[Author’s note: When I refer to “football” in the following article, I mean American football, while what the rest of the world calls football is referred to as “soccer.” Just want to make that clear, so I’ll be upsetting the right people.]
Unlike (I’m guessing) about 99.6% of the fantasy sport playing public, my career as a fantasy sport manager started with fantasy basketball. And, no, that’s not a typo and that’s not a joke (I mean, it is, but it really did happen). The first fantasy team I ever drafted included players like Brad Daugherty, Detlef Schrempf, and Joe Dumars. Think about that. Let it percolate a while. Admittedly, it was back when people still cared about the NBA, but I think we can all agree that starting with basketball was a fantasy oddity, right? That fantasy basketball is, and always has been, at best a fringe fantasy game. A game reserved for those too geeky to be satisfied with mainstream fantasy sports, but not quite geeky enough to spend their free time memorizing a map of Mordor.
Since then, I’ve cycled through most all fantasy sports and their variations, with levels of success varying from excellent to catastrophically horrible. My best game was fantasy football, while my worst was fantasy baseball. Or, rather, I was the worst at fantasy baseball. Have you ever been cordially invited to not return to a fantasy league the next year? I have. But at least it’s not like I was one of the founders of the league. Oh, wait…
Which brings us to the present. These days, I’ve decided I only have enough free time for one fantasy game per year (stupid responsibilities), and for the last few years that game has been fantasy soccer. Specifically, the fantasy game run by the Premier League itself, in the mini-league organized by Wolff’s.
I’ll admit, my transition to fantasy soccer from fantasy football was tough. It was also highly questionable: I was consistently finishing in the top two or three of my fantasy football league and, let’s face it, here in the States fantasy football is king. By a wide margin. It generates huge revenues, costs billions in lost worker productivity, has spawned numerous television shows (Side note: I’m a big fan of The League, but its best bits are those that don’t have anything to do with the fantasy game), and Vegas has managed to merge it with strip clubs and bottle service…which we all know is the true sign you’ve arrived.
In the end, however, my decision to switch over to fantasy soccer came down to one thing: I find it more challenging. That’s right, I said it. And I don’t think it’s just me, I think it’s possible to make a compelling argument that fantasy soccer is simply more difficult than fantasy football. In fact, let’s make that argument. Below, I offer four reasons why I think fantasy soccer is more challenging than fantasy football:
#1.) In fantasy soccer, you get points simply when one of your players plays – An admittedly dubious distinction, but I think an important one. Why? Because unlike in fantasy football where you know first-string quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and the like will all play in games whenever they’re healthy, in fantasy soccer YOU’RE NEVER SURE YOUR PLAYERS WILL PLAY. Read that again. Now read it a third time. Now imagine what a fantasy football manager with Tom Brady on his/her team would do if Belichick decided to bench Brady one Sunday…you know…just to give him a break. And I’m not talking about resting him toward the end of the regular season to keep him healthy for the playoffs, which is somewhat predictable so you can plan for it, I’m talking about random benchings throughout the season. If you think that fantasy football manager wouldn’t lose his/her damn mind, you’re out of your damn mind.
Well, that’s a feeling with which fantasy soccer managers are intimately acquainted, seeing as it happens regularly throughout the season. And not just to peripheral players, it happens to stars like Robin Van Persie, Sergio Aguero, and Victor Moses (I don’t care what any of you…or the statistics…say, I’m keeping Victor on this list). For reasons discussed in more detail below, it’s simply not possible for Premier League teams (particularly the top teams) to play their starters every single game, there needs to be rotation. And some Premier League managers seem to actually derive pleasure from squad rotation, such as Roberto Mancini, the greatest fantasy team serial mass murderer in history (he’s a serial murderer for doing it over and over and a mass murderer for wiping out teams by the thousands). There was much rejoicing among fantasy soccer managers when Mancini recently got canned.
2.) The Premier League season is really freakin’ long – And I mean REALLY freakin’ long. The 2013/2014 Premier League season kicks off August 17th and runs through May 11th. For those among you who are math-adverse (and because I assume most of my writing appeals only to 6-year olds), that’s almost nine months. A pregnancy. The NFL regular season, on the other hand, starts September 5th and runs through December 29th…all of four months. So, in order for a fantasy soccer manager to win his/her league, that manager has to follow all the action and actively make moves for over twice as long as a fantasy football manager. As Steve Martin once said, “Oh…it’s a numbers game.”
