Football Manager [official site] is not a political game. I recall being extremely surprised when the 2022 World Cup was relocated to Argentina from Qatar in my first playthrough of last year's edition. Given reports about the bidding process and the feasibility of hosting the tournament there, as well as more troubling stories, I wondered what the reasons for the move were in the fictional future of the game. Turns out, it might simply be a case of Sports Interactive not wanting to rewrite the calendar for a winter World Cup.
But they've been rewriting a lot of code for another political event. Football Manager 2017 will simulate several possible Brexit scenarios.
Brexit, should you be unaware of the term, is not a breakfast cereal. That would be a weird thing to include in a Football Manager game. Brexit is act of the UK (Britain is the 'Br') leaving the European Union, which is now a very real possibility following a referendum in favour of the move that took place earlier this year. The UK government still has to trigger the exit and negotiate terms, but it seems increasingly likely that it will happen sooner rather than later.
The reason for the inclusion of Brexit in FM is that it could have a real effect on management of football clubs. It's all tied in to work visas and the definition of homegrown players and it's probably been an absolute pain to implement given that the outcome is still uncertain. The solution Sports Interactive chose was to make the outcome within the game as uncertain as it is in real life.
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, studio head Miles Jacobson explained:
“The first option for the game was to have just one scenario and that would be it, Brexit done, but it’s not possible to come out with one outcome and it won’t be until all the negotiations are done.
“As a result we’ve decided to go down another route, and have included every possible outcome in the game, using artificial intelligence and percentage chances to make every game different.”
Between two and ten years after the start of the game, trade negotiations will begin and from there three main scenarios can unfold. A soft Brexit will retain rules regarding free movement of workers, a hard Brexit will impose similar restrictions as exist on non-EU players on all players with non-UK citizenship. The third option results in little change, with free movement gone but footballers reclassified as entertainers, to make work permits more easily obtainable.
Hard Brexit has serious implications for managers in the UK though. The points system for non-EU players that would apply to all non-UK players encourages massive expenditure to secure star players from abroad. The knock-on effect could even see the Premier League drop down the global rankings as it struggles to attract top players.
“There is also the option that sees us adopt a system like Italy’s, where there is a limit on the number of non-EU players in each squad. The limit of non-UK players that British clubs are allowed could range from anything as high as 17 to as low as four.
“If you only had four non-UK players per squad, that’s going to make things difficult. All of a sudden Championship-quality players are moving into the Premier League to fill up slots. That could mean the overall quality drops, and that means the TV money goes down.
“Meanwhile, transfer fees go up: foreign players are worth more to British clubs because you need to make sure you make the most of those four slots, and the best British players become more valuable, and so more expensive, too.
And there are even more extreme possibilities, with a very small chance that non-UK players will be forced to apply for work permits to remain in the country the day after Brexit. There are even triggers for independence referendums within the UK.
I love Football Manager's simulation of a world around football almost as much as I love all of the tactical tinkering so this is catnip to me. You can read more in the Telegraph's interview and if you've preordered the game through an authorised retailer (that include Steam), the beta should be available later today. If you're still on the fence, which is wise at this point, take a look at the run-down of new features in the game.