Fantasy Premier League & Mercury’s Mercurial Involvement in FPL- Sierra Leone

The Fantasy Premier League is an online game that gives you the platform to hone in your tactful skills as a Fantasy manager. The manager is tasked to select and construct a well-balanced squad interspersing a pool of real-time premier league players who score you points as they perform in their real-time matches and for their teams.

As the sole manager of your squad, you can pitch your team against other teams of registered managers all over the world. More flavor and spice is added when you join and compete in a private mini-league such as a league comprising a closed group of friends and persons with common interests or a league consisting of similar regional or ethno-social affinities.

Squad Selection

The FPL slaps you a £100m war-chest at the genesis of your managerial voyage. This is the default budget you are required to limit your spending within to build a squad that would go on to oppress others. Managers with experience in the game bemoan that the budget is drastically inadequate. However, as a novice you might be forgiven if you bite your lips and exclaim ‘whoa!’ at the prospect of spending an imaginary £100m kitty considering that your favorite club probably cannot afford even half of that to spend in the real summer transfer window. The reality is, no sooner you start selecting players and fitting them into the puzzle than you realize that the budget is less than a fraction of what you will need to set up your team of fantasies. Heavy price tags are pinned on players associated with the attacking segments of the football field and those who ply their trade as forwards.

The number of players your squad can contain is restricted to 15 players as opposed to the 25-man squad or more real managers normally enlist for their teams. Like the normal game though, you can feature 11 outfield players every week and save 4 on the bench. The four substitutes become handy when one of your outfield players does not feature in his respective match probably owing to the manager’s tactical calls or injury or some other reason.

Tweaking Your Squad

If your team has been registered before the start of the official Premier League, you can tinker with your squad as much as you want and make a limitless number of changes as long as the value of the squad is within the remits of the 100 million pounds budget.

On the flipside, once the premier league has kicked off, the manager’s freedom is reduced to making only one free transfer per game week. If you decide against exploiting the free transfer option or you just do not use it at all, whether inadvertently or otherwise, it will accumulate and be carried over to the next game week, meaning you can have two free transfers. But, you can only have a maximum of two free transfers even if you fail to use it for the whole season until the last game week.

Free transfers do not prevent you from making additional transfers at all. There is a reason it is called a free transfer. If the manager decides to make additional transfers, he will be charged by points reduction. 4 points are deducted for any one transfer other than a free transfer.

Most Premier League game-weeks span over the weekend although there are occasional midweek, Friday night and Monday night matches. The Rule is that you are to have selected your starting and substitute players 90 minutes before the start of every game-week. You can do so earlier than the 90 minutes timeline but not later. Since most game-weeks are on weekends, 90 minutes before the start of the game-week would mean 10:00 a.m. if the game-week starts at 11:30 a.m. or 11:00 a.m. if the game-week starts at 12:30 p.m.

Budget Allocation

Most managers would contend that more focus should be paid on allocating your budget across the premium or fancy areas of the pitch, which are the midfield and forward positions rather than the goalkeeping and defending positions. Without deriding those contentions, it should be laid bare that all positions are as equally important in the FPL realm. It is a safer bet and sometimes riskier people would think, to sprinkle the funds evenly across all the areas of the pitch, namely; goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders and forwards. This makes for a well-poised team, perhaps. Realistically, it would be superfluous to invest in proven stars playing identical roles nor would it be helpful to purchase all or swathes of your players from the so-called Big Six premier league teams who may be unjustifiably priced out. Ideally, you would want a balance and that balance entails investing in cheaper players who are pivotal to their so-called smaller clubs. You may find that capturing cheaper but impactful players would let you off the hook when your players are embattled with injuries, loss in form, suspensions and you want to remedy those anomalies without accruing more consequential costs to your spending will. Having a little ‘change’ in your piggybank could, or would actually, do the trick. Or perhaps, you may not have any extras left but a change is warranted. It is important that the player to be changed must not have been heavily invested in, which would bar you from trading him for another player of the same value or thereabout. Investing extravagantly in one area would leave you wanting in another.

