“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
When the King entered this season, he did so with dreams of unprecedented glory. The back-to-back League of Gentlemen winner had his eyes firmly set not only on pulling off the threepeat, but of adding the Gentlemen's Classic to his trophy haul in the process. There were whisperings of an unprecedented quadruple, with the Eliminator and the Gentlemen's Trophy also up for grabs, while some of the gamblers even threw some money on the King finishing as World Number One.
Those dreams are now over, trodden into the ground like cheap confetti after a rainy wedding. The King's elimination from the Gentlemen's Classic wasn't a last-gasp defeat. There was no controversy, there were no grumbles, there was no reputation protection. The King was cast out of the competition a week early, and ended the campaign rock-bottom of his group with just one win from six.
“Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”
Analysing the King's downfall is a tricky one. Is it purely down to luck? Is the Corona catastrophe causing a confidence crisis? Dismissing eight gameweeks of underperformance with a charge of bad luck or being cheated is something we hear coming out of Juggernaut HQ, not the King's palace. There is no luck involved here. That Kane and Son were completely dismissed in pre-season by the King certainly contributes to his struggles, given they are the two top-scoring players in the game and he owned neither until Gameweek Seven. That was a reasoned choice by the King, so he cannot use bad fortune as a scapegoat
“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.”
Could it be the pressure? The King entered the season with an unprecedented level of expectation on his shoulders. To be the favourite for four trophies, to have the hype of being a potential world number one, these are stresses most FPL managers never have to contend with. Indeed, there is no other mini-league in the world that has so much on the line, where every single gameweek is of maximum importance. Being a four-time champion, winning it twice in a row despite the level of competition rising season upon season, has been a truly remarkable achievement from the King. His comeback victory last season, week after week of clawing back an unclawbackable deficit to triumph on the Final Day, was bound to result in a hangover. Big Steve, the man he usurped in such a thrilling fashion, has also started the season poorly and exited the Gentlemen's Classic at the first group stage. With so much hype around both men in a game with so many variables, every decision scrutinised, every mistake amplified, every gameweek over-dramatised, the sheer weight of expectation on every captaincy choice, every substitute ordering, every budget transfer, it would cause any man to struggle. The managers at the top of the table right now have never faced the pressure-cooker that comes with being the King; perhaps that is why they are able to fly, unencumbered by years of baggage.
“There is nothing more tragic than to find an individual bogged down in the length of life, devoid of breadth.”
Could it be loss of passion? The King has accomplished almost everything there is to achieve in the game. Four league titles in the bag, winner of the inaugural Gentlemen's Trophy and a top-10k finish, all chronicled in the first FPL Nightmare book, of which he is both the cover star and the hero of the story. The name of King Ding will reverberate through the ages, as generations of competitors try to equal his achievements and status. Now, on the cusp of 40, having had nearly a decade of immersion in the game and years of badgering throughout the week from inferior managers hoping to improve their own performance, perhaps the King is just bored. Maybe the joy, the fun, the simple pleasure of playing FPL has being eradicated; so much to live up to, so in-demand for his opinions, it's no longer a half-hour on a Saturday morning game for the King, it's a life-consuming addiction that could well have become a chore. Maybe his mastery is so great that he needs to create his own scenario mode, and when you've answered 'Can I win the League of Gentlemen from 119 points behind?' with 'Yes, on my first attempt' it gets harder to find a challenge. Perhaps the obsession over statistics has turned art into maths; perhaps the last-minute squad selection was a sign of a greater malaise that envelops the King. When people are writing a thousand-plus word theses featuring Martin Luther King quotes after eight gameweeks, it's understandable that a simple man like Dinga could get bored of the melodrama.
“Even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.”
Or maybe, just maybe, we're all getting a little ahead of ourselves. Yes, the King is out of the Gentlemen's Classic, but he's still in the Eliminator and the Gentlemen's Trophy. Yes, he's fifteenth in the league, but it's a much wider league than ever before, and he could rise several places with two or three good gameweeks. Yes, he's a long way off the top, but he was further behind than this with more gameweeks played last year, and he still won by a comfortable margin in the end. This is King Ding. This is the man who has made his name from not being arsed until the second international break is finished. This is the veteran who thrives through the hectic festive period, who won Manager of the Month for December and January last year. This is the champion who has had his worst start ever, yet still has all his chips to play and is hunting down inexperienced challengers unaware of what's to come. We all dream of being champion, but King Ding is the Dreammaker. He is the Actualiser. Unlike the other King, he hasn't yet been slain by his assassins, and our Martin is the Doctor of Discipline, the Master of Momentum, and the Ayatollah of Ascendancy to the Apex. Slick Rick, Dan the Dragon, Sirloin Sean and Ginger Ben may all be within four points of the top, but they are within a hundred and four of Mr. No Hits, and that just isn't enough of a gap to be comfortable.
