Soccer managers are preparing for Brexit—in a video game

Sorry, Dimitri. Computer says no.
Sorry, Dimitri. Computer says no.
Image: Reuters/Matthew Childs
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As the manager of a Premier League soccer club, do you dump your non-British players in anticipation of a “hard Brexit” or do you take your chances with the best foreign talent, hoping for the best, work permit-wise, when the UK eventually quits the European Union?

Those are some of the choices confronting players of the best-selling soccer simulation video game Football Manager, which announced yesterday that it had built in an elaborate Brexit scenario into a publicly available test version of its latest edition.

The game’s maker, Sports Interactive, has developed three Brexit scenarios for players, ranging from ”soft,” with free movement of workers remaining intact, to “hard,” where non-UK players will be subject to the same restrictions currently faced by players without EU passports. “If we already had these rules in place, players such as N’Golo Kante and Dimitri Payet would not have been able to gain work permits to move to the Premier League… That’s two of last season’s three best players,” Sports Interactive studio director Miles Jacobson told The Telegraph.

Football Manager has a reputation for creating incredibly realistic simulations of soccer matches. It relies on a database of player attributes maintained by a volunteer army of 1,300 scouts in over 50 countries, who attend every match (and many training sessions) to form their assessments. As a result, the soccer sim long ago went from just a game to a tool used by professional soccer clubs. This includes piping some of its data into Prozone, a database used by football clubs to track player performance, and winning praise as a coaching tool by stars like Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, the former Manchester United striker turned manager.

The decision to include a Brexit scenario in Football Manager 2017, which will be released Nov. 4, has divided the game’s fans, much like the EU referendum has polarized the UK. “[Sports Interactive] must surely realise that a huge amount of people will hate this feature. Not having an option to toggle this on or off is criminal,” one player wrote on the Sports Interactive forum. ”I love it. If it happens, great. Whichever scenario happens, I’ll deal with it, like I do everything else that happens in the FM world,” wrote another.

It seems that even a simulation of the beautiful game must deal with the messiness of politics off the pitch, in the real world.