IN CASE you haven’t noticed, it is the 20th anniversary of the Premier League.
As a result football fans have been treated to the usual rash of ‘name your fantasy team’ promotions throughout the media.
Due to the lack of live football to report on, Radio Five Live pretty much dedicated a night to the issue – the highlight of which was listening to Brad Freidel attempt to ignore one of his children wailing as he gave his views over the phone.
However, what riles me is that when the word ‘fantasy’ is employed – what they actually mean is best.
Picking the best team of players who have graced the Premier League in 20 years is undeniably diverting enough and can lead to hundreds of pub arguments, but the concept of ‘fantasy’ teams is just so much more interesting.
The dictionary definition of fantasy is ‘the creative imagination; unrestrained fancy’, so if we take that on board then we have unlocked a wonderful world of selecting all kinds of teams from those who have trudged on to a Premier League field in two decades.
The first team I began compiling was ‘The Most Volatile XI’ and it is not as easy as you might think.
Clearly you have to have the Manchester axis up front with City’s man who provides the fireworks Mario Balotelli teamed with United’s star of the silver screen Eric Cantona, thus making it hard to squeeze in other strikers generally viewed as a tad mad.
As a result I have already deemed that Craig Bellamy can play wide left and Paulo Di Canio wide right in a four-man midfield but have been mulling over who to drop out of Lee Bowyer, Joey Barton and David Batty – given that essentially I would like to retain Batty so he can have spontaneous punch-ups with left back Graeme Le Saux.
My next thought was players whose surnames end in ‘a’ and, while it might appear that would give you a star XI based on the African Cup of Nations, it actually turns out to be more complex than that (this can waste at least three hours of your life on Google).
Nationalities provide other interesting options and picking your best team of French or Dutch (for which I insist Arjan De Zueew has to be selected) players is fun enough, but even better is to pick a team of the worst Italians to grace the Premier League.
While the Italians have at times prospered as Premier League managers, many players from the ‘Belle Paese’ have arrived with world class CVs only to leave with their reputation in tatters.
Manchester United’s Massimo Taibi is a shoo-in for goalkeeper and you have to feel that for varying reasons Christian Panucci (Chelsea), Marco Materazzi (Everton) and Fabrizio Ravanelli (Middlesbrough) all were not quite as good playing on our soil, while for youngsters like Federico ‘Kiko’ Macheda (Manchester United) and Massimo Maccarone (Middlesbrough) it all seemed to prove to be too much.
But the absolute musts in this team are Blackburn Rovers duo Ciccio Grabbi and Dino Baggio.
Grabbi was perhaps unlucky that he came from Serie B outfit Ternana as something of a gamble as a purchase by then Ewood Park manager Graeme Souness and turned out to be perhaps the worst striker the top flight has ever seen.
However, Baggio turned up as a bone fide star with Inter, Juventus and Parma – as well as his national side – only to display a different kind of magic in England by being pretty much invisible in all of his games in the blue and white halved shirt.
The next idea that struck me was amalgamations of teams from geographical areas.
I have already started working on a team called ‘The Killer Bs’ – who obviously would have to wear a kit in the style of a classic Alloa Athletic gold and black hooped strip.
This is an attempt to put together a side from the northern teams who have had brief flirtation with Premier League fame in Barnsley, Burnley, Bradford City and Blackpool.
Instantly you find yourself with four players as you pick the stand-out performers from each team, so Graham Alexander from the Clarets, Charlie Adam from the Tangerines, Benito Carbone (an exception to the rule about Italian players above) for the Bantams and Neil Redfearn for the Tykes are my choices – which probably says as much about more my poor memory as anything else.
But even just selecting one club and trying to pick their best XI in their Premier League years can be entertaining enough.
I mean can I justify Georgi Kinkladze and Shaun Goater in the ‘Sparkling Blue Moon XI’ even though neither played that many games at the top level for Manchester City?