I love Football Manager, it’s by far my favourite game on the planet so strap in as I give a totally unbiased review for this years annual update. That’s right, Football Manager 2019 is here and better than ever before. So it’s time to throw on your finest suit, sit in the corner of the room listening to the Champions League tune while you wait on your simulated players to bring home the cup.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the game, Football Manager is the most detailed and finely tuned footballing game on the planet that gives you the opportunity to become a football manager. Build a team, set up training, scout for new players, deal with the press, manage contract and everything else a real football manager has to do. Their player rating system is so detailed, real football clubs use their database as part of their scouting network and even SkySportsNews use the system to show new players abilities and stats.

As you can imagine that’s an awful lot of information to digest for most people, which has been FM’s big problem down the years. Hence this year Football Manager 2019 has gone back to the drawing board to usher in a new era for the series. This season, Sports Interactive has worked their nuts off as the game underwent a radical overhaul to make this the most innovative game in the series to date. That’s saying something considering the success of past FM titles. FM 19 makes it easier to be drawn into the world of football management to become the next Pep or more likely, Big Sam.

A small bit of history

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The Football Manager series first hit the market way back in 2004, while it’s predecessor Championship Manager began in 1992. So these guys have been at this game quite a while.

“When you’re working on annual iterative titles, it is difficult,” says Miles Jacobson, Studio Director at Sports Interactive. “You’re always going to get people turning around saying ‘you haven’t added anything.’ And no matter how much you add, you’re still going to get people saying that.”

Despite the long running nature of the game, the developers have managed to keep Football Manager looking fresh each and every year. The series is at the point now where the saying “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” rings true and it’s the finer details and slight modifications that leave the cult like fanbase coming back for more. Here’s a test of your FM credentials, if you recognize all of the names below then we need to talk (don’t worry if you don’t know any of the names it just means you have a social life)

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(link to best FM wonderkids in FM19)

  • Fabio Paim
  • Freddy Adu
  • Carlos Fierro
  • Anthony Vanden Borre
  • Khouma Babacar

So how did you do? Anyway enough of the nostalgia lets look and see how this years title stacks up.

Tactics and Training

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It takes all of 2 seconds of loading the game for the seasoned players to notice how different the interface is in comparison to the previous editions of Football Manager. There is a clear effort made by Sports Interactive to create a new modern interface with a new purple skin and fully editable menu layout. Design your toolbar in such a way that only the bits you deem the most important are on show and this alone makes FM 19 feel alot more polished. That’s even before you dive into the good stuff. The training and tactics!

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Football Manager tactics and training have been rebuilt from the ground up. The new tactics system is more comprehensive, allowing you to design how both your team and individuals will play in different stages and scenarios during a match. If you’re not one for spending hours designing perfect tactics, you can now select a number of predefined tactics from a Klopp-style Gegenpress to a defensive stifling ah la Martin O’Neill. You can even select the formations, player roles, individual tactics from this space which will all lead into how your team plays in a match. If that sounds like too much work your assistant is always on hand to help you select the right players for your style.

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Unlike previous years, training now has a real purpose when it comes to how your tactics and set up are implemented in a match (not unlike real footyball eh), this in turn will decide how well your team will perform. For example trying to make Brighton play free flowing attacking football without a well thought out and designed training schedule will end in disaster. As a result a player will now have to design training sessions on a daily and weekly basis (not as hard as it sounds) and you can get the assistant to take on this task, or select pre-created templates to suit you style.

The amount of time that can be spent on designing a custom formation or meticulously preparing weeks of training sessions can be endless but worthwhile. From all of this training and tactic work you and me could play the same formation with almost identical styles but with minor changes to how high up you press, width of the pitch and specific player roles and jobs, all of which makes for a team with the players own unique stamp.

Welcome Changes

Fm 19 is more than just the same tired old title being re-released year after year with nothing but a new hat to show for itself. This year’s title has far more than just an overhauled gameplay system and a fresh lick of paint. We see a better scouting system that offers far better and more detailed analysis of transfer targets (in list or simple card form. The match engine itself, although not perfect comes with more than 500 new animations and this year is the first year that Football Manager has a fully licensed Bundesliga. While small it means that managing in Germany feels less gimmicky with real team names and crests finally available.

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Another cool update is around the mentoring feature. Rather than just telling a senior pro to work alongside one of your youth player, now you can have a group of individuals assigned to work and learn from each others. Which just makes far more sense. Also for those of us who play well into the future, the regen system is improved to ensure a regular flow of new fictional players are coming through the youth ranks to extend the lifespan of your game. It may not seem like the biggest deal ever but trust me if you play into 2040 you will glad of the updated method. With everything else it’s very much a case of “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it”.

VAR

Unlike the Premier League, FM 19 comes fully equipped with VAR in game. This adds a cool extra lair of tension in the big games as you wait to see if your player was offside or will a penalty decision swing your way. Nice and simple, that’s all that really needs to be said on this, really I just wanted an excuse to stick in this video clip….

Lack of women’s teams

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I’m not the pickiest man in the world but I find this one odd. FIFA have women’s teams and with the growing interest of the female game, I find it strange that sports interactive have yet to bring the option of managing any of the teams.

Here’s what Sports Interactive have to say on the matter:

“We’ve always said that we’d love to add women’s football into the game, but unfortunately, it’s just not financially viable at the moment,” Miles Jacobson

He goes on to say that it’s not to do with projected sales but the work that needs to be done in the match engine, animations and motion capture – all work that has been done on the male teams for years now that would need to be started from scratch for the women’s game. That’s not to sat they won’t be doing it, Jacbobson himself states in an interview that the integration of the Women’s League’s will take time but until they can bring the option into the game correctly, they will not bring in a hotchpotch patch job just to have the leagues included. For now though we have a modder-community with people like the WomenOnFootballManager Twitter account, copying the women’s custom database from FM18 to FM19.

Improvements needed

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As ever with Football Manager, FM 19 is not perfect… it can’t be really there always seem to be one or two gripes that need to be ironed out. Anyone who thinks they are getting into FM for the graphics has another thing coming. Changes to the match engine are great but things like Goalkeeper animations and areas of the UI can still feel clunky, especially if this is your first time playing FM. If Sports Interactive want to turn the series into a truly authentic football game, then a total overhaul of the game engine will need to be done. But to be fair the game isn’t about the match engine it’s about the everything else. It would just be nice to see the nicely laid out plans in a bit more style.

The other area of improvement really has to be the interactions with players, press and team talks. A couple of years ago when the feature was introduced, we all thought it was great but now it all feels a little stale. We aren’t really even sure if these interactions actually offer up much apart from placating or pissing of your players. It’s an area that’s sorely lacking in invention and after a couple of week you are guaranteed to hand over all press conferences and team talks to your assistant manager so you can simply get on with the game.

The Goosed Verdict

FM 19 could well be a defining moment in the franchise history. Each of the changes combine to help make this years title the freshest and most detailed edition ever. The new training and tactics system, Bungesliga licensing and the introduction of VAR brings new welcome elements into a game that constantly runs the risk of becoming stale.

Look, it isn’t perfect. If you are big into graphics or find a spreedsheet-esque gameplay a bore, then this might not be for you. Longtime complaints like tedious interviews with the press persist but these are only small issues. The improvements we see this year are a huge step in the right direction for the Football Manager series. To put it bluntly FM 19 ain’t flash, it was never meant to be but by god is the best sports simulator you could ever ask for.

PS: Search hard enough and you can find your own Sunday League team. Special shoutout to Mungret F.C. If anyone is a big player of the game, get in touch and I would be happy to share my tactics and training files with you.

Whoa there! While We have you…