To Arsene Wenger’s considerable chagrin, the new Premier League season is scheduled to begin on August 8, the earliest kickoff date in more than 15 years. “Moving the fixture calendar forward deeply affects pre-season,” Wenger complained last May. “Where is the time for recovery?”
Wenger’s concerns about insufficient recovery time are perfectly valid: Arsenal attacker Alexis Sanchez, who played for Chile in the Copa America final on July 5, only just returned from what no sane person could possibly describe as a relaxing summer vacation.
But the real victims of the August 8 kickoff aren’t the tired, vacation-deprived players running hills at some training camp in Dubai. They are the legions of virtual coaches – the Singaporean Sir Alex, the Guangzhou Guardiola, the Jose Mourinho of southeastern Kentucky – forced to expedite their intricate preparations for the fast-approaching Fantasy Premier League season. Is it really fair to require coaches to finalize their fantasy lineups, to wager their dignity on the mental strength and physical endurance of 14 well-paid strangers, a full three weeks before the summer transfer window closes? Don’t the Premier League schedule gods understand how long it takes to analyze a color-coded Excel spreadsheet charting the complicated history of Wayne Rooney’s fish-and-chips habit? Doesn’t league executive Richard Scudamore recognize that, faced with a ludicrously tight deadline, even the calmest, most levelheaded fantasists, the Xavis and Iniestas of their chosen vocation, end up foolishly employing ill-advised strategies and misbegotten transfer policies?
Sadly, there’s nothing any of us can do about the soulless machinations of the Greatest League on Earth. So I’d like to cordially invite you all to join the In For The Hat Trick fantasy mini-league on premierleague.com. I’m going to withhold the entrance code for a few more paragraphs, however. You deserve to know what you’re signing up for.
The appeal of fantasy soccer is pretty simple. It offers the illusion of influence to fans who, each weekend, gamble their emotional wellbeing on a spectacle over which they have absolutely no control. You pick the team, you choose the captain, you make the transfers. You decide whether Rooney’s goal-scoring form justifies his huge price tag. You weigh the power of John Terry’s aerial ability against the risk that his aging legs will collapse mid-season. You get the pleasure of dropping Fabian Delph.
But the fantasy at the heart of fantasy soccer ultimately amounts to a gigantic lie. You can’t stop all of your players from getting injured at exactly the same time, mere days after you burned your transfer wildcard. You can’t personally tend to Sergio Aguero’s brittle hamstrings or Mario Balotelli’s equally sensitive ego. You can’t prevent the real coaches who wield real influence from deploying such socially acceptable forms of sabotage as “squad rotation” and “experimental tactics.”
The fantasy game actually deepens the agonies of fandom. When your favorite team loses, you join a community of losers in which millions of similarly dispirited supporters wallow together. By contrast, the humiliation of three straight weeks of single-digit scores, or the gut punch of a first-round elimination from the Fantasy Cup, is a fundamentally solitary experience. In the Fantasy Premier League, you suffer alone.
The mini-league code is 403923-222637. Enter at your own risk.