Fantasy Football Interview; A league winner on a mission…
When one focuses on the country of Norway, they immediately may think of the beautiful fjords, or maybe the Midnight Sun, Christmas trees, trolls or Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The more aged of us may recall ‘Maggie Thatcher, your boys have taken a hell of a beating’ while millenials may be more familiar with trade deals with the EU.
But if I said ‘Fantasy Football’ your immediate thought would probably not be Norway. However, it was one Norwegian who lit up our Regulars League this season, winning the coveted title by 34 points. In fact one look at his season stats and the list of accomplishments are almost as impressive as a Messi or Ronaldo résumé.
I am of course talking about Fabian von Harling, but you will know him as ThePeleOfMissionary as his FPL team is called.
Check these stats out….
- Overall rank 56
- 4 scores of 100 or more & 2 more in the 90s
- Highest weekly score 124 in DGW35
- Triple Captained Aguero in GW25 – 57pt hatty vs Arsenal
- Spent just one week out of the top 1000 since GW10
- Has been in the top 251 since GW25
- Highest rank 51 (GW35)
- Lowest rank 247,652 (GW3)
Some quite amazing achievements there, I’m sure you will agree. So what was the secret behind Fabian’s success? Well let’S find out as I had the pleasure to visit the man himself and spent some invaluable time picking his brains.
Firstly, congratulations on what has been an amazing season for you! Being ranked 56 in the world is incredible. You must be delighted with how your season went?
Thank you! Its been amazing for sure, and the season surpassed any expectations I had going in to the season. Before the season started, I set my sights on finishing in the top 1000. Finishing in the double digits is absolutely very cool.
Congratulations also for winning the FF247 Regulars League! We’ve enjoyed your company and contributions on site this season.
Thank you! And thank you guys for hosting a great league and a great site. You guys, along with everyone who contributes to the site with comments and articles, have created a terrific community. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being a part of the community, and I look forward to next season.
Norway seems to be a hot bed of Fantasy Football. Do you play any other Fantasy games?
Hot bed might even be an understatement. In one way, it isn’t that much of a surprise. English football has been a big part of Norwegian culture ever since NRK (our version of the BBC) started televising English football on Saturday afternoons back in the seventies. The so-called “Tippekampen” (Bet Game, to attempt a poor translation) was such an important part of the popular culture for those growing up in the seventies and eighties, and with the creation of the Premier League the interest just kept growing.
As for other Fantasy games, I do play a bit of NFL Fantasy. That, of course, is a very different game. But for any NFL fans, I would highly recommend it. As a Norwegian, you’d almost expect me to be playing Eliteserien Fantasy, the Norwegian version of FPL. The Norwegian season started In April, and some FPL big hitters, like the FPL General, decided to throw their hat in the ring. I decided not to, for two reasons. Firstly, I’d most likely neglect it once FPL is back. And secondly, my local team, IK Start, were relegated last season. Eliteserien has caused me enough grief already.
How long have you been playing FPL?
I started back in 2012/2013. I barely played in 2015/16 and 2017/18 and came very close to stopping altogether prior to the 2017/18 season. But I decided to give FPL a final, proper go that season, and try to make it in to the to 10k. That season was the first season I played “for real”, watching more games and doing a bit of reading and research before each GW. It reinvigorated my FPL interest, and to be truthful, my interest in the Prem altogether. And here we are.
You started the season with a 3-5-2 formation and maintained that for much of the campaign. Clearly that worked well for you as you climbed the ranks very early. What led you to play this formation?
In short, it just came down to me not seeing much value in the mid-prized striker market at the start of the season.
Starting the season with 100 million means you have to try to find as much bang for your buck as possible. Now, the days of August 2018 were clearly a very different time. Back in those days, Alexis Sanchez was apparently considered an actual football player (or perhaps that was just me?), and we were yet to learn of the feats our FPL Lord and Saviour Raul Jimenez were about to perform. My reasoning was basically that I didn’t consider Auba or Laca as options to start the season, due to fixtures. For me, the options for the third striker spot was Zaha, Arno and Mitro. In short, I didn’t trust Zaha, Arno had tricky fixtures, and Fulham were new to the league. The previous season I had some success going with 3-5-2 (Quaner on the bench), and I believed I could get decent contributions from players I believed were underpriced, in Doherty, Wan-Bissaka and Will Hughes. Now, Hughes didn’t really go off, but the set up gave me a bit of flexibility and did a decent enough job of getting me through the start of the season.
Getting off to a fast start in FPL is invaluable – from GW1 you had the likes of Wan-Bissaka and Doherty in your squad, players that all FPL managers were clamoring to get in their squads within weeks. You had clearly done your homework. How did you go about setting up your opening squad and what tips can you give us for pre-season research and getting ahead of the pack?
