The Last Word: A great...

First, a disclaimer.

What you are about to read did NOT have a significantly adverse effect on (a) my job, (b) my family, or (c) my glorious five-week holiday in beautiful North Otago.

Was my sanity occasionally in doubt? Probably. Was it effectively a waste of time? Oh, goodness yes.

Cast your minds back a few months, when The Last Word reported on a project called the 2012 Re-Distribution Draft. Five of us drafted rugby franchises from scratch, fed the details into an Xbox and simulated a Super season. (The Highlanders won - woohoo!)This is part two, herewith to be known simply as Big Draft. Four months big.

Take a bunch of football fans, allocate them English Premier League teams to manage, hold an 11-round draft including players from ANY league in the world, update the squads on Fifa 12, and press play.

The project enlisted Otago Daily Times participants: sports editor Hayden Meikle (his beloved Liverpool and Newcastle), rugby writer Steve Hepburn (Chelsea and West Ham), sports reporter Adrian Seconi (Aston Villa and Wigan), online editor Sean Flaherty (Manchester United and QPR), arts reporter Nigel Benson (Arsenal and West Brom) and sub-editor Tony Love (Stoke).

There was a teacher (Al Banks, controlling Manchester City and Norwich), a classically tragic Spurs fan (Kelly Lindsay, Spurs), a bloke on the other side of the world (Kieron Flaherty, Everton), an academic (Rob Stewart, Reading), a couple of Twitter contacts (Ferg Campbell, Sunderland, and Paul Le Comte, Fulham) and even an actual football player (Patrick Fleming, Swansea and Southampton)....

and glorious . . .

And so, Big Draft started.

A random draw determined the draft order for the first round, and we went in ''snake'' fashion thereafter. It took about 10 days, and was mainly conducted via email, with many of us using the handy SoFifa website for reference.

The first two picks were predictable. Manchester City took Lionel Messi, and Arsenal took Cristiano Ronaldo.

Andres Iniesta (Liverpool), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United) and Sergio Aguero (Reading) were the next to go.

Surprisingly high picks were Marouane Fellaini (sixth, to Fulham) and Manuel Neuer (10th, to Wigan). David Silva (second round), Mesut Ozil (third), Steven Gerrard (fourth), Mario Gotze (sixth) and Demba Ba (10th) fell further than I expected.

The commissioner (that would be me) encouraged the managers to take the project seriously (no, seriously) and to try to select an ACTUAL team.

Nigel, the Gooner, and Kelly, the Tottenham fan, picked mainly on club loyalty. Adrian was christened ''Robodraft'' for using in-game ratings as his sole draft tool. And Paul, well, no-one was quite sure what Paul was thinking. Though one selection proved to be inspired, as you will see later.

Here are the teams we drafted.

-Arsenal (3-5-2): Szczesny, Vermaelen, Jones, Mertesacker, Ronaldo, Cazorla, Kagawa, Moura, Gervinho, Llorente, Podolski.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Reina, Ramos, Pepe, Anyukov, Criscito, van der Vaart, Farfan, Bastos, Martinez, Eto'o, Di Natale.

Chelsea (4-4-2): Howard, Ferdinand, Alex, Dawson, Good, Giggs, Scholes, Lennon, Milner, van Persie, Donovan.

Everton (4-3-3): Weidenfeller, Maicon, P Cannavaro, G Cahill, Modric, M'bia, Pienaar, Torje, Neymar, Pato, Ba.

Fulham (4-3-2-1): Gomes, De Rossi, Nelsen, Distin, Baines, Kalou, Beckham, Wright-Phillips, Rojas, Fellaini, Jelavic.

Liverpool (3-4-3): Stekelenburg, Puyol, Agger, Skrtel, Muller, Iniesta, Ozil, Schurrle, Higuain, Pazzini, Suarez.

Manchester City (4-3-3): Cesar, Kompany, Richards, Riise, Samba, Moutinho, Ben Arfa, Gaitan, Messi, Cavani, Dzeko.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Lindegaard, Chiellini, Lescott, J Boateng, Rafael, Kaka, Young, Walcott, Khedira, Rooney, Balotelli.

Newcastle United (4-1-3-2): Cech, Abate, Vidic, Badstuber, Enrique, Alonso, Ribery, Gotze, Afellay, Gomez, Lavezzi.

Norwich City (3-5-2): Vorm, Jagielka, Clichy, Zabaleta, D Silva, Busquets, Pirlo, Ramires, Garcia, Tevez, Berbatov.

QPR (4-4-2): De Gea, T Silva, Barzagli, Kolarov, Smalling, Lampard, KP Boateng, Barton, Valencia, Ibrahimovic, Hernandez.

Reading (4-2-3-1): Valdes, Alvez, Ivanovic, Luiz, Marcelo, Essien, Parker, Reus, Hamsik, Mata, Aguero.

