There are basically just two games battling for the number one spot as the best football management game and the battle was always won by Sports Interactive’s Football Manager. However, Electronic Arts managed to bring us some huge surprises recently, culminating with an almost flawless version of their football simulation game, as you can see by reading our FIFA 09 Review.

So, having all these things in mind and a relatively bitter taste in the mouth following SI’s introduction of the 3D match engine as we noticed in our Football Manager 2009 preview, I was expecting a huge surprise from FIFA Manager 09 this year – could it grab this year’s crown of the best football management game? Unfortunately for Electronic Arts – not yet.

The game is under no circumstances a poorly made one. Actually, if we compare it with last year’s title we can see lots of improvements. However, there are still a lot of things that completely make no sense in the game. For example, you have to learn golf in order to have a better relation with the chairman, you can become a sailor and your wife will get really upset if you don’t go out with her every once in a while! Come on, please!

These things, although they could be considered relaxing bonuses by some, have nothing to do with the concept of football management (or, on the contrary, are just too damn real, if you agree with the fact that today’s football players spend more time in night clubs or posing for magazines than on the pitch). Still, having a son and seeing him ready to become a football legend or buying yourself the biggest and most expensive house available with your hard earned cash will offer some level of satisfaction – but always remember that you’re playing a football management game and not a Sims title!

And the overall football experience still lacks complexity, even though it brings a huge improvement to last year’s game. Everything is more polished, easier to be accessed and the match engine seems to have been improved for this year’s version. At least the text mode completely revamped offering a more pleasant experience for the eye, but it still seems old and outdated. Basically, that’s the general rule of thumb about this year’s FIFA Manager: it is polished, shiny, colorful, but behind the glowing coat you’ll find some rusty, incomplete mechanics.

The players still seem to have a mind of their own on the pitch and I rarely had the unpleasant feeling that they’re not following my tactical instructions: the players’ behavior can be compared to that of AI controlled teams in FIFA games. Not bad to the eye at all but, as I said, it does not seem that you have a lot of control, which kind of makes everything pointless…

But this can be kind of be solved via FIFA Manager’s multiple game modes. This means that, if you prefer, you can jump into the boots of a specific player and control it throughout the match. Of course, this diminishes the realism levels even more and will rarely prove to be a satisfactory experience for the real football manager you are. And, unfortunately, it’s not the only one doing wrong to the simulation.

I can’t say it for sure, but it appears that there are different game engines in FIFA Manager 09. Playing with Liverpool, I heavily lost one of my first games against Manchester (in 3D with 5-0 and I was mad). I reloaded the game and, instead of going through the same pain again, I went for instant result, hoping for a bit better result. And I was surprised to find out that I had won the game with a score of 3-1. A huge difference here, having in mind that I played with the exact same tactic and lineup.

Database-wise, it is crystal clear that FIFA Manager 09 had a more focused (or experienced) scouting team since the players I checked and knew something about had some very accurate stats (and I’m not talking about Ronaldinho and Messi here – players everybody knows they’re good). Having in mind that usually the accuracy of the database was generally an issue to the games in the series, I consider this as a big, welcomed improvement.