Football Manager 2024 review: Sparkling form keeps franchise top of the table
Football Manager is an institution of gaming and FM24 showcases just why the franchise is still one of the most detailed and comprehensive sims around. After 30+ years, it’s understandable that the folks over at Sports Interactive have the format nailed - but the issue with annual releases is they become very iterative, with some entries feeling better than others.
That's ultimately how I felt about last year's game: It had me questioning whether or not the series would be better off with a break after it really didn’t click. Luckily, FM24 is back stronger than ever and has me falling in love with the series all over again.
I've had some good saves in the past; winning Serie A with Venice, taking Sunderland back to the Premier League and turning George Dobson into one of the world’s best midfielders. I even went unbeaten over two seasons with Inter Milan - although I still wonder if my game had broken on that occasion. This time around, for my review, I decided to go for West Ham (the team I support).
Football Manager 2024 is a return to being one of the very best football games and sims you can find. The set pieces add another dimension to gameplay, and the inconsistencies from last year's games have all been ironed out to make a complete entry to the series.
West Ham are massive... on set pieces
The reason I chose West Ham is because - if the fans are to be believed - they are massive. While they don’t mean it literally, I do. With Soucek, Alvarez, Zouma, and Aguerd all well over 6 feet tall and absolute monsters in the air, it felt like the right place to make the most out of the new set piece overhaul.
It also meant I had James Ward-Prowse, who is undoubtedly one of the best set-piece takers in the world right now. If I nailed the set pieces, how could I not get European football?
I finished tenth in my first season. Zouma left for mega money for Saudi Arabia and Ward-Prowse was injured for a large part of the season. On top of that, Edson Alvarez had three red cards by October which also didn’t help achieve my goals.
That’s the charm of FM, and FM24 has it in abundance. While I eventually nailed my objective, it took a Season and a fair amount of tinkering to get there. For many, this was the biggest change coming in and the overhaul is much appreciated. Now, there is much more choice (and control) over what you can do during these routines. I wish the tutorial for this section was a bit more thorough, but once I figured it out, my team reaped the rewards.
After the failures of my first season, nearly losing the job on multiple occasions (I had a lot of injuries, promise) Season Two got off to a flyer. I had made some strong new additions and had begun to implement a 5-3-2 with two centre mids, two strikers, and a player in the hole. Two wingbacks were added to the squad for width; West Ham academy product Divin Mubama came into the starting 11 to continue my aerial threat, and new defenders were brought in; including Aston Villa’s Tyrone Mings for a bit of leadership.
At the end of the Season, I needed to win my final two games to secure Champions League football. Now, finally, West Ham may genuinely be massive, but I am drawing 1-1 with Manchester City, who have nothing left to play for, and I found myself being desperate for three points.
The ball goes out for a corner in the 96th minute. James Ward-Prowse whips it in and finds the 6’5” specimen that is Tyrone Mings bearing down on the near post, and it's the stuff dreams are made of, as well as vindication for sticking with set pieces.
I would love to take all the credit, I really would, but the addition of Nick Stanley to my coaching set-up did a lot of the heavy lifting. Alongside the coaching overhaul, FM24 has also introduced a dedicated set-piece coach to maximise my deadball potential. As you can see above, it's a noteworthy and game-changing addition.
Shipping off dead wood
I managed to deliver Champions League football when I didn’t necessarily have the squad to do so. Ward-Prowse grabbed 15 assists and was a massive part of my success due to his wizardry on set pieces. So naturally, he left the club for a bigger team and has barely played since - but that’s his problem.
The new set pieces have made it viable for lesser teams to play above their level in a way that hasn’t been possible before, and I can only imagine how much of a difference this would make for smaller sides trying to get promotion. Football Manager has always been about fine margins, and now there is even more control over another aspect of the game.
My newfound Champions League spot means I have a bit more money to play with, but also I’m going to need to free up some spaces in the squad to add real quality. Some players are not so easy to shift, so the new hiring of an intermediary feature is a welcome quality-of-life improvement.
It isn't guaranteed to work every time, but I successfully got rid of quite a few players using this method after I couldn’t sell them by offering them to clubs. The money I received wasn’t too bad either. It’s a small change, but I think it'll be a big timesaver when selling your unwanted players.
As my squad grew and increased in quality, the frustrations of certain players also grew because of their lack of playing time. It’s a natural part of the game when players go from starting every game to the odd cameo here and there, and you can’t keep everyone happy. Jarrod Bowen, my right winger, had become increasingly unsettled as I had now begun to favour Kudus on the right in my new 4-3-3.
Usually, in this scenario, you can try and get the captain to fix the issue (or have a chat with the player and fix it yourself). Now, as part of that conversation process, you can also set the player targets. An assurance that 'if you hit this target, then I will start to play you more frequently' - admittedly, they will need some minutes to reach it.
I've only used the feature a couple of times, but it got the best out of Jarrod Bowen who went on a scoring streak shortly after, helping me to secure a fifth-place finish in the Third Season. I can’t help but wonder if I could’ve come higher if I still had James Ward-Prowse on set pieces, but instead, he was warming the Arsenal bench.
Less is more
During the three and a half seasons I've put into Football Manager 2024, I still wonder if the series would be better off releasing every other year. As I said, this year's entry has none of the shortcomings of FM23 and there feels like some really notable additions this time around.
Last year's game felt too cyclical - it didn’t matter who you would play, home games were easy and away games were tough. At times it even felt unfair. That has gone from this year's entry, with the additions and smarter-looking match engine helping make this the best new entry in years, maintaining its place as the best footballing game around.
I play FM every year and love the attention to detail and stats on offer. Yet, the sheer volume of data being presented at any given time must be intimidating to a newcomer to the series, and maybe it's time a stripped-back offering is on the cards; a simplified version of the data-rich game, for a more digestible and simple experience.
If I'd never played Football Manager and FM24 was my first one, I could easily be put off by everything on offer. There is data at every turn, and then there is even a dedicated data hub. On a personal level, this richness really lets me get into the weeds - I just feel a stripped-back offering could help bring in fresh or even younger players.
What has always impressed me most about the series is how quickly, and how well, it adapts to the trends we see in real life. Inverted full-backs, which have been introduced for FM24, are frequently used and successful, whilst the riches of Saudi Arabia buying the best players and offering them ludicrous wages is also a prevalent part of the game. I have lost plenty of good talent to the Saudi league, and for FM to have introduced that already is impressive.
Football Manager 2024 is a true return to form for the series. Every addition we have seen feels important, more so than in the last couple of years, whilst the frustrations of FM23 have been left behind. The debate about annual releases will always rage on, but in this case, it’s justified.
The narratives that develop throughout a save, the relationships you create with players and the joy of a last-minute winner are as prevalent as ever. Sega and Sports Interactive often tout this series as the most authentic, complete footballing experience - and this year, it's hard to argue.