Football Manager 2020 in the test: the greater the club love, the better the manager
Anyone who has played a football manager can tell it: This one story in which he ultimately led his team to the championship after a season full of ups and downs. This one story, which only pitying looks and questions like: "And you just watched and didn't play yourself?" triggers.
For the story to be as successful as possible, Football Manager 2020 again demands a lot from the players: We have to sign players and keep them happy, try and train new tactics, and train youth players and introduce them to the first team - while the board always keeps an eye on our work and has finances. For all of these tasks, this year's version once again provides all conceivable tools and freedom of action that a PC soccer manager could wish for.
A dream for tactical foxes
Choosing the right tactic for the "player material" available is the cornerstone of any football manager's success. The tactics wizard, which was introduced into the game in the previous version, is particularly helpful for beginners. With it we can choose between different ways of playing like a counter-pressing à la Jürgen Klopp or a defensive bulwark of the finest Italian catenaccio architecture.
But be careful: Just because we choose a tactic doesn't mean it will work. For example, if you suddenly want to play a Tiki-Taka inspired by FC Barcelona with MSV Duisburg, you can probably watch your team play more passes into the feet of the opponent than to their own teammates.
Fortunately, the tactics assistant always analyzes our squad and recommends a suitable style of play based on this. The AI always makes sensible decisions, making it easier for beginners in particular to get started on the complex tactics screen. Football manager professionals, on the other hand, prefer to plan their own tactics down to the smallest detail.
Countless customization options for the team and individual players in the three phases (in possession of the ball, switching game, opponent in possession of the ball) leave nothing to be desired for true tactical foxes. Anyone who analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of their opponent in advance of a game and adjusts their own team precisely to this can easily plan 30 minutes per game day.
Highly realistic live games
In the live games simulated in real time, our decisions made on the tactics board are realistically implemented. As a rule, the players do what we asked them to - but there are exceptions: extreme cases like Mario Balotelli, who has only a few points in teamwork and commitment, like to just do their own thing.
It is above all such details that make every single game a unique and, above all, believable experience . Every adjustment screw we turn can be reproduced 1: 1 on the lawn. And when a counterattack that has been rehearsed for months leads to a goal for the first time, it feels better than any spectacular FIFA goal.
The match engine, which is responsible for simulating and displaying the games, has also been further improved in this year's version: Thanks to dozens of new animations, we can see even more varied moves because our players can call up a visibly greater potential for movement - from short ones Dribbling over massive header extensions to extravagant heel passes.
But even if Sports Interactive has tweaked the animations and pimped up the 3D models of the players, the Football Manager 2020 remains far from a visual treat this season as well. The athletes continue to slide across the lawn like ice skaters and still switch abruptly from one animation phase to the next, which both look extremely unnatural and awkward.
The graphics could therefore at best measure up to a ten-year-old FIFA or PES series part. That's why we switched to 2D mode after a short time in the test. Here the players act only as points on the pitch, but our decisions and their influence on the match can be analyzed much more precisely thanks to the better overview - and with a little imagination we can see just as beautiful games after a while as in 3D.
Small bugs with great potential for frustration
The biggest problem of the Football Manager 2020 is not its poor presentation, but various bugs and imbalances: One of the most noticeable errors in our test version is the inability of the AI to score goals in 1-on-1 situations. Even in cup games against lower-class opponents, the goalkeeper wins almost every duel - or the striker shoots the ball straight at the corner flag.
The long-range shots, on the other hand , are far too strong: Even if goals from outside the penalty area are usually nice to look at, they are far too common compared to real football matches. In any case, it is surprising that Sports Interactive did not notice these bugs during internal testing.
Also annoying: The counter-pressing tactic is - as in the predecessor - clearly too strong again . In our test, for example, we were able to qualify for international business with 1. FC Köln with this style of play after only one season, although realistically we should rather play against relegation with the squad - and without signing a single player!
Even with a handful of other clubs, the tactics went far too well from the start. As a result, we felt at times discouraged to try something new, as counter-pressing almost always gave the best result without much work.
Off the pitch: Everything is great!
But even if you occasionally had to shake your head during the live games: next to the court - apart from the constantly repeated interviews and press conferences - everything is almost perfect again. As usual, we can freely choose our workplace from hundreds of licensed associations .
From the first to the third league, all teams are again provided with real names, coats of arms, players and employees - only the newly fired Bayern coach Niko Kovac is called Max Freund in the game. Juventus Turin also has to have a different name due to its exclusive partnership with Konami and this year it is called Zebre (Italian for zebra).
Football Manager newbies can view a tutorial at any time that explains the basics of each area in full and understandable - the tips provided will help smooth the steep learning curve. The very helpful AI colleagues are also available to us in the current series part, to whom we can assign all tasks that we do not want to take on ourselves.
There are almost no restrictions: If we want, we can even put the assistant coach on the bench during the games and let the sports director handle all player transfers on his own - in most cases the helpers do a good to very good job from.
These innovations ensure more long-term motivation
The biggest changes to the management part, however, are two new features that want to ensure that we put even more precious time into our game saves. We already have to deal with the revised club goals before the actual game starts: After choosing the desired team, we go to a meeting with the management level, which puts us in front of a five-year plan.
The specified goals are clearly based on the club's philosophy of reality. Anyone who starts their career at RB Leipzig, for example, has to play attractive offensive football and should primarily sign talents under the age of 21, while the purchase of players over 28 is even completely prohibited. So we have to constantly make sure that the guidelines of the management floor are taken into account, otherwise a dismissal can occur despite sporting success.
The second important innovation is the performance center. At the beginning of our careers this is not very useful, but after about half a season you can find detailed feedback on the development of the youth players. Our youth coaches now continuously inform us which talents are ready for the first team - be it their own or that of a low-class club as part of a loan deal.
It also clearly shows which players need special attention so that they can achieve their full potential. The whole performance center is visually simple, but helps extremely effectively in planning our youth work.
However, the two innovations have one disadvantage: they only have a noticeable effect after several seasons, i.e. several dozen hours depending on how you play. If you want to replay the Bundesliga season with the current squad, you can safely ignore the club's goals and performance center.
And whether the remaining, rather subtle improvements really justify a new purchase, everyone has to decide for themselves, especially since you can easily play the predecessor with current clubs and leagues thanks to the hard-working community and easy data import.
But if you prefer to train your favorite club for several years or even lead it from the lowest division to the Champions League title, Football Manager 2020 is a clear step forward from last season and thus also the best series part to date.