Top Four Finish
Football Manager is always at its best when you can talk to your mates about its quirks and oddities. All the way back in 2008, before I gave up playing to focus on my final year at University, it was all about sharing my story of taking Burton Albion from a non-league side to the dizzy heights of the Premier League and Champions League glory.
And so, before I tell you what I think about its latest features, I want to share with you my latest Football Manager tale.
Navigating My European Adventure
Given the national embarrassment of how we’ve (UK) handled Brexit over the last two years and reading this fantastic article about fallen Brazilian superstar Adriano, I decided to start Football Manager 19 (FM19) as Inter Milan manager, in a swan song to Europe.
As with previous iterations of the management sim, you’re encouraged to create a virtual representation of yourself. Here’s what I conjured up with spurious results:
As you can see, graphically speaking, FM19 is no looker, (unlike my handsome Mediterranean-inspired counterpart) but that’s irrelevant because the core gameplay remains FM19’s unique selling point, and boy, in my first season as Inter Milan manager it certainly delivered.
Key highlights include failing to register Dalbert, my instrumental fullback for the unashamedly named Champions Cup. The left back took umbrage to my oversight and demanded to be registered post-haste or to be transferred to another club.
Juan Antonio Davis, my larger than life FM19 counterpart, doesn’t take well to players making demands in such a manner. And to avoid admitting a mistake, and to channel renegade-Shepard, he told Dalbert, to go fuck himself.
Predictably, this didn’t go down well. Dalbert got angry and told Juan Antonio there was going to be consequences. And sure enough, a couple of in-game months down the line there was.
After an unbeaten start to the season and sticking his newly-perfected blend of Tika-Taka (more on that later) leveraging a core group of around 15-16 players, Milan Skriniar, influential Centre Back approached Juan Antonio, and said he wanted more game time.
Juan Antonio told him (twice) that he’d get his chance to play and prove his place in the team. This did not go down well. In fact, Skriniar was furious. He accused his manager of being unreasonable.
This conversation caused one of my biggest problems in the entire season, because one spacebar push later, Juan Antonio was dealing with a full-scale revolt.
Dalbert, the perennial thorn in his side, gathered 11 players and coerced them into saying they weren’t happy with Juan Antonio’s management style.
Carefully, Juan Antonio listened to their concerns and doubled down on his earlier statement, that Skriniar would get this chance. And that we’re on a decent run, and he didn’t want this row to impact our form. One-by-one the players backed down, satisfied by Juan Antonio’s responses.
But not Dalbert. He wasn’t having any of it. And so, Juan Antonio, the Mediterranean-firebrand, had no choice to immediately put him on the transfer list, ship him out and get Danny Rose in as a replacement.
Overall, my first season in charge was a success. At the start of the season, I’d promised the board I’d qualify for the Champions Cup. After being drawn with Bayern Munich, Spurs and Monaco, I somehow got out of the group in second place and got to the quarter finals, only to be knocked out by Manchester City.
I didn’t win Serie A either, but I managed a comfortable third place which secured my position at the helm of Inter Milan for the foreseeable. I did however, manage to take home the Coppa Italia.
For me, these types of stories are what makes Football Manager brilliant, not necessarily problems in the dressing room but the random obstacles it forces you to tackle. Whether it is injuries dictating your selection policies, or offside goals knocking you out of the Champions Cup the game aims to mimic circumstances in real life, and it forces you to take decisive action to resolve the challenges it presents.
More Accessible For New Managers
One of the best features in FM19 is the addition of inductions to the game. Inductions are short tutorials that land in your inbox when you first join a club and you can choose to receive these or not.
The Football Manager series is renowned for its steep learning curve and difficult to interpret screens. And so, as a lapsed player, the inductions really helped me get to grips with what screen does what, and how use the data on the screens effectively.
Credit must be given to Sports Interactive for finally including this feature to welcome new players to the franchise.
One of biggest changes to come this season is the changes to tactics. In previous iterations, you’d have to do more tinkering than Claudio Ranieri to get your team to play the way you want.
That’s no longer the case. For me, admittedly a more casual Football Manager player, the addition of tactical styles has been a game-changer. I’m a fan of Pep Guardiola and the tika-taka football he’s become synonymous with. And so, in FM19 you can simply click on the tika-taka option to structure your team around this tactic.
It’s a huge time saver, and it helps breakdown exactly what the tactic is and does, so if you did want to go in and tinker a bit, you now know what you’d need to do to get this set up in the first place.
Tika-taka isn’t the only tactic in the game, as if you’re a disciple of Sam Allardyce for instance, you can set up ultra-defensive formations. In fact, it’s possible to set up multiple so you can switch tactics as and when required, during a match.
Finally, Sports Interactive has introduced three separate areas for team instructions. You can set tactics for what players do in possession, in transition and out of possession. So, if you wanted to transition your tika-taka into more of a gegenpress and immediately close the opposition for the ball, you can do that.
Back To The Training Ground
Like tactics, training has undergone a radical overhaul for FM19. When I implemented tika-taka as my primary tactic for my Inter Milan playthrough, my assistant manager recommended a specific training programme, designed to complement the identify I was trying to impress on my new team.
The result was drills focused on possession, pressing and passing. Other tactics reveal different types of training session, of which, there are over 40 in the game for you to choose from. There’s even team bonding, or community outreach sessions that directly influence player mood and morale.
Finally, a big part of any Football Manager title is the search for Wonderkids. And what to do with them once you find them? Well, FM19 introduces a mentoring system. So, if you have an experienced player in a similar vein, you can choose to buddy them up, so the senior player impresses certain characteristics upon the youngster. This is useful if you want a certain type of personality to prevail throughout your squad. For instance, I signed Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund in my first season, buddying him up with the more experienced Mauro Icardi.
This helped Sancho become a better attacking player and allowed me to play him in a more attacking role as cover for when I was resting Icardi. It also impressed Icardi’s determination on Sancho.
Evolution, Rather Than Revolution
None of the changes present in FM19 are revolutionary by any stretch of the imagination. They’re simple quality of life changes, that have been requested by players for years. But does that make FM19 a bad game? Absolutely not.
With no real challenger for the football management sim crown out there, FM19 remains the premier way to simulate managing a football team.
The real issue lies with annualising a franchise, doing little within the game to change it and then charging the full price for the next iteration of the series. But that problem is for another article, at a later date.
Point blank – can I recommend this game to you? Of course, I can!
FM19, like its predecessors, remains a thrill to play, offers an unparalleled attention to detail and does its best to make and returning managers feel as welcome as possible.
Available on: PC (Reviewed); Publisher: SEGA; Developer: Sports Interactive; Players: 1; Released: November 2, 2018; MSRP: $49.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Football Manager 2019 given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.