Not the Face of the Franchise — for a third consecutive week — is presenting a Team of the Year before the season has begun.

Is it horrendously presumptive ?  Is it an unmistakable case of deceased equine brutality ?  

Yes … it’s also a bit of fun …

This week we have turned our attention to the English Premier League (which when abbreviated to the EPL, one has to expect, will be much to the chagrin of our theoretical UK-based readership).

It is the same old (tired) format.  A team constructed of those the site acknowledges as ‘our-type-of-lads’ mashed into a wholly unworkable and tactically preposterous formation.

The EPL kicks off this weekend.  This group of eleven doesn't have to play together this year.  That is reassuring as they would be almost certainly relegated.  But for now — until the planned ‘how-is-that-working-out’ NTFeature — we can simply call them :

The ntfof.com EPL Team of 2017/18



Goalkeeper

1. Heurelho Gomes

(Watford)

Dissenting and disapproving voices can be heard far and wide. The modern game is rubbish. Soccer has changed.  It is primarily a business.  Players are nothing more than commodities. 

This backdrop threatens to make bland the beautiful game. There are few more comforting thoughts to a nostalgic soccer fan than the fact there a still goalkeepers who can break the mold.   

Heurelho Gomes is one such keeper.

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He could be described as eccentric.  That is a suitable adjective because he is a famous, affluent professional.  If he was in any other career he might be the office ‘nut-job’.

His errant concentration, bizarre judgement and rash behavior has, over the years, led to the conceding of generally preventable goals.

But what make Gomes employable is that he is also capable of brilliance.  He is able to use his 6-foot-3 frame to great effect in one-on-one situations and is reasonably comfortable with crossed balls.

But where Gomes excels is in the moments he simply reacts.  The Brazilian shot-stopper is at his best when game-plans and tactical nuance have no bearing.  His reflex ability is simply stunning.  Gomes is far better when he operates on instinct.

There are more conventional goalkeepers.  They are more consistent.  More reliable.  If you were to remove the nervous ticks, the over-elaborate gesturing or the constant possibility of the calamitous you would have a much duller version of Gomes.

And who really wants that ? … if nothing else Heurelho Gomes is captivating to watch.


Right Back

2. Martin Kelly

(Crystal Palace)

In sports writing, as in life, it is typically unwise to rely on cliche and stereotype.  That said, cliches and stereotypes become such due to at least an element of truth.

Let Not the Face of the Franchise offer up a couple …

Liverpool are a club that demand and expect gloriously cultured soccer.  Crystal Palace are a rough-and-tumble outfit that grind out results.  Martin Kelly is a proper English defender.

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When Martin Kelly left Liverpool for Crystal Palace it was seen as a move that made sense.  He isn't a glamorous player.  He isn't a rampaging full-back with dynamic speed and artful trickery.

He is a solid, reliable and consistent defender who gives his all.  He has limitations but he is not held back by them.  He succeeds by determination and drive.

New Palace coach Frank De Boer is expected to attempt to usher in a new expansive style of soccer.  Martin Kelly can be part of that plan.  But if it becomes a messy fight for survival he is equally equipped to succeed.


Left Back

3. Leighton Baines

(Everton)

Every Sunday League or pub side has one.  The left-footed guy who is placed at fullback.  All the skill in the world — but lacking in either physical presence, natural fitness or tactical awareness. Or a combination of all of these short-comings.

But they have a tremendous left peg …

Not the Face of the Franchise really wants to believe this is how Leighton Baines began his football career.  This career that has saw him represent his country and play in the highest league in England.

It is probably a far more mundane journey.

But there is something really endearing about watching Baines fly down the wing and swing crosses into the box.  Or rattle free-kicks into the top corner with consistency.

He has unquestionably worked at his craft and spent hours working on his defensive skiil-set.  He is undoubtedly a supremely fit and professional footballer.

But it is just kinda fun to imagine he is out there sticking it to those that have stuck him at left-back all these years.


Center Back

4. Winston Reid

(West Ham United)

The New Zealander is a great athlete.  He has a reassuring level of talent at an important position within any team.  He is an impressive mix — he is both resolutely strong and a cultured ball-playing defender. 

But the prevailing reason Winston Reid features on this team is that, just below the surface, there is a snarling menace to his game.  He is not a thug.  But be under no illusions — the otherwise placid 6-foot-3 defender will not back down from any altercation.  There is a bite to his game.  It is unsurprising he has become a fan favorite in London’s East End.

Winston Reid has been routinely linked to bigger clubs, perhaps most notably Arsenal.  He is seen as someone capable of playing at the very highest level.  In addition to the requisite talent Reid brings an intensity that seems to drive his play.  The concern is, of course, that the strong will and fierce competitor may also spill over into realms of the uncontrolled.  

