How Football Manager 2017 is making football fans panic about Brexit

It's coming home, it's coming.

By George Osborn. Published 25 November 2016

Brexit means Brexit, according to Theresa May. But what does that actually mean? Aside from the fact that it means tautology is totally back in fashion, we honestly don't have a bleeding clue what Brexit is at the moment.

But while Westminster continues to descend into chaos as it tries to answer that question, someone prepared for Brexit. Sports Interactive have inserted everyone's second least favourite political development of the year into the heart of Football Manager 2017. And boy, the vibes that FM2017 is giving off about Brexit has been enough to give me a real dose of the heebie jeebies.

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But before I start explaining why, it's worth having a quick gander at how Brexit actually works in game. Because there is no clear definition of how we "do a Brexit", FM2017 randomly generates a different version of it for every save and it does so in a smart and streamlined way.

Every FM player will experience Brexit at some point within a decade of the game starting. An email drops in your inbox informing you that the British government has smacked the big red Article 50 button. Then, within two years of that message, you're told that the negotiations have resolved in one of three ways.

First, you could find out that a soft Brexit has taken place where nothing changes and you can sign 17-year-old Croatians with impunity. Second, you could be told that a 'medium' Brexit has happened that provides an exemption for footballers but hits the rest of the country. Suck on that, manufacturing!

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Sturgeon wins!

And third, you can end up with the bad news that hard Brexit has occurred - leading to immigration restrictions and, potentially, Scotland and Northern Ireland becoming independent nations.

While scenarios one or two are interesting, it's only when option three occurs in a save that we really begin to see how leaving the EU could have a hefty impact on us.

As you'd expect from a football game, the most obvious way Football Manager shows Brexit's potential impact is on the British transfer market. If the country is ejected from the single market and a tough immigration system is brought in, then British clubs can only sign high profile European players who have taken part in roughly a third of their nation's international games.

In the FM world (and maybe our future world), that means both talented youngsters who are yet to breakthrough on the international scene and seasoned pros are turned away at passport control. No exceptions are made, which means that, in the case of one unlucky FM player in the FM Central Facebook group, even World Cup winners Andres Iniesta could miss out on moves.

If you've never played FM, you won't know how painful this is.

But shuttering off the transfer market also has a subtle and dramatic effect on the rest of the football economy. By restricting who English clubs can or cannot sign, the dynamic of the European transfer market changes.

With the Premier League's purchasing power stunted, less money slushes through the system abroad. This incentivises clubs in countries who normally sell players to Britain, such as the Netherlands, to retain their talent, or to sell it for less to clubs in other nations like France, Germany or Italy.

As a result, this improves teams in other leagues - slowly driving down the reputation of British teams and competitions as a result. This makes it even harder to sign foreign talent and pushes up, as blogger DaveAzzorpardiFM pointed out, the cost of home-grown players - leaving British managers up shit creek with a paddle that hasn't won an international trophy since 1966.

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But Brexit has an impact on FM players beyond the practicalities of the transfer market; it forces managers to approach managing British sides in the game differently.

As I am a massive FM saddo, I run a weekly podcast that discusses aspects of the game. So when I was asked to write this piece, I asked our community how Brexit affected their in-game thinking and they responded in three main ways.

The first way they've responded to Brexit is by planning for it from Day 1. Although they don't know when or how it'll happen, FM managers in charge of British clubs have had to plan for the worst early to mitigate the effects of a hard exit.

Second, managers have stopped saves if the worst scenario comes true. Twitter user Amaan-Atd told me that hard Brexit led him to abandoning his save, showing how the challenges of leaving the EU might lead to other people doing the same to Britain.

Third, and finally, many managers have chosen to totally avoid Britain so they don't have to worry about Brexit at all. That's what I did when I chose to manage Inter Milan and being in charge of them gave me an insight into how most Europeans must think about Brexit. Sure, it's sad if it happens. But, in all honesty, it doesn't affect me so...shrugs.

Mighty Europe crushes puny Britain.

It's this psychological aspect of the feature that is the most interesting element to Football Manager's Brexit simulation. While it shows Brexit's impact on the football business, the broader lesson I've learned from it is how the void of uncertainty it has caused is affecting businesses right now.

And while some might accuse me of being a "remoaner" for saying this, the truth is that FM2017 ends up offering a bleak glimpse into the Brexit future.

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At best, we'll fluke our way out of it and breathe a sigh of relief that we somehow ended up with terms equivalent to what we already had. At the worst, and at the most likely, it looks as if we're on course to undertake something that will inconvenience us, make our lives more difficult and make us poorer in the long term.

So while I appreciate that our political class is pretty busy at the moment, I really hope the cabinet can sit down for a hard Brexit network save in FM before we hit Article 50. It might change the way they think about dealing with this particular beast.

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