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Introduction to Football Manager™ 2021

If you’re new to football, new to Football Manager™, or just fancy a little bit of a refresher on some core game principles and information, this section should provide some assistance on how best to go about your managerial career. It also contains information about some of the more complicated leagues available to manage in as well as a glossary of terms that you’re likely to encounter as you play.

Beginner’s Guide

Welcome to Football Manager™ 2021! We’ve created a beginner’s guide to walk newcomers through getting to grips with the various aspects of management, and to hopefully answer any questions that might come up along the way.

Your first step is to create your managerial profile and begin a new Career. Follow the steps in the Quick Start guide to get stuck right in.

Football Manager™ is, as the name suggests, a football management simulation in which time advances upon clicking the ‘Continue’ button found in the top right corner of the screen. Although time exists as a fundamental concept, whenever the game returns from processing time forward, the ‘clock’ effectively stops for you to go about your business in as much (or as little) depth as required to action the items of the day. ‘Continue’ moves through your calendar incrementally; days become weeks, weeks become months, months become years, and so on.


Football Manager™ 2021 features a host of specifically tailored in-game tutorials designed to help you better understand some of your more common day-to-day managerial duties. Your Assistant Manager, or an appropriate member of the club hierarchy if an Assistant isn’t in place, will come to you at various junctures in your first few days and weeks on the job (and at appropriate intervals thereafter if something happens that requires an explanation) and guide you through the hows and whys of things like scouting and making transfer offers, getting to know your players, playing your first match, navigating around the game, and more. They are fully immersive and will hopefully improve your level of comfort with everything you need in order to be a success.

Please note that these are only sent to you if you have selected ‘No’ from the ‘Experienced’ section during the Create a Manager process. If you selected ‘Yes’, you can find them by clicking on the ‘?’ icon in the title bar.

Your Inbox, Your Home

Your ‘Inbox’ is the central point around which your experience is built. Communication crucial to the management of your chosen team is delivered to you in a prompt and timely fashion – the game brings you back from processing whenever your input is required – and the majority of your key decisions and actions are taken in response to content arriving here.

Look at things that interest you

When you move the mouse cursor around the screen, it highlights people, clubs, and other entities you can click on and interact with. Take some time to do this to familiarise yourself with the layout of various screens and with the scope of what you, as manager, are able to do, and what the consequences – both positive and negative – are.

Become familiar with the look and feel

The Side Bar on the left of the screen is the primary navigational tool providing you with quick access to all key areas of your team. Each screen also has a horizontal bar containing tab menus sitting below the ‘menu bar’ at the top of the screen, which features a contextual menu as well as a free text search box for swift navigation around your game world. Please refer to the User Interface section of the manual for a more detailed breakdown.

After reading through the first few items in your Inbox, it makes sense to devise a tactic and pick your first team. This is where the Tactics Tutorial should be of tremendous assistance; it guides you through picking a playing style, formation, and first team selection.

Taking the time to explore each section of the Side Bar, and the many sub-options on each screen, will help you become acquainted with Football Manager™ and, in turn, increase your enjoyment of playing. There is more integrated assistance in the form of delegation/automation to and from your capable backroom staff team.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

The ‘Responsibilities’ tab on the ‘Staff’ section of the Side Bar allows you to delegate any number of tasks to your responsible and reliable backroom team. It is advisable to do this in the short-term while getting to grips with the scale of your managerial task, before taking back some of the responsibilities when you feel more attuned to handling them.

The more you explore and the more you play, the more comfortable you’ll become with some of the more complicated areas of management, and hopefully your enjoyment will continue to increase!

Keep your players happy

A happy team is a winning team, and very little is more important to your chances of success than ensuring that your players remain happy. Pay close attention to each individual’s (and therefore the squad’s collective) morale and personality, and be aware of their short- and long-term happiness, details of which can be found on their ‘Information’ screens. They often come to you directly with their concerns, and how successfully you deal with them goes a long way to determining whether you succeed in your job. The ‘Players’ section of this guide also walks you through everything you need to know about managing them and finding the right approach for you.

Be patient!

Clichés become clichés for a reason – there is inherent wisdom in there somewhere – and Rome really wasn’t built in a day. Be ambitious, but remain realistic at the same time, and understand that there is a learning curve involved here. You can enjoy Football Manager™ as a complete novice by heeding some of the advice in this guide, as well as the myriad of helping hands provided in-game, and you can in turn use the experiences you encounter in your fledgling days as a manager to sharpen your skills as you become more knowledgeable and comfortable in your surroundings.