Until any such move is finalized Winston Reid will continue to provide a steely spine to the West Ham team.


Center Back

5. Jonny Evans

(West Bromwich Albion)

A common thread that weaves through the players selected in this team is a significant number have been deemed surplus to requirements at bigger clubs.  The average soccer fan may yearn for the superstar packed line-up.  We want our teams full of household names.

It is fair to say Not the Face of the Franchise does not.

It could be suggested Sir Alex Ferguson shared some of that sentiment.  There was no small amount of superstars in his Manchester United sides over the years but there always seemed a element of the reliable professional bolstering his squad.

Jonny Evans is a good, honest defender.  He has a wealth of experience and it was not surprising he was handed the captain’s armband at West Brom.

In many ways he is the quintessential ntfof.com player.


Center Midfield

6. Michael Carrick

(Manchester United)

Another ntfof.com cop out !!!  In a strikingly similar move used in it's NFL equivalent piece published last week Not the Face of the Franchise has chosen to link to another archived piece rather than write new content.

Since the original piece Michael Carrick has been named club captain at Manchester United.  This only underlines his professionalism and the high regard in which he is held.  

He is a year older.  He plays an even more reduced role.  He is still under-valued.


Right Winger

7. Marc Albrighton

(Leicester City)

The term ‘throw-back’ gets bandied about in lazy soccer writing.

Marc Albrighton is a throw-back player.  He is a wiry winger who has a trick.  He can beat a man. He excites a crowd.

He nearly fits the profile of the aforementioned ‘let-go-from-bigger-club’ player but for a distinctive wrinkle.  Albrighton broke into first team contention at Aston Villa as a twenty year old before gradually fading from relevance.  He was eventually released.

He then signed for Leicester City.  They had just gained promotion to the Premier League.  The following season they managed to win the league. Last season Aston Vila managed to get themselves relegated.

Marc Albrighton seems to have landed on his feet.


Center Midfield

8. Joe Allen

(Stoke City)

Another ‘big club’ cast-off.  Liverpool's loss is Stoke City's gain.  The Welsh international does the ‘easy’ stuff well. He passes well.  He is a tremendously skilled player who is genuinely enjoyable to watch.  

Allen has a natural enthusiasm and is strong in the tackle.  

He has also grown out his hair and developed a Pirlo-esque beard.  This decision was not a dominant factor in his selection.  That said, it certainly did not harm his case for inclusion on this team.


Center Forward

9. Josh King

(Bournemouth)

Not the Face of the Franchise loves a target man.  A man mountain who dominates in the air.  When looking through the EPL for an adequate behemoth we drew a blank.  It is clearly not in vogue.

Josh King is not a traditional target man.

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He does pretty much everything exceptionally well.

He is a consistent goal threat.  Extremely agile.  Lightning quick.  Solid in the air.  Tremendous first touch.  Excellent finisher.  Creative.  Dynamic.

The EPL ntfof.com Team of 2017/18 will be competently spearheaded by Josh King.  We may mourn the demise of the traditional target man.  Bournemouth seem pretty happy with their alternative.


Attacking Midfielder

10. Jon Walters

(Burnley)

It is difficult to avoid becoming patronizing when discussing Burnley.

They are a really nice provincial club who are trying to play football the right way.  They are a club with a rich history who are punching above their weight.

See ?

Not the Face of the Franchise was simply giddy when they acquired Jon Walters.  It just seemed to make sense.  Walters is a tough-as-nails, fierce competitor who doesn't lack skill.  He has plenty of skill.  But it is dwarfed by a contagious and relentless will to win.

Walters is the type of player you know would be out there playing if there was no financial reward.  He would be launching himself around local playing fields had he not risen to the pro level.

Jon Walters is ntfof.com royalty.  Albeit a very working-class king.  


Left Winger

11. Rajiv van La Parra

(Huddersfield Town)

It is rare for ntfof.com to fall for tricks and step-overs.  It is not usually something we like to hold up as commendable.

Rajiv van La Parra is also fond of neon footwear.  His hair is routinely peroxide blonde.

He is not a typical ntfof.com player.

He is a walking YouTube-generation-highlight-reel.

But van La Perra has been selected to this team because he matches production with his skill.  He has a end result.  He isn’t show-boating as much as trying optimize his ability to effect games. He is direct.  He is powerful.

He is just fun to watch.

As a creative catalyst for newly promoted Huddersfield he may face a challenge to remain on the field.  He may be sacrificed for a safer option.

He is the fun player on the little team that has a big task ahead.

When we look at him through this prism maybe he is entirely suitable for ntfof.com.


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