It absolutely is! Starting the season right tended to be an issue for me in the early years. I mentioned last season being the first one where I really started doing a bit of homework. And for me, it really does come down to having gathered enough information to make a semi-informed decision.
The start of the season is so tricky, because it combines an influx of new transfers being viewed as “sexy” FPL options before ever touching a ball for their new team, a flurry of “off-season tropes” from players, agents and coaches singing songs of players newfound fitness and proficiency, clubs having new management, and three teams who are brand new to the league altogether. There are so many unknowns, and it is easy to be swayed by off-season buzz, injuries leading to believing some players may be utilized out of position (hello Alexis), and transfer fees.
There’s always a lot of posturing and bad info making the rounds. For me, this means that the most difficult task in off-season FPL is identifying what information I believe to be correct, and what information I think will be useful. For instance, there was a lot of hype surrounding Alexis due to Lukaku and Rashford resting after the World Cup. “Alexis was surely going to be played as a striker, right? And he’ll crush it, right? Great differential, right?” Wrong. And if I had put more stock in his previous season, I would’ve stayed away. Bad info and bad decision. At the same time, Wan-Bissaka had apparently locked the right back spot down. A 4.0 defender with a semi-decent fixture list to start the season? Count me in. Also at the same time, Wolves decided to sell hot FPL off-season prospect Barry Douglas, to the surprise of many. But soon after, there were reports that Doherty would step into the fullback role. Now, I believed Wolves would perform well in the Prem, and I liked the look of the fixture list. He was soon coming in with a few assists in the pre-season friendlies and looked like a good shout. All three of those choices were players I had gathered information on, and they are decent examples of how information can help or hurt you.
So basically, my best tip is to just gather a lot of information. I prefer listening to a few podcasts I really enjoy. To me, the podcasts all sort of brings something different to my preparation. My absolute favorite is the FMLFPL pod, which is simultaneously informative, hilarious and thoroughly enjoyable. The FPL General provides insight from a guy who has “been there” and “done that” FPL wise. He gives you a look into his decision-making process and train of thought, and I strongly recommend it. I normally listen to the FPL Scoutcast, as they tend to provide some interesting statistical analysis, and I enjoy their different takes on the weekly “big questions” If you happen to be Norwegian (or, for some strange reason, are in the process of learning Norwegian), I recommend Fantasyrådet (The Fantasy Council). Three guys who all finished in the top 4k this year, and provide a useful combination of stats, trends and personal perspectives. Lastly, I often give Always Cheating a listen. For me, podcasts are a great and practical way of gathering different perspectives on some major FPL questions, and it would be my top recommendation.
Besides podcasts, there’s the Community input from sites like FF247 and Twitter. It’s always very enjoyable to read and discuss different FPL takes, and I do believe it contributes to my decision-making process. But, and this is important, I try to remind myself that the “FPL Community” as a whole is a small minority of overall players. It’s very easy to get lost in the community, for instance by believing every single FPL player has the same team as you, and to start thinking you have to break out of “the template”.
Playing your Triple Captain chip on Aguero for Man City’s DGW25 fixture at home to Arsenal may have seemed ‘punchy’ at the time but ultimately worked out beautifully for you? How did you arrive at that decision?
It was basically two things that led to the decision. The chip strategy I was planning would leave me with no DGW to use the TC chip in, unless I used it in DGW25. But, to be honest, it mostly came down to a gut feeling. Not all that easy to explain, other than that I felt Aguero would start both matches, and that Arsenal’s defense was atrocious. Luckily it worked out, and it provided me with a very important boost.
Talk us through your overall chip strategy; how it worked and would you do it any differently next time?
Chip strategy might be the most frustrating part of the season for me. Early on, I decided to go with the most “popular” chip strategy, and to try to use them in the blank and double gameweeks towards the end of the season. In short, the plan was to set my team up for blank GW’s 31 and 33 by using transfers, using the Free Hit chip in DGW32, wildcarding in GW34 and Bench Boosting in DGW35. I believe this was the most utilized strategy, and I chose it because it seemed the most sensible, given that I could set up my team for the blank gameweeks without too much bother. As mentioned above, the strategy left me without DGWs for the triple captain chip, which was activated in DGW25.
The result of the strategy is decent, I guess. The TC was of course a big moment for me, and I did rise from OR 118 to OR 51 between GW31 and GW35. But I do feel this part of the strategy failed to make the impact I was looking for. Part of it is a few botched decisions (no Laporte for instance), and part of it is the fact that players brought in to cover the team in the blank GWs only delivered the week I was on a FH. But all in all, it was decent enough, and it did lead to two trips to the three digits club.
One of the main questions from this season is whether saving chips to use at the end of the season is the best way to go. Once the fixtures are announced I will probably start looking at alternatives, such as setting the team up for a Bench Boost in GW1. Chances are saving the chips will be the best option still, but I think a lot of players felt underwhelmed by how that strategy turned out. There could be some ground to gain by being a bit more aggressive with the chips. I like the idea of setting your team up for a GW1 Bench Boost, followed by a Wildcard in one of the following GWs. I might have a look at that once the fixtures are announced.
