Football Manager 2022 Review

November 4, 2021
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I’m fairly certain that most football fans, at one time or another, are guilty of saying that they could do better than the current manager of their respective team. Those who really want to live out the dream of football management will have likely come across Sports Interactive’s Football Manager (FM) series at one point or another.  If you’re an absolute tragic like myself, you may have been playing this venerable series when it was known by another name, came on several floppy disks and needed an entirely different version if you wanted to play the Italian leagues. The worst part of all this, when I actually sit down and think about it, is that I have spent almost thirty years of my life pretending to manage various football teams.

Whilst questions about my sanity are, perhaps, warranted, what keeps me coming back each year is that somehow, amongst all the stats, numbers and, in some versions, impenetrable match engines, Sports Interactive manages to make you care about your virtual club. There are countless stories of people who have managed some obscure club in some lesser known league around the world and taken them to heart so much they can’t help but start to care in real life. For me that team was Enskede IK which is are currently a 4th tier Swedish football club south of Stockholm. I ended up there because I used a random team generator but stayed because I was determined to lift them out of obscurity. I was semi-successful, managing to get them into the Superettan, one below the top tier, the Allsvenskan. Missing out on getting that final promotion still grates and though we have long parted ways virtually I keep as close an eye as I can on their real-life performances — mid-table mediocrity if you’re curious.

The 3D match engine has come a long way

Let’s say, then, that I’ve seen a lot of change over the years and whilst some versions have felt overly obtuse in its approach, that criticism cannot be levelled at Football Manager 2022. If there’s one thing SI Games has put an increased focus on in recent years, it is making FM far more accessible. From great introductory tutorials each time you start a game to improving the clarity of the information fed back to you so as to allow you to better understand where things might be going wrong. If I had a pound for every time I’ve seen someone complain about the outcome of a match to be rebutted with the words “it’s your tactics” I’d be a rich man. Generally they’re not wrong but what’s not been easily available are ways to see why your tactics might be at fault.

Things started to become clearer when data analysts could be hired but even the data they produced were pretty basic. There were even changes in the tactics area so you could see how well your players were fitting the roles you assigned them and where there might be gaps or issues with your system. Things are now taking a rather big step forward in the shape of the all new data hub. Here you can see everything from match analysis to specific data relating to your team. So, say you’ve bought a new striker, but he isn’t scoring as much as you would like. By delving into one of the many of the player- and position-specific stat graphs, you might see that he’s shooting often but carelessly. You might be able to combat this by working the ball into the box more so he’s closer to the goal or perhaps you’ll adjust things in training to try and work on his decision making.

We heard you like stats, so we put stats in your stats

This ability to really drill down into your team’s performance will no doubt please those who seek to extract every morsel of information when creating their all-conquering tactic. Having taken over Man Utd it allowed an average manager like myself to adapt my tactics enough to get Ronaldo firing on all cylinders alongside Rashford and Sancho. I didn’t win the league, but we did make the Champions League Final, losing on penalties to Bayern Munich — revenge for 1999 no doubt. Given how things are going in real life I’m tempted to give Solskjær a buzz and see if I can lend a hand but something tells me it might not quite work out. In any event it’s a great addition to the game and should help aspiring virtual managers of all abilities understand that bit more about how their team and, by extension, their tactics, are going as results can sometimes be misleading.

The 3D match engine is another way to visualise how things are going tactically and this year’s version feels much more organic to watch thanks to a new animation engine. In everything from dribbles and crosses to turns, the players feel much more connected to the game they're playing than in any other year I can remember. For many, the 3D match engine has been, and may likely still will be for some, a point of contention since its inception in 2009. It’s not been a smooth road and at times I’ve had to remind myself that what I was watching was an interpretation of what’s happening, doubly so when my defender, under seemingly no pressure, blasts into row Z behind the goal for a corner.

Need a hand finding the next Freddy Adu?

Watching this year’s version feels transformative and with improvements under the hood to the AI I very much felt like I was watching my tactics play out rather than witnessing the outcomes of an equation delivering me a hot mess of confusion from my players. For many it will never be perfect but for me it’s good enough. I could see who was pressing and who wasn’t and then look into why. I noticed we were shooting too often and from bad positions, leading to a low expected goals stat and then, once a few tweaks were made, I could see the change and therefore know I was heading in the right direction. I don’t win every game but I feel much more confident in my abilities to dig my team out of trouble through a combination of the improved 3D match engine and the data hub.

The transfer market has also had a little bit of spit and polish applied with the transfer deadline day getting a snazzy screen to interact with should you decide to take part. Rumours appear thick and fast and there’s plenty of opportunity for the press to throw a few questions at you about players you’ve never even heard of. It’s a nice change that recreates the frantic mix of rumour and last-minute deals quite nicely but doesn’t change things too much from how it’s been before. The same could be said of the press conferences and pretty much any other one-on-one interactions. They’re not as bad as they used to be a few years ago but they still get pretty repetitive very quickly. Despite this, however, I refuse to pass on press conference duties to my assistant manager for fear they’ll become like Nate in Ted Lasso.

Very few of these rumoured transfers happened

As always there are plenty of other tweaks and additions, many of which you won’t notice or will surprise you out of the blue. One interesting one I caught was a news article highlighting some of the best wonderkids. I’ve been pretty pants at discovering the next Freddy Adu or similar player who will go down in FM folklore and whilst I’m not sure this will improve my track record it will at least give me a fighting chance of nabbing one before the sneaky computer-controlled managers do. It’s these little tweaks to the formula that keeps FM feeling mostly fresh despite an iterative nature to its development. Depending on your outlook some years will feel new and exciting and others will feel almost the same as before with some questionable added features.

For me, FM 2022 sits very firmly in the former category. During my review period I’ve logged countless hours worth of football and haven’t felt jaded or frustrated at all. With the new tools at my disposal, such as the data hub, I feel more empowered than ever to turn things around if my team is going through a slump and there seems to be far more of a connection to the game I’m watching and the tactics I’ve employed. There’s also still so much I still need to learn but now more than ever I feel like FM is there to help me when I need it and give me more power when I feel like I’m able to wield it.

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Over the years I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Football Manager. Some years I can’t put it down, others I can barely make it through a season. Football Manager 2022 is a cracking entry in the series and has added plenty to make it feel fresh when compared to previous years, the data hub being the cream of the crop.
Pete Taylor

A long time gamer since the days of the mighty ZX Spectrum +2. The bug really bit when I got a Sega Mega Drive 2 and it hasn’t let up since. Huge racing fan but I also enjoy losing myself in a well-told RPG and management sims. It doesn’t have to be good-looking to win my heart, it’s what’s deep down inside that matters.