Ahead of the new season of the League of Gentlemen, Jez Messing sat down with the back-to-back winner of the competition, King Ding, to discuss everything from last season’s incredible come-from-behind triumph to strategy for the season ahead.
Jez Messing: I’m here with King Ding, champion of the League of Gentlemen, who has just been presented a wonderful trophy donated by Dan Oxley of Wade Barbers.
King Ding: It’s a beautiful trophy. Thank you very much. I’m absolutely bowled over by it, very touched. I just hope I can do enough to retain it this year as well.
JM: So, four-time champ! What does it feel like to be the four-time League of Gentlemen champion?
KD: This has definitely been my best season. It was the nicest feeling when I eventually won it, and a massive relief when I managed to make it over the line. Incredible, especially when I didn’t feel I was in with a chance for a lot of the season. To come back from so far behind and then win it was a beautiful feeling.
JM: It was a very dramatic season in the League of Gentlemen. At one point you were a hundred and nineteen points behind Big Steve, who led the division from Gameweek Four right the way through to the Final Day, where you ended up smashing him off the park. How did it feel when you were a hundred and nineteen points behind?
KD: At one point? A lot of the season felt like that really. I wouldn’t say that was the lowest point, there were other weeks where I had really bad weeks. Going out of the FPL Cup as well … a lot of it’s been bad this season, and it was kind of a relief with the break in the season. I kind of hoped the season wouldn’t resume; I was happy to see the season be over then. So yeah, it wasn’t great. It’s obviously had a happy ending, but that could’ve gone either way as well.
JM: There was a point in November when you were talking about walking away from the game, leaving your team as a ‘set-and-forget.’
KD: There’s been a few times where I’ve thought about walking away. That was the only time I’ve said about it, but I’ve been there a few times. I’ve even had the feeling in the off-season of just having a set-and-forget team, but the itch will always be there, so I don’t think it was ever an option.
JM: We notice you’ve signed up for the new season, ready to defend your title and go for the ‘threepeat.’
KD: Yeah, I’ve got a little placeholder team. I haven’t really looked at it properly yet.
JM: If you do decide to put the effort in, who do you fancy to be your main rivals next season?
KD: Well, there’s so many. Obviously last season it was just me and Steve who had a realistic chance of winning the league. When you look at how strongly a lot of people finished the season, I think it’ll be wide open this year. Anyone from the top six, probably even the top half. I always think Flash is a dark horse. Adam Birkett, me, Jeeves and Steve. Lord Geord and his brother, they came on leaps and bounds towards the last half of the season. Ben Hodgson as well. His brother’s joined, I don’t know how good he is, I’ll have to look at his previous season’s history. He could be in with a shout as well. Gav Bridges, Ox, they’ve all had good seasons, so anyone could realistically win it. Steve came from nowhere last season. No disrespect to him, but I didn’t expect him to have that good a season. So hopefully there’ll be a couple more challenging this year, that would make it a bit more interesting. I think the narrative was quite good last year, with someone coming from so far behind, but it would be more interesting if there were a few more in with a chance of winning it throughout the season. It would be a better Final Day.
JM: One of the stories of the season was Mikey P destroying his own chances.
KD: Yeah, you can’t forget about him, he did really well once he made that change [to his transfer policy]. Ginger Ben as well, he got back into it. To their credit as well; a lot of people let things slide once they get too far behind. They’re probably a bigger danger than you’d expect, because you know they’ve got the dedication to change things around every week. It’s wide open.
JM: I hope you can get those splinters out of your arse later, Martin!
KD: Well, if I’m being honest, I’d like to think I’ll win it again. But who knows? I’ve had bad seasons before. I’m going to make a pledge now that I will keep going, even if I do get behind. Last year will give me motivation for that; I know if I do get behind I always have a chance of getting back into contention somehow. I’m hoping I win it – that’s my prediction.
JM: It’s like Ronnie O’Sullivan said, ‘if the standard was better below me, I’d have been retired long ago.’
KD: I think the opposite to the snooker actually. He’s got a point with that, but the standard of the League of Gentlemen has gone from strength to strength.
JM: When you were struggling in the darker months, what was the motivation that kept you going? What was that ‘champion’s mentality’ that you drew from?
