Is Football Manager 2021 Worth Buying?

Yes.

Football Manager 2021
Football Manager 2021

Football Manager 2021 is the latest in a long line of Galactus-sized life devourers from Sports Interactive. While there are quite a few headline additions this time out, there’s even more under the hood of this year’s Football Manager to get excited about. Question is: if you’re a long-time fan or looking to enter the franchise for the first time, is Football Manager 2021 worth picking up?

As someone who’s already poured 110 hours into the game (I am not in possession of a “life”) since its November 10th beta release, it’s one of the easiest recommendations I will ever make. Sure, Football Manager 2021 isn’t a grand reinvention for the series, but almost every change it’s brought to the table has been worthwhile and adds to the destruction of your real life responsibilities. That’s a good thing.

The headline feature this year has to be the communication overhaul, which, while unlikely to stop some people from just wanting to hit continue until their space bar crumbles into dust, adds an extra level of role-playing overall. Want to go absolutely ballistic at your players because they are losing to Bristol City away from home in the League Cup? Chuck a water bottle (I imagine a boot is DLC) and demand something else. Feel like showing some appreciation to your players? Wrap an arm around them, or give them a handshake. And then throw a water bottle at th–joking. You sadly can’t spontaneously chuck things at players in Football Manager.

Football Manager 2021
Football Manager 2021

These gestures are, ultimately, small tweaks to the FM formula — I don’t think you can lose the league because you pointed a finger at someone instead of putting your hands on your hips — that work well to add just a bit more personality to the game. When you think about it, these are really upgrades on the way of saying things from last year, i.e. passionately telling your team to get their arse in gear, though do help you to figure out what you’re saying and how much better than before.

The other significant tweaks are related to recruitment, which has also been affected by real world events, though the game never makes a song and dance about that fact. For the first few seasons, most teams will be financially hamstrung by the worldwide events of 2020, meaning that you have to approach transfers carefully and seek out loan to buy deals more often. Starting off at Everton, who could probably do with some kind of transfer embargo to save them from themselves, I had just a couple million pounds to play with, so I instead opted for a few loan deals to help steer the club towards familiar mediocrity in the first season.

When finances improved, I was then able to start properly indulging in the new scouting meetings, sitting down with my recruitment team to figure out where I needed to strengthen and to assign them to find players to do exactly that. This worked wonders for me personally, helping me to finally sort out my tricky RB position and bring in a midfielder who wasn’t probably actually a ghost like Gylfi Sigurðsson, though you could probably scout them yourself through player search and a good scouting package. Still, a neat little addition that adds to the immersion all the same. “Immersion” seems to be the keyword for this year’s Football Manager, new features that may not dramatically change the experience, but aim to get you even more addicted and dedicated to said experience. Based on my total playtime so far, it’s worked.

Football Manager 2021
Football Manager 2021

You’d be forgiven, however, for thinking not much has really changed when you first boot up a new save, stumbling through inductions and a million different screens. The main interface in Football Manager 2021 is remarkably similar to last year, though the default skin is now a very agreeable dark purple. Almost all the different sub-menus and subsections are exactly as they were last year, which may disappoint some. Condition is now relayed in hearts instead of percentages and wide target men still exist as a constant affront to God. There are some quality of life improvements, such as being able to change tactics just for a upcoming match, yet most of the action off the pitch will feel familiar.

On the pitch, though: it’s like a whole new ball game. Sports Interactive really should have bigged up how drastically different the match engine looks and feels this year, it avoiding the constant barrage of annoying nonsense seen in 20. Players are far less likely to dribble to the byline and then incomprehensibly shoot and neither are they are as fond as simply letting the opposition pass them by. Most impressive, though, are the goals. Last year, it felt like you’d seen all the goals within a handful of games, but 2021’s howitzers, tap-ins, and golazos appear much more dynamic. It’s simply brilliant to watch your team purring away in possession, dinking the ball around each other with 1-2s before beating the offside trap with lovely passing triangles and then slinking the ball into the back of the net like it’s covered in caramel.

A smaller change on paper to the on-pitch action is actually one of the biggest overall and brings a fundamental shift in match analysis. xG is the kind of metric you will see Twitter accounts with names like @Guardiolista and @ConstantCruyff bang on about like their wife has left them, though it is arguably the most important stat to watch out for in FM now. It basically shows your expected goals, so if you have a tonne of shots but a low xG, that will usually mean they’ve all been from range and way off target. A glimpse at xG should be all you need to know if you should be switching tactics and finally shut up the possession purists.

Football Manager 2021
Football Manager 2021

Football Manager 2021 isn’t a perfect experience, however, and I don’t think annual releases ever really have a chance of being so. The new match UI feels incredibly cluttered, especially on a desktop. There’s barely an inch that isn’t now taken up by some bit of analysis or statistic and the giant pane at the bottom that shows your entire squad condition and rating doesn’t really help, either. It’s very busy and something that I expect will confuse more than help new players. I’m also not keen on just how crazy restrictive work permits while working in England are — not being able to get in basically anyone non-English as backroom staff is plain annoying.

Despite some quibbles, I cannot believe just how great Football Manager 2021 is, especially as someone who has dunked a dumb about of time into previous entries. While the changes are mostly small, there are so many of them that do so much for the bigger picture that it almost makes 2020 look so much older than it is. I can’t wait to spend hundreds more hours in Football Manager 2021 and while I have led Everton to the upper echelons of football (the game isn’t that realistic), I am eagerly eyeing up a role at Caernarfon for a completely different experience. If you’re tired of FIFA or just want to dive into the world of football simulation, prepare to lose your life.

Football Manager 2021 is available now for PC.

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