Brexit means Brexit, according to Theresa May. But what does it really mean? Aside from the fact that it implies that tautology is back in vogue, the truth is that we have no bloody idea what Brexit is today.
But while Westminster remains in chaos as they try to answer that question, someone has prepared for Brexit. Sports Interactive has brought one of the hottest political topics of the year to the heart of Football Manager 2017. And guys … the feeling Football Manager 2017 is giving me about Brexit has been enough to make my hair stand on end.
But before I explain the reasons, it’s worth briefly explaining how Brexit works in the game. As there is no clear definition of how “Brexit is done”, Football Manager generates a different version in each game, and it does so in a smart and direct way.
All Football Manager players will experience Brexit at some point in the decade since the game begins. You receive an email in your inbox explaining that the British government has decided to press the fearsome red button that activates Article 50. And then, two years after that message, they tell you that the negotiations have ended in a specific way, between three possible.
The first option is that you find yourself with a soft Brexit, in which nothing changes and you can continue to sign seventeen-year-old Croatian kids with impunity. The second is a medium Brexit, with exceptions for footballers but that affects the rest of the country.
The third is the bad news: hard Brexit. In this case, there are implicit immigration restrictions and Scotland and Northern Ireland may even declare themselves independent nations.
Although the first two scenarios are interesting, it is only when you are faced with the third option that you begin to understand the great impact that leaving the European Union can have on the British.
As you might expect from a football game, the most obvious way for Football Manager to show the potential impact of Brexit is in the UK transfer market. If the country exits the single market and alters its immigration system, then English clubs can only sign high-profile European players who have participated in a third of their national team’s international matches.
In the world of Football Manager (and, perhaps, in our future world) this means that both young talents who have not yet stood out on the international scene and established professionals are turned away at immigration control. There are no exceptions, in addition, as a Football Manager player can attest who explained in the Football Manager Central Facebook group that due to this reason he could not sign Andrés Iniesta.
If you have never played Football Manager you cannot get used to the idea of how painful this is.
But closing the transfer market also has a subtle – and dramatic – effect on the rest of the soccer economy. By limiting who English clubs can or cannot sign, the dynamics of the European transfer market changes radically.
With the purchasing power of the Premier League in question, less money would flow into the foreign system. This would encourage clubs in countries that normally sell players to the UK, such as the Netherlands, to retain their talents, or sell them for less to clubs in countries such as France, Germany or Italy.
This would result in the improvement of teams from other leagues, gradually lowering the reputation of English teams and their competitions as results. This would make it even more difficult to sign foreign talent and increase, as blogger DaveAzzorpardiFM explains, the price of national players, leaving sports directors in a difficult situation in a country with players who have not won an international trophy since 1966.
But Brexit has an impact on Football Manager players beyond the practicalities of the transfer market, because it forces sporting directors to manage the British aspects differently.
I am a Football Manager fan, and I participate in a weekly podcast that discusses different aspects of the game. So when I was asked to write this article, I asked our community how Brexit had affected their way of thinking about the game, and they responded in three ways.
The first way to deal with Brexit was to plan for it from day one. Although they did not know when or how it would affect them, many Football Manager players in charge of English teams had a plan devised from the beginning to mitigate the effects of a hard Brexit.
Others left the game if the worst possible scenario came true. Twitter user Amaan-Atd explained to me that the hard Brexit caused him to abandon his current game, demonstrating how the challenges of leaving the European Union can lead other people to do the same with the United Kingdom.
Third and last, many players decided to avoid the UK altogether so they wouldn’t have to worry about Brexit. That is what I did when I chose to coach Inter Milan, and it allowed me to appreciate how many Europeans must see Brexit. Yes, it is a sad thing if it happens. But honestly, it doesn’t affect me, so …
The mighty Europe destroys the scrawny England.
It is this psychological aspect that is the most interesting element of the Brexit simulation in Football Manager. Although it shows the impact of Brexit on the British football business, the most important lesson I have learned is how this vacuum and uncertainty is affecting many companies right now.
And although many may accuse me of being pessimistic and ominous for saying this, the truth is that Football Manager ends up giving you a bleak vision of the future with Brexit.
In the best of cases, we British will weather the storm and breathe a sigh of relief if we manage to live in a similar way to how we have done so far. At worst, which is most likely, it seems that we are on our way to something that will create inconvenience for us, make our life more difficult and will impoverish us in the long run.
So while I appreciate that the political class is busy right now, I really hope that someone in government will sit down and play a game of Football Manager and see the effects of Brexit before we finally activate Article 50. This may change. his point of view on this monster that stalks us.