Selecting Players

Most managers, at the initial stage, grapple with deciding on which players to include in and exclude from their teams. This is because it is difficult to tell which players would make the telling difference and you cannot necessarily bank on the exceptionalities of the previous season(s) because the premier league is a game littered with inconsistencies, drawbacks and ‘shockprises.’The  habitual elite performers may turn out to be those most disappointing and vice versa. However, the FPL provides a flurry of analysis and hints as to which players may have speedy impacts at the start of the season and these analyses and hints are continually provided throughout the subsistence of the season. Practice has witnessed, however, that you cannot rely altogether on these.

Scoring Points

To the exciting part, the making of points! It’s 7:15 on a Sunday evening and Aston Villa are defiling Liverpool by 7 goals to 2, Eku Williams, who had triple-captained Trent Alexander-Arnold, checks his FPL points updates and finds out his captain has made three times zero points. Eku sinks into depression. Yeah, that’s how emotional the game could get.

There are quite a lot of different ways FPL points can be scored. Principally, you can bag points with goals, assists and clean sheets. Your chosen captain scores double the ordinary points he makes for that Game-week. When any single outfield player plays up to 60 minutes, he gets more points. Playing more than 60 minutes = 2 points. A goal scored by a defender or goalkeeper = 6 points. A goal scored by a midfielder = 5 points. A goal scored by a forward = 4 points. Clean sheets by a goalkeeper/defender = 4 points. An assist = 3points. Every three shots saved by a goalkeeper = 1 point. A player can also lose points for conceding goals, being shown a yellow or red card, scoring an own goal and missing a penalty.

What Are the Chips?

In addition to the ordinary mode of points generation, there are what are called FPL chips which boost the scoring of points but their use is limited

These chips include:

Wildcard – The Wildcard permits managers to make unlimited numbers of transfers in a Gameweek without deduction or reduction of points. The wildcard can only be used twice throughout the season. The first can be only be used for the first half of the season while the second can only be used after the first half.

Triple Captain – Whereas, ordinarily, whoever you choose as captain makes double the points he would have made if he were not captain, when you invoke your triple captain chip, the captain makes three times those points. This chip can only be detonated once throughout the season.

Bench Boost – The Bench Boost chip allows a manager to include the points made by his four substitute players on the bench to the points made by the 11 outfield players, thereby making the overall Gameweek score. This is limited to one game-week a season.

Free Hit – The free hit chip is similar to the wildcard in that it enables a manager to make an unlimited number of transfers without any point deduction. The difference is, where a wildcard is deployed the team selected from the unlimited number of changes becomes permanent subject to further changes whereas with a free hit, the team selected from the unlimited number of transfers lasts for only one game week and then reverts, on the next game week, to the team existing prior to deploying the free hit chip.

Mercury’s Golden Fantasy Premier League

In an enquiry from Mr Martin Michael, CEO of Mercury International as to the rationale underpinning Mercury’s golden intervention in Sierra Leone’s version of the Fantasy Premier League Competition, it was revealed that Mercury used to be involved in a lot of sporting activities especially within the bracket of sponsorships. Due to sticky issues between SLFA and FIFA, however, they retracted involvement with football for a while and concentrated on helping out other sports such as cricket, basketball and others. With the advent of COVID-19, all that stopped completely and now the sole concentration is on the completion of schools that Mercury promised to construct to help bolster the Government’s Free Quality Education. However, to wear smiles on football loving fans, they decided on soaking the oft-parched FPL platform in Sierra Leone.

Mr Martin reckons that he has been a fantasy Premier League player himself for at least 8 years and affirms that it’s quite enjoyable because it sustains one’s interest in all the Premier League games. Playing the game is very difficult because you can never second guess the real managers like Pep Guardiola and previously Mauricio Pochettino who constantly tweak their teams. You could end up having probably half of your starting players not being selected for matches in their real teams. Another difficulty is knowing when to play your chips, such as Triple Captain.

