If you're part of the Football manager clan, there's no way this documentary won't bring back quite a few emotions and chuckles. Whether you first came across it in the mid nineties, when it was first released, or on some random day in the early 00s when a friend called you over to show you "this unusual football game", as I did, Football Manager has probably played some part in your life.
This documentary looks at exactly that and it all felt very true to me. I've had my own share of mysterious Conference affairs, and I've visited countries to watch teams or players I felt I knew so well from seasons upon seasons of the game. The fact that real life football players enjoy it is no surprise, because it appeals to anyone who loves football. The immersion is spectacular and the experience is both scientific and visceral. You get this sense from an "Alternative Reality" and the road to validation was longer than it perhaps should have been.
On a different level, this documentary shows how much Football Manager and Sports Interactive have evolved. From outsiders to insiders, the journey all virtual players are yearning for, topped by deep ties with the football world that they've recreated. The level of professionalism and depth that FM now entails is astounding and rightfully so, the game database is seen as a treasured resource. And this extends beyond its obvious value as sets of data, and goes into how the data can shape reality simulation and generate descriptive algorithms thereof.
However, once you become as high profile a player as Sports Interactive, balancing the demands of the fans and the commercial priorities becomes difficult. Not to undermine the fact that Football Manager is incredibly complex and this complexity makes perfecting it a daunting task, but that's why focus is important. Even walking the line of the passionate creator-gamer, however much truth it may hold, has a dull ring to it. Looking objectively at where Football Manager is at now, there is a definite sense of stagnation and every new edition, released on a yearly basis, strives to do little more than act as an update to the database. In their search for realism and under the pressure of justifying new releases year in, year out, SI have buckled and lost focus on improving the core elements of the game mechanics, while blowing their own trumpet worryingly often.
Once I step back from the nostalgia, I can see that in the documentary as well, which is a one-sided ode to the greatness of Football Manager. And that might be fine enough on one level, but it ultimately works as an informative and humorous look into the phenomenon and not much else. Perhaps it is the right time for SI to push for the boldness it showed early on in their history and ensure that they can create the same experiences of awe, joy and despair in the future and not rely on their dominant position in the market to keep playing it safe. Because Football Manager is a legacy worth preserving and improving upon.