Considering how quickly and fully my love for all things soccer has developed, there’s really only one word to describe it: obsession. It started with a trip to Manchester this summer for the Manchester International Festival. I’d expected everyone I met to be a Manchester United fan, since it’s the most famous football club in the world. But my hosts—and nearly everyone I met—said they followed Manchester City instead, that Man U was for the tourists. That settled it right there. I was a Man City fan. The season started soon after, and I realized I could watch most of the games through the Fox Soccer Channel, ESPN2 or online via Setanta. City, thanks to an historic spending spree, has their best team ever, and started the season strong (they still only have one lost—to the hated crosstown rival—but they’ve drawn in their last six). I’ve even started playing pick-up soccer on the weekends, and I’ll be joining a league for the first time since I was in 8th grade this fall.
So FIFA’s latest soccer game for XBox 360 and Playstation 3, FIFA 10, couldn’t have come at a better time. The first time I played it, my kids walked into the room and asked me which team I was pulling for. The graphics are so good and the announcers’ voices so fluid and familiar, they didn’t realize it was a video game.
Of course, I began playing as Manchester City, complete with our latest multi-million-pound transfer from Everton, Joleon Lescott. The gameplay is great in the normal control-the-whole-team mode. I got fired as Manchester City’s manager the first time through, and had to take a job at some middle-of-the-pack Scottish team. But I got the hang of it, and now Manchester Blue is sitting comfortably on top of the Premiere League standings.
But the real fun comes when you switch to controlling a single player. Even against the computer, it’s a much more life-like perspective as your play away from the ball starts to matter. On offense, you have to be prepared for the fast break without going offside. On defense, you need to mark players who break without the ball. And when you join an online game through XBox Live, you have to work in tandem with your teammates on both sides of the ball. Setting up or scoring a goal feels like so much more satisfying when most of the players on the pitch are controlled by real live individuals.
The only thing more fun would be lacing up the cleats and playing actual soccer. But after playing FIFA 2010, my feet weren’t bruised and blistered.