Sports Interactive hit the brakes with a delivery that, even improving what it had to improve, is more like an expansion than a novelty.
“I don’t believe in improvisations” – Michael Laudrup.
Sports Interactive do not seem to be the type to play dice. Football Manager, his only and veteran work, is one of those games measured to perfection, with an almost endless amount of data and variables that, although looked at with inexperienced eyes, may seem like gibberish, it hides a job that rivals that of the best clubs soccer. Football Manager 2017 starts from the same rules, but the Coca-Cola formula that has been exploiting for years begins to lose gas, and if on previous occasions we warn of the danger of having to innovate year after year to satisfy the demands of the public more Veteran before and newcomer now, perhaps for the first time in franchise history it is time for us to take a step back and ask ourselves how tolerable immutability can be in such a long-lived project.
“On Mondays I think of changing to 10, Tuesday to 7 or 8, Thursday to 4, Friday to 2, and on Saturday I already think the same b******s have to play” – John Benjamin Toshack.
Needless to say, the base remains exactly the same. As a good football manager, the main screen – in this case our mailbox – is our base of operations, the point where our avatar meets, now fully customizable with a system that recognizes our face in photos reasonably enough as not to create a spawn of h**l, with the rest of our technical team. And, although it is not particularly different from what we have seen before -phrase that can be applied to 99% of the new features available-, the main changes of this installment are found here, either showing information in a more visual way than before or suggesting changes or movements that, although still far from the presence of a “Monkey” Burgos yelling at your face, they are much more useful than they could be in the past.
“Soccer is a game played with the brain” – Johan Cruyff.
The main problem with Football Manager has always been to be the smartest in the class without bothering to check that all the other classmates or even the teacher are following his reasoning. Rarely is the saga not rude with the newcomer, and wanting to add more and more variables to justify the departure of an annual installment have ended up further complicating what in itself offered a practically infinite number of options. Luckily, if something good can be said this year, it is that the AI thinks much more about the person behind the screen, constantly offering advice, showing us different easily accessible aids throughout the menu and letting us activate them directly from our inbox. suggestions from the assistant coach, our scout or the physical trainer. It is a clear improvement, especially if we compare it with the enormous amount of actions that we had to carry out before to change the training routine or negotiate with a player, but – and it is a huge but – don’t let this fool us, because we will continue to meet with innumerable situations in which we will not be very clear about what we have influenced or if it is possible to obtain an outcome different from the one the machine has raised, something problematic in a game in which you spend most of the time navigating between menus and with feedback limited.
“I’m not asking you to stop the ones that go inside, but at least don’t put those that go outside” – Alfredo Di Stéfano.
Xavi said in his analysis of the edition two years ago that Football Manager manages time badly, and although the effort to reduce that impression of having to pay attention to irrelevant things is notable, his other big mistake is the disconnection that exists between certain tasks and our participation in the game. What is the point of giving different statistics to our virtual representation before even starting, when we still do not know what it influences or how we want to face the season? Why put a menu dedicated to social networks if you only dedicate it to show messages of joy when you win and sadness when you lose instead of, and is an example, questioning your work as a manager positively or negatively? Why is the Fantasy Draft, that kind of virtual Comunio operating even without needing other friends, so completely isolated from the main game that it is almost like a separate game? They may seem like silly details, but they get especially gory because many of them are not even new and have been around for two or even three years.
“Soccer is the most important of the least important things.” – Jorge Valdano.
The rest of that time in which we are not looking at a succession of words and numbers is distributed, how could it be otherwise, within the field of play, where we also find aesthetic improvements. The animations, both in green and in the menus, are much more fluid, and although visually we are still far from a FIFA or a PES, the table football figures have given way to models competent enough to put aside the tasks of Manager and taking on the role of spectator doesn’t feel like traveling back in time. Also the small details, such as the spray for free-kick shots or the different camera angles, help to give a minimal but necessary touch of verisimilitude. The rest, a bit of the usual: Manage tactics, move the bench and, as the main novelty, a statistical analysis that, through heat maps, helps us understand the strengths of our team and know in which areas we need to reinforce or change our plan.
“I am not the best in the world, but I think there is no one better than me” – José Mourinho.
Sports Interactive seems very sure that his work is almost perfect, and possibly right, but the purely cosmetic of the novelties of this year are more a job of sheet metal and paint than the evolution of a model. In the end, and even when we see things really notorious such as the influence of the Chinese / Russian / Asian leagues in the transfer market or how Brexit can affect the development of foreign leagues to the detriment of the English, it is difficult to find elements that go beyond the anecdote and generate a discourse other than “only the data matters”, which makes us face the question of how far we have been hearing the same thing over and over again because it works, it has worked and possibly it will work again.
Therefore, before calling the end of the meeting, make a reflection on the franchise. There is no doubt that FM2017 remains an incredibly attractive option for all those new to the game. As a football manager, no opposition apart, he touches all the clubs he should touch and some that he would not have or why. Even at the risk of becoming repetitive, and despite the fact that the version we have tested does not contain the real names of the Spanish teams, I must insist that the level of documentation and detail is delusional. It sounds simplistic, but having a British development team go to the trouble of looking up the name of the scout for the smallest team in La Liga or the organization chart of their quarry speaks volumes about the level of commitment of these people. The problem, as almost always in these cases, is to justify the move to a new delivery; an apparently easy decision considering the uniqueness of the proposal in every sense of the word and that, even so, makes us understand David Beckham more and more when, asked about Sir Alex Ferguson’s work on the benches, he stated that : “He’s the best coach I’ve ever had at this level. Well, he’s the only coach I’ve had at this level. But he’s the best coach I’ve ever had.”