Fantasy soccer got too real for Aston Villa
Aston Villa has been one of the more pleasant surprises of this Premier League season. After narrowly avoiding relegation last season, Villa is now in the eighth spot in the table . On Sunday, the resurgent squad from Birmingham had a chance to make another statement against third-place Leicester, but Villa was without star midfielder Jack Grealish, who was dealing with shin splints. To make matters worse, Leicester was able to plan for Grealish’s absence. How could that happen in the secretive world of European soccer? Fantasy sports, of course.
Two days before the game, three Villa players (Matt Targett, Conor Hourihane and Neil Taylor) and two staffers dropped Grealish from their Fantasy Premier League lineups. (The team’s physiotherapist dropped Grealish a day earlier than everybody else.) The roster moves were made public by the Twitter account “FPL Insider,” which tracks the fantasy transactions of Premier League players and personnel.
Villa manager Dean Smith wasn’t too happy that his own players helped observers figure out what was up with Grealish.
“I was made aware that it came out on social media outlining he wasn’t going to play,” Smith told reporters, “and, if it’s coming out of our training ground, I will find out where that’s coming from and reprimand who it’s coming from.”
The solution, according to The Times, has been to ban Villa players from participating in Fantasy Premier League. That seems a little extreme. It’s clearly in the Premier League’s interest to have players participate in the league’s official fantasy game and talk about it enthusiastically. (Leeds striker Patrick Bamford admitted he was “fuming” after he downgraded himself in his lineup before a game last month and wound up having a goal and two assists.) So why not simply allow players to make their lineups private?
This is the kind of story that could never materialize in the United States. Plenty of NFL players are in fantasy football leagues, but their lineup information isn’t available to anyone outside their own league. And American sports are also much more transparent about injuries. If Grealish was a running back for the Colts, he would have been listed on a pregame injury report.
That said, it’s the kind of story I wish could happen in America. Could you imagine Bill Belichick’s reaction if Sony Michel dropped himself from his fantasy lineup because he knew Damien Harris was getting the bulk of the carries in the Patriots’ next game?
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