‘Football Manager 2023’ review: parking the bus

There aren’t many changes, but ‘Football Manager’ is still a title contender

You need to immerse yourself in Football Manager to see the details. That’s why I’ve already ploughed through four seasons and taken Dover Athletic to the Sky Bet Championship. That’s definitely the reason. Football Manager 2023 is just as compulsive as the other games in the series, and still has the magic ability to eat an entire evening in a blink.

Football Manager 2023 is, ostensibly, a game of looking at pages and pages full of data. That hasn’t changed, you’ll be poring over statistics, poking and prodding at tactics and then trying to turn your team into world beaters. Football Manager 2023’s biggest selling point is letting you drop into pretty much any team playing competitive football, and it feels authentic. Want to take a team from the Vanarama South all the way to winning the – now officially licensed – UEFA Champions League? You can do that. Want to help PSG win some silverware? Totally achievable.

In fact, growing a team and changing their stature is one of the most compelling ways to play Football Manager. FM2023’s best improvements are in recruitment and celebration, refining the process by which you buy and sell players, but also the addition of a dynamic manager timeline that pops up at the end of each season to tell you about the biggest achievements in your career. As many lifelong FM fans are putting in 30-40 seasons every year, it’s a good way to revisit that rainy 3-0 win over Wrexham that pulled you out of Sky Bet One into the championship, 27 seasons ago.

Football Manager 2023. Credit: Sega.
Football Manager 2023. Credit: Sega.

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For most people, the real benefit will be the squad planner. This functions like the old squad depth report, but here it lets you map out your squad several seasons ahead, letting you identify issues so that you can target players smarter: it could be useful in preseason to let you know you need a leftback, but you can also use it to plan for the retirement of your star midfielder in a couple of years. It’s informationally dense and requires a little bit of tweaking, but once you’ve got the hang of it it’s one of the more powerful tools in a manager’s arsenal.

Agents have been beefed up, too. They’re still the grumpy gatekeepers to your players, skimming extra money off the top of every contract negotiation and gumming up the works, but you can also use them to sound out a player’s demands before you make a move, and even ask them to resolve player’s unhappiness. It feels now like Agents are now a part of the ecology a little more.

Football Manager 2023. Credit: Sega.
Football Manager 2023. Credit: Sega.

Building that team is often the most exciting part of the game: different leagues have their own unique transfer windows, but that will often be the most thrilling moment of the game. The rest of your time will be spent juggling training schedules, injuries and dealing with the digital manchildren that you have lumbered yourself with.

The issues with Football Manager 2023 are the same issues that persist year on year. The game is bad at handling a team’s rapid ascension, with teams that get back-to-back promotions often hit with tiny wage bills and a non-existent transfer budget while loan players aren’t an option because the game still thinks you’re a minnow despite your ascension from the bottom leagues to the championship. However, this issue is probably realistic, and it’s an edgecase, very few players will face those difficulties.

Football Manager 2023. Credit: Sega.
Football Manager 2023. Credit: Sega.

Journalist interactions are still exhausting, and you wouldn’t be judged for sending your assistant manager to handle every press conference possible. Within a season you’ll have given the same answer to the same question 10-15 times. I’m not sure what the answer is to fix this, but if Football Manager 2024 makes one big revamp, I hope it’s to the way journalists and media affairs are handled. In the meantime, as with any part of Football Manager you don’t like, you can just defer it to staff in the game.

If you’ve never played a Football Manager game before, I need to sum it up. Football Manager 2023 is a grand strategy game. It will appeal to people who don’t think they like grand strategy games – people that wouldn’t dream of staring at a map of Europe and painting it your colour in Victoria 3, Crusader Kings 3 or Hearts of Iron 4 but do love football will drop hundreds of hours here without noticing.

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Fans of those strategy titlesshouldn’t write this off, though. Football Manager is an engine for creating anecdotes, and it’s nearly impossible not to get sucked into this weird alternate world of football, until you’re the pub bore telling people about your 2040 Champions League run, with a series of players that don’t even exist in the real world. Still, they’ll feel real to you, and isn’t that the point?

Football Manager 2023 launches on November 8 for PC, mobile, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox. A PS5 version is planned for a later date. This review was played on PC.

Verdict

It’s another iteration for the Football Manager franchise, but a worthwhile one. The new Champion’s League license brings in an extra bit of authenticity, but it’s the squad builder and dynamic manager timeline that will make a real difference over last year’s game.

Pros

  • Still the most authentic football management experience there is
  • Match engine makes goals look fantastic now
  • Agents aren’t as awful now

Cons

  • Press interactions still boring
  • Honestly, the press interactions are so dull
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