Given that the last PlayStation Portable edition of Sports Interactive's football management simulation was released only eight months ago, it's no surprise that the new version of the game is incredibly similar to its predecessor. In fact, aside from some additional leagues and a seasonal player update, very little has changed--although for football purists and armchair pundits alike, that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Football Manager 2007 Handheld gives you the opportunity to take on the management of a football club from a selection of leagues across 10 countries--Australia, Belgium, England, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Portugal, Scotland, and Spain. Most of those countries have a good number of tiers in their football setup, meaning that there's a really nice choice of potential teams to control.
Team selection is crucial to the kind of game you'd like to see unfold. Choose a big team, with pots of cash and a big reputation, and you'll be more likely to challenge for the top honours. You're also more likely to attract the best talent--and be in a better position to afford it--but be warned: If you can't produce success on the pitch, you'll be sacked pretty swiftly. On the other hand, take on a relegation candidate or perhaps a minnow from the lower leagues, and, although your job may be more secure, you'll have to work much harder to shape your squad of unknowns into something that resembles a team of winners. As you progress through your career, you'll be able to apply for vacant positions at other clubs, so even if you choose a small club to begin with, that won't mean you're always doomed to play lower-league football. Of course, the reverse is also true, but hopefully you won't fail quite so badly as that.
Once you've chosen your team, you're taken to the page which will form the hub of your game experience from then on--the Home screen. There's a menu on the left which lists the various additional information pages you can access, and most of these contain several submenus of their own. The rest of the screen is given over to your own personalised news service, and it's here that you'll be told about anything that's likely to affect the way you carry out your job. Transfer speculation, injury updates, scout reports, and more will accumulate here, giving you a convenient window into the virtual football world around you.
From a visual perspective, there's little more to see than that. The rest of the game consists of a series of information screens, with no real pictures to speak of. This is largely due to the statistic-heavy nature of the football management simulation, but anybody familiar with modern PC editions in the genre should be warned that even a basic 2D-match representation is lacking on the PSP. The game opts instead to rely on a text commentary, and although this works well in the context of the game overall, it may turn away players who prefer more visual stimuli.
That said, the information is always presented well, with clear, easy-to-read text and attractive borders and backgrounds. Navigation around the screens is really simple, with the D pad used to scroll around the various menus and options, the icon buttons used for relevant shortcuts and actions, the shoulder buttons used for quick access back and forth between pages, and the analog pad cleverly employed to skip between the top and bottom entries of any given menu.
Your time in the game is split between preparing for a given match and watching the text commentary of the match unfold. You can set the game to run at a number of speeds, and the events play out in a realistic fashion. Anything that can happen in real life can also happen in the game, and the more you play with any given team, the more emotionally invested in the matches you become. While the notion of using a possession bar and text to relay the passion and pace of a modern football match might sound like a terrible idea, it does let your imagination flow, and as the end of a season draws near, or if you're playing in a local derby, the suspense of the commentary as events unfold can be near terrifying at times.
The data within the game is all accurate up to the end of the European transfer window in August 2006, and even teams that you're not able to control are re-created, along with any significant player in the world who you might care to name. The season's calendar is built from scratch, rather than replicating the official 2006-07 season, but all of the competitions (domestic, European, and international) are included, just like in real life. Individual players are boiled down to a series of statistics, some of which you can see on the players' profiles, others of which are hidden; but on the whole it's fairly easy to get a feel for the merits (or otherwise) of a player once he's spent some time in your squad.
The financial model within Football Manager 2007 Handheld is extensive, with transfer and wage budgets imposed by the club's board of directors. Although you don't get to see the exact amount of money the club has, you are given a rough indication. The buying and selling of players is crucial in the overall makeup of the game, and it's possible to bid for or offer contracts to almost anybody. This version of the game doesn't include staff transfers, and training has been simplified to a choice of some configurable preset options. All of this is in keeping with the portable nature of the game, however, and as a result, playing Football Manager on the go is much quicker and easier than it is on other platforms.
Happily, the game is almost bulletproof in the area that matters the most--realism. Results and team selections, likely transfers, and even injury proneness all replicate real life consistently, and while it's rarely possible to predict anything in football with certainty, Football Manager 2007 Handheld bears up extremely well, even after a number of seasons.
While the only sound effect in the game is a soft tick as you move around the various options, this does result in a much longer battery life when playing the game, because the UMD is never accessed after the game's initial set-up. For most football fans, a single sound effect probably won't matter a great deal, but the net result is something that some people might find a little bland. Processing is quick, and you're rarely left waiting more than a few seconds before something new demands your attention; it's possible to speed through a season in under two hours with constant play.
Because the nature of this kind of game means that the further your career progresses, the more interesting it becomes, and because there are so many possible starting points to choose from, there's plenty of replay value to be had. It's entirely possible you'll still be dabbling with the game when next year's edition is announced, and overall the game is a compelling offering no matter your level of previous management experience.
Something missing in the last version of the PSP game was the ability to play multiplayer games, and happily this has now been remedied. It's possible to connect to other PSP owners via the wireless ad hoc mode and take them on in individual friendly matches.
Overall, Football Manager 2007 Handheld is a great game to give you a sense of what pressures arise from being in charge of a team in real life. Those familiar with the more comprehensive PC version of the game might feel a little disappointed initially, but they'll find that by streamlining the content in one or two places, Sports Interactive has made something well suited to the platform. It's a shame at times that presentation is such a low priority, but the game delivers where it counts, and for that reason this game is the best title of its kind around today.