With the Premier League announcing that they will open a Hall of Fame, it got us at Rotoworld thinking, “Why not do the same?” While the reality of the official Hall of Fame may have to wait until the world has returned to something approaching normalcy, that doesn't mean we shouldn't take up the theme and apply it to the wonderful world of Fantasy Premier League.
Over the next week or two, we will be looking at our choices for a hypothetical Fantasy Hall of Fame. Understanding that the guys on the Rotoworld team favor different formats and have different frames of reference when it comes to how long they've been playing, we'll keep the criteria open and we'll discuss both career achievement as well as single season dominance. It's not like we have actual match coverage to get in the way of our writing.
We started with the Goalkeepers on Monday—we nominated Jussi Jaaskelainen, David De Gea, Asmir Begovic, Lukasz Fabianski and Petr Cech, among other honorable mentions— and today we move out into the field with the defenders. We are going to break this down into two categories - center backs and outside backs - because outside backs are typically much more valuable in fantasy games and we don’t want the stalwarts at the heart of the defense to be entirely left out.
Center backs are, perhaps, the most difficult of the position groups to highlight. Let’s face it, they don’t tend to do a lot that is rewarded by fantasy scoring systems. At their best, an actual center back (both by designation in the game and by virtue of where they play in actual football matches) can pile on a bunch of clean sheets and chip in the odd goal. At their fantasy best, a player who plays further up the pitch and offers something at the attacking end is classified as a defender and has some roots as a center back that justifies their discussion in this area. In the latter case, we’re looking at the Dion Dublin-esque characters who were listed as Defenders (in this case based on a history of playing CB) but actually played forward. These tended to be short term loopholes in the fantasy system rather than career-spanning glitches so for my part, I’m going to look at the best of the career CBs and let my teammates discuss some of their favorite one-year non-CB, CB wonders.
For the career honor, John Terry is the obvious choice leading all Premier League defenders in all-time goals as well as having been at the heart of a stout Chelsea defense for years leading to more than his share of clean sheets. For those playing the PL.com game, that’s probably all there is to the argument.
For those who played other formats, Yahoo in the old days and Togga/Fantrax more recently, you might have an affection for someone like David Unsworth. Sure, you could argue that he was as much a left back as a center back but he certainly turned out at center back often enough to be considered in this category and his 38 goals, three short of Terry’s total, came in 128 fewer appearances. Unsworth was a Yahoo fantasy star during his time at Everton and gets my nomination on the strength of his superior goal rate, assist rate (about double Terry’s), and peripheral stats that came with taking set pieces and shooting more often than Terry. Yes, Terry had over twice as many clean sheets over his career but Unsworth was the better all-around fantasy option and was generally available for less in salary cap formats as well.
Looking back through the archives, it’s incredible to see how Chelsea has dominated the last decade with a Chelsea defender finishing in the top three in FPL points among defenders in four of the last six seasons. And it’s not as if it wasn’t dominated by one or two names; rather, five different players from the electric Marcos Alonso and John Terry’s consistency to Gary Cahill’s inexplicable chart-topping 2016/17 season.
But looking back at the last decade, only one central defender has achieved a seemingly achievable feat: a 200-point season in FPL.com, a figure typically reserved for golden-boot winners and Ballon d’Or candidates. Last year, Virgil Van Dijk put together a season for the ages with 20 clean sheets, four goals and four assists in a legendary season as Liverpool somehow ended up without a Premier League title. But van Dijk’s season for the ages is more than enough to warrant him a nomination—after all, it’s the best season a central defender has ever had in the FPL.com format, one only topped by the point total of his teammate Andy Robertson. Putting up 200 points as a center-back is unheard of in FPL; Virgil Van Dijk deserves full HOF honors.
As long as everyone is comfortable with the notion that the criteria for our Hall of Fame inductees is as much based on fond memories of FPL success for our personal teams as it is for overall stats, then my selections hopefully will not seem too silly. Otherwise, I would likely repeat many of the same names, and John Terry would certainly come straight to mind, consistently at or near the top for the first decade of FPL’s existence. It seems, though, that I enjoy the sentimental pick, and that tends to come from the smaller clubs. In the early stages of this exercise, it has come to my attention that I have more of a fondness for Stoke players than I ever realized.
Robert Huth gets this honor. The big man in the middle, his move from Middlesbrough to Stoke City in 2009 coincided with my introduction to FPL and he had runs in my FPL side nearly every season for the entire decade of the 2010s. What’s most important though, is that of the 13 goals he scored in his six years with the Potters, it feels like I got points from at least ten of them. One of those guys you own and sell at the right time. His part in Leicester’s title-winning season is just icing on the cake in what was a fine career. He also was the inspiration for one of my more treasured FPL team names - Huth Let the Dogs Out. Basically, he ticks all my boxes for a fantasy center back. A giant, who spent much of his career helping Stoke stay afloat in the top flight, never cost you more than 5m at the start of the season, scored goals when it mattered for me, was a key starter of the most sensational title run in modern sports history. Take your place, Mr. Huth, you’ve earned it
Not sure whether we get to nominate two players, as if we are filling up a Hall of Fame complete XI or not, but allow me to make brief mention of my runner-up choice, Gareth McAuley. West Brom were never much of a joy to watch in the 2010s, and they left you scratching your head at times wondering how they managed to survive in the top flight year after year. Well, much of that punching-above-their-weight rested on McAuley’s shoulders, ever--present in the lineup, scored 15 goals for the Baggies in their eight-year run in the Premier League and played as a starter for a long career that only recently ended just before turning forty years old. He was good value in the FPL game and a must-own whenever West Brom had a kind run of fixtures.