When we return from the international break, be ready. The King is coming, and that isn't just a dream, it's the Nightmare reality for the rest of the division.
Groups B and D were where the real drama was found. Ginger Ben had ensured his qualification last week from Group B, the only question being who would join him. King Ding was already eliminated, and saw his campaign end with a whimper as Ginger Ben comfortably despatched him 73 – 50. It left a straight head-to-head for second place between Hitman Hodgson and Big-Time Birkett, and it was a disaster for the latter, who saw his team fail to score a single goal as the Hitman romped home 74 – 46. In Group D, we entered with a three-way tie for first place between Jockin’ Jeeves, The Ox and Who Horner. The former two were in direct competition, and Jockin’ Jeeves went balls-to-the-wall, making five transfers for a twelve-point hit. It paid off in spectacular fashion for the Rap Rob Roy, with the 28 points secured from his new signings enough to vanquish The Ox and secure his place in the second stage. All eyes turned to Who Horner, who needed only a point to secure safe passage through to the second stage, a point he was denied when Fabianski saved a last-minute penalty to earn fifteen points for the Masterchef, the fifteen points that he won the tie by, in the process condemning Who Horner to elimination.
Gentlemen's Classic, Matchday Six results:
Sirloin Sean 61 - 70 Big Steve
Flash Funk 59 - 63 All-Star Vogt
Ginger Ben 73 - 50 King Ding
Big-Time Birkett 46 - 74 Hitman Hodgson
Deadly Daz 76 - 65 Slick Rick
Private Parvesh 38 - 84 Lord Geord
The Ox 51 - 63 Jockin’ Jeeves
The Masterchef 68 - 53 Who Horner
Gentlemen's Classic, Stage One, Final Group Tables:
Not content with being whitewashed in the Gentlemen’s Classic, Private Parvesh also saw his way out of the Eliminator. Truth be told, it was never really close, with Parvesh a good two returns away from survival and never looking a threat. He is eliminated with a gameweek score of 38 points.
Currently Eliminated: Metal Marc, Mack Daddy McMahon, Red Hot Rob, Mad Mikey P, Private Parvesh.
Another red arrow drops All-Star Vogt to 19th, despite a 63-point week, while Mack Daddy McMahon also drops a place following Lord Geord’s stunning 84-point salvo taking him to 409 for the season. The Lord won Manager of the Month for November last season, and he needs to repeat that performance this time out in order to get his season back on track. Three points ahead is Big-Time Birkett, whose lack of goals this week meant it was always going to be a struggle, while in 15th is the defending champion, King Ding, with the Masterchef rising to 14th, a point ahead, following a very solid 68 points inspired by the heroics of Fabianski. A small gap of fifteen points then emerges, with Jockin’ Jeeves dropping to 13th, despite his strong score, as a result of 12th-placed Hitman Hodgson smashing home 74 points after being another beneficiary of a penalty save, in his case from Patricio. 11th and 10th are occupied by the falling Who Horner and Wooden Spoon Helling, with Big Steve leapfrogging them into 9th after blowing both of them away. His one-point advantage is tenuous, but he’ll be looking to make up the six points to the Chasing Pack next time out, with Wooden Spoon Helling on a downward spiral his set-and-forget strategy will not be able to prevent.
In sixth place is Flash Funk, who extends the gap over The Ox by eight points following a solid rearguard display. Justin and McCarthy both secured clean sheets to add to Chilwell’s eight points, with Salah and captain Kane both scoring to boost the total further. Appearance concerns for Gameweek Nine surround Wilson, Salah and Brewster, which could force Flash’s hand in the transfer market. With two free transfers to use, the options are plentiful for the Funkmaster, as he looks to claw back some of the 31 points that separate him from the fifth-place Iceman Newton. The two free signings of Mendy and White brought in eight points, while Watkins produced two goals to help lead the Iceman to a strong 71 points. He may be slightly adrift of the Title Contenders, but the Iceman is just eleven points off the top of the table. Should the cards fall nicely in Gameweek Nine, he could reach the apex by the time of the next review.
