Our website, Tackle.ro, was born out of a shared obsession for Premier League football and playing Fantasy Premier League. That was 2 years ago and as time passed, a community of fellow fantasy managers was formed in Romania, hundreds of miles away from the beautiful game played in England.
Fast forward to August 2018, after the dust had settled on GW1. On top of the overall FPL league stood a man named Alex Băleanu, with 137 points. His name sounded Romanian, so I immediately wanted to „recruit” him for our community. Lucky for me, we found him and he accepted our proposal for an interview. Alex Băleanu is a 21 year old Arsenal fan, who is based in London. His mother is from Sierra Leone, but his name sounds Romanian because his father was born in Ploiești, 40 miles North of Bucharest, Romanian’s capital city.
Here is my talk with Alex Băleanu, overall Fantasy Premier League leader after GW1 of the 2018/2019 season. A Romanian translation is available here.
Tackle: Hello, Alex! Thanks for taking the time to chat! Let’s start with the basics, shall we? Is it Alex Baleanu or Băleanu?
Alex Băleanu: Hi! It’s the one with the accent, but I have never actually put it there with the English spelling, I didn’t even know I had it in my name until a couple of years ago…
T: Do you or your dad follow or support a team from Romania?
AB: I don’t think he follows football back in Romania that closely, but he has told us of great Romanian players in the past such as Hagi and Nicolae Dobrin. I have played with Hagi on the FIFA games with the Classic XI team before, and in the game he is very good!
T: Alex, what team do you support?
AB: I support Arsenal since Henry.
T: And have been to the Emirates to see the Gunners?
AB: Many a time. My favorite game was probably at home to Leicester on the first game of the season last year when we won 4-3. I also got to see Giroud’s scorpion kick vs Crystal Palace in the stadium and I don’t think I will see a better goal live in my lifetime.
T: So, you play FPL… and doing a great job at it, apparently. How many years do you have on the game?
AB: I have technically had 4 seasons before this one, but only really took two of them seriously. I started playing during school because I saw all of my friends playing and, eventually, all I wanted to do was to beat them, that’s when I started taking it seriously.
T: What websites do you follow to research players and teams for Fantasy?
AB: I use Twitter mainly (btw, my handle is @kleanureeves), since there are a lot of good fantasy football accounts on there, with the one I use the most probably being FPL Stag. For preseason, I used Fantasy Football Scout and that’s how I had Ryan Fraser, for example, since I knew from that website that he was performing really well during preseason and would definitely start.
T: Great pick with Fraser for GW1. By the way, how did you decide to use Bench Boost so early in the season?
AB: I went a bit crazy, yes. I never get a lot of points from my Bench Boost, so I just decided to use it, as I knew 3-4 players would play and they had good fixtures.
T: Who’s your captain for GW2?
AB: I am conflicted between Aguero, Mendy and Salah. I think I’ll just follow the team news closely but you never know with Pep Guardiola and his rotation so I actually think Mendy is the safest choice. Salah is of course Salah, but Liverpool have never done too well away at Palace.
T: I see you don’t own Mendy…
AB: Made 2 transfers last night. FPL Price Change Predictor suggested that it was very likely that Mendy’s price would increase overnight, so I got him in.
T: 2 transfers already? You do have a lot of points to spare… Alex, you won GW1 with 137 points. Do you remember ever having a better GW?
AB: Once 2 years ago when it was a double gameweek and I triple captained Sanchez. If I remember correctly I think I ended up just shy of 200 points, and that was the year of my highest finish. So i scored more that week but obviously proportionally, this week was my best!
T: So, what do your mates, in your mini-league say about your accomplishment?
AB: They are all very happy for me. I was with a lot of them watching the Arsenal Man City game and when Bernardo Silva scored, we were all already joking that I might be top. But then the it became less and less of a joke as the day grew on, and we were looking through the leader boards and we couldn’t find anyone with a higher score. And eventually when it came up with me as number one, there was a lot of screaming and celebrating.
T: Screaming sounds familiar, it’s the FPL way! I was with my mates at the pub in downtown Bucharest and it was chaotic cheering for Mendy, Aguero and Aubameyang. By the way: Aubameyang or Lacazette, who do you fancy to bring more goals for the Gunners this term?
AB: I think Auba will ultimately end up scoring more goals, but Lacazette at 9.5 is probably the most valuable of the two because he is 1.5 cheaper. But we’ll have to wait and see what Emery does with the formation, Auba being pushed out left (which I think he should do) would be an even greater push toward Lacazette for me.
T: Year after year, I try to better my last season (which I failed only once) and I get excited to be in the top 50.000 simply because there are usually 5M players and top 50.000 means Top 1%. Besides winning against your mates, do you have another goal?
AB: I think if I’m being realistic, it should be top 1%. I was in the top 10k for a while in the 16/17 season, but Kane scored 7 in the last 2 games and I didn’t have him, which left me just outside of the top 100k, which was sad. But I’ve got the best start possible this year so we shall see!
T: Speaking of good starts, is Salah worth the 13M? Or is Kane worth the 12.5?
AB: Salah is worth his price tag, simply because to me it seems far too dangerous not to have him, at least at the beginning anyway, since half of the owners do. The reason I didn’t do so well last year is because I didn’t get him in my team for the longest time, so I’ve learnt my lesson. Kane is different. I never get him in August since it is well documented he never does well at the start of the season, but eventually he puts in a string of performances together and when he starts to get on a run, that’ s when I get him in.
T: Who’s your bet for the dark-horse of this season’s FPL?
AB: I think a cheap midfielder is vital since Salah is 13 mill. I have moved Ryan Fraser into my starting eleven and although I think Bournemouth won’t finish high up the table, their attacking style of football means I don’t think there are many better options for the value you get for him. I also think Kante might actually be a steal at 5! I would’ve laughed at anyone who had him in their team before GW1 but it does seem like Sarri is playing him further up the pitch than usual this season.
T: If you were to give only one piece of advice to a new FPL player, what would it be?
AB: I’d say at the end of the day its your team. Do your research and see what experts say but if you have a hunch that a player will do well, pick them! And also don’t let the team that you support interfere with your FPL. Have had a few too many Arsenal players over the years, but have learnt my lesson now.
T: Alex, final question: who’s winning the Premier League this season?
AB: Man City. Liverpool will push them closer than last year, but the reality is that they are too good. They have spent so much money, theyy have one of the best managers in the world, and so much depth to their squad! I feel they could lose any player in their squad bar De Bruyne and still walk to the Premier League title. But I do hope its closer than last year. One thing’s for certain though, Arsenal have no chance!
Read the Romanian translation of the interview above here and join our classic FPL mini-league using this code: 18932-847856.
Thank you to the amazingly talented Roman Cenușă for the illustration featured in this article. Find his work here.