Football Manager 2021 review: The ‘special one’ is back and is again ready to devour your free time
It can be very easy to judge a game’s merits only by how good you are at playing it.
Football Manager is not immune to this as it can feel like the greatest game in the world when you have slogged Shrewsbury Town towards European domination after years of steady progress. Or it can feel like a waste of time when even with a summer spend of £300million you can’t crack the top four with Manchester City.
The beauty of Football Manager is the same player can have these scenarios regardless of their ability. Sometimes your strengths are magnified or all of your weaknesses are badly exposed like an England team at a major tournament.
Sportsmail got its hands on a copy of Football Manager 2021 before its Tuesday release
Football Manager is back and has been given a polished new look to make it even better
But there is one easy way of knowing if those wise heads at Sports Interactive have delivered another brilliant installment of the game, and that is when you trap yourself in it with no way to escape.
You know it is time to turn the game off but you give yourself ridiculous scenarios which mean you can’t. It’s either ‘I can’t stop playing now, I’ve just won and I need to continue my winning streak’ or ‘I can’t stop playing now, I’ve not won in ages and I can’t end this session on a winless run’. And there is your free time (and probably more) in a vice grip.
Just like that you are hooked into many more months at screaming at your striker for missing a sitter or getting so involved you get your best suit out for Cup final day.
The xG statistic has been added to provide a gauge on your team’s ability to create chances
The match engine has been revamped with players responding in a more intelligent manner
Does Football Manager 2021 have this same hook? As a veteran player for over 20 years from when the game was under a different name and ‘legends’ like Leon Knight, Cherno Samba and Orri Freyr Oskarsson were key to glory it’s yet another victory for the team at Sports Interactive and Football Manager which seems to rarely, if ever, drop the ball in this franchise.
Having grabbed a pre-release copy to test out the latest release, let’s start with what’s new. In general the user interface looks more friendlier than ever and has had a big tidy up. Such examples of this include the satisfying season reviews now contained in a fresh looking presentation rather than a 20-message dump in your ‘inbox.’ It’s a fine example of the game trying to take some of the game’s existence away from the inbox tray, which has been a dominant way of playing the game for years, and adding a defined end of season moment where you can reflect on your glories (or failures.)
Visually the game has taken a noticeable upgrade too. The animations after winning a trophy have increased significantly and are no longer like looking down at a small party from a helicopter through a sea of confetti covering half of the stadium.
In-game, your match screen presents you with a personal ‘tablet’ and shouts from your dugout
Player interaction has been given an overhaul, with the ability to now ‘throw a water bottle’
Player intelligence on the pitch has gone up a level too. The match engine allows players to change their mind while making a decision and the goals just seem more satisfying than ever. Seeing your player lob the keeper after running onto a through pass is a glorious sight to behold this year yet it wasn’t one I remember seeing too often if at all during FM 20.
Long-time players will note xG now replaces the previously unreliable statistic ‘key chances’ and it will be very useful to players who watch on key highlights and don’t have time to notice the tactical clues that playing with comprehensive highlights does. It describes how effective your side were at creating chances in the game.
Was it your hopeless tactics why your side were seemingly beaten 2-0 with ease, or was it your dopey strikers failing to put away big opportunities? xG will give you a much clearer insight into this.
If it is the latter, then another new feature in the game that allows you to take out your frustration on the team without the need to throw your computer out of the window. Interactions with players have been given a revamp and you can berate your side (or an individual) with in-game gestures including ‘throwing a water bottle’.
The user interface has become a lot cleaner with neat graphics including team sheets to provide a more realistic feel to the game
Trophy celebrations have been improved significantly from previous editions of the franchise
Transfer recruitment has also been given an upgrade with the ability to now interact with your staff in a transfer meeting over targeting certain positions during a window and being recommended players as a result.
FM is famed for its attention to detail and the coronavirus outbreak has an impact in the game, with the first season notably seeing a similar calendar schedule and reduced finances to reflect the current real world scenario.
Where FM really knocks it out the park though is its accessibility and endless playability. There is something for everyone. Are you the control freak who wants to fine tune every aspect of management from youth team training to analysing the deep, deep statistics on offer every match? Fine, it is all there at your fingertips.
But if you are new to the game, have little time for the relatively minor concerns or just want to control certain aspects, the same jobs can be delegated to your backroom staff who will give you recommendations or just outright do the job for you. Should you wish to get more involved there are in-game tutorials to help you learn in what can otherwise be a daunting and very complex game when you first play it as a beginner.
Player cohesion and the tactics screen help you together an ideal playing style for your side
As usual the game is loaded with statistics and data for you to analyse from many leagues
The in-match condition system has now seen a less precise heart symbol replace the percentage reading of a player’s fitness
The customisable aspects to Football Manager is one of the series’ triumphs and allows you to modify the game to exactly how you like it.
The challenges are endless too. Won the league in your first season at Liverpool? Now retain it or take charge of a club abroad. Better still, start a new save at a lower league club, try and restore the glory days of a fallen giant or do the real impossible job and win a major trophy for England. The fresh approaches you can make to the game are endless.
Like anything in life it’s not all perfect and there are a couple of minor annoyances. One being no longer seeing the away goal score during a European tie (which can hopefully be easily amended via a patch), while the percentage reading of a player fitness is now replaced with a more vague heart symbol which changes colour. Although you could argue the latter is a more realistic tweak in regards to that you would never know precisely the condition of a player by a percentage figure.
This isn’t enough to loosen that vice grip on your free time though. From the old, experienced player to the newcomer looking to play the legendary management sim for the first time, Upon its release on Tuesday, Football Manager 2021 is once again the ‘Special One’ of all football games.