Tuesday 29 October 2013

Football Manager 2014: The (Coventry) Review

So it happened.

After saying to myself I wouldn't buy the new Football Manager and would instead ask for it as a Christmas present to save money...

I went and bought the t'ing. A quick peruse of the Steam store to see when it was actually out revealed the Beta version was available and ready to purchase. Two minutes later it was in my library waiting to download. Ye tempting mistress, ye.

Seeing as I have been playing the game for about a week now and my gameplay stands at 11 hours, I thought I'd share some of my thoughts so far.

Of course, I started my season as the mighty Coventry City. With Sunday League experience set (I like to make-believe in the game-world that I won a fan competition to manage the club, a Doncaster-esque stunt that couldn't possibly go wrong), for extra realism, I set about trying to reverse the fortunes of the once-glorious Sky Blues.

The first thing I was struck by was the fact that instead of a club chairman speaking down to me from his perch, I was being contacted by... an administrator! Not having purchased FM 2013, I was unsure of whether this was a new feature. Nonetheless, it was a welcome bit of realism that helps to immerse yourself even deeper in the fabric of your faux-footballing dreamland.

The less-fantastic-bit-of-realism I had to contend with was the fact that the club and I were starting on -10 points. I don't know why I was so surprised to see art imitating life but again, I have never been put in this situation by FM before, so the experience was novel (if a pain in the arse).

With the administrator dictating my transfer market dealings, it's fair to say the 'ins' list was pretty slim. In fact, until the last week of the transfer window, I had made zero signings. There was no excess wage budget, and in fact, I was told to decrease the wage budget by £10,000. Which, er, might not have happened yet. I'm working on it Mr. Administrator, I promise.

Three young Premier League apprentices came in on loan during the last week of the window for cover, with their wages being paid for by their parent club (obviously).

And then the unthinkable happened. The club's best player and most handsome prospect, Cyrus Christie, was sold without my permission.

I say this like I had a choice; every bit of transfer news comes to me with the line 'Due to the club's financial situation, all offers are being considered by administrators.' So off Cyrus went, for a paltry £400,000. To Bournemouth.

Fucking... Bournemouth? Livid. He didn't so much as give me a backward glance, citing the breakdown of our relationship because I refused to let him speak to Leicester. I do have some principles.

More disaster arrived in the form of the first choice 'keeper, Joe Murphy. He tried to hand in a transfer request but I rejected it. He then refused to speak to me anymore. So in goal went young Lee Burge, and to be honest I feared for the young lad. Was it too soon? How would he cope with the pressure of League One? In a tightly fought 1-0 loss, he got man of the match. I had found a new number one! Murphy could leave for all I cared, off the wage bill and we'd recoup some money.

But nothing in FM is ever that easy. No-one wanted him. Bournemouth (bloody... Bournemouth?!) had an offer accepted, but Murphy refused to play ball. He wanted a better basic salary. So now I have a depressed substitute goalkeeper on the bench.

So the man-management could use a little work, but I have been improving. When Conor Thomas came to me with concerns about the club's financial situation, I told him it's all okay; as long as we get behind the club we can help to make a difference. He seemed happy to hear that, and was remarkably unconcerned by my sweating, crossed-fingers and desk strewn with receipts.

But enough of my problems. How does the game actually play?

It has been a steep learning curve so far. Getting to grips with the new positions available to set the players as has been a trial and error affair as well. Do I play Franck Moussa as an enganche (fancy, right?) or a bog-standard attacking midfielder? Early signs are he can do an impressive job as the hook (the bog-standard word for enganche) and is equally adept at playing on the left as an inside-forward, where I think I prefer his contribution. Which is arguably how he has played for Coventry this season, moving inside from the left and lighting up the middle with rocket shots and an eye for the killer ball.

And this is another interesting point to note with regards to the new game. Sometimes in past editions of the franchise it has felt as if the lower-leagues are ignored a bit and the players are simply slapped with a random playing style/position from out of a hat. Early signs playing with Coventry are encouraging: Conor Thomas is a revelation in the ball-winning-midfielder role and John Fleck is the Beauty to Thomas' Beast as the deep-lying-midfielder. Another case of art imitating life for those who have seen City play this season.

What does this mean for the game? Well, for one, it feels more realistic. The team I've moulded is very similar to Steven Pressley's impressive side this season, and have been getting decent results. Compared to previous editions when I've tried to imitate real-life Coventry tactics (it could be argued we didn't have a clear identity then as we do now, though), the results have been disastrous; I just started from scratch again and picked my own formation.

I have to applaud the developers and the scouts and everyone involved with FM 2014 on the game. I may have only played 11 hours so far, but it is very impressive. When I'm playing, it doesn't feel like I'm pitting my wits against the algorithms of the game engine, it feels like I'm engaged in tactical warfare with the man in the adjacent virtual dugout: mano-y-mano, in a game of who-changes-to-4-4-2 first.

The only issue I have so far is a minor, minor one. But still, it has to be raised.

Mathieu Manset's preferred role is as a 'false nine'? Maybe they thought he was called Matheo Manjarin instead.

You'll stay as my back up target-man Mathieu, thank you very much. While I'm still on -3 points we can't be having any of that silly Spanish nonsense now, can we?

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