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Fantacalcio: how fantasy football drives Italians crazy
The long abstinence from played football is over when the market closes. There is only one ritual that all Italian football addicted religiously observe: the fantasy football auction
by Sebastiano Sali
The transfer market is a love story that begins and finishes only on the beach. Indeed it lasts the span of an Italian, sun-drenched summer and the end of the transfer market marks the end of the summer too: not the meteorological one but the football one. The long abstinence from played football is over when the market closes. And there is one ritual only that all Italian football addicted religiously observe: the fantasy football auction (in Italian: Fantacalcio).

The long summer made of friendlies and rumours has been spent in maniacally reviewing la Gazzetta dello Sport ’s marks of old and new players: how they are integrating in the squad? Will they be the big hit of the season or a big fiasco? Will the old senator who had a bad season last year recover and get back to the old standard this year? Are friendlies really indicative or not? Shall we wait for the first matches of the National Cup? Why is this for? Only obsession? Lack of other interests? Not at all!

Because once back from the seaside we all have to face l’asta del fantacalcio and show our beloved friends, actually almost enemies on that very day, that we are the one and only real wizard of fantasyfootball. We only are the long-sighted scout and wise manager who can foresee the rising of a newborn star as well as the rebirth of an old lion, investing at best our imaginary 500 billion euros. So there you find ten crazy people, meeting in some friend’s garden, sitting around a big table filled up with pages of Gazzetta dello Sport, notes, slips, squad sketches, calculators, highlighters of different colours (for each category of priority), and so on...

A night that begins at 6pm. No delays are accepted. At 6 sharp the first footballer, that by tradition for the last 5 years is Juventus’ goalkeeper Buffon, will be called by the one of us who finished last in the table the year before. Like the Big Ben, or like a Swiss clockwork (if you prefer), from 5 years at 6pm of the fantasy football auction day you can hear, ‘Buffon, 1’. And there it goes. 3 goalkeepers, 8 defenders, 8 midfielders and 6 strikers. Goalkeepers are fundamental, someone says. But tradition wants that Italy is a forge of good goalies and so the challenge is not so hard. Plus we have just started, the sun is setting and the atmosphere sounds more like a nice end of summer aperitivo on the shore of Mantova’s lake, on a deck chair with some good friends.

Cigarettes’ smoke is not dense yet; non-smokers are not bothered by those who do and instead of nervously chewing their gums, they still crunch some crisps and chat. With defenders things start to get a little serious. Maicon and Liechsteiner are on top of everyone’s list: they sometime score, which worths a +3 on the evaluation of their performance, and they very often deliver the last volley before the striker scores, that assist that instead worths a +1 that can make the difference. But spending a lot of money for defenders can cut you out for the real deal auction, the one for the strikers and on top of that, most of the people adopt a module with 3 backs only, differently from most of the ‘real’ teams, and so there are enough backs to make everyone happy. Either because they could get the top defenders or because they could save money for other players.

When the time for midfielders come, the night has taken over the day. Cigarettes smoke gets thicker. Less people are smiling now and many more are abusing their calculators, their smartphones, filled up with specialised apps, updates from official newsfeed for squads, injuries and so on.

After all we are talking about people like Napoli’s Marek Hamsik, Juventus’ Arturo Vidal and the Italian international Alessandro Diamanti (Bologna) and Alessio Cerci (Torino) who all scores almost like strikers. But not only those. Sometimes the best deal comes from the underdogs, those teams just promoted from the Serie B lining up less famous players that though can be tomorrow’s stars and today’s best bargain. The auction goes on and gets intense: Sothesby’s would envy the silence and the competence that leads the events (I am not sure about the beers, the pizza and the cigarettes though...).

When 140 millions are reached for Hamsik some take their 60 seconds just for thinking; some other frenetically harass all the papers they have brought; some just closed their eyes and simply say ‘141’... When the strikers time comes exhaustion is the worst enemy. The main target is AC Milan’s Mario Balotelli, the deal breaker. But the worst thing could be to forget that you can get three unknown underdogs you can pay one tenth of Super Mario but the sum of their goals can equal Balotelli’s.

Just Moneyball? Maybe... Surprisingly Balotelli’s auction is one of the shortest as the first call is already 150! He will be the most expensive one (164), but people like Fiorentina’s Gomez and Rossi, Juventus’ Tevez, Napoli’s Higuain and Roma’s Totti won’t be much cheaper. The tension is at its peak: someone tries to break with a couple of jokes, but silent is immediately imposed back with a peremptory call to respect other people’s effort to make a huge investment. Nobody thinks of anything else but ‘how much would I be left with if...’.

Even toilets are forgotten, in spite of the many empties stockpiled in the corner. And so it goes for a good hour and half. Midnight is reached, we all have our 6 strikers. Some leave happy, some grudging, some thoughtful. Pizzas carton boxes are disposed and the night, fully the master of the landscape, rightfully allows everyone to start dreaming about the new season to come.

Thanks to our reviewer Alessio Manes

Tuesday, September 17 th, 2013
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