The Hazards of playing Fantasy Premier League


Mohamed Salah attempts a shot on goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Brighton and Hove Albion. - AP

Mohamed Salah attempts a shot on goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Brighton and Hove Albion. - AP

EVERYONE thinks they can be a football manager. That’s probably one of the main reasons that Fantasy Premier League (FPL) has become such a phenomenon. Millions play it around the world, including tens of thousands here in Malaysia.

The game involves selecting a ‘fantasy’ team of Premier League players, which you can update each week by making one free transfer, and you score points based on what those players do in the actual games.

The budget for building your entire team is a paltry £100mil (RM526mil – paltry by the standards of the modern-day Premier League that is). In real life you couldn’t afford the combination of Paul Pogba and Xherdan Shaqiri with that.

In the slightly saner world of FPL, the highest priced player at the start of the season was Mohamed Salah at £13mil (RM68mil).

The game is fun but it distorts how you watch games.

Take Salah as an example. He’s not currently in my FPL side so while, as a Liverpool fan, I was delighted that he scored the winner against Brighton, from an FPL perspective I would rather it had been somewhere else.

I can even wish Manchester United well on occasion now with some of their players back in my team.

Most managers had seemingly given up on Manchester United players for this season, at least until Ole Gunnar Solskjaer arrived. But then Jose Mourinho appeared to have given up on those players as well.

One of the keys to success in Fantasy Premier League is to choose the right captain. You can decide anew each week and the points that the captain scores get doubled.

I chose Eden Hazard this week and he returned a less than spectacular ten points. In general my captaincy picks this season have been about as successful as Theresa May’s government attempting to negotiate Brexit.

Like any manager though, I have an excuse or two. Pep Guardiola apparently bases his team selections entirely on sabotaging my FPL chances. Harry Kane is also guaranteed to score only when I don’t select him.

I’m just emulating Juergen Klopp who said after Liverpool’s FA Cup loss to Wolves: ‘The wind didn’t help.’ It rarely does unless you’re trying to fly a kite.

Some Liverpool players have helped my cause this season though. Andy Robertson: take a bow.

We’ve now reached that stage of the season in which I’m contemplating playing my second wildcard. You get two each season whereby you can effectively reset your team and start again.

I’m sure a few Premier League managers wished they had that option. Rafa Benitez would be at the front of the queue. It doesn’t come with the option to select a new owner though Rafa.

Mauricio Pochettino would probably settle for a ‘mildcard’ at Spurs that allowed just one or two new signings. I think if it’s his fantasy to join Manchester United, it will become a reality soon.

Even though Spurs lost to United at the weekend, I think Pochettino remains the frontrunner.

I’m now watching Everton vs Bournemouth, or more specifically from an FPL point of view, Richarlison v Ryan Fraser. You’ve got to understand lads, everybody’s playing for their place at the moment ahead of the wildcard.

Some people take FPL very, very seriously. They have spreadsheets. I wouldn’t be surprised if some use algorithms. It’s become a mini-industry with dedicated TV shows, websites, and Twitter accounts.

There are those who spend as much time on their fantasy teams as Pogba does on Instagram.

Now that he has more time on his hands, I wonder if Mourinho has set up an FPL account. If he has, I bet he won’t sign Pogba.

Craig Wilkie. Football Writer. Football Coach. Football Fan. Follow him on Twitter @ciwilkie

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