Football Manager addiction can be a dangerous thing, which is something that longtime series fans will happily attest to. For fans of football who’re more enraptured by the off-pitch management aspects of the sport than the actual on-pitch action and can’t get enough of data and statistics, this is the sort of game that, year over year, will sink its claws you into you for literally hundreds of hours. It helps, of course, that Football Manager is a rare and shining example of an annual franchise that keeps finding ways to make meaningful improvements to its formula, which means every year there’s new reasons to keep playing the game.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that has any experience with the franchise that Football Manager 2023 keeps that trend going. This is a mind-bogglingly comprehensive management sim, one that rewards you more the more time you put into it, and diving into the weeds and getting to grips with all of its systems and nuances remains a thoroughly addictive experience. The level of control it offers over every tiny, little aspect of managing your club of choice is every football fan’s dream come true, and tuning every single one of those aspects – from training schedules to scouting programs, from transfer policies to youth development – remains an extremely enjoyable experience.
"The level of control Football Manager 2023 offers over every tiny, little aspect of managing your club of choice is every football fan’s dream come true, and tuning every single one of those aspects – from training schedules to scouting programs, from transfer policies to youth development – remains an extremely enjoyable experience."
If, however, you’re looking for truly significant changes and improvements over last year’s game, Football Manager 2023 might leave you wanting. If you have Football Manager 2022, which itself was already quite an iterative upgrade over its predecessor, making the leap to this year’s game might not be much of a necessity, which feels like an even smaller upgrade.
Of course, that doesn’t mean there are no improvements and changes to speak of whatsoever, and minor though they might be in the grand scheme of things, they are well-implemented (for the most part), and in their own way, they do add to the experience. The shiniest one that’ll attract the most attention is obviously the addition of the official UEFA license, which means the Champions League, Europa League, and Conference League are now officially in the game, with all the presentation, logos, and panache that you’d expect to accompany them. Of course, being a long-suffering Manchester United fan, I had to spend a season in the horrifying Europa League before being able to get back into the upper echelons of European football, but if you fancy yourself a mercenary manager like Antonio Conte, you could always start off with the likes of Manchester City or PSG. That massive transfer and wage budget isn’t going to hurt either, eh?
Another instantly apparent change is how much better the actual matches look. Granted, this has never really been a strength of the Football Manager series, but it’s fair to say that it’s a flaw that most series fans have been willing to overlook for years on end, seeing as the matchday experience isn’t really what Football Manager is about. Even so, Football Manager 2023 has made some noticeable improvements to the animations of the on-pitch players, so goalkeeper saves, mazy runs down the wing, players receiving the ball in the air, and other actions look much more natural and fluid. Of course, at the end of the day, matches in Football Manager 2023 still look like something that would have been called visually outdated back in 2002, but again, it serves its purpose.
"The big change that’ll attract the most attention is obviously the addition of the official UEFA license, which means the Champions League, Europa League, and Conference League are now officially in the game, with all the presentation, logos, and panache that you’d expect to accompany them."
Another change that the game touts when it comes to the on-pitch action is improved and dynamic AI. This, however, has been a little hard to judge for me, and I can’t really tell you one way or another how much of an impact these tweaks make. Opposing managers in Football Manager 2023 now dynamically make changes to their tactics based on what your tactics are and how you are playing, and every so often, the game lets you know that that’s what’s happening. Opposition teams making changes to counter your tactics has always been a thing in Football Manager though, and beyond making that more transparent, it’s hard for me to say if these new improvements have changed that in any significant way.
Coming back to behind-the-scenes stuff (which is where the meat and potatoes of any Football Manager experience really lies), Football Manager 2023 adds a new Squad Planner, which is a neat addition, even if it isn’t exactly an essential one. This gives you a holistic view of your squad, giving you easy-to-digest information on a single screen about what your options are in every position of the pitch, even letting you filter through to the next season to see which players will no longer be available, in turn leaving certain positions light. Specifically when it comes to planning future transfers and identifying which areas of your squad you need to strengthen, the Squad Planner comes in quite handy.
Meanwhile, interacting and working with your club’s board of directors also sees an added layer in this year’s game. Working with the board and mutually agreeing on objectives and then working towards those objectives while wrestling with varying degrees of financial and infrastructure restrictions has always been a core component of the Football Manager experience, and Football Manager 2023 adds a new wrinkle to that in the form of the new Supporter Confidence System. This is exactly what it sounds like- just like the board, your club’s supporters will have their own wishes and demands, and based on how you’re performing to those expectations, your relationship with the supporters will vary. The harsh reality of the world is that supporters often don’t have too much influence on the board’s decision, and while that is largely still the case in Football Manager 2023, it’s an addition to adds to the experience’s authenticity. Besides, it’s obviously still very satisfying to have supporters that are happy with how you’re running the club and how your team is playing and performing on the pitch.
"From managing your squad and keeping your players happy to developing the next batch of wonderkids into a team of world-beaters, the experience of building up your club and transforming its fortunes remains as rewarding and engaging as ever. In fact, multiple iterative improvements and tweaks come together to make Football Manager 2023 the best game in the series."
Summed up, the story of Football Manager 2023 is one that might put the game in a strange position for series veterans. It’s an incredible game, and there’s no way that fans won’t get hundreds of hours of addictive enjoyment out of it. From managing your squad and keeping your players happy to developing the next batch of wonderkids into a team of world-beaters, the experience of building up your club and transforming its fortunes remains as rewarding and engaging as ever. In fact, multiple iterative improvements and tweaks come together to make Football Manager 2023 the best game in the series. At the same time, however, this is also very much a case of diminishing returns. The gap between yearly FM instalments is feeling smaller than ever, so even though this year’s game is an accomplished management sim in more ways than one, it might not necessarily be one that you absolutely have to get if you’ve already got its immediate predecessor in your library.
This game was reviewed on PC.
Stupidly addictive; Mind-bogglingly comprehensive; Offers a ridiculous degree of control over every aspect of club management; Smart iterative improvements refine the experience even further; Matches look better thanks to improved animations; UEFA license.
Perhaps the smallest ever yearly upgrade in Football Manager history.