Fantasy Football is one of the great misnomers. Talk to any Premier League Fantasy Football manager right now – on the eve of another fingernail-endangering season – and their feelings of excitement, nervousness, and angst are going to be very, very real.
To me, fantasy implies delusion; which in my case would less involve the virtual buying and selling of football players and more so involve Katy Perry and Rose Byrne doing things that best not be uttered aloud. To those hopelessly-addicted Fantasy managers (guilty as charged), the only delusion relates to a chronic overestimation of their team’s summer transfer successes (see: Liverpool every season).
I’m likewise feeling these aforementioned feelings, but something is different this season: I am the reigning champion, my friend. The Best. Number One. The Defending Champ.
After almost a decade of toil, I finally triumphed in a notoriously difficult league filled with pundit-level Brits who do not fuck around when it comes to shrewd trades and captain selections. By year’s end, I was ranked 89,518th in the world (i.e. in the top 2.56% of players). Not bad for an AFL-adoring Victorian who grew up worshiping a variant of football that about 0.00001% of the world knows exists.
What was different about last year? How did I conquer all comers (well, at least 97.44% of them)? Some 12 months on, my recollections are rather hazy. So, in the spirit of good sportsmanship I’m going to avoid embellishing the truth; instead turning to the last remaining morsel of usefulness in the Microsoft Office Suite to perform a vaguely mathematical analysis of last season’s game data.
After squinting at Excel with enough force to kill a small child, I began to see that certain data cells stood above all others and in those same cells lay the very foundations of three unequivocal life lessons.
Lesson #1: Put Your Best Foot Forward And Then Remove It Quickly When Trampled
GW1 (“Gameweek 1″, the first week of play, n00bs) is a time of great hope and excitement, but for many it’s a moment of even greater trepidation. Managers have likely spent an inordinate amount of time scrutinizing summer transfers, off-season form, and last year’s data, but will still tinker with their team until the last possible second like an oligarch-powered, real-life Premier League manager. And then just when they think they’ve nailed it, they’ll experience another formation-altering “ah-hah” that feels exponentially more powerful than the last. The rush is addictive, and ultimately pointless.
For the seasoned player (guilty as charged), they know that GW1 is basically a lottery. At this stage of the season, we’re still four weeks shy of summer’s final transfers, and player’s brains – along with subsequent match results – are all over the place. Anyone who claims that they can accurately predict early season form is very likely a shaman and should be avoided at all costs (unless, of course, you actually need to see a shaman, in which case, you should definitely give them a call).
My team at GW1 of 2014/15 is almost unrecognizable to my eventual league-topping champions at GW38 and features some colossal flops (see: Dejan Lovren, Dejan Lovren, and Dejan Lovren). That said, this weird conglomerate (thanks Gilfy!) ranked 11,851 out of 3,502,998 players worldwide. What can I say, sometimes you win the lottery. But as is par for the course, things went tits up soon after (my overall rank fell to 429,911 by GW4). Apparently, a shaman I am not.
GW1 Rank: 99.66%
GW1 Overall Rank: 11,851
Lesson #2: Back The Best People In Both Good Times And Bad
Quick aside: This bullet point could easily just be titled: “Buy Sergio Aguero And You Will Win Your Fantasy League”. But that’d be no fun. So, let’s continue down the fantasy-as-self-help rabbit hole.
Though my overall ranking was on the improve after the terror of GW4, something cataclysmic happened in GW8. As it played out, form-chasing early season managers (guilty as charged) eschewed Sergio Aguero’s proven striking record for Manchester City in favor of Chelsea’s new-to-the-Prem, hulking pile of goal-scoring rage Diego Costa. But just before GW8, Brazilian-born Costa picked up an injury during two Euro qualifiers for Spain (go figure) much to the chagrin of his IRL and Fantasy managers. With Chelsea lacking another viable striker (Didier Drogba, anyone!?), Jose Mourinho had no choice but to risk Costa during GW8.