Southampton (4-4-2): Casillas, Lahm, Sakho, Piszczek, Mascherano, Gargano, Wilshere, Isla, Muniain, Pastore, Falcao.

Stoke City (4-4-2): Buffon, Terry, Evra, K Toure, J Pereira, Nasri, Cambiasso, Navas, Nene, Villa, Rossi.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Akinfeev, Abidal, Lucio, Mexes, Johnson, Robben, Xavi, Schweinsteiger, Nani, Drogba, Pizarro.

Swansea (5-4-1): Hart, Sagna, Coentrao, Hummels, A Pereira, Koscielny, Y Toure, Rodriguez, Danny, Bender, Lewandowski.

Tottenham (4-4-2): Lloris, Walker, Vertonghen, Kaboul, Assou-Ekotto, Bale, Dembele, Di Maria, Montolivo, Damiao, Adebayor.

West Brom (3-5-2): Sirigu, van der Wiel, Subotic, Rami, Hazard, Arteta, Allen, M'vila, de Jong, Torres, Huntelaar.

West Ham (4-4-2): Mandanda, Cole, Samuel, King, Lichtsteiner, Sneijder, Fabregas, Song, Duff, Hulk, Forlan.

Wigan (4-4-2): Neuer, Arbeloa, Pique, Nesta, Alba, Gerrard, Sanchez, Pedro, Vidal, Benzema, Soldado.

... waste ...

The draft and editing processes were the long and laborious bits.

The actual simulation - basically letting the Xbox game do all the work - could have taken five minutes. Instead, we decided to conduct the season gradually, a game here and a game there, building the excitement and anticipation.

For a while, things went really well.

The early leader was Aston Villa, which started the season with five straight wins. Then it slumped and Stoke went top. Villa regained the lead. Villa shared the lead with Man United for five weeks. Stoke went top again.

Then, well, things got a little frustrating. Some of us were decimated by serious injuries, even though I'd turned the injuries off. They are a part of actual football, sure, but for the purposes of this fantasy exercise, they were most unwelcome.

Eleven rounds of a draft took long enough, so we didn't choose any of our own reserves. And Fifa 12 goes overboard with goals scored by reserves. A 3-0 win somehow didn't mean as much when Clifford, Hill and Delap were the scorers.

Most disappointingly, the early-season lead-changing was eventually replaced by a virtual three-horse challenge for the title. And while, gloriously, one of those teams was my Liverpool, the others were Arsenal and Man United. I know.

At least the title was still alive going into the final week, after which these were the final standings:Man United 79, Arsenal 75, Liverpool 74, Stoke 66, Aston Villa 59, Newcastle 59, Man City 54, Everton 54, Wigan 53, Sunderland 53, Reading 52, Chelsea 51, Southampton 49, Tottenham 48, West Ham 44, QPR 40, West Brom 39, Norwich 39, Swansea 34, Fulham 21.

The top scorers were Llorente (Arsenal) 22, Balotelli (Man United) and Suarez (Liverpool) 18, Soldado (Wigan) 17, Eto'o (Aston Villa) 16 and Villa (Stoke) 15.

I graciously allowed winning manager Sean Flaherty to make a celebratory speech, and he replied: ''It's just nice to see a plucky little club from Manchester win something.''

Were the rest of us slightly sickened that, after all those weeks and months, the emails and the analysis and the editing and the simulation, Manchester United was the champion?Take a guess. ... of timeBut the fun didn't end there.

Using the same teams, I simulated the two domestic trophies and two European trophies. The results.

-FA Cup final: Newcastle (my team!) beat Arsenal 3-1.

League Cup final: Newcastle (a cup double!) beat Reading 2-1.

Europa League: Everton beat Newcastle (denied a cup treble!) 2-1.

Champions League: Stoke was the only English club to reach the quarterfinals.

That's it. Done. No more fantasy drafts till, er, next year. Cricket.

Post script: There was much mocking when Paul selected All Whites winger Marco Rojas for his Fulham team. But check out the following comparison, which I swear is genuine:Marco Rojas (Fulham): 36 games, seven goals, two assists.

Lionel Messi (Man City): 38 games, four goals, zero assists.

Name of the week

Uda Walawwe Mahim Bandaralage Chanaka Asanga Welegedara.

The Sri Lankan pace bowler is apparently the first test cricketer with six initials.

Birthday of the week

Jharal Yow Yeh is 23 today.

The rugby league player has one of the great names - out of Torres Strait Island, Vanuatu and China.

Sadly, his year was blighted by a horrific leg injury sustained while playing for the Broncos against the Rabbitohs in March.

Merry Christmas

Thanks for your support of, and contributions to, the Otago Daily Times sports department this year.

All the best for the festive season. See you in 2013.

-hayden.meikle@odt.co.nz