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Football Manager 2021 Review

Managers don’t sit still, and neither does Football Manager 2021.

Let’s address the elephant in the room first. Covid, and Sports Interactive’s decision to leave it out of Football Manager 2021. Covid-19 has had an insurmountable impact on practically every aspect of the football industry. This is a game that focuses on serious football management simulation; its ecosystem even takes Brexit into account, for crying out loud. So to pretend this year’s pandemic doesn’t exist is a strange choice, leaving Football Manager 2021 feeling uncharacteristically unrealistic.

That said, it is understandable where that decision comes from. After all, Football Manager 2021 is a game that offers some much-needed escapism for many of its players. Do they need yet another reminder of how bleak 2020 has been? In that regard, it’s hard to criticise the developer’s choice too harshly.

But let’s get onto the beautiful game itself. Football Manager 2021 hasn’t really rocked the boat in terms of enhancing the matchday gaming experience from last year. Games are as  difficult as ever to manage, and the minutiae of detail is just as overwhelming as always. Rather than a complete overhaul, there are numerous minor tweaks in Football Manager 2021, affecting tactical exploration and simulation. This time around, energy levels in particular seem to play a greater role, presumably to combat previously effective pressing tactics. In other words,  you can’t rely on your tried-and-tested methods from last year to get by.

The biggest change to Football Manager 2021‘s matchday experience is ‘xG’, or ‘expected goals’; a new buzzword for statistical analysis within football. It essentially determines an amount of goals that you should be expected to score based on chances created, where they were created and how they were created. This is judged both both in matches and over the course of a season. It’s not surprising that xG has been added to the game, but its inclusion feels a little paper thin.

In my experience, xG is very rarely actually on par with goals scored; it’s been surprisingly low for every team over the course of a season. While xG can give you some indication of your chance creation, it’s no more useful than Football Manager’s usual stats. It’s been a little too emphasised for something that doesn’t seem particularly well integrated – but thankfully, it doesn’t take anything away from the game.

Football Manager 2021‘s biggest change seems to come in the way that you, as a Manager, communicate. Gone are the meaningless emotions while addressing people; instead, your decisions are broken down into what really matters. While talking to players, the boardroom or press, you can respond in a much more clear way. You’ll be able to choose from responses that are positive, negative, convincing, or even backing down. Better yet, the intended meaning of everything you say is clearly laid out.

As a result, it’s easier than ever to identify what you want to express, and what you say actually matters. Communication is less of a drag than previous instalments, and it feels more important. Now, when you make promises, people will actually hold you to what you’ve said, and the ramifications of making such promises is clearly laid out. If you still want to add a bit of flavour you can express your body language during each response, but I haven’t seen this make as much of a difference.

Along with a better communication system has come a more dynamic way of judging your performance. You are given goals that take different timeframes, meaning that you can work on a project over time, rather than see instant success. You aren’t judged so simply on results dependent on what goals and promises that you have made to your board. This better reflects the different attitudes owners will have in the game: some want instant success and some prefer progress over many years.

The synergy of this system with the communication overhaul really adds a lot to how you are judged as a manager in Football Manager 2021. Yes, results are still important, but you can really change the parameters of what your personal success is. If you aren’t doing especially well but are achieving the promises you have set out, you will be given more time.

This happened to me; in my first season of managing FC Halifax Town, I’d slightly underachieved. But because I had delivered on my promise to repair the financial damage of the over bloated squad, I wasn’t kicked out at the end of the season where I might’ve been in previous instalments. The next season, having been able to gain control of the finances, I was able to cultivate success. This is a new experience for me in a Football Manager game; a series I’ve been playing for over a decade. While I may have improved the finances of a club before, I have never overtly communicated my goals to the boardroom and insisted on time to deliver.

Football Manager 2021 has done something that great managers do: it has acknowledged its weaknesses and improved upon them without completely rocking the boat. It still feels truly familiar as a Football Manager game, but the overhaul to expectations and communication makes for a more coherent and impactful experience. There’s more of a focus on what you say and do in your role as a manager and, over seasons, your performance is better judged. It makes a real difference to how the game can play out. The matchday experience may not be massively improved, but the improved focus elsewhere makes a real difference. For anyone who truly likes to get into the role of manager, Football Manager 2021 is a must.

Football Manager 2021 is available on PC, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S. We reviewed the game on PC with a code provided by the publisher.