If I can point to one constant in my gaming life, it’s Football Manager. For years I have tried to take teams from their lowest points up to the very highs of the footballing world, enduring the times when no tactics seem to be working and enjoying elation of finding a winning combo that brings win after win, trophy after trophy. You’d think that the series would start to stagnate and falter after so many years, but Football Manager 17 shows that Sports Interactive remains at the top of their game.
When beginning a new game in Football Manager 2017 there’s a quick start option to let you choose a team, sort out your manager’s appearance and then get stuck into the game. You do have the option of a more in depth settings, choosing which leagues from which nations are present, as well as deciding which size database of players you want to choose to be present in the game. The more options you choose, the longer it takes for the game to load, but you do then have a broader market of players to choose from.
There’s a new twist to making your manager this year. You can now import a picture of yourself and the game will use it to create your face in game, and it actually works well with the rendered model being pretty accurate. You can choose from a file already present on your computer or use a webcam to take a shot there and then. It’s a nice cosmetic addition before you move on to sorting out your manager’s attributes and launching into the game proper.
When I play Football Manager, I like choosing the mid to low tier teams of the top leagues, such as Southampton or Crystal Palace. Now and again I’ll even venture to the lower leagues of the Vanarama South and try to guide my home town team Ebbsfleet up the ranks, and I feel these experiences give a more satisfying challenge than choosing the biggest teams in the world, providing a lot of a highs and lows across a career. And believe me when I tell you that Football Manager 17 has that in spades.
One of the things you’ll have to contend with are the fans. They’ve always kind of been there in the background in previous games with supporter spokesmen giving a general idea of what club supporters feel, but Football Manager 2017 adds social media. It’s a new tab where you can see how fans are reacting to your results, player performances, transfer decisions you make, and reactions to injury. Sell a fan favourite to make way for another player and you’ll absolutely know that they disagree with you, which can in turn affect how the club’s board sees you. You can also view what else is happening in the leagues around the world and which players are making their marks. The social media feeds feel like a streamlined scouting base at times.
While you need to try and keep the fans happy it’s the players that really matter, and like previous games you’ll be juggling each player’s expectations. When you sign players you’ll have to make promises to them, for example letting them use your club as a stepping stone to greater things instead of a final stop, or pledging to bring in certain types of players. Breaking these promises means players trust you less and this can cause a split in the dressing room. If you don’t give a player enough minutes on the pitch they’ll confront you, or if you say the wrong thing if they get injured they’ll resent you. Navigating the dressing room is just as important as understanding how to rule the pitch, and they are intricately linked.
If you have a player that splits the dressing room due to a disagreement they have with you it affects the team morale, which in turn affects performances on the pitch, which can lead to losses. Take for example my season with Southampton. Pre-season was so so but in the first few matches of the season the team was getting crucial points early on with the team working well together. Due to a few signings that were made squad rotation was necessary, especially since there was European competition to think about too. One of my players, Steven Davies, wasn’t happy with the lack of playtime and made it known. Since he is a major figure in the Southampton dressing room, Davies’ actions led to some other players supporting him. Suddenly player morale dipped and the losses started rolling in no matter how much prep was done for a match.
Preparation is key to everything you do in Football Manager 2017, and the game feels much more punishing compared to previous entries. Scouting reports on opponents are much more detailed to help with this, showing heat maps of where their team is most active, which players have been important for them, as well as which are unavailable for selection. Post-match reports for your own team show similar stats, but also include include the best passing partnership, the most active player on the pitch, and the player that made the most mistakes during a game. Using these to shape your team along with consistently adapting training to suit needs leads to more success, but football is a fickle sport and even the best laid plans can be ruined at any moment.
Another fickle thing in life is politics, and you’d be hard pressed to ignore the aftermath of the UK’s EU Referendum in the real world. In Football Manager 2017, the shadow of Brexit is there and at some point you’ll have to contend with it. One scenario is seeing Scotland join the EU and leave the UK, with all players from Europe requiring permits to play in the UK. While EU players already in the UK could be safe, others may not be able to play if a permit isn’t granted. This knowledge changed the way of how I approached the transfer market.
Of course, you can try and get the big players in early, but the spectre of a hard Brexit and work permits means there was a lot of scouting for younger players in the UK and Europe, trying to secure a long term future for the club. Bringing in a 17 or 18 year old prospect on the cheap from a European club may pay off in the long term, instead of trying to spend your entire budget on a couple of big players. The Brexit scenario will play out in different ways, but you need to be aware of that it is there when starting a game.
Staff choices have also expanded within Football Manager 2017 so you can now have things like data analysts. These can help you work out how your team is playing, allowing for an even more in depth look at where things need improving. The backroom staff are a key component in keeping your club afloat and you need to scrutinise each applicant thoroughly to make sure they’ll fit well and that they can provide decent feedback and training for players.
Additional features include over a thousand new animations for players during matches, and the
cans of shaving foam magic spray, which referees use to mark where a ball should be placed during a free kick and where the wall should stand. There are also pre-match animations where players emerge from the tunnels, line up and do warm ups before getting the match underway. The new football rules are implemented, which means at kick off you can pass backwards and a foul to stop a clear goal scoring opportunity won’t get an automatic red card.
Football Manager players know what kind of a hold the games get on you. One minute you’re starting a new game, and then you realise hours have passed and you’re shouting at your players to score so they can secure a place in the next round of a cup. Football Manager 2017 is a major step up from last year’s entry, has even more detail in it, and doesn’t relax its grip on players. You’ll smile as your team thumps another, feel miffed when your team loses to weaker opposition, and swear you’ll never play again when you get fired for the team’s poor performance. Yet the new career option tempts you and the cycle begins anew. Football Manager 2017 isn’t just a simulation game, but something that will permeate your life.