Image: Interactive Futures, IGDB

Miles Jacobson, I finally envy you: Football Manager 2019 Review

I do not envy Miles Jacobson in the slightest. Well, at least I didn’t believe that to be the case until Thursday 18 October. 

The annual release of the world’s most popular football games is becoming somewhat of a routine. September, October, and November signify the release of the newest versions of Pro-Evolution Soccer, FIFA and Football Manager, respectively. The advent of the new football season comes hand in hand with the release of a new game – and so the cycle continues.

October 18 marked the unleashing of the Football Manager 2019 beta (FM19), the exact moment when the hype stops and the play begins.

Under the stewardship of stalwart Studio Director, Miles Jacobson, the FM franchise has gone under a transformation in recent years. The game’s branding has been totally reworked in an effort to make the game more marketable and various “fantasy” online modes have been introduced. Yet there has been a palpable tension in the air during the build-up to FM19: would this be the year that Sports Interactive (SI) would deliver their most polished game to date? Or would the FM19 hype fizzle and extinguish itself like a damp firework?

Practice Makes Perfect

Perhaps the most significant change that has been made to FM19 is to the training element of the game. In years gone by, managers were distanced from the training ground: the UI was clunky, injuries seemed to erupt out of thin air and player development felt as though it depended upon the will of the ‘FM gods’.

That is no longer the case. Training has been completely gutted, to the extent that prior knowledge of the game will scarcely be of assistance to you. Team training this year is resplendent. Managers are now able to tailor their side’s training schedule to work towards impacting player development, match preparation or a mixture of the two. Across three sessions per day (although I must point out that using all three consistently will likely result in an injury crisis) you are able to work with your players on an array of areas. Previously, training felt like listening to gossip at a party from the next room. The experience was muffled. Now, you find yourself in the heart of the action.

Image: Luke James, Interactive Sports

Although changes to training aren’t limited at sessions. A new player mentoring system has been introduced in place of tutoring, attacking/defensive units have been implemented and individual training has been tweaked. These changes allow for an added layer of immersion and attention to detail – a shift that represents a brilliant change from last year.

No-nonsense what?

It is no secret that FM is predominately a game about tactics. Recruitment, development and squad management are important facets of the game. Yet without an in-depth tactical interface, Football Manager would be career mode without the shiny bits.

Personally, I have always been of the belief that the tactical side of FM has been its core strength. You don’t have to be familiar with what a Regista is to become enthralled by strategy and tactics – it’s just one of the many fascinations that FM has always presented.

This year, SI have made some big changes to tactics. Preset tactical styles have been introduced – allowing managers to build a kind of flatpack gegenpress. This is a change of direction for a franchise that has previously offered only limited advice to users on how to be good at the game, often that has been left to the community. And it is a brilliant change, one that is of the utmost value to both established and new FM’ers. Enclosed within preset styles, however, is what I consider to be the most meaningful change made to the game in many years: the formal division of the attacking, defensive, and transitional phases of play. Managers now have the ability to create true tactical systems: you want to implement a counter-press? Now you can. You hope to be able to overlap on the left but underlap on the right? Now you can. Setting your side’s line of engagement high up the pitch is important to you? That’s lucky because now you can do that too.

Image: Luke James, Interactive Sports

Other changes have also been made to the tactical engine this year. All ‘Limited’ roles have are now to be known as ‘No Nonsense’, the ‘Defensive Forward’ has been replaced with the ‘Pressing Forward’ and the ‘Sweeper’ has been entirely removed. Football Manager is meant to represent the tactical trends of modern-day football and these changes achieve that.

I’m excited to gegenpress Leamington to the Football League, and you should be too.

New Horizons

Alterations to the game don’t stop and start at training and tactics. There have also been alterations to player interactions, transfer negotiations, and the in-game match engine. For the first time in the franchise’s history, the Bundesliga (and Bundesliga 2) are now fully licensed in the game. VAR and goal-line technology also make their debuts.

Football Manager isn’t the game for you if your number one priority is to be able to watch games in a high-resolution 3D match engine – although clear improvements have been made on this front. But if you want to become immersed in the world of football management, put career mode down. Football Manager 2019 is here, and it’s serious this time.

FM19 is a joy to behold, Sports Interactive deserves the plaudits that are sure to come their way. To that – Miles Jacobson, I finally envy you.

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