As I’ve been consistently reminded, form-chasing is one of the more dangerous pursuits in Fantasy (see: buying Yannick Bolasie). Although it can occasionally pay off (see: Costa’s preposterous opening four games), it’s a tactic best left alone when facing managerial tumult. And so, in this instance, I did the exact opposite of form-chasing: I traded Costa for the appallingly-quiffed, form-lacking Sergio Aguero, who in my mind, was still the Premier League’s best striker. And the decision paid me back in multiples.
While Costa struggled against lowly QPR, Aguero (selected as my captain, which doubles his points tally) scored four goals and totally eviscerated Tottenham’s will to live. It was just desserts for a mercurial player and patient Fantasy manager. His virtuoso performance boosted my overall rank by 239% to 52,108, swinging managerial momentum in my favor. And it wasn’t the last time.
GW8 Rank: 97.21%
GW8 Overall Rank: 52,108 (+239%)
Without worrying about spoilers (it’s in the title), my season got much better. After a season-defining GW31, which we’ll get to in a moment, Aguero’s match-winning, relegation-triggering, hat-trick against QPR in GW36 all but sealed my maiden league victory.
Now, this is not to say Aguero came up big in every single game. In fact, despite his huge goal tally, there were moments of concerning lull throughout his season. But when it counted, in those GWs when my season turned on a dime, Aguero was the man.
By season’s end with imaginary trophy held aloft, I could practically imagine turning to him in our team’s imaginary dressing room and confiding in a moment of imaginary intimacy: “Sergio, I couldn’t have done this without you”. He’d reply in Spanish, which I don’t speak, and things would just be fantastic.
GW36 Rank: 93.77%
GW36 Overall Rank: 86,387 (+21%)
Lesson #3: Listen To Your Gut Even It Sounds Completely Crazy
Having just long-windedly extolled the virtues of Sergio Aguero, this next lesson might induce a Three Stooges-style fit of what-the-fuck. But such are the joys of life, my friend. No one lesson trumps another; there is no hierarchy. More so, they are a toolkit of wisdom that awaits your application as you see fit. Self-determination is a beautiful thing. And during GW31, I used it to my full advantage.
GW31 presented one of those glorious anomalies that make Fantasy managers uncontrollably salivate – a double GW. About three times per year due to scheduling changes, teams will play twice in a GW and their player’s scores are included twice. In this particular week, relegation-threatened QPR and Aston Villa were those teams. To the untrained and/or lazy eye, this would barely have raised an eyebrow. But for the desperate and victory-hungry (guilty as charged), this was a moment to throw caution to the wind.
Earlier in the season, QPR’s Charlie Austin had been a Fantasy revelation. His knack for goals coupled with low price made him one of the season’s best bargains. But a late season lull had Austin warming the imaginary benches of teams across the planet. Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke, on the other hand, struggled with injury and form throughout the 2014/15 campaign. But three goals in three weeks from the towering Belgian had Villa fans and this particular Fantasy manager taking note.
Despite Aguero’s recent run of good form, my gut screamed for the potentially game-changing, risk-laden strategy of trading him for Austin and Benteke. And so it went: Aguero out, Benteke and Austin in. In went the goals: 2 for Austin, and 3 for Benteke in a man-of-the-match performance against Austin’s QPR. Oh, the irony and joy. It was a truly season-defining masterstroke and stunning triumph of gut-over-brain. Though they didn’t actually say it to me, I just knew the important people in my life were beyond impressed: my fiance, my family, and everyone I’d ever met.
GW31 Rank: 98.88%
GW31 Overall Rank: 75,795 (+88%)
Note: part of this strategy was to capitalize on any huge points haul by immediately buying back Aguero (see Lesson #2). Yup, that guy again.
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And that’s that, my friends. The story of the hardest I’ve worked, and the greatest pay off. One man’s quest for the ultimate prize.
May your strikers find the backs of many nets, your midfielders deliver decisive assists, and your significant other(s) forgive your weekly indulgence. But above all, may your eyes be always peeled.
Ultimately, my triumphant 2014/15 season is a most cogent reminder that football isn’t just a convenient analogy for life. It is life.
Good luck out there.