Behind every Fantasy Premier League champion is a Premier League hero, and for 2022/23 winner Ali Jahangirov from Azerbaijan, Newcastle United forward Callum Wilson (£7.3m) proved key in more ways than one during a thrilling run-in and dramatic final day.
Jahangirov, who was aiming to beat 11.4million other managers around the world, had topped the overall standings since Gameweek 33.
His team FPL Gunz had an 18-point lead heading into the final day, but any hopes of a relaxing evening watching the action unfold in a sports bar on the shores of the Caspian Sea were dashed as a late push from world No 2 Abdullah Amr took the race down to the wire.
“I was following the points live and it was really stressful, because right before the end I was in second place and I really thought that I’d lost it,” recounts Jahangirov.
Amr was sitting top with fewer than 30 minutes remaining, as his two transfers earned him 39 points.
Crucially, with Wilson left out of Newcastle's starting XI, Amr was set to benefit from Ethan Pinnock’s (£4.4m) promotion from his bench. Brentford had kept Manchester City at bay, giving Pinnock important clean-sheet points.
“With not much time left, and your assets are subbed off, and your punts not really working out … it was a really stressful evening I should say,” says Jahangirov.
Thankfully for him, Eddie Howe decided to bring on Wilson in the 69th minute, blocking Pinnock from being subbed on for Amr’s team AZZURRI, which proved decisive.
Never has a one-point cameo appearance been more loudly cheered. And Jahangirov's appreciation for Wilson extended well beyond his late appearance in Gameweek 38.
“Early in the season he delivered well for me," he says. "For the Double Gameweek 36 I captained him [to get 48 points], which really pushed me towards my goal. Because it's one thing that you play safe, and another thing to take risks. And when those risks are paying off, it’s just really, really satisfying.”
Not a one-off
It’s tempting to think that winning Fantasy is just down to luck, but Jahangirov is no one-hit wonder, having achieved a remarkable rank of 215th overall the previous season.
Out of the former winners, only 2018/19 Fantasy champion Adam Levy can boast a better second-best finish, having come 90th last year.
Jahangirov is one of just under 4,000 Fantasy managers from Azerbaijan, a country where the Premier League enjoys widespread popularity.
"A lot of my friends are Chelsea fans. And we're following it every week, we're watching games and we'll support our teams. We even travelled to England to watch games, so it's really huge and football overall is huge in Azerbaijan.
"It's the favourite sport here. We might not be that good but hopefully we'll get better!”
Speaking of his love for FPL, Jahangirov explained: “It's just fun. It's the only game out there that is associated with the real-time results, real-time events and your decisions, your plans. Your management style really is affected by those real-time events.”
Also in this series
Part 2: FPL champion: The one thing I changed to win title
Part 3: FPL champion's tips: Be flexible with your Gameweek 1 squad
Part 4: FPL champion's tips: Play first Wildcard late
Part 5: FPL champion's tips: Getting the most from budget enablers
Part 6: FPL champion’s tips: Differential captains can pay off
Part 7: FPL champion’s tips: Limit hits to Blanks and Double Gameweeks