During my second and third seasons I managed one league title, two cup wins and lost in the European Cup Semi Finals. The anxiety I had felt on first booting up the new game was gone, but more worryingly so was my employment of the majority of its new features. Maybe tweaking training further, perfecting the half time talk (or bothering to give one at all) would have brought even greater success, but I simply didn’t feel the need to do it. I had automatically toned down the intricacies of the new game and succeeded anyway.
Perhaps being able to do this is one of the beauties of the new game, or maybe it is a criticism, I’m not entirely sure. What I do know though is I’ve had Football Manager 2006 in my possession for over three weeks now and I’m not convinced I’ve scratched the surface. I’m not certain whether I can truly and faithfully tell you about the effectiveness of every new addition or frustrating wrinkle. I find myself once again playing Football Manager the way I like to play Football Manager. To get to the bottom of it all will take many months and I’m not sure I’m as up for that as I used to be.
Trying to focus on a single factor for this mental shift is difficult, but I keep coming back to my original point that the immediate hit has gone to be replaced an altogether more heavyweight experience. It was a gradual evolution, but no longer do I think about booting up the game during a sneaky spare half hour because I realise I will make virtually no progress in that time. An hour minimum is required and since I’m no longer the teenage kid I was when the series first began, those lengthy gaps are increasingly hard to find.
Don't get me wrong, Football Manager 2006 is fantastic. It is a game that does far more than I will every need it to do and the immersion factor is immense. Yet, for me, this is now where the problem lies because as a paid full time journalist it is hard to be an unpaid full time football manager as well. Consequently, I have noticed a sad trend where - despite technological improvements to every edition - I clock up less hours on each. The pattern will continue as well. FM2007 will be even deeper than FM2006 and by FM2010 it may even take from August to May to play out a virtual season. To an extent there is nothing wrong with this, it is everything some fans could ever want, except I’m not sure this fan will still have the inclination to join in.
As expected, Football Manager 2006 takes the series to the next level. It expands every area, pushes every boundary and never before has such an enviable career felt so real. Sports Interactive probably never dreamed it would come so far from the very first Championship Manager title all those years ago. It has picked up millions of fans since then, but it has also lost the casual gamer along the way.