It’s that time of year again when all the major sports games pump out their annual releases, and Football Manager is no different. Year on year, these games can leave long-term fans questioning the innovation and novelty of the latest edition as they start to feel like updates rather than new games in their own right. Franchise fatigue can also set in as we ditch our save in which we have taken our favourite team to world domination and go right back to the start with the renewed database.
In a game as vast as Football Manager, however, there are still innovative and enticing ways to play, even for seasoned donners of the virtual sheepskin coat. I personally grew tired of trying to take my favourite team or my local teams to glory several editions ago but developed a renewed love for the game by taking a step into the unknown through challenges and journeyman careers.
Does the idea of turning West Brom into Premier League champs and Champions League contenders no longer appeal? Are you unenthused by the thought of going back to square one with your local team? Have the top leagues of Europe lost that lure that had you trying to emulate Bobby Robson in versions past? Then, take a look at these six career set-ups and challenges that might entice you back into the game as they have done for me.
Small Club to Big Club Challenges
FM has a huge selection of leagues and teams around the world. Dig a little deeper though and you realise that there are other ‘unplayable’ teams that can be accessed. These are the clubs that begin life outside the playable leagues in the game but may get promoted into the lowest active division at the season’s end (for example, in England this would be a team one step down from the National North/South who get promoted for the 2018/19 season). You simply run the game in holiday mode for a season, choose one of these newly-promoted teams and then try to take them all the way to the top. Such clubs offer a unique challenge as they are likely to have a lower reputation, worse facilities and a thinner squad than the rest of the division.
The most famous version of this is “Dafuge’s Challenge” on the official Football Manager forums, which invites you to take an in-game promoted side from the National North/South to Champions League Glory. The challenge can be replicated in any league with a promotion/relegation system though, and European, South American, Asian and African versions of the challenge also exist if you fancy really going out of your comfort zone. One of my most memorable saves ever was taking Yalovaspor, a provincial Turkish team, all the way to Champions League triumph. It took 30 seasons of in-game time, but it was worth it.
The San Marino Double
Poor San Marino, so long the whipping boys of international football. Did you know, however, that San Marino also exists as a club? San Marino Calcio currently play in Serie D in the Italian League structure and could potentially get promoted to the playable Serie C at the start of the in-game 2018/19 season. Your task then is to take over both club and country. As you build up the club through promotions, boosting facilities, and nurturing youth talent, can you also help the national team reap the benefits of your success? A San Marino Calcio side in Serie A with homegrown talent taking to the field could catapult the San Marino we all know and thrash into contention to qualify for, and dare we suggest, win international tournaments.
This is, of course, a monumental challenge and one I have never completed despite getting the club side to Serie A once. There are other examples of similar club/nation ‘doubles’ out there though. How about FC Vaduz of Lichtenstein in the Swiss Challenge League? Or one of the Canadian teams in America’s MLS? Or Wellington Phoenix of New Zealand who cross confederation boundaries to play in the Aussie League? Plenty of challenges and fun to be had with all of them.
Give Youth a Chance
If the idea of nurturing homegrown talent appeals more than the challenge of invigorating San Marino, you might want to try a youth only challenge. This goes against the spiralling transfer fees of elite football by focusing solely on the ‘newgen’ players the game promotes from the youth system each year. Instead of spending money on bringing in new faces, you spend it on improving facilities and investing in youth development programmes. You have to work with what you get, which can really put your tactical skills to the test as your preferred 3-5-2 may not be possible without decent wing-backs coming through.
This provides an interesting challenge at any level. Try it with a lower league side and you have the challenge of keeping your team competitive when you have less than stellar facilities. The financial burden of investing in youth development may also hit you hard and force you to sell on some of your more promising talents. Higher up the divisions, you face the challenge of relying on homegrown produce when everyone else is feasting on expensive imports. This is a great way to appreciate the unique talents that the game creates instead of breaking the bank to sign the latest Brazilian wonderkid.
All the options presented so far have focused on taking one club/nation to glory, but that is rarely how real-life football management works. Managers go where the opportunities and the money take them. Some, like Sir Alex, may eventually settle at one club, and others like Roy Hodgson may switch clubs and countries frequently in search of success. A journeyman career offers the chance to add a touch more realism to your game. Start off as an unknown coach with few if any badges, apply for jobs, go to a tiny club in some far flung corner of the world and try to build your reputation up enough to earn your place in the top leagues of Europe.
Playing this way, I have taken charge of clubs in Hong Kong and India, worked my way to places like Uruguay and Ukraine (even taking in the head-scratching delights of the MLS on a couple of occasions), before finally getting head-hunted by teams from Spain, France, and England. It definitely adds a sense of satisfaction to make it to the top, and you get to learn a few things about world football on the way.
If a journeyman career sounds too random, how about adding a specific challenge? With the active leagues in the vanilla version of the game, there is the chance to go for a ‘Pentagon Challenge’ – that is winning the African, Asian, European, North American, and South American versions of the Champions League. Make use of some community created files and you could also go for the Oceanic Champions League to make it a Hexagon Challenge. Some players even go for the secondary continental cups, like the Europa League, making for a Decagon Challenge, or even a Tetradecagon Challenge if you count super cups.
Again, this is all about adding to that sense of achievement, more so than winning the Champions League with Real Madrid or Bayern Munich could. Be prepared for a long haul though – I missed out on FM16 because I saw a Hexagon Challenge from FM15 through to its conclusion. It may have taken two years of real time, but it remains one of the most enjoyable saves I have ever played.
International Manager of Mystery
All of the above challenges and career options require a huge investment of time, however (according to my Steam stats, I have averaged 650 hours+ on each of the five editions of the game in my library). Those in search of a quick game away from the carefully-trimmed pitches, skybox-filled stadia, and prawn sandwiches of the Premier League should definitely consider what Jose Mourinho calls “the old man’s game” – international management. With only a handful of fixtures a year, this offers a quick and fun way to advance through the seasons. With no hand in player development at club level, you have to rely on your abilities to motivate your squad and put an effective tactical plan into place to succeed.
This is also a great option for a journeyman career. Start at a tiny Caribbean nation and try to work your way to the helm of a side capable of winning the World Cup. Use custom files to add in extra regional tournaments – nothing quite like having a Pacific Games memento to hang alongside your World Cup winner’s medal.
With the full version of Football Manager 2018 now out, it’s time to decide on what style of career I will sink my tactical teeth into. If you don’t hear from me for a while, don’t worry – I’ll be managing a team with the most childishly amusing name I can find and building them up into a regional force.