The latest edition of Football Manager (FM22) was released on Nov. 9, heralding the start to another year of desktop coaches trying their hand at guiding their chosen teams to glory in the hugely popular management simulation game.
FM has been in circulation in various iterations since 1992, and the new version sees a fresh focus on data and analytics, a revamped transfer system and a fully updated database which comprises more than 400,000 active players and staff. In this game you take charge of a team and (hopefully) steer them to success, with control over just about every facet of the club.
Last year's edition, FM21, was played for a total of 540 million hours (just over 61,000 years) by its users, while more than 10m seasons were completed and more than 1 billion goals scored. But every Football Manager journey starts in the same place: by picking a team to manage.
In short, there's a lot of choice. There are more than 120 playable leagues available including the addition of Latvia's Higher League, so it's good news for you Noah Jurmala fans out there.
For those prospective managers, there will be some who may opt for the easy route in the early stages (Newcastle United start with a transfer budget of £200m). But then there will be the die-hard fans who won't want an easy road to the top. There's also the option of starting the game "unemployed," with varying options available for your managerial expertise from famous ex-professional to amateur Sunday league player.
So as the annual craze returns, for those looking for a challenge, here are a few to get you going.
Barcelona: The Xavi Challenge
Barcelona fans go wild as Xavi officially signs as manager
Xavi returns to the Camp Nou to sign his contract as Barcelona manager in front of almost 10,000 fans.
If you think you can do better than Ronald Koeman or perhaps like new real-life boss Xavi Hernandez you are a footballing romantic who wants to take Barca back to the halcyon days of Johan Cruyff or Pep Guardiola's tenure, then you may opt for the debt-ridden Catalan giants. They're no easy touch on FM22 -- the club is saddled with €1.12bn debt from the start of the game, while you have several high earners like Samuel Umtiti and Philippe Coutinho to get off your books. You also have a transfer budget of €0, so players will have to be transferred out before any more can come in. The production line of young talent from La Masia will certainly help, but will you be given enough time for them to develop and guide Barca back to their former glories?
FC Salzburg: The Big Fish, Small Pond Challenge
The Austrian Bundesliga is yours to lose, but can you hold on to your best players and build a squad capable of challenging for the Champions League? You're likely to have three seasons at the most with the likes of Karim Adeyemi and Brenden Aaronson at your disposal before they go looking for bigger and better things. This may be a cyclical challenge where it could take you up to six seasons to crack Europe's biggest prize. But while a starting transfer budget of €20m is 17 times more than your nearest challengers in Austria, it will be a challenge to make that go very far at a continental level.
Derby County: The Worst Case Scenario Challenge
This is a brutal challenge, as real-life Rams manager Wayne Rooney well knows. You will start with no money to bring new players into the Championship club or space in the wage budget to sign any free transfers. There are just eight players in the first-team squad at the start who have contracts beyond June 2022, so this is one about resilience and staying power. Oh, and then there's the deduction of 12 points at the start of the season for the club entering administration, just to make things extra tough.
Ajax: The Homegrown Challenge
Can you build a Champions League-winning squad with just players developed in their training hub, De Toekomst? This is a tricky ask given you will be perennially fending off bigger clubs looking to snap up your best young talent. There's also the added challenge of Ajax starting with just three members of staff, due to FM22 licensing, so you'll have to build your backroom team -- who must also be ex-Ajax players -- from the ground up.
Schalke and Kaiserslautern: The Fallen Giants Challenge
Two of Germany's great teams have fallen on hard times. Schalke are in 2.Bundesliga, desperate for some stability after a run of seven managers in just over two years. You don't have a transfer budget and the chase for promotion is ferocious given St Pauli, Werder Bremen, Hamburg, Hannover and Fortuna Dusseldorf are all in the second division, but Schalke are in desperate need of getting back to the top table.
Kaiserslautern are an even harder task, given they are in the third tier of German football. Around the turn of the century they were Bundesliga champions and Champions League semifinalists, but it's time for them to be back among the best. You have €11,000 left in your wage budget for new recruits, but you have a 49,850-capacity stadium so if you can get the fans coming back in numbers then watch those gate receipts flow in!
Aberdeen: The Sir Alex Ferguson challenge
It's been 36 years since a team outside the Old Firm won the Scottish league title: it's time to break up that Glasgow-based duopoly of Rangers and Celtic. Aberdeen won the league back in 1985, so why not give them a shot and see if you can get them to usurp the dominant teams in Scotland. And if you fancy an added part to the challenge to emulate Ferguson further, your next tasks are to win a European trophy for the Dons and then to get offered the Manchester United job.
Wrexham: The Hollywood Challenge
With Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney as your bosses, there's Hollywood royalty in the director's box, but it's your responsibility to get Welsh minnows Wrexham back into the Football League for the first time since 2007. Your new owners have high hopes, with half an eye on getting the club from the fifth-tier National League team into the Premier League. You have little wiggle room in the wage budget for new players but you start as favourite for the league title. If you can get Wrexham climbing the football pyramid, your FM22 could have a real Hollywood ending.