Deep in the bowels of French football, sixth-tier AG Caen are trying to do something a little bit special.
Capitalising on the popularity of Football Manager, the French club joined up with an app called United Managers that lets fans tell them what to do, putting the running of the club up to the collective expertise of ultras, obsessives, armchair analysts, pub-bore stattos, FIFA gobshites, know-all know-nothings, and the occasional know-a-bit know-some-stuffs.
Like, properly tell them what to do. Their fans—known as the ‘Umans’—can log in and decide the team’s starting line-ups, substitutions, and in-game tactics. When the majority of users have agreed on a certain decision, the information is then relayed to Julien Le Pen, AG Caen’s coach. Really living up to the ‘Avant Garde’ part of their club’s name, aren’t they?
Anyway, as luck would have it, the concept is actually working. Since joining up with UM in 2017, they’ve won promotion and are currently top of the Regional 1 league. Talking to the BBC, Le Pen said: "For me, being a manager isn't just about making decisions, it's about working every day with my players.
“No-one's taken that work away from me, so thinking that managing is just about choosing players is false. That's why I say my job hasn't changed because I'm still the one who's working with the players every day."
So far, so good. It gives power back to the fans and—in a refreshing change from most “Well, that sounded like a good idea” schemes – it’s getting result. Which... is probably why FFF, the French FA, are trying to fuck it all up.
In December, the French Football Federation made new rulings that could directly threaten Caen's concept. One to “prevent clubs from establishing a partnership with a third party to "influence the performance of its teams" and another to “prevent a third party from "questioning the real responsibility of the team held by the head coach".
And yeah, they make sense in isolation, protecting the sanctity and independence of the football clubs under its banner, but will they be more likely to take umbrage with Caen’s potentially groundbreaking grassroots fan-managership project or PSG’s shrouded Petro-billionaire owners who, apparently, seem to have just as much as on club affairs on the pitch as they do off it?
Only time will tell. Only time, it seems, will tell...
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