Football Manager 2019 Review – The Ballon d’Or of Games

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Nov 1
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GAME INFO

Football Manager 2019

2nd November, 2018
Platform PC
Publisher SEGA
Developer Sports Interactive

I often find myself in a bind or at least worrying when reviewing continuous titles in a series. Two years ago I reviewed Football Manager 2017. Last year I reviewed Football Manager 2018. Of course, this year brings us Football Manager 2019. The worry is simple: will I ever find myself getting bored of what is ostensibly the same game, year in, year out?

Probably not. At least if the game is done right. I’ve been managing digital football clubs for close to twenty years now. I’ve been playing Football Manager since it was first released in 2004, before that I was playing Championship manager. It’s a series I’ve sunk over 3000 hours into. You know what, I still find it just as engrossing, if not more so, than any AAA, huge budget, open-world timewaster. Why? Passion, and progression.

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Sports Interactive, when they developed Championship Manager, made clear distinctions of progression level in the series. They’d release a game, say Championship Manager 2, following that they would release increasingly polished seasonal iterations. Following that, a leap would be made and you’d get Championship Manager 3. Going by recent releases, this hasn’t changed too much. While the series may be lacking a clear distinction in titles, you can still see the borders. Football Manager 2019 may be the end of this current sequence and the platform for better things.

With 2017 I noted the fact that the version focused a lot on the technical aspects of the game, improving the match engine leaps and bounds, though not really focusing on vast improvements to the stats that genuinely run the whole game. The things that hardcore players truly fixate on. Even the then newly included roles of Data Analyst and Sports Scientist were pointless at best.

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2018 fixed this by focusing on the stats and the personality of the game. It added social media as well as the then choppy squad dynamics system. It still managed to improve the match engine too. It had some rough edges, but it was a masterclass of Sports Interactive showing exactly how they were improving and bringing the simulation closer to the real thing.

Why could Football Manager 2019 be the end of the sequence? That’s a good question, Chris. That’s because it highlights the current pinnacle of the series and the pure refinement of all the new features brought in from the previous two iterations. It’s also a testament to how Sports Interactive is able to keep up with the ever-changing sport that is Football.

Sometimes this is through simplicity, removing obfuscation. Any concerns about the new tactical system can be laid to rest as what is featured here in Football Manager 2019 couldn’t make tinkering with a tried and tested formation and style of play, or even setting up your own, any easier. Initially you’ll be asked to choose a style that suits you – naturally, I chose the same style I’ve had to make from scratch the previous five years, Tiki Taka.

Setting up your style of play has never been easier. For the first time, tactics here have been broken down into the three segments of play. In possession, in transition and out of possession. It’s that simple. It could have been made needlessly complex following that but each segment is made easy to change and also shows you the effects it has on the pitch. This can be something as simple as a line drawn on the pitch, showing where your defensive line will be positioned.

Even the direct orders to players, or at least the specific positions, have been made significantly easier to understand. Often, visual cues are all it requires. Are you struggling to understand why, despite your defensive line being so high, wingers don’t seem to be getting challenged so early? Simple, take a look at the positions on your wing. These may be midfielders in a tried and tested 4-4-2, or in my case, attacking wing-backs in a sort-of 4-3-3. Their pressing may not be set to the level of intensity you want and you may need to tell them to mark an opponent tighter. It’s never been this easy to organise your team and get them playing how you want them to.

So, since I’m a fan of possession-based, passing oriented, attractive football I was going to be basing my tactics around Tiki Taka. Only, part of the generic Tiki Taka, I don’t agree with. You don’t need to sit on the ball, constantly slowing the game down, passing it from side to side. It’s one reason that, despite my ardent love for Man Utd, I can’t help but admire Tottenham Hotspur. I wanted a merging of Tiki Taka and Spurs naturally creative, counter-attacking, attractive style. Naturally, this is going to let me take DC United right from the Vanarama National League North, right to the premier league. Isn’t it?

Of course not. Tactics are all fine and dandy if the players have the skill level and are physically capable of the demands they put on them. If not, that’s when it can fall apart a bit. Naturally, players also need to be trained for these new demands. To help with this, Sports Interactive has also revamped the training system for Football Manager 2019.