We’ve reached another position that sometimes gets overlooked when making your FPL side. While fullbacks are more prone to get the attacking returns, center backs can still hold their own, get bonus points and be nice budget additions to your side. Takeaway number one is that Chelsea defenders own FPL due to set play dominance and the consistent clean sheet threat that they have had over the years. Number two is how absurd Virgil Van Dijk breaking 200 points last year was. Generally the top FPL center back is around 160-170 points and to shatter that with a 200 point-season almost makes me want to put him in the FPL hall of fame alone. Unfortunately, Jose Fonte was a better FPL asset during his time at Southampton.
Going by goals and clean sheets, John Terry and Gary Cahill would be the conventional nominations but they cost as much as most fullbacks who were still holding their own with them at the time. Cahill with Crystal Palace this season would get a massive shout at 4.5m to start the season though. So taking the “right” decision pit leaves me with Phil Jagielka and Jose Fonte. Two defenders who did it in very different ways but with impressive results.
Jags came in with towering headers that helped him to 18 goals in his Premier League career. Then add in the clean sheets with Sheffield United and Everton that helped make him a budget staple. Fonte with clean sheets on Southampton sides that were constantly better than the sum of their parts with him there (we’re not gonna talk about the move to West Ham here). I know that technically I’m only supposed to nominate one but due to the volatility at the position, I had to give it to two center-backs.
FPL Stag - Anthony O’Shea
In fantasy terms, centre-backs are usually the “unsexy” options which plug into your side owing to just clean sheet potential, goal scoring opportunities, and budgetary restrictions. That said, the PL’s Official fantasy game has a history littered with big contributions from the most unlikely source.
The budget centre-back is the classic case and none stand out more than Northern Ireland international and member of Tony Pulis’ Baggies backline in 2016/17, Gareth McAuley. McAuley started that season priced at 4.5 and quite popular coming off the back of ten shutouts the season prior, but two clean sheets and a goal in August saw his popularity surge. The Baggies defence proved porous in the autumn but McAuley kept his score ticking over with a goal in each of his two outings against Hull City, but post-GW20, he went on a surging run which secured his place in the team of the season: three goals, one assist, two clean sheets and seven bonus points. One of these goals provided an enduring FPL moment in FPL history, whereby a seemingly miniscule touch by the defender’s head guided a Jonny Evans header into the West Ham net. At a time when each of West Brom’s defenders was highly-owned, Chris Brunt losing an assist from his corner and Evans’ goal becoming an assist was a huge points swing in favour of the McAuley-ites.
Honourable mentions should be extended to a number of other fine FPL assets from down the years aside from those noted by my colleagues. Steven Caulker the five-goal machine of 2013/14 for Cardiff City was a bargain gem for many, though he also provided a great late-season clean sheet option a few years earlier whilst on loan at Swansea City. Scott Dann also managed to hit five in 2015/16 for Crystal Palace and like Caulker, he was briefly part of a centre-back partnership for a relegation battling club, in his case Birmingham City in 2009/10, which kept churning out clean sheets for a period.
The centre-back, as we say in Blighty, is a position close to my heart as the majority of my own, mostly unsuccessful career, was spent as part of a rigid back four. Forays into opposition territory were seldom, except for the odd set piece or on those rare occasions when the manager permitted us to stay forward with only minutes remaining in an attempt to grab a late equaliser/winner. So, for myself, it was always a position I was drawn to, and probably appreciated it more than others...
Now, maybe I’m showing my years here, but one central defender that always comes to the fore when looking back is David Unsworth who spent the bulk of his career at Everton, and to this day continues to ply his trade as their Under-23s coach. Unsworth’s best days were behind him when the official game was launched in the early 2000s, but other formats were available, and Rhino remained the mainstay of my defence throughout the late ’90s. Unsworth was formidable from 12 yards and remains to this day in the Top Ten list of all-time Premier League penalty takers with 22 goals (from 26 attempts) with a success rate of almost 85 per cent. Chuck in another 16 goals, 18 assists and 90 clean sheets from his 364 appearances and you can see why Unsworth was a favourite amongst the Toffees fans.
The clear, nearly unanimous selection, and likely one of the first nominees, in our hypothetical FPL Hall of Fame looks to be Chelsea’s John Terry as our writers were particularly fond of the Blues captain. He was such an asset in the 2014/15 season where he went on to score five goals and record 17 clean sheets during that title run, which was topped only by his teammate Branislav Ivanovic. Like I said before, it was fairly common to find a Chelsea defender in one’s FPL team throughout the last decade, so it only feels right that Terry is the most mentioned center-back here.
The real champion nomination here is David Unsworth as two of our columnists reached back in the vault for a solid pick as the Everton defender could be considered an FPL OG. Can you imagine how crazy the FPL world would be today if there was a center-back that took penalties? Mentions of Gareth McAuley and Robert Huth bring back some great memories; there’s few feelings better than watching a budget defender who would usually be considered an afterthought continue to round up points. There is something to picking a budget center-half, considering that a central defender is the last place you’d want to spend loads of money that could be used elsewhere, and a lot of the picks
Next up this week we’ll have our HOF nominations for full-back, which is sure to bring lots of lively debate from a position that is often seen as an X-Factor in Fantasy Premier League.