The 2016-2017 footballing season is fast approaching, and with it the release of the next iteration of EA Sport’s FIFA franchise. Though the company has shifted a disproportionately large amount of its development and resources towards enhancing the Ultimate Team game mode in the last few years, their single player Career Mode remains a popular choice among offline players. I’m personally a big fan of this game mode, and have played religiously since the days of FIFA 07′ (on my trusty GameCube no less, how’s that for hardware?).
Anyway, with the new game coming up fast, I’m here to break down your top 5 picks for clubs to start a new career with, focusing on the Premier League. I’m making these picks based on a few factors–strength of the team, available finances, fun backstories, etc. That said, these picks represent my opinion only, and you may disagree. If so, leave your thoughts in the comments section!
#5 Leicester City – The impossible repeat?
If anyone in the football world hadn’t heard of Leicester City prior to last season’s miracle Premier League title run, they certainly have now. The Foxes achieved the impossible last campaign, and boast some truly fantastic players to boot. They’re a blast to play with in FIFA 16, with speedy players like Mahrez and Vardy wreaking havoc on defenses.
But in FIFA 17, it’ll be significantly harder to play with Leicester. For starters, the quality of many of their Premier League rivals have improved this offseason. Manchester United are the most obvious that come to mind, but Spurs and Chelsea have also made early moves in the transfer window to improve on already solid squads. Leicester, meanwhile, have sold one of their best players (Kante has moved to Chelsea), and the first task of any FIFA 17 career mode manager is going to be filling the gaping hole left by his absence in the heart of midfield. On top of that, the aging Jamie Vardy is sure to be useful for only a season or two, as EA tend to grossly exaggerate the rate at which players over the age of 30 decline. It’s quite possible many career mode players will wind up with a sub-80 OVR Vardy by their second season, which will significantly affect their attacking options.
In addition to the hassles of playing beefed up league opponents, players who pick Leicester can choose to contend with additional matches through the Champions League. Many players who pick Leicester will likely choose to enable the “European competition in 1st season” setting, which will see them clashing with the greats of the game in EA’s version of the UEFA Champions League (the oh-so-cleverly named “Champions Cup”).
Other factors to consider include a budget that is likely to be smaller than most top 6 Prem clubs (though still sizeable), and a squad lacking in depth outside of the first XI. It’s safe to say any Leicester City manager/player (virtually) will have to perform some serious transfer window heroics to assemble a squad capable of challenging on multiple fronts in FIFA 17.
#4 Tottenham Hotspur – The power of youth
If you’ve seen my blogs anywhere else on the site, you’ll notice I’m a Spurs fan by trade. So naturally, any time a new FIFA game comes out, they’re my go-to squad. And in fact, a lot of neutrals tend to pick Spurs for Career Mode as well. They always start with a solid budget (usually north of $30M), a big squad that allows for plenty of ins-and-outs in the first transfer window, and generally slick-looking kits each year.
So beyond these traits, what gets Spurs onto my list for FIFA 17? Youth, youth, and more youth. One of the more rewarding aspects of Career Mode gameplay is the ability to grow young players into the next big stars of the game. Sometimes, you can accomplish this through the youth academy feature by scouting a genuine superstar prospect. Many times, however, it’s easier to stack a team with some of the game’s best existing young talent and keep them long enough that they grow to insane OVR’s.
Spurs will boast one of the best young player lineups in the Premier League in FIFA 17, with the likes of Dier, Wimmer, Alli, Wanyama, Kane, Eriksen, Lamela, and N’Koudou (provided he signs) among the players you will START THE GAME with. Every one of these guys is likely to hit mid-80’s or higher just through regular playing time, giving FIFA 17 managers the ability to either form a super team pretty early on or sell these assets at a high value so they can sign more established superstars. Simply put, the value of the youth players that start in Spurs’ lineup gives FIFA players the flexibility to form whatever team they want, as money will never be hard to come by.
