Fantasy football, that social network born before social networks. Word of its inventor from “Il Fatto Quotidiano”

A success that for 28 years has known no crisis. The year was 1988, the European Championship in Germany was at the gates and Riccardo Albini invented the game at the “Goccia d’Oro” bar in Milan that still keeps millions of fantasy coaches glued to (or argues). “I have not become a millionaire, but I am happy to have contributed to the knowledge of the national sport beyond the news of the big teams”. And at the he tells some tricks for winning training“.

It all started in a bar in the center of Milan, where Riccardo Albini spent his lunch break in the late Eighties. Today the large room in via Ausonio, behind the San Vittore prison, has become a manicure and pedicure shop. But if you are passionate Inter fans and have happened to rejoice at a goal from Paulo Dybala, when you pass there, stop for a moment. Because on one of those tables that no longer exist, a game was born that does exist. And he realized the dream of a country where there are millions of coaches: to give them a team to manage. June 1988, the European Championships are upon us, Albini believes the time has come to test Fantasy Football, elaborated in the spare time during the previous three years. Ever since, during a video game fair in Chicago, he came across a book on the rules of a fantasy game related to American football. With him at the tables of the “Goccia d’oro” bar there are seven friends, more or less the same ones with whom he still shares his fantalega today. It is the first auction that you remember. They have a lot of fun. They then decide to meet before the start of the championship to replicate.

From a Milanese bar to a success that knows no crisis. Albini, when did Fantasy Football come out of those four walls?
Two years later. We thought of making a book in which we explained the rules of the game. It was called Serie A – Fantasy Football. It was 1990. 10,000 copies were printed and we sold a quarter. At the editorial level it was a bloodbath but the numbers speak for themselves: that year about 15 thousand people became fantasy coaches.

So when did the turning point come?
It was a progressive process. We went to the Gazzetta to ask if something could be done together, but there was no technology capable of supporting the game. In via Solferino, however, they began to have to manage a problem: they received hundreds of calls from angry fans because perhaps a player’s vote had been missed. In the meantime, as many of those who bought the book wrote or called us, we tried to sell it again. And slowly it imposed itself.

Until the agreement with the Gazzetta.
We tightened it in 1994. We managed to find a method and developed the “grand prix” version, while until then we only played in “head to head”. 70,000 teams participated. They thought it would be a success to have ten thousand. If we had included in the agreement an economic bonus for every team registered beyond that threshold, today I would be a millionaire.

But how? Haven’t you monetized?
Yes, but I have not become a millionaire. We collected with the book and with the sale of the brand to the Espresso Group.

When you conceived Fantasy Football did you think it could become so popular?
No, also because in the United States the version applied to American football was not. It was not born with the idea of ​​making money but to play. I figured it would have fun, since it revolved around football, but we didn’t have a business model just to be clear.

How similar is the Fantasy Football we know today to the one he developed in 1988?
The plant is practically identical. I am proud of those rules. Any fantasy of that period did not involve direct confrontations.

How many championships have you won?
Five in 28 seasons. I lost one for a stupid thing.

Tell us about it …
I had Shevchenko. I bought it as soon as I arrived, at 45. It made me win two league titles in a row. The third year I could have confirmed it. Instead, I decided to cut him because he hadn’t played very well the previous season and so I was hoping to buy him back for a lower amount. Instead the day before the auction he scored a double and his price shot up.

His ideal training?
I always play 3-5-2. With good midfielders you can earn those two or three points that make the difference.

And the 3-4-3 so popular among fantasy coaches?
In our league it has long been banned. I find that he places too much weight on attacks and attacking midfielders. A good coach, on the other hand, must know how to balance his choices. And then it homologates the formations: when it is allowed, everyone uses it.

The player who gave you the most satisfaction?
In addition to Shevchenko, I remember excellent years of Hamsik at the time of Mazzari and a splendid season of Cuadrado with the Lecce shirt.

The auction is the key moment of the game. Is there any ‘secret’?
We need to carry on what we have set ourselves in the previous week, to devote to study. It is essential not to get caught up in the “illuminations” of the moment, which in reality have a very specific name if they are successful: strokes of luck. And then woe to be fans: nothing more wrong than buying many players from your favorite team.

Albini, one last question: are you aware that you have sent some people to the stars and ruined thousands of Sundays for others?
I know well. But Fantasy Football has also served to increase the average knowledge of what happens in Serie A. Before many people only read the chronicles of the big teams, now you have to know even the small ones to understand how all the players play. There will certainly have been some friendships broken for a stolen player or a goal at the last minute, but many others are held up, perhaps at a distance, thanks to Fantasy Football. It represents an excellent excuse to meet every week and be together at least once a year. It is a social network born long before social networks.

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