12.18.12

David Beckham's future is unclear, but Football Manager will sort it out

David Beckham, of bending fame, has departed our beloved world of soccer for the more glorious world of football — by which I mean he is going to back Europe.

As much as fans will be wondering where his next tenure will be, Beckham is surely anxious over his decision. What happens if he goes to PSG? Barcelona? At a top team he may get benched if he can’t match the best young players, but at a poor team he might be a waste. If he can't manage to gauge these many possible futures, he can always turn to Football Manager, which did a bunch of simulations to show what his future could look like at various clubs.

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Here he is at QPR:

QPR Head coach Harry Redknapp has said he’d like Beckham to lead QPR out of the bottom of the standings of the Premier League. During Redknapp’s time as head coach of Tottenham Hotspur, he attempted to get Becks on loan transfer from the LA Galaxy. In the simulation, Beckham helps QPR remain in the Premier League, averaging a rating of 7.38. Redknapp changes his formation in the second season to a diamond 4-4-2, making Beckham useless and giving him very few minutes on the pitch. By the end of the simulation, Beckham is unhappy at QPR and wants out of the team.

But what about Monaco?

Monaco is currently in France’s Ligue 2 division. Beckham would undoubtedly be the best player in the club. He averages 7.89 in 17 appearances and creates 11 assists for his team-mates, easily bringing Monaco the Ligue 2 title. Once ascending to Ligue 1, Beckham would remain a key player. Though they wouldn’t win the cup, they’d finish with the 10th spot, averaging a rating of 7.58 across 27 appearances. By the end of the simulation, Beckham becames a fan favorite at the club.

This reminds of a piece Samuel Arbeson, lover of italics, wrote for Wired a few weeks ago. I thought some of his premises were innacurate, but it was thought provoking nonetheless. 

Imagine cutting the athletes out of the game altogether, and instead watching computer-simulated sports. I’m not just talking about virtual games like Madden NFL 18 (e.g., what it could be five years from now). Computer graphics – and the requisite algorithms – have progressed to the point where we could have a lifelike video of the simulation, never worry about replays, and see the action from angles unimaginable in today’s real-life games.

Well, think for a moment about what actually gets people excited about sports. Is it the game itself … or the outcomes of the game? If the latter is true, do we really need the game to be “real” to enjoy the post-game analysis? This is where computer modeling has us covered, whether a gambler, a stats-monger, or simply someone who loves rattling off key player stats. 

Football Manager and other sports games do this to a certain extent. They still rely on player ability (though rather than on a field its on a screen), but there is a ton of simulation taking place and this can be extremely fun to witness and interact with. Beckham's Football Manager simulations are just one example of the potential insight sports games can provide us. These algorithims will only get better as time goes on and may be providing more insight and demanding more attention than we anticipate.