The managing simulator is back, more convincing than ever

First Impressions: Football Manager 2021 Preview

Sports Games
Football Manager 2021 Preview

We got an early feel for Football Manager 2021, a couple of weeks before the November 24 launch. (Image Credit: Sports Interactive)

Another year, another football season, another Football Manager. The football managing simulator is coming back with its newest rendition on November 24. We got a few hours with the alpha version of the game, so if you want to know more about what new features you can expect and how they feel in-game, you've come at the right place. Here's EarlyGame's Football Manager 2021 preview!

The global pandemic pushed back this year's Football Manager release by a couple of weeks and we're only going to be able to play the final version on November 24. We managed to get our hands on the alpha for a quick test of the very early version of the game, however. We are EarlyGame after all! Here's what we found out.

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What We Already Know

If you've ever played a Football Manager game before, even if it were 15 years ago when the series began under its current name, you'd know what you're in for in general. The very detailed, realistic representation of a manager's daily duties is definitely there, with all of the traditional aspects, we've come to adore.

Buying Messi and Ronaldo and winning everything is just not how it works in the FM universe. As usual, you have to pay close attention to your players, staff, tactics, the board, the media, recruitment, youth development and pretty much every aspect of the running of your club. Do that right and you might get close to winning everything. Eventually. You can of course choose to have it easier and delegate at least some tasks to your backroom staff if you have enough trust in them.

But that we already know. It's not why you're here. You're here to find out what you don't know. What kind of new features have Sports Interactive introduced to the series this time? We won't keep you waiting any longer. Let's get to it!

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What's New in Football Manager 2021

There are a bunch of innovations in this year's version. The focus is spread out evenly between key areas such as presentation, interactions, statistics, and of course - the match engine. Here's a brief overview of the notable changes:

Gestures

SI have been working towards making in-game interactions feel as realistic as possible, much like with every aspect of the game. The inclusion of gestures, such as smiling, finger-pointing, or kicking a chair certainly gets them closer to achieve said realism. Your gestures could affect your audience's reaction to what you're saying, so tread carefully before giving that ol' chair the boot.

Agents

Ah, those bloodsuckers! Yes, now you can talk directly to a transfer target's agent to find out just what it would take for his client to join your club. That's a cool feature, although some of the information received, such as how much money the player's current club would demand or how big of a salary the player would seek we already got from scouts.

Football Manager 2021 Preview Tactics

As usual, tactics are a main focus of the Footbal Manager developers. (Image credit: Sports Interactive)

The Transfer Market

Agent interactions are not the only new kid on the transfer block. The new Recruitment Meetings will help you design a short and long-term transfer strategy for your club. You and your staff will sit down for a discussion of the team's needs ahead of every transfer window, making sure your squad does not drop below par at any given time.

Statistics

Hardcore fans of the Football Manager series can take a deep breath. The stat flow is increasing. There's a whole new staff role created just for that purpose. The Performance Analyst will provide you with reports on how your team is doing, where it can improve and where the opposition's weaknesses lie.

Another performance-related piece of data that many cherish is coming to Football Manager 2021. The expected goals (xG) stat will give you a clearer indication of how well your team is doing on the pitch and whether or not you need a better striker...or goalkeeper.

Football Manager 2021 Preview Match Engine

The match engine and AI is much improved this year. (Image credit: Sports Interactive)

The Match Experience

Strides have been made to improve this particular part of Football Manager for the better part of a decade. Like every year, we can say that yes, a lot more can be done, but in all fairness, SI have done very well this year. That's even more impressive given we're saying this based on a supposedly subpar alpha version.

The matches feel a tad bit more realistic in numerous ways. There are the pre-game and post-game interviews, new animations and cut scenes, including a little trophy ceremony whenever you get to win one, and the match simulation itself feels better than ever.

We're well aware that in a game as data-stuffed as Football Manager, graphics can never be mind-blowing, but they are alright enough to not put you off. The AI has acted reasonably well in the few games we had the time to play. The physics behind player interactions are much improved, and, overall, movement feels fluid.

The new statistical and tactical additions give the matchday experience its finishing touch. Before a game, you take part in a Tactical Meeting where your staff give some advice on approaching the game. You can take or ignore that advice of course. You are a strong independent manager after all. During and after the game SI have added the already mentioned xG to the stat sheet, which increases your understanding of what is actually happening on the pitch. Most folks should be pleased by the overall match experience.

Coronavirus

As dedicated as the developers are to realism, there was no way they would leave the ongoing global pandemic out of Football Manager 2021's world. In this case, they have realized the escapist role video games play in human life and have limited the extent to which the pandemic reaches FM21.

Club finances are most affected by the realism of the game. All teams will command much fewer resources than they would usually and transfers in general, will be a rare sight in the first few months of a new safe. The kick-off of the 2020/21 season, as well as its transfer windows, have been adjusted to reflect real life. Competitions allowing five substitutes will do so in the game too, but will revert to three when the 2021/22 season arrives, unless the competition has confirmed otherwise.

That's where the inclusion of the coronavirus pandemic stops. Not only substitutes, but all of the above adjustments will slowly revert to normal by the time you approach the second season of your safe. Stadiums are full from the get-go, which should help with recovering finances, which in turn should bring transfer activity back to regular levels.

COVID-19 is not and will not be a possible illness in-game, gestures also remain normal after a community vote decided against the inclusion of "special" interactions such as elbow bumps. All in all, we feel like Sports Interactive have nailed the thin line between realism and being a burden just fine.

Football Manager 2021 Preview Expected Goals (xG)

Expected Goals (xG) is one of the most popular stats these past couple of years, so of course FM 2021 has it. (Image credit: Sports Interactive)

Football Manager 2021 Preview: Conclusion

A conclusion is too big of a word in this case. This is only an alpha so it's not really something you can judge as you would a finished product. We generally like the new features and where SI are going with them. Even those we're not that excited about, such as the agent interactions, don't ruin the experience in any way. For what it is and the changes it is trying to implement, Football Manager 2021 is shaping up to be another solid installment in the series.

We'll definitely give the beta version a spin once it becomes available and you already know a full-on review of the title is on the cards past November 24. We also spoke with Sports Interactive's Studio Director Miles Jacobson, who had a lot of exciting stuff to say about the new title and the series in general. That conversation will reach you in the coming days!

Keep tuned to EarlyGame for all of that and watch some of our YouTube stuff while you're at it.

Kiril Stoilov

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