Being a web site focused primarily on fantasy games, we don't tend to do a lot of interviews. Who would we interview? a key data analyst at Opta to ask him why a particular play was or wasn't considered a Save or a Successful Cross? Occasionally though, the opportunity arises to interview someone who can give us some interesting insight into the Premier League, playing the game at the highest levels for real, and the perception of fantasy soccer among players and the media. We recently had the opportunity to talk to former Wimbledon, Newcastle, and England player Warren Barton who is currently the President and Manager of the San Diego Flash Soccer Club as well as being the Lead Analyst (or pundit depending on which side of the Atlantic you're from) on Fox Soccer Channel's Fox Soccer MatchDay, Goals on Sunday, and UEFA Champions League telecasts here in the States.
Mr. Barton was gracious to talk with us about a range of topics starting with his opinions about and experiences with fantasy soccer and moving on to life in the US and his feelings about the two clubs that he has the most affection for in today's Premier League (we'll leave you hanging as to the second one so you read the entire post):
Warren Barton On Fantasy EPL
Never Manage Alone - When did you first become aware of fantasy Premier League games?
Warren Barton - Somewhere in the mid- to late-90s fantasy Premier League games started popping up where you could transfer players in and out and get points for goals and wins and clean sheets.
NMA - What do you think of fantasy games as part of the supporter experience? Do you see them as a net negative or positive?
WB - I think they're great for fans. It makes fans think about which defenders will keep a clean sheet and who will get assists instead of just focusing on the goal scorers. I think fantasy sports are great for the game.
NMA - As part of your studio show on Fox Soccer Channel, you and the other on-air personalities occasionally talk about your fantasy picks and how you're performing against each other in the (sort of) private Fox League, how seriously do you guys take the competition within the office?
WB - Your reputation is on the line so you want to do well. It is competitive but with some fun.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Warren was 5th at the time of the interview late last week and jumped up to 3rd in the Fox Insider's league on the strength of a strong showing this past weekend. We'd love to take credit here at the blog but he didn't ask us our opinion. Not a shock though that a attacking minded Newcastle outside defender - Ryan Taylor - was at the root of his jump]
NMA - Within the Fox league that you show scores for on the Fox Soccer Website, who is the most into it?
WB - [Former US National Team Forward] Eric [Wynalda] is the biggest talker, I don't even have to think twice about that one. When one of his players scores, everyone knows about it. When they don't, he's pretty quiet.
NMA - How do you go about picking your team from week-to-week? What do you look at first? Form, match-ups, overall quality of the players?
WB - I go against my nature [as a defender] and look to goal-scorers because I know who can defend. Also, I look to see who is fit and who will play. Someone like Wayne Rooney is going to be out there 90% of the time or more compared to others who may be injured or rotated.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: It may not have the complexity of The Rules, but we should never get too far away from the basics - especially if, like Warren, you have some serious insight into where some of your points are going to come from.]
NMA - What sort of fantasy player would you have been? Who would you compare yourself to in today's game?
WB - I think I would have been very consistent. As a fullback I got a lot of assists. Unlike guys like Lee Dixon or someone like that, we went forward a lot [at Newcastle]. Patrice Evra is a good comparison - he gets forward.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: We can only assume that he means the good Patrice Evra from his prime (as recently as two seasons ago) and not Zombie Patrice Evra who has been living off of his reputation this season and doing very little of use for either fantasy managers or his real life manager.]
Warren Barton on Coming to America (his journey, not the great Eddie Murphy movie)
NMA - What spurred your decision to move to the States?
WB - I've been coming here for the last 16 or 17 years...on vacations and for soccer camps for adidas. I had the opportunity to come to a lot of different cities - Cincinnati, Seattle, New York, LA and others. It has always been on my mind. I love the positive spirit. I just love the upbeat spirit of Americans and, of course, the weather here in Southern California is great.
NMA - Now that you have been here for a while, what do you think of the soccer scene here in the States? Fan knowledge of and passion for the game:
WB - I think it's huge and Fox [Soccer Channel] has been at the center of it. The support even in 2000 when I came over with Newcastle there were big crowds even then in DC and Columbus. The crowds are enthusiastic and positive. It reminds me of the UK in the mid-90s when the Premier League was really taking off. Even the Fox NFL guys - Michael Strahan and Howie Long - are asking about what games are on. We're right next to the Fox NFL studios and they ask about it. They really know the teams at this point.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: This was the biggest surprise for me during the course of the interview. I know that there are pockets of the mainstream sports media - Bob Ley and others on ESPN and many athletes like Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, and Bill Walton that love the game but for people familiar with the average American's seeming propensity to feel like they have to choose either our football or the world's football, hearing that guys like NFL men's men like Howie Long and Michael Strahan have taken up an interest was both surprising and great to hear.]
NMA - You held a post with the LA Galaxy briefly, given your insider's view and your position as a pundit at Fox you've seen MLS from a few angles, what is your take on the evolution of the league?
WB - The key is trying to combine the skill factor with the athletic ability and effort that have always been there. I'd love to see more academy players given a chance. Yes, college and education are important and have a place [in the development of US soccer players] but I'd like to see more academy players come through. There are players like Wayne Rooney who would never have gone to college if that was an important part of development in the UK and those players don't have as much of a chance here. You can get players from both places not just through college.
NMA - You currently hold a few positions related to the game here in the US, most people probably know you as a pundit on Fox Soccer Channel but you're also the manager of the San Diego Flash in the NPSL and have owned your own business in the past, where do you see your future in the game? Management and coaching? On TV? As an entrepreneur?
WB - I'd like to be at the forefront [of the evolution of the game in the States] as a lead analyst at Fox but I also came from a team at Wimbledon where we told we weren't good enough so I'd like to see kids in California and specifically San Diego get a chance. [In my role with the Flash] It is a goal to make San Diego a breeding ground for young talent to go off to MLS or higher. [I'd also like to] take Fox forward now that we have the Premier League, the Champions League, and...the World Cup in 2018 and 2022.
Warren Barton on the Premier League 2011/2012
NMA - You grew up in Islington in the same neighborhood as Highbury, did you support Arsenal as a youngster?
WB - I was an Arsenal fan growing up as were my Dad and brother. I get a lot of comments and criticism from Arsenal fans as a result of what I say about them on the air but with them, I'm honest. Some clubs I try to look at the positive side but Arsenal are in my heart so I have a lot to say about them when a player leaves or they play poorly. My brother still goes to the games and one of my sons is an Arsenal fan so I try to talk honestly about them.
NMA - You most famously suited up for Newcastle during your playing days, what is your opinion of their fast start this season and their team overall? What is your prediction for their position in the table at the end of the season?
WB - They remind me of the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Green Bay Packers [of the NFL here in the States]- the club is the lifeblood of that city. The supporters and the entire city have been suffering for a number of years [through poor play, relegation, and the club's financial issues] and it is great to see the club doing well and the excitement back in that city.
I would love to see them finish in the Top 8 - I think Arsenal and Liverpool will have their runs and Spurs are going to be there so a Top 8 finish is realistic. I think Alan Pardue and Mike Ashley would bite your hand off if you offered that to them right now.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: For those who live in or have the chance to visit Southern California, you can see Warren and the rest of the San Diego Flash for a screening of Rise and Shine The Jay DeMerit Story at the Ultra Star Mission Valley on November 10th at 7:30 PM.]