Then, last week, I made four transfers for a 12-point hit, and watched as they backfired horribly, and I dropped to top-798k. Christ almighty, I thought. I need to stop taking these hits. They always backfire, plus I’m reasonably happy with my team for double-gameweek 35. I took a -4, as planned, and brought in Firmino and Janmaat, rather than the originally-planned Laporte, for the injured Schlupp and Kane. This was sensible, as Janmaat had two games, including one against Fulham, Firmino was playing Cardiff, and the players they replaced would not be playing. This is the sort of small hit that makes sense. Even the notoriously-cautious Dinga thought this was sound strategy. Everything was going fine, as though the poetic resurrection of The Ox’s team right around Easter was a concern, we had enough in the tank to cover a four-point hit.
Then I spoke to the League of Gentlemen’s resident Hitmaster, Jeeves. Oh, how I wish my phone hadn’t been working on Friday. Jeeves had got it in his head that de Bruyne was a must-have; that he was going to decimate Spurs and Manchester United in this double-gameweek. I spent the morning trying to talk him out of a 16-point hit to bring him in. You can’t afford it, Jeeves. You’re too far behind Dinga to risk a 16-pointer. He might not even play both matches. He’s as likely to be the pass before the assist as the man who returns. He couldn’t be swayed. In a last-ditch attempt to reason with him, I urged the use of the Coin of Destiny to decide. The Coin of Destiny spoke: No Hit. Jeeves still wouldn’t be deterred. Then I did the stupidest thing I could have done: I took a further 12-point hit to bring in de Bruyne myself.
I don’t know why I did this. In Almiron, Ederson and Duffy, I had one player who I believed would get a double-figure return before the season’s end, one with definite double-clean sheet potential, and one player who had just had two thrashings but still had two chances to keep just one clean sheet. I had a solid team, one which didn’t need a 16-point hit to fix, but the poison tongue of Jeeves had worked its black magic.
The weekend started with disaster, as Kevin de Bruyne, the man that I’d told Jeeves wasn’t worth a massive hit for, the man I hadn’t even considered until that devil started whispering in my ear, went off injured after 37 minutes. Thirty-seven bastard minutes into the gameweek, and I knew the gig was up. It only got worse from there. Schar, another player brought in to facilitate de Bruyne, went off injured. Janmaat and Valery did not start. Firmino did nothing. Gameweek over for Firmino, Janmaat and Schar. Gunn, brought in to replace Ederson, conceded three goals, which I knew he would because Newcastle, barring one match against Crystal Palace, have scored a minimum of two home goals in every game since Almiron signed. Mane did nothing. Sterling did nothing. Kolasinac conceded three goals. Rashford and Boruc did nothing. Were it not for assists for Alexander-Arnold and Lacazette, with a clean sheet also for the Liverpool man, I would have ended the weekend with more injuries than returns. Midweek was no help, with only a Sterling assist and a last-minute Janmaat assist getting any points. Of the players I brought in for a minus-16, they brought in a grand total of 16 points. If I had stuck to the original Firmino-and-Laporte plan, I would have had 15 points off Ederson, 15 from Laporte, 8 off Duffy, 3 off Almiron and 2 from Firmino. Factoring in a -4, those players would have got me 39 points, rather than a net zero. That would have been enough to overtake Big Steve into fifth. Yet here I sit, reflecting in my own stupidity, cursing the name of Jeeves, wallowing in seventh place having been overtaken by The Ox, and down to top-959k and very little chance of achieving my highest ever score, my highest ever finish or even finishing top half in the League of Gentlemen.
The Ox had a very good week, making just one transfer and utilising his bench boost to overtake me into sixth and close the gap on Big Steve in fifth to 29 points. Ox had a poor start to the season, which left him no real hope of becoming the champion, but his form these last two months offers him a lot of promising signs for next season. Sixteen weeks with only one transfer is never going to be enough to win the League of Gentlemen, but his considered approach in recent weeks mirrors that of Dinga, and suggests Ox may prove a real contender next season. Big Steve, who made two transfers for a -4, had a solid week, but conceded ground to Ox behind him and lost touch with Who Horner ahead of him. He’ll be disappointed with his ending to the season, but he remains a good player, and should be back stronger next year. With 45 points to make up in just three weeks, fourth-place looks like being just out of reach, but he’ll retain hope that he can achieve it, even if it goes to the last day. His team is different enough from Who Horner’s that all it’ll take is a good end to the season from the right players – although The Ox will be looking at Big Steve and thinking exactly the same. The dilemma for Big Steve is whether he sticks with what he has, or twists in a gamble to do even better. It’ll be interesting to see what he does.
