I can’t stand fantasy football. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the allure. It’s Dungeons and Dragons for sports nerds. I know because I used to play fantasy basketball. In fact I won my league two of the three years I played and I was the Seattle Supersonics fantasy “correspondent” for ESPN back in the olden days when fantasy basketball was just getting started. But the end of fantasy sports came for me when I was in the stands at a Sonics game rooting for Derek Fisher of the LA Lakers to hit a three pointer. I needed threes that day and my fantasy team’s playoff position mattered more to me than my actual team’s playoff position. So I understand fantasy sports inside and out. And sometimes I wonder if our, us Arsenal fans, obsession with players like Rooney and Suarez doesn’t come from a bit of a fantasy sports perspective.
I get it, Suarez on paper looks like a beast. The man has attempted 291 dribbles this season, that’s a dribble more per game than Mr. Dribble himself, Franck Ribery. But he’s only pulled off 95 of those dribbles making him simultaneously a “trier” and one of the most wasteful forwards in all the big leagues.
Still, I hear people say, “he creates his own shot” and Arsenal need someone to “create their own shot”. And again, on paper, this is correct, he has a total of 187 shots this season, second only to Mr. Chucker* himself, Christiano Ronaldo. It’s no coincidence that both Liverpool and Real Madrid are number one and number two in shots per game among all the top Leagues — they have the top two shooters. Tottenham are up there in shots per game as well, and Bale is a big reason for that.
As an aside, Juventus are third in shots per game, which you probably didn’t expect. You also probably didn’t expect to find out that they have 8 players who average two or more shots per game and no players who average 3 or more shots per game. They don’t have a chucker, they share the ball.
You probably won’t be surprised to hear that shots and shots on goal correlate well with winning football matches. It does, they do, hardly a surprise; you have to shoot the ball to score the goals and scoring goals means winning games. So, it follows that you want a player like Suarez on your team. I get it, on paper.
I don’t get it in real life.
Setting aside the diving, which all players do now and which Gary Neville has said is a prerequisite for playing football. In real life Suarez has been found guilty of biting and making racist comments. In real life, if you watch Liverpool play week in and week out, you see a team force-feeding him the ball like a duck in gavage. Liverpool live and die by what Suarez does on and off the football pitch. Which is big reason why Liverpool are going to finish below Everton this season, in 7th place.
That match against Chelsea epitomized Suarez’ entire career. He places the perfect cross to get Liverpool the opener, then handles the ball to gift Chelsea the draw, bites Ivanovich in a fit of pique, and scores the tying goal in the last minute with a brilliant header.
Another player Arsenal supporters seem to be keen on is Wayne Rooney. And here’s the thing about Rooney: fuck Wayne Rooney. Rooney is one of those players you don’t even take on your fantasy team because he’s unreliable. Even Manchester United’s own fans have grown tired of Wayne Rooney’s shit and they booed him at the team’s victory parade.
Rooney is 27 years old and should be in the prime of his career. Perhaps, if I give Rooney some credit, that’s why he turned in a transfer request. He’s ready to make a big splash in his career and playing second fiddle to noob Robin van Persie after years of service to Man U might sting a bit. What am I saying? Rooney is such a massive ego that it probably stings a lot. But it’s also his second transfer request in two years and the first one was really just all about the money so who knows, this could also just be about the money.
But his career stats and off the pitch antics are worrying as hell. Since 2008, Rooney has had one season on and one season off every year: 12 goals, 26 goals, 11 goals, 27 goals, 12 goals… I suppose he’s due for a 28 goal season! A lot of that record is down to an ankle injury he suffered between 2008-2010, though, he did score 26 goals on a dodgy ankle and a quick search of the press reveals Ferguson saying the ankle is both “not as serious” and “more serious” every other week. So, again, how much of Rooney’s success is down to him and how much is down to management by Fergie is unknown.
Personally, Rooney smacks of an old school footballer. You know the kind I mean, the guy who smokes on vacation, the guy who drinks when he’s injured, and the guy who cheats on his pregnant wife. Rooney is the player who throws a football at a referee and as he’s walking to the shower has a little spit in his direction. A player who looses his temper and kicks out at an opponent, getting sent off ahead of a crucial European campaign. The guy who doesn’t take care of himself and as a result ends up looking like a withered pear; it looks ill, it eats drily. A guy who dives to end Arsenal’s 49 game unbeaten run.
So who would ever want either Rooney or Suarez?
I think in many ways players like Suarez and especially Rooney hearken back to an earlier time in football. A time when the footballers were hard men and when the terraces were full of chants like “You’re gonna get your fucking heads kicked in!”
I’ve heard it said by many that Arsenal need some of that, some “steel”. To put it not too delicately, I’ve heard people say that what Arsenal need is “a cunt like that.” And I would agree, Rooney and Suarez are, in fact, cunts.
But I’m not so sure that what Arsenal need is a player who does a zombie impression in big games or a barely manageable half-Gascoigne. Times have changed and players like that are dinosaurs. I get it that you see Rooney busting a gut to beat Denilson that one time and think “why can’t we have players like that?” Orr that Suarez slips past his marker and pokes in a delicate little goal that reminds us of King Charlie in his pomp at Highbury.
But if you’re playing fantasy football and what you want is a player who will bust a gut and who has the talent to leave defenders standing still like pillars of salt why wouldn’t you aspire to have something better than Rooney or Suarez? Take a player whose worst attribute is that he’s had his ears pinned or that he’s a Spurs player!
Take Bale over those two any day.
And if you want someone in this Arsenal team who never stops working for the cause, who tackles hard but fair, and whose put his body on the line time and again for the Red and White, cheer for Aaron Ramsey.
*A “Chucker” is the player in basketball who shoots every time he gets the ball, rather than pass to an open teammate, see Kobe Bryant.