Being a football fan used to be easy: pick a team, follow its result on a Saturday, track its position in the league, and know which cup it's still in. Then American football came to our TV screens with its pre-occupation with yardage and appearances, causing a statistics-overload. We never looked back.
With the rise of statistics spin-offs such as Fantasy Football - and Andy-Townsend's short-lived Tactics Truck - games developers came up with all manner of ways to cash-in on the ultimate football fan's dream of rallying his team from the dugout. Top of the league came Championship Manager.
Version 4 is the most comprehensive football-management simulation available. With over 100,000 detailed profiles of players, coaches and managers from 26 concurrent leagues, the research involved in making the 10th anniversary edition must have been immense. As with previous versions, you can buy and sell both players and staff, ask the board for everything from funds to expanding the stadium, and set up custom training. You can even apply for vacant positions at rival clubs and aspire to international duty. The interface has been updated, making decisions on team activities easier. The complexities of the job can be reduced by offloading responsibilities to your assistant manager, and comparing and researching players is easier than in previous versions.
The most noteworthy new feature is a real-time 2D match engine that enables you to make tactical decisions as the game is played. This really adds to the game, and offers the chance to see whether an unorthodox approach will work for your team.
The most satisfying aspect of Championship Manager 4 is choosing the team and its objectives. You find out early on if you fall within the category of top-flight boss or lower league dreamer. Tactics must be changed depending on the league's standard, as players react differently to strategic decisions at different levels.
Balancing the budget is a major factor in your success, and persuading players to sign contracts becomes even more protracted in this version - another indication of the games realism. A frustrated Championship Manager player can create a new manager and pillage the new team's squad to strengthen his own before offloading them.
If there is a criticism of CM4, it would be that it hasn't really changed enough since the last version, and feels more like an update. The game's backdrops are uninspiring images of minor league football clubs in action, when images of current football stars would add glamour. There are no rewards for achieving success other than a few lines of acknowledgement from the board and a rise in the club's finances. But this has always been the way, and it lends itself to the realism of the ultimate football management game.
Championship Manager 4 is certainly memory intensive and takes up a fair amount of disk space, but it's stable on OS X. It's addictive, and die-hard football fans can play this game for hours without putting it down. Football used to be a funny old game. Now, it's very serious.