s too much work, I’ll just go back to writing.

Other than that, I will hopefully keep going with my FM11 story whenever I have time. FM11 is on my laptop so I’ll probably play it when I’m away from home or on holiday; basically any time that I’m unable to play FM12.

Also, in real football news, the Montreal Impact will be making the jump to the MLS next year so I’ll write some posts on them whenever I’m in the mood. I was doing match reports of their games earlier this summer, but stopped after FM11 took over my life. Since this blog is mainly about Football Manager and Manchester United, I won’t flood it with Impact news, but I might start a MLS story in parallel with the United story to get used to the MLS’ rules and competitions.

Finally, if any of you are interested in sharing your stories, I might accept submissions. Just gotta figure out how to incorporate them on the blog. PM me if you’re interested and I’ll get back to you.

Football Manager 2012 - a not so mini review

What is it?

Football Manager 2012 is the 8th addition to the Football Manager series which followed on from the Championship Manager series which started in 1992 after the developers Sports Interactive split from Eidos. Their reign of the Championship Manager series ended in 2003 and both Sports Interactive and Eidos kept the IP of the game.

Anyway, in case you hadn’t guessed, it’s a game where you manage a football team beyond the limits of most football games like FIFA and PES, the biggest difference being that you don’t have direct control over your players actions and instead have to dictate how they play by choosing tactics and training the players in the most useful ways. There is a hell of a lot of detail you can go into and as such there are a lot of factors that will determine how successful you will be. Think of things like player morale/happiness, recent form, fatigue, how good the player is, whether a player has to play out of their natural position and things like that (then take into consideration that each of those factors probably has a few more factors that affect it). So yeah, if this game was a book it would be thicker than an encyclopaedia. An encyclopaedia about everything.

What’s good about it?

  • As already mentioned, there is a humongous amount of meddling you can do with your team.
  • Despite the level of control you’re given, it doesn’t take long to settle into it and get the hang of what you’re supposed to be doing.
  • For a game that is controlled almost entirely with menus, it has a nice interface.
  • You will never miss out on any crucial information within the game thanks to the in-game e-mail system. Anything you might have accidentally skipped past that you need to know or remind yourself about is always just a few clicks away.

What’s bad about it?

  • Sometimes your players will do incredibly annoying things which you have no control over whatsoever, although now I’m thinking that you would see them doing something else if the 3D match view had a bigger variety of animations. For example, sometimes it looks like a player has ran with the ball, then stopped, then turned around for no reason and when they do that and get tackled you do get the urge to cancel their contract.
  • Here’s some context: when you are actually in a match the game skips over a few ‘minutes’ of the match time, then actually shows you the game in motion in the 3D view for a few more minutes of the match time. In order to score you have to actually be watching the players play. Sometimes it will skip a moment if it is taking too long or the players have wasted time in some way, meaning that you lose the potential to score a goal because the game has decided to start skipping some time instead. It will also stop the play after a few moments if you have a pending change to make during the match (rather than waiting till a break in play) which can kill off an attack which can be annoying.
  • I haven’t gotten to this stage yet but I think after a while you might reach a point where you have a team that will win most competitions and there won’t be a challenge anymore. There is no 'win condition’ after all so the game goes on forever (although I suppose you could join another club or start a new game).

Overall verdict

Honestly, the couple of flaws this game has don’t detract much from the enjoyment. At the time of writing I have played over 30 hours of this and have finished my first season and I intend to do many more. If you like football and want a different experience from that of PES or FIFA, or if you like football and strategy games and you yearn for something that satisfies both of those interests then this might well be for you. There is a huge amount of satisfaction when you’ve scouted and purchased a young player out of the blue and they turn out to be a success, or when you orchestrate a win against a significantly better team with the right team talk and tactics. Even after just one season I already know that the best feeling you’ll get with this game is over-achieving with an average team and improving them every year till you’re one of the best. If you aren’t successful then you learn from your mistakes and fix them so you don’t make them again.

At the time of writing you can get it for about £20 and it would be £20 well spent. You would have to accept that this game will take many hours of your life and will most likely be a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows before some eventual success or failure. Then again, that’s football isn’t it?

The Not-So Beautiful Game

There’s a reason why the Football Manager 2012 box only shows the lower half of the manager’s head. It’s because his brain has exploded from the frustration of watching the football produced by the FM 2012 match engine. The AI of the players in FM 2012 leaves quite a bit to be desired. Don’t get me wrong, I like the game, but often the players do absurd things which both undermine its realism and annoy. Here’s a selection of these absurdities:

1) Eagerness to knock the ball out of play

When players are near the touchline and put under a slight bit of pressure, they tend to just boot the ball out of play. In the above image, with three teammates in open space, Hussey decides to knock the ball out for a throw-in. Admittedly, I’m managing a team in League Two and the composure of the players in that league won’t be as good as elsewhere. But the event depicted is ridiculous and similar events occur frequently. Conclusion: it’s an AI issue.

2) Needlessly going after a ball

If the ball is about to go out of play, players on the team that are going to win a corner or throw-in often attempt to keep the ball in and end up kicking it out. This is just plain daft.

3) Unsporting behaviour

If you needed any more proof of the game’s mediocre player AI, look no further than what often happens when a player gets injured. In the above picture, my team knocks the ball out of play so that Artell can receive treatment. Ok, fair enough. But then instead of throwing the ball back to us, the opposing team plays on as if nothing happened.

The player AI in FM 2012 is hardly à la Big Rigs, but it definitely grates, especially when your team is losing or you’re pushing for a goal. The match engine is crucial to FM, and Sports Interactive should really try and clean up its rough edges for future iterations in the series. Still, I suppose you could say the AI problems add to the game’s realism. After all, they frustrate, and frustration is a big part of real-world football management, right?