Directing a football club is a million miles away for most of us. While in our youth we might have thrown down our schoolbags as goalposts and kicked an empty can at each other, the world of elite football was played on the television, or live for those lucky enough to get a ticket. With elite football now a billionaire’s game, our chance of realizing that dream falls to the realm of video games, where Club Soccer Director PRO 2020 attempts to fulfill that world of fantasy. Unfortunately, rather than tiki-taka, it plays as if Sam Allardyce brought Duncan Ferguson out of retirement.
There is a level of expectation coming into a game like Club Soccer Director PRO 2020, which unfortunately derives from the complexity that the Football Manager series offers. Whilst the player takes on a different role here, the gameplay is ultimately much the same. But in Club Soccer Director PRO 2020, the player doesn’t choose the team or tactics, and instead merely hires a manager to do it for them. This leaves an experience devoid of much responsibility, and therefore, very little gameplay worth playing.
The role the player takes is one of an accountant posing as a director. Therefore, the more money a club has, the easier the game. As a director, the job is to merely set a football philosophy (passing, counter-attack, direct, or long ball), hire a manager that follows the philosophy, and then sign players that follow that philosophy. You can upgrade the club’s facilities if you have the money, and you can sign a few sponsor deals, but really the hard work is done before the season starts. The manager might have a whine here and there, but they’re easily dismissed and replaced. Indeed, this game is entirely inspired by the entrepreneurial skills of a rich oil baron.
Booting the ball straight into the box, it’s obvious why Club Soccer Director PRO 2020 is designed this way. It’s a bad fit for Steam, but it teams up like Xavi and Iniesta on the mobile, wanting to take your money and finding ways to do so. Essentially, depending on the team, directors get a small wage each month. This money can then be spent on influencing decisions, such as hiring a player too good for the team, or making adjustments to the budget so as to not run into any trouble further down the line. Coins used for these activities can also be bought with real money, and Club Soccer Director PRO 2020 naturally nudges the player that way. The manager you hire will often suggest players or staff he wants, and the vast majority of his choices (with few exceptions) require the director to essentially bribe the agent with coins. If the player isn’t signed, then the manager throws a little toddler tantrum.
Transfers are actually quite humorous, with National League South teams fielding half of Brazil before the transfer window closes. The realism in the Football Manager series is sorely missed, with work permits and other real-world business barriers a feature in those games. For software devoted to simulating the directing of a football club, such real-world hurdles are quite the glaring omission. But then, as previously stated, this game was clearly built for the mobile, and not Steam. If it was just a simple mobile experience, Club Soccer Director PRO 2020 would be considered a reasonably decent game with enough content to pass time while on the bus or the train.
There is a saving grace that does put the ball in the back of the net, and that’s the football matches themselves. The art style is a reminder of the first football games, such as FIFA 90, to appear on game consoles. There’s a real nostalgia that will be a warm reminder of many a fan’s childhood. The lack of control doesn’t spoil the game, with the opposition passing the ball around the box, causing a few fingers to be chewed off. It can be nice to not have to make big decisions during the game, but when the team is 2-0 down it does become irritating to not jump in and prevent a collapse.
But that is the major problem: too little to do over the course of a whole season. Club Soccer Director PRO 2020 has so much potential, but needs to take a leaf out of the Football Manager series to become a PC game rather than a mobile game. And therein lies the problem: this is a mobile game at best, and no amount of pretense will make it otherwise. There is a great formula in there somewhere to work with and create an amazing PC game, but this isn’t it, and won’t be without the realism and detail that is associated with better games producing more clinical gameplay.