"This is massive - and really exciting": FFT speaks to Chelsea's Emma Hayes and Football Manager's Miles Jacobson about FM introducing women's football

Football Manager
(Image credit: Sports Interactive)

New players get added to Football Manager every year. Wonderkids are seemingly on a never-ending conveyor belt. But with the announcement that women’s football is set to be incorporated into the iconic game soon, there’s going to be an influx of brand-new, world-class players.

And it’s not just the star names that will be added to the game. Sure, you’ll get to manage Fran Kirby and Vivianne Miedema in FM soon - but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s tons and tons of data that needs adding to the game with this update. Abilities need calibrating and Sports Interactive - the team behind the series - need to send scouts out to find out attributes. And FM can’t simply use the same templates as they’ve used for men: women’s football has its distinct differences. The game is about to get its biggest overhaul ever.

NEWS Women's football to be incorporated into the Football Manager franchise

“We get asked all the time: ‘When are you doing a women’s version of Football Manager?’ and I’ve always thought that’s quite insulting,” says Miles Jacobson, the studio director at SI. “Because it’s one sport - you don’t have a women’s version of FourFourTwo, do you? We’re starting with a complete blank canvas.”

We’re on a call with Miles and Emma Hayes, manager of Chelsea women, who won the double last season and reached a Champions League final to boot. You will also have caught Emma at the Euros too, where she became a breakout star on ITV with incisive analysis, commentary and punditry - which Miles himself tells us he was a big fan of. Emma wowed viewers with her forensic insight into games - so for a world-class coach who uses data and analytics, Football Manager adding women’s football must be hugely exciting?

“It's massive - I think going from a data-driven approach has made me a better manager,” Emma explains. “When you sit down with a player and you’re saying, for example, ‘that wasn’t good enough’  they want to see why, objectively, whether that’s through film or data. 

“Essentially, I’m a head contractor. I’ve got 40 to 45 people daily, players and staff, so it’s important that what everybody does is concise. I don’t have 30 seconds to waste: waffle is a killer in my business. In order to make decisions you have to be informed - and you can only make informed decisions with objective references. Numbers, patterns of behaviour. The differences are that I have to coach a real game. 

“I think that there are big similarities between the real world and Football Manager around the importance of data: the difference is in the application of it.”

Miles agrees. When Football Manager began building its databases almost 30 years ago, there was precious little data in men’s football. He says that they’re in a very similar position now with implementing the women’s game. The reason that Sports Interactive has announced that Football Manager is adding women’s football... is that they simply can’t keep it a secret while they assemble the data.

“We don’t talk about what we’re working on in the future, ever,” Miles says. “But we need to build that data and we can’t be asking everyone to sign non-disclosure agreements! Let’s just be honest and upfront about what we’re doing and build up that network. The various people that we’ve spoken to - the first question they ask is about the data and whether they can have it because there just isn’t enough.”

Emma Hayes

(Image credit: PA)

“I don’t think you can manage at the top level without that data,” Emma says, “Football Manager is going to become resourceful to women’s teams. I think it’ll help the progression of the game but vice versa; I think women’s football can teach Football Manager about our game, some of the differences and similarities.

“I know I’ll be on the phone to Miles, I’ve told him. I’m keen to see where our gaps are. I think the difference with the women’s game is that because we’ve not had these big [data and analytics] departments, we’ve had to think outside the box for a while now. We might have some evolutions that interest Football Manager.”

Aside from the data aspect, another big difference between men’s and women’s football - and an obvious one - is between the athlete's bodies. As FM implements women’s players, the data has to take account of the fact that women play slightly differently to men: what it takes to be the best women's player in the world might take a slightly different skillset - and then there are variables, such as pregnancy and menstrual cycles. Emma explains that an athlete’s strength gains are lower during the first phase of a cycle - and there are even some interesting nuances that come from women’s football, such as women’s players being better at placing shots than the average men’s player. 

“Women might score more goals from outside the box than in the men’s game but actually, we have lower shot power,” Emma says. “We don’t strike the ball as hard but because of the height of the goalkeepers, that creates a couple of per cent difference in the number of goals scored.”

“When we do roll out women’s football, height will be a more important thing,” Miles confirms. He gives us an example of the real world; Miles is 5 foot 6½ and in one game, playing in goal for a Watford supporter’s team, he was lobbed from the halfway line at kick-off. Honestly, Miles - it’s happened to all of us who have been in goal at one point. Just look at David Marshall. 

Still, it’s exciting to think that a computer game might lead to new players being discovered in the real world. So many men develop from being wonderkids. So many men become cult FM heroes. And so many football fans keep up with the careers of men, even watch their matches, just because they’ve managed on FM. Now that’s coming to women’s football, too.

This isn't a game anymore, it's an intrinsic part of football culture. This new generation of managers, as Miles points out, grew up with FM. Some people's lives could be about to change - all because of Football Manager.

“It is really exciting!” Miles says. “When people talk to me about football and I’m trotting out that Fran Kirby is one of my top five players in the world at the moment, it’s because… she is! She’s a genius.”

“She is,” says Emma, nodding along - she works with Kirby daily, after all. 

“Whether it be Kirby or anyone else,” Miles continues, “What I’m looking forward to is unearthing new talent. There are players in Chile or Argentina that none of us have heard of before because they’re not getting to play on that stage and hopefully, helping get those players noticed.

“If we can help increase the audience for women’s football and help create role models for girls and young women: job done. We’ve been part of the problem from not having done this earlier. We should’ve done this years ago: we’re righting that wrong. There are so many fantastic people in the women’s game that haven’t been able to get the recognition. If we can help with that, if we can all help with that, that’s fantastic.”

You can find out more about updates to Football Manager, including the addition of women's football in the game, on the official site (opens in new tab)

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Mark White
Staff Writer

Mark White has been a staff writer on FourFourTwo since joining in January 2020, writing pieces for both online and the magazine. An encyclopedia of football shirts and boots knowledge – both past and present – Mark has also been to the FA Cup and League Cup finals for FFT and has written pieces for the mag ranging on subjects from Bobby Robson's season at Barcelona to Robinho's career. He once saw Tyrone Mings at a petrol station in Bournemouth but felt far too short to ask for a photo.