We're unbearably excited about the release of Football Manager 2017 next month, but the DUP are less than enthused about the game's prediction for the island of Ireland's political landscape in the coming years.
As tends to be the case with the game's increasingly meticulous grasp on detail and reality, Brexit is one of just a number of sociopolitical obstacles which managers will face after at least three FM17 seasons.
Yes, FM heads will have to deal with one of three scenarios: either a soft Brexit, a hard Brexit, or the scenario in which footballers are gifted the same special rights as 'entertainers', meaning the worries over work permits won't apply. A hard Brexit, however, will have the most profound effect in gameplay: it will make it more difficult to obtain work permits for players from the EU.
As an example of how it can work - this is what happened in my current game last night. pic.twitter.com/x1DhFYN1IJ
— Miles Jacobson 💙 (@milesSI) October 18, 2016
Furthermore, it has now been revealed that each of these Brexit scenarios bring with them their own national breakaway: In one, Scotland gains its independence and leaves the United Kingdom. In another, Northern Ireland, and not Scotland, does similar.
But in the third prospective situation, Northern Ireland secedes from the Union and, instead of going it alone, forms a united Ireland with its neighbours to the south.
Sports Interactive gaffer and FM director Miles Jacobsen announced that the game could 'predict' a united Ireland forming during the post-Brexit seasons, but cautioned there was a “very small chance though – the smallest of all the options”.
DUP MLA Gary Middleton is far from impressed with the game's simulation of the Irish political landscape, however, telling Newsletter.co.uk:
I think it’s very odd. The problem with that is you’re going to get a situation where the game could turn out to be making foolish predictions.
Northern Ireland leaving the United Kingdom is plain and simply not going to happen. Any poll taken recently would suggest that there is even less support. It just isn’t realistic.
I will be interested to see what happens to the Northern Ireland team. Is there going to be just one team for all of Ireland in this scenario?
It's actually a fascinating question, and one which we ourselves put to our friends on the FM team. We'll update you with their response as soon as we receive it.
Middleton understands the popularity of the game and so stopped short of calling for its boycott, but he concluded that Football Manager should avoid 'stirring people up' in its predictions, regardless of how infrequent the occurrence of a united Ireland might be within each game:
I know this game is very popular so I wouldn’t be telling people not to be buying it or anything like that, but these are sensitive issues, especially when it comes to Northern Ireland and our place within the United Kingdom. They need to be sensitive of that.
They have to be mindful of the political situation and not be seen to be trying to stir people up. Sometimes with these games that is their purpose – to encourage discussion – and I wouldn’t want to be taking away from that but I don’t think that’s the case here and I do think they need to be careful around this whole issue.
Hat-tip to Newsletter.co.uk & Reddit Ireland for their coverage of this.