Football Glossary

In order to help new Football Manager™ users become more acquainted with the world of football, we’ve put together a glossary of some of the more common terms you might encounter. It is not exhaustive, but it is hopefully comprehensive and of assistance should you find yourself wondering about some of the terminology you’ve encountered playing the game.

Administration: A process in which a club is unable to fulfil its financial obligations and brings in temporary legal assistance in an attempt to restructure any debt. The act of ‘entering into administration’ usually comes with a punishment in the form of a points deduction or similar.

The Advantage Rule: Referees are given scope to allow play to continue despite an infringement if it benefits the team that suffered the transgression more than stopping the game would, thus allowing them an advantage.

Affiliates: Many clubs are increasingly developing networks of multiple clubs designed to be mutually beneficial in all aspects of football, ranging from player development to financial rewards. Formal affiliations between two or more teams help achieve this.

Agents: Intermediaries who negotiate with clubs on behalf of players (and vice-versa).

Aggregate (agg): Many competitions use two-legged ties to ensure each team gets an opportunity to play at home. These ties are settled by recording the aggregate score of both matches. If the aggregate score is tied, Away Goals, Extra Time or a Penalty Shootout are the designated tie-breakers in the majority of cases.

Amateur: A player attached to a club under contract but who is not paid a salary and is, in essence, free to leave at any point.

Assist: The decisive offensive act – pass, cross, header or otherwise – in creating a goal.

The Away Goals Rule: In some competitions, if the aggregate score is tied after two legs of play, the team that scored more goals away from home is declared the winner.

The Back-pass Rule: Goalkeepers are not allowed to handle any intentional pass with the feet back to them from a team-mate. If they do, an indirect free kick is awarded to the opposition.

Behind Closed Doors: Any match played where spectators are not present.

The Bosman rule: Allows footballers over the age of 23 to leave a club as a free agent at the end of their contract. Named after former Belgian footballer Jean-Marc Bosman, who became the first player to successfully claim the right to act as a free agent in the European Court of Justice in 1995.

Board: The people tasked with overseeing the general running of the club at its highest level, including hiring and firing managers. This typically includes the chairman.

Booking (also Booked): See Yellow Card.

Box-to-Box: A player with the ability to contribute at both ends of the pitch and all areas in between; the term ‘box’ is an informal term referring to each penalty area.

Brace: A colloquialism referring to a player scoring two goals in a match.

Byline: The extreme boundaries at each end of the pitch.

Cap(s): A term used to represent an appearance made for an international team. The term originates from the historical issuing of a physical cap to any player who did so.

Captain: A player designated as the team’s leader on the pitch, denoted by wearing the captain’s armband. The vice-captain serves as the captain’s deputy.

Caution: See Yellow Card.

Chairman: The most senior figure of authority at a club. Tends to hire and fire managers and is a conduit between the football and business sides of the game.

Channel: The space between the central defenders and full-backs; the Player Instruction ‘Moves into Channels’ asks an attacking player to attempt to exploit this space to his advantage.

Chip: A type of pass or shot, delivered with a stabbing motion underneath the ball to give it a lofted, high trajectory over an opponent.

Clean Sheet: Credited to a goalkeeper and/or a team for preventing the opposition from scoring against them in a match. Also known as a Shutout.

Clauses: An increasingly common aspect of transfer negotiations. Teams agree on conditional monies that changes hands should a player or club involved in the transfer achieve a particular landmark or milestone. They are also a part of individual contract negotiations along the same lines.

Coach: A member of the manager’s non-playing staff, they are typically specialists in a particular area of football coaching and work with players to improve their game.

Corner Kick: Awarded to the attacking team when a player from the opposing team puts the ball out of play over their own byline. A player from the attacking team then typically delivers the ball from within the corner quadrant, into the penalty area, in an effort to create a goalscoring chance.

Counter Attack: A team ‘launches’ a counter-attack by taking possession from an opponent and attempting to transition from defence to attack in a swift and often direct manner, countering the previous attack with one of their own.

Cross: The act of delivering the ball into the penalty area, typically but not exclusively from wide areas of the pitch.

Cup (competition): An elimination-style competition where matches can take place over one or two legs (fixtures) or in a group stage format.