‘It makes watching football a bit more interesting. It is also a bit more interesting if you have a bet on the team, but fantasy is a bit more different because your focus is not on the team but the players. If I have a player from the Man United team, I would watch the match, not specifically because I want to watch Man United but because I want to see how that player performs and I could still want that player to score a goal and Man United lose. Whereas when you bet, you are not worried about the players, you are worried about the team,’Mr Martin states.

He says he has always wanted to do a Mercury sponsored Fantasy League competition before now but they never got round to it because of tiny struggles with trying to get it setup. Partners in the UK were to do the setting up but that did not materialize. Setting up the league is an idea they had been juggling with. But this time they decided not to wait for their partners and decided to do it themselves and it has proven successful so far.

In terms of sustainability, the competition would, as it has started, hold every year. He raises an FPL participant Chrispin Temple’s concerns in terms of creating an interactive online hub, most preferably Telegram, for all the competitors which would further keep them in the know as to weekly and monthly managerial successes and accompanying prizes and he subscribed to the idea by dubbing it ‘a very good one’. He expresses doubts over its actualization now but was certain about that suggestion being implemented for the next season.

With regards the prizes, they will be reviewed every year ‘but Le50 million is still a lot of money for a start and it has attracted a lot of interest. Even if the prize stays at Le50 million next year, we would see a much larger influx of competitors than those already registered now. It could have even been started with Le10 million or Le20 million and still, people’s interest would be piqued and participation would be mammoth. Le50 million is quite a lot of money for an interactive league without monetary demands from competitors.’

There are also monthly prizes which as well could be increased next year. The alteration of the prizes generally would have to depend on how this first trial pans out.

The Mercury Fantasy Premier League rules and calculations are predicated on the official FPL rules and modes of calculation.

Soliciting Chrispin Temple’s views as a Mercury FPL participant, he expresses excitement because, as other FPL participants would attest, he is hoping for an opportunity like this that Mercury has offered. Over the past seasons, what used to obtain was that different WhatsApp groups were opened and members contributed small amounts of money which accumulated over the season as a prize presentation to the winner of the league in the group. But now, more seriousness has been injected into the competition in Sierra Leone and he is personally happy about their involvement.

‘There are elements of thrills in the competition but more spice could be added for an all-round better and exciting experience. It would have been better if a group accommodating all the participants was created. That would not have been possible for WhatsApp but there is another well-known, easily accessible and easy-to-use medium called Telegram which can house up to 250,000 members in just one group whereas the WhatsApp group membership does not transcend the 250 mark. Participants should have been cajoled to download and join the medium where at the same time the link should have been shared via advertisement in the flyer that was used to publicize the competition. Telegram would have made for easy communication, interaction and amusement within and amongst one another’, he expresses.

‘Another factor that would make the competition more exciting is making a live broadcast or streamed show for the monthly prize awards so the winners would be accorded the requisite recognition befitting of their achievements. This would make the competition the most talked about sports enterprise in the country and provoke wide-reaching reviews which would potentially add to the morale of the competition.’

One major challenge he confirmedly encountered was the paucity of far-reaching advertisement. For instance, he only got to know about the competition from a friend’s WhatsApp status and immediately registered for the competition. According to him, it was not disseminated virally as it should have been. Supposing he had not been frequenting WhatsApp, in his words, he would have never been apprised.

He also beckoned to Mercury International to increase the monthly prize in successive seasons to a life-changing treasure.

In another interviewing encounter with Howardson Williams who has played Fantasy Premier League for about 4 years now and won the FPL in SL during the 2018/2019 Premier League, it was established that he felt that ‘Mercury’s involvement is good, they have gotten a lot of people involved who otherwise wouldn’t have bothered. The season I earned top spot in Sierra Leone I was asked questions like “what do you get for winning?” and I could see the disappointment in people’s faces when I told them I was just playing for fun. It’s nice to have a reward to look forward to at the end of the season.’

Whereas Mario Mackay Esq who won the FPL-SL in the 2017/18 Premier League season intently holds the view that the Mercury FPL ‘is a huge incentive and has encouraged more young people to play FPL. It’s a great pass time and I hope Mercury benefits from this so that customers can try their other products or in the very least if they’re not into betting acknowledge and help amplify its strong display of Corporate Social Responsibility’

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