Upon returning to Top Eleven for its 2016 update, it doesn't feel as if much has changed.

Former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho remains the scowling face of the game, despite currently being jobless, and it still hasn't escaped the spreadsheet-heavy look that betrays its origins as a 2010 Facebook game.

Unlike Football Manager and Champ Man 16, Top Eleven eschews licensed players and teams in favour of player-named clubs, customisable crests and kits, and teams of anonymous no-marks.

While other footy management titles on mobile let you play marathon sessions and plough through entire seasons at your own pace, Top Eleven's approach is fundamentally different.

I'll be attempting to lead my Top Eleven team to glory (or at least mid-table competence) over the course of a week, and will report back with my findings every few days.

First impressions

Matches in Top Eleven are played against other player's teams, scheduled for actual dates and times - meaning you have to either make yourself available to oversee your team play via the basic 2D match engine, or return later to see how things turned out.

The problem, then, is what to do in between fixtures. Without model wives and nightclub brawls to indulge in, how can you fill your time? Training is the answer, and the main area Top Eleven has improved for its 2016 update.

Striking a balance between preparedness and exhaustion, you can now select a series of training drills - from a relaxed piggy in the middle to intensive sprint training - to set your team up for the coming fixture.

The more you train, the more you level up as a coach, learning additional drills to utilise in future sessions - a choice of three, in fact, each of which enhances your squad in a different area.

This is a lovely touch, almost like a football-themed Choose Your Own Adventure game. Are you a Roberto Martinez-style manager - attack-minded, focused on attractive football - or an unsophisticated, meat and potatoes, boot-it-up-to-the-big-man type, a la Sam Allardyce?

As before, there's also a transfer component to dabble with in- between games, in real-time bidding wars against other managers.

This can be an enjoyably tense experience, akin to watching the unfolding events of transfer deadline day in real football, but it's also a pricey one.

While the players themselves cost Money (Top Eleven's soft currency) each bid costs a single Token (hard currency) meaning that intense bidding wars for the most sought-after players can leave you empty-pocketed without even the guarantee of a reward.

You're gifted 40 from the outset, but will it be enough? We'll report back in a couple of days.

Day 3 – Save Our Season

In the past two days I've spent more time (and Tokens) in the transfer market, managing to score two 4-star players in the process. They're not world-beaters by any stretch, but certainly an improvement.

I did, however, encounter the downside of Top Eleven's transfer system as well - Tokens utterly depleted, in spite of a 79p / 99c IAP to get more, I had to look on as the player I coveted was snatched from under my nose by a manager with deeper pockets.

But that's football, I suppose, and I have been impressed with how that nuance has been expressed here.

While it is probably true that you can pay your way to success in Top Eleven, this is largely a game that accepts a team can be more than the sum of its parts.

Since bolstering my squad, I've been reliably informed before every fixture that my team is the favourite to win. On paper, my players are better.

But the game, as the weary platitude goes, is not played on paper. And as a result, I keep losing.

It's through gritted teeth that I bring this up as a point of praise, as I sit firmly rooted to the foot of Top Eleven's bottom league - but what sort of game would this be if the best teams always got the best results?

That may be par for the course in the world of free to play, but it would make for a football game that misses the very essence of what makes football so compelling.

After each humbling defeat, you're given a few hours to pick up the pieces and hit the training field.

You're given a positive and a negative takeaway from each performance, which feeds into RPG-lite meta-game of the training mode.

Unable to retain possession? Run your players through some passing drills. Too weak? Focus on physical growth.

Like all football management games, deep down, it shares plenty of DNA with the stat-heavy, skill point-distributing world of role-playing.

And so, despite quibbles with the bidding system and being hopelessly bad at remembering what time my matches are scheduled, I'm enjoying this slice of F2P management more than I'd anticipated.

But can it keep my interest, and will I be able to continue giving it the benefit of the doubt when it comes to a Token-hungry transfer system? We'll see in a few days.

Hopefully, I'll have finally won a match by then...

Day 7 - Settling in

If this were a game in the Football Manager series, I'd still be discovering things 7 days in - hidden depths and intricacies, lurking in menus within menus.

It's not, though. Mechanically, you can get the measure of Top Eleven in just a few minutes, with the actions you're performing on a day-to-day basis remaining largely the same.

But that simplicity proves to be its greatest asset.

The endgame here is not one where players can spend hours burying their head in stats and learning arcane systems. Instead gradually, almost unknowingly, Top Eleven becomes part of their daily routine.

It's been difficult to get used to, because we're accustomed to waiting for things anymore.

We're living in the era of instant access, so having to remember that matches take place at specific times - like some old-timey person watching broadcast TV - has been a shock.

However, for that same reason, it's oddly satisfying. It makes each fixture feel like an event, firing the game up for a last-minute warm-up before watching your players put their training ground drills into practice.

It also has the odd effect of heightening the emotion - be it elation or despair - that comes with each result. You know you won't be able to play another match for several hours.

The match engine itself is simplistic, presented with text updates ticking along the bottom of the screen and occasionally switching to a 2D, players-as-coloured-blobs view when things get exciting.

However, as anyone who played Football Manager before the introduction of the fancy 3D match engine will know, it's incredible how your mind fills in the blanks. A screamer's still a screamer, even if it's scored by a small red circle.

Top Eleven's not your average football management game, then, but it has its own charm.

The newly-added training mode is an excellent addition, too, layering on more depth and choice without overcomplicating a winning formula.

It might not have player licences or swanky graphics on its side, but Top Eleven strikes a sweet balance between complexity and simplicity that'll happily nibble minutes from your life every single day.

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