Championship Manager 2006 review

£18
Price when reviewed

At least once a year, wives and girlfriends around the world give out a collective sigh of despair. Not at the kick-off of the football season, rather the Championship Manager (CM) season. Last year, however, it was the men who were left crying into their beer, as CM5 was perhaps the most disappointing and bug-ridden release in the game’s history.

So how does CM2006 try to make amends for last year’s own goal? Well, CM5’s game engine has been honed and refined with all of the January transfers to deliver the fastest and most accurate CM ever. It’s now quite feasible to get from boot-up to first match within five minutes. While some may not take to the toy-town-like graphical interface, the 3D match views should go down well, even though the players look just like Subbuteo blobs pinging a ball around.

Elsewhere, match previews are more thorough, giving the full low-down on both teams, conditions and the match odds. However, playing half a season reminds you that behind this supposedly realistic and varied game is little more than a clever spreadsheet.

The draw of any management game is realism, and CM2006 brings a number of innovations. Interaction between players, manager and the board has improved. Managers can now “talk” to players (that is, give out a few limited instructions), which is a step up from just being able to promote, demote or fine them. The flip-side is that players are sulky and temperamental if dropped, react if you sell key players and want more of a say in how the team is run – all the stuff that fills the tabloid back pages.

Buying and loaning players is more challenging than ever before, because as soon as you put in an offer other teams try to steal your target right from under your nose. With greedy agents lurking behind every superstar, you’re regularly expected to negotiate personal terms, which is a fair reflection of how the transfer market works these days.

This year’s headline addition is the Club benefactor option. Here, you can choose to manage a team with the assistance of a filthy-rich sugar daddy. If you’re after realism, it’s a stupid concept: no manager would ever actually be able to choose to only work with a mega-wealthy club. Previous versions of the game dealt with this better, as takeovers would happen randomly mid-game, acting as a welcome bonus.

The Club benefactor may mean increased buying power, but only if the player is interested in moving to your club. Its mechanics are quite realistic in the sense that when playing as a conference team, no amount of cash will lure the players from League One and above. Likewise, when playing as a Premiership team, cash will help you lure some good players, but playing as Liverpool I failed miserably when trying to buy Lampard, Beckham and Henry, despite having an Abramovich of my own. The other expected downside of this bulging cash kitty is pressure to deliver trophies; otherwise, you’ll find yourself on the managerial merry-go-round with Big Ron, Graeme Souness and Dave Bassett.

Despite these new additions, CM2006 has its problems, and still feels like a shadow of the game it once was. The interface is a mess. Finding what you’re looking for is unnecessarily complicated, and usually involves drilling down into multiple menus. For example, if you’re assessing a potential purchase, player data is inexplicably split across four tabbed sheets, making it tiresome to assess the player’s value as a whole. There’s absolutely no reason why this data can’t be placed on one or two pages.

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