Football Manager’s legendary player database is one of the reasons the series formerly known as Championship Manager has been such a success. It contains 250 pieces of footballing, contractual and personal information for more than 550,000 players and staff.
The first Championship Manager didn’t even have player names, but Sports Interactive’s (SI) research operations have evolved from an amateurish combination of Rothman’s Football Year Books and fanzine surveys to an army of more than 1,000 providing information on footballers around the globe.
When this extensive reservoir of information is plugged into Football Manager’s virtual football world and match engine, it becomes a pretty powerful tool in predicting which prospects are going to become global superstars.
Football Manager and football managers
Real-life football managers have been known to consult Football Manager when researching potential signings, with some even contacting SI developers and researchers directly, and a licensing deal with Everton was agreed back in 2009.
But now the relationship between the video game and the world of football has been formalised with a “ground-breaking partnership” with ProZone that will see SI’s database featured in Recruiter – an online analysis platform used by major football clubs to identify talent.
“We no longer see ourselves as a video game company but as a football company,” SI studio director Miles Jacobson tells an audience at the Apple Store in Regents Street, quickly adding it will continue to make Football Manager, not least because it generates revenue, but also because the team genuinely enjoys making it.
“For years we’ve heard stories of real-life managers and scouts using our data to help with the recruitment process. From now on, it’s official…real managers around the world will be finding and comparing players using data and a search system that will be very familiar to players of Football Manager.”
Prozone Recruiter is an online analysis platform featuring a suite of data analysis tools and archived video footage. It is designed to complement the natural intuition of scouts and is capable of analysing the value of a player and their ability to adapt to specific leagues and team environments.
The company does not reveal any of its clients, but a number of major Premier League clubs are among them, and promises complete security in what is an extremely competitive environment. It’s very expensive to licence, meaning there is absolutely no chance Pixel Sport will ever do a review.
Currently, 80,000 players are featured in the ProZone database and the plan is to combine this with the contractual, biographical and positional information from SI’s research.
“Prozone RECRUITER has been built to supplement the intuition of scouts and coaches by delivering detailed performance information on over 80,000 players worldwide,” explains Prozone CEO Thomas Schmider. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, instead it’s been designed to empower clubs to tailor its functionality to suit their own unique recruitment requirements.
“The Sports Interactive database is a highly accurate and valuable resource that will further enhance the recruitment services that we provide. Complementing our exhaustive technical data and video footage with excellent biographical, contractual and positional information, the integration of Sports Interactive data further establishes Recruiter as the most comprehensive recruitment and asset management platform available.”
Predicting the future
The deal is an interesting case of life imitating art and it’s perhaps surprising it’s taken so long for someone to have the bright idea of using the database in a more sophisticated way, especially in the current climate or marginal gains, data analysis and sports science.
“We don’t get many of the superstars wrong,” Jacobson says in the book outlining the Football Manager phenomenon, Football Manager Stole My Life, which features interviews with many of SI’s head researchers in countries like Brazil, Italy, Spain and Belgium among others.
They recount how they tracked the careers of Vincent Kompany, Kaka’, Neymar and Xabi Alonso long before they became famous, while SI’s Northern Irish researcher recounts a conversation with then national manager Lawrie Sanchez who wanted to find players with British passports.
However there are a couple of players the game gets, well, a bit wrong. Tonton Zola Moukoko, Mark Kerr and Cherno Samba were among those earmarked for superstardom by the game, but never quite matched expectations in real life (there is a series of interviews with a number of these players in the book).
The tale of To Madeira
But one player stands above all of these examples because he never actually existed. During development of Championship Manager 01-02, a rogue Portuguese researcher was able to sneak in a highly rated fictitious player for his hometown team of Gouveia called To Madeira.
The stressed head researcher in Portugal was working so hard to meet his deadline, the mistake went unnoticed until the game was released. It was quickly patched but not before the incident had become part of the rich Championship Manager/Football Manager folklore.
Jacobson is genuinely annoyed at inaccuracies, no matter how rare they are, and such examples prove no system is an adequate replacement for scouting. Indeed Jacobson says no manager should ever buy a player he’s never seen play live – after all, no one wants another Bebe.
But the Prozone deal is vindication of the work of SI’s research team and should go some way to silencing the critics who questioned what the company knew about football when it signed the Everton deal.
And, as journalist and co-author of FM Stole My Life Iain Macintosh says, playing the game is no longer a pastime, but can now be considered work.