Loading scores...
Player Analysis

Fantasy Hall of Fame - Central Midfielders

by Steve Rothgeb
Updated On: April 24, 2020, 4:55 pm ET

With the Premier League announcing that they will open a Hall of Fame, we’ve decided to take a look at our own FPL Hall of fame here at Rotoworld. Everyone has had their favorite FPL assets over the years and since we have to wait for the Official Hall of Fame announcements, what better time than now to look at those FPL darlings.

 

Over the next several weeks, 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 have already covered goalkeepers, central defenders and outside backs in our series so far, so now it is time to work our way a bit further up the pitch to midfield, central midfield in fact, where traditionally some of the best “all around” players have plied their trade. Central midfield may not be able to match the same number of marquee players that strikers or wide attacking midfielders have, but the very best ones have been just as legendary as anyone else.

 

Steve Rothgeb

 

When talking central midfield, it is kind of easy to limit one’s choices to the CAM, or central attacking midfield position. This player is usually his team’s  “playmaker” and creator of many open play goals. I will make an effort to touch on at least one of these attack-minded players, but for my Hall of Fame, I want the classic box-to-box midfielder, the kind that could do it all - captain the team, be a beast in midfield and defense but still have the finesse to venture up on the attack, scoring goals and providing assists.

Based on how we have planned out the positions, with wide midfielders, wingers and strikers still to go, and I want to make an XI, then I can really only induct one player into the Hall, while a few others can only get an honorable mention. That one lucky man is Mr. Chelsea himself, Frank Lampard. In 609 career PL appearances, Lamps found the net a whopping 177 times. The next closest at his position was over 50 goals shy of Lampard, more on that player in a moment. Along with John Terry in defense, the duo were the cornerstones of some wildly dominant Chelsea teams, who, when they were at their best, played with a level of confidence and swagger that some other clubs may have matched, but not sure any could claim did better.

There seems to me a clear second choice for this position, and, unlike having a sentimental attachment to budget players at keeper and defense, I am all about the star players here. Steven Gerrard would be in the squad without hesitation if I could make a fantasy XII. Even though Lampard may have had better career stats when combining attacking returns along with defensive contributions, one would have to say that Gerrard meant more to his club than Lampard did. There were some very lean, tough years during Gerrard’s near-two-decade run, as he was tasked to bridge the gap between the dominant Reds at the end of the 20th century and this current crop of stars that should be officially crowned title-winners at some point soon. Because Liverpool were pretty inconsistent during the Gerrard years, he wasn’t a set-it-and-forget-it type fantasy player. He was too expensive for that. But, if you brought him in when he was in form, he was money.

Finally, a shout out to two more names. First, Yaya Touré. I mean, come on. How do you not mention him? At the height of his success with Manchester City, there may not have been a player more dominant. How many times did we see him shake an opponent off in midfield like they were made of paper mache, then bulldoze his way down the pitch before unleashing a cannon from outside the box with pinpoint accuracy. Legend, he was. So, those are my guys, physical players who get the job from box-to-box. But, I did say I would mention at least one CAM player in this space. I will go ahead and be generous enough to add two - one shout out to Michu, who had that one incredible season for Swansea when they were promoted. The FPL community simply could not get enough of him and he was a joy to watch. The other choice, and I understand it is completely personal bias, goes to my Dutch man crush, Rafael van der Vaart. It was only a couple of years that he played for my Spurs, but I loved, loved, loved his style of play and he was fantastic for my fantasy team as well, usually my go-to armband differential if I ever wanted to go against the herd when picking a captain.

 

Anthony O’Shea - FPL Stag

 

As we progress to looking at players in more attacking roles, we hit centre midfield, a point where FPL value and tactical value can diverge more than ever. It has long been a pet peeve of FPL managers that some world class players’ talents go unrewarded in the game; think Roy Keane, Claude Makelele, (later career) Paul Scholes, and the modern classic N’Golo Kanté. This is for a mix of two reasons: defensive midfield types such as Kanté do not attract points for tackles, interceptions, and pass volume whilst Scholes’ control of a game and “assists for the assister” are ignored.

