If, as many clichéd commentators have said, football is a religion, then playing football management sims marks you out as something of a zealot.
A mad person, basically, willing to dedicate literally days of your life turning Bishops Stortford into a European football super power.
And with the genre finding a perfect home on ever present mobile devices in recent years, it’s little surprise that Square Enix has returned to the dugout with the latest iteration of management spectacular Championship Manager 2015 (CM15).
I got the opportunity to take my place on the virtual touchline and see whether it was the next Lionel Messi or the next Lenny Pidgeley.Square Enix wouldn't supply any screenshots of the game, so you'll have to make do with these photos of the only football manager I've heard of, Harry Redknapp - Ed
As always, I put myself in charge of a bunch of losers. Shorn of their best players as part of an “everything must go” fire sale, boasting a mad Italian in the boardroom and a devastating lack of talent on the pitch, I took over at Leeds United and did exactly what I expected to do: lose regularly and embarrassingly.
Heading out on my managerial adventure, I stumbled from one early season disaster to another. Flubbing around with formations, signing players ranging from the useless to the Gary O’Neil and putting my faith in a striker who couldn’t hit an oversized barn door with a miniscule banjo, I confounded predictions of a top half finish by settling neatly into the relegation zone after six games.
But what really mattered to me was the fact that throughout the whole affair, I was sure it was all my fault. Rather than feeling like CM15 was treating me unfairly, it was clear that the issue lay with my management skill, or lack thereof, which was holding back an already limited team.
This was demonstrated amply in my only positive result against Reading. Playing poorly and a goal down, I had a gander at the in game stats, switched to a more defensive formation, countered down the flanks and dragged myself back to an admirable 1-1 draw away from home.
That’s testament to the fact that CM15 has at its core respectable simulation cojones. Wrapped in the typical genre clothing of spreadsheets, more spreadsheets, and even more spreadsheets, I found it pretty easy to analyse reams of stats, make subtle managerial changes using a simple selection of tactical options, and feel, generally, like what I was doing was making a real difference; an essential feeling in any management game.
Alas, despite this evident plus point, I left the preview with some reservations about the execution of the free to play monetisation model. In particular, I had two concerns about the way CM15 plans to make dosh.
The first was the relatively arbitrary pay wall otherwise known as the Coaching Badge. Unlocked for 99p / 99c or after ten hours of gameplay (according to the developer), it arbitrarily locks the top 25 percent of the 440 teams from your access meaning you’ll have to pay in time or money to take charge of the likes of Bayern Munich, Barcelona, or - erm - Norwich City; a tad mean spirited in my book.
But what worried more was the way that the two in game currencies seem to dominate much of what else goes into a management sim outside of match day planning and transfers.
Only through the use of premium currency CM Dollars and non-premium currency Coaching Funds can you train your squad, practice new formations, expand your backroom staff, (including hiring a marketing advisor, which felt yucky to me) and build facilities to guarantee better training performance and revenue generation in the future.
That left me feeling somewhat concerned that CM15 could suffer from serious grinding problems, with those lacking in deep pockets potentially missing out on those long term improvements that are essential for future team development.
A game of two halves
In truth though, an hour and a half with a pretty dodgy Leeds side isn’t really enough time to judge a game such as this fairly. Not until you’ve reached the ninth season of a Sheffield United career where you’re top of the Premier League and a 17 year old Bulgarian wonder kid is your top scorer can you really tell if a game such as this is worth a punt.
But I’m cautiously optimistic that CM15 has the right ingredients to be a decent free to play football management game. We’ll find out how much of a real life Roman Abramovich you have to be to succeed when it comes out on iOS "soon".