Jordie van der Laan is living the dream – not only does he get paid to play football but he’s also an outstanding FPL manager. Who said life is fair?
Granted, you are unlikely to have heard of him. Jordie (pictured above left) plies his trade in the second tier of Dutch Football with SC Telstar, the club where Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink began his career, and, like Jimmy, is a centre-forward.
There’s nothing new in professional footballers playing FPL. Some like Asmir Begovic have done so for a number of years and while he’s no great shakes – he’s only once finished in the top 100k – others such as Owen Hargreaves and Matt Holland boast top 10,000 finishes.
Jordie, however, is different gravy – currently ranked 5,317 overall, two seasons ago he came 55th in the world.
In his book “Wasting Your Wildcard” David Wardale makes the distinction between most FPL managers who know about football – the clubs, the histories, the players, who’s in form, who’s not – and those who know football: coaches with the tactical nous to turn a match with their decisions, or scouts with an expert eye to recognise talent.
Being a pro footballer absolutely helps in becoming a better FPL manager. Or maybe I should say: having a good eye for the game helps in becoming a better FPL manager.
In this article Jordie discusses his passion for FPL, his strategies, and his life as a professional footballer.
Unlike Norway, the Netherlands is not fanatical about FPL, and if hadn’t been for Jordie’s local pub he may never have played fantasy football. When the pub set-up mini-leagues, a friendship with the landlord brought out Jordie’s competitive streak. Who doesn’t crave mini-league glory?
Jordie takes FPL very seriously. He watches every single Premier League match that is televised in his country and tunes into Match Of The Day every week. However he doesn’t simply rely upon having a good eye for the game.
Stats also play an important role and he has an intuitive grasp of game mechanics. Having an analytical mind must run in the family – his brother is a referee with Champions League ambitions. All this combines to mark him out as an FPL manager who is brave and makes well-informed, often left-field decisions.
“I am aware of the template but I won’t ever pick players just because they belong to the template. I pick players because I think they will do well. I use the eye test and I take stats into consideration.”
One particular stat he values is the ICT Index.
“I use the ICT Index in a very straightforward way. I just look at the creativity and threat numbers for a player that I think could be a good FPL prospect. Lots of managers don’t seem to value the ICT Index from what I’ve read, but it has really helped me a lot. It’s very simple.”
“I’m looking at the raw numbers but I don’t set any specific limits. So if a player has a threat index of below 20.0 it won’t necessarily mean that I won’t consider him in the future. I’m looking for consistency in the numbers.”
“For instance Alonso has never had consistent numbers this season. He was way too expensive in my opinion and owners got very lucky in the first few Gameweeks. Yes, I could have caught some price rises, but has he lived up to expectations? Nah, zero goals and three assists since Gameweek 4.”
However he cautions against relying too heavily on stats:
Statistics can be misleading though. When a team is behind, they need to come up with a certain tactic that gets them on the scoresheet. They need to take risks especially when it gets closer to 90 minutes. When a team leads the game, they could decide to sit back, play a little more defensively and take less risks. The scoreline can open a game up or shut it down completely.
Just as a scoreline can change a game, so can a team’s position in the table, and Jordie has first-hand experience of teams being ‘on the beach’:
His move to SC Telstar last summer followed a successful season with JVC Cuijk in the fourth tier of Dutch football. Jordie was the leading goalscorer in their push for promotion. However, his move to a bigger club wasn’t as straightforward as you might expect.
“Before the winter break I scored 18 goals in 15 games. There were contacts at the time which should have already seen me signing a contract in the second tier, but unfortunately no offer became concrete. That also had something to do with my second half of the season, when I only scored 7 goals in 18 games. You need a bit of luck as a football player. Second tier clubs blamed me for a lack of quality and therefore didn’t want to sign me. In my eyes it was different.”
“We won the first period which meant we had qualified for the promotion play-offs. So we could lose all the remaining games and still go up if we won our knock-out games. And we did almost that. We didn’t win for 10 league games in a row. We sat back and most of our players didn’t give 100%, because we had something to fall back on. And, as a striker, I can tell you that is very frustrating. Especially when big clubs come to watch you.”
Thankfully three goals in the promotion play-offs led to a successful trial with SC Telstar. At his new club there’s plenty of competition for places – he finds himself alongside Premier League loanees Ryan Seager (Southampton) and Kyle Scott (Chelsea) – and it’s intense: the team trains up to seven times a week with a lot of attention given to tactics.
Unfortunately for Jordie it’s been a season interrupted by ankle and knee injuries: “It’s a hard time and it made me realize how tough it is to come back from a long-term injury.” Thankfully FPL provides a welcome distraction from the treatment room.
