It’s around this time of year when those of us who have not quite hit the heights over the course of the season start to imagine that we might be able to do a bit better next year. And let’s be fair, that’s most of us. How many weeks have you looked at the standings and wondered just how much time, effort and good fortune has gone in to assembling a team that’s halfway respectable? And how often have you wondered, just how the heck some people manage to keep doing that?
One of the answers is that some people are remarkably lucky. That, though, is the easy way out. The number of players who just happen to land on a winning combination – perhaps with the aid of a pin, a blindfold and a psychic octopus – is probably not a big one. In fact, it’s probably not even a one. So – and this is not necessarily the easiest pill to swallow – the first point to make is that luck is not really part of the game. Never mind making your own luck, there simply isn’t any to be had. As a famous American baseball coach really ought to have said at some time “luck is for schmucks”.
The serious stuff
This is where things stop sounding like fun and begin to resemble a corporate personnel brochure. The road to success has its foundations laid well in advance. Success is achieved with dedicated practice, a careful and systematic assessment of the available information and all sorts of other stuff that really, in any normal universe, you would only dream of doing for money. Let’s face it, it’s a fair bet that you’d win a lot more cash if you were to put that sort of effort into a straightforward punt at betfair
But of course, we do this for something more creditable and altogether nobler. Fantasy football is – if nothing else – a higher calling. This is about football. It is about proving your worth as a 21st century hunter-gatherer of bargain buys, unexpected over-performers and, above, all points. This is what French philosophers and Melvyn Bragg would call an existential matter, and what your sister, wife or girlfriend would probably describe as a bloody waste of time… (maybe that’s just my sister, wife and girlfriend – but enough of my domestic arrangements…)
Dogs at Christmas
It is at this point in the campaign where the race is run. No amount of late switches was going to make even the remotest impact on the standings. Of course, that isn’t everybody. Some battled it out tooth and nail, hoping against hope that Jermain Defoe can bounce another one in off his backside or that Charlie Adam’s three-week impersonation of a world-class playmaker could be dragged out for another 90 minutes. But these are the exceptions.
‘Mid-table mediocrity’ is the sort of expression that sounds about as depressing as a wet Wednesday night in Wigan but which, in truth, is probably about as good as we could aspire to. It’s life, Jim, but not as we fantasise about it.
And here’s the thing, here’s the real nub of the issue. This is why – for all the game involves the same data-mining, budget balancing, ball-aching obsessing over detail that we’d run a mile from if anyone called it ‘work’ – that is why we won’t be able help but put ourselves through the whole process next season. One-off punts, early cash outs and the short-term gratification that the likes of betfair provide are for the day to day. Like dogs at Christmas, Fantasy Football is for life.
A chance to shine
The chance to be great does not fall to most of us, most of the time. Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo may have been blessed by the angels at birth, their destiny mapped out for them from their perfectly balanced cradle. But the great thing that FF gives us is the chance not only to put ourselves above these demi-gods, it gives us the power to judge them.
Obviously Messi and Ronaldo aren’t actually involved. I know that. I’m just using them for illustrative purposes as examples of special talents – Call it a rhetorical flourish. The argument wouldn’t sound anything like as good if I used Leon Osman and Jonathan Walters as examples, would it?
What FF does is bind us into the lives and careers of people so talented that you can see them shining from the moon. This is our chance to live the life we could have won if only the fates had not cursed us with two left feet of clay and the reflexes of a particularly dozy ruminant. This, above all, is our chance to live the dream.
So, as our heroic thoughts turn towards the possibilities of next season, we have fresh matters to consider. Bournemouth may have an impressive new airport, but impressive defenders? I don’t think so. But further forwards? Possibly. All the signs are that the Cherries aren’t going to do anything other than bomb forwards next term, so the likes of midfielder Matt Ritchie with 15 goals and 17 assists in the last campaign has to be worth a punt. Centre forward Callum Wilson’s 20 goals from 45 games looks good, but we’ve seen individual strikers struggle to make the step up and maintain that sort of goalscoring form throughout the course of a whole season before. Step forwards Danny Ings (more of him in a moment).
Watford strikers? Maybe, they hunt as a pack, which looks like a far better template. Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo scored 41 goals between them in the Championship this season. And Matej Vydra scored 16. Deeney’s ten assists are worth taking note of too. Those boys are definitely worth keeping tabs on. Not to go all out and pick more than one, but they look like the sort of bargain bucket regular contributors that every FF squad needs to call on every now and then.
Pondering the possible
There is a thought that checking the fixtures when they are announced might be worth something too. The way those sides play they will be eviscerated by a decent Premier League frontline – you have been warned.
Meanwhile, mention of Ings raises the question of who might be on the move over the summer. You have to wonder, especially when it comes to the relegated sides, who is likely to catch the eye of the Premier League talent poachers. Liverpool need strikers, Southampton need someone who knows where the goal is, and Stoke would be improved by a natural finisher. Ings would do well at any of them.
But maybe Ings is too obvious (ditto Charlie Austin at QPR). He’ll come with a price tag to match the hype. But the rest of that Burnley squad has plenty to recommend it. My pick would be former Manchester United centre-back Michael Keane. He could slot quite comfortably into any back four in the top flight – bar Chelsea’s, of course. And there are some big teams in need of defensive rebuilding.
As for QPR’s ramshackle bag of bits and pieces – aside from Austin? As a team they’ve been a long way shy of pushing themselves towards the front of the shop window. Yun Suk-young maybe as a left-back? Rob Green as a safe pair of gloves (sometimes)? In truth it’s difficult to make a case for keeping tabs on the Loftus Road exit door over the next few months.
Down to earth
And so it is that we are brought back down to earth. Our cogitations, we realise, are merely wisps of imagination, lightweight, fluffy things that are the stuff of dreams. It really is quite staggering just how much time and effort a good fantasy can take up. But perhaps that is because, if we get it right, every once in a while, for the good, the dedicated and the wise, sometimes football fantasies do come true.
About the author:
Joe is a freelance sports journalist and staff writer for FC Copenhagen. As a Leeds United season ticket holder for nine years in his youth, he’s seen the best and worst English football has to offer. A frequent fantasy football player, you may (or most probably may not) have seen his team Borussia Teeth languishing at the foot of many a league table. That trend is set to continue.