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A newbie starts playing Football Manager

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There’s a new Ben in town

MLS: Inter Miami CF at D.C. United Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

With the COVID-19 pandemic having shuttered basically all sports, the world of this site and sites like it have come to a standstill. We are going to try and continue to post about all things soccer, if only to distract ourselves and you all during this wild times. As Jason said over the weekend, the forms and content of our coverage may get a little experimental during the next few weeks or months, but we hope that we can provide a little levity in an uncertain world.

For me, I decided now would be the perfect time to buy Football Manager 2020. I have never before played Football Manager, but I figured “why not now?” I won’t bother you with the particulars of my team and my season, because that is like telling someone about your dreams (and, that’s what Twitter is for), but I do want to give you my experiences trying to learn and understand a game that so many people love and get sucked into.

Football Manager is one of the two main soccer simulations out there, with the other being the ubiquitous FIFA. Each focuses on a different aspect of the game: FIFA on the on-the-field play, and Football Manager on everything else.

I was advised to start my first campaign with a team that I know well, so, of course, I chose D.C. United. Sorry, Ben Olsen, it Ben Bromley time now! You get to design a little avatar of yourself that greets you every time you open the game; these are my least favorite parts of games, as I am not very creative in this way, so I picked a shirt color, put some glasses on him, and let genericman take over D.C. United.

You do get the option of choosing from hundreds, perhaps thousands of teams from all across the men’s soccer world. As of now, they do not have any way of really playing the NWSL, except with workarounds from the ever popular game editor.

I am playing the game on my Dell XPS 13, which has integrated graphics and runs Linux. Even with that decidely non-gaming PC setup, it runs in Steam perfectly fine (albeit with the lowest quality graphics).

The game throws a lot of complicated and powerful controls at you all at once, with each screen containing sub-screens, detailed options, and different ways to access the same information. You control every aspect of your chosen team, from training and matchday squads, to trades, to facilities, and the entire academy.

To start off with, I explored two specific areas as I opened D.C. United’s preseason: transfers and tactics. The tactics screen is actually pretty straightforward, looking like any soccer lineup builder than you’ve ever seen. A handy helper is the analysis feature, which can let you know if you seem to have chosen a team that is deficient in any particular area of the field. I lined up a fairly standard D.C. United team from the beginning of this season, and it looked green all across the board.

My two tasks in the transfers section were to sign a fullback to help supplement the team, and to sign Erik Sorga from Loudoun United to D.C. United. There are a lot of different ways that you can search for players, including a database, suggestions from your scouts and GM, and players offering their services to your team. Like many things in Football Manager so far, there can be an almost overwhelming number of slightly different ways to achieve the same goal. I chose to search by out of contract fullbacks, was able to bring Luis Olivera in on a trial, and by the end of the trial was able to successfully sign him to a contract. Sometimes the buttons to do all of these things aren’t where you would expect them to be, and there is so much information crowding the screen that the correct option to let you move time to the next day is hidden.

Similarly, it took a little bit of noodling to get Erik Sorga to D.C. United. In hitting the “Send to D.C. United” button, I found that he needed a new contract first (which mirrors how his situation unfolded in our real life). A number of clicks later, negotiating things like money and more nebulous things like his pathway at the team, I had an email from his agent saying the deal had been made. All of this was still within the first week of game time.

I am starting to see why so many people love this game, and how it can suck you in for hours and hours on end. Right now, I am battling against the steep learning curve, and the tutorial system doesn’t make it particularly easier to jump in. I feel like I am going to take this digital D.C. United season as a test run, and see if I can fail in interesting ways or succeed despite myself. As this suspension of MLS continues, if I have interesting things to say about Football Manager, I’ll keep you all up-to-date.

So, friends, I ask you: what are your favorite tips and tricks for Football Manager? Do you have any desire to start playing if you never have before?