Brexit: When fact meets fiction in computer game Football Manager

Ever since Britain “Brexited,” there’s been plenty of sniping from the sidelines that the UK government hadn’t sufficiently prepared for what lies ahead.

So much so that some political commentators have quipped that the developers of a computer soccer game — Football Manager — have more of a Brexit strategy than the Conservative government.

Football Manager’s latest edition — the game allows its players to virtually manage teams and buy and sell players — simulates the sporting consequences of Britain leaving the EU.

“If anything, [the game] is educating people about the possibilities of what could happen,” Miles Jacobson, studio director of the team behind Football Manager and the original Championship Manager series, told CNN.

“I don’t believe there was enough of that before we all voted in the referendum; there wasn’t this firm information out there. So I just sat down and researched all of the possible parameters that could possibly happen and put them in there.”

Although precise legislation restricting the inflow of workers from Europe is yet to be written the UK’s decision to part ways with the continent will likely mean English clubs will see fewer bargain players like Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kant√©, two key drivers to Leicester’s unlikely Premier League title success last season.

“When Theresa May at the Conservative conference says ‘There’s going to be a hard Brexit,’ that changes the percentage chances within the game,” added Jacobson, referring to the British Prime Minister.

“Nicolas Sturgeon just last week was saying she’s pushing for another Scottish referendum, and that put the chances of Scotland breaking away from the UK [in the game] ever so slightly up.”

With May indicating she will give priority to controlling immigration over market access, the so called “hard Brexit” option would mean British businesses could lose the ability to do operate freely across the region.

If “hard Brexit” is implemented, Jacobson says it’s not out of the question that the overall quality of the whole Premier League could start to decline.

“If we have a system where we can’t bring the best players in the world over to the UK any more — and not just the stars, but the players that are going to become the best in the world — then I would have thought the league could become less popular.

“It would affect future TV deals … But I’m sure the Premier League will sort this out.”

However, some pundits have argued the Premier League’s loss could be the England national team’s gain. England haven’t won the World Cup since 1966 and exited Euro 2016 after being beaten by Iceland.

“A situation where you can only have a certain amount of foreign players at your club would mean that more British players would start getting their debuts earlier” says Jacobson.

“Over the last 10 years, the average age of a debut has gone up from 19 to 22 in the top flight and that is quite late when you think that Harry Kane is now a stalwart of the England team, but wasn’t playing for Spurs until a couple of seasons ago,” added Jacobson, referring to the Tottenham striker.

“[Brexit] could help the national team, because the more first team football you play, the more used you are to competitive football.”

From humble beginnings — Football Manager was created in a small Shropshire bedroom 25 years ago — the game has become so pervasive that leading news channels often make recourse to the game’s attributes in its comparisons of real players.

Famous footballers even contact the game’s designers to complain their ratings should be tweaked, and real managers — from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to Andre Villas-Boas — openly utilize its database to scout their next big signing.

Jacobson also says agents have “regularly” approached him and his team in an attempt to boost their players’ attributes.

“The only way to not be caught being bribed or taking bungs is to say no to them,” says Jacobson. “There have been offers in the past, and you just say no.”

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