Football Manager; a game that can make its players sit down in their chairs for hours, has come back for another year. On this occasion, Football Manager 2021 couldn't come at a better time in hopefully the latter stages of this pandemic and social distancing.
Football Manager, as the title says, is a football management simulation, where you play as a head coach/manager of a football club, who's responsible for managing players, staff, training, transfers, and even more, if you want to. You are free to make your own strategy, tactics, or player transfers. In this game, you could imagine yourself as "The Next Alex Ferguson", "Pep Guardiola's Biggest Rival", or "Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Long-Awaited Replacement". Well, apparently, it's the latter that I chose to play this time, as of course, it would be boring if we only manage a big club, wouldn't it?
Football Manager 2021 received a lot of changes and upgrades since the last edition, however, it's still user-friendly, especially to new players trying the game for the first time. Even though the UI is still dominated by texts, I found the introductions feature to be very helpful and concise. For example, the tactics creation interface, where you will find some templates that would be familiar even for rookies, like gegenpressing, tiki-taka, and the infamous parking of the bus.
Tactics explanations are accompanied by players and ball movement animations so you can imagine their applications on the field. And of course, you can make your own named and detailed tactics. You can find tutorials for the basics to the advanced functions, like for determining players' roles and duties, etc.
But that's just a day in the park for FM veterans, so let's talk about the new features highlighted by Sports Interactive in its marketing campaigns for the 2021 edition. For the first time, we'll have Gestures and new interfaces for Press Conference, Team Talk, and Face to Face Interaction. On the transfer side of the business, you can conduct Recruitment Meetings and Ask Agent About Availability. From the tactics and match day perspective, besides an upgrade on graphics and interface, you'll also meet a new metric (a popular one in the footballing world nowadays) that is Expected Goals or xG. Let's dissect them one by one.
Interactions with players, staff, and the media are the routines of a modern football manager's life. If in the previous editions we had the options to be aggressive, assertive, passionate (among other emotions) in your speech deliveries, now we have gestures to further express yourself. You can tuck your hands into your pockets to emanate calmness, or even throw a bottle to a player to show him who's the boss. Honestly, I've been itching to press the "throw bottle" or "bang table" action in a press conference, just to see what would happen.
Talking about press conferences, this time FM21 brings a new look that emphasizes your relationships with journalists and the emotions surrounding your interactions with them. If you're a media darling, then the questions asked would create positive news and boost team morale. Or you could be a grumpy manager, whose being a target by the media to create bombastic headlines and critiques, which will ultimately hinder the dressing room morale. And yes, media also like to give your playstyle names, like Sarri-ball.
To lessen the pressure, now you won't be alone facing the press, as there will be media officers or the team captain who will sit by your side, or the new signing when you just signed him.
You can find a similar interface in the team talk, too, where player icons are placed according to their seat, just like in the real world. This is an interesting little touch that brings more atmosphere into the manager-player interactions. All the more you can see the players expressions when you're doing team talk or when you're angry and throwing bottles.
Let's jump to the transfer bits that I personally think is the reason most players would come back to play this series. There are two highlights in here, which are "Ask Agent About Availability" and "Recruitment Meeting." As the name implies, Ask Agent About Availability is a new agent interaction where you can ask if his client is available for transfer before you continue to the official offer to the respected club. Remember Cristiano Ronaldo's transfer to Juventus? It was initially an idle question from Juventus' Director of Football to the agent. That's how the feature works. Inspired by it, I too have tried to prise Ronaldo from Zebre (yes, Juventus is still Zebre this year due to licensing) to the club I manage - the Portuguese's ex-club, Manchester United. Unfortunately, a reunion was still not meant to be.
Then I tried Messi: Silly of me thinking it would work.
Meanwhile, Recruitment Meeting is a routine meeting where you discuss transfers or scouting with your scouts. Interestingly, there is a new position in the recruitment team in the data analyst, who will give you reports that connects the dots between what's on the market and the team's need. The report collects data from the scouts' reports. But if you're still not satisfied, the scouts can further search more player options or details on the currently listed players. As in the real world, club finances is in a bad state because of the pandemic, so transfers will be more "friendlier" in terms of fees and wages.
Now let's talk about the matchday experience. Besides the new interface on the pre-match build-up and improvements on animation and graphics, Football Manager 2021 introduces players to a new metric called Expected Goals or xG for short. It's a result of a partnership with SciSports, who's experience in working with football clubs, provide them with match data analytics.
xG could reflect how good your team is in creating chances and how efficient your tactics are, so you'll be able to tweak, refine, or dismantle your strategy altogether to reach the desired statistics. In every post-match, your staff will give you the team's xG as an act to review your tactics, and sometimes it's harder to read the review than the score itself.
Ultimately, Football Manager 2021 gives players a lot more variations than ever, which not only will make veterans stay but also offers a friendly introduction to new players. You can channel your frustration on your beloved club here, or feel the passion of Jurgen Klopp when Liverpool won the league title - or the struggle to lift Manchester United back to its past glory. All of that, is in Football Manager 2021 and more.