Football Manager can often be a difficult series to get a handle on. Most years, you’re looking at having to get 100 hours deep before really understanding the minute changes gently thrumming under the hood that make the game tick. Not so with Football Manager 2019. The differences are apparent almost immediately and it’s all the better for it.
This is a game that takes a smart, flexible approach to tweaking what has (and hasn’t) worked in the past, so you’re essentially playing an entirely brand-new, fresh instalment at the peak of its powers, rather than simply an incremental roster update. Training and tactics are now different, comprehensive beasts; new technology has been brought in and off the pitch, and there’s so much more besides that. It all revolutionises not only the way you approach each and every game – no going on auto-pilot here – but acts as a welcome revamp after the stagnant efforts of previous years. So, say goodbye to your social life: this is, simply put, the best in the series by some distance.
Teamwork makes the dream work
So, let’s start with the big stuff. Both training and tactics have been completely overhauled. Tactics, a bugbear of many a wannabe virtual manager, is now streamlined thanks to the ability to place a series of presets based on world-famous playing styles onto your team. Want to give Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool a taste of his own gegenpressen medicine or out tiki-taka Barcelona? You can, to an extent. Simply click a button and your team will be set up to play that way… in theory.
Of course, this being Football Manager, it’s never quite that simple. While the plug-in-and-play crowd will be satisfied enough, you can still unleash your inner-Bielsa and take the generic template for a tactic and fine tune it to your heart’s content so it fits your personnel and the way you want to play.
And that’s the mantra for Football Manager 2019: enough concessions have been made for those who don’t want to pore over every itty-bitty detail for hours on end but, if you choose to, you can endlessly fiddle with almost every aspect of your team. That’s also why the introduction of Inductions works so well. Whether you’re a newcomer or a vet, you won’t be overwhelmed. These mini, minutes-long, tutorials for the myriad features in Football Manager 2019 can be readily ignored or just as easily registered in your muscle memory. It’s your choice and, this time, either way makes you feel just as in control as the other. There’s no FOMO here.
Take training, for example. Once an afterthought, this year requires you to put serious effort, should you wish, into not only your training schedule, but who is going to benefit. You can go into the training calendar and set up entire several months’ worth of schedules, choosing from categories such as attacking, physical training, conditioning, defending, and so on. It amounts to an almost incalculable amount of systems and settings to put in place before each game: There are team bonding sessions to help morale, mentoring groups, the chance to tailor a bespoke training plan to a regen (one of the game’s randomly generated youth players) to squeeze every last drop out of their potential, and even the chance to send your squad out and help out in community events. Everything matters.
So, if you have a particularly tricky opponent coming up, you may want to work on defending without the ball in a double session on Thursday, following by some conditioning training as, surely, you’ll be seeing less of the ball. I’m not kidding when I say you can spend half-a-dozen hours working on this alone before you even sign a player or throw a water bottle in anger. It’s an incredibly intuitive system and one that is utterly transformative in the way you manage on Football Manager. Plus, if you don’t want to do it, let your assistant take the reins and ignore it completely. Perfect.
There are also a couple of neat features that, while not particularly groundbreaking, all complement the foundations of an incredibly well-engineered package. VAR and goal-line technology, for one thing, has now been included, though only in the leagues that currently support them. The new UI, too, while a little liberal with its use of free space and garish purple colour scheme, is far more intelligent in its design, with everything serving a purpose. It’s in stark contrast to what came before, with you having to click through several pages of bland menus to get the info you needed. Then there’s the Bundesliga license (finally!) and a couple of slight fixes to the game’s match engine, with the game now feeling more fluid in counter-attacks thanks to the way the ball swerves and dips across the pitch. Again, small things – but they all count.
But it’s not all perfect. A few familiar trappings still remain, with goals from crosses, both for and against, still being far too prevalent compared to its real-life counterpart. Press conferences, too, are just as mind-numbingly repetitive as they’ve ever been. It rankles to see the rest of the game take such strides in improving the quality-of-life of long-term saves when a system that feels a decade old, at best, still lingers around, just waiting for a shot in the arm.
The dynamics system, meanwhile, continuously has you stroking egos and inadvertently putting your foot in it by making a decision that affects morale considerably despite you having no real clue why it’s happening. Yes, it can be argued that it mirrors real-life, but it’s still frustrating to have a star striker go off the rails because you aren’t strengthening your defence. Both press conferences and dynamics, despite being a year old, could both do with a tactics and training-esque flourish next year.
Yet, that’s all by-the-by. You’re going to love Football Manager. You’re going to cherish coming up with training schedules in the middle of a morning meeting, you’re going to adore every aspect of your meticulously-crafted tactic working in sublime style during a cup final, and you’re going to be completely and utterly addicted. This is the best Football Manager for so many reasons, but none more so than the fact it’s going to be just as captivating for someone picking up their very first copy right through to the battle-hardened among us who have played right from the old Championship Manager days.
In fact, it might be too good. Sports Interactive may have just done the impossible and created the ultimate Football Manager game, one you can dip into for the next half-decade without needing to buy any future editions, save for downloading updated squads. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. Right now, I’ve got another match to play.
Reviewed on PC.