Football Manager has been the go-to series for fans of ‘the beautiful game’ for many years now, enabling the average person to test their management and tactical skills by attempting to lead a team to glory, or at the very least safety. The legendary PC management sim used to be an Xbox title too you know, but it sadly disappeared after 2008’s instalment. Now, it’s finally returned to the Xbox family in the form of Football Manager 2021 Xbox Edition. Is it an award-winning comeback for the series, or does relegation from the console beckon once more?
While the tactical brilliance of Football Manager 2021 (FM 2021) is clear for all to see, something is amiss in regards to its suitability for the Xbox. For the many positives, the chemistry between the two is lacking and the experience just doesn’t quite adapt as well as it should to the controller, which is a problem. It’s like when José Mourinho joined Manchester United, there’s a huge potential for a great trophy-winning partnership. As it stands though, Football Manager 2021 Xbox Edition falls slightly short of being an excellent management sim.
Before delving into the depths of Football Manager 2021 Xbox Edition, it’s worth pointing out that it’s based on the Touch series. Therefore, one should expect a more streamlined approach to proceedings, aimed more towards the casual managers out there, and bears less features than the full PC offering. Don’t worry however, because there’s still plenty to sink your teeth into and for the most part, the difference is unnoticeable to the untrained eye. That is unless you’re a die-hard fan wanting to whisper encouraging words into your best player’s ears between matches and overload the player/team database to provide a ridiculous amount of extra data for your career. Now that you can’t do.
Fortunately, you’re still able to manage any team from a wealth of leagues around the globe; from the English Vanarama National League and the Korean K-League, to the top leagues of Brazil and the German Bundesliga. The amount of data collated for each and every player within is stupendous, covering everything from individual attributes to traits and personality. This accuracy and detail more than makes up for the fact that some leagues, including the Premier League, are bereft of official kits and badges – it’s really not the end of the world.
While there are six different modes available, the Career is your bread and butter in FM 2021; giving you the opportunity to take over the hot seat and try to win trophies in whichever league you end up in. It’s entirely possible to begin at a lowly team and work your way towards earning offers from the big names or head onto the International stage. There’s a lot to digest before these pipe dreams become a reality, with the controls posing the first real challenge.
The bane of development when porting any massively successful simulation game from PC to console is usually the control system. And while Sports Interactive have tried their best with on-screen prompts and such, the Xbox controller button configuration completely lacks intuition. Even after a few hours the setup doesn’t feel second nature and for folks who like to fiddle with numerous aspects of their team frequently, it’s very off-putting trying to navigate the menus. The fact that an on-screen mouse cursor is an option instead, could ensure life is a bit easier for some, but the movement speed isn’t ideal here either. If a patch arrives to allow a few refinements then the cursor will provide a happy medium.
Fortunately, actually learning the ins and outs of management is executed far better, with separate inductions prepared for the most crucial area. Step by step, it’ll explain the scouting system, go over the training regimes, introduce the players you’ll be working with, and delve into the strengths and weaknesses of the squad. Most importantly however, is a run-down of what the backroom staff can do to lighten the load, should the volume of tasks seem overwhelming. They are capable of sorting transfers, negotiating contracts, selecting suitable training focuses, scouting potential signings, and hiring staff to help with these kinds of things.
While the best way is to embrace the whole caboodle yourself, the choice to pass some of it off to staff will be beneficial to newcomers. After all, planning the pre-season and organising a tactical approach for upcoming matches is a mammoth job in itself. Analysing the team to figure out the formations to fit will take a great effort, especially given the number of different play styles you can put in place for whenever a change in mentality is in order. And then each individual position has multiple roles, which may or may not suit the player you’ve chosen for that particular spot.
Matchdays are just as detailed with a ton of statistical data displayed on-screen to help sway your decision making in-between the happenings on the pitch – It’s almost Marcelo Bielsa-like levels of insight. Altering your approach on the fly is easy enough to grasp, with so much control in your hands, including switching to a more attacking plan or just shouting instructions to the lads. Berate the entire starting XI, attempt to calm down a hot-head or give someone a pat on the back, all from the sidelines.
The match engine in which the games play out before your eyes isn’t quite on the quality level of FIFA 21 or PES 2021 in terms of visuals, but the excitement factor is still present and that’s what really matters. Whether you opt for a full length match or the key highlights, the unpredictable nature of proceedings leads to an adrenaline rush as players string together a bit of silky football to create a chance. On the flipside, it’s excruciating when your defenders forget the basics and then gift chances to the opposition. That’s football though, and you take the highs with the lows.
All of that as well as off-the-pitch antics like dealing with injuries, pressure from the board and keeping morale up, are part and parcel of creating the unique feeling of being the manager. You’ve got such an immense amount of control that every success and failure culminates from your chosen actions, ensuring every decision is meticulously weighed up beforehand. The pure joy arising as a result of a fresh tweak to tactics to snatch a win, or a dominant performance in a tense cup final, is unmatched.
The only thing better than that is being able to share such moments with friends, which is possible. There is an online version of the Career, allowing you to invite your closest allies to become your nemeses. Getting them in is one thing, but actually sorting them out with a team to manage is fairly bewildering and there should be more in-game assistance on this front to avoid confusion; at least by making it more similar to the Fantasy Draft, where you can bring up to 32 fellow tacticians into a lobby before anything kicks off. Whether it’s for a League or Knockout format, folks will take turns picking players to build a squad and it works really well. If time is limited though, the Versus offering delivers a one-off match against a single opponent instead for a swift battle of wits.
Would you believe that’s still not everything FM 2021 Xbox Edition brings to the table? In terms of going it alone, a Create-A-Club mode lets you start afresh anywhere in the world and put your stamp on the sport. You can replace any team, retain their resources, draft in players within budget and ensure the newly born club is kitted out with your selected kit and badge designs. The final mode is geared more towards the people who just want a real test, which is provided by a selection of seven different Challenges. Can you do a Big Sam and save a team from certain relegation, or cement a place in history and go an entire season undefeated like ‘The Invincibles’? There’s only one way to find out.
Before wrapping up and getting back to planning for a top of the table clash with Liverpool, I feel there are a couple of little things that need mentioning. Microtransactions are one of those and it’s beyond belief to see the suggestions in-game to purchase the likes of Magic Sponges to heal injuries. A need to boost your finances is solved by spending a few quid, while you can even pay to give your next opposition a Dodgy Lasagne. It doesn’t sit right with me and there’s no need for their inclusion. Aside from that travesty, the game has a couple of minor bugs and these range from the created manager’s skin changing colour upon each load-up, to teams offering non-negotiable £0 transfer bids over and over again.
Overall though, Football Manager 2021 Xbox Edition is a very good management sim and a viable option for anyone who spends more time on an Xbox than a PC. Performance-wise it runs well on the Series X and the whole layout is brilliantly designed from a visual standpoint. Unfortunately, it’s a pain to navigate the menus and even after sinking a ton of hours in, it still feels odd. The inclusion of microtransactions leaves a bitter taste too, because they’re just unnecessary. Where Football Manager 2021 Xbox Edition redeems itself is in regards to the exciting matchdays, the sheer amount of control you’re given and depth of statistical analysis.
As long as you can get your head around the controls well enough to avoid getting frustrated, Football Manager 2021 Xbox Edition is worth grabbing on Xbox, but it could be better.