This article originally appeared on VICE Sports UK.
When it was announced that the latest edition of Football Manager was going to sim the effects of Brexit, we were initially sceptical about the idea. Introducing grim political realities into a football simulation seemed to set an uncomfortable precedent, with the joyous escapism of the game threatened by visa complications, economic uncertainty and the possibility that we might sign Jamie Vardy only for him to retire and become a local councillor for UKIP. Now, though, with the possibility of a more humane Brexit on the cards, our objections to mixing Football Manager and politics have softened. There's been a surprise election result since then and a welcome rejection of the Conservative right, along with flagship Tory policies for Brexit Britain which included: forcing the sick and the elderly to sell off their assets, reintroducing a form of extreme animal cruelty and literally snatching food from the mouths of little children, presumably so it could be redistributed at a fundraiser for enormous industrialists in top hats and tails.
That was the perception of a fair proportion of the public when it came to the Conservative manifesto, anyway, which is one of the reasons we now face a hung parliament and considerable confusion ahead of Brexit negotiations. What Football Manager could never have predicted is that not only do we face the choice between a 'hard' and 'soft' Brexit, but there are now numerous other variables at play including the possibility of a Labour government in the near future. While it is a small mercy that Football Manager is unable to sim the effects of a Conservative-DUP coalition on Britain, the game may nonetheless be able to give us a clue as to our outlook depending on whether Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn leads the country in the long term. After a few enquiries on our part, it seems that Football Manager have arbitrary statistical profiles for both May and Corbyn, and so we are professionally obliged as modern football journalists to engage in aimless conjecture with the game's help.
To judge which party leader would be best for Britain at this time of great national upheaval, we have compared them on the footballing criterion most comparable to presiding over Brexit, namely how each of them would do as England manager at the 2018 World Cup. Much like a successful Brexit, a good World Cup campaign requires the person in charge to strategise, mobilise national sentiment and outmanoeuvre all the clever foreigners who want us to fail. Having run our data on May and Corbyn through the enormous, clanking Football Manager mainframe, we have the definitive answers on who would do better at Russia 2018. Presuming that Corbyn would take the England job and not reject it on grounds of international solidarity, here's what the Football Manager algorithm thinks would happen if May and the man the fans have dubbed 'the absolute boy' attempted to win the Jules Rimet, with a few creative embellishments here and there.
With Theresa in charge, things start out very much in the Roy Hodgson mould of England management. She announces a strong, stable, unimaginative squad featuring Harry Maguire, Nathan Redmond, Phil Jones and Joe Hart, while Wayne Rooney is omitted, most likely on account of coming from Merseyside and hence having a suspicious whiff of Labour voter to him. Theresa goes with a 4-1-4-1 formation, shunting Marcus Rashford out wide to accommodate Harry Kane as her aspirational lone striker, and then prepares for a qualifying group which includes Bosnia & Herzegovina, Mexico and Uruguay. After a warm-up match in which she is widely ridiculed for a horribly awkward Mexican wave, few are expecting the tournament to go well.
To the relief of her supporters and the tabloid commentariat, May makes a strong start with a win over Bosnia & Herzegovina, this despite a turgid performance in which Ryan Bertrand gets the only goal. Her polling as England manager is through the roof, but this wanes considerably when the team lose 2-1 to Mexico in their second group-stage game. Having pledged to take away the players' free lunches unless they pull themselves up by their bootstraps against Uruguay, May is rewarded with a 1-1 draw which sees England knocked out at the group stage. So, much like her 2017 election campaign, her efforts at the World Cup go from mildly underwhelming to appalling. She immediately resigns in the national interest with Ernesto Valverde her probable successor, though Boris Johnson is also rumoured to be in the managerial frame.
Unsurprisingly, Corbyn is a way more exciting England manager, a cross between Kevin Keegan and Graham Taylor in that the team are exhilarating, unpredictable and defensively all over the place. He goes for an avant garde squad including Jon Toral, Troy Deeney and Jamaal Lascelles, taking the country back to the seventies with an old-fashioned, Mike Bassett-approved 4-4-2 formation. He eschews May's rampant individualism up front for a more collective effort, with Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford sharing the goalscoring burden equally. England face Tunisia, South Korea and Croatia in the group stage, and the nation is filled with a sense of genuine hope.
Despite opening the tournament with a 1-1 draw against Tunisia in which the establishment conspire to give England's opponents a controversial penalty, the team deliver on Corbyn's 'for the many, not the few' mantra in the next match. Kane, Rashford and Dele Alli all score in a 3-1 triumph over the Koreans, with England living up to the socialist football of Bill Shankly, Brian Clough, Alex Ferguson and all the other great managers on the ideological left. Unfortunately, things go belly up in the final group-stage fixture, where Corbyn's England only need a draw to go through to the knockout rounds. Instead, they turn in one of their worst performances in recent memory as Croatia score three times in just 10 second-half minutes, adding a fourth late in the game. Once again England fall at the first hurdle, though Corbyn ignores his 'very insecure' job status – take note, backbench rebels – and decides to stay on.
What Football Manager seems to be telling us, then, is that we are absolutely fucked whatever happens in politics between now and the outcome of the next general election. Faced with the might of the rest of the world, Brexit Britain will be able to subjugate Bosnia and South Korea to its economic will, but other than that things will either grind to a stalemate or we'll get shafted by uneven trade deals with Croatia, Mexico and friends. Whether we choose Labour or the Tories, it's all going to go horribly wrong, and we'll probably end up with Ernesto Valverde launching a coup and becoming lifetime dictator of Britain. Then again, do we want a miserable slog to disaster under Theresa May, or an exciting, what-could-have been Brexit goalfest under the management of Jeremy Corbyn? Choose life, choose a fucking big television, choose Corbyn as England manager, and choose going 4-0 down to Croatia in the knowledge that this is the most fun we've had watching England in years.