Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Sun 19 November 2006

How to pick a Fantasy Football team

There can be hardly a football fan in the country these days that hasn’t at some point entered a ‘Fantasy Football’ competition before. It’s a phenomenon that’s been running for fifteen years in this country and has developed out of its humble beginnings as an idle pastime for those few people that knew about it into a multi-million pound industry enjoyed by hundreds of thousands all over the world.

Though Fantasy Football games peaked many years ago, they still attract people like myself who enjoy the challenge of selecting that elite group of players that can score more points for you than anyone else in your competition. For some, it seems there’s little chance of reaching that elusive level of superiority over your friends, family and work colleagues, while for others it’s a matter more important than life and death. They see it as a fine art, a skill which can be honed out of dedication, a prolific depth of knowledge and a keen footballing brain that few others have.

But just how do you pick a ‘Fantasy Football’ team that will bring you success and a warm glow of supremacy over those also-rans you call ‘your friends’?

Well first of all, there are the rules of the game. These are to be read, digested, ignored and read again (if need be) so that you have a thorough understanding of where a tactical edge can be gained over your fellow competitors. The rules will cover everything from team formations to scoring, but first you must assess your total budget for assembling a team and decide where your priorities lie when spending it, albeit ‘virtually’.

You may find that you have a starting kitty of £100 million pounds or so - a fortune, or so you’d think it - but when you begin throwing your money around like Richard Pryor in ‘Brewster’s Millions’, you soon find that it doesn’t go very far. But what’s the harm in choosing a few big-name players like Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney? Nothing, as long as you’re prepared to have them playing alongside bargain basement players who probably won’t step onto a pitch all season.

So star players must be rationed if you’re to achieve strength in depth, but who else should you be looking for? England internationals, perhaps? Maybe, but you know how bad England are playing these days. Chelsea players? Again, logic suggests ‘yes’, but with a large squad to pick from, it’s no wonder Mourinho selects and drops players from week-to-week leaving you with personnel that aren’t guaranteed a regular run of games. The same applies to Arsenal and Manchester United.

Points don’t just come from potential goalscorers. They can also come from players providing an ‘assist’ - that is to say a pass that immediately leads to a goal. Why not, then, pick those players that take the corners and free-kicks? Great idea… until someone like Geremi comes along from out of nowhere and scores from a free-kick as he did on Saturday, thus rendering your fiendish little scheme useless.

The captain of your side scores double points, so maybe it’s a good idea to pick a player who will perform well anyway and really cash in on his prowess? Fine, good… but just because your captain’s got ‘Henry’ on the back of his shirt, doesn’t mean to say he’ll rake in a ton of points for you. Even the inimitable Frenchman has his off days, and everyone else has even more of them.

Hmmm. It’s not easy, this ‘Fantasy Football’ lark, is it? I know - what about making a few cunning transfers to bring in some on-form talent to your squad? Yes, you’ve guessed it - even this is fraught with pitfalls. Experience suggests that the one player you get rid of will score the minute he’s no longer a part of your team, or alternatively the one player you bring in will either pick up a freak injury falling out of bed one morning or announce his retirement from professional football the very next day.

Winning at Fantasy Football looks devilishly easy on the surface, but it’s anything but. Chances are you could probably pick a winning squad by pinning the list of available players up on a dartboard and throwing fifteen of your best at it. Quite frankly, you can only do so much to ensure the utmost success for your team. Just think of ‘Fantasy Football’ as a game that requires about 30% footballing insight and 70% luck - that way you’ll never be fooled into thinking that glory is anything more than a fantasy.

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