With that in mind, this becomes a question of goals and assists. As Steve has highlighted already, Frank Lampard stands out by a country mile in this category as an outstanding goalscorer with a few assists in his locker too. At Chelsea and even later at City, he showed he had all the off the ball nous of a “fox in the box” striker but he was capable of displaying this time and time again from a deeper box-to-box role. Racking up 177 goals and 102 assists in 609 appearances in the Premier League and being Chelsea’s all time top-scorer say enough. 

Forever in Lampard’s shadow internationally but a bona fide legend of the PL in his own right was Steven Gerrard. From 504 PL games, his record of 120 goals and 90 assists is also extremely impressive, especially when you consider the inconsistent teams he had around him so often at Liverpool. The Yaya Touré of the 2013/14 season, the only midfielder other than Lampard to fire 20 goals in a single PL season, should also be considered. Arguably, that was the best 38 game season played by an individual in the league. The Ivorian played in 35 games, scored 20 times, half of which came from set pieces, picked up nine assists and covered every blade of grass in each game that he featured.

There are some noteworthy bargain picks too. Erling Haaland’s hero Michu’s debut Premier League season was stunning as the recruit from Madrid’s Rayo Vallecano netted 18 times and went into folklore as the ultimate “the streets/real fans will remember” player. Kevin Nolan, Clint Dempsey, Danny Murphy, debut season Dele Alli, and Étienne Capoue’s short but sweet period as a deadly Number 10 in 2016 also deserve honourable mentions.

 

 

Andrew Gastelum

It’s such a shame that my personal favorite position in football is the least rewarded in FPL. Players like Andrea Pirlo and Paul Scholes are the reason why I truly fell in love with the game and midfielders like N’Golo Kante make me smile more than anyone, but unfortunately FPL is just another place for him to fly under the radar, which he probably prefers anyway. Without a doubt, the unanimous, first-ballot pick for the Hall of Fame has to be Frank Lampard for his storied career. Meanwhile, I’m wondering whether Santi Cazorla (his debut Premier League season had the FPL world going wild) will be categorized as a central midfielder or winger, but I’ll leave that for Neal to hash out. 

After Lampard, my first nomination has to be Yaya Touré. I’ve still never seen a player who could flip the switch like that—Toure would go from an infuriatingly lazy pace and shocking defensive effort for 60 minutes to two goals and man of the match honors. When he was on, everything looked to be moving in slow motion—literally, his legs moved so slow but his strides covered twice as much ground as anyone. His 20 goals and nine assists that year were a product of his prowess from penalty and free kicks, which made him one of the most valuable players in the league with Luis Suarez in one of the most memorable Premier League title races to date. 

My second nomination is a bit out there, but it’s more so to bring recognition to an insane feat in Premier League football. Dele Alli arrived at Spurs from League One MK Dons at 18 years old, and in his first year of Premier League football, valued at £5.0 in FPL.com, went on to record 10 goals and record 12 assists. After such a successful rookie season, expectations were sky high, almost too unrealistic, only for the 19-year-old to exceed them with 18 goals and 11 assists in another remarkable season. I can’t think of any midfielder (or forward, even) who had a better first two seasons in the Premier League than Dele contributing to 51 goals, and that’s not even considering the fact that he did this while still a teenager. Sure, Dele hasn’t had the best time since then, but those early years are worthy of HOF consideration.

 

Neal Thurman

 

My colleagues have already mentioned a lot of the candidates that come immediately to my mind when I think about potential Hall-of-Famers either over the course of a career (Lampard, Toure) or a single, brilliant season (Michu). The first thing that comes to mind is that no one banged the table for as their first choice is Steven Gerrard and that seemed like a mistake.

That led me to the stats pages of the interwebs to take a look at Steven Gerrard the fantasy player as opposed to Steven Gerrard the real world superstar. If you’re only nominating one guy whose biggest calling card was career excellence that research led me to why Gerrard isn’t the guy in relation to Lampard’s career as a fantasy contributor as well as his heights. Gerrard’s 2008-09 campaign with 16 goals and 9 assists was excellent as was his 2013-14 campaign with 13 and 13. 

