After four months in the job Louis van Gaal has so far been unable to improve Manchester United’s fortunes which begin to slide when Sir Alex Ferguson retired.

In fact, the Red Devils are two leagues places and four points worse off than at the same point of the 2013/14 season during David Moyes’ brief reign.

Do you think you could do better at the helm of the Old Trafford club, coping with the pressure and emotions that go with such a high-profile job? Would you do things differently if you were in charge?

Unfortunately, unless your name is Ancelotti, Guardiola or Mourinho it’s unlikely you’ll ever get the chance to know one way or the other.

At least there’s Football Manager for hopefuls who want to live the dream and show they could lead a team to glory, be it a massive top-flight club or a non-league side with its own set of challenges.

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During its 22-year history Sports Interactive’s peerless series has always been ‘fantasy’ football in its purest form.

Its detailed model of the real football world allows anyone to grab whatever manager’s job they like the look of and then take charge of training, transfers, team selections, tactics and all other tasks.

The appeal of a deep, complex and sophisticated simulation driven by page after page of stats and with no real action to speak of may be baffling to anyone who doesn’t follow the beautiful game, but to fans the game provides a compelling and addictive experience.

A typical devotee will happily sacrifice hundreds upon hundreds of hours to the game every season. To many Football Manager is more than just a video game – it’s a passion, an obsession. To those hooked on Football Manager the annual release of each new version is a major event on the calendar as important as the start of the actual football season and any major derby or up final that takes place during it.

Developer SI continues to evolve the series year on year, making it more authentic each time and blurring the lines between virtual and real, to the point that actual clubs are now using data from the game to scout new players.

Sadly the 2015 edition doesn’t have a button for kicking a water bottle in anger or headbutting an opposing team’s player, and there is no minigame in which you fight with a zip-up coat, but just about every facet of the modern football manager’s job is included to some degree.

This has got to be the closest you can get to the real thing without being employed by a club.

In keeping with its ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it but make it better’ approach, SI has put a range of improvements and new features into FM15.

There are no £40m game-changing superstars among the changes but there are a few £10-15m solid first-teamers who make a difference.

One enhancement is an increase to the available interactions with team members, the media and scouts.

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Last year SI did away with sliders which were used to create tactical set-ups, and they were replaced with more natural word-based instructions. Football Manager remained a mostly mute game with no actual speaking, but the switch made it seem more conversational and immersive.

That theme has been continued this year and expanded upon.

Now, as well as giving your players direct unequivocal orders before a match and at half-time, you can also shout at them during a game from your technical area. You can focus on your team as a whole or bark at a particular player if you’re unimpressed with his contribution. This adds another layer to what was already a comprehensive suite of tactical options.

In terms of dealing with the media, there are press interviews in the tunnel to contend with along with a generally more astute gaggle of journalists throughout the game who are hungrier for stories, squabbles and slips of the tongue (or rather finger) that they can latch on to.

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With scouting, it’s possible to give even more detailed and specific requirements to your network of eagle-eyed talent-spotters. You can now help them search for exactly the type of player you’re looking for by indicating what status within the club the new recruit will have, such as being a replacement for an existing star, a back-up squad member or a hot prospect.

Overall, scouting has been made more realistic, and takes a more patient approach. In many cases, an initial report on a player will contain only vague analysis of his abilities and he will need to be scouted over a longer period to build up the complete picture. It takes a brave manager to make a snap decision on spending a large sum of money on a player who little is known about but dithering can result in another club swooping in and pinching him from under your nose.

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Once players have been hired and thrust into action you can get a clearer idea of how they’re working out thanks to the improved 3D match engine.

Although the graphics are still fairly rudimentary compared to your Fifas or Pro Evos, much more functional than fancy, they’re still a step up from last year and the best the game’s had since this element was introduced in FM09.

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Speaking of how the game looks, the user interface has been redesigned. The standout feature is a navigation sidebar on the left of the screen, similar to Championship Manager days of old, from where areas most commonly visited are easily accessed. A browser-style search bar at the top also makes it quick easy to seek out information.

I really like the presentation. It could be a real mess due to the vast wealth of data that needs to be displayed, but everything is clean, clear and easy to digest. Different styles, layouts and colours are used to keep it all as engaging as possible.

Two little things I like in particular are how reports list players’ pros and cons in a very simple-to-understand way and also how drop-down menus displaying all the suitable players for each position speed up the process of picking a team line-up.

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The one new thing in FM15 which I dislike occurs right at the start of the game, even before choosing which club to manage.

This year the game is much more about playing as a character within the manager’s role than as yourself.

During the initial set-up stage you are asked to specify your, or rather your character’s, coaching qualifications and professional standing within the football world.

Based on your answers, you’re then given a number of skill points to allocate to various coaching and mental attributes. This determines what type of manager your character will be during the game – a tracksuit manager who spends time on the training ground with the players, a tactical manager who spends more time focusing on strategy and player recruitment, or a somewhere-in-between manager who strives to be best of both.

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What you decide at this very early point will affect information available to you when you start your ‘career’, how others interact with you and how effective your character is in different areas.

The aim of all this is to make the game a more personal experience for each player, and I suppose it also adds an extra layer of realism. After all, it’s inconceivable that in the real world a nobody could walk in off the street, become a Premier League manager and expect to be taken seriously by the likes of Rooney and van Persie.

For me, however, the increased character customisation spoils things a little bit and breaks the fantasy. I personally don’t want to play as an ex-international player who’s taken his coaching badges and who’s a known disciplinarian with a proven reputation for training defenders. I would much rather go into the game as me, a 40-year-old avid footy fan with no formal qualifications or experience who’s somehow managed to blag his way into a job, and then face the uphill struggle to prove myself. That would actually be less artificial and more believable.

I would also prefer the game to organically shape itself around the personality I actually display and the actions I take as I go along. If during the flow of the game I show myself to be far more astute on the tactics board than the training ground I’d be happier for that to determine how I’m perceived than certain answers I give right at the outset.

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Overall, FM15 is a great game. Thanks to most of the new features, I think it’s the best instalment in the series so far – certainly the most complete simulation.

Over the past few years I’ve only really dabbled in Football Manager’s core mode, mainly due to time constraints and concern over how huge it’s becoming in terms of its complexity. I’ve mainly played the lighter classic mode (back this year with more improvements) and the handheld version (the 2015 edition of which is out now).

This year I decided to get stuck back into the main game again, and have found that despite its size it’s still got that magical addictiveness that made it so irresistible when I was last properly wrapped up in it about 10 years ago, when I would regularly stop playing in the early hours scratching my head wondering where the last few hours had gone.

The biggest accolade I can personally give FM15 is to say it even makes the job of micro-managing little Luton Town (my chosen club for this season, because I like a challenge) an engrossing experience. I’ve spent many hours so far getting to know my squad, meeting club staff, scouring the transfer market for bargains, setting up my formation and tactics without spending very much time actually playing matches – and yet I’ve been enjoying every minute.

When I’ve stopped playing I’ve carried on thinking about what I’ll do during my next session and when I switch my laptop on I will it to load faster so I can right back to where I left off.

Football Manager is a game with the power to consume its players. It possess an indescribable quality that makes the whole much greater than the sum of the parts – similar, I guess, to the unexplainable urge that causes fans to follow football so religiously in the first place.

This year’s edition is the most powerful Football Manager yet. Prepare to be swallowed up.

9 out of 10

Out now for PC and Mac, handheld version out for Ios and Android