It ,s a fact. fan­tasy is guess­work

BEN GOULD pon­ders how he can im­prove his stand­ing in the online game

Late Tackle Football Magazine - - Opinion -

FAN­TASY foot­ball’s warp­ing of our nat­u­ral in­stincts is well-doc­u­mented. You can find your­self cheer­ing on even the game’s most heinous vil­lains when their touch in the op­po­si­tion’s half brings the prom­ise of pre­cious points – even when they’re play­ing your own team. The even murkier side of this phe­nom­e­non is much less dis­cussed, how­ever – what be­comes of the poor souls for whom FF dom­i­nates their foot­ball lives and yet, some­how, re­sults in ut­ter fail­ure?

Spend­ing in­ad­vis­able amounts of time brows­ing ded­i­cated FF fo­rums and web­sites can lead to the be­lief that you, too, can fin­ish in those mys­ti­cal top few thou­sand places if you sim­ply fol­low the ad­vice given. Last sea­son, I took the game “se­ri­ously” for the first time and my fi­nal plac­ing in the mid-four­teen thou­sands was com­fort­ably my best ever. Fool­ishly I thought that by ded­i­cat­ing even more time to this cam­paign I could only im­prove. Didn’t we all!

Un­for­tu­nately, in­ter­net group­think tends to build be­liefs on the shaky foun­da­tion of semi­in­formed spec­u­la­tion and the flim­si­est of hunches. For ex­am­ple, Kevin Mi­ral­las was sup­posed to be a points ma­chine un­der Roberto Martinez – listed as a mid­fielder, but play­ing in the same wide right po­si­tion which had yielded huge re­turns for the likes of An­to­nio Valencia and Charles N’Zog­bia at Wi­gan (whose postMartinez ca­reers have hardly sparkled). Phillipe Coutinho? Bril­liant on ar­rival, there­fore bound to be amaze­balls af­ter a full pre­sea­son in an even more at­tack­ing Liver­pool side.

In­stead, they’ve joined the vast ma­jor­ity of last sea­son’s big-hit­ters in ut­terly fail­ing to de­liver. Theo Wal­cott is crocked again. Juan Mata has barely played for rea­sons un­clear. Gareth Bale is gone. Michu and Chris­tian Ben­teke are suf­fer­ing the dreaded sec­ond sea­son syn­drome (as world med­i­cal au­thor­i­ties don’t call it). And Robin van Per­sie would have to be net­ting a hat­trick ev­ery other week to jus­fity his eye-wa­ter­ing price tag.

The warn­ing signs were there. All the big clubs were in flux, with new man­agers bring­ing in buck­et­loads of new at­tack­ing play­ers to make lineup pre­dic­tions im­pos­si­ble, or in David Moyes’ case bring­ing in sod all. Thus we re­lied on the tini­est crumbs of man­age­rial chit-chat dur­ing pre­sea­son, some­how for­get­ting that ev­ery­thing th­ese men say is ei­ther ki­dol­ogy, hyper­bole or out-and-out shame­less fib­bery. Edin Dzeko would ap­par­ently be City’s main striker this sea­son, or at least that’s how Senor Pel­le­grini mas­saged his ego in July af­ter wel­com­ing another £40 mil­lion-worth of for­wards to the Eti­had.

Arse­nal were the ex­cep­tions, of course, but no­body was ex­pect­ing them to take ad­van­tage of their ri­vals’ chaos with quite so much rel­ish. Un­earthing such un­der­val­ued gems as Aaron Ram­sey – un­ques­tion­ably the break­out star of the sea­son – be­fore ev­ery­one else is one of the keys to FF suc­cess. Wait for too long to get them in and you’re merely jump­ing on the band­wagon, where any ben­e­fits they bring are shared by all your ri­vals too.

At the be­gin­ning of last sea­son there were enough cer­tain­ties (eg Bale, RVP) to build your team around, and oth­ers who the in­ter­net quickly agreed were must-haves (Michu, Be­govic, Suarez). This could set you off on a fine start that lesser-in­formed op­po­nents would then strug­gle to claw back. One year on, all those guys are pre­mium-priced and ev­ery cheaper player tipped to as­cend to the next level has turned out to be a damp squib in fan­tasy terms.

The more of th­ese mis­takes you make early on, the quicker you be­gin to press the panic but­ton, in­creas­ing the risk of you leap­ing onto yet more false band­wag­ons as the trans­fer win­dow closes – Chris­tian Eriksen as the ful­crum of a newly free-flow­ing Spurs at­tack, for ex­am­ple. Be­fore you know it, 10 games have gone and you’re 1.5 mil­lionth in the world, won­der­ing where it all went wrong. Oh sure, some of those guys up above who’ve had lucky starts will lose in­ter­est or stop play­ing al­to­gether. But gain­ing a few hun­dred thou­sand places by de­fault is a rather empty vic­tory.

It’s tempt­ing to just throw your hands up to say it’s all about luck. But then hind­sight kicks in, and with it the nag­ging re­frain of “there’s al­ways next sea­son”. If I just fol­low my in­stinct some­times rather than slav­ishly latch­ing onto the so-called in­ter­net ex­perts then surely the fu­ture is mine for the tak­ing.

The other pos­si­bil­ity is for me to re­main for­ever medi­ocre, with the odd high-scor­ing week all I’ll have to show for all those months of ded­i­ca­tion and sac­ri­fice. Which neatly sums up the fan ex­pe­ri­ence as a whole, when you come to think about it. Maybe FF isn’t so warped af­ter all.

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