“I’ve got another confession to make, I’m your fool.”
It’s with these words that the unique voice of the talented Dave Grohl roars into the song ‘Best of you’. A song which theme has absolutely nothing to do with the purpose of this article.
I’m guessing you’re confused. Why would I use these lyrics? This piece of rock history when it has nothing to do with the subject? Maybe it’s making you mad, crazy, to the point you may want to yell and throw your computer outside your window and ask to your god to curse me for being such an annoying piece of sh*t.
Well, please don’t do that. Especially the cursing part.
Stay calm and focus on the rest of this article. And if you already threw your computer out the window before reading this little mise au point, I feel sad for you.
So, here we go. I’ve got another confession to make.
I love Football Manager.
Why should we care? Why is that even remotely worthy of an opinion piece?
Well you see, needlessly agressive header title, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
I’d like to start to say there’s nothing wrong in loving Football Manager. Where it starts to become slightly more interesting is when I tell you that I couldn’t care less about football.
While I love Football Manager, I don’t have any interest in football.
I like playing it, it’s a fun sport although it has been a while since I’ve even kicked a ball. It’s a fun activity to do with your friends.
But everything around the sport itself, all the fuss about teams, players, leagues, cities. I don’t really understand it all and I don’t really care for it. It’s sometime even making me a bit sick when you see the length to which the teams will go about buying this or that guy or anything the FIFA does to somehow force a country to do whatever the hell they want to for the world cup..
I don’t care about players.
I don’t care about matchs.
I don’t care about the mercato.
The only matchs I watch are the ones for the World Cup and it’s just ‘cause of a misplaced sense of patriotism for the French team. Also, as someone who lived four years in Lyon, I feel like I need to support the Olympique Lyonnais (O.L.) but it’s also due to another kind of misplaced patriotism.
Even when you remove the shady practices of some clubs or federations, it’s just quite unappealing to me.
I don’t blame people who like that, and some of my best friends are crazy about the game. Especially the man who introduced me to that video game, I’m sure he’ll recognize himself.
So, with that in mind, what’s so incredible about Football Manager? Why does Football Manager manage to keep me so involved? Why does it goes into that incredibly small list of games which I can play forever and not being bored of although I don’t like what it’s about?
As I said in the title of this beautifully illustrated article, why Football Manager?
But first, let’s talk about the game.
So, Football Manager.
Everything is in the title, right? All you do is to manage a Football... Wait, wait... That makes absolutely no sense. Let’s start over.
Football manager puts you in the shoes of a football club coach. The pitch is as simple as that. That’s it. This game is a Football Club Coach Manager. Although the word I would use is RPG. This game is a Football Club Coach RPG.
Quite a ring to it, no? They should call it Football Club Coach RPG 20XX. Amazing.
As the coach, you have so many things to do.
You have to manage the hell out of the team. You have to find and handle your players, attend press conferences, schedule trainings, make sure your schedule is tight and good enough to squeeze as much of your players before they break or before they leave. You have to answer emails about players that are not on your team but unhappy in theirs, about talents scouting, about your performances as a coach and if the owners of the team are happy. And of course, spy on other teams.
Although I haven’t played that game in about a year or so, just writing about this makes me want to pick it up again. Show Arsenal that I can take them with Bristol while starting at the third division, and I still don’t care about these teams in real life. Arsenal just became my nemesis after a couple of seasons when I played to Football Manager 2012 at first, and it stayed that way. Funny enough, I feel that if I ever end up liking football, I would never like Arsenal because of that, that’s how crazy that game can be.
But I digress, let’s go back to what Football Manager is.
Football Manager is, first and foremost, a story engine. A role-playing game where you try to became the best coach ever. As I said you play the coach, you literally role-play the man. You’re not tied to one team, only to one coach.
So if you can’t stand your team or a better one asks you to coach them or if you get fired because you never fulfilled the quotas the owners gave you at the beginning of the season then you go away. Take on the challenge to coach another team, make it stronger and better than ever and try to beat your old team and crush the dreams of the virtual owner who fired you.
