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Here, former champion Simon March looks at the players with infamous reputations in FPL.
If you’ve played FPL for long enough, there’s a good chance that there is at least one player who, despite them seeming to perform well most of the time, and definitely for your rivals, they never quite seem to do it for you. The classic phrase in FPL circles is ‘I’ve been burned by them in the past’ and it’s a widely accepted justification to label that player ‘a troll’ and subsequently avoid them like the plague.
The problem is, most of the players who we individually label ‘trolls’ also somehow manage to be among the highest-scoring players in the game, if not for the whole season, then for parts of it at least. To write them off completely means we’re also writing off our chances of gaining those points.
So why, when we consider a player, do some of us see trolls while others see assets? Is it a bias and, if so, how do we overcome it? These questions will be the focus of this article.
Beware of Trolls
Top of mind right now when it comes to this type of player is Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez (£7.8m) who, due to his alleged ‘troll-like’ behaviour in the past (appearing to be a really good option before immediately losing all form or being unexpectedly dropped from the team altogether), was overlooked by many as an option ahead of City’s first of two recent Double Gameweeks. Unfortunately for those managers, Mahrez went on to score 40 points in his next four Gameweeks. Fortunately for those who did avoid him, he then got benched completely in Gameweek 24. So maybe they had a point.
But Mahrez is far from the only player with this reputation, Chelsea’s Reece James (£5.8m) is another contemporary FPL asset whose inevitable hauls appear to require monk-like patience and surgical precision in order to hit. Even Eden Hazard, one of the best FPL assets in recent memory, was tagged by some with the ‘troll’ label.
For me, if you’re interested, that player was former Arsenal, Man City and West Ham United midfielder Samir Nasri, who I owned countless times throughout my FPL career, yet I somehow never managed to get as much as an assist out of him. All of these players are or were, statistically at least, good FPL assets. So why do they end up trolling us?
It’s our fault
To some extent, the reason we label FPL players as trolls is down to us. Our personal experience of the world is only a fraction of what is actually going on, yet it tends to disproportionately influence how we perceive it.
The same applies to FPL and, consequently, since we cannot own all the FPL players all of the time, our perceptions of FPL assets will be based heavily on our own personal experiences with them. If we owned a player and they frustrated us by blanking, we may well view that player as a ‘troll’. Since personal experience is usually a more powerful influence on our beliefs than objective data, we might be reluctant to ever own that player again, even if the stats suggest that they are a good asset and that we were just unfortunate at the time.
Of course, this works both ways and we might put undue faith in players who we did happen to own in their better moments. It’s for this exact reason that I have to often physically restrain myself from transferring in Aston Villa’s Danny Ings (£6.4m) because, if Ings actually scored in general at the level that he has somehow managed to score when I’ve owned him in FPL, he’d be talked about alongside the like of Lionel Messi and Gerd Muller. I think most of us have one or two of these ‘favourites’ for whom our soft spots aren’t quite accurate reflections of reality.
Finally, we have to factor in the possibility that, sometimes, we jump on players who we were simply wrong to put our faith in in the first place. Lots of players can go on a run of scoring points and it’s up to us to determine whether or not this is sustainable. If we transfer in a player who is somehow finishing every chance they take, for example, there’s a good chance that their run won’t continue and we’ll be disappointed. It’s unfair to label these players ‘trolls’ when, in reality, we’ve mostly trolled ourselves.
No, it’s their fault
Certain players are, however, objectively more prone to troll-like behaviour, though this still doesn’t mean they’re necessarily bad FPL assets.
A key characteristic of FPL trolls is a tendency to score in an inconsistent or erratic manner and there is a strong likelihood that they also play in a team with a high number of fixtures, various alternative options in their squad and a tendency to rotate.
If you want to get points from these types of players, you almost have no option but to keep them in your team and persist with them through the blanks and the benchings until they do eventually score. Then you have to hope that, when they do come, those scores will be worth your patience.
Sometimes they are. A player who scores a huge haul every few Gameweeks but blanks in the others is often as good, in pure point-scoring terms, as a player who consistently racks up smaller scores more regularly.
It really comes down to what you are willing to stomach and, if you prefer a greater level of consistency in your squad, you’re probably better off avoiding players with these particular characteristics.
Because our personal experiences are hugely influential on the way we perceive things, we are prone to judging FPL players disproportionately based on our own histories with them. Consequently, we tend to feel trolled by, or sometimes overly enamoured with, certain players based on whether we owned them in their worst or best moments.
Either perspective is probably somewhat divorced from objective reality and, therefore, allowing it to guide our FPL decisions can backfire in all sorts of negative ways. As always, it’s a good idea to sense-check our gut decisions against a more impartial data source wherever possible.
That said, it’s not all in our heads and some players genuinely do demonstrate troll-like behaviour, especially those who tend to score erratically or in short, unsustainable bursts. We may need to demonstrate greater patience in order to get the best out of the former and greater rigour in our analysis if we want to spot, and perhaps avoid, the latter.