It was Saharan-like weather last week and my smart-casual dress code has been updated to allow string vests on video calls whilst drinking a sumptuous cocktail of lime juice shandy to stay hydrated. Trust you’ve been ok. I’ve restricted myself to just one Cornetto a day in line with my pre-season training regime. This week’s photo is of a young Man C fan who tied himself to the goalposts at the Etihad in protest at the exodus of talent from Pep’s gang – Jesus, Raheem and a clutch of world beating youngsters have left this transfer window to join Vinnie at Burnley, leaving it all to Kev, Phil, Bernado and Erling to sort.
Pre-season training is in full swing at Burnley and Vinnie is fast becoming my favourite manager. Capricious charisma, managerial brilliance and most of all, a rampant focus on 4-2-2-2 as our new formation as opposed to 8-1-2 previously. Post-Dyche – long live the king, the king is dead – the club has also opened up to videos on social media and we’ve had great insight to the camaraderie between the players on their pre-season preparation on Cornet Cam This compares to the video clip I’ve seen at the end of one Spurs session which looked like a Full Metal Jacket remake, with bodies strewn everywhere, though I don’t remember Harry Kane being physically sick in the Stanley Kubrick original. It seems Conte’s fitness coach, the mercy-averse Gian Piero Ventrone, has an unorthodox interpretation of the phrase that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
There’s also been an endless churn of the transfer rumour mill in the heat as the sweat seeps out of my laptop. I’m addicted to Fabrizio Romano’s twitter announcements of ‘fee agreed with club, personal terms to be agreed’, check him https://twitter.com/FabrizioRomano Then there’s the thumbs-up pic of players with their testicles and nipples wired up to electrodes at their medical followed by the obligatory #alwayspartofthefamily tweet to departing fans with a video from the player hurtling out of the door to treble his salary. One that caught my eye this week was Raheem’s adios video to the Cityzens as his £50m move to Chelsea was announced: Raheem’s video. Chelsea must have unearthed some of Roman’s money-laundered cash in the board room cupboard because they haven’t stopped spending.
Five and a bit weeks are left in the transfer window and already £2bn has been spent, with eight-figure sums paid for several players I’d never heard of, including Darwin Nuñez. Then I read the Barca news that they’d bought Raphael Dias Belloli – I assumed he was a chef or some avant garde painter, but no, he’s the winger formerly known as Raphinha to Yorkshire folk.
Not long to wait now until the real thing starts. I remember my first euphoric moment in Fantasy League. It was when Olivier Giroud scored a meaningless goal for Arsenal in a defeat to Liverpool, deep into stoppage time. His goal on the face of it meant very little to many beyond his tall and knowingly good looking self, but I’d put the Gallic one in my team as a last minute sub and he’d delivered the points in the 90+3 minute. I gained an extra five points from Giroud’s last-gasp strike. But it’s the down moments too. For example, we all recall the moment when Aguero scored that dramatic last-minute winner that saw City clinch their first Premier League title. Four points for me I thought, might nudge me up a place in the final table, well done son. But then he removes his shirt and goes on some banshee wailing dance around the field – still pursued by Joey Barton – and that’s minus one point. Joy ruined in a nano-second of celebratory South American nippleage.
Why do we play fantasy league? The unifying reason is surely to win. Not the overall game, that’s for the experts with an unholy mix of skill, graft, time, and luck, no its winning the mini league after to gloat with unbearable smugness. My desire this season is to out-smug the 13 who finished above me last season. I’ve no spreadsheets of form guides, more a random picker, when I overthink and then underthink or don’t think. Check if he’s injured or suspended, that’s why no one else has him this week. We become entranced and perplexed in equal measure with our transfer plottings.
My first fantasy attachment was the football pools. For those born after the reunification of Germany, before the first mobile phone or Justin Bieber, this will mean nothing to you although an online version is around today: https://www.footballpools.com/home The pools were a betting game where you had to predict the outcome of eight matches of your choice from the entire week’s output of English and Scottish professional football – 60 games. The aim was to get 24 points with three points for a scoring draw. You got one point for a home win and one and half door an away win and two points for a 0-0. So, you had to pick eight from over 50 matches and usually we picked three lines – me, my dad and my grandad – and we never came close.
Littlewoods, Vernon’s and Zetters were the three firms who ran the pools, they employed agents who popped round to you house on a Thursday evening to collect your coupon and entry fee and dropped off the next week’s coupon. A bit like fantasy it meant you kept an eye on games you really had no attachment to, like Queen of the South v Montrose where you’d plumped for a 2-2. And then come 5pm Saturday your humdrum life peaked until next weekend.
Back in the real world, it’s been announced Barcelona have secured €300m funds from Sixth Street, a San Fran investment fund, following their €200m earlier in the summer, their loot coming for 25% of Barca’s media rights over the next 25 years. Spotify has bunged into the Spanish pot some €280m in sponsorship cash so Barca are pretty flush. The club’s debt remains around €1bn but the spending continues.
Finally some personal news, and after a poor season last time out I’ve moved to Director of Football at Burnley Reserves this season, giving me responsibility for setting out the training ground cones, putting the kit out by 2pm in the dressing room on match day and ensuring the players car park is tidy for their expensive automobiles. This has enabled me to bring in Ron Manager for squad, team and tactics. He has a wealth of experience. I’m sure you are familiar with him: Ron Manager
So just one week away for us Championship folk playing proper football, two weeks for the cash laden Premier League guys, two weeks to work out Kane, Haaland, Sterling or Nunez. Will Lingard be a bargain, Saint-Maximin worth looking at, will Ward-Prowse deliver again, or a final hurrah for Vardy? Play around with free transfers until 630pm Friday 5 August.