KD: I don’t think I would’ve put quite as much effort in if it wasn’t being covered in the blog every week. Reading about it every week gave me a lot of motivation. I think sometimes you believed in me even when I didn’t, which was a massive boost. I’ve never walked away from a season before when I’ve gotten that far behind, and there’s a big rivalry between me and Jeeves as well, so I really wanted to beat him. I think he was quite a way ahead of me at one point, so I wanted to see if I could come back and beat him. I was surprised he fell away as quickly as he did, actually. I thought he’d be in with a chance right until the end, but it didn’t transpire that way. Little rivalries like that, little motivations, those were the key.
JM: You finished 7,046 last year, though it was later revised to 7,044 after people – including the world number one - were kicked out of the game. Such a high finish; do you think you can go higher this year?
KD: Well, if they’re going to trawl through everyone’s private messages then I’m sure I can. I’ve got a chance of winning the whole if they’re going to do that! Though I don’t agree with what he did, the guy that won it is still the champ to me. He had the best team throughout the year and earned the most points. If I’d been second last year and ended up winning it, it wouldn’t have felt right to me. Still, congratulations to the fella who came second, still an incredible achievement. It feels a massive achievement to come in the top ten thousand, so to get as high as that must feel amazing. He must have been already buzzing with his season, then to get told he’d actually won it … Hats off to him, but it wouldn’t feel quite right to me.
JM: Moving on to the tactical side of the game. We’ve got a lot of new managers that enter FPL at this time of year, and they look to players like you – the long-term success stories that continue to improve – for strategies and advice. What is your strategy with your team with how you build your initial squad?
KD: The first thing I look at is which players are going to have the most value, the most points-per-million. I think the people that get the most out of the transfer budget are the ones who win it, so you’ve got to look at where the value is. The second thing I’m looking for is who has got the easiest run of opening fixtures. I’ve always been a big believer in looking at fixtures. For example, this season Southampton seem to have the easiest start, so I’ll be looking at loading up on their team. The caveat there is I’ll maybe not be as keen to get three from any one team this year; because of coronavirus there could be a lot of last-minute cancellations. If you put all your eggs in one basket like that, it could come back to haunt you. In other seasons I’d definitely be looking to go big on the teams with the easiest fixtures. Other than that, I’ve traditionally gone for a team with a really cheap defence and loaded up on midfielders and strikers. Last year, I changed that around a bit and went for an expensive defence at the start. I had two Liverpool defenders, but they weren’t scoring points so I had to switch it around. So I wouldn’t say there’s been just one strategy, it’s more trial-and-error and seeing what works.
JM: Do you have any tips for these budget stars, these value players?
KD: A lot of people are talking about Ferguson of Crystal Palace, he’s only £4m. I think Leeds defenders, they kept a lot of clean sheets last year. If they keep that going in the Premier League this year, they’ll give a lot of value. Greenwood could be a good shout at £7.5m, if he’s going to start every game. I think he will, if United don’t add any more players for the squad. Those are the ones I’ll be looking at, and I still think Danny Ings is great value for £8.5m.
JM: Do you think Ayling and Dallas could end up being the budget Robertson and Alexander-Arnold?
KD: Who knows?
JM: It would be some gamble to go with those two as a double-up.
KD: Yeah. I’m not 100% sure how nailed-on they are in the squad. He likes to change things around a bit, Bielsa. He’s quite a big fan of changing things around at half-time if they aren’t working, and I imagine things won’t be going their way quite a lot in the Premier League. So if you’ve got a player coming off at half-time, they only score you one point, so that’s the thing you’ve got to look out for there. You’ve always got to look to the promoted sides and see what value is coming up there, but there doesn’t look to be that much this year. Mitrovic, maybe. He didn’t do too badly last time he was in the Premier League, but he’s really bad for getting daft yellow cards. It always puts me off having a player in my team when they’re like that.
JM: What about chip strategy? Triple Captain, Bench Boost and Free Hit are all crucial factors in the game. How would you approach using your chips?
KD: Probably the wrong way! I only got three off my Triple Captain last year when Mane went off injured. Generally, I’ll always look for a Double Gameweek. You always have to keep Double Gameweeks in mind. You always get them throughout the season, and it’s nice to have chips because you always feel like you have a chance of clawing back a big lead if you use them then. When it comes to Double Gameweeks and Triple Captains, you have to look for which teams have the biggest gap between games, because there’s less chance of rotation. Ideally, they’ll have two home fixtures, or at least two winnable fixtures. Last year Liverpool had two good fixtures so I just stuck it on Mane. For Bench Boost, I try and get fifteen players [with two games] in if I can, so I’ve essentially got thirty games that week. If you can tie that in with a Wildcard the week before … You do have to do a bit of planning, looking at fixture difficulty and stuff. That’s what I always do. Free Hit, I keep that for a Blank Gameweek, normally around the time of the League Cup final, or the FA Cup games. You sometimes only have four or five fixtures, so you look for the players with the best fixtures again. That’s what you would call my strategy.