But how does it work?
So, once you created your alter-ego coach guy-dude and chose which team in which league you’re going to play, (I often use well known actors as coach just for the fun) you end up in this recreation of a weird computer OS just made for football coaches apparently.
Tons and tons of info are creeping up on you and it might be a bit daunting for the first-time player. The more you play and the easier it became but to Football Manager defense, each iteration of the game (except some ill-fated features which were awful sometimes) makes it easier to read and access the exact thing you need.
Once you’ve read the few emails you got, normally from the owner of the club explaining to you what they want from you, you have to deal with your daily issues, then once done click on the ‘Continue’ button which will take you to the next day. Rince and repeat until there’s a match. Watch the match and observe the simulation. Give orders in real time and watch your team get wreaked because you did a bad job.
Or, if you’re like me, after a while let the small useless matches play out by skipping them altogether and focus on the big ones. When you skip a match, the computer will calculate the most likely outcome but it’s going to be less precise that if you let the game play out. So you might loose there.
Football Manager matches are also the best thing if you want to do something else like, let’s say, write an article. Just let the match go on its course and sometime check and adapt your strategies while you write. It does wonder and the little dots on the screen (If you don’t play with that godawful 3D view) isn’t intruding at all. At least for me.
And that’s it, you loose matches, you win some. You adapt. You loose players, you get some. You ADAPT. You read weird stats from some guys which exist, or not if you decide to play with fake players, and you decide if this guy is worth keeping.
Or if you’re like me you get the worse team of the English league, throw all your money at Wayne Rooney and hope he’ll accept your offer, then watch him destroy all the other teams in the Third league championship while all the other players hate you because they can’t get a raise since you’ve got no money anymore. And then when you’re in the second league, keep throwing all your money at Rooney, hoping to keep him way past his prime and up to his 40's when he’s no longer good but you don’t care.
And what I just said is why I can’t get enough of that game.
Depeche mode - Just can’t get enough
This game just creeps on you, and you end up thinking about this all the time. You wonder which player you don’t really care about in your team so that you can exchange him for this other amazing player your assistants told you about. You think about the best way to defeat another team which has a different tactic that the ones you’re used to play against. You wonder if you’ll get the objective the owner imposed on you and what you can do to be better.
And it’s going to be compulsive.
At least it is for me.
This games ticks a lot of boxes in a packaging that shouldn’t be that attracting to me. If you had a game as crazy but for Basketball I would loose my mind but even Pro Basketball Manager doesn’t scratch my itch the way Football Manager does.
As a guy who likes simulations and stats and player-generated stories about underdogs who painfully raise to the top from the bottom over several years, this game does it all. The game is simple to learn but hard to master, and although you sometime have problems with the AI, it’s quite a thrill to see something you’ve worked on so hard finally come together and end up getting exactly what you want it to be. And the game can be quite hard especially in harder leagues. Expect your spirit to be crushed when you loose an important match or if one of your best players end up being injured for the next three matches.
This is also why I like this game. It’s not as forgiving as you’d think.
Sure, if you start with a well known team with a lot of money and good players it’s going to be easy. But start from the bottom and you’ll see you’re going to sweat a lot before seeing your first results. And for that, the game is as rewarding as a Dark Soul game once you start seeing results.
This game is first and foremost a simulation, and the computer is always trying to play against you. So don’t always use the same combinaisons or the computer will try to counteract. You always have to be on your toes and think about the next move.
It’s a chess game with tons and tons of stats.
I was sober for the past year... Now I’m going to reinstall the game and play...
Alexis Duclaux is a Game Jam veteran who worked on strange shitty games and even worked on a Game Jam game which won a Best Game Design Award at the MIGF 2015 - Proximity. He also writes strange tales when he’s not trying to tell the fake story of a french king (in French).