You know that Fantasy Football has worked its way too far into the depths of your consciousness when it becomes the recurring theme of your dreams, especially when you begin to dream that you really are leading your squad of hopeless mercenaries through the toil of a Premiership season, not just clicking buttons once a week. There have been several times when my subconscious has transported me to hours leading my imaginary squad through drills on the training pitch. Such is the lack of ambition and level of mundane detail in my FFL geekery that I dreamt myself into the position of a struggling manager at a cash-strapped club – collecting in the cones at the end of the bleep test, filling in paperwork for transfers and whole imaginary conversations with my backroom staff and players. The only detail that could remind me that this was all a dream was the fact that my feverish mind conjured up Alicia Silverstone as my head physio and Big Bird from Sesame Street as my assistant coach. Oh yes, and the fact that Liam Ridgewell won the bleep test and Bobby Zamora put a proper shift in.
Sometimes, after a particularly large cheeseboard, I would not be managing my own team of slump-shouldered mercenaries but seemingly transported into the life of a ‘real’ manager (as expressed in earlier posts, the stresses of a Fantasy Manager can be all too real). I spent many a happy hour dreaming I was Alan Irvine nervously dealing with the banter from my new West Brom squad like a child at his first day of school, or Brendan Rodgers flicking through an agent’s catalogue of overpriced strikers like a rich divorcee browsing for his mail order bride. You may have experienced the sensation of events that happened in your dream going on to happen when you wake. This happened to me with such alarming regularity that I often wondered if my obsession with virtual football management had given me some form of Quantum Leap or Being John Malkovich power to be transported into the bodies of managers in my dreams. It certainly made me feel guilty about the texts I sent when I spent a few weeks of last season as Malky Mackay when I felt I was in a dream world with no consequences. Not to mention the night I spent as Ronald Koeman when I spent £12m on Shane Long for a laugh.
So, onto this week and last night after a few too many slices of Red Leicester on Cornish Wafers, I found myself transported to a plush bedroom. From the opulent feel of the pillow against my face it could only be in the heart of Cheshire’s football millionaire’s row. I brought my hand to my face and found myself brushing away morsels of gouda and herring from my two-day stubble. I had an inkling of where fate had drawn me, only made stronger after I ran my fingers through my hair to feel a strange volumised curtains cut, like a child’s scrawl of a seagull in the sky – a haircut that permanently feigned trying to raise itself from my scalp in surprise, like a 1990s boy band style raised on a dolly. A glance down as my eyes accustomed to the light to see a monogrammed LVG on the lapel of my nightgown confirmed that this was a dream not a nightmare – I had been transported into the mind and body of Louis Van Gaal himself.
Once again I experienced the strange sensation of retaining knowledge of who I was but living the thoughts and emotions of Van Gaal at the same time. This was the only way to explain the cold sweats, the mumbled, fearful repetition of ‘Chris Smalling, Chris Smalling’ and the feeling of dread as my/Van Gaal’s eyes lingered on a scrunched up, scrawled note on the bedside cabinet with a 3-5-2 formation covered with arrows and one circle with the words ‘Ashley Young – left back’ ringed over and over with gouging pen marks as if carved by a mad man. The unearthly feeling of unease was made a thousand times worse by the ghostly refrain of ‘Teddy Bear’s Picnic’ running through my/Van Gaal’s head, for reasons that would only later become clear.
I woke with a start and was happy to find myself back in the small, former walk-in wardrobe at my parent’s house that I call my room. Remembering the advice Leonardo Di Caprio gave in Inception I focused my mind on a reassuring object that would calm my fears and show I was back in reality – sure enough the feeling of my own monogrammed FFL Manager training puffa jacket that I always sleep in, and the welcome sight of my walls covered in the usual fixture lists reassured me. I was back in my own mind and thankfully only faced with the conundrum of whether to persevere with one Man Utd player in my starting line up this weekend, not the whole 11.
This takes me after only a small detour to the preview of game week number 2. As you can tell, the issue of Man Utd’s tricky trip to Sunderland is at the forefront of my thoughts. Wayne Rooney showed last week that he can be relied on to deliver regular points even when his teammates are running around like headless chickens, and Marcos Rojo is an interesting possible addition to add steel for possible clean sheets, as well as swashbuckling raids down the wings in the Duracell Bunny style of a young Gary Neville. For my money though, I’m backing Gus Poyet to at least conjure up a few goals while Man Utd are getting their defence in order, with Adam Johnson my top pick of this week in the hope that he rises to the big game with the effort he rarely brings out for just a rainy trip to Hull. Seb Larsson was one bandwagon I was tempted to jump on, so after resisting this urge I’m sure he will ping in a free kick from 30 yards. With the confidence of a 1995 Alan Hansen, I predict goals at either end as Wes Brown and John O’Shea oblige their former employers with a typically open display so attacking players from either side in this one are my pick of the week to be game for a laugh and a few points.
Across the other fixtures, game 2 is not the time for wholesale changes and panic buys. No, save them for week 3. So I’m giving one more week to the likes of Bojan and Stephen Caulker to redeem themselves. Although if I was the gambling type, I would have a punt on Jelavic to step up and bag a couple now his strike partner and my personal favourite player in the Premiership for having a name that belongs in the simpler time of 60’s football, Robert Snodgrass, is regrettably out for 6 months.
To end this week’s preview, I’m glad to say that when I woke up from my strange dream I remembered to scribble down the lyrics I heard to the song running through Louis Van Gaal’s head so I can now end with these haunting words:
(To the tune of ‘Teddy Bear’s Picnic’)
If you go down to Melwood today,
You’re sure of a big surprise,
For Louis’s watching the training drills,
With dismay in his blood shot eyes.
And no-0ne understands 3-5-2,
He just tells them to pass it to Roo,
Today’s the day poor Louis must have his team picked.