‘Football Manager 2022’ review: another win, but lacking a clinical finish

A new match engine doesn’t hide a few missteps in this year’s Football Manager iteration from Sports Interactive

For the longest time I’ve been a Football Manager fan, but not a football fan. I loved the spreadsheets full of data, but didn’t feel any real attachment to the sport itself, making it an unusual game to play.

That’s changed during the pandemic. While I used to describe myself as something of a lapsed football fan, I realised this was inaccurate when – mid-pandemic – I found myself tuning in to Belarussian football matches out of a desperate desire to watch some sport.

There’s a point beyond “god, I missed football” here, I promise. It’s just that what I actually want from a Football Manager game has changed now: I want the drama of a promotion campaign, the elation of scoring a key penalty against Brighton, and the feeling of signing Khayon Edwards – he’s a real player – for Chelmsford after Arsenal let him go, and developing into a top tier player as Chelmsford ascend towards the Premier League, before selling him for millions to Arsenal. There will likely be tears.

I want a Football Manager that’s a life simulator for people who don’t want a life outside of managing a football team, watching as Mbappe goes on a free to Bayern Munich for some reason while you sign Bukayo Saka in 2032 as a veteran winger to tie together a faltering midfield.

Football Manager 2022 delivers on the fantasy, with a heap of different systems designed to perfectly emulate just about everything about the beautiful game, with different rulesets for every different league mirroring their real-life equivalents. You can be as involved or uninvolved as you want with the game’s delegation system, but you should be expecting to negotiate contracts for star players, giving team talks, handle player happiness, and even make sure you’ve got the best physio working at the club to ensure everyone stays happy and healthy.

These requirements shift slowly as you move through different leagues. My guilty pleasure for each release in the yearly franchise is to take a team from the bottom of the Vanarama South to winning the Premier League and Champions League, and this is exciting as you get to see football evolving from the part-time non-league football where every transfer is a free, all the way to the glittering lights of the premier league, where you spend an untold amount of pretend money to get a 19-year-old Argentine striker that the game has made up just to sell football shirts. Against this backdrop, there’s genuine fun to be had finding out how the footballing world is evolving around you and where both players and teams end up.

Football Manager 2022. Credit: Sports Interactive
Football Manager 2022. Credit: Sports Interactive

While many of Football Manager 2022’s myriad improvements will be invisible to people who don’t play every year, one thing you can’t ignore is the new match engine, which trades the Sensible Soccer look of the previous Football Manager games and replaces it with something that looks right out of FIFA. FIFA 02, maybe, but FIFA nonetheless. It’s a great visual upgrade, even if it’s really just window dressing to the numbers and calculations that are actually pushing the action around. You can see plays coming together, even if occasionally a goal kick should have clearly been a corner.

I’m also a big fan of the data center, which is the other big headline addition. This pulls in data reports that can help you see where your team is stumbling at a glimpse, indicating a leaky defence or a strike team that are shooting plenty, but can’t seem to hit the target. This informational density is uniform. Many of these screens will seem familiar, but we’re at the point where there’s nearly too much information, meaning if your team is flagging it’s probably your fault for not parsing it well enough. With a team weak in the air when I first took to the field, I asked my analysts for reports on how many headers we won against enemy defenders, and they complied, no sweat.

Football Manager 2022. Credit: Sports Interactive
Football Manager 2022. Credit: Sports Interactive

Elsewhere, staff meetings have been streamlined so you can just get emailed a summary of their recommendations, which is useful when most of their recommendations are rubbish. The new transfer deadline day “experience” is… fine? It adds a little more ceremony, but it’s nothing to write home (or away) about.

Sadly there are negatives in Football Manager 2022, too: anecdotally, players seem to get injured a whole lot more, crocking themselves on even the most basic of training routines. Sports scientists, physios and even taking it easy doesn’t seem to help, and while it might be more realistic (how often does Michael Antonio bruise his groin and have to take two days out? Answers on a postcard), it’s often quite frustrating.

Similarly, the information you want from scouts now seems to be harder to find than it was before, requiring a couple of clicks to see if a player is the right choice for you. This will sound like a non-complaint to a layperson, but that’s because you don’t appreciate how many players you’ll be parsing through near-constantly, especially when you’re trying to find the missing ingredient for your team.

As often happens, Football Manager 2022 delivers a couple of great features and a couple of minor steps back. This is a better game than 2021’s effort to be sure, but a few small annoyances will grate series fans.

Football Manager 2022 launches on November 9 for PC and Xbox, with the game also coming to Xbox Game Pass. This review is based on the PC version of the game.

Football Manager 2022. Credit: Sports Interactive
Football Manager 2022. Credit: Sports Interactive

The Verdict

Whether you’re taking West Ham to their deserved place at the top of the premier league, nervously preparing for the Bavarian Derby, or fighting bravely for scraps all the way down in the Vanarama leagues, Football Manager 2022 is a compelling simulation of what it’s like to actually manage a football club, with none of the risk of accidentally doing a Big Sam-esque gaffe. Still, if football and spreadsheets aren’t your bag, there’s nothing for you here.

Pros

  • Still the only football management game worth playing
  • Heaps of data
  • Data center and new match engine are great additions

Cons

  • Injuries seem almost too prevelant
  • Scouting data is tucked away
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