I love football management games. Since the Ultimate Soccer Manager series on the Amiga, to the Football Manager PC games today, the allure of bossing around a squad of ragtag nobodies and working them through the ranks to glory keeps my interest, every year. While tinkering with tactics into the early hours of the night and watching stats and simulations rattle by on-screen still gives me a buzz, it’s a shame that there aren’t more social management experiences. I was addicted to SEGA’s subscription MMO Football Manager Live when it was up and running, but it was unfortunately very short lived. Many people I played with disliked the time commitment required, and the fact that a player watching the game live had a distinct advantage over one who was away from their keyboard.
I have long mourned the loss of Football Manager Live and have yet to find an MMO football manager game I’m happy with since. I’ve tried offerings available on Facebook and mobile, but microtransactions in all of the ones I have tried, turn the game into a play-to-win affair. I have no problem at all with spending money, but both losing and winning alike are less magical when you know that either yourself or your opponent were only victorious due to the financial advantage.
Last week I discovered Trophy Manager. A free-to-play browser based football management MMO (although I strongly recommend dropping the €5.50 a month for the extra “Pro” features). I’m loving it so far and will definitely be continuing my Pro subscription. Here are my first 7 days with the game!
Day 1 - Saturday
Looks like I joined a few days late for me to have got a team in a brand new season. Not to matter though, only one game has been played so far and my soon-to-be mighty Un Athletic managed to get a draw without my leadership. Only 2 points behind the league leaders, I have everything to play for!
The game provides you with a tutorial and each step earns you a little money and some free days of Pro. Pro essentially gives you tools such as being able to use filters when searching for players, have an agent make transfer bids for you while you are offline, get detailed info on training performance. In my mind, essential tools for being an effective manager, so I’ll be making good use of my free days.
First things first, it’s time to dip into the transfer market. With my newfound riches from the tutorial, I splashed out in areas that were looking a little weak. Placed in a low division, with a weak team; my experience is that attack is the best form of defence. Getting together a skilled, well organised defence at this level is impossible, so the aim should be to outscore your opponent. I grab myself a couple of attacking players and a Defensive Midfielder, to keep my defensive line a bit further upfield. I usually enjoy playing 3 at the back with a DM in front, but for now, I don’t have 3 good centre backs, nor the money to buy any.
Day 2 - Sunday
It’s match day!
I want to make best use of my new left winger and I started out with a decent player on the right, so I pick the “Wings” attacking style. The plan works wonders, winning the game comfortably, with both of my goals coming from long distance shots from my new signing. Unfortunately, despite getting so many chances into the box, my forwards struggled to take advantage and ended up having a bad day. Something to keep an eye on.
Worth mentioning here is the match engine. Your formation and players are chosen before the game, along with some tactics changes for mid-match. There are a huge amount of variables to play with, from “do this at 45 minutes”, to “if losing, do this” or “if this player gets a yellow card, do this”. The detail available is largely due to the fact you cannot make live changes during a match. One the game starts, you are at the mercy of the gods. This is actually a positive thing, as it means that should you be unable to attend a match, you are not at a disadvantage.
The match plays in real time. Yes, that means matches are 90 minutes long. So, if you choose to watch the game as it unfolds, grab yourself a cold one as it’s a long ride. Match events play out in a little video box, with a visual style similar to that of the PS2 version of Sensible Soccer, which I really like. I personally don’t feel the need to be given a graphical representation of what’s going on, but I know this matters to some, so it’s a neat little touch.
Day 3 - Monday
Although delighted with my win yesterday and reaping the benefits of my new players, my bank balance is looking a little low. Every Monday, you receive a financial update and mine was looking ugly. If the club is to grow, I need to lower my wage bill and I appear to have a surplus of players available to me. On my first day, as part of the tutorial, I was prompted to promote a player from my youth team who has potential to be a big star in the future. Today, I receive a small bid for that exact player. Reluctantly, I accept it. My training facilities aren’t up to scratch to be able to develop him into what he could eventually become. I put 5 other players up for sale, who either don’t fit my tactics, or I am unable to develop into better players. A sad day.
Day 4- Tuesday
Tuesday is the day all managers receive a report of how well their players are doing in training . As a minnow in the football leagues, relying on skill wouldn’t be wise. Instead, I put the majority of my players into intense fitness drills. If I can’t be good on the ball, at least my players can work on either getting there first (Speed), or bashing their opponent off the ball (Power).
Day 5 - Wednesday
Another match tonight!
My focus today was to fix my finishing problem. My strikers had a really hard time getting goals last game, despite a huge amount of chances. I started playing around with one of Trophy Manager’s Pro features: the Assistant Manager. This genius, simple little feature lets you play around with your tactics and formation, and it gives you feedback on where most of your assists and goals should come from.
I discovered a flaw with my “Wings” technique. My strikers have a very low Heading skill, but most of my passes were being played onto their head. I played around with my formation and found one where, combined with “Shortpassing”, a lone striker would only have to deal with finishes close to the goal, on his feet.
Playing away, against much stronger opposition, I went 0-1 up to my delight. My lone striker finally delivering on his duties. Unfortunately, my right-winger was sent off early in the second half and I very quickly went 2-1 down. Then those advanced tactics came into play. I had my team setup so that if I was losing in the 80th minute, I would switch to a formation with 2 up front, losing my defensive midfielder, and switch to attack. The game was rescued in the last minute at 2-2. Very pleased!
Day 6 - Thursday
Today is a quiet day in Trophy Manager, unless you are still in the Cup. Unfortunately, I joined the game too late to qualify, so I’m left to play around with my team, look for new players and take a look at my stadium. I buy a new centre back into the team, unhappy at conceding two goals last night. This brings me to four foreign players, with a limit of five per squad. It’s much harder to find local talent, which encourages you to promote from within your youth team whenever you can.
I decided to invest a little bit in my stadium, as my number of fans is starting to increase already. I buy a little food cart for my faithful to replenish themselves at half time and a portaloo to relieve themselves. There are 16 items you can build in your stadium, some with up to 10 levels of improvement. This doesn’t even include the detailed improvements and maintenance you can make on each stand. To my delight, each of these changes is reflected in a picture of your stadium, seen below. My very own theatre of dreams.
Day 7 - Friday
The last day I’ll be keeping a diary on the game, but I can see myself playing Trophy Manager for the foreseeable future. I find myself thinking about the game when I’m not playing, anticipating future fixtures and contemplating where to invest and where to save my pennies.
Friday is another match day, so I decided to keep the tactics from last game, this time hopefully not going down to ten men when it matters. The discipline paid off, with my lads winning 1-0 with a healthy dominance of possession being the key factor.
I find the results of the hard work put in throughout the week hugely rewarding. The game can also be played casually, if you just want to buy some players and throw them into a formation and see how they go. If this is all you need, then perhaps you don’t need to spend any money on Trophy Manager to get enjoyment out of it. If an in-depth, full-fat footy manager game is something you have been longing for, you could do far worse than spending €5.50 a month towards this brilliant browser game.