Dropping from top spot to third is Sirloin Sean, whose 61 points was above-average but also the lowest in the top five, and which also saw his first defeat in the Gentlemen’s Classic. A total of six players secured returns, with captain Kane bringing in 18 points. The decision to start Coady away at Leicester over Cresswell at home to Fulham raised some pre-match eyebrows, and criticisms of the decision were confirmed when Cresswell kept the clean sheet that Coady could not. Those four extra points Sirloin missed out on would have kept him at the top of the table, rather than back in third on transfers made, and the real question managers have to ask themselves is this: if you won’t start a player at home to Fulham, especially a 5.1m attacking full-back or a player with goalscoring potential, why even bother having them in your squad? Sell them for the cheapest player playing regularly, leave them on your bench and put the extra funds towards improving your first team. Injuries to Coady, Wilson and Salah and the ongoing omission of Saiss mean Cresswell will likely start for Sirloin this week, yet you can’t help but feel it’s a week late. The transfer market will be crucial to Sirloin’s success this week, too, with the decision over which player to replace paramount to any rises or falls.
Moving into second place is the man who has gone from under-the-radar to having a target on his back, Dan the Dragon. The 68 points achieved this week, through returns from McCarthy, Balbuena, Justin, Salah, Grealish, Zaha, Calvert-Lewin and captain Kane could have been enhanced further had Lamptey started, though the decision to bench him was understandable given the make-up of the Dragon’s squad. Another with injuries to consider ahead of his transfer moves, expect the Dragon to keep faith with Wilson, while perhaps shifting Salah out for Bruno in a short-term move. With Robertson, Lamptey and Jorginho options on the bench, the Dragon may well ride out the Salah illness, but he has been very proactive so far this season and the smart money is on him building on his success from recent weeks. If he was feeling very brave, bringing in Bruno as a one-week captain, before switching to de Bruyne next week for the start of Manchester City’s run of great games, could be the difference-maker that takes him to the next level, especially if Manchester City get the bounce from Pep’s new contract. Just three points off the top of the table and showing no signs of his Manager of the Month form fading, the Dragon will be a dangerous prospect in the weeks to come, though the real test of his skills will be the Festive Frenzy in a few weeks’ time. If he can get through that still in contention, he will enter the New Year as a real contender for the League of Gentlemen title.
That concludes our round-up of Gameweek Eight, which saw the conclusion of the opening round of the Gentlemen’s Classic, which saw the race at the top grow as tight as ever, which saw King Ding fall further into the mire and which saw Slick Rick rise to the top. With the second round of the Gentlemen’s Classic ahead of us as we return from the international break, as well as a host of injury problems for managers to navigate, Gameweek Nine could see some serious upheaval in the league table. As always, may all your transfers be successes, may all your arrows be green, and may the FPL Gods forever be in your favour.
Gentlemen’s Classic, Stage Two Groups:
Group A – Flash Funk, Slick Rick, Jockin’ Jeeves, Deadly Daz.
Group B – The Ox, Hitman Hodgson, Sirloin Sean, Ginger Ben.
Gentlemen’s Classic, Stage Two Fixtures:
GW9: Deadly Daz vs Jockin Jeeves, Slick Rick vs Flash Funk, Sirloin Sean vs Ginger Ben, Hitman Hodgson vs The Ox.
GW10: Deadly Daz vs Flash Funk, Jockin’ Jeeves vs Slick Rick, Ginger Ben vs the Ox, Sirloin Sean vs Hitman Hodgson.
GW11: Deadly Daz vs Slick Rick, Jockin’ Jeeves vs Flash Funk, Sirloin Sean vs The Ox, Ginger Ben vs Hitman Hodgson.
GW12: Flash Funk vs Jockin’ Jeeves, Slick Rick vs Deadly Daz, The Ox vs Sirloin Sean, Hitman Hodgson vs Ginger Ben.
GW13: Flash Funk vs Deadly Daz, Slick Rick vs Jockin’ Jeeves, The Ox vs Ginger Ben, Hitman Hodgson vs Sirloin Sean.
GW14: Jockin’ Jeeves vs Deadly Daz, Flash Funk vs Slick Rick, Ginger Ben vs Sirloin Sean, The Ox vs Hitman Hodgson.
GW15 & GW16 – The Grand Final