If you want me to learn something, make it a video game.

Someone recently recommended that I try the Football Manager (as in soccer) series of games, because I tend to like strategic stuff and am bored with the same old war games. And, well, I’m hooked. Soccer has never really been my thing, but from a more behind the scenes angle the appeal has been clarifying itself.

It’s not helped by my affliction of anglophilia and the fact that the version of the game I’m playing is the Euro-centric one (in America it was redone a bit as World Soccer Manager). Footy footy footy.

So the premise is, if it’s not already clear enough, that you become a manager. You can choose to be hired as manager for a specific team, or just submit job applications and hope you get hired. I like the second bit a lot, to be honest, though since you have no experience you can only get crap teams, and not even always then: I played a round once and went for about six in-game months unemployed.

What gets me here is that it has almost every pro and semipro team in the world. Notable exceptions are German teams and Japanese teams, for some sort of legal reasons. So yeah, I can grab one of the super-funded English Premier League teams (Go Arsenal!), or one of their minor league teams (three different leagues for the Coca-Cola series, go Huddersfield!), or one of the minor-minor league teams under that (three more leagues, go Maidenhead!). That’s just in England. There’s also the leagues specific to Scotland, Ireland, the US, France, wherethehellever. All of them. Including the national teams you see in the World Cup every year.

That’s a whole lot of strategering right there. You can trade with Russia for one of their up and coming stars, then worry when your superstar Brazillian gets called up for international duty for the national Brazil team and hope to hell he doesn’t get injured… then swear when, once again, he does.

In looking at my newfound appreciation I’ve noticed two things. One, if I want any sort of regular Soccer to watch on TV I need to shell out $13 a month to get a load of sports channels I don’t need, and man that’s a pisser. Two, the fact that the strategy isn’t immediately obvious is why Americans probably like Football to Footy. You can glance at a play before it begins and recognize a Shotgun formation. It takes a few minutes of watching to realize that a soccer team has switched from a 4-4-2 to a 3-5-2 because they don’t sit still very often. And yet it makes an important difference in the flow of a game.

This isn’t to say I’m an overnight expert by any means. I certainly wouldn’t be able to figure it out yet. Getting there though. I found a site that carries recordings of matches and will pick a few here and there to watch. This may just be a flash in the pan interest, but I wouldn’t mind if it stuck.

Go Arsenal!