The Enduring Appeal of Football Manager

The Enduring Appeal of Football Manager

Back in the early 1990s two brothers, Paul and Oliver Collyer, had an idea. Rather than create a competitor to the FIFA series of football video games they wanted to delve deeper into the world of tactics and management.

So the game Championship Manager was born in 1992. In 2005 it evolved into Football Manager when developers Sports Interactive joined forces with SEGA.

The rest, as they say, is history and in 2024 the game is enjoying its 20th anniversary.

Back when it was first developed the Collyer brothers could never have imagined in their wildest dreams that the game would grow into the global phenomenon it is today, selling six million copies a year and being popular with almost everyone involved in the world of football.

This is all the more remarkable as, compared with fast-moving sports games, Football Manager takes a far more intellectual approach focusing on strategy, planning and tactics rather than putting the ball into the back of the net.

Honing the managerial skills

Managing a football team is a notoriously precarious position. You’re only as good as your most recent run of results. And, when they’re bad, it’s the manger who gets the blame before the players.

So this injects the essential level of peril in the game itself, an essential ingredient of any video game that hopes to be a success.

But Football Manager gives the player a unique opportunity to develop and refine the skills needed to build and run a successful team, as well as learning how to handle the not-always-supportive media.

Over the years it has become an increasingly sophisticated game with more and more options being introduced. It has also increasingly introduced the importance of scouting for new talent and developing the players once on board.

You only have to look at the popularity of fantasy football to see just how much armchair fans like to imagine themselves in the position of power. Football Manager allows them this privilege, far more effectively than by simply picking the team line-up for the week.

A side benefit of playing the game has also been that it has enhanced many fans’ knowledge of the real thing. For those who enjoy football betting, this has often proved invaluable in making better wagering decisions.

A person kicking a football ball

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Another remarkable aspect about the game, and another driving force behind its global success, is the player community that has grown up.

Considering that this is generally a single player game this is all the more unusual. Nevertheless, look around online and you’ll find countless forums and other fan sites where players share their knowledge and experience with others.

Perhaps it’s not so surprising as gamers do generally like to feel they’re part of a wider community of like-minded people – and with Football Manager, that is certainly what they achieve.

Off the screen and into the real world

As the game has developed it has also begun to have a life of its own in the real world of football.

There are countless remarkable stories about how real teams and real managers have harnessed its powers for their own ends. These have ranged from refining scouting techniques to applying management skills learnt in the game onto the pitch.

One of the best-known examples came in 2008 when Everton FC was allowed exclusive access to Football Manager’s player database to help with their own scouting activities as well as to carry out in-depth analysis of opposition players’ strengths and weaknesses.

Countless actual professionals including ex-Burnley manager Sean Dyche have also admitted to using the game to help them plan strategies and tactics in the real world.

Perhaps the most famous example of the influence the game has had in developing skills comes from the story of Will Still. After years of virtually managing teams on-screen, in his early thirties he has found himself in charge at Ligue 1 team Reims where, in 2022, he oversaw a 17-game unbeaten run. Although he has no formal managerial qualifications, something that earns the club a $27,000 fine per game, this is something they are prepared to pay for his expertise.

The depth of the game’s database has also opened up an international career for Blackburn Rovers’ Ben Brereton. It was discovered that he had Chilean heritage and would be eligible to play for his country as well as for the Lancashire side. He made his debut in the 2021 Copa America in a 1-1 draw with Argentina.

With the increasing use of AI, we can expect to see many more developments in the title over the coming years, as well as many more stories about it affecting the real world of football.

So long live Football Manager.

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