Stranger Things Series 3: The scouting report no one asked for
Not since Barcelona's La Masia in the early 2000s has an academy produced such a promising crop of young players
So here we are: Hawkins Town are set to embark on their third season in the Netflix top flight after two strong campaigns that saw them solidify their position among Stranger Things elite sides.
The squad, for the most part, has remained intact since their breakthrough in 2016, which is testament to the philosophy of the club owned by the Duffer Brothers. They develop young talent, sure, but crucially, they keep hold of it too, even as the bigger club's vultures circle around their group of wonderkids, the threat of a more lucrative contract elsewhere never far away.
The only significant departures were Barb (absolutely fucking useless anyway, to be honest, just wasn't cut out for it at this level mentally) and Bob, who joined at the beginning of Town's second campaign before a season, and indeed, a career-ending injury struck (viciously mauled to death by a gang of Demodogs).
Whilst you hate to see any talented player go down like that, especially one who was such a vital dressing room presence, mentoring young Will like Paolo Maldini once did with a young, rambunctious Alexandre Pato, you just have to accept that it is one of those things. Football is a physical game and unfortunately, like an ACL tear or a leg break, these things happen. Being eaten alive by a pack of shadow demon dog things.
Unlike Maldini, Bob wasn't exactly a lithe, graceful defender, and that would ultimately prove his downfall as he failed to keep up with the younger, quicker and more agile players. He will be missed, but Hawkins Town must move on without him. Here are their key players heading into Season 3.
Dustin is, by this point, firmly a fan favourite, even if the switch from his famous Carles Puyol-esque locks into a Steve Harrington/Chris Waddle inspired mullet proves to be permanent.
Wise beyond his years (other than the brief obsession with Newt, which, whilst touching, was incredibly naive. It was quite clearly a fucking horrible mutant. From Day One. It was slimy and all sorts. It grew legs for christ sake) Dustin is a staple of the notorious 'LED' attacking trident consisting of himself and Lucas on the flanks with Eleven operating as a Francesco Totti under Luciano Spalletti style lone forward.
He's consistent, he gets up and down the flanks like a boy possessed - all that cardio work done via hill sprints on his BMX during preseason really does pay dividends whenever the season proper comes around - and his understanding of the game is superb, as demonstrated by his knowledge of the Mind Flayer in Season 2, an extremely rare tactical system developed in Uruguay in the late 1920s, which helped Town defeat the Upside Down Demogorgons in yet another exhilarating play-off final.
If he keeps developing even half as quickly as his lid, Dustin will be set for another standout season this year.
Like Juan Roman Riquelme, Will is plagued by visions. Whereas the great Argentine playmaker was plagued by visions of dinks and dummies, sumptuous through balls and one-two combinations deep in the opposition third, Will sees giant shadow monsters towering over buildings everywhere he goes. Yeah. It's not always easy being a pure No.10. Maybe this is what's been going on with Mesut Ozil recently too.
Remarkably, Will actually went out on loan to the Upside Down Demogorgons in his first season at the club but was quite visibly distressed and suffered from a devastating bout of homesickness that kept him out of action for much of the season. Still, if Jesus Navas can overcome it to win the Premier League, a World Cup, a European Championship and return home to captain his boyhood club Sevilla, there is hope for Will yet. Even if his communication skills need a whole load of work. Literally just stop being weird for one second and ask for the ball you little shit. DEMAND IT.
The problem, however, is that there are physical concerns to go along with his obvious timidity. He keeps coughing up slugs, for a start. That isn't usually the sign of a young athlete in peak condition. Although I guess Lionel Messi always throws up before big games too. Will could probably do with some of those growth hormones if he's to have a major impact this season.
According to Rio Ferdinand, Sir Alex Ferguson once called Eleven the second most talented player he had ever seen. Behind only Ravel Morrison. And just like Ravel Morrison, she has had to deal with her fair share of criticism from both the tabloids and previous managers who have fallen over themselves describing her talent, but worry she has too much going on in her personal life to succeed at the top level.
Once upon a time considered uncoachable thanks to a diet consisting exclusively of Eggos and a knack for extreme telekinesis, as in, literally picking people up with her mind and killing them, Eleven has come on leaps and bounds under the caring tutelage of Hawkins Town manager Jim Hopper.
