A much-needed international break is a great time to consider that identity is still the most important element of playing Fantasy Premier League.
The game has evolved so much in the last few years. Ever since Mark Sutherns set up Fantasy Football Scout, information around it has grown at an exponential rate. We have so many websites and content creators at the moment (which in my opinion is great for the game) and for someone who is just starting at FPL, it is more about filtering through the gigantic amounts of information and opinions available.
It was different during my time when I just started discovering the nuances of the game. Fantasy Football Scout was the start and finishing point for FPL information and the boards were where we discussed ideas about how to play this game and took it on as a group study project. These days, the discussions are spread further afield and the number of opinions has skyrocketed.
For me, this is where identity comes into play. At its core, FPL is about watching the football games and highlights and/or going through the statistics after which you pick players that are going to get you points for goals, assists and clean sheets.
Where everyone differs as FPL managers are primarily in three aspects:
- The mode of consumption of information. Some managers watch all the games, some watch a few games and the highlights while looking at some statistics and there are some who don’t watch the games at all but spend a lot more time looking at statistics.
- The interpretation of information. How every interprets the games and the statistics is different.
- The application of information to FPL. Managers differ in their patience levels, risk tolerance levels (temperament is such a huge factor here) and play-style.
When I started out as an FPL manager, it was the risk-takers (Mark included) and their play style that attracted me. In 2012/13, my first full season as an ‘involved’ FPL manager, effective ownership was not a thing, the focus was on picking good players and, at times, looking for good differentials.
I have generally found a lot of the old-school managers or those who I am still (fondly) in touch with pay a lot less attention to effective ownership compared to the newer breed of FPL managers. Furthermore, a lot of the managers who are not on social media pay even less attention to it.
And they are all good FPL managers with consistent top finishes. There is a current narrative that if you grind your way through the season playing relatively safely, it is the only way to achieve consistent top finishes. I very much disagree with this narrative as I know of lots of top managers who are at the top not because they take risks or because they are risk averse, but because they are good at collecting and interpreting information and applying it to FPL.
This is where we revisit the matter of filtering FPL information. For people that are just starting out, you first need to rely on objective articles and highlights for the information. That’s the easy part. How you interpret and apply this information is where it gets tricky.
I have realised that you develop a ‘flexible’ style of FPL over the years and this will not happen overnight. The more you play this game, the more variety of content you consume, you will find yourself relating to some and not relating to others.
When you’re relating to someone, it essentially means that it is probably your comfort zone in terms of playing the game. You come up with ideas (and sometimes adopt good ones) while talking to others on the forums and social media platforms and consuming content and that builds you as an FPL manager with your own identity. What you then become is an amalgamation of the experiences and interactions you have had as an FPL manager and that is constantly evolving.
Even your style as a manager is changing, week on week. Psychology and temperament have such a huge effect on you every week and you don’t even know how your subconscious is affecting you each time. A decision you make as an FPL manager this week might change based on the size of the green or the red arrows.
I have generally found the good managers are the ones that are not affected by the results but focus on the process. Temperament is an incredibly underrated thing in FPL and a lot of the managers who are risk averse grafters have an amazing temperament who remained disciplined for the course of nine months (incredibly difficult to do this which is why it is so commendable).
I do not have this discipline and temperament and have realised, on many occasions, the risky calls I take when they come through hide a lot of the smaller errors I have made during the course of the season.
I also know that subconsciously, there is a reason why I am always chasing the ‘ideal’ team on paper week on week and I am very attracted to having the high-reward picks.
Before 2012/13, you will see seasons in my history where I’ve had 500 and 1200 points. This was a result of having monthly competitions with my closest rival which led to us taking multiple hits at the end of every month in an attempt to win the next ‘month’. I have realised this has affected me subconsciously as an FPL manager which is why I am always chasing high upside hauls in the short term, which I am very comfortable with.
This season, I am sitting outside the top one million ahead of Gameweek 30. This most recent international break helped me understand why I made bad decisions at the start of the season. When we play FPL, you can honestly find any statistics or rationale to back whatever narrative you want to believe.
I started this campaign at the back of my personal best in 2020/21, where I came 30th in the world and finished top of India for the second time in my career. However, I definitely had a weaker filter than I normally would and my confidence in my own ability and arrogance that whatever idea my brain concocted was correct led to me not questioning my own ‘narratives’ enough due to which I made some bad calls.
Something similar happened to me in 2016/17 when I finished with an overall rank of 49,211. I went into that season at the back of three years where I finished 189th, 2,212th and 77th. I mentally noted the same tendency in that season as well and I definitely have this as one of the reasons for my poor season.
Coming back to identity and finding the ‘right’, I strongly believe that there is one fact.
There is no right or optimal way to play FPL.
It completely and fully comes down to identity. By identity, I mean you could be better than someone at interpreting statistics compared to eye-test, you might be better than others at consuming information rather than applying it or you could be really good at dealing with a disastrous Gameweek because you have a strong temperament.
The right way to play FPL is the one that suits your skill-set (you will discover this over time), your ability to adapt and your temperament. I have mentioned so many times there are so many managers with varying play-style that are consistently finishing well. Some are safe. Some take a lot of risks. Some look at only statistics. The season I finished 189th, I looked at zero statistics for the whole year.
I know for sure I will do a lot poorer as a safe manager because I get no enjoyment from the game having a ‘fully’ template team. I absolutely hated my template Wildcard and was so downbeat about it. I enjoyed the games a lot more when there are one, two or three differentials in my squad.
Also, I simply lack the discipline to continue ‘grafting’ for a whole FPL season. I would die a slow death playing that way and it would suck the enjoyment out of me.
I am aware of my identity and even then I am looking to improve every year. FPL Salah on Twitter did an excellent thread about how to avoid a bad start in FPL and I’m contemplating starting next season more safe than usual (I generally always start poorly).
FPL Salah has a great identity as a grafter. Mark is the perfect example of someone who is placed correctly between both sides of the coin. Simon (analytic_fpl) is a manager who swears by xG and I admire that because he has found his identity as an FPL manager.
My fellow Pro Pundit Tom Freeman has one of the most astute eye-tests in the game and more often than not looks at things many others don’t while making his decisions. RoysCallerAnne and Epic Fail who are regulars on the Fantasy Football Scout boards have many outstanding finishes and are as maverick as they come.
Point being, there is no set formula. Do not look down upon people who have carved their own identity as FPL managers if it differs from yours. I personally admire and encourage people who go behind their own philosophies very strongly. And, for what it’s worth, FPL is not just about getting consistent high finishes. Most play this game for fun and what fun are you having if you are not discovering and sticking to your own identity?
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