Indonesia’s Fantasy Premier League obsession

Scott McIntyre Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre speaks to the Indonesian government worker who so nearly took the top prize in the widely-played FPL.

It’s the game played by almost six million people across the world and last week a 33-year-old Indonesian tax employee came agonisingly close to winning the entire Fantasy Premier League (FPL).

Heading into the final round of matches, Mohamad Faisal Idris sat second in the global game that had exactly 5,910,135 players but watched as a couple of his more expensive options, led by David De Gea, Marcos Alonso and Raheem Sterling, let him down as he slipped to finish fifth.

Hardly a shabby finish though and that was easily the most impressive showing by the tens of thousands that play the game in Southeast Asia; although there were another half a dozen Indonesians that also finished in the top 500 of the wildly popular game.

Just how though did a government worker from Tangerang, on the outskirts of Jakarta, managed to outwit close to six million other rapid football fans – most of whom are in a far more accommodating time zone to watch the matches?

FOX Sports Asia this week spoke to Faisal, who became something of a regional and international celebrity as the finish line approached. The 33-year-old admitted that nerves almost got the better of him heading into the decisive final round of matches.

“Of course I was nervous!

“There was real pressure because many people starting supporting me on Twitter and many who said they really wanted an Indonesian to be able to win the Fantasy Premier League Trophy and I felt as though I was actually playing in the World Cup!”

Whilst his job as a data administrator perhaps lends him the analytical skills to be able to separate head from heart, Faisal – who doesn’t support any particular club in the league – admitted that he also spends at least five hours a week preparing his strategy over which transfers to make, who to captain and the other elements that go into doing well in the game known as the FPL.

In a boost for those looking for a leg-up on their competition in the coming season, Faisal was happy to share some of the secrets of his success. He chalked up his impressive showing on a smart transfer policy and using the game’s ‘chips’ (a handful of one-off options that allow you unlimited transfers for one week, or to get triple points for your captain and so on) wisely.

“Firstly the advice I have is to be patient and wait for the right time to use your chips especially on double gameweeks (those weeks where teams play more than once) and when making player transfers you have to consider doing them either right at the start of the week before prices rise or right at the end when you have more information available (as to who will likely start or not).

“Then you should never give up and realise that it’s easy to climb up the rankings where you can make up 100 points in even four or five weeks.”

That was certainly the case for Faisal who opened with an overall rank of 66,000 before falling all the way to 750,000 after the eighth round of matches before starting a steady climb up the table.

Midway through the season he’d reached the top 1,000 and was never outside of the top 100 for the final ten rounds of matches. He noted that the hours of work he put into the game finally paid off this year.

“This is my fifth year of playing the game and I’ve improved my overall rank every year but this season I spent a lot of time focusing on improving my squad value and I read many articles about FPL to get updates, analyse statistics and find out what other people were thinking.

“Sometimes it’s good to choose differentials (players that only a small number of teams are selecting) such as how I did with making Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang my captain in the second last week but other times if I feel the chances of success are small I prefer to follow what other people are doing to cover their points.”

When he’s not pouring over numbers and prices in the FPL, Faisal is also a passionate fan of the local game in Indonesia and said he’s already looking forward to the mouth-watering clash between his national team and their regional rivals, Thailand, in the AFF Suzuki Cup later this year.

He also feels that some of the leading regional and domestic tournaments would be prime avenues for local versions of the fantasy game.

“I think fantasy games can work in Asian domestic leagues or national team competitions like the Suzuki Cup but I don’t think it will work in Asian club competition because of the limitations of information we can get about teams, players, history and, crucially, statistics.”

Before people can start plotting how to beat a fantasy guru such as Faisal in any potential Southeast Asian tournaments, he’s already turned his attention to the next challenge and that’s dominating in the World Cup fantasy game.

For those about to enter that game, one of the world’s best fantasy players has two crucial names that should be firmly on your radar – Thomas Mueller and Kylian Mbappe. Neither of whom play in the EPL, but they seem like sound choices indeed.