In the race for third, Flash took a big chance with a 12-point hit, and ended the week with Who Horner reducing the gap by four points as a result. It’s a very tense battle between those two, with only 17 points separating the two. Were it not for Who Horner benching Vardy for Rashford and Milivojevic for Fraser, the gap would be even smaller still. Who Horner has yet to take a hit this season, and he stuck by that strategy and then some, making zero transfers and trusting the players he had. With the gap closing and Who Horner now having two free transfers next week, Flash simply has to be concerned. There are some big decisions to be made before the transfer deadline for Flash, though he looks to have a strong squad, so should avoid any hits. Who he replaces de Bruyne with is his key decision. He has cut the gap on Jeeves to 35 points, and Flash will know that if the Hitmaster plays his usual song, he’ll be even closer as the gameweek begins. Should Flash manage to grab that second place, it will turn what is already a successful season for him into a great one, but he has to be mindful of Who Horner.
It’s safe to say the race for the title is over, and that Dinga will take the trophy for the third time in five years. Dinga is the only man to enter the 100 club twice this season, maximising the double-gameweeks to cement his position at the top of the league. Since Christmas, Dinga has only had three red arrows, and even those were as he was preparing for his assault on the double-gameweeks. A score of 105 after only a single transfer shows that planning, not gambling, is what leads to glory in this game. With the gap to second now 79 points with only three weeks to go, and with Dinga still having his Triple Captain chip to play, his eyes and focus will switch to his overall ranking. Dinga’s highest-ever overall ranking is 45,827; his current position is 48,581. The only man in the League of Gentlemen ever to finish top-100k, he now has a great opportunity to do so for the third time in five year, which makes Jeeves’ dismissal of his abilities even stranger.
Jeeves, like myself, has suffered from taking too many gambles. Another for who the de Bruyne gamble didn’t pay off, Jeeves ended the week with a net score of 78, which saw the gap to top extend by 27 points. This really is crunch time for Jeeves. Does he keep fighting for the title, knowing that he needs to beat Dinga by almost 27 points a week to win it? Or does he focus primarily on holding second and improving his overall ranking? Though he will be disappointed to have seen his title challenge end so early, he will be equally-frustrated at seeing his overall ranking slip from 118,560 two weeks ago to 185,086 now, given his aim at the outset of the season was top-100k. His goal is still achievable, but it will take a bit of luck, and some good decision-making. He simply cannot afford any more of the sort of gambles that he took this week, but it has to be said that, if the season ended today, he’d have beaten his previous highest-finish by over 113,000 places. Success is all relative, and this season could still end up the finest one yet for the Jugganauts.
In the words of the great Coach John Kavanagh, you win or you learn. I’m choosing to learn. I’m writing off the rest of this season and I’m regrouping. I’m working on a plan for next season, and I’m sticking to it. The way I operate in this game is not, has not been, and never will be a recipe for success. There’s every chance Jie, only seven points behind me in eighth, will overtake me, though I still maintain a slim hope of making up the 37-point difference on Big Steve in fifth. A season that, at one stage, promised so much is now fading away to nothingness, and yet, I remain optimistic for next season. Sometimes, it’s the greatest defeats that teach the most important lessons, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot these last few months. Leicester went from 14th one year to winning the title the next; and I feel that I can do the same. Hopefully the last few weeks will give us some hope for the future. This week, I’ve taken a -4, replacing Lacazette and de Bruyne with Alli and Vardy – two gambles, given Alli isn’t in the best form and Vardy has tough fixtures, but I’ve only three weeks left to take gambles that don’t matter. Because, next season, it’s all about the masterplan, about steady progress, and about success.