Cup (trophy): One of a number of names associated with the trophy lifted by the winning team in a competition. Also known as silverware.

Cup-tied (Cup): If a player has represented one team in a competition, he is usually ineligible to represent another team for the remainder of that competition’s iteration.

Defensive Line: A term used to refer to the grouping of defensive players operating as a unit across the width of the pitch. The ‘defensive’ line moves up and down the vertical pitch as the play develops.

Derby: A match between two rival teams.

Director of Football (DoF): Also known as the Sporting Director or General Manager, they take responsibility for constructing a squad. This division of labour leaves the manager to focus solely on coaching duties.

Directness: Refers to the type and style of passing adopted by a team. Direct passing involves playing the ball from back to front as quickly as possible rather than adopting a slower and more patient approach in which players move the ball across the pitch from side to side.

Diving: A form of simulation where a player exaggerates or fabricates contact from an opponent in an effort to deceive the referee into awarding them a decision. Players found to have dived are shown a yellow card.

Dribbling: The art of running with the ball under close control.

Equaliser: A goal that restores parity in a contest, e.g. to make it 1-1 from a 1-0 or 0-1 scoreline.

Extra Time (ET): An additional period of thirty minutes, split into two fifteen-minute halves, used in an effort to settle a draw.

Financial Fair Play (FFP): A series of rules introduced in an effort to ensure that clubs exist on a relatively fair and even financial footing in the interests of competitive balance. Limits are typically imposed on transfer and wage expenditure in line with club income, and punishments for teams breaking the rules range from fines to transfer embargoes and points deductions.

Flanks: Wide areas of the pitch. Also known as wings.

Formation: The organisation and structure of the eleven players selected at any given point during a match (formation identifiers do not include the goalkeeper and hence only total ten, rather than eleven). Common formations involve four defenders, four midfielders and two forwards (4-4-2) or four defenders, three midfielders and three forwards (4-3-3). The midfield is often split into defensive and attacking units when describing formations; for example, the common 4-2-3-1 formation denotes two defensive midfielders and three attacking midfielders behind a single forward.

Forward: An attacking player primarily tasked with scoring or creating goals. Also referred to as Striker (a more typical goalscorer), Attacker or Winger.

Free Agent: A player without a club.

Free kick: Awarded to a team for a transgression by an opponent outside of the respective penalty areas.

-              Indirect: A free kick that cannot directly result in a goal; another player must touch the ball first before a shot can be taken.

-              Direct: Can result in a goal by means of the taker immediately finding the back of the net without a touch being required by any other player.

Friendly: A non-competitive match.

Full-Back: The defenders tasked with operating in wide areas at right-back and left-back. Their primary responsibility is to help nullify wide attacking threats but, increasingly in the modern game, they are expected to influence matters going in the other direction too.

Full Time (FT): The end of a match.

Goal-line Technology: An automated camera system that is able to determine whether the ball has fully crossed the line to result in a goal. The referee is informed that the ball has fully crossed the line by way of a notification on a dedicated watch, before fans at home and in the stadium are shown a visual, computer-generated representation of the decision as it actually happened.

Goal Kick: When the ball runs out of bounds at the byline, and is last touched by the attacking team, it is returned into play in the form of a goal kick. The goalkeeper must place the ball inside the six-yard area and can restart play from there. Team-mates may receive the ball in the penalty area but opponents cannot enter until the ball has been played.

Glance: A deft touch applied to a pass or a cross – usually but not exclusively associated with headers – to direct the ball with subtlety and accuracy.

Goal Difference: A common tie-breaker in league standings where goals conceded are subtracted from goals scored.

Group (Group Stages): Some knockout cup competitions include a group stage in which teams are separated into groups and play against each other in an elimination format. The remaining teams eventually advance to a straight knockout stage.

Half Time (HT): The end of the first half.

Half-volley: The act of striking a ball just after it has struck the ground. See also Volley.

Hat-trick: A common term celebrating a player’s achievement in scoring three goals in a single match.

Head-to-Head: A term describing a contest between two players or two teams. It can reflect a single incident or an ongoing series.

Header: Using the head to connect with the ball rather than the foot or any other body part.

Home-Grown (HG): The specifics of the rule vary from competition to competition but, generally speaking, the Home-Grown rule intends to ensure that clubs include a certain number of players developed within their own country in their overall first-team squad.

