The story of the video game Football Manager started way back in 1992 when it was originally known as Championship Manager.
The game was first dreamed up when two brothers were inspired to create a football management game from the attic in their parent’s house, coding late into the night in an effort to make their game everything they wanted it to be.
Thankfully for video gamers, all those hours among the rafters paid dividends as the lowkey success of Championship Manager 1 was blown out of the water by the reception of Championship Manager 2.
From there the game has since changed its name to Football Manager but has lost none of its appeal as a result, with it arguably being the most successful sports video game series ever made.
With the 2020 version out there to play now, we thought we would give a rundown of how the game has changed not just the gaming landscape, but also the world of football management.
Football Manager has resulted in coaches and managers spending more of their time consulting data experts
The Sharing of Data and the Game’s Influence
It’s often said that data is the new oil, becoming the most valuable commodity on earth. This has meant that those companies that specialize in the collection of data to create their products have been given huge leverage in markets far beyond their own.
That was certainly the case with the makers of Football Manager, Sports Interactive, who sold their data package to an analytics platform who then re-packaged that information for everyone from Premier League scouts to top football agents.
This allowed those entities to access the sort of data that previously only sportsbooks were privy to, as they went about trying to make Champions League qualifying or Europa League predictions for teams and players no one had ever heard of.
As a result, now more than ever, if an up and coming player is getting the job done for you on your computer or console, the likelihood is that you will soon see said player doing the same out on actual grass.
A scout or director of football does not need much more than a phone and laptop to get good business done these days
Some Clubs Are Going Fully Data Driven
While most clubs use a mixture of old fashioned eyes on the ground combined with solid data analysis when making player signings and sales, there are some outliers who have put their trust almost entirely in what is now regularly called the Moneyball approach.
This is of course in reference to the 2011 Hollywood hit starring Brad Pitt, who plays a baseball coach using data to revolutionize America’s favourite pastime.
One club to have gone as far as this is the English Championship’s Brentford FC. The club, in true Football Manager style, has risen through the EFL by outwitting their rivals in the transfer market. And yes, they take advantage of the exact sort of data analysis that is used by Sports Interactive to make their games.
This approach is working too, because Brentford were within touching distance of the Premier League last season and will be out to do the same this year.
FC Midtjylland from Denmark is also owned by the same people who run Brentford and there the system has worked even more dramatically. The team qualified for the last 32 of the Europa League for the first time in their history, even beating Man Utd along the way.
The Game is Not Without Its Critics – The Data Gap and Diluting the Sport
Although the game is universally loved in most quarters, omissions in its recent versions, and the implications the game’s data driven approach have had for the real-life game itself, have come in for criticism.
Firstly, there is no option to manage female teams in even the newest iterations of the game, meaning women characters and avatars are excluded from the video game. This lack of data makes it more difficult to place a real-life value on those particular players.
There is also the worry that data doesn’t take into account the needs of fans and communities. The data collected is often touted as one of the main reasons clubs want to ditch their youth development programs in favour of an extra adult B-team.
Although this latter point is in no way the fault of Sports Interactive, these are the repercussions of their data dissection of the beautiful game.