LASESARRE, SPAIN - AUGUST 5: Puma Orbita, the official match ball of LaLiga in detail prior the pre-season friendly match between Athletic Club and Real Sociedad on August 5, 2022 at Lasesarre Stadium in Barakaldo, Spain. Noxthirdxpartyxsales PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxJPN 195228971

Welcome to Heroes and Villians, a place where we look back at the Premier League action and try to figure out where our favorite footballers would fit in the storytelling universe. It would be super boring to just list a bunch of people under those two categories, so for this, we will be incorporating more than just the protagonist/antagonist labels.

Hero: Teemu Pukki

Has there ever been a greater name? This 29-year old Finnish wonder is my absolute favorite footballer of all time and I just learned of his existence this weekend.

What a rags-to-riches Cinderella tale. After being acquired on a free transfer from Norwich City, Pukki earned EFL Championship Player of the Year status, finishing second in goals scored for a season in league history, and earning the Canaries promotion to the big show.

No big deal. 


There is no one that could have seen this coming. I mean, just look at him. Does this look like an elite athlete? 

Pukki is giving hope to every guy in the world that they can strap on a pair of boots and dominate. Teemu is basically like that created character you make in a video game with your likeness and name, but can’t ever keep it honest when you are filling out the attributes. “The manager was such a jerk when he cut me from the team, bro. He was all like ‘the only way I can keep track of this timed run is with a calendar’. I’m pretty fast but not like lightning-fast so I am just going to be reasonable and make my acceleration a 94.”

As a kid, I was obsessed with Spider-Man. I could totally identify with a smart-mouther, awkward with girls, scrawny teenager getting into all sorts of crazy situations. Sure, I didn’t have the ability to shoot webs or crawl buildings but I could definitely relate to the non-hero stuff Peter Parker was going through. I felt like if I just had a bit of power, I could easily be Spidey.

I finally got around to watching last year’s animated movie, Into the Spider-Verse. It featured an older, washed-up Peter Parker, in his early thirties, trying to squeeze his beer gut into his suit, while downing cheeseburgers and pepperoni pizzas with ease. He was an absolute shell of the Spider-Man I idolized as a kid. An embarrassment, an absolute joke. And, at this point in my life, I can identify with him 100%.

At the end of the movie, fat Peter Parker comes through in the clutch, helps save the world, and finds peace with himself. 

When I look into Teemu’s eyes, I see every nearly 30-year-old man in the entire world. We aren’t as thin as we once were and our hair definitely isn’t looking as thick. We might not be able to stay out in some night club until 4 AM. Hell, we might barely make it out past 10. But “Pukki Parker” reminds me that I still have can do great things. I still have something left to live for. If Teemu can do it, so can I.

Take a bow, Teemu. You are everything this sad, divided world needs.

(There was a draft of this section based on Pukki being a rare Pokemon named Pukki-Chu. It was so much worse than you could even imagine.)

The sidekick that deserves a spin-off movie: Ashley Barnes

If you are surprised Barnes is being rewarded after Burnley lost 2-1 to the Gunners this weekend:

1) You seriously underestimate how much I loathe Arsenal

2) I’m not sure what you have been watching these last two weeks.

To be fair, Ash could have won this award a week ago after netting two in a dominant Burnley victory over Watford. So consider this a two-week achievement award.

Barnes, much like his team, doesn’t really do anything all that special or impressive. In fact, he barely passes the eye test. He doesn’t look like someone who would be top 3 of the Premier League in goals. In fact, I showed Barnes picture to three different people this morning. Here’s what they said:

“He looks like that guy at my office who does something with web page advertisements or something. I don’t understand how it works.”

“Is he famous or something? Is he in those Hallmark Channel movies?”

“He just looks like every white guy ever.”

My dude is pushing 30 and has made appearances for eight different teams in England since 2007. In his five seasons in the top flight, only once has Barnes participated in less than 35 games. The guy is a grinder. He just doesn’t go away. If English football is being played, it is almost a given that Ashley Barnes is on the pitch.

Ashley Barnes reminds me of another famous Barnes – Bucky. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the Cap has to handle the threat of an elite assassin trying to eliminate him at every turn. This mysterious killer has been cryogenically frozen for decades and genetically modified, a process which only enhances his normal talents: grit and marksmanship. He also happens to be Captain America’s childhood bestie and war partner during WW2. Let’s just say that the whole assassination situation poses quite a problem with their relationship in this flick. 

Anyway, this Winter Soldier dude has been secretly involved in like every major political assassination in world history. They kept freezing the guy in some European bunker and de-thawing him anytime they wanted him to off someone important. 

Pretty cool concept but sadly he’s always just been an under-utilized side-character, living in Captain America’s shadow., Until recently, when Disney announced a new TV series called The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, elevating two sidekicks to superstar status. Could the suits have come up with this idea after watching Burnley in these first two weeks?

It’s totally conceivable that super soldier Bucky Barnes could have been sent to London in the late 80s to ensure Maggie Thatcher earned a third term, popped over for some relaxation in Bath after a long day of killin’, and cosied up to a young English barmaid before returning to his cryogenic ice cave in Siberia. 

Ashley Barnes was born in Bath in 1989 and is currently smashing balls in the back of a net like an absolute beast.

Coincidence? Move over Granpappy meet your grandson.

The villain that secretly is a hero AKA the Severus Snape Award: VAR

Dear City fans, 

Aw, I feel so bad for you. 

“My football has been ruined.” 

“I will never watch another match until this atrocity is fixed”.

“VAR has destroyed the sport.”

Wah, wah, wah.

It must have been a really difficult stretch watching your once pathetic team be purchased by a royal from UAE and invest a limitless amount of cash into buying the best possible facilities, players and coaches on the planet. All Premier League fans feel sad that VAR disrupted your Champions League run last year and that you had to settle for a draw this weekend. It’s not like you have set the record for goals scored in a season or have enjoyed back-to-back league titles or anything. God, you couldn’t even let Watford win the FA Cup last year.

Selfish jerks.

I hear you, the game wasn’t designed to be nitpicked by hundreds of instant replay and human error should be a part of the sport. On the surface you are annoying, smug, and intrusive. I wish you didn’t exist at all. But in reality, VAR hasn’t ruined anything. It’s been protecting us, saving us from another year of inevitable winners. Bottom line, we should all be thanking the heavens for its existence. 

With Man City only at 4 points after week 2, there is actually a chance of a legitimate season. We ALL have something to root for, even if it does just come down to them and Liverpool again, at least City will have to face some adversity for once. 

Thank you, VAR, you sweet, sweet, prince. You are a hero to us all. 

Until next week, just remember that we can all be a hero. Except you, Frank Lampard. I don’t think things are going to work out for you, buddy.