Football Manager 2021: Tips and tactics from the people that made the game

Struggling to find success in this year's management sim? Don't fret: the developers of the game are here to help you out
Written by Stephen Davidson & Seb Wassell
6 min readPublished on
Football Manager is infamous for its affect on people that start playing it. It's addictive, it's engaging and it can potentially consume every second of your spare time if you let it. Part of the game's endless appeal is the freedom it allows you, and the payoff you get if you manage your assets and your budget just right. There's no dopamine hit quite like the one that comes from nudging your way to the top of the league with just one or two games left in the season and claiming your title.
Portrait from Football Manager 2021 developer Stephen Davidson

Stephen Davidson is features producer for Football Manager 2021


But a victory like that isn't always easy to achieve. To help you better understand the subtleties and synergies you can take advantage of to be a better manager, features producer Stephen Davidson and features designer Seb Wassell run down some of the key tips you need to know about this year's title.
Portrait from Football Manager 2021 developer Seb Wassell

Seb Wassell is features designer on Football Manager 2021


Win with Data


Use data to your advantage to come out on top


There’s a suite of new stats and deeper data analysis in FM21, which can help give you the edge over your opponent. From more detailed opposition reports to greater insight in post-match analysis, there’s a new level of information at your fingertips. There’s one stat that stands out above the others though: xG.
xG, or ‘Expected Goals’, is a great way to see how clinical your team is in front of goal. It is highlighted as a key part of the live match stats and features heavily in post-match analysis. Keep an eye out for xG trends as they make it easy to see whether you need to step up your play in the final third or tighten things up at the back.
For instance, if you’re consistently scoring fewer goals than the xG suggests you should be then consider revising your tactics to focus on creating fewer but higher quality chances. Personnel may also be the issue! Players with strong Finishing, Composure, First Touch, Anticipation and Decisions are likely to make the most of their chances.

Know Your Gestures


Knowing how to use gestures properly will lead to victory


One of the most significant additions to FM21 is the Gesture system. These are a marked evolution from the Tone system, which was a fixture of previous FMs. In FM20, the same six Tones were present for every interaction. FM21 however, introduces over 30 new Gestures, each tailored to the specific situation you find yourself in. Not only will you have different options in a Press Conference from a Team Talk, but these options will change based on the scenario; positive journalist questions will give you the opportunity to react appropriately, whereas a negative approach will allow you to respond in kind.
The Gestures you choose, combined with what you say, will have an effect on those in the room but how do you know what that effect will be? We’ve added in tooltips to give you an idea of the intention behind each gesture. Simply hover over any Gesture and you’ll be presented with a brief description of the intention behind it, for example ‘a warm, genuine smile, endearing oneself to the room’.

Perfect Player Development


Developer your players well and reap the rewards


One of the most rewarding aspects of Football Manager is maximising a player’s potential. It can be a balancing act though as young players require a delicate mix of time on the training ground and regular match action.
As a general guide, players under the age of 18 benefit most from time on the training ground, be that focusing on improving in their given role or training hard on their weaknesses. Of course, the better your Training Facilities and the more competent your Coaches, the more the player will get out of this. Once those young players hit 18, regular playing time becomes key. You may not have space in your first XI for every high potential youngster, so consider finding a suitable loan for them at an appropriate level of football that both challenges and allows them to excel.

Make use of the Icons


Football Manager 2021 can be a complicated game if you go in blind


FM can be a complex game. For FM21, we’ve added to the many helpful icons that instantly communicate need-to-know information about whatever part of the footballing world you’re currently immersed in.
For example, previously, a player’s Condition was presented as a percentage. We found that not only was this unrealistic – real Managers do not have a 100-points scale on which to judge a player’s condition – it clouded the real issue: when do I need to act on my player’s fitness? For FM21, we have introduced a new ‘heart’ icon that clearly communicates this. For a more detailed look, hover over this icon to see a detailed breakdown of the various factors, such as the newly surfaced Fatigue, that combine to describe a player’s physical state.
Speaking of Fatigue, this is a great indicator of when a player may be in need of a rest. This becomes especially important around international breaks, where players returning from long-haul travel may be particularly impacted, a new addition for FM21.
Sharpness has also been made clearer with a variety of icons to show if a player is match sharp, gaining or losing sharpness or just maintaining a steady level. Consider those icons when selecting your squad as a player that is lacking in sharpness is more prone to making a mistake or being caught out.
Finally, the Tactics page has also received some love. View an analysis grid of your tactic on the pitch, which can show you any weak points in your current formation. It’s worth clicking on any orange or red squares to see a breakdown of why they’re being highlighted to you as a particular issue. You can also use the toggles in the top left corner of the pitch to see each player’s familiarity with your tactic, relevant player information and the roles and duties of your starting XI.

Master Player Recruitment


FM2021 is as much about politics as it is about strategy


Recruitment has always been one of the most rewarding elements of Football Manager, and in FM21 there are some brand new additions that can help you dominate the transfer market.
One of the most useful of these is the ‘Ask Agent About Availability’ option, which you can use to gauge a player’s interest in joining your club along with what conditions you’d need to hit in order to secure their signature. Some players may want the guarantee of playing in continental competition or to be promised a specific playing time. This is also a good method of gaining an insight into the player’s wage demands. If you’re able to build a positive relationship with the agent then you may also find yourself able to negotiate a better deal as a result.
Your recruitment team has been beefed up this year with the introduction of the new Recruitment Analyst role. Analysts will now work more closely with your scouts to give you a complete report on your targets. This includes a polygon, bespoke to that player’s position and role, that highlights the key statistics required contrasted against the league average. For example, if you’re looking for a Poacher, you’ll see their goals and expected goals per 90 minutes alongside their shot and goal conversion rate. Combine this information with the new brand new recruitment meetings, where you and your staff discuss the squad’s requirements and potential transfer targets, to find the perfect players for your tactics.