UPDATED: 19 Jul 2018

Football Manager 2018 vs the World Cup - Part 2: Predictions vs Reality

Written by bidstack

Before this seemingly endless summer began, and England turned out to be not quite as rubbish as we were all led to believe, we ran an experiment with our partners over at Football Manager to try and grasp how the tournament was likely to unfold. 

We simulated the entire World Cup, crunched the numbers, analysed performances, picked out the best players and top scorers, and kept a nervous eye on England’s progress. Now the Russian adventure has come to a close, we wanted to take a look back on our results to see just how good the boffins at Football Manager truly are!

In the interests of full disclosure and transparency, we have to hold our hands up and say that, from a methodology point of view, our experiment wasn’t what you might call “watertight”; there were a few discrepancies which meant that we didn’t simulate the World Cup exactly as it happened. We (somewhat idiotically) installed our AI managers before the tournament itself kicked off, and gave them enough leeway to tweak their squadsleading to the likes of Juan Mata and Adam Lallana impacting games in a way that they obviously couldn’t in real life. 

We also couldn’t account for the innate chaos of football in the real world, with managers fired on the eve of the tournament, and players sent home for refusing to come on during a game representing just some of the anomalies Football Manager couldn’t have anticipated. In spite of this, we want to take a look at how Football Manager’s algorithms fared against the reality of an extremely unpredictable Russia 2018.

If you missed our original post, you can take a look at it here. Some of the predictions we’re eerily accurate but not everything Football Manager predicted came to fruition…

No-one expected the demise of the heavyweights

It’s fair to say that this World Cup has thrown up some major surprises; who’d have predicted Brazil drawing with an unfancied Swiss side, South Korea knocking out Germany in the group stage (the group stage?!), Russia squeezing past Spain, Argentina looking generally shambolic and England finally winning a penalty shootout (nice one Gareth)?

So many of footballs expectations and certainties were shattered, turned upside down and dismissed as mere myth. But as the tournament progressed
, it became predictably unpredictable and so it isn’t a great shock to see that our simulation had Germany down as the overall winners after facing off with Spain. It didn’t quite pan out like that with a somewhat overlooked Croatia side losing out to a talented French team in the final but we can cut the FM guys some slack on this front given how erratic the whole World Cup has been.

Football Manager (somehow?!) knew Russia would do well

FIX! Pre-tournament, Russia were widely considered to be the worst host nation side in living memory, they led into the World Cup by failing to win 7 games on the bounce, only to confound everyones expectations and miss out narrowly on a semifinal slot.

Our simulation had them losing out at the Semi-final stage to Serbia, but, as it turned out, they missed out on the Semis courtesy of a penalty shootout with Croatia. Why didn’t we take this sweet, sweet insider information to a bookmaker and put all of the money on it?


“Yeah but what about Germany?”….”Shhh”.

This has been the tournament of the unheralded player

Our simulation highlighted Thomas Muller, David De Gea, and, surprisingly, Jonas Hector as the individual star performers of the tournament. 

It couldn’t have been much further wide of the mark, with the Germans crashing out before the tournament got going and De Gea looking oddly flustered and uncomfortable throughout, but who could have imagined players like Jordon Henderson, Danijel Subasic, and Benjamin Pavard would play such pivotal roles for their teams before the tournament kicked off?

Being a flattrack bully is key to taking home the Golden Boot 

Football Manager correctly identified that a key factor in winning the Golden Boot was putting weaker opponents to the sword, and Kane did this emphatically with his goals consisting of 2 yard tapins, penalties, and deflected efforts against the might of Panama, Tunisia and Colombia. 

Our simulation had Gonzalo Higuan as the tournaments top scorer, with 5 goals in 2 games against Iceland and Croatia, with a hat-trick being central to him winning the individual gong. 

Football didn’t come home but we didn’t“do an England” either

Our simulation correctly predicted that England would win their opening two games and that they’d finish 2nd to Belgium after losing the final group stage game, beyond this the prediction was that England would then get past Colombia before crashing out in classic fashion to Germany.

But that prediction was made in a pre
coming home world, and England, thankfully, didn’t have to face off against their old foes courtesy of an unlikely group stage exit. Southgate’s side went one round further than the simulation anticipated, and even though we were gutted they didn’t go all the way, at least we didn’t “do an England”.

FM are remarkably good at identifying exciting prospects

It isn’t exactly a secret that Football Manager have a great handle on player ability through their renowned scouting network – if media reports are to be believed, a lot of top class football coaches use Football Manager to look at exciting young players – and this seems to have been backed up by our simulation. 

The three prospects the simulation identified were Argentina’s Cristian Pavon, Mexico’s Hirving Lozano and Denmark’s Thomas Delaney who lit up the tournament to varying degrees. Pavon was one of the bright sparks in a disappointing Argentina showing, and has since been linked with a move to either Barcelona or Arsenal in the wake of his performances.

Hirving Lozano was an absolute revelation for Mexico, scoring one of the great counterattacking goals of the tournament against Germany and laying on an assist against South Korea to secure Mexico’s place in the knockout phase; and Thomas Delaney had a great tournament providing the defensive foil for Christian Eriksen to lead Denmark to the quarterfinal stage.

Well played, Football Manager, well played

So hats off to the team at Football Manager, it turns out they do in fact know a lot about football – who knew? Now our lives can return to some sort of normality, where we spend time with our loved ones, expand our vernacular beyond “it’s”, “coming” and “home”, and don’t obsess over simulations of football tournaments anymore.

Or will it?… Football Manager fans will be pleased to know the football season is already underway in the form of European qualifying and pre-season preparations, and the new season is already hurtling towards us at breakneck speed!


If you want to get the inside track on the newly promoted sides and new signings that will start rolling in over the next month, make sure to have a look at the new FMDB Football Scout app here so you can check out player attributes at the drop a hat.

Written by bidstack | 19 Jul 2018