At first glance, it’s business as usual in Football Manager 2017. Transfers, tactics, man management, financial balancing acts, scouting, competing for silverware—everything you’d expect from the series is present and correct. But dig deeper, and you find a clever twist.
For the first time, politics impact everything you do. Football Manager 2017 not only encourages you to think about how popular sports are impacted by wider political ideals, but also how sport simply can’t exist without a surrounding society and culture. This is a game that doesn’t just entertain, but makes a political statement too.
There are no prizes for guessing which political topic Football Manager 2017 tackles. Brexit, the UK’s favourite national pastime, is here, warts and all, ready to rain on your managerial parade. Of course, no one really knows for sure the exact impact Brexit will have on the UK, especially when it comes to football, and so it takes on a number of different forms. At a randomised point over the course of your first few seasons, you’re informed of the type of Brexit the British government has managed to negotiate with the EU, and what that means for your squad.
The “soft” Brexit scenario sees free movement of workers remain and, therefore, bringing in EU players remains as straightforward as it is today. A “hard” Brexit means EU players are subject to the same work permit regulations governing the signing of non-EU nationals, so a player must have already proven themselves as a top professional before they’re granted working rights by the government. For example, players are more likely to be given a work permit if they have won a number of caps for a top national team (Germany, Brazil, Argentina etc), if they are one of the highest earners at their current club, or if their transfer fee is especially high.
This means that the 18-year-old wunderkind from EU member state Estonia that you’ve scouted won’t be allowed to sign for you post-Brexit because of his presently small wage, lack of international experience, and the lower footballing profile of his nation. If the hard Brexit rules of Football Manager were already in effect when they signed for their current clubs in the real-world, then the likes of Hector Bellerin, Dmitri Payet, Cesar Azpilicueta, David De Gea and N’Golo Kante would have found it very difficult to obtain a work permit.
A number of possible Brexit scenarios exist between the extremes of softest and hardest, and these also take into account a potential Scottish devolution, and the introduction of caps on the number of foreign players a club can sign. Obviously, it’s a hard Brexit that has the most devastating consequences.
When quality players are harder to sign, for example, then the spectacle of the league drops as inferior players are brought in as replacements. This reduces the entertainment level of the football, and causes television revenues to drop. Club finances are therefore stunted, further damaging the buying power of all but the richest teams; competitiveness throughout the league takes a nose dive; and the lofty reputation of products such as the Premier League, which has built much of its success on unpredictability compared to other leagues, is damaged.
Soon enough, Spain, Germany and Italy all have more exciting and more prestigious league competitions. Even if you’re not managing a team within the UK, then, Brexit continues to influence your game.
This incorporation of society and politics on the world of football is further enhanced by an embracing of other factors to have disrupted the sport in recent years. Major League Soccer in the USA, the Chinese Super League, and a number of competitions throughout the Middle East now harbour teams willing to spend enormous sums of money on signing quality players from clubs based in Europe and South America. As in reality, then, the world’s most celebrated club teams now find themselves competing for players across a truly global market.
In my first season as Liverpool manager, for instance, I had to contend with interest in Dejan Lovren from Guangzhou Evergrande. Guangzhou has, in real life, managed to attract World Cup winner Luiz Felipe Scolari to manage the team, signed Paulinho from Tottenham Hotspur, and Jackson Martinez from Atletico Madrid. The kind of money they offered Lovren was far in advance of what I was currently paying him, and the only way to curb his enthusiasm for leaving was to promise him that he could leave at the end of the season if we didn’t qualify for the Champions League. As if being Liverpool manager is already stressful enough.
Fighting against teams from around the world for players’ signatures adds to the pressure of the experience, but it does so in a way that makes everything feel more expansive and grand. No longer is the money in football confined to the major European powers, and that is represented in Football Manger to great effect, and in such a way that makes, for better or worse, the beautiful game feel more like the global game it really is. There are few sports that capture the world’s imagination and wallet in the way football does.
Such a macro incorporation of the football community is matched, and facilitated by, enhancements on the micro level. Players feel more like individuals as opposed to belonging to one of a small handful of different personality groups. Lovren, for instance, is a player who, since leaving boyhood club Dinamo Zagreb, has not stayed with a team for more than three seasons. He was at Southampton for only one year before joining Liverpool and, as such, you could argue that he is a man with a plan, and is more than happy to use clubs as stepping stones to achieve that. Having cemented his place in Croatia’s national team, his overall goal might now be to earn as much money as possible before his career comes to an end. Footballers, after all, have only a short window with which to monetise their talents.
Other players have different objectives. A young Spanish player dreaming of representing his nation in a World Cup is unlikely to move to China for the money at an early age. He might make a lot of quick cash through such a transfer, but he risks limiting his development as he will no longer be challenging himself in training and in matches against the world’s best players. As long as his agent has his best interests at heart, the best bet for living out his dream is to stay in Europe and trying to earn a spot at a major Spanish La Liga club.
All of this is depicted with much more detailed player personalities, and communicated through private conversations. They demand of higher wages, ask you to sign better players during discussions on new contracts, and bluntly declare that they see their current club as a way to move on to better things in the near future.
More than ever before you feel like a manager in charge of real people, with real motivations that are linked to a real world that exists beyond the stadium and the training ground. As such, Football Manager continues to feel like the most realistic and exhaustive roleplaying game in existence, and this year’s addition is another step up that authenticity ladder. That purpose of making you feel like a football manager has been achieved with greater success than ever before.
Aesthetic upgrades such as a more robust palette for creating your avatar, a greater quantity of animations during matches, and more diversity in camera angles are welcome, too, but the core offering is not improved by these licks of paint. Sure, they help attract a more mainstream audience through a greater visual wow factor, but they pale in comparison to the manner in which the deeper mechanics have been refined and strengthened to better reflect reality.
Games often struggle to comment upon our world in a meaningful way, and any that do should be celebrated, particularly when they do it with the skill that Football Manager 2017 has. This is a game that succeeds in creating a safe space within which you can explore and understand the world, sporting or otherwise. If you don’t like football then sure, its value is going to be lost on you, but if you are a fan of the beautiful game then there’s no better recreation of it and its impact than this.
- Highlights how society and culture can impact sport, for better or worse
- More than ever it feels as though the entire footballing world is represented
- Player personalities are more diverse, believable, and less predictable
- Not all leagues are officially licensed
- Loading times are long if you’re playing on an older machine
- Getting a “hard” Brexit can be utterly devastating to your team
By incorporating the UK’s political landscape, Football Manger 2017 becomes the deepest, most inspiring take on the beautiful game yet.
This post originated on Ars Technica UK