Football Manager 2020 Review
Over the past few years in the world of football — I’m not sure exactly when it started — we have often heard of a manager’s philosophy, a club’s vision or the project that a new manager and their club are embarking on. Sometimes you can see it working — like Pep Guardiola at Manchester City — and other times it is quite obviously failing — like with Unai Emery at Arsenal, for instance. Alongside this which typically comes from the manager, we know how certain clubs behave and what their strategy is. Chelsea typically want short-term success, Paris Saint-Germain demand the league at minimum and crave European success. Liverpool, under Klopp, are all about the desire for long-term, sustained success. As this is the real footballing world we live in, it’s great news that Sports Interactive has introduced the club vision feature into the latest Football Manager. Alongside player promises, it’s transformed the game into something fresh, relevant and better than ever.
Simply put, club vision is integral to the game now. From the moment you join a club, the board will talk with you about what they want to see from you and the club over the course of a few years. Not only do they detail what they expect at season’s end, but they also look to what they want the year after and how they want you to manage the club. My first save was as manager of Liverpool. The board’s vision for the club was that I play attacking football, develop youngsters, sign youngsters and entertain the people. There was more, some relating to commercial aspects and of course the performance related parts of the job. I was able to discuss these with them and make some suggestions or request changes, some of which were denied and others agreed upon.
What this means in practice is that from the get go you are wedded to a way of playing. I wasn’t going to be able to go and sign thirty-year old superstars, or park the bus. Even if I won everything, I would be gone. If you choose the right club then, for the way you like to play the game, you’re onto a winning start from day one. It also means freak results have less bearing on what happens next, as you can demonstrate so many other areas where you’re doing well. It’s transformative in that you can now get rewarded for playing the way you want; you also have to consider when choosing your next club more than just whether they have a decent transfer budget and current squad.
When this is allied with the player promises mechanic employed at the point of signing, or contract negotiations, the feel to the game becomes totally new — important for something which has been around in various guises for over twenty-five years. I wanted to sign Jadon Sancho and once Borussia Dortmund had given me permission to talk with him, his agent came with demands over the next three years were he to sign for Liverpool. Alongside salary growth there was a need to progress in value to the squad, first team and club overall. I had to make promises to give him certain gametime, or make him central to everything we do if I wanted to sign him. This poses all manner of challenges. Do you still sign them if you only wanted them as back-up? Do you take it as a positive and if they’re young, and good, it gives you an immediate chance to develop youngsters? There is so much to think about dependent on how you choose to manage, who you choose to manage and who you want to buy — or sell.
It’s not as simple as agreeing to everything and then if they get annoyed when you renege on your commitments, getting rid. For a while now the feelings of one individual, or actions of the manager, can impact on others in the squad. If I tell my wonderkid signing he’ll be top dog in three years’ time, and then when we get there I choose not to make it so, he’ll be annoyed. If then my first eleven side with him, I’m on a hiding to nothing. With club vision combined with player promises the whole game is changed and feels both fun and taxing whilst resonating with the realities of today’s footballing world. It’s remarkable.
Last year I criticised Football Manager for having a myriad of wonderful features which are impenetrable at best, and joyless at worst — even if they were objectively brilliant. That’s a non-issue this year as the most important changes are front and centre; put in plain sight where you cannot miss them. Not only do they work well, they induce joy and wonder once again. Combined with the improved AI and match engine which looks and feels more like a translation of your tactics and real football than before, plus the comprehensive tactics screen which gives more control than we’ve had since we could draw our own arrows on the board, it’s no surprise that this is the best Football Manager for a number of years. That’s without even touching on the other new aspects of the game, like the development centre which provides a handy dashboard view into your club’s youngsters and their growth.
What this all means is that Football Manager 2020 is something we must heartily recommend and that will enable a considerable number of hours of fun over the next year. It would were it a lesser game, so given it isn’t? Perhaps you’d best not make plans until late Summer 2021. For something so old and well-known, the team has managed to make things fresh, vibrant and relevant to today’s world. Underneath it all is the same old goodness and brilliant algorithms which give us all the unpredictability that real world football does. Go and enjoy the game, now and for hundreds of hours to come.
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