Sports video games let players experience their dreams of stardom. (A digital version of it, anyway.) But there’s only one sports game I know of that actual professional teams use as part of their business, and that’s the computer game Football Manager. It’s not just playing a fantasy: it’s part of real-world sports.
That’s because Football Manager is less about being on the field, and more about all the business, strategy, and planning that go on behind the scenes.
First things first: the football in Football Manager is actually soccer. The game is incredibly popular in the United Kingdom. It was first released in 2004, and has become such a phenomenon that there was a documentary about it in 2014. As soccer has become more popular in the United States, Football Manager has made its way stateside.
Second thing: you won’t ever be controlling a player on the field in Football Manager. That’s not the point of this game. Unlike FIFA, Madden, or other major sports games, Football Manager doesn’t put its efforts into creating cutting-edge graphics. The graphics are actually hilariously bad. They look like this:
But that’s because the real point of this game lies elsewhere. It’s with screens that look like this:
The point of Football Manager is to take control of a soccer team—you can play as one of hundreds from around the world—and lead them to glory as a coach and general manager.
Instead of making the right pass or dribble, you’ll spend your time picking formations, setting team strategies, scouting new stars, negotiating contracts, and more.
Most of the other major sports video games have a mode similar to that. What sets Football Manager apart is the detail. There are thousands of real-world players included in the game, including stars from major European leagues to South American teenagers who haven’t even signed professional contracts. The developer puts so much effort into scouting players that in 2008 one major English team started using the game to scout players in real life.
On top of that, players can dive into all the details involved in running a team. What kinds of bonus payments will your players receive? Do you want to set individual training regimens for each player? What will you tell the press after a star player gets hurt? Do your team members all get along? Can that budding super star from overseas get a work permit to play in your country? Do all your players speak the same language, and if not how will that impact their performance?
At times, that detail can be overwhelming. But you can also delegate tasks to assistant coaches (a.k.a., the computer) so you can focus only on the things you enjoy. For instance, I found hiring scouts and other staff members to be annoying, so I automated it to focus on the part I find more interesting: setting strategies for each game.
There’s also a more pared down version of the game called Football Manager 2019 Touch. It includes fewer players, fewer teams, and fewer details, but that makes it easier to get into, and so might be a better choice for newcomers or younger gamers.
Neither version of Football Manager is right for everyone, though. It is very, very nerdy, and some people will find it more like homework than a game. But there’s a reason it has become a global phenomenon, and that’s because you can really get sucked in. It’s an especially good choice for people who love the playing manager or career modes in other games, but want something with more depth.
Have you played a good board game or video game, read a good book, or seen a good movie? Submit a review to Insights by the time the next issue comes out, and you’ll be entered to win a copy of Football Manager 2019. Find details on the submission page.