My name is Edd, and I’m a Football Manager addict. There are very few things in life that I enjoy more than a good game of Football Manager, and it’s become somewhat of a joke amongst my non-football fan friends. In recent years it is the series I’ve put the most time into, and that shows no signs of slowing down with the current iteration. I’ve taken it upon myself to do what every football manager worth their salt would try to do – take a team from the very bottom all the way to the top.
The team I chose for this endeavour is one I frequently manage, and one that is very close to my heart – the mighty Bath City, also known as the Romans. They start off the game in the lowest division – the Conference South – and with very low expectations, they’re both a challenge and a fairly low pressure job. They also have a fairly adequate squad, so with the right tactics it’s definitely a club that could be taken up through the leagues.
Starting a game like this is always tough, especially if you’re used to playing as one of the premier league clubs. Going from having millions of pounds at your disposal to having barely anything and really having to lowball all your players and staff on their wages is a surprisingly tricky thing to do. It definitely teaches you how to effectively negotiate with people though, and saving that extra hundred quid a week could be the difference in being able to afford a decent centre half and one that just watches the ball pass him by.
Sports Interactive are always good at providing with a fantastic management simulation experience, and FM2016 has sucked me in even more than previous instalments. A lot of the aspects have remained the same, or very similar, but the minor enhancements they made really made the game all the more enjoyable. For instance, having affiliated clubs has been around for years, but because this is the first time in a few years I’ve done the lower league challenge, I’ve never really appreciated having a parent club, but I definitely wouldn’t have made it through the leagues without the help of Doncaster, Scunthorpe or Wolves. In fact, I had one of Wolves’ players on my team for six years without paying any of his wages. Year on year he was my top performer and I was dreadfully disappointed when I couldn’t afford his transfer fee to bring him over permanently when I was promoted to the Premier League.
That gives me another aspect that I enjoy so much as well – following players’ careers in the game. I keep an eye on what all of my ex-players are doing so I can keep an eye on when they choose to become backroom staff so I can be re-united with those that served me well. It can also be somewhat saddening, watching someone you brought in as a youth prospect leave your ranks after being deemed not good enough, only for no-one to find him good enough, so he retires as a player at the age of 25. Seeing established players careers progress is another part of the game that is so much fun. Raheem Sterling, for example, has over 150 caps for England and is still going strong at the age of 33! Wayne Rooney, on the other hand, is a little older and now manages Reading and earned them promotion to the Premier League at the same time my Bath City team went up. There are even great players – like Lionel Messi – who turn out to be crap managers. It’s terrific when you come up against these managers in a game and you absolutely destroy them – like I have done to James Milner on many an occasion.
Away from the real players are the computer generated players – more commonly known as regens – these are the ones that the game creates in order to allow players to keep playing as years go by. In previous editions, and even in games like Pro Evolution Soccer, once players retire, they just get “regenerated” into a youth player and added to teams – hence the name “regens”. Nowadays, they are completely new players that are largely unique to every game, with a name generated from a database, based on the region they’re from, making it somewhat realistic. These are the real gems in the game and following their careers through can be just as much fun as watching the real players’ careers rise and fall. If you have a decent academy (which, unfortunately, Bath City don’t) then you can be sure of having a handful of youngsters come through that you can watch grow up. A lot of my team are regens that I managed to secure on loans when they were young, and due to the great relationship I had with them, they were willing to step down to my club on a free once their contracts had run out. It works both ways though – they felt connected enough to me to be able to ply their trade at Twerton Park, and I feel indebted to them and feel like they should stay in or around my first team while they remain at the club.
It’s not just fun watching players progress (or regress in some cases) – watching clubs move on is also really intriguing. It sounds a little strange to suggest that clubs could move on, but even in my first season it became apparent that things could change really quickly. Club takeovers aren’t all that common, but they do happen to a couple of teams per season, and in my first season, Sutton United were the subject of a takeover by none other than David Beckham! While it didn’t help them out too much to begin with, they did manage to get promoted into the National Conference eventually. Watching success stories is always fun, but there is always the other side of the coin, where clubs don’t perform quite as you’d expect. I didn’t really expect to see any club enter free fall mode in my season, but two clubs, Bolton and Blackpool surprised me by dropping all the way down to the regional divisions, before a brief resurrection that sees them both currently in the Conference North.
Football Manager has always been a game that offers so much to players and with each new version of it, comes more and more features to immerse yourself in. Of course, people that aren’t that into football may find it hard going, but it really is a top game for any football fans. There are so many aspects to it that people don’t appreciate – and I’ve barely scratched the surface with this article. It’s much, much more than just a boring football game, and it’s no surprise that I’ve lost myself in the series for thousands of hours.