Fantasy Football (Soccer)
By Tom Sheldrick
It's that time of year again. Log on, dream up a name for your team, receive your transfer budget and start scouring the market for the men you want in your first XI. Every player in the league to choose from. Splash a big chunk on a proven striker, or save it and buy two full backs who always get a couple of goals a season? Such is the dilemma facing the Fantasy Football manager as the new season dawns here in Europe.
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There are two men who get to play this out in real life: Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho and Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini.
In a summer of meagre transfer spending across the soccer world, these two clubs have dwarfed all others in their efforts to get - in Real's case - back to the Primera Division and Champions League summit and - in City's - into uncharted Premier League territory.
In the Spanish capital, Mourinho has added German World Cup stars Mesut Oezil and Sami Khedira, Argentine flyer Angel di Maria, a trusted former lieutenant in defender Ricardo Carvalho, as well as two young players from closer to home. Mssrs Casillas, Kaka, Ronaldo et al were of course already there to greet them.
To say the self-feted "Special One" had an embarassment of riches at his disposal would be an understatement. I count seven out-and-out central midfielders. Khedira and Oezil may well doubt the wisdom of their move to a warmer climate if they spend the season on the bench watching Xabi Alonso and Kaka, who appear senior players in their exact positions. Perhaps if there's one man to keep such a bunch happy with squad rotation, it is Mourinho.
Considering domestic foes Barcelona and potential European opponents Manchester United were in the hunt for Oezil, Real may just be in the territory where you buy players just to stop your rivals from getting them. The rest of the world has had to make do with slim pickings this summer.
Manchester - especially the blue half - may have been a difficult place to sell the world's top footballers in past years. But with their Sheikh owners' money behind them, City have put themselves firmly on the map. Over £120 million laid out in the off-season, on six names that include a Champions League winner and a World Cup winner. With the Premier League's new 25-man-squad rules, the dressing room at the City of Manchester Stadium must be bursting at the seams. Craig Bellamy, arguably the club's best player last year, has already been offloaded to Championship side Cardiff. Still, Roberto Mancini has two first-class first XIs. Managers often say that a tough decision between two talented players is the kind of problem they like to have, but this must be taking it too far.
Where does Yaya Toure fit into a team that already contains Gareth Barry and Nigel de Jong in holding midfield? Why sign David Silva, a slight player who may not be suited to physicality of the Premier League, when young Englishman Adam Johnson had such a fine end to last season on the left wing?
City are a team in danger of becoming seriously unbalanced as a team, in trying to accomodate too many star names. I don't know if Mancini has the strength of character to put his foot down.
Are sackfulls of money and the kind of team spirit you need for a title mutually exclusive? Fortunately, you don't have to worry about that as a Fantasy Football manager.
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Tom Sheldrick is a freelance writer and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org