Injury Time: Time added to the scheduled ninety minutes for injuries and other stoppages to play, most commonly displayed by a “+<number>” marker on the clock/in references to match time. Also known as Stoppage Time or Additional Time.

League: A competition in which teams are ranked by the accumulation of points from fixtures played against one another over the course of a season.

Loan: A temporary transfer of a player between clubs, with him usually returning to the club owning his registration at the end of the deal. The loaning club can, and often do, pay for the player’s services through loan fees and wage contributions, and can negotiate the option to purchase the player outright as part of the deal too.

Lob: A type of pass or shot, similar to a chip, with a high trajectory over an opponent, but delivered in a defter fashion and usually from a bouncing ball.

Manager: The person responsible for the day-to-day stewardship of the players in a given team. The Assistant Manager is their second-in-command and can be delegated any number of tasks to make the manager’s job easier.

Marking: A defender pays close attention to an opponent by ‘marking’ him and trying to prevent him from scoring. Man-to-Man marking involves assigning each defender a specific opponent for which they are responsible, while Zonal marking involves defenders being assigned areas of space for which they are responsible, whether opponents venture into it or not.

Near Post (also Far Post): A concept borne of positional referencing in relation to the goalposts. Incidents occurring in or around the post nearest to the action can be referred to as happening at the near post, whereas incidents on the other side of play (for example, a player arriving to meet a cross on the opposite side of the pitch to where it was delivered) are said to involve the far post.

Offside: A player is deemed to be offside if there is one or fewer opponents (including the goalkeeper) between him and the opposition’s goal when a pass is played to them. A player cannot be offside in their own half of the pitch or if they are behind the ball when it is played. They can, however, also be flagged for offside if they are deemed to be interfering with an opponent despite not playing the ball.

Offside Trap: A tactic whereby the defensive team looks to play in such a way that lures attacking opponents into straying offside, often through moving the defensive line higher up the pitch at the right time.

One-two: A passing move between two players where the first player gives and then immediately receives the ball back from a team-mate, usually having moved into a more advantageous position while out of possession.

Overlap: When one player runs, from deep, around the outside of a team-mate in an attacking position to advantageous effect. See also underlap.

Own Goal (OG): Happens when a player accidentally scores past his own goalkeeper.

Part-Time: See Semi-Professional.

Penalty Area: The rectangular area drawn out in front of each goal. Goalkeepers are only permitted to handle the ball in this area, while any fouls (excluding a handled backpass, which is an indirect free kick) committed by the defending team result in a penalty kick.

Penalty Kick: A penalty kick is a free shot at goal, with only the goalkeeper to beat from twelve yards out, awarded when a foul happens inside the penalty area. The shot must be taken without a significant break in stride during the approach, the goalkeeper must have at least one foot on the line until the ball is struck, and a penalty taker may not touch the ball again until another player has touched it (meaning that if the taker hits the post, they cannot score directly from that rebound).

Penalty Shootout: If a cup or knockout competition match, in an elimination scenario, is all-square at the end of all designated playing time (extra time or not), the contest is decided by a penalty shootout. Each team must nominate a minimum of five players to take penalty kicks in alternating order, until a team misses enough that they can no longer out-score their opponents. If five rounds of penalties are not sufficient to decide a winner, players continue to take in a sudden-death fashion until one team misses and the other scores.

Physio(therapist): A member of a team’s medical staff tasked with providing both immediate and long-term physical treatment to a player.

Playmaker: One individual in a team who is the conduit for the majority of the attacking play. He is responsible for taking charge of possession, creating chances for his team-mates, and looking to affect the match in as many ways as possible.

Playoff(s): An additional stage to (typically) a league competition in which a select number of teams in specified finishing positions ‘play off’ in a series of fixtures to determine an outcome, for example a league title or a promotion.

Points (Pts): Three points are typically awarded for a win, with one for a draw and none for a defeat. Some leagues may operate differently; please refer to the Rules screen in-game for full clarification for each competition.

Professional: A player under contract with a club who receives a salary. See also Semi-Professional.

Promotion: When a team moves up from one group or league to the next one up the hierarchical ladder due to on-field results.

Red Card: A player is shown a red card and is dismissed from the field of play for seriously or persistently flouting the rules. A player who is shown a red card is said to have been sent off and usually faces a suspension.

