Demo Preview – Football Manager ’07

Note: This is more for American gamers; Europe has already seen this release.

Ever since the death of the Championship Manager series in favour of Football Manager, America has had it’s own version of the game, named Worldwide Soccer Manager. This year’s copy of Football Manager is already out in Europe, and I’ve been able to play enough of it to be able to tell American gamers what they’re in for when the Stateside version – Worldwide Soccer Manager 2007 – comes out on November 1st.

The first thing that anyone will notice that’s familiar with Football Manager is that the look has been streamlined. The skin is a little easier to use than ’06, and furthermore – better for newbies – there are little tips that come and go during loading screens. This is great for people that don’t want to read the instructions, or those that might need some tips as to how the transfer market works in Europe.

For anyone new to this game – or football in general – the game has just about any league you will find in the world, as well as just about every team, even semi professional teams (one of my friendlies with Sunderland was against AFC Wimbledon, a match we won 9-0, even with subs). All of the players are here as well, which means only zealots will know who everyone is. Thankfully, there is a player search to find players for the transfer market, though the in-game system has never been terrific; there’s an external program that does things better, for anyone serious about this.

Most of the teams have their logos and full names, however, due to liscensing issues, some leagues and teams don’t have this advantage; for instance, every league in England has their full league name and logos for all the teams… except the Premiership. Hopefully, this is fixed in the full version. However, due to pitfalls, one league that won’t have full kits and teams is the Bundes Liga in Germany, to the point where the game is not being sold in Germany at all. This is also the case with some of the Cups, as the UEFA Cup and Carling Cup, among many, are re-named. However, last year’s game had an extensive editor, and this year’s game is sure to include one as well.

For more experienced/risky players, a “feeder” system has been added. Basically, think of “feeder” teams as minor league affiliates, only if the affiliates have a chance to actually play against the big club, and if the parnership can be broken. Larger clubs can have feeder teams to send their younger players on loan to get first-team experience with a smaller club, and likewise, smaller teams in leagues like Conference National and League Two can request to be feeder programs, so that they can borrow top class talent to try and get promoted to the next tier up. This is different from the reality of the situations when it comes to mid level and even lower-level Premiership sides, who basically nurture younger talent so the rich boys from Manchester or Chelsea can suck them up on a transfer; ask Everton how Wayne Rooney looks in red sometime. Some teams, naturally, will refuse to even consider being feeder programs; that’s really up to your team’s board (they’re really the ones in charge, and furthermore, getting anything extra out of them is a hard endeavour).

There’s three teams that most clubs have: a Senior squad (the top team), a Reserve squad (who go around playing other reserve squads, as well as lower tier clubs in friendlies), and a U18 squad of players who aren’t ready for senior league play yet. This is the first year that Football Manager has implimented full-scale youth teams; now, these teams play against other youth teams, with their own tactics, usually controlled by either a youth coach or an assistant manager. The development these youths make is exponential, and more can be brought up by your Youth Academy. For those that don’t know what a Youth Academy is, picture Real Salt Lake also having a team put into the NCAA, and on top of that, they started admitting kids right around Grade 9.

To learn about more obscure players, and how they would fit into your system, you can have your scouts and coaches scout other players. This is much more streamlined now than in the past; coaches file report cards that tell you, basically, the quality of the player, his strengths and weaknesses, how he would fit into your squad, weather or not he’s even an option for your squad (players have to approve transfers), among other information. The quality of the reports depends on the quality of who’s doing the reporting.

Finally, communication has been greatly improved in this year’s game, in two ways. The first way is you can do your communication through the press when it comes to talking to your team. Just like in real life, you can stir your team with pointed words to reporters, which can have a serious effect on either side; on the one hand, you could drive them to better performances, but on the other side, the resulting morale hit will likely affect you once it’s time to negotiate contracts. You can also tell how you feel about other players, and other managers as well, and those comments can even have an effect on your players; for example, after I complimented another manager after a friendly, some players were thankful that I was putting the attention on other teams, while others didn’t think complimenting other managers was really necessary. You can also use these options to put out feelers on potential transfers; if you put forth potential interest as to signing a player, and that club issues a hands-off warning, you know you can move elsewhere. Also, after games with controversial calls, reporters will ask you what you think of the result; you can flame the call if you wish, but you could also get warned by the FA, or other governing body.

When it comes to the players themselves, you could also choose to have a more experienced player tutour a younger man; for example, on Sunderland, I had Darren Ward tutouring Ben Alnwick. It can work out well for both players (the older one can get more confidence should he want to coach after his career is over), but if their personalities clash, you can have morale issues both ways.

And then there’s team talks. Last year, you were able to give your team a talk at halftime of matches. This year, you can give one before a match, during halftime and afterwards, to drive whatever point is necessary home. They work well, too; if you are typically a positive communicator in all team talks, and then give your men a tongue-lashing, you might shake them up and coerce a solid performance out of them. But just like real coaching, the more you do this, the more they’ll tune you out.

On the pitch, Football Manager 07 plays faster than last year’s version, and loading times have been reduced slightly, at least from the demo version. Multiple tactics are available in different flavours, and you can set these on the fly as well, while watching the match. When watching the pitch, the players are solid dots, but they move well, and the matches move very realistically, despite the low resolution of the graphics. There are also available highlight and goal packages from other games in your respective league that are viewable.

Also, experienced players will notice that player ratings have been altered greatly this season. In the past, even merely good players would be popping 20s (on a scale of 1-20). This year, ratings went way down, to the point where a 20 is highly rare to see; only the best players in the world, like the Rooneys and Ronaldinhos, have multiple 20s, or anywhere close.

Overall, Football Manager ’07/Worldwide Soccer Manager 2007 were already the best manager games on the market before this season, yet this year’s version not only makes the core gameplay even better, the game has been made more streamlined, meaning newer players don’t have to feel intimidated any longer. Anyone that’s a stathead of a sports gamer, or even someone mildly interested, should definately try the demo before the Stateside release, chances are good you won’t be dissapointed.

Worldwide Soccer Manager 2007 is available via on November 1, 2006. It will cost $29.99 USD.