Football Manager 2023 review – Routine trophy lift for the FM series

Football Manager 2023 team and logoSports Interactive

Football Manager 23 introduces some new features to the iconic management simulator franchise, and while Sports Interactive’s newest game keeps leading the pack, it’s not because of a footballing revolution.

The annual release of Football Manager scratches that itch for millions of football fans who really believe that they could, in fact, do a better job than some of the game’s most-renowned tacticians. 

It’s come a long way since starting out life as Championship Manager with just lines of rapid-fire commentary lighting up your computer screen at all hours of the night. Trust me, I’ve been there, sinking more hours than I want to admit to into shouting at virtual players – and dots – because they misplace a simple pass. 

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The series is still unrivaled in the managerial simulator market and there isn’t a contemporary for it in the footballing genre. And while SI isn’t resting on their laurels with FM 23, they aren’t exactly reinventing the wheel either for experienced players.

Football Manager 2023 key details

  • Developer: Sports Interactive
  • Price: £44.99 or free with Game Pass
  • Release date: November 8, 2022
  • Platforms: PC & Xbox

Football Manager 2023 trailer

Out with the notepad, in with the Squad Planner

If you’re a Football Manager obsessive, you’ve probably got a notepad or something similar to help you out. To anyone else, they may look like inane scribblings that don’t make sense, but to the rest of us, they represent a vision to turn into reality (in the virtual world.)

This is where FM 23 really excels and sets itself apart from the last few installments. The Squad Planner and Experience Matrix really make it simple for you to pinpoint a weakness in your team and rectify it in the following months and seasons. Got a nagging feeling that your reliable, veteran center-back is just starting to fall off? The Experience Matrix will identify that at the perfect time rather than it lingering in the background.

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From there, you draft in the Squad Planner and you figure out your next steps. It’s an impressive and helpful tool that even the most experienced FM players will enjoy getting to grips with. It cuts through some of the time you can waste getting lost in scouting trips or recruitment meetings, meaning you can dedicate more time to really fine-tuning things elsewhere. 

The Squad Planner will also save you plenty of time when you find yourself parachuted into a club that you’re not all that familiar with. It’s not going to go stale regardless of how many jobs you take on over the next year. It’s the game’s best new feature by far and I’ve already lost countless hour in it over a handful of saves.

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Football Manager 2023's Squad PlannerSports Interactive
The Squad Planner is Football Manager’s best new feature in a while.

The Data Hub also takes a leap forward this year with more stats than ever before. It’s nice not only to get a round-up of your stats, but improved stat packs in relation to your league and upcoming opponents. It is more in-depth than ever and it really feels like a feature that is now coming into its own and cementing itself as a key pillar in the most important aspect of the game: Data. 

Despite all the positives about feature changes, one thing that hasn’t quite gotten a facelift is the Dev Center. You still get all the key findings for cultivating a golden generation of players and regular reports, but ultimately, it’s more of the same. 

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Experienced players know what they’re doing and the tutorials are sufficient enough for newer players.

Sports Interactive
The Data Hub is now a key tool in Football Manager, it doesn’t just feel tacked on.

Same pitch, slightly tweaked

The match engine of a Football Manager game is what makes or breaks things for most players and FM 23’s is rather fluid – although you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve been dropped back into FM 22. 

There are plenty of new animations for you to look at – if you aren’t a purist and playing on 2D Classic that is – but they’re certainly not make or break. The game isn’t FIFA where it has to look perfect. It simply has to make sense, and FM 23 does, just not in a massively different way from last year

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That’s not a huge knock on the game, really, as FM 22’s match engine was one of the best of the last few years. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it after all, but the desire for change always lingers.

The biggest changes come in the form of Out of Possession tactics. You can create low and mid blocks to frustrate opponents more than ever. Where the former ‘deep defensive line’ tactic sometimes felt like it was failing because you weren’t exactly defending like Sean Dyche’s Burnley, this change really does work. Defenders won’t engage when you ask them not to, and will give up more space than ever before to attackers. 

After going on a less than impressive run of results, I’m one of those players who really tries to shore things up at the back. Implementing a low block does that, and it’s really nice to have it at long last.

Sports Interactive
The ability to implement a real ‘low block’ is an enjoyable addition.

Sadly though, there is little innovation further up the park. The attacking instructions are just the same as last year. So too are the personal instructions for players and positions. You can still go wild and experiment with styles of play, but until someone cracks something new in the real world, it’s more of the same in the virtual one. 

Fan pressure finally starts to tell

The new changes to the expectations system are also welcome. Yes, your board will still set out an initial plan for the length of your first contract, but now the fans have more say and it really does feel like FM is finally tapping into fan pressure rather than just leaving it in the hands of the virtual board.

Your task to actually build up a club is represented in-game with demands to increase social media followings and grow your hardcore support. You’ll get some nifty graphics about this when you take over a club and as your progress in your role. 

In all, the change helps make this the most realistic and ultimately more challenging FM to date, so don’t take it lightly, even if it doesn’t feel like a massive change. That virtual criticism will feel lifelike before long.

Sports Interactive
Fans will routinely let you know their feelings rather than once a month.

The Verdict – 8.5/10

In all, Football Manager 23 represents another step forward for the franchise but it’s a title win without much competition. The changes to recruitment and squad planning are impressive and welcome, but the lack of an overhaul to the match engine may leave players wanting more. 

The addition of Champions League graphics – yes, you don’t have to download a third-party image pack anymore – helps improve the realism and overall story of your saves but it’s ultimately not a game-changer.

It’s still a must-have for any football fan, of course, and you’ll find yourself in that classic routine of ‘just one more match’ before long.