The makers of Football Manager get Brexit, but the political class doesn't

Brexit will be Britain's national project, not just for two years but for decades.

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Football Manager has a funny effect on the way its players see the world. Take Yaya Sanogo, for example: in reality, Arsenal fans are still waiting for a first league goal after three years at the club, and he looks likely to spend his career as a largely uninspiring journeyman. But to me, Sanogo will always be the focal point of AFC Wimbledon’s European Cup winning-side, the most feared striker in Europe.

Similarly, I’ll always hate Khoumar Babacar. It was Babacar, on loan at Sheffield United, who scored the only goal at Wembley – the goal that meant that there would be no Premier League football at Sutton, at least not for another year. It was Babacar, who, at the death, popped out of nowhere to put AC Milan through at Barnet’s expense in the Champions League. And it was Babacar, in his late career – inevitably, as all late careers are, at Sunderland – who headed home, unmarked at a corner, to signal that Leyton Orient’s title defence was going to pieces.

The best videogames get under your skin, but Football Manager is the only game that has ever made me unhappy. I remember one miserable season when Barnet’s back line played like an estranged family, Sanogo – him again – was injured for all but the last ten games, and the club limped into the European places, when, asked how I was, I would have to actively remind myself not to begin with “Pretty bad, but I’m hoping for a good loan signing in January.”

Now it turns out that Football Manager has a better grip on reality than much of our political class. This year’s incarnation will include three different Brexit scenarios and timetables, each with different consequences for English and Scottish football. One of the available models would see Scotland break off and remain in the European Union, allowing it to attract both the Premier League’s top talent and, one assumes, much of the British financial services industry. No more having to scrub together a Stirling XI out of loanees and old warriors, though nothing will beat turning an aged Jonathan Greening into the SPL’s Pirlo.

Football Manager has tended to avoid incorporating political developments, though I believe I’m right in saying that I have found it harder to get work permits since 2010 than it was before, though it may just be that my scouting has taken on a more international flavour these days. It doesn’t even really have a feature where a rival club can get taken over by either a billionaire bankroller, turning an unfancied side into a major rival, or the possibility that your own club might be bought up by an asset-stripper, leaving you bankrupt and hurtling down the leagues.

But what SI gets, rightly, and few seem to have absorbed is this: Brexit is a far bigger magnitude than any mere change of government. It could, quite easily, have bigger consequences for English football than the arrival of Roman Abramovich at Chelsea or Sheikh Mansour at Manchester City. Leaving the European Union is Britain’s national project – unless that is part of Britain decides that it has another national project, AKA independence, that it finds more congenial – not just for the next two years but for at least the next two decades. It will change pretty much everything that we have taken for granted for the last however many decades – the ability to sign Dorin Rotariu without a visa is really only the start. 

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.