Need to know
What is that? The 30th edition of the monolith football management simulator that loves to eat up your time.
Expect to pay £45/$60
Developer Interactive sports
Revised the Windows 10, Ryzen 5 3600, 16GB RAM, Nvidia GeForce3060 Ti; and Macbook Pro 2021, Apple M1 chip, 16GB RAM
Connection Official site (opens in a new tab)
Playing Football Manager makes me a better and more knowledgeable football fan. I don’t get to know the names and trajectories of upcoming prodigies anywhere else, and it makes me look cultured when I get to tell my teammates about a promising new player in the Austrian league. There is a vast world out there, outside of the Premier League, full of talent ripe for picking.
This has never been truer in Football Manager 2023, and if you’re a fan of playing with virtual spreadsheets and trying to get your small town football club into the Champions League, then it doesn’t get any better.
I spent 18 years trying to do just that. The ultra-realism of Football Manager 2023 allows me to sign off from my work emails at 5pm and my fantasy emails at 6pm. An army of researchers works to make the player database as true to life as possible, so that learning about the game transfers directly into real-world soccer knowledge, in a way no other sports simulator does. And, like all the other iterations that have come before, I’m totally hooked.
In Football Manager 2023 I’m a manager, but I’m so much more. I’m the head coach, the chief financial officer, the director of football, an entire department of human resources and media relations. I think José Mourinho actually works less than me in Football Manager. Micromanagement can be done your way: I can spend 25 hours on recruiting, scouting, tactical setup and optimizing training programs, or I can delegate most of the time to backroom staff and get through the first pre -season only by managing recruitment .
The problem with all of this?
It’s truly overwhelming and the experience feels almost identical to Football Manager 2022.
It also looks similar to FM22. I started with 2D on FM05 and the 3D engine has been going since its introduction, looking like an iPhone game. FM fans don’t play FM for the graphics, but FIFA 23 is not. The sound is also something that hasn’t gone on in my opinion. It’s a far cry from what a day sounds like: the hum of the crowd is so inaccurate it’s unbearable. A modicum of audio emotion arrives with the new UEFA-licensed Champions League anthem. Mute until you qualify, unmute for a match, revert to audio.
There is a term in the community: “you’ve been FM’d”. When no matter what you do, RNG gives you better performance stats, but causes you to lose the game. But this also often happens in real football, for example Leicester winning the Premier League. The anger induced by this will never go away. The biggest game engine overhaul this year is that the AI manager is smarter and will change tactics than him during the game. Something that makes the game harder, and sometimes even more challenging.
The game engine is a mature beast, and while changes happen from year to year, the limited amount of animation in the 3D engine sees very little variation from game to game. I get the same stupid red card when my midfielder knocks down a two-footed striker from behind once or twice a season. It still feels like football, though, and your players react to every change you make from the sidelines, for better or for worse.
Tactically, the new defensive systems have made blocking and form even smarter, especially when I play my favorite form of five-defensive wing-back. New options have appeared for offside traps, aggressive transition play and defensive width on crosses. This is great for players like me, who sign five fantastic new forwards every season and leave the defense worn out.
But set pieces still feel like a lottery, and I’ve always found messing with things like corner routines cause more mistakes than goals, so I leave them at default. To save myself from downloading a broken corner routine from the Steam Workshop, I wish I could hire a set piece expert and let them work out what’s best for my team.
I signed for my club, Coventry City, where I have been desperately trying to keep our core of young talent together. I’m essentially stopping them from furthering their careers and selfishly trying to get them to fire the club all the way to the top. By the time I actually play a competitive game — you know, the pieces that really test marriages — a couple of hours have passed, and I have several new players to parade in front of the media. Let’s be honest, the 24/7 global football news culture revolves around transfers, and it’s my favorite part of FM23 too.
First, I need to take a look at the new team planner, but even that has its teething problems. I love a free transfer and trials are missing from the latest in-depth squad analysis so I have no staff to tell me if these players are any better than my current crop. I’ve done this myself, but putting four extra clicks into something I was seeing in a view is frustrating. Where the squad planner has helped recruiting is the experience matrix: a page about the spread of age and skill level within my squad. It’s helpful to see where I have gaps in a few seasons when experienced players leave, with no development or emerging players coming in. It certainly saves expensive players panic buying in their peak.
Then, at each transfer window, I’m summoned to recruiting meetings by my scoutmaster to tell me where I’m doing right or wrong. Sports Interactive have changed them to better reflect what happens in the world of football, but I feel the extra ‘conversation’ and changes that come with the recruiting focuses have made this process even longer.
I will miss FM22 meetings saying something like “Here Alex, look at these great players in the positions we’re short on. Consider buying some.”
A new dynamic timeline is a seemingly small addition, but it jolts the memory when you’re years deep into a long-term bailout. Joy in Football Manager and addiction come with the stories you create in your mind of cup finals won, starlets discovered and legacy written. To this day I still remember the joy a new generation Dutch central midfielder gave me as I nurtured him through academy into a winning international (Niek Smith, I miss you).
Choose your adventure
Choosing a club you know makes entry reasonably easy, but the exotic football manager takes a large database and dives into the unknown. The size of your database determines the depth of the game and how far you can go. Choose a size from small, medium or large, or select multiple leagues and players to import in the advanced database setup. A bigger database with more players equals more bargains to discover – don’t forget to load up on South America. Technically, the game is lightweight, so most PCs will run these big advanced databases with ease. I also play on my Macbook, because the January transfer market is the best companion on trains and planes.
Mods will come, over time, to introduce even more playable leagues into the deeper parts of the football pyramid system. The Football Manager modding community usually has a fix for things like real names, along with missing day one badges, kits and player faces. These add a little extra immersion that’s missing with blank faces and generic badges, and are particularly useful if you don’t know who the team you’re managing is. There is a swath of FM gamers who end up supporting the random foreign clubs they run in the game, buying shirts or even flying overseas to watch ‘their team’.
No other sports game offers a wider range of challenges that you can set for yourself, playing your way with just your imagination. Take on the stables, take down one of the big shots, or simply aim to dominate the league with your favorite club for a generation.
If you need to save scum to fix your results and hit a 100-game winning streak, you do. Need to sell your 36-year-old kneeless non-league striker to Real Madrid for £100m? Safe. I have no issues with any community member needing to do this to get their kicks. I did it when I was younger, but I no longer have the satisfaction.
New fans will get the best football management/strategy/simulation, but might find all the bells and whistles quite intimidating. Experienced Football Manager managers won’t feel the game revolution they played last year, but they will play it anyway. See also: all yearly release sports games.
There are intros at the start of each save that try to make FM more user friendly for beginners, but if you want to get the hang of the game you can try the Xbox edition, which is returning to PC via Game Pass. Think of it as the Touch version of the game, which is now exclusive to Apple Arcade and Nintendo Switch. It’s a bit like the original Championship Manager 01/02 – you have tactics, transfers and matches at your fingertips. It serves as a great introduction to FM, before delving into the “full” version.
However, despite the fact that the latest version of Football Manager has fueled my addiction to management, I can’t help but feel that Football Manager 24 needs to add something more drastic to stay relevant. Years of tech debt and the slump of an annual release are keeping the Sports Interactive team from delivering a new era of their bestseller and could threaten the game in the long run.
No one knows what form this revolution will take, but given that they’re working on women’s football in the background, they may have an ace up their sleeve that will ensure any future installments start with a bang.