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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Explained: Why Aston Villa has banned players, staff from playing in a fantasy league

The Aston Villa management has banned its players and staff from participating in the Fantasy Premier League. What led to this decision? What is FPL and are Premier League footballers allowed to have FPL teams?

Written by Shahid Judge , Edited by Explained Desk | Mumbai |
Updated: February 25, 2021 1:54:59 pm
Aston Villa's Jack Grealish reacts after sustaining an injury during the English Premier League soccer match between Brighton and Aston Villa at the Falmer stadium in Brighton, England, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021. (Neil Hall/Pool via AP)

Team selections in an online fantasy game, that otherwise has no impact on what happens on a football pitch, gave Leicester City advance information about the unavailability of an Aston Villa player ahead of last week’s game.

What was the giveaway on the Fantasy Premier League?

English Premier League club Aston Villa had been trying to hide star player Jack Grealish’s shin injury, despite rumours that the midfielder was not match-ready.

But when three Villa players and two support staff removed Grealish from their respective Fantasy Premier League (FPL) line-ups before the round of matches, unwittingly, they had given out inside information that the 25-year-old was highly unlikely to play.

Leicester City was prepared tactically and came up with a 2-1 win at Villa Park.

The Villa management was left fuming, and the club has now banned its players and staff from participating in the fantasy league. Meanwhile, the person responsible for running the Twitter handle ‘FPL Insider,’ which monitors and discloses potential ‘inside’ information to help FPL users, has asserted he’s “sorry, not sorry.”

What is FPL and are Premier League footballers allowed to have FPL teams?

FPL, which is the official fantasy league game run by the Premier League, does not stop players from using it. However, under the ‘Terms and Conditions’ section on the website, it asserts: “Employees (and immediate family members) of The Football Association Premier League Limited (the “Premier League”) may enter the Game but are ineligible to win any Prizes. If such a person would otherwise win a Prize, the Prize shall be awarded to the next placed Player.”

On January 31, Leeds United’s Patrick Bamford expressed regret over his FPL team selection when he scored and made two assists in a 3-1 win over Leicester City.

“Do you know what, I flippin’ took myself off captain (on his FPL team). So I’m fuming.”

What are the prizes?

Since there is no entry fee to create an account, there are no cash prizes. However, there is a wide array of prizes available for the winner at the end of the season (none of which can be exchanged for cash).

The winner gets a seven-night stay in the United Kingdom along with two Premier League match tickets. The prizes may also include a Hublot watch and a goodie bag.

There are prizes for the user placed second and third as well.

What was Aston Villa’s reaction to the leaked news about Grealish’s injury?

As reported by The Associated Press, Aston Villa manager Dean Smith stated after the match: “I was made aware that it came out on social media outlining (Grealish) wasn’t going to play.

“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. We’ll certainly get to the bottom of this.”

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How important is Grealish to the team?

The Englishman is the team’s captain and was voted the team’s Player of the Season for the 2019-20 season. The attacking midfielder has scored six times this campaign (second in the club leaderboard) and has 10 assists – more than any other Villa player.

According to the website Fantasy Football Scout, 36.9 per cent of the seven million FPL users (just over 2.5 million) have him on their team.

How was the news leaked?

According to FPL rules, a user must finalise the team 90 minutes before the first match of a Premier League round starts — in this case, it was the Wolverhampton Wanderers versus Leeds United match on Saturday.

As reported by The Associated Press, Aston Villa players Matt Targett, Conor Hourihane and Neil Taylor updated their respective FPL squads by removing Grealish from the line-up. Villa’s first team performance analyst (Scott) and physio (Rob), according to the FPL Insider tweet, also made the change. The squads on FPL can be viewed by the other seven million users – which includes Premier League players from rival clubs who also use the platform.

This was picked up by FPL Insider and advertised. Reportedly, Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers claimed he had heard the rumours about Grealish not making the team via social media.

Who runs the FPL Insider account and what was the reaction?

The account is run by a Norwegian who goes by only his first name, Henning. He told BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat that he, a Villa fan, had created a bot to monitor all FPL accounts by current Premier League players and support staff, and then he tweets changes in the squads made by those accounts to help fellow-FPL users make informed changes to their respective fantasy line-ups.

After the incident involving Grealish, Henning has maintained an unapologetic stand.

“I can understand the frustration, but this is already available information,” he told BBC. “I’m just structuring it and packaging it in tweets. (Premier League players) know that opposition players play fantasy football weekly and I would imagine big clubs all have some kind of analyst that has access to this data already.”

Has team information been leaked in the past through the FPL?

Yes. Last week, according to The Associated Press, Leeds player Liam Cooper removed teammate Ezgjan ‘Gjanni’ Alioski from his FPL squad, and the left-back was indeed left out of the match against Wolverhampton.

Earlier, before Liverpool’s match against West Ham United on January 31, left-back Andy Robertson removed star forward Sadio Mane from his FPL team, and sure enough, Mane was left out of the squad for the game due to an injury. Henning claimed that it was this move by Robertson that led him to create the bot to monitor players.

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