JM: What about general captaincy strategy? Captains are always a hot-topic. What do you look for in a captain? Form, fixtures, hunches?
KD: A mixture of all three really. Plus, I think it’s always wise to captain who everyone else is captaining. I use it as more of a shield than a sword. If you’ve got the same captain as everyone else then you’ll never fall too far behind. It’s a bit of a coward’s strategy, really. If you really want to get ahead then you have to think outside the box, but the amount of times I’ve done that, it’s not worked out and other people have reaped the rewards for going with the crowd … I’ve learned it’s probably best to go with the crowd more.
JM: Who’s your big tip to be the top scorer in FPL this season? Which player is the must-have?
KD: Well, it’ll be Messi if he signs for City. Kevin de Bruyne – I expect City to have a much better season than they had last year. Sterling was quiet for a big part of last year. He had a really good start and a really good finish, so if he can keep that going a bit longer he’ll be worthy of any team. Salah, Mane … I don’t think it’ll be any United assets. I think Bruno Fernandes will probably tail off a bit this season. I hope he doesn’t, playing for United, but it’s just a hunch I’ve got.
JM: Is he in your team?
KD: That’s a good question. I think he is, but I’m not sure he will be come the start of the season. It isn’t my official team anyway, it’s just something I knocked-up in five minutes. He probably will be, because he has a good run of fixtures, but that’s all up-in-the-air because of the blank fixture at the start. It depends on whether those games are played in the midweek, but I’ve not seen anything about that for a couple of weeks.
JM: What about players you expect to disappoint?
KD: Well, I’ve just said about Bruno. I think he will get a good score, but not as high as last year. Rashford always flatters to deceive. Any United defence, they’ve not upgraded at all so they’re going to struggle for clean sheets. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m always a pessimist when it comes to them.
JM: What about this Werner, from Chelsea?
KD: I’ve got him in my team at the moment, but there’s always one big player that doesn’t get the goals and disappoints. The amount of big strikers Chelsea have had over the years that they’ve spent big money on is ridiculous. Shevchenko, Torres, Morata …
JM: Chelsea do flatter to deceive, but when you look at the creativity behind him – Havertz, Ziyech, Pulisic, Mount, Chilwell …
KD: This is another big problem – you don’t know who’s going to be starting out of all them. It could be a case of waiting and seeing for me.
JM: They’ve just signed big Thiago Silva as well.
KD: I didn’t see that. They did struggle with clean sheets last year, though I did have Azpilicueta for the latter half of the season and he got me good returns. They could do with upgrading the keeper. I tell you who I do think will be a disappointment this year: Anyone from Spurs. Anyone having a Mourinho player in their squad is asking for trouble.
JM: Would you include Matt Doherty in that?
KD: We’ll see. I don’t know if he is definitely going to start. He likes to get forward and there’s every chance he might lose the ball. Mourinho won’t stand for that, so he might not end up starting every week. Other than that, I can’t really think of anyone. One player who I think will be an absolute gem is Allan Saint-Maximin, £5.5m. I couldn’t believe his price when I saw it, I expected him to be £6.5-7m. He’ll probably be in my team all season.
JM: He can make something happen out of nothing, and I always think it’s good to have players in your squad you enjoy watching.
KD: Yes. That’s what the game is about. You need to be enjoying watching your football. One thing I’ve found whenever anyone goes big at the back, when you’re watching a game hoping for a clean sheet, it’s boring. It takes all the fun out of it. It’s one reason why I won’t be doing that this season.
JM: Is there any message you’d like to send to your rivals, ahead of next season?
KD: I think Allan Saint-Maximin might struggle, so maybe avoid him! No, I can’t think of anything. I’ve got a lovely, big trophy courtesy of Ox that I’m absolutely delighted with, and I’ll be doing my best to keep hold of it. I’m going to be focusing really hard, but then again, I always do.
JM: That’s why you’re the back-to-back champ.