Fantasy Football

For many of us it is an attritional, expensive and perennially disappointing experience. We hope for the best, expect the worst and index link our happiness to the fortunes of cynical fly-by-night mercinaries and businessmen who trade behind brands that inspire our unwaivering loyalty. Thank god the new football season is almost upon us.

This season promises to be uniquely absorbing as the fantasy football bubble floats ever further from the firmly rooted turf of its origins. We keep waiting for it to burst but for now it continues to defy the gravity of reality and serve up ever more fantastical and intruiging plot lines. Here are a few twists and turns that have interested or amused me in the lead up to the new season…

The Mad
Real Madrid have responded to the global financial meltdown by spending obscene amounts of money (over £200 million and counting) on players this close season, including Ronaldo, Kaka and Alonso. When I play football manager on my PC this sort of strategy can pay off but in the real world there are egos to manage while galacticos are not immune from injury or loss of form. Real will do well this season but not nearly as well as their spending would suggest.

Meanwhile Man City are desperately trying to throw huge amounts of money on anyone who is anyone. In the longer term they will doubtless “do a Chelsea” and buy their way into the elite but it will not be this season. Achievement for Mark Hughes this term will be keeping his job, regardless of team placing. I hope he does keep his job because he is a decent manager and it is not his fault that the sudden influx of capital has pushed expectations through the roof.

The Sad
The passing of Bobby Robson while not a surprise is still very sad because he was one of the few remaining old fashioned football purists who genuinely dedicated his life to the game, cared about everyone he came into contact with and never courted scandal or controversy. The way the game operates now we won’t see his like again.

The Bad
Meanwhile privileged England captain John Terry would have us believe that he was never considering leaving Chelsea for Manchester City – a conviction he held so firmly as to wait only 8 weeks to announce this to the media. In a similar vein ex England caption Becks has taken every opportunity to explore avenues to get out of his mega-bucks MLS contract and return to England or Italy while duplicitously stating he is happy where he is, incurring the wrath of the LA Galaxy faithful. Once again these “heros” treat the fans for mugs by doing one thing and then swearing blind that they are doing the other. They would get much more respect by being totally honest about their intentions.

The Good
Micheal Owen has been rescued from the ever darkening wilderness of St James’ park by Alex Ferguson. Surprise surprise he can’t stop scoring in pre-season games now he has a top class supply of balls flying his way. Next season will see his resurgence as a top flight and England player. Watch this space.

Notts County has pulled a rabbit out of the hat by appointing Sven as – well, nobody is quite sure what (mascot?) – but he is now already a fixture at both Meadow Lane and Hooters bar across the road. Poor Notts fans have quietly subsisted on a diet of mediocrity, failure and decline for season after season and now that’s all set to change whatever happens. League 2 will attract unprecedented media interest this year and that has to be a good thing.

Meanwhile Derby manager Nigel Clough has put the club on a diet. Having defibrillated the team last season by rejuvenating the seemingly dead parrots known as Robbie Savage and Gary Teale he has now performed the footballing equivalent of liposuction with the extraction of such artery cloggers as Andy Todd and “Calamity” Claude Davis. I would like to thank Neil Warnock especially for this latter act of charity and I will be off to the bookies shortly to a tenner on Crystal Palace taking the plunge. Meanwhile an influx of young, hungry, unproven players has taken their place and like most Rams fans I see this unusually low key and rational approach to team building as a highly positive sign. Spending big money generally fails to bring success and instead increases the pressure for results, leading to good managers getting sacked before they have had any time and clubs lurching from crisis to crisis.

Headlines in the making

  • Expect to see the papers eulogising Alex Ferguson when Ronaldo has an off game in Europe and Michael Owen bags a brace.
  • The Newcastle debacle is set to run and run. At the time of writing they are still for sale and Alan Shearer is headed back to the MOTD studio. The slide will continue this season and the papers will be looking to pounce on anything Shearer says about the state of affairs that they can present in a salacious way
  • A nailed on certainty will be a tenuous kiss and tell story in the tabloids regarding Sven some air headed Nottinghamshire beauty. Expect Sven to win damages against said tabloid soon thereafter

Here goes. Luckily I don’t have any reputation worth worrying about so if these turn out to be pants I don’t care. On the flip side I will obviously gloat & say “I told you so” if any of the following comes to pass…

Premier League
It’s going to be a fascinating season with question marks over Arsenal and stronger challenges from Man City and Spurs. The fight for the title will be between Man Utd and Chelsea again in the last weeks of the season.
Champions: Man Utd
Relegated: Wolves, Portsmouth, Burnley
Dark horses for top 4: Spurs

This division may provide some of the most intense competition this season. Newcastle and Middlesborough will capture a lot of interest – albeit at different ends of the table. Meanwhile “Roy Keanes Ipswich” will never be far from the news.
Promoted: Boro, West Brom, Cardiff
Relegated: Doncaster, Plymouth, Scunthorpe
Dark horses for relegation: Newcastle

League 1
Will this be the season that dirty Leeds finally claw their way out of the third flight? Like Leeds, Charlton and Southampton may find that an instant return to the Championship is not as simple as it may seem. Will a shiny suited John Barnes transform Tranmeres fortunes or is he just in the dugout because Channel 5 ditched him as a presenter?
Promoted: Huddersfield, Leeds, MK Dons
Relegated: Exeter, Stockport, Carlisle
Dark horses for promotion: Leyton Orient

League 2
Sven, Sven, Sven. Also, in the news, Bradford may come good at last. Will the opening day fixture between Notts & Bradford decide the title ;-). As usual the struggling teams will be hoping for three other teams to get clobbered with points deductions so they have a chance of escape. It will also be interesting to see how Paul Peschisolidos Burton Albion get on in their first season in the Football League. I expect them to finish in the top half of the table.
Promoted: Bradford, Notts County, Rotherham
Relegated: Accrington, Barnet
Dark horses for promotion: Shrewsbury
..1 week and counting until the drama unfolds…