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So how do you spend 12 hours in pre-season? With FM2006 the answer is easily. I spent my time endlessly scouring the world leagues for playing and non-playing staff, codling a furious Laurent Robert (who I'd recalled from Portsmouth, determined to get the best out of him) and trying to buy back Olivier Bernard, the club’s last decent left back. Bids came in for players I didn’t want to sell and derisory loan offers were made for players I wanted out the door. Yes gentlemen and gentlemen (let’s face it, there are no women here), 2006 is more difficult.
That is not too say it is too difficult, however, ultimately the game is just smarter. Opponents come to grips with your tactics over the course of a match. What worked for 45 minutes may backfire in the second half and the lower league buffoons that I selected as lambs to the slaughter for my finely tuned stallions had an irritating knack of picking out the best performing players and kicking them into the middle of next week.
Once the league began things weren’t much better either. As a Jose Mourinho type I enjoy employing the poker face before occasionally erupting into roars of emotion and it dismayed me no end to discover that pace is no longer the overriding statistic guaranteed to win silverware by the truckload. Certainly, it appears to work in the lower leagues (as my dalliance with Colchester and the 18 man squad of sprinters I built proved when I ran away with the Division One title) but stepping up in class reveals passing and positioning to be equally key.
As I got settled into a clear starting eleven and came to terms with the strengths and weaknesses of my squad I did find myself clicking through the game a little faster too. To this end I can report that loading times do indeed feel quicker than 2005 and, remarkably, are probably quicker than the game was ten years ago. Against this is the fact that I had abandoned some of the newer features introduced in 2006, such as half time team talks and manager baiting, since – at least to me – neither had shown to have a consistent effect on events other than to disturb the harmony of my squad.
Reaching the end of the season (and earning a well deserved Champion’s League place considering Titus Bramble was at the back) I’m pleased to report the well documented rash of bugs which greet each virgin edition of the series were thankfully few and far between. In extreme cases I have heard of matches being lost only for the board to commend managers on a fine win, but the worst I saw was a player being subbed twice and since the on-pitch attributes of ‘the same man’ were completely different it was clearly just a textual error not a simulation one. Even so, patches are already on their way.