#3 Middlesbrough – Best of the Underdogs
My first two picks are pretty similar, in that they are both established squads that enable FIFA 17 managers to be competitive right out of the box. You could make no changes to either Leicester or Spurs and still field a really strong team capable of pushing for a title. Pick no. 3, however, is quite the opposite. Middlesbrough are one of 3 clubs promoted from last season’s championship, and so will begin the game at a severe disadvantage compared to their Premier League counterparts. Knowing this, why include them in the list?
For starters, everyone loves an underdog. All of us who play FIFA regularly have began careers with minnow teams to see how far we could take them (VFL Osnabruck, anyone?). It’s one of the most difficult ways to play the game, but it’s often the most rewarding for a manager, as your decisions as the player tend to matter more when the team you are in control of has a limited budget and squad. Do you keep older players around because they start at a decent OVR, or start building with youth immediately to get a foundation going for your team a few years down the road? Do you sign a lot of loan players and free transfers to get around your poor transfer budget? Are you good enough as a player to beat the AI with just about any team, and can thus save money for later seasons? These are the kinds of questions that tend to dominate a Career Mode with teams like Boro.
Another reason I picked Boro is that of the promoted clubs, they’ve been out of the top flight the longest, having spent 7 years in the Championship since their last top flight season. I remember watching them back in the day when the Premier League was first starting to get TV coverage in the U.S., and I was always drawn to them for some reason. To have them back as a Premier League team in FIFA 17 is fantastic, and they’ll definitely be my go-to underdog side when I’m looking for a real challenge in career mode.
#2 Chelsea – There’s a new sheriff in town
Have you ever played through a Career Mode almost as though you were mimicking the club you picked in real life? I know I have. As much fun as it is to completely flip the script in a Career Mode, those of us with strong allegiances to a certain team can sometimes struggle to bring ourselves to uproot the whole side and start over. Take me being a Spurs fan, for example. I’ll almost never start a Career Mode in FIFA 16 with Spurs by buying Ronaldo or Cavani or Bale. Why? Because it simply wouldn’t happen in the real world, and every now and then I like to keep my Career Modes somewhat true to life.
With that in mind, teams that have recently changed managers are a great team to start career modes with because that subconscious weight of reality is often not a factor anymore. Chelsea will be one such team in FIFA 17, with Italian manager Antonio Conte having recently taken over managing the club.
What will Conte’s Chelsea look like? Managers in FIFA 17 will be answering this question on roughly the same time table as the man himself will be in real life. It’s always sort of fun to compare how you’re running your virtual club to how a real manager is doing it. Will you sign different players than he did? Use a different formation? Promote youth over experience?
Outside of this weird pseudo-fantasy I’m rambling on about, the cold hard facts of a Chelsea Career Mode are hard to argue with. You’ll start with a superstar-caliber team, a ton of cash to go out and buy new players with, and high-level scouts to identify new talent. This is your “I want to win the league” starter kit team, with little to no effort required on the player’s part to make the team competitive enough to go for trophies. Combine that with the clean slate of a new manager, and you’ve got a damn good choice for a career mode squad.
#1 Manchester United – Ibra. Need I say more?
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s arrival in Manchester was such a huge story in the football world that I nearly forgot that Jose Mourinho was going to be their manager this year. The outgoing and scarily-talented Swede is by far the league’s most significant incoming transfer this season, and this in a calendar year where Jürgen Klopp (though not as new as the rest), Pep Guardiola, and Antonio Conte have all taken the reigns of a top 6 club.
The best part about Zlatan’s arrival for United’s Career Mode players? It seems to have started a wave of incoming transfers that could very well see the club become favorites for the title before a ball is even kicked this season. Dortmund’s Mkhitaryan followed Ibra through the door to add attacking verve to a team that sorely lacked it last season. Paul Pogba has been heavily linked to a return as well, which would give them a positively stacked midfield. Essentially, United is unintentionally forming a FIFA super squad that any die-hard player would struggle to pass up.
The Red Devils in FIFA 17 will possess every advantage possible in a career mode team. 90+ OVR players like Ibra. Boatloads of money. Insane young players like Martial. A new manager in the real world to compare and contrast your choices with. Just about everything that’s appeared above in this list as a strength for a club applies to United. The hype around the team is at an all-time high, and that’s why they’re my number 1 pick for your best Premier League Career Mode team in FIFA 17.