Few surprises can be expected from a game without rivals in its own way and enchanted, may or may not be rightly so, of staying true to its philosophy.
After an uncertain start to the season due to the possible arrival of the questioned Antonio Mohamed, I ended up being presented as the new manager of Celta de Vigo – here only called Vigo for licensing reasons. I did not need long introductions: I know the club like the back of my hand, I have etched the events of the last two decades at least and the fans know that I am one more, since there have been many times that they have seen me cheering in the stands with them. After the typical walk through the facilities and meeting the technical team, I began to prepare the first game of the preseason, a friendly party against the youth to see the tools with which to build a team that makes history. Moments before going to the field, the assistant coach offered me the possibility of making a short motivational speech, a talk with which to put the batteries to the most lagging player. Drunk with power due to my superior knowledge of the philosophy of the celestial team, I accepted and began to spit out a whole sermon, haranguing my troops so that they would dream of being great, of reaching the top, of establishing themselves above others as true football gods. The result was as expected: the entire team fell apart emotionally, losing to top it off in ’89 with an own goal.
And it is that as much as Football Manager aspires to realism, we must not forget that we are facing a fiction whose development of events depends on ourselves. The intention of this soccer simulator has never necessarily been to represent reality on a 1: 1 scale, but rather to imitate its mechanisms to get closer to the experience of managing a team both in its sporting part and in its more “business” part. In that sense, the Sports Interactive and Sega game still has no more rival than its previous versions, a fact that they can take pride in but for which we should also ask ourselves some questions.
I say this because, even though there is a conscious and palpable effort to introduce novelties with which to justify the launch of an annual installment, we must begin to recognize that there are fewer and fewer reasons that invite us to make the change. The game advertises, for example, the introduction of the VAR and the Bundesliga license, but they continue to be sympathetic additions with little impact on matches, beyond giving German football fans joy and creating artificial seconds of intrigue about a situation in which we do not have the slightest possibility of intervening. Another thing is the training and the tactics, which do undergo a remarkable evolution compared to last year. True to his philosophy, now the planning of each week’s work has more options -as long as we do not decide to delegate to another member of the technical team-, which range from setting the entire training schedule to going session to session or even player to player; which directly influences the performance of our team but also morale, their physical condition or how well they have assimilated our idea of how to play. The latter are also helped by new tactics, which allow us to choose an easily recognizable style -tiki taka or putting the bus are some of the available options- and guide our pupils both with the ball and without it.
Part of the good in all this, although it is fair to admit that also the worst, is especially seen in the new tutorials active during our first days as a manager. There is a clear intention on the part of the studio to make the game more accessible to the newcomer, that the overwhelming amount of icons and text is digestible and we face our initial weeks in office with some calm, but when they finish explaining the most important thing to us and they let go of us without any supervision other than that which we fix, we realize that we have barely gotten our feet wet on the shore. The world of football is complex, and Sports Interactive seems to be making less and less efforts to simplify it, introducing variables on the variables that make it difficult for anyone who has not been studied from home to access. It is true that after dedicating the necessary time, all the pieces begin to click: once settled in our position we can begin to polish the edges, give ourselves more control and end up defying luck with skill; but the component of chance is inevitable, such is the amount of possibilities that nurture even the most trivial aspect, such as choosing who the captain is – thereby risking touching the morale of our team.
For the record, none of what has been said so far is indisputable. I criticize the lack of news or the growing complexity for newbies, but there is no doubt that this is what the most staunch fans expect – and almost, ALMOST, we hope; and it includes enough tools anyway to prevent either case from affecting the core of the game too much. There are, even so, some inexplicable things, like the very scarce evolution of the menus, as aseptic as ever; or the incredibly poor aspect editor for our manager, who should include more options if only for the fact that the doll stars in each and every important moment in it and it is ridiculous to continue seeing an avatar graphically anchored in the nineties.
To sum up my intervention, Football Manager 2019 is a specialized game and, as such, it requires a response to match. You can see that it is designed both for those who want to always be up to date, with their players duly updated and many more possibilities to intervene in the organization of the team; as for those who have been interested in making the leap to this very complete simulator for a long time and have not dared until now. The former suppose at this point a safe purchase; the latter only have to assess the extent to which they are willing to pay the toll to allow themselves to be absorbed by this whirlwind of data, statistics and text. And what about those in the middle? Well, the most complicated thing depends on them: accept a drift towards the conformism that we have been seeing for years, or deny the genre and make peace with the fact that there is nothing remotely similar to it. Advantages and disadvantages of a status deserved by the dedication and effort shown for years, whose validity could be time to start questioning.