OK, I’ll be honest: I’ve been on a hiatus from Football Manager since the series stopped being called Championship Manager. I haven’t been on a break from football, though – I reckon I’ve probably watched about 500 games in the three-year period since CM became FM.

Still, imagine my surprise when I returned to the series to find the match engine completely renovated and presented in 3D-vision. “All this used to be spreadsheet pages…” I muttered, looking out over the green expanse and watching the (fairly) realistically modelled players switching from a 4-5-1 to a more traditional 4-4-2 formation. Yep, at last Football Manager has outgrown its static screens and text commentaries – and it’s even better as a result.

Most of the basics are merely updated for the current season though. It’s not like the whole game suddenly looks real – just that the match action does. All of the screens detailing stats, player profiles, transfer targets, club finances, et cetera et cetera (times a million!) remain as dull to look at as bookkeeping software. But that’s for the best, really, because it allows you to focus on the names, numbers and strategies that are the difference between a championship-winning season and a relegation scrap.

The immense volume of the data stored in FM09 can be overwhelming, both for the player and, depending on specs, for the player’s computer. Which is why it’s neat that the game offers small, medium and large database options prior to beginning a new managerial career. Thanks to this feature, you can pick a scale of experience to suit both your own willingness to sift through stats screens and what you reckon your PC (or Mac, if you’re running OS X 10.5.5) can realistically handle.

It’s possible to set as many as three countries’ domestic leagues in motion and thereby later search for work in foreign climes, as opportunities arise. But even if you choose to play at the lowest detail level and intend to pursue trophies in just one country, FM09 still presents such a comprehensive version of life as ‘the gaffer’ that you might even be able to muster some sympathy for real-life managers who have to make do with wages of £30k a week. Well, perhaps…

As ever, time slips by at an alarmingly quick rate while playing Football Manager. It’s so difficult to move that cursor towards the ‘Quit Game’ option, because you know that clicking the ‘Continue’ tab (which is what keeps FM-time ticking over and always brings news and takes you closer to your next challenge in the dugout) is much more satisfying than saying ‘no’.

If you’re not careful, you can easily lose a whole evening or an entire weekend to FM09’s world of football – and even if you’re careful and plan to exercise some self-discipline, you’re still liable to lose a few hours without realising what’s happened. I wouldn’t worry too much, mind, because any time spent with FM09 is deeply rewarding and tactically challenging… but you might want to tell the missus that she can go out with her friends while you’re managing. I find that’s a fairly safe, mutually agreeable solution. 

Frankly, any game that gives me chance to put Leeds United back where they belong – at the top of the English game and challenging in the Champions League – is going to earn a special place in my (computer’s) memory and land a big review score. But it’s not merely the fantasy element that makes FM09 such a thrilling journey for football fans: it’s also the uncanny realism of everything, where most of the time players perform exactly as you suspect they will.

Naturally this means the advantage lies with players who know their football inside-out and have heard about the newest emerging talents who are currently still playing with South American clubs. Still, you can’t please everyone, and I think it’s perfectly right that Sports Interactive has measured FM09 to ensure that football devotees are cared for first and foremost. This is, after all, the kind of niche title that people who are not interested in footie will look at and laugh. Or look at and scoff. Or not even look at in the first place. But it’s not for them; it’s for us. So if you even occasionally eat prawn sandwiches, please know that this is not the game for you.  

Football Manager 2009 is the best entry yet in this title-winning series. If you’re at all into football, you really owe it to yourself (and to Sports Interactive) to buy a copy of this game.

Paul Younger
Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Founder of the world's first gaming cafe and Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.

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