3.) Non-league games in the middle of the season – Casual soccer fans may not know this, but each year there are three or four completely unrelated titles a Premier League team can win: The Premier League itself, the FA Cup, the League Cup, and (dependent on qualification) a European title (either Champions or Europa League). (For the record, I’m ignoring one-offs and gimmick things like the Community Shield and the Super Cup because…well…they’re pretty goofy.) While that might be a fun fact for those who don’t play fantasy soccer, for fantasy soccer managers it’s a nightmare. Because these competitions aren’t played consecutively, they’re played concurrently. That’s right, it’s not “Let’s finish one competition and move on to the next,” it’s “Let’s play a month in the league, then have a couple FA Cup games, and then a few more league games on the weekends, while we’re playing Champions League and Europa League games during the week.”
Sounds like a fantasy horror show, doesn’t it? Like fantasy soccer managers are constantly living in fear that their players will go off for some competition unrelated to the fantasy game and get hurt? Well, the truth is much, much worse. You see, there are also periodic 2- to 3-week breaks throughout the season so players can return home to play with their national teams. That’s right, more chances for the players to injure themselves. And, sometimes, there aren’t even breaks in the Premier League season, the players just leave. Like during the African Cup of Nations, when Yaya Toure and my boy Victor simply leave their teams for a month. Ah, good times. Imagine the terror a fantasy football manager with Peyton Manning on his/her roster would live in if Peyton played an extra 6-7 games in the middle of the NFL season that had absolutely nothing to do with the NFL.
4.) The transfer windows are occasionally open during the season – Okay, this one is a bit counterintuitive. And probably needs some explanation. For those who aren’t familiar with how trades happen in the Premier League, major trades (referred to as transfers because they’re generally a player being bought by another team) are only allowed to occur during two periods: The summer (or pre-season) transfer window and the winter (or mid-season) transfer window. The former runs from the beginning of July through the end of August, while the latter runs throughout January. This means there are two weeks at the beginning of the Premier League season when transfers can happen, and also a month in the middle.
Now, as I said, this one is a bit counterintuitive. That is, because trades can happen throughout entire first half of the NFL season (September and October), someone could try to argue that trades are actually more of an issue in football than they are in soccer. While such an argument would make a tremendous amount of sense, it would be wrong. For a couple reasons.
First, big time trades very rarely happen during the NFL season. If they happen, they happen during the offseason, but even then they’re pretty rare. The fact of the matter is that big time NFL players mostly move around through free agency, and the signing deadline for unrestricted free agents is in July, well before the NFL season starts. Sure, there’s always some residual movement, but it’s rarely something meaningful to fantasy football.
In soccer, none of that is true. World class players are constantly changing teams during the season, which is just annoying. Van der Vaart joining Spurs two games into the season three years ago, Torres being transferred from Liverpool to Chelsea in the middle of the season two years ago… The Premier League starts in less than two weeks and here are some of the names still being thrown around for transfer: Luis Suarez, Gareth Bale, and Wayne Rooney. Those are three of the biggest names in the league and it’s very possible one or more of them will be traded after the start of the season, thereby causing chaos in the fantasy Premier League world (with the Bale transfer particularly likely to set off riots).
The second reason why trades/transfers are less of an issue in football than in soccer is more straightforward: When big time NFL players get traded…they get traded to other NFL teams. So, if for some reason the Texans decided to trade Arian Foster and you have him on your team, you can be roughly 1,000,000% sure he’s going to another NFL team where he’ll play as their running back (read: you’ll still get points from him). You don’t have to worry about him being shipped to the Canadian Football League, because he’s really, really not. In soccer, again, that’s not true. And Bale is a perfect example. It’s entirely possible Bale might play a game or two for Spurs this year and then get transferred to Spain…at which point he becomes a complete black hole for any fantasy Premier League manager who picked him. Fantasy soccer…it’s fan-tastic!
Now, if that didn’t get you all excited for the upcoming fantasy soccer season, I just don’t know what will. (Seriously, though, somebody has to knock Mark “I love Tomas Muller’s goal celebration” Graydon off the Wolff’s mountaintop. For all our sakes.)
Author: Jeffery Simpson Day
Has no grade point average. All courses, incomplete. Whereabouts unknown.