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Football Manager: just a game or the greatest scouting network in the world?

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11/07/2012 by stewartjthorpe

In Football Manager, Sports Interactive have arguable created the greatest game on the market to simulate the football managing experience. As part of this experience there’s a vast database of information on players from all corners of the globe, giving a reasonable representation of their real life counterparts and unintentionally creating a monstrously useful scouting tool in the process. And, as it’s essentially a means  to find the greatest talent from the most obscure of leagues, surely this database can be used in real life management, to great success?

There are obviously many unknown talents around the world just waiting to be noticed. The European Championship emphasised this when it showcased talents such as Krohn-Dehli, Dzagoev, Mandzukic and Konoplyanka who are now attracting Swansea, Tottenham, Bayern Munich and Galatasaray respectively. The in-game player search tool also helps highlight these gems but more efficiently and on a far grander scale.

First of all how accurate is the database? It’s all well talking about the usefulness of the database but this is reliant on the statistical information gathered on each player. Now it would be wrong to assume that every in-game players skills have been correctly attributed, as accurately representing  a players skills with a series of numbers is near enough impossible, especially in line with thousands of other in-game players, but overall a  general impression of a player’s attributes can certainly be made. Now physical and technical abilities can be deciphered from viewing gameplay but getting an idea of a player’s mental dexterity is a far trickier affair. Positioning, bravery and anticipation to name but a few, would take a longer study, something I can only assume the scouts don’t do, making mental attributes overall slightly less reliable. A players mentality isn’t something that has a great effect on the attractiveness of a player however. Joey Barton’s ultra aggressive personality which has recently led him to be awarded a 12 match ban and numerous financial penalties totalling 500k, hasn’t deterred clubs from retaining his services as he has remained at the top-level in English football for almost his entire career and Balotelli, who is equally unstable, remains one of the brightest prospects in world football. Both cases highlight the insignificance of a players mentality in relation to other skills, so the reliability of mentality doesn’t massively deter from using the Football Manager player network for real life scouting.

Sports Interactive has a lot of pride for its database, hiring over 1000 scouts whom cover around 20,000 teams in 50 different countries to generate the huge database of over 370,000 players. This averages out at around 370 players per scout, a day to scout each player and 40 minutes to each attribute, although these are just estimates built upon estimates but they give a good indication of Sport Interactive’s thoroughness to separate your world-class players from your Dean Windass’. The network of scouts however isn’t entirely built up of professionals, some are volunteer scouts, whilst the majority is made up of managers, coaches and even some agents. This isn’t entirely relevant but nevertheless I found it interesting.

It’s useless talking about all this in theory, if it doesn’t work out in practice however. To prove how useful the database would be in a real life scenario I’m going to look at the example of Tottenham Hotspur using Football Manager 2012. Currently Spurs have 3 decent but aging keepers: Friedel (41), Cudicini (38) and Gomes (31). Now Friedel proved he’s still got it with his 12 clean sheets this season but his contract runs out in 2013 and he doesn’t really fit into Andres Villas Boas style of play, involving an attacking, high defensive line. Cudicini hasn’t been a first team keeper in around 8 years and his age would work against him, whilst Gomes seems to have dropped out of favour with the Tottenham crowd.  So to fit into this high defensive line, a replacement keeper would have to have all the normal attributes of a quality keeper: positioning, handling and reflexes whilst rushing out and one on ones would also be key attributes to fit Villas Boas’ style of play.  In doing this search one particular player stands out, one Fernando Muslera who plays for Galatasaray, coming in at 26 and a mere value of 2.8million. Now Fernando isn’t a player I’ve heard of before, so I had to do some further research on him. Googling said player he is in fact the first team keeper for Uruguay, the 3rd highest ranking team in the world, he kept 19 clean sheets last season in the Turkish league and was voted the 6th best goalkeeper worldwide in 2011. Although I’ve never heard of this individual, for £2,800,000 and the achievements he can boast, he is certainly worth a further look at and could be the solution to Tottenham’s problems. Here the FM player search tool helps me hone in on talent in minutes, a process which would take much longer normally and shows how strong the tool is.

Now I’m not the first to notice how useful the Football Manager database is, Everton manager David Moyes made one of his greatest signings of his career when he acquired the use of the Football Manager database on a free transfer in 2008. Moyes, who is known to have a tight transfer budget, publicly came out and approached the Sports Interactive team for use of the world’s largest scouting network pre-release, so he would gain an advantage over the many teams that do use the database behind closed doors. Sounds like Moyes has got the right approach though, gives him a cracking excuse to spend hours wasting away at the whim of the latest game. He’s not the only one, many lower league managers, especially the younger ones who have grown up playing the games, utilise the database to look at players as it removes the cost of scouting, which is sometimes an expensive commodity. A manager who caught the Championship Manager bug as a youngster was one Andres Villas Boas whose approach to Sports Interactive’s greatest creation was more for entertainment than education but nevertheless has most probably affected his outlook on many an occasion.

On a personal level I see Football Manager as more than a game, but an ever-growing and revolutionising encyclopaedia. Often if I have a query about a player’s career, club information or the squad selection of any club of interest to me, I simply boot the latest edition of Football Manager up and do some research as there’s no other source out there that gives me so much information in one place. I use it to research unheard of teams in the Champions League where it gives me an immaculate insight into every aspect of the team. From this perspective I see it as an essential tool for anybody in the footballing world, as no one man can hold as much information as the game does and no other single source out there can provide such in-depth breakdowns of clubs, managers but most importantly, players. Now maybe Football Manager does have a role to play in the real life game, one that will see it become an important tool for many clubs or maybe, just maybe, I should stop playing that god damn game and go outside.

One thought on “Football Manager: just a game or the greatest scouting network in the world?

  1. Zach says:

    Cool and informative article. When people laugh derisively, and say “yeah, but where did you get that information? Football Manager?” I cut them down with “Yes… I’m guessing from your mocking tone you must have a pretty impressive scouting network in your employ?” We can only work with the information available to us, and in this case people’s snottiness over video games goes beyond rationality. I almost feel like, on a deeper level, people who could not conceive of using a tool like this in a creative manner feel threatened by those who could, and almost see it as “cheating” (a common suspicion of the kind of people who arrive late to every party)

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