Those highs are certainly exceptional as one-off seasons but the issue with Gerrard was that you were never sure exactly what you were going to get as far as end product over the course of a season. Whereas Lamps churned out ten consecutive double digit goal campaigns, Gerrad seemed to alternate between being fairly prolific and having frustrating seasons. In a salary cap fantasy world, that’s not too tragic but in a draft world, that inconsistency is unforgivable as it leads to significant overdrafting. 

Without a clear competitor to Lampard on the career front, my mind wandered to the options for exceptional, unexpected single-season performances. Gerrard’s 16 and 9 was spectacular but it came with all of the appropriate cost of acquisition. While it doesn’t match Gerrard’s best, from a cost-to-performance point-of-view, Charlie Adam’s Premier League debut season with Blackpool where he scored 12 goals and provided 8 assists from out of nowhere. He was an absolute must-own player whose contribution from that season has to be recognized. 

 

Ben Dinnery 

 

There is no room for sentiment in football unless of course, we're talking about my beloved Newcastle United...! So, my first offering into the Hall of Fame is not based on a rose-tinted view brought about by his impending departure. His tenth, and final season in the top-flight has arguably been his most disappointing, both in terms of returns and competitive minutes, but let's not allow the present to cloud his past… Having won two FA Cups, five League Cups, four Premier League titles and been included in the PFA Team of the Year on two occasions, David Silva is regarded as one of Manchester City's greatest ever players. A star amongst stars.

In over 300 Premier League appearances, Silva contributes directly to a goal once in every 160 minutes, or for every three matches played, the Spaniard delivers twice, and then some! His longevity is phenomenal: not only his level of performance but his availability. Silva has remained pivotal to City no matter which manager was at the helm.

Roberto Mancini insisted Silva would be "an important player for the future" when he signed him from Valencia back in 2010, and he wasn't wrong! "I have never seen a player like David. He is committed to absolutely everything he does," Pep recently told the CityTV and coming from the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager, that is some accolade. For me, his fantasy highlight came in 2014-15, Silva's only double-figure goalscoring campaign, and he did it from only 27 shots on target. Mr Silva, I doff my cap to you, Sir.

Now, while the inclusion of Silva may not be to everyone's liking… How about the Premier Leagues second all-time assist provider - Cesc Fàbregas – a player once described by Arsène Wenger as a "special man" who changed English football.

In 2017, while at Chelsea, Fàbregas became the first player to record ten or more assists in six Premier League campaigns, but it was memories of his time at Arsenal that resonates so fondly with my early fantasy fumbling's.  

From 2008-09, across three seasons, Fàbregas averages a goal and/or assist every 99 minutes. His tally of 60 direct contributions came from just seventy Premier League starts; it accounted for more than a quarter (27%) of all Arsenal's goals during that period: just one behind Robin van Persie (61).

Go on, name a better (Spanish) Premier League midfield pair, I bet you can't….   

 

Conclusion

Even though we have a few more positions left to cover, the feeling is that central midfield is probably the least controversial area of the pitch when it comes to anointing the best of the best. Players with the skill sets of Lampard, Gerrard, Fabregas and Toure only come around once in a blue moon. You may only have a couple of these stars playing at the top of their game in a given season, while, say, the best wide midfielder debate is sure to offer more variety. Which is why, after looking over everyone's nominations, it is clear I need to include one more name in the conclusion...Kevin De Bruyne, anyone? I mean, if we had to pick a Hall for who is the best in the league right now, or for the past few seasons, it has to be him, right? No worries, Kevin, you made the cut, if only just.

Steve Rothgeb
Steve Rothgeb is a contributor for Rotoworld.com and WorldSoccerTalk.com, a self-proclaimed fantasy sports oracle, and Tottenham Hotspur fanatic. He can be found on Twitter @FuzzyWarbles.