It’s fair to say that the once hallowed Championship Manager series has been down in the doldrums for the past few years. The PC version has struggled to compete with the undisputed kind of football management sims Football Manager. Champ Man’s iPhone debut earlier this year was also an unmitigated disaster not helped by the fact it was essentially the ‘regular’ mobile phone edition shoe-horned onto an iPhone.
In a highly positive kick off, CM2011 has been given a much needed facelift. This was certainly one of the biggest flaws with CM2010 so it’s reassuring to see this has clearly been made purely with iOS devices in mind. The main bulk of the screen contains the various selection screens relating to the section you are currently in. The bottom of the screen has been thoughtfully used too. The left and right corners are used for back and continue whilst the centre portion features a scrollable wheel with all the main menu screens for quick and easy access. This really is a good, easy to use layout that delivers a slick transition between screens.
Managing your squad and team selection has also been improved, although this is spread over two different screens – ‘Squad’ and ‘Tactics’. The squad screen concentrates on statistical information such as fitness, whilst tactics deals with team selection and formation. I do have one minor niggling criticism here: to get a 1-11 + subs view; you must double tap the sort order button as one tap displays unselected players first. This is annoying when you wish to view the fitness on your currently selected players and have to keep double tapping a button to do so.
Selecting and setting up your formation has been really well implemented. Running down the left hand side of the screen are all your players. Here you simply drag and drop them onto the pitch in the middle of the screen into the positions you want them to play. As such, custom formations are a breeze to set up.
Moving on to playing an actual match feels like the Champ Man of old; the 2D pitch with ‘dots for players’ returns as does the match text commentary. Taking control of situations is quick and easy to put into action. A tap of the tactics button allows you to check out the opposition and get hints from your assistant manager. Making substitutions is the same simple drag and drop affair as is changing formations. I also felt that making substitutions or changing my team’s style of play did affect the outcome of matches.
Whilst most comments have so far been positive, there are of course some negatives. It’s unfortunate to say there are a fair few which are disappointing to see present (or not, as the case may be). Most are minor but some are more glaring:
Searching for players requires exact spelling. For instance searching for ‘Luis Suarez’ would not deliver the Ajax star I was hoping to lure to Tottenham. As his name is spelt Suārez and the iOS keyboard doesn’t allow for such characters, the only option is to search for Ajax. Of course, if another team purchases him he could potentially be lost forever – as illustrated by the next point.
You get lots of news and information on your own team, but it’s surprising that major transfers involving other clubs don’t warrant a mention. In a quite astounding summer of transfer activity, John Terry joined Man Utd for a mere £10.2m and a veritable goalkeeper merry-go-round took place seeing Pepe Reina join Arsenal with Edwin van der Saar replacing him at Liverpool. Numerous other transfers took place yet none of these events are deemed newsworthy. I only found out these transfers had taken place when Terry appeared in the team of the week (which was delivered to my inbox). Sure you can check out the recent transfer section, but it would have nice to hear rumours that players may be available so as to make a bid before missing out on them.
In European competitions, teams don’t have country protection in the group stages or indeed any seeding. In my first season, Spurs and Arsenal were drawn together; and in a group of death to end all groups of death, Valencia, Barcelona, Olympic Marseille and Inter Milan were all drawn together. Although typically, Manchester Utd still got an easy draw.
Somewhat glaringly, there isn't a loans system in place. Players currently out on loan in real life – Onouha, Bellamy at Manchester City for instance - are still with their parent club. Considering that promoting a smaller club from the depths of lower league football often lives on the loan system, its non-appearance is very disappointing.
I fully realise that this all sounds terribly down on the game. However it’s of great credit that I still thoroughly enjoyed playing for hour upon hour despite these faults. In fact I only highlight the spelling of names and country protection/seeding in the hope that they will be fixed in a future update.
Other neat features include press conferences before games. Answering in a manor that is pandering to the fans at the expense of the board can severely affect your managerial career. You can also call up to 5 press conferences throughout the season after games to help self promote yourself. OpenFeint has also been included with loads of achievements to claim. These can also be published direct to your Twitter or Facebook accounts.
The improvements over CM2010 are massive and with some speedy updates to include and fix the aforementioned grievances, Championship Manager 2011 will easily compete with Football Manager. There are ways in which CM2011 is already streets ahead of FM – team selection and custom formations for a start. CM2011 feels like a great mix of classic CM simplicity that doesn’t overwhelm along with a modern feel similar to FM and that's good enough for me.