New column in Metropolis M: Museum Manager 2011

Inspired by the computer game Football Manager, in which you are the trainer of a top football club, Juha van ’t Zelfde dreams of the game Museum Manager, in which you get to run a top museum.

Museum Manager 2010, the precursor of Museum Manager 2011

It will have been in 1995 that I managed to get my hands on my first copy of Championship Manager 2. CM2 was a computer game in which you could be manager of any of the big (and small) teams in the English, Spanish and Italian football competitions. The first edition appeared in 1992, and by the time its name was changed to Football Manager (FM) in 2005, the game had grown to become the ultimate sport management game, with football competitions and associated players from every continent.

You begin the game by creating a profile and selecting a team from one of the world’s many football leagues. Let us, for example, take FC Barcelona, the most successful team in 2009, with such famous players as Lionel Messi, Thierry Henry and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. When you make up your profile, you are asked to do more than just fill in your name and age. You also make a choice about how you join the team as a manager: as a former worldclass player (a Rijkaard type), a successful manager (a Van Gaal type), or as an unknown rookie with no experience at all (a Van ’t Zelfde type). Let us begin as an unknown trainer: Juha van ’t Zelfde, 30 years old, half Dutch, half Finnish.

The next step is that you are welcomed to the team by Chairman Joan Laporta, Johan Cruijff’s famous friend. On behalf of the Board, Laporta expresses their faith in your appointment and their expectation that you will make their team the champions. With the likes of Messi, Henry and Ibrahimovic in your selection, this of course has to be possible, but should you need a little extra support, you have a transfer budget of €15 million at your disposal. Barcelona has a stadium that seats 98,000 spectators, world-class training facilities, state-of-the-art training for young players and a total budget of €664 million. You also have a staff, including an assistant-manager, coaches, youth coaches, physios and scouts. In short, everything is just as it is in real life, and you feel responsible for the future of the team.

What makes the experience of playing FM so exceptional is the dizzying array of statistics and data that come your way. Players have more than 30 different characteristics, divided into technical, mental and physical qualities that are valued by a number from 1 to 20. The lightweight World Footballer of the Year, Lionel Messi, for example, scores 20 for flair and technique, but only 9 for strength and 10 for aggressiveness. The managers, trainers and scouts also have statistics to chart their qualities. All of these figures fluctuate. They can go up or down, depending on how you deal with the players, how you employ your staff, the shape you give to the training, which tactics you use in the games, whether you win the games, how you respond to the press and how the public responds to you. If you improve, the players improve, and vice versa. The result of all this is that you really get the feeling that you are leading the team, that your choices are deciding factors in the club’s success.

After this, football is never the same again. The first time you go watch a real football game, you see it all through the eyes of an FM manager. Worse, you want the real managers to play FM as well, so that they too can make their clubs better.
When I recently played Football Manager 2010, it occurred to me how wonderful it would be to translate this to the museum world, so that you could become manager of the Tate Modern, or to bring it closer to home, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Alexander Ribbink would welcome you, express his faith in you and entrust the collection, the museum building and the staff to you. At the same time, he would make a budget available that you could use as you see fit. Suddenly, you would have to choose between purchasing a new work by Olafur Eliasson, appointing a new head of marketing, or developing the museum’s strategy in the field of Internet and new media. That new work of Eliasson’s is expensive, but it would bring in new visitors and generate a lot of international attention. A new head of marketing could mean an in-depth investment for the organization and make all of the museum’s departments more transparent. The online strategy would make the museum more approachable and accessible, but it would consume a great deal of time and require considerable external (and expensive) expertise.

Just as in FM, Museum Manager – which is of course what this game would be called – would let you begin with a smaller organisation and work your way up to the higher ‘divisions’. In the footsteps of Willem Sandberg, you could make the Stedelijk a unique museum with an exceptional collection that is squarely in the middle of society and actively seek collaborations with other disciplines. This would have consequences for relationships with the city, sponsors and other partners. If you are a success, New York’s MoMA will ask you to become manager of their museum, just as happens in the football world. Suddenly, you are in charge of an immense collection and astronomical budgets and have an international network of experts at your fingertips. But you are expected to produce results. Can you handle the pressure?

I cannot wait to play Museum Manager. Then, the first time I go back to visit a museum, I will observe it through the eyes of an MM manager. Moreover, I will want real museum managers to play MM, so they too can improve their museums.

Juha van ’t Zelfde is half Finnish, half DJ and half co-founder of Non-fiction, VURB and Viral Radio.

This article has been published in Dutch art magazine Metropolis M. It was translated from Dutch by Mari Shields. Follow Metropolis M on Twitter.