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What does Brexit mean for football in the United Kingdom?

The makers of popular video game series, Football Manager, have attempted to predict what the exit from the European Union will have on the Premier League

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 October, 2016, 1:42pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 October, 2016, 9:31pm

Computers have been crystal ball gazing for decades. Now comes the first computer game to predict the future. That’s the claim from the makers of Football Manager, the popular video game series that is so good it’s even used by some clubs as a strategising resource to go scouting for new players.

The 2017 edition simulates with a “high degree of accuracy” the consequences for football as the United Kingdom prepares to, and then leaves, the European Union.

The company behind the game, Sports Interactive, said it usually avoided politics like the plague because its customers wanted to escape the shenanigans of the real world.

But following the biggest political decision taken in the UK since the second world war, the ramifications for football – and especially Premier League clubs – were deemed too big to leave out.

So the game’s designers set about future proofing life leading up to Brexit, and then after in an attempt to make the video game better, reflect the reality it seeks to emulate.

They researched the pros, cons and, as best they could, the Brexit unknowns. They read political manifestoes and reports. They used artificial intelligence and computer-generated modelling.

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They looked at all the other factors that might shape United Kingdom football over the next two years, such as a general election and the possible break-up of the union via another Scottish referendum, plus a vote for Northern Ireland’s independence as well as the tail-spinning sterling.

They even interviewed head-scratching politicians to try to establish what, could, should, might, and will happen.

The level of detail in existing editions of Football Manager is already a head-wrecker for novice gamers. And such is the concentration and shrewdness required to master the game, even dab hands complain of being sucked into a black hole where earth hours just disappear.

Gamers on this parallel planet football are in control of all aspects of running a top club, from conducting training sessions and negotiating staff contracts to signing players and attending press conferences.

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Add to these challenges the future proofing for Brexit scenarios and you have another mind-boggling layer of sophistication, according to reviews.

Once Article 50 has been triggered, gamers will have to navigate transfer deals during the infinite Brexit wrangling, so the gamer must rise to the next difficulty challenge.

There are three main scenarios – all of which could occur in real life.

The first is a so-called Soft Brexit, where the free movement of workers remains. In the second, footballers are granted the same special exemptions that are given to “entertainers”, making it easier for them to obtain work permits and, in turn, will lessen the impact on player movement from the European Union.

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And then there’s Hard Brexit, in which the points system applied to non-EU players is adopted for all non-UK players. It is this third option that could see the biggest effect on the transfer markets in reality, and more so on Premier League clubs.

If a points system for all players was already in place, four of last season’s stars – Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante, Manchester United’s Anthony Martial, Everton’s Romelu Lukaku and West Ham United’s Dimitri Payet – would not have been able to gain work permits to move to the Premier League.

There is also a scenario that sees the United Kingdom adopt a system similar to Italy’s, where squads have a limit on non-European Union players, ranging from anything “as high as 17 to as low as four”.

To fill the vacancies, Premier clubs start bringing in Championship-quality players, which sees the overall quality drop, and in turn television money goes down.

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But transfer fees rise because foreign players are worth more to British clubs as they seek to make the most of their modest allocation, while the best British players become more valuable, and thus more expensive.

All this is set against a tail-spinning pound, which sees eligible foreign players becoming more and more expensive, while tougher work permits cause the world’s best talent to look elsewhere.

Such scenarios, and others yet unseen, are indeed possible over the next decade and this simulation video game cannot be far off the mark in at least one of its predictions.

Building all-conquering, serial title-winning clubs and managing the decline of a global institution are both on the cards.

In reality, the only good to come out of the worst-case Brexit scenario is that the England team improve, but by that time, it might well be game over for the world’s premier league.