Referee: An independent arbiter assigned to enforce the rules in a match. Assistant Referees, previously known as linesmen, are found on each touchline; their duties consist of judging offside decisions, whether the ball has left the bounds of play, and advising the referee on incidents he or she may not have been in position to see.

Released (contracts): A player is released when his club decide that they no longer require his services and he becomes a free agent. This happens mostly, but not exclusively, when a contract expires.

Relegation: When a team moves down from one group or league to the next one lower down on the hierarchical ladder due to on-field results.

Reserves: A team’s secondary squad, used in several ways. Some teams use the Reserve team as a first-team squad overspill, while others promote their best young players and use it as a bridge between the Youth Team and the first team.

Route One: The art of getting the ball forward into the opposition’s defensive areas in the quickest and most efficient manner possible: by playing long, high passes from back to front.

Sacked: Also referred to as fired, refers to when an individual – usually a manager, but can and does occur to everyone – has their contract terminated with immediate effect.

Scout: A non-playing member of staff responsible for watching and reporting on players from other teams, either for upcoming opponents or for potential transfer targets. Also used as a verb to describe this act.

Season: The period of time over which a league campaign takes place.

Semi-Professional: A player under contract with a club who receives a salary but only on a part-time basis. Such players typically hold down another career outside of football and have limited time to dedicate towards training and their football career overall.

Set Piece: Any situation where play restarts with a dead ball (as opposed to a live ball in open play). The nature of a dead ball allows teams to set up specific routines devised to exploit the situation.

Silverware: Refers to trophies awarded for success. In FM21, ‘silverware’ refers exclusively to cup competitions.

Substitute: A player who is brought onto the pitch to replace another player.

Tactics: The manner in which a team sets itself up to play a match. The formation is the foundation of a tactic, upon which team and player instructions are issued to give a team the best possible chance of winning.

Team Talk: A brief talk given by the manager to his or her players before the match, during half time and at full time in each match. The talk typically involves motivational encouragement alongside tactical direction.

Terrace: An area of a stadium that does not have seats and has room for standing supporters only.

Testimonial: A friendly match played out in honour of a long-serving or notable player, often featuring former colleagues and an appropriate opposition. Originally held to boost the honoured players’ finances, these occasions more commonly see charity donations occur nowadays.

Through-ball: A type of pass played by the attacking team that goes straight through the opposition’s defence to a team-mate. Some teams deploy an offside trap in an effort to catch the attacking team offside.

Throw-in: A common method of restarting play. When the ball is cleared out over the touchline, it is returned by means of a player using both hands to throw it from behind his head back into the field of play.

Transfer: The change of a player’s permanent registration between clubs. Players are often transferred for money (transfer fees) with negotiations also including clauses, bonuses and staggered payment periods.

Touchline: The extreme boundaries at each edge of the pitch.

Underlap: When one player runs, from deep, inside of a team-mate in an attacking position to advantageous effect. See also overlap.

VAR (Video Assistant Referee): The use of technology to adjudicate controversial incidents during matches. The Video Assistant Referee is allowed to review four types of incident on video replay; goals and whether there was a violation in the build-up to it, penalties (both given and not), direct red cards, and cards issued with mistaken identity. Decisions may only be overturned if there was a clear and obvious mistake. The system is also used to determine whether a goal was offside or not but the clear and obvious criteria is not used here: a player is either offside or he isn’t.

Volley: The act of striking a ball before it hits the ground.

Wall: An obstacle of players set up by the defending team to make it more difficult for an opponent when taking a free kick.

Whip: To curl the ball with pace.

Winger: A player tasked with operating primarily in and/or from wide areas – wings or flanks – of the pitch.

Woodwork: A colloquialism referring to the goal frame structure of posts and crossbar.

Work Permit: Some nations require additional checks to be made before allowing players from certain locales to sign for one of its teams. The most common of these is a work permit, which some foreign players require in order to take a job in a new country and join a new team.

Yellow Card: A player can be shown the yellow card (also referred to as a caution or booking) for particular transgressions. A player shown two yellow cards in the same match is then shown a red card, and players shown multiple yellow cards in the same season usually trigger suspensions at incremental landmarks (e.g. 5, 10, 15).

Youth Team: The youngest represented age group in Football Manager™, the youth team is comprised of teenagers aiming to have a career in football. The youth team typically has an upper age limit before the players are expected to move onto the next logical step in the ladder as they develop.

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