New instalments in annual sports franchises are always about iteration, about evolution instead of revolution, and that’s truer for Football Manager than it is for any other series. For a formula that has been so strong since its very beginning, incremental upgrades are the only way for it to make improvements. That said, as Football Manager has grown, while it has definitely improved upon things bit by bit, it’s also picked up a few eccentricities and unwanted complexities along the way. With Football Manager 2019, Sports Interactive hits two bird with one stone, by introducing some new changes that are more significant than anything we’ve seen in the series in years, which also greatly improve upon what have been some of the its weakest points in the past.
The biggest of these changes has been made to training. While in earlier iterations, training was something that was at best an afterthought for all players, in Football Manager 2019, it has grown in importance massively. Much of that is down to the fact that the game offers you much, much more control over the proceedings than it ever has. It moves away from the broad categories for training in earlier games, which you would glance at and choose from at the beginning of pre-season and then be more than happy to ignore for the following in-game months. Now, there’s a level of micromanagement involved that feels authentic to and consistent with the rest of the experience. You essentially decide what kind of training you want your players to be involved in for every single session, every single day, and the range of options the game provides you with for this purpose is massive, including but not limited to basics such as possession, physical, and match tactics, and more specific regimens for ball retention, chance conversion, attacking down the wings, retaining the ball, and many, many more.
"With Football Manager 2019, Sports Interactive hits two bird with one stone, by introducing some new changes that are more significant than anything we’ve seen in the series in years, which also greatly improve upon what have been some of the its weakest points in the past."
It’s rewarding to engage with the overhauled training system as well. With the greater degree of control you have over deciding how your team prepares for a match, you can look at an upcoming fixture and train your team exactly in the way that you wish to play for that specific match. Whether it’s a game coming up against a European heavyweight that is known for playing a fast, pressing game, or one in your local cup competition against a lower division side whose defence has a reputation for leaking goals, Football Manager 2019 gives you the tools to decide exactly how you want your team to play. Of course, how well your players respond to that training is, as always, dependant on a number of factors, so it’s not always a sure shot success, and that, too, is something that you always need to keep in mind. It can be a bit overwhelming at first, given just how deep it goes into the specifics, but once you get the hang of it, the loop of setting your training before matches, managing your players and what sort of training they respond to, and reaping the rewards (or the failures, as the case may be), becomes as addictive as anything this series has ever done.
Of course, if you don’t want to get into the minutiae, you can always just delegate all tasks related to training to members of your coaching staff- and that never feels like an option that is less viable. In such a scenario, with the training wheels on, so to speak, you still know what you’re getting into, which is the same Football Manager experience you get every year, and I imagine this will also be an attractive option for newcomers who might not want to be thrown into the deep end of the pool right off the bat. But for those who’re looking for even more tools from Football Manager to empower them with absolute control over the fate of their club, both in the larger scheme of things as well as the small, the new and improved training can make a world of difference.
The other major pillar of change that Football Manager 2019 stands on revolves around tactics. Arguably much less impactful and not nearly as extensive as the new and improved training, the changes Football Manager 2019 makes to tactics are still immediately apparent, and an obvious improvement over what’s come before. By now dividing its tactics into three categories – for when you are in possession, for when you don’t have the ball, and for when you’re transitioning between defence and attack – Football Manager 2019 lets you pick and choose exactly how you wish for your team to play in different situations. Making smart use of each of these, you can almost create combos of sorts that, if executed properly, can yield incredibly satisfying results. Asking your team to press higher upon losing possession while maintaining width, then quickly moving the ball through the flanks immediately upon getting the ball back, and then trying to score off an early cross is now entirely possible.
"Whether it’s a game coming up against a European heavyweight that is known for playing a fast, pressing game, or one in your local cup competition against a lower division side whose defence has a reputation for leaking goals, Football Manager 2019 gives you the tools to decide exactly how you want your team to play."
The central thing here is, just as it is with training, a greater degree of control. Tactics in previous Football Manager games tended to be a bit vague at times, and often you had to resort to picking the option that was closest to what you had in mind, which may or may not have yielded the results you were hoping for. In Football Manager 2019, tactics feel precise, and enable you to choose a style of play that, with the right amount of tinkering, can be perfect for the kind of squad you have, and for the kind of team you’re hoping to build. There are also preset tactics for you to choose from and build off of, which range from the generic variety of attacking, counter-attacking, and the like, or something that specifically tries to mimic iconic styles of renowned managers like Klopp or Guardiola. Of course, it’s not enough to just choose one of these and call it a day – your tactics need to gel with the kind of players you have in your squad and, more importantly, need to be fluid enough to keep evolving on a match-to-match basis – but these serve as an excellent starting point if there’s a particular manager’s style of football that you wish to emulate.
Another area that has seen a marked improvement is the user interface. The UI in Football Manager games has grown increasingly cluttered as the years have gone by, and even the most devoted veterans of the series, who have endless hours of play time under their belt, would tell you that. Football Manager 2019’s UI is smarter and cleaner, and the time you have to spend going from menus to sub-menus to sub-sub-menus has been cut down significantly. There’s still a lot of menus, which is to be expected, given the very nature of the game, but navigating them is the easiest and least clunky it has been in years.
Beyond the more obvious, headlining changes, there’s still plenty that has been incrementally improved. The match engine, for instance, continues its yearly growth, with improved visuals and things like the addition of the Video Assistant Referee (or VAR) adding a greater level of detail and drama to the matches themselves. There are still some issues that persist in this area, such as frequent silly mistakes by defenders and goalkeepers, unusually frequent missed passes, strikers repeatedly missing goals from close range, and the like, so the match engine is still something that could do with plenty of further improvements. Similarly, the Dynamics system is still a bit problematic, and players still have unpredictable and random mood swings and responses to situations, while interacting with the press remains as mundane and repetitive as it has ever been. Given how much time is spent in any session of Football Manager with press interactions or within the match engine, these flaws are hopefully going to be at the top of Sports Interactive’s list of improvements for next year’s game.
"Tactics in previous Football Manager games tended to be a bit vague at times, and often you had to resort to picking the option that was closest to what you had in mind, which may or may not have yielded the results you were hoping for. In Football Manager 2019, tactics feel precise, and enable you to choose a style of play that, with the right amount of tinkering, can be perfect for the kind of squad you have, and for the kind of team you’re hoping to build."
At the end of the day, though, it’s easy to overlook, if not ignore, Football Manager 2019’s flaws, thanks to the huge improvements it has made in other areas. For the first time in years, this feels like a fresh new instalment with tangible changes and improvements rather than those made in small increments, and the fact that these changes are executed so well only makes them that much more impactful. For newcomers, the streamlined interface and the option to not have to engage with any of the deeper systems without any repercussions has to be quite encouraging, while veterans of the series will love the greater degree of control the game offers in key areas that had been in need of improvement for years. There’s still room for improvement, of course, but all said and done, Football Manager 2019 is probably the best this series has been in years, if not ever.
This game was reviewed on PC.
Overhauled training provides a much greater degree of control over style of play; Engaging with the training system can be very rewarding and satisfying; Tactics have been improved significantly; Cleaner UI that is much easier to navigate.
Match engine is still in need of improvements; Players can still have unpredictable and random mood swings; Interacting with the press is boring.