Was there a point where you thought to yourself, ‘I can win this’ or was it a case of reaching the top 250 in GW25 and just trying to preserve that rank?
Truthfully, no. I never really thought there was a chance I could win the whole thing. But I did learn how very small the margins between top 15 and top 200 are. For instance, in GW30 I captained Salah for 10 points, and rose to OR 73. My VC was Sterling, who scored 21 points. Had I switched the captaincy, I believe my OR after GW30 would have been between 15 and 20. Furthermore, I failed to pick TAA with my wildcard in GW34. Had I picked him, my OR would have been higher. Getting just those two decisions right would’ve probably lifted me to a top 5 OR. It highlights how small the margins can be, and it also highlights how important captaining Salah in GW16 and Aguero in DGW25 really was.
I didn’t really have a “clear cut target”, other than wanting to finish in the top 1000. But, once I reached double digits, it became a priority to finish in the top 99. All in all, I am very pleased to have finished where I did. (Gotta leave room for improvement, right?)
What is your favorite moment of the season?
Oooh, that’s a tricky one. There’s been plenty. First of all, I’m blessed with a girlfriend who enjoys watching Premier League football. I introduced her to FPL prior to this season, and she absolutely loves it. So, my favorite part of this season has been watching games and the Saturday afternoon goal show with her and seeing players we both own score. (a bit sappy, I know.) If I had to point to a single moment, it might be a tie between Salah’s hattrick in GW16 and Aguero’s hattrick in DGW25. Salah’s just might edge it, as his hattrick came in the early kick off. Nothing like starting a PL weekend off with a captaincy hattrick.
Any regrets from the season?
Oooof, plenty. Alexis Sanchez for instance. What was I thinking? Bringing Walcott in for a hit to replace red carded Richarlison in GW4 is also a doozy. Eliminating that kind of decision making has to be my main FPL priority going forward. But the big one is probably not going with TAA on my Wildcard in GW34. That is just an absolutely terrible decision, especially as I already had him prior to the WC. That one cost me dearly. But just one more lesson for the future!
What lessons have you learned from your FPL season?
For me, I think it’s less about learning new lessons, and more about there being a few lessons that just grow more important by each passing GW I play. First of all, it’s important to just avoid players you don’t trust. If they’ve failed you before, they’ll fail you again. Especially as it pertains to mediocre players. Don’t punt on mediocre players just because they seem to be in a bit of form or have som decent fixtures coming their way. (Theo Walcott, I’m looking at you). Second of all, don’t pick a player strictly because of good fixtures. I’m not going to go into the whole form vs. fixture thing, but if a player has managed just one assist in the previous seven GWs, for the love of all that is holy, just stay away. (Yes, Felipe, we’re all looking at you). And lastly, I keep realizing how important it is to just have patience with my team. Chances are you’ve selected good players, and you’ve selected them for a reason. Most of the time, the right call is to not make a change unless you’re certain the replacement is a clear-cut improvement.
If you were in charge of administering FPL, what, if any, changes would you make to the game?
Man, I don’t really know. I’m not a fan of the chips. But I see how they add a certain panache to the season. The easy answer would be to look into replacing some of the chips, or (and this is my favorite chips take) add a few more chips, but only allowing you to use a maximum of three chips throughout the season. The idea would of course be that there could be 5-6 equally valuable chip options, and leaving it to the players to decide which chips they like. It could lead to more diverse chip usage strategy, but it does necessitate that every one of the chips have significant potential value in different scenarios. But to be quite honest, I don’t really have any good suggestions.
Do you support a team in England, if so who and why?
Yes, I am a Manchester United supporter. I remember how my interest started as well. It was Eric Cantona’s goal against Sunderland at Old Trafford in 1996, which was the greatest thing I had ever seen. If course, United were quickly becoming the club of Norwegian players, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Henning Berg, Ronny Johnsen and Erik Nevland all joining around the same time. As a young Norwegian, there was no going back.
If FPL 2019/20 started this weekend, irrespective of a hypothetical fixture list and using current prices, who are the first five names on your team sheet and which formation would you play?
I love this question. Right now, I’m feeling pretty set on starting the season with a back five. Fixtures might deter me of course, but right now I would go for TAA, Robbo, Laporte, Pereira and Digne. If I can mention a couple of attacking names, I would be looking at Tielemans and Jota. If the season started tomorrow, those seven players would be very hard to avoid.
Fabian, well done once again and thank you for sharing your thoughts on your season and FPL in general. Have a relaxing and wonderful summer.
Thank you again! This was fun, and I’m already looking forward to starting a new season alongside you guys! Enjoy summer, everyone!