She's now the driving attacking force in the Town side, capable of decimating entire defences on her own thanks to a new diet and recovery regime of *checks notes* microwaveable TV dinners and a paddling pool turned sensory deprivation tank. Well if it works, it works. Her obvious chemistry with Mike will be vital heading into the new season.
Only here because Eleven likes him. Essentially the Maxwell to Eleven's Zlatan Ibrahimovic. A decent left-back, sure, but you're only really buying him to keep Zlatan happy. It's the same for Mike, even if his haircut does scream prime George Best potential. Next.
Considered a troublemaker in the ranks due to his 'I don't trust your girl' behaviour with Mike in Season 1 and then his 'Mr. Steal Your Girl' behaviour with Dustin in Season 2, along with his habit of ignoring his manager's designated penalty takers list to just bang them in himself, Lucas is still a crucial player in the Town starting XI.
However, like Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben at Bayern Munich, a relationship that began with two warring egos and a whole lot of jealousy, Lucas and Dustin's partnership on the wings should have Hawkins Town set for the next decade.
If, like useless, pathetic Mike above, you assume racial stereotypes i.e that Lucas would want to dress up as the only character of colour in Ghostbusters because he is the only character of colour in Stranger Things, just know that he isn't the tricky, bags of flair, bags of pace player you are imagining. Lucas is a very functional but effective Marc Albrighton/young James Milner/Sofiane Feghouli style wide player who can't beat a man but get to the byline and whip in a cross.
Never assume these things, yeah? Especially you, Mike, you big racist.
A new signing at the beginning of Season 2, Max is a commanding presence who sits in front of the back four, often like this, with her arms cross and a stare that could cut right through you. Early comparisons with Paul Scholes due to her hair colour were found wanting after it became apparent she can't pass for beans but CAN tackle like an actual normal human being, rather than just relentlessly scythe down opposition players with all the grace and decorum of a reversing dump truck without any tyres on.
Her presence in the dressing room did cause a lot of beef between the aforementioned Bobby Pires and Freddie Ljungberg of Hawkins Town, Dustin and Lucas, but they are probably the better for it. Plus she has a really cool bike. So overall? A great bit of business. A tremendous addition.
The guy with the Chris Waddle barnet who you thought was a dick but now think is a Top Lad™️, Steve has gone from an absolute liability at the back to a bonafide superstar within the team, a la Fabricio Coloccini. He literally is Fabricio Coloccini. He's even been handed the armband for good now as well.
His astronomical development was knocked back a bit after losing Nancy to a creep with a bowl-cut (we'll get to him later), a difficult transition that I reckon I can just about get away with comparing to moving from the coast of A Coruña to the coast of, er, northeast England, he nevertheless put it behind him, got his head down and worked hard even after being demoted to train with the youth team to get his form back.
In his second season at the club he was a completely new man, leading his pack of young starlets through a difficult season to ultimate glory like an 80s, electropop Cafu at the 2002 World Cup. Has agreed to a one-year contract extension after considering an early retirement and Hawkins Town will prove all the better for it going into Season 3.
Not a player as such but felt as though I had to include him for one last, tired, football-related joke, Jonathan joined Hawkins from Marcelo Bielsa's famed scouting department.
Unfortunately for the more traditional, sportsmanship-centred backroom staff at the club, he brought with him his, let's just say 'unorthodox' scouting techniques. As in, he literally hides in the bushes and photographs people.
(That's it. That's the joke. He spies on people like Bielsa. Yeah. Wasn't worth it, was it? Have to keep this going now.)
And this behaviour somehow won him a girlfriend simply because Steve was going through his difficult 'I'm far too good for this shit' Renato Sanches at Swansea City phase. Still, he is detailed and meticulous in his reports, even if the sight of his pasty, ghoulish face in the stands is enough to give any prospective signing the heebie-jeebies during a trial match. Will have to earn Hopper's trust if he is to influence any signings this season. However, there is hope he will sent on a detailed scouting mission to where there appears to be a hotbed of raw, athletic talent, the Upside Down, and never come back, leaving Steve and Nancy to get back together and live happily ever after.
In conclusion: watch Stranger Things Season 3 and if it's any good I might do a player ratings like the Game of Thrones one you all begged me incessantly to repeat. Alright bye.