Bill Shankly had his tongue firmly in his cheek when he mused that football was ‘much more important than life and death.’
But the misunderstood words of the legendary Liverpool boss can’t help but bubble to the surface as the latest edition of the soccer nerd’s wildest dream is released after a horror show of a year.
Football Manager 2021, rest assured, will provide a sanctuary from the global catastrophe of Covid-19. After all, it’s what FM has been doing best since rebooting in 2004 when producers Sports Interactive hooked up with industry behemoths Sega.
First thing first: the crowds are back. While the transfer system and club finances have been rejigged to echo the ongoing crisis, your side should be in a position to rebuild from your first click of ‘continue’, whatever sanctions your country’s real life (if scarcely more believable) governments lay down.
The developers have also ruled out your players being laid low by coronavirus, although many leagues’ fixture lists and season start dates will be out of whack compared to normal times.
But let’s seek comfort in the familiar – and long-term players will be well-versed in picking out a raft of subtle developments across the board as their save progresses.
This year sees far more depth and variation in your communication as the boss: are you leaving your players braced for teacups flying across the dressing room, or are you putting an arm around them, Jurgen Klopp-style? (A reminder you can forget the need to socially distance from your misfiring centre forward, we’re in our own football fantasy here.)
From the dressing room out on to the field, you’ll see all-singing-all-dancing new graphics, giving that glitzy feel from the Uefa Champions League right down to the more, let’s say aspirational, Vanarama National League North in the depths of the English game.
Recruitment has also had an overhaul, with more focus on succession planning for your evolving squad, so prepare for a deluge of unsolicited advice from scouts, your director of football and those devious agents circling the murky waters of the transfer market.
Old FM hands may balk at the added responsibilities, not to mention the still-dodgy avatars first introduced a couple of years ago but then you can always delegate as much of the hoop-la as you like to your trusty assistant manager.
Another first is the game’s debut on Xbox, arriving a week after the main game’s 24 November release and joining the existing Mobile edition for iOS and Android, as well as the pared-back Touch edition for more speedy play on PC/Mac.
As always in the game’s evolution, there’s plenty more beneath the hood to discover as you go in one of the most deeply researched, data rich games out there.
And given the state of the planet at the moment, the fact Sports Interactive have delivered Football Manager 2021 to market only a week or two later than usual, with a set of improvements to boot, is perhaps reason enough to be thankful.
Now then, where do we start… Barcelona, Brackley Town or somewhere in between?
Either way, to borrow once more from Mr Shankly, make sure you build a team that’s invincible, so they have to send a team from bloody Mars to beat you.
Football Manager 2021: Headline Features
The headline features below were supplied by the game developers.
With new methods of communication, overhauls to existing systems and more varied interactions, communicating with players and the media has never been more purposeful or realistic.
The addition of gestures in FM21 allows managers to express themselves in more nuanced ways whether that’s in a face-to-face meeting, in their weekly press conference or while giving a team-talk in a crucial fixture. Using gestures will allow managers to add impact to their words and set the mood for their conversations with players and the media.
Also new for FM21 are Quick Chats which give managers the chance to have short, informal conversations around a variety of topics that don’t require a full meeting. These can take place in person with players at your club or remotely with players out on loan, opposition managers and journalists.
Managers will notice that existing interaction scenarios such as press conferences, team talks and face-to-face meetings have been overhauled in FM21. Individual elements are laid out in a much clearer way, managers have more contextual information available to them during those interactions and it is much easier to see the body language of those in the room as they react to what you’re saying.
In FM21, every fixture feels like a true spectacle. The flow of matchdays from the pre-match build-up to the aftermath of the full-time whistle has been reimagined with the addition of new events and elements.
Before entering the dressing room, managers will have the opportunity to make any last-minute tactical tweaks and team selection changes in the new pre-match tactical meeting. During this meeting, backroom staff will present managers with key analysis and tactical advice that could be the difference between victory and defeat on the pitch. When team selections are confirmed, managers will be presented with the official team sheets for the match and will have the opportunity to make change up their tactics in reaction to the opposition line-up.
When the match action gets underway, managers will get a better view from the dugout with a redesigned match UI that places an emphasis on the on-the-pitch action. New broadcast-style elements and new pitchside assets such as jib cranes and steadie cams add to the big match atmosphere. On the pitch, the action looks better than ever with enhanced lighting that features better shadowing in all conditions and smoother, more natural looking animations.
Both during and immediately after the match, managers will benefit from better analysis than ever before through our brand new xG system. Now it’s easy to see just how clinical teams were in front of goal and the quality of chances they produced. This is combined with more intelligent and insightful mid-match analysis from the backroom staff.
New meetings and interactions alongside the introduction of a new staff role freshen up one of the game’s most popular and important areas.
The new Recruitment Meetings will ensure that managers and their recruitment teams are on the same page both at addressing immediate areas for improvement and the club’s longer-term strategy in the transfer market. These meetings take place in the run-up to transfer windows and allow managers to view reports, set assignments and set out the priorities for their scouts and analysts in the upcoming window.
Managers will also have greater interaction with players’ agents in FM21. Agents can be approached to find out how interested their clients would be in joining your club and what conditions you might need to meet in order to get them to put pen to paper.
End of Season
Managers can relive their season and revel in their success like never before. Fans and the media have increasingly shorter memories in the modern game but FM21 gives managers the opportunity to celebrate and reflect on their achievements before thoughts turn to next season.
On-pitch celebrations have been totally revamped through improved trophy presentations including podiums, confetti cannons and that all-important trophy lift. Post-match there will be more media attention and hype too.
Whether managers are lifting silverware or have narrowly avoided relegation, at the end of each campaign they can enjoy a brand-new season review that presents them with highlights both on and off the pitch.
Football Manager 21 releases on 24 November 2020.
Antoinette is a recovering journalist, having written for Sports Illustrated, The Guardian, Daily Maverick and others. She has won multiple SAB Journalist of the Year awards, across a variety of categories. She thinks it’s strange writing about herself in the third person, unless she’s playing as herself in The Sims…which she’s been doing for over 20 years.