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FIFA 21 career mode guide: 7 things you need to know

(Image credit: EA)

Potentially great news to kick off your FIFA 21 career mode guide: lessons from last year’s debacle have been learned, and this time around change is in order across the board. At least, that’s what EA is claiming; we’ll have the full FIFA 21 verdict at the end of September. In the meantime, tweaks such as interactive match simming, properly fleshed-out youth systems and more lifelike scheduling sound highly encouraging on paper. More on all of these below, in your FIFA 21 career mode guide.

1. You can jump into matches at any time

(Image credit: EA)

This is very, very cool. Simming a match now utilises a horizontal top-down view much like Football Manager, with all 22 players represented by a circle with their squad number in it. Left untouched the action lasts around two minutes 35 seconds per half, but here’s the great part: you can jump in at any point and take control using the usual FIFA 21 match engine. Penalty, corner, free-kick, promising looking counter attack: simply pressing X (on PS4/PS5) at any time transitions you to real FIFA gameplay. (And you can then immediately jump back to sim, again at your leisure, from the pause menu.)

2. League tables are more realistic

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As a by-product of the new sim engine, you’ll no longer see teams like FC Bayern and Barcelona race to win their leagues by March without losing a game – a major annoyance in recent years, as it meant title races felt finished once you’d dropped a dozen points.

“We made some changes to what we are now calling ‘quick sim’, and it provides a bit more balance between how many chances a team can create, and how many of those chances actually turn into goals,” says senior game designer Alex Constantinescu. “In recent simulations [during development] we would see PSG win Ligue 1 most of the time, but not by 38 wins in a row, and on some occasions Olympic Lyon won the league. Results feel realistic in many more ways than what we had in FIFA 20.”

3. Position and role switching at youth level is in

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Another biggie. Rising up the youth ranks at Crystal Palace, Aaron Wan-Bissaka was a right winger who looked set for a career in the lower leagues, or upper echelons of the part-time pyramid. Then one day in training he was placed up against Wilfried Zaha at right-back, and marked the Ivorian international out of the game. Palace switched his position permanently, and you know the rest: he’s now established as Manchester United’s key man on that flank.

Such a story was never possible before in FIFA, but now every player in your youth set-up can be switched to the position you think best. Want to develop Atletico wunderkind Joao Felix as a left-back? Bit weird, but go for it. Roles can also be amended. Need a hold-up man for your first team and reckon the 6’ 3” centre back with surprisingly effective shooting attributes is the guy? Move him to ST and set his role to ‘target man’ to gradually improve his Physical and Heading stats. In this way you can shape and mould a youth squad to your liking across a number of seasons.

4. Fixture congestion issues have been fixed (we hope)

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Bugs in FIFA 20 career mode included some fixtures being scheduled for the same day – a complete nonsense, obviously. Mercifully, that’s been corrected this year. “In theory we are preventing this,” says Constantinescu. “I’m not sure how familiar you are with the update [to FIFA 20] we launched in December, [ahead of that] it took us a long time to implement ways to automatically test all possible fixture congestion scenarios. We really have this situation under control now, so there shouldn’t be any matches within two days of each other under any circumstances.”

5. Match sharpness is a key new feature

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Even Sunday league players will tell you that general fitness and match sharpness are two different things, and now FIFA 21 makes that differentiation in career mode. Scheduling specific training and rest days is a key element of the seasonal calendar: if you’re facing West Brom on Wednesday and Manchester City on Saturday you might give the squad a rest on Tuesday (no offence, Baggies fans) then work on finishing on Thursday or Friday to slightly increase the chances of putting a key chance away. Regimes can be tailored too using a new ‘Team Sheet’ training menu: figure it’s a waste having your centre-backs on finishing drills? Reassign them to the ‘Interceptor’ panel for a better shot at stopping through balls to Sergio Aguero or Gabriel Jesus.

6. You still can’t be a real manager

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Want to actually be Zinedine Zidane or Pep Guardiola or David Moyes in career mode? That still isn’t possible, even though their likenesses feature elsewhere. “It’s not a very simple integration because we already have coaches elsewhere in the game,” says Constantinescu. “If you’re Jurgen Klopp managing Liverpool and then decide to leave, who is going to take his place? It’s a feature that would take a lot more time to develop and [to be] fully fleshed into something bigger, and we’re very happy with the extensive feature set of FIFA 21. It’s unlike anything we’ve delivered in recent years.”

7. Other small tweaks could mean big change

(Image credit: EA)

“Onboarding” is the watchword at EA Canada this year – it’s also used in our FIFA 21 Volta guide – and Constantinescu says there will be a “better introduction to career mode features” from the outset this year. Transfer options are bolstered by the addition of loan-to-buy options, and improved AI negotiation skills – for instance, it will now offer you players in part exchange, whereas in the past only you could spark such deals. On the pitch AI teams are said to have more tactical variety, and you can meddle with options like Financial Takeovers and Negotiation Strictness from the outset, just in case you want to up the chances of Newport County taking over the world.

I'm GamesRadar+'s sports editor, obsessed with NFL, WWE, MLB – and very occasionally things that don't have a three-letter acronym. Namely: Bill Bryson, Pitch Perfect, and the Streets Of Rage series. I have two kids who aren't quite old enough to play Madden yet. Soon, though…