It's debatable what the biggest waste of time is: the annual Football Manager update or my annual review of it.
Seasoned readers will know what to expect: a denial that I'm addicted to the game, a list of new features, a whimsical tale that suggests that perhaps I am still slightly addicted, all topped off with a shiny conspiracy-theorist baiting 90% score and a reminder that it's still the best game of its type available to mankind.
Here goes then. I gave up playing Football Manager (or Championship Manager, as was) years ago, following a wretched existence of meaningless campaigns that were a waste of life, the hours ticking by in a fetid existence of lower league survival. All things considered, I'm better off without it - you have more time on your hands, enabling you to embark on other arguably equally pointless pursuits.
As such, when the annual update (and it is just an update) comes around, it's with a vague sense of superiority that I boot it up
and scoff at its array of new features, all designed to lure me into its sick world.
So what is this year's model offering? 100 new features. Yep, that's the message coming out of the Sports Interactive office, although what their definition of a 'feature' is remains unconfirmed. If you call having an official club badge for every league team a feature, that's 92 of them taken care of already.
CHAIRMAN OF THE BORED
Churlishness aside, there is a host of new stuff to be found here, from boardroom level right down to the youth team. As is becoming commonplace in modern football, the board can now overrule the manager should they receive an offer for a player that's too good to refuse. Again reflecting real life, they can also decide to up sticks and move to a new stadium. Furthermore, should they lose interest in the club or run out of cash, they may invite offers for the club, which will certainly impact on the security of your job.
As for the aforementioned youth team, the entire process has been overhauled. Instead of simply regenerating retired players, the boffins at SI have come up with a way of creating a lot more youth players. As in real life, the vast majority will slip into obscurity, but there's always the slight chance of unearthing the next Wayne Rooney (although one look at his face and you might want to re-bury him).
Elsewhere, a big step forward has been made with the addition of affiliate clubs. On paper an ideal symbiotic relationship, the feeder club gets the chance to loan theoretically superior players from its 'parent' club, which in turn gets to blood a few youngsters and immediately recall them should they prove to be any good. It can also prove to be a bit of a money-spinner for the feeder club if you can convince the big boys to come down to your place for a friendly once a season.
As for the rest of the 100 'features', the majority of them are subtle little things that become apparent over time, including numerous tweaks to the match engine and the way your players interact. Unfortunately, during the course of this review, time wasn't on my side. Having installed the code to my laptop, I was promptly informed that it would expire after four days. By chance, this coincided with a four-day press trip to Ireland for the annual Pro Evolution Soccer European 5-a-side tournament.
Tucking straight into a season as The Mighty Chester, it was business as usual, feigning indifference at the mainly poor pre-season results before realising I had a week until the real thing. With a budget of nought pounds, desperate attempts were made to bring in loan players as the team rapidly slumped to the bottom of League Two.