Sheffield United striker gets ready to go to war with Norwich City
The battle lines have been drawn, the verbal sparring has started and the audience - a mixture of loyal devotees and curious internet surfers - is preparing to watch the action unfold on a new YouTube channel.
But Lys Mousset, Sheffield United’s representative in the inaugural ePremier League invitational, is oblivious to the hype surrounding his clash with Todd Cantwell. In fact, as he prepares to face the Norwich City youngster for a place in the next round, the Frenchman admits his practise has revolved around shoot ‘em up games rather than endless late night sessions of FIFA20.
“I haven’t really been working on my skills. Well, I’ve been on the computer but Call of Duty more than FIFA,” he laughs. “I don’t know Todd’s style or his tactics on the game. But I know what I can do and I’m looking forward to showing that.”
Ordinarily, the prospect of watching two grown men playing football on a computer would appeal to only the most fervid esports fans. But these are not ordinary times, with England’s top four divisions being mothballed last month due to coronavirus and leaving millions without their regular sporting fix.
Organisers hope the tournament, which us designed to raise funds for the #PlayersTogether initiative, will go some way towards filling the void.
“We’ve beaten Norwich twice in the league this season,” Mousset continues. “So tell Todd that I’m going for the hat-trick.
“Seriously, he (Cantwell) is a very good player on the pitch but this is going to be different. I’m going all out, that’s the way I like to do things on FIFA. I attack and go straight for the goal. Because scoring goals is important and that’s what everyone enjoys watching.”
Mousset, who started United’s win at Carrow Road in December before watching March’s return fixture from the bench, has spent the six weeks since City’s visit to South Yorkshire in a state of suspended animation. With social distancing measures forcing them to vacate the Steelphalt Academy training complex, Chris Wilder’s players have been working out on treadmills and club issue watt bikes as they isolate at home.
For those from overseas, far away from their friends, families and loved ones, gaming consoles not only provide a source of entertainment. They are also an important link with the outside world, as Mousset explains.
“It’s boring without football. I don’t mind admitting that and I enjoy spending time with all the lads.
“So it’s really good to play games with my friends back home in France on the computer. It helps me to stay in touch with all of them.”
With the winner of this afternoon’s second round tie (kick-off 1pm) scheduled to face either Wilfred Ndidi of Leicester City or Wolves’ Diogo Jota in the third phase of the competition, many United fans will be tuning in to see if Mousset can, as he insists, deliver their team’s third victory over City since both clubs were promoted from the Championship last term.
But with the esports industry now thought to be worth over $1bn globally, those tasked with identifying new opportunities in a challenging financial market will be monitoring if the ePremier League captures the public’s imagination too. Manchester City, AS Roma, Valencia and Sporting Lisbon are among those clubs who have added professional gamers to their payroll in recent years as they look to get ahead of the curve. The Norwegian FA, as United midfielder and avid Fortnite player Sander Berge revealed recently, have established a dedicated squad to represent his country on the international stage.
“But I’m pretty good, I can handle myself on it. So I’ll be going on there to enjoy myself and to try and get through. Hopefully it provides some fun for either people as well.”