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Real life Football Manager club under threat

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'Football Manager FC'

All regular players of Football Manager will have the success story of guiding a team from the lower divisions of the country up to the top flight and further.

For the last few seasons in France, thousands of supporters have had the opportunity to do so as part of an online community. The only difference with this is you can’t save the game before you play it and re-play it afterwards if the result doesn’t go your way.

That’s because French sixth division side Avant Garde Caennaise have been playing Football Manager in real life, with supporters able to vote during each game on what decisions the manager, Julien Le Pen, has to make.

It’s one of the most bizarre stories in football, with tactics, formations, substitutions and more all being decided by thousands of virtual managers, who vote on proposed options to essentially make the manager’s decision for him.

Known as ‘Umans’, the supporters make decisions via the United Managers’ app which began working with AG Caen back in 2017. Last season the club won promotion, showing that there could well be method to the madness of the idea.

Football Manager
Le Pen is still responsible for his own press conferences.

What the manager thinks

For manager Le Pen, he is in charge of training the players and preparing them for matches, but ultimately little else. Umans vote for decisions to be made via coins which are earned via using the app, or that can be purchased with a subscription fee. The more coins a Uman has, the greater the weight of their decision in the manager’s outcome.

As for Le Pen, he is content with the current setup of the club, telling BBC Sport: "Before, I used to choose the team with my two assistants, now I do it in collaboration with thousands of people so that's the big difference. They make plenty of decisions that a normal coach would make."

As the manager, Le Pen can make tactical suggestions to the Umans, which they then individually vote on and have the power to overturn the manager’s decision. They are able to watch the game via live stream on the app, or those who are local to the club can go in person to see for themselves what they think should happen next.

"It's filmed in a way that would be worthy of professional football," says Le Pen. "Having stats is unusual at this level too.

"I'm still the manager, I'm the link between the Umans and the team but if there's a decision that needs to be made quickly because there isn't time to consult the Umans, I can do that.

"There aren't any fixed rules around that, we just use common sense on the day. The objective is that the team performs better so decisions need to be made as quickly as possible.

"If there was a bug in the app, I'd retake control. That hasn't happened so far. The community has been great so far, they're behind us not against us. It's a collaboration and that's what's so nice about the concept."

Coutinho Klopp
Could fans making substitutions be something we see in the future?

Why is it under threat?

It’s not been a particularly popular concept amongst sides at a similar level to AG Caen, with it helping the club in their recruitment of players and the resources available to them, such as the access to Opta stats.

Midfielder Nicolas Suzanne says the concept of the Umans played a significant part in his decision to join the club, saying that it helps increase the standards both in training and on matchdays, with Umans also able to watch the team’s training sessions.

"The goal in this project is to convince as many Umans as possible to be part of the team," the 29-year-old said. "Having to give the best at each training to please the Umans pulls the team up in its performances.

"If the community decides to replace me, I take it, it's part of the game. We accepted the conditions by signing for the project, even if nobody likes to be taken off.

"Personally, I haven't yet had too much disagreement with a decision made by the Umans except when they decide to substitute me."

Zinedine Zidane Real Madrid
The FFF want to keep the status quo within football management.

However, the French Football Federation has since made the following rule changes, which would well bring the Managers’ United collaboration to an end which would:

  • Prevent clubs from establishing a partnership with a third party to "influence the performance of its teams"
  • Prevent a third party from "questioning the real responsibility of the team held by the head coach"
  • Prevent the broadcast of live matches without permission of the league.

Despite the rule changes, both the club and app developer insist they will continue working together, also claiming that the FFF can’t make such rule changes midway through a season.

They are targeting another promotion this season that would take them into the fifth tier of French football - equivalent to the National League in England - and are determined to continue with the Umans making the majority of decisions for them.