Football Manager 2022 Review: "A Brilliant Time To Be An FM Player"
It’s the time of year again, when millions of wannabe coaches stare at spreadsheets and poorly animated sprites that resemble FIFA from back in the nineties. Those who haven’t caught the Football Manager bug yet will wonder what on earth the appeal is compared to a game where you can, you know, actually control the players on the pitch, but when it comes to depth and realism, Football Manager is king. After last year’s instalment was widely considered to be the best game in the series to date, does Football Manager 2022 continue the trend or is it an own goal in Sports Interactive’s quest to become the best sports simulator on the market?
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Life In Motion
The thing about Football Manager is that since every game is so similar to the last, it’s so obvious to see where the development focus has been. The paper trail of new features and changes is clear, since typically only one or two aspects will be worked on while everything else remains the same around it - there hasn’t been an FM that provides significant upgrades to every aspect of the game for quite some time. Last year was all about revamping the match day experience, which is arguably the flagship part of the game, the bit that looks the most impressive to casual players. Smiley faces representing morale aside - which unfortunately remain this year - most of the changes were positive.
Interestingly, the match engine reappears once again with notable improvements this year. Animations on-the-ball have improved following last year’s off-the-ball upgrades, meaning the motions are much more fluid - most noticeable when your players play quick one-twos between themselves. Seeing your wingers bomb it down the wing and pivot on the ball to pass it to your lurking poacher is a glorious sight too, because it’s a common manoeuvre in real-life football yet was nigh-on impossible until now in the game.
Two other match engine additions are crucial this year too, starting with the trigger press. This is the only modification to tactics, and it allows you to tell your team how frequently you want them to press the opposition when trying to win back possession. At one end of the scale, your team will practically never press, sitting patiently for a clear-cut opportunity, while the opposite end means your players will practically never stop hounding and snapping at the heels of the opposition.
The other addition won’t affect quite as many people because it only works in formations with three centre-backs, which is much less common than the standard four-at-the-back. Wide centre-back is the brand-new role, which enables the two outside centre-backs to act more like full backs, so the attacking wing backs can get forward without leaving a hole behind them. Time will tell whether wide centre-backs are the new overpowered tactic, but thanks to wing backs being effective once more after they were essentially nerfed last year, the wide centre-back role has proven immensely useful for my Brentford side so far.
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One For The Stats Nerds
On the face of it, the most impressive addition for the Football Manager diehards this year is the data hub. This is the only new option on the left-hand sidebar this year, and it’s your gateway to everything stat-related you can possibly dream of. It’s not there from the get-go - you need to play three competitive matches before you can access this holy grail of insight - but when you do, it’s quite overwhelming at first simply because there’s so much information.
Once you’ve explored the numerous menus and got to grips with the data hub, it provides everything you need to know about your team. The top five key findings from the last match are listed, as are graphs on your attacking and defensive performance throughout the season, a map of all your shots on goal and where they’re going, an overview of your next opponent, analytics for all the players in the league by position and stat… the list is almost endless because you can also request specific data from your staff. Combined with xG, which is perhaps the most important stat in-game to gauge the general progression of how a match is going, there’s little to no stones left unturned.
While having all this data at your fingertips is excellent, it quickly became apparent that there’s no way to act upon any of it directly. Football Manager is a series that, while hard to get into, gives players plenty of ways to streamline their experience, such as delegating tasks to staff and offering tactical presets. Not having a way to directly implement changes via the data hub feels like a missed opportunity to engage the player and teach them about why and how to make adjustments, not just presenting a breadth of information but not explaining how to use it.
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Wheelin’ And Dealin’
Another addition that goes hand-in-hand with the data hub are the regular meetings you’ll have with your backroom staff. None of the suggestions you’ll find in these weekly, fortnightly, or monthly meets are new features, but the way they’re presented helps to bundle everything together instead of drip-feeding you suggestions as the season goes on. Recommended staff members to sign, player morale and fitness updates, suggested training and tactical alterations, all of these will be highlighted in the staff meetings.
It’s more a quality of life addition than anything else because these are all things you’d otherwise get to eventually, but having it presented to you in such a fashion makes it easier to digest and implement.
Last year’s UI enhancements during match days were said to increase immersion and make the game seem more like what you’d experience watching the Sunday kick-offs on Sky Sports, and the game has carried that forward to another crucial part of the match-watching experience; transfer deadline day. While you can’t wave adult toys in the background of a television camera in the street, it does mimic the excitement and pressure clubs must feel during the bi-annual occasion.
All the ongoing transfers and rumours linking players to clubs - I definitely spotted a Sneijder to United in there somewhere - are listed on the deadline day homepage, while you can also navigate to those players attracting interest and try to gazump the current bidders. As always, those pesky journalists will be constantly asking for your thoughts on whether X player will be staying or why the deal for Y player fell through, but you can refuse their advances as much as you like.
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Who You Talkin’ To?
Interacting with the media is something that has been in Football Manager for years and while it’s a vital part of every manager’s job, the overhauls seen to communication last year still aren’t quite there yet. FM22 has more dialogue options than before, sure, but when you’re asked frankly ridiculous questions that make no sense given the scenario, it’s hard to not sigh wistfully and delegate all press interactions to your assistant.
For example, in my first game of the season - literally the first league match after some pre-season friendlies, the most recent of which I drew 0-0 - I was asked a question along the lines of how I’m on a hot streak of winning games and how long the form can continue for. In a pre-season team talk, as Brentford nonetheless after two 1-0 losses to top six clubs, I was suggested to say “let’s end this poor run of form”. Being realistic, to only lose 1-0 to City and Liverpool respectively as relegation favourites, isn’t a “poor run of form”. Whether this is a bug with the beta version or if the dialogue scenarios need seriously refining is unknown, but it does make communication with other people one of the driest aspects of Football Manager this year.
Not all of the gripes from last year have returned though. One of the biggest in-engine problems was how VAR was only ever used to disallow goals, rather than actually make a decision, especially when looking at offsides. This has been entirely fixed; the wait for VAR to make a decision on whether a goal has been disallowed or not, or whether a penalty will be given, is almost as tense as in real life. Not quite as bad though because the Football Manager VAR only takes a few seconds to make a decision, unlike the minutes on end fans can be left waiting when watching live.
The Definitive FM Experience
Football Manager 2021 was the best entry in the series for some time, and it’s safe to say that Football Manager 2022 continues that trend, by building upon the huge leaps it took last year. The improvements this time around aren’t quite as groundbreaking as last time because they’re a little more subtle and less on-the-nose, but they’re there nevertheless, meaning it is a brilliant time to be a Football Manager player. I just wish I didn’t play quite so much of the last instalment, because I’m not quite ready to start again after leaving behind my beloved Oxford United squad just a few weeks ago.
Reviewed on PC. Code provided by the publisher.