I was initially a little concerned when I saw the sheer scope of training, worrying it could be something insanely complex to learn. Fortunately, that isn’t the case. Now, since I took over the manager of a non-league club, an annual routine for me, the majority of the time I spent with training was very minimal. My players are on a non-contract, game by game, or part-time contract basis. In other words, the work-shy gits only train one day a week. I had to try it out with a larger team to see the full scope.

With the new training system, you can schedule up to three different training slots per day. In each of these slots, you can choose one of forty different training modules. These modules are divided into ten different categories, ranging from attack, defence, tactics and even extra-curricular. Extra-curricular activities are surprising and valuable new elements such as team bonding by, I assume, going to the pub and having a fantastic pint of Tetley’s bitter.

Fortunately, to make this easier to manage – because it is difficult – you can create different schedules or modify ones that already set up. Unlike previous iterations where new features could have practically gone unexplained, training – as well as practically everything else in Football Manager 2019 – is well explained through tutorials. Indeed, there are eleven different inductions to be found and cover the major aspects of the game.

Naturally, you want your players to be happy so these aspects of team bonding are perfect little additions. Sadly, the other aspect where you deal with players, and people, haven’t been improved. These conversations with players, as well as press meetings, haven’t really changed at all. There are a few new questions here and there, but it’s a disappointment when you see how much has progressed elsewhere. Fortunately, team talks have been more than these areas.

This even includes the match day. Small changes like the detail of the crowd can add to the feel of the game, with the visual elements having been improved. Everything from the animations of the players, to the movement of the fall, looks better than it’s ever been. Where the match day has really improved, however, is through the use of team instructions and shouts. Players naturally react to your interactions and decisions during the match and you can see who isn’t taking to the tactics as well as others and make reasonable adjustments.

Naturally, the game also includes – in the real leagues that also feature them – VAR (video assistant referee) and goal-line technology. For the first time in the series, the game also has the license to the Bundesliga, so the teams, likenesses of the players and all other elements are included in the game. It’s a small element but adds to the feel of the game when you want to take over Dortmund or Bayern Munich.

All of this leads me right back to the reason I’ve sunk so much time into the genre that Sports Interactive has locked down. I mentioned passion and progression. Football Manager 2019, as well as the series as a whole, has always been about passion from the developers and the players. Only now, it’s never been this easy to get into, thanks to the new, clean and intuitive UI.

It’s this same passion that leads to the stories you can read in the book Football Manager Stole My Life (a fantastic read, by the way) and makes the series a fantastic game for watercooler stories. That time a last-minute goal saved your tenure as manager. The late equaliser that had you miss the playoffs. The utter elation you felt when you scored the goal that saw you win the division. I’ve had more of these moments than I can remember, but I’ve felt genuine joy, trepidation and even anger – much like when I’m watching Man Utd play.

Football Manager 2019, much like Football itself, isn’t a perfect game. However, in the case of this, it’s as close to perfect as it’s ever been. All of this through further refinements of the match engine, the revamping of tactical and training controls, all with an incredibly sleek and easy to use user interface. All I can say is that if this is the end of the current sequence of Football Manager or the start of a new one – they did get rid of manager man from the box, after all – then it’s a fantastic sign of things to come.

Copy provided by the publisher. You can purchase the game with a 20% discount via Fanatical.

9.5

With a clean, intuitive new UI as well as tutorials that introduce both new and veteran managers to all of the major systems in Football Manager 2019, it's never been as easy to get into the game. Thanks to a myriad of upgrades, both large and small, the series as also never been this good. Unarguably the pinnacle of the series so far, with only a few remaining issues like press conferences and player conversations, this is sure to be the highlight for all budding managers.

Pros

  • Excellent, clean and intuitive new interface
  • Outstanding level of detail across all areas of the game
  • Tactics and training changes add huge changes to the game
  • The match day engine has never looked as good and is also more responsive than ever before
  • Tutorials offer a much easier way to get into the larger features
  • Addictive, more addictive than ever before

Cons

  • Even with the tutorials, it could still feel intimidating and offer information overload
  • Press conferences and player chats are still formulaic and limited
  • Every now and then the match engine bugs out, offering impossible goals
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