One thing Jordie is particularly good at in FPL is identifying non-template players before they go on a good run. For instance this season he picked up Son in Gameweek 15 ahead of his run of 75 points in the next seven Gameweeks, and Pogba at the start of his good run in Gameweek 19. Players who went on to form part of the template. In previous seasons he’s identified Lingard, Eriksen, and Stanislas before they’ve done well.
“When I go for a differential player, I’m hoping for him to get a haul sooner rather than later.”
“This season I’ve brought in Doherty at £4.4m, Van Dijk at £5.9m, Pogba at £7.8m, Son at £8.3m; all at the right time and all because I thought they were very valuable assets looking at their price tag and the attacking potential they had.”
“Lingard last season I picked up very quickly indeed when he went on a great run. That was because I thought there weren’t many players at United at the time who could score a goal or win them games. He had the confidence and he fitted into my structure. Fortunately I seemed to be right about that.”
“Although that last point is something that managers seem to forget sometimes. Your squad structure can hand you opportunities that other managers don’t always get because they play a different formation. You need to be lucky sometimes and don’t tear your team up because of one player.”
“In the season when I came 55th, my punts paid off. And I did like to punt big time. I managed to bring in players who scored extremely well for me while being in very few squads.”
“For example I used my Wildcard in Gameweek 36 and I needed an eighth attacking player – the cheapest – who I could use for my Bench Boost. I never saw him mentioned anywhere but I picked up £4.6m Stanislas, who was owned by only 38k managers. He went on to score three times in the last three Gameweeks for me. I think that typifies what worked well for me that particular season.”
In his successful 2016/17 season Jordie made 54 transfers including 19 hits for a cost of 76 points. It’s interesting to note that it’s the same year in which taking hits proved so fruitful for then Career Hall of Fame number one Peter Kouwenberg – 25 hits for a cost of 100 points. Peter finished 134th overall.
This season Jordi’s shown a little more patience although he’s certainly not averse to a hit. He’s made 40 transfers and taken 10 hits for a cost of 40 points.
“I delve through every team in FPL. I update my watchlist every week. And that’s also exactly where my punts come from.”
“I try to have not more than 30 players on it because if I have more, I need to jump to page 2! Players who are in my team, are never on my watchlist.”
“Each week I base my transfers on what could happen in the next say three or four weeks. I set my team up with the players I already own and I then try to fill the holes with players that fit my squad structure. ‘Holes’ arise when I think I don’t want to play some of my current players or I just prefer to have others in the coming weeks.”
“After that I look at the fixtures. I put down a lot of options and I start to compare those options fixture-wise. For which fixture could I have a certain player? Does that require a free transfer or a hit? And so on.”
“This fixtures based approach also leads to something else: the players I fear. There are so many highly-owned premium players in the game that you can’t own them all. Which of the players that I don’t own do I fear? And in which specific Gameweek? Is there an option for me to get him in and is it really necessary to get him in? Does he fit my squad structure and would I be satisfied with him long term?”
“The names of the players I can’t or won’t bring in I write down next to my own team to see who can really cause damage. That doesn’t mean that every player who could hurt my rank if he does well is on my watchlist. There should be proof that they could do well.”
“My opinion about this is very simple: if there isn’t any proof that a popular player could do well, then I think that managers who own that particular player are wrong and will eventually fall behind, even if that player does well in one or more Gameweeks.”
“Of course during a season there are a few players that appear must-haves at some point. Just like everyone else I try to fit those players in as best I can, and in some cases it is almost impossible not to mess a bit with your squad structure, or to take a hit to fit certain players in. Those players are mainly, perhaps even exclusively, premium players.”
As a competitive sportsman, one element Jordie has learnt to control is the emotional side to FPL.
“Once you have realized you will do better when you don’t let the emotional side take over, you won’t let the emotional side take over. You need to have a clear head. Don’t make transfers immediately after a Gameweek. Wait till the deadline unless price changes force you.”
Before a Gameweek starts your head will be much clearer than when a Gameweek has just ended.
Jordie has needed to heed every word of his own advice after a torrid week in which he dropped from 3,785 overall to outside the top 5,000:
“What a ridiculous Double Gameweek we’ve all had! I’m not as down as I would normally be though because lots of top 10,000 managers were in the same boat. And of course because Ajax went through in the Champions League, which was far more important.”
“I don’t know what I’ll do with my Free Transfer yet. Deeney is a pain and Duffy could go, but I’m sure I will use Bench Boost this week. Double fixtures over the single fixtures in Gameweek 36.”
To end the article I would like to wish Jordie the best of luck in Double Gameweek 35 and for the rest of the season, both in fantasy and real football. Thank you for sharing your insights.