A German, a Spaniard, a Portuguese, a Frenchman and an Italian walk into a bar….
Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images
Fans, we’ve been spoilt. The usually vacuous summer months between two Premier League seasons, where you find yourself delving into the sinkholes of low-rate weekend telly, were made so much easier this year. The European Football Championships in France took the majority of our attention and then, for the past two weeks, the Summer Olympics arrived on Rio’s scenic shores, along with all the pre and post media circus.
However, on Saturday at 12:30pm the curtain dropped on the 2016/17 Premier League season, and it’s set to be a real soap opera. The best and most charismatic managers in the world have descended on the Premier League like superheroes at the casting of a Marvel blockbuster.
Claudio ‘dilly ding, dilly dong’ Ranieri is the manager wearing the crown and his reigning champions, and everybody’s favourite second team, Leicester City, kicked us off against manager-less Hull City. Yes, that’s right, season started and still no manager. And, to add injury to insult, they have just 13 fit players. A case of ‘Bonne chance but fat chance’ perhaps? Not in the Premier League. Guided by assistant manager Mike Phelan (formerly of Man Utd), Hull beat Leicester 2-1.
Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images
Hull’s situation is a lovely microcosm of the somewhat volatile nature of Premier league managers’ tenures. Steve Bruce departed at the end of July after a clear disconnect between the club and his ambitions leading to a lack of players. Instead Steve went for the England job, losing to close friend Sam Allardyce, and it should be noted that good old Brucey forsook any compensation upon leaving Hull. Honorable.
Delving into the transfer mill, Leicester have done well to hang on to limelight-grabbers Vardy and Mahrez. Yet the significant loss of N’Golo Kante to Chelsea, the man Sir Alex Ferguson heralded as head and shoulders the player of last season, could yet tell. They’ve shopped wisely bringing in the lightning-fast Ahmed Musa from CSKA Moscow, who scored two goals against Barcelona, and Mendy, who will attempt to fill the miles upon miles run by the boots of Kante.
Other transfer action has been hogged by the North West, with Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool spending big bucks on stellar names such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba, Gundogan, Stones, Sadio Mane and Matip. Arsenal fans can be forgiven for bringing pillows to the Emirates to muffle their wretched screams of agony as transfer headlines continue to break everything but Wenger’s financial stubbornness – with Xhaka as the only early exception, and he started on the bench….
Photo by Man Utd via Getty Images
To highlight one move, the record £89 million fee paid for Paul Pogba has inevitably caused a lot of media debate on money and value in football. The fee is a sign that football is clearly maintaining its untouchable status, hovering like a cloud above the rest of the world’s financial uncertainty.
Manchester United will have done the calculations and know that, barring disaster, they’ll make back the fee in shirt sales alone. A closer look at the announcement also shows the sponsor focus. The announcement was made at 12:35am BST, presumably not to capture the excitable audience of British insomniacs and sleepwalkers. So why? Well, ever so coincidentally it happened to be at the same time Asia’s financial markets opened and prime time news in the US. Good for Adidas shirt sales in their largest markets, maybe?
Adidas themselves put together a fully furnished music video of Pogba with London-born rapper Stormzy ‘biggin himself up’, As if the financial pressure wasn’t enough already! Young Paul is clearly a confident chap. Notably confident enough to somehow get his hands on a rare type of bold red Chevrolet, *cough* United’s main sponsor *cough*, to arrive at Carrington Academy. He took a Chevy to the levee and the levee was most certainly not dry.
Other ins and outs of note that might have slipped your attention:
Negredo and Victor Valdes to the returning Middlesbrough (yes, really!). Joe ‘the Welsh Pirlo’ Allen to Stoke. Ayew to West Ham. Janssen to Spurs. Ibe to Bournemouth and Townsend to Palace.
However, despite the inevitable hubbub of transfer drama and new players readying themselves for battle, the real drama will be found, of course, on the touchline.
Starring Klopp, Conte, Mourinho, Guardiola, Pochettino, Wenger and Ranieri in a foreign drama of biblical proportions. Fireworks, fisticuffs and wild expressive hand gestures we can only hope for. Throw in the returning Brit David ‘Community Shield’ Moyes and the young ambitious Eddie Howe – and you’ve got a melting pot of character. Mourinho’s unflappable nonchalance, Klopp’s humble enthusiasm, Pep’s mercurial tactics, Conte’s fiery determination… It truly is going to be the most stylistic season for years. I imagine a Mr. Men parody series would do well. If only I could draw… Royalties in the post, please.
Dani Pozo/AFP/Getty Images
Perhaps most fascinating of all will be the widely acclaimed ‘two best managers in the world’ being a stone’s throw from each other in Manchester. Pep and Jose are bitter rivals. Their relationship first started all in seemingly good humour when Pep was playing and Jose was on the coaching staff at Barcelona in the 90s. However, whilst Pep went on to manage his beloved Barcelona, Jose went on to manage their arch rivals Real Madrid and so the two found themselves regular facing up in the biggest, tensest game in football, ‘El Clásico’. It is fair to say their bond soured like a dented can of tuna!
And so onwards, get your popcorn out, the circus has arrived! Never before will there be so much focus on the war of words, the subtext, the looks of distaste, whether Michelle Obama said it first etc.
This commentator cannot wait!
PRISM London, Creative Midfielder