Dig out your favourite throwing water bottle and prepare to demand more, Football Manager 2022 is here. Sports Interactive’s football simulation/free-time vacuum is back and more in-depth than ever. With a revamped match engine, backroom staff interactions focus-grouped with real managers and a host of new features, how does the latest iteration of the ultimate management sim stack up? The Sportsman headed to the dugout to find out.
One of the most common complaints you hear about the modern versions of Football Manager is that they are “ too much”. Far removed from the point and click simplicity of iconic forerunner Championship Manager, the modern FM can take over your life if you let it. With every responsibility facing real-life managers available for you to take on, it can be an overwhelming experience. You could easily carry out the game's numerous tasks as a full-time job, if you had the real-life financial security to do so. If FM was sold in Gotham City, billionaire Bruce Wayne would spend less time standing moodily on top of skyscrapers and more time boring Alfred senseless about playing Federico Valverde as a segundo volante.
But if you do not have the time or the patience to immerse yourself in the minutiae of every training session, under-18 physio appointment or press-grilling, you can delegate these tasks. The freedom is yours to be the manager you want to be. Your backroom staff are there to help, and can be tasked with almost anything. Delegate any of the tasks you don’t value to a member of staff and you will soon see the clouds begin to clear, leaving you to focus on the parts of the game you enjoy.
There is plenty to enjoy as well. The headline addition this season is a new match engine. Even if you are a ‘Champ Man’ traditionalist who favours text-based updates over watching the match in 3D, this season’s games are well worth a look. No longer can you predict the outcome of a sequence because you’ve seen it end in a goal before. The dribbling mechanics have been revamped, and the players behave more realistically in all situations. No longer needing to rely on your assistant to describe the action accurately, you can make better deductions from watching the game and reacting to the way it’s progressing. FM 2022 makes you feel like a real head coach more than any game that came before it.
Another new addition this year are staff meetings. These are a chance to sit down with your backroom team while they highlight to you any issues at the club, and also areas where you’re doing well. The meetings are short and succinct, with buttons in the interface to action what’s being said. One of your coaches may suggest a tactical tweak or a change to the training schedule, and you can implement it at the touch of a button. While not the most glamorous part of this year’s offering, in terms of quality of life it is a godsend, making those fine-margin adjustments that much easier.
Harry Redknapp might not be a f**king wheeler-dealer, but you can be with FM 2022’s brand-new Deadline Day Hub. Decked in Jim White-yellow for that authentic experience, this new section makes the most frantic day of the season both exciting and easy to navigate. As always you will field bids for your players, and questions from the press, while trying to make moves of your own. With everything you need collected in one place, you can concentrate on the chaos of deadline day and try and get your bid for that 17-year-old Egyptian wonderkid over the line.
Data analysis is deeper than ever this year, and once again conversations with real clubs have informed SI Games’ changes in this area. You can pull up an incredibly detailed set of stats on teams, matches, players and more. There are heatmaps, charts, graphs and everything that real data analysts are reviewing behind the scenes at clubs all around the world. It is easy to get lost in this area, but wonderfully fun to do so. FM has never felt so real.
That real feel permeates the whole game. 'Game' almost feels like the wrong word to describe the incredible depth of the world you’re dropped into. This really is a simulation in every sense of the word. FM 2022 is the ultimate gaming sandbox, where the player is given the freedom to carve their own path. Whether it’s playing expansive, exhilarating football in Serie A or sh*thousing your way through the tiers of non-league and parking the bus, you can shape Football Manager into the game you want to play. And trust me, you want to play this game.
Sports Interactive have also released a new Football Manager Touch offering, but this time it is only available on the Nintendo Switch. A scaled-down version of the main game, Touch still provides an incredible amount of detail and a superior match engine to any handheld football management sim ever made. If you’re used to the full PC experience, it can be jarring at first. But for new players, or those hoping to play a quicker game on their commute, it’s a cracking title.
Once again, SI have lived up to the hype surrounding their cultural phenomenon. Boasting incredible depth, better matches and brilliantly customisable gameplay, Football Manager 2022 is the only football game you need this year.