Every football fan knows the tale of how Sir Alex Ferguson kicked a boot at David Beckham's head after an FA Cup loss in 2003, but as much as armchair managers may have wanted to during their time with the Football Manager series so far, re-enacting that incident hasn't been possible. Until now… kind of. Football Manager 2021 is putting more control in your hands and, as a result, you can now lob a water bottle across your dressing room to demonstrate to your underperforming players exactly what you think of them.
Gestures and interactions with other characters, from your players to the media in post-match press conferences, have been completely revamped this year. It's one area of the game that has hardly been touched for a long time and while the tonal responses are still there, they're much more contextual now. You can also emphasise your communications with gestures that differ depending on the situation and environment.
While the water bottle locker room tantrum is one option, you'll want to save that for the most extreme of circumstances. If you're angry in a press conference, you can bang on the desk with your fists. Enjoying the company of the media and the back-and-forth rapport? Laugh along with them, watch the atmosphere in the room change, and at the end of it you'll see how your individual relationships with the journalists have changed.
'Quick Chats' are Football Manager's version of a water-cooler conversation or quick text message with someone remotely. These can be with anybody; one of your players, an opposition manager, a journalist, the list goes on. Rather than being presented in a completely separate window, Quick Chats are overlaid onto the existing UI so that you can respond to messages on the fly. Face-to-face chats have been improved too, so you can now speak to multiple people simultaneously in the same room, and the previously mentioned body language aspects come into play here too.
The match day experience
While interactions in the day-to-day life of a football manager are crucial, the excitement doesn't truly happen until matchdays. That's another area of the game that has seen some serious TLC this year, from the pre-match build-up to the post-match reaction.
Before every single match, you'll now face a pre-match tactical meeting. This is where you'll look at the opposition analysis provided by your backroom staff, decide on your squad, the expected lineup and formation you'll face, and more. When you get to the dressing room on match day, you'll see the team sheets and have an opportunity to make any tactical adjustments that are needed, along with the fabled team talk.
Gestures and interactions are key here, but the layout has also changed. Your players will be lined up with the goalkeeper on your left, followed by the team in number order, then the subs. Address them one-by-one, as a group, or leave it to your assistant. Either way, it feels much more like a dressing room than before, though you can't aim your water bottle throws at specific players. Probably for the best.
While we've not heard any specifics on the Football Manager 21 match engine (yet!), there has been a complete revamp of the in-match presentation. It's far less cluttered now; rather than having things to click in all corners of the screen, everything to do with your team – from subs to tactics – can be found on a long bar across the bottom. This is meant to replicate the dugout, with your starting eleven and substitutes lined up and your tactics in the leftmost third. You can still access all the usual data like match stats and scores from the rest of the league via a drop-down menu. The redesign is meant to put more emphasis on the action.
The most ambitious — and fan requested — new feature in the match-day experience, however, is 'xG'. This represents "expected goals", so how many goals a team should have scored over the course of the match, based on the opportunities presented to them. We're yet to see it in action, but we're told this isn't the same xG system used by companies like Sky or BT Sport in the real world; Sports Interactive has developed this tool internally, alongside the "football data intelligence specialists" at SciSports who already work directly with real clubs.
Sports Interactive believes that the Football Manager xG system has been "tailor-made to work with the FM match engine", which means that it can go further than existing xG models we see in the real sport. It takes into consideration the distance from goal, angle and power of shot, the positions of other players on the pitch, and more. You'll also get details on the xG stats at both half-time and full-time, along with xG shot maps and analysis from your staff.
Wheeling and dealing
When it comes to staff, there's a brand new role you can hire for your club too. The analyst department is now split into recruitment and match analysts, a necessary change for Sports Interactive "after talking to clubs, managers, and analysts themselves in the real world." In fact, a lot of recruitment has seen some significant changes this year, starting with the all-new 'recruitment meetings'.
These let you plan ahead for upcoming transfer windows by sitting down with the important people at your club, like the director of football and chief scout. Here you are able to identify the weak areas of your squad, listen to their suggestions, and work together to bring in the best signings possible. These meetings occur around a month before each transfer window opens, along with a catch-up meeting during it, so you can make a concrete plan for both the immediate and long-term future.
At the end of each season, you'll now receive a season review package too. This includes accolades like your best players, highest scoring match, best goal scored, and more. You can also see a financial overview, to get a better sense of where things went right or wrong with the ol' money tree, plus fan and media reactions to your season. If you win a trophy, the presentation has been seriously improved with a proper cutscene, featuring confetti cannons, podiums, and possibly a lap of honour.
Football Manager is undoubtedly an incredibly popular game, but those who don't play and understand the appeal can often be turned away thanks to how complex it is at first. A lot of the new additions and changes this year help make the game more accessible when it comes to the UI, hopefully drawing more players in who may have been turned off in the past. Ultimately, the die-hard Football Manager players will wonder once again when the match engine rework is coming to make it look more fluid and realistic, but what we've seen so far is looking mightily promising indeed. Sports Interactive promises there is still more news to come ahead of the November 24 release date though, so stay tuned.