Since 1888, the distinguished Football League and now including the pulsating
A load of toxic waste has been dumped on the national game in the past week, some of it legitimately acidic contrasting with the humility of the Olympians, but otherwise blithely ignoring history.
Football has been shaken by this criticism but the foundations are strong, dating back to the Victorian age.
This weekend will show that strength, so will the next, and the next. Football is the popular soap opera that never ends.
If the Olympian heights represent Shangri-La, a wonderful land to aspire to, then the extraordinary mix of vibrancy and venality that is English professional football simply reflects life in the real world.
It certainly seems strange that football should be so vilified, suddenly
perceived as lacking resonance with the public, when so many Olympians are
being feted by the clubs they follow such as Mo Farah at
So we should celebrate two great sporting institutions, the Olympics and English league football, not use one to beat the other. They owe each other.
The Premier League contributed handsomely to the public purse that helped fund London 2012: last season alone, the elite clubs paid £900 million tax on (admittedly crazy) wages, £100 million on VAT on (admittedly expensive) tickets and £50 million on stadium business rates.
But now is also the time for footballers to tone down the swearing and consider occasionally smiling, remembering the game is supposed to be about spreading joy as well as reaping in the glittering silverware and salaries. It promises to be another classic season, brimming with incident.
A House of Horrors to its critics, a House of Fun for the rest of us, the Premier League is a luxury abode divided into five levels.
Fighting it out in the penthouse again are
The television audience probably still has Martin Tyler’s memorable commentary still ringing in its ears. As Sergio Aguero scored, Tyler declared: “I swear you will never see anything like this ever again — stupendous.’’
So that’s football for you, providing the season’s definitive moment 40 seconds from the end. And how did Sir Alex Ferguson react to City’s title triumph?
As only the great man knows how: picking up the gauntlet. So in comes Robin van Persie to partner Wayne Rooney in an attacking axis sure to disturb the sleep of all centre-halves.
A glance at the all-time Premier League scoring charts shows Rooney in ninth place and rising fast, having amassed 144 goals from his 10 seasons and he could overtake Teddy Sheringham (146), Michael Owen and Les Ferdinand (both 149) within the month. Van Persie needs only four more for his century. Like that well-known United fan Usain Bolt, Van Persie won’t take long.
Yet City also seem to have a new striker, a part-time caddie and full-time dismantler of defences called Carlos Tevez, who has lost weight and regained ambition.
The bond on and off the pitch with Aguero is key for City. If they can also prise Daniele De Rossi from Roma, replacing Nigel de Jong, an upgrade from economy to business, the champions will be even more formidable.
Amid all the fear-filled chatter about Yaya Toure’s absence at the Africa Cup of Nations, it actually should not harm City too much, seeing him missing at most only the Premier League games with Fulham (home), QPR (away), Liverpool (home) and Southampton (away). Prediction: City first; United second.
The next level down in the Premier League tower block is occupied by Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs, contesting the two remaining Champions League places.
Now free of Didier Drogba’s long, imposing shadow at Chelsea, Fernando Torres should flourish.
Eden Hazard appears to possess the strength of mind and technique to prosper but Oscar may take a while to bed in. Arsenal will need Olivier Giroud to settle fast in the post-RVP world, although Lukas Podolski should acclimatise immediately.
When last seen in London, Andre Villas-Boas resembled a tourist who had lost his map and Oyster card. After a chastening experience at the Bridge, the Lane offers AVB the chance of rehabilitating his reputation.
His first two signings, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Jan Vertonghen (famously once called Jan The Tongan on radio) look good, pret-a-porter fits. Prediction: third Chelsea; fourth Arsenal; fifth Spurs.
In the middle of the Premier League edifice is a gang of four. Brendan Rodgers reshapes Liverpool, although will still rely heavily on Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez.
Everton are a contender for surprise team of the season. David Moyes is an outstanding manager, Tim Howard showed his quality in protecting the US goal in the Azteca in midweek while Marouane Fellaini could be Footballer of the Year in his position behind the excellent Nikica Jelavic.
Newcastle United will continue to score goals and entertain. Slowly but surely Aston Villa will be revived by Paul Lambert, such a clever builder of teams, while Ron Vlaar looks a smart signing at £3.5 million.
Darren Bent is back and hungry for goals again. Prediction: 6th Liverpool; 7th Everton; 8th Newcastle; 9th Villa.
Below them is another floor of four. Bent’s old club, Sunderland, need more goals, a flaw Martin O’Neill works hard to remedy.
Tony Pulis’ Stoke City will be as tough to face as ever while Michael Kightly could bring some welcome guile. Martin Jol will continue to develop Fulham, although the task will be complicated if Clint Dempsey leaves.
At QPR, Mark Hughes has recruited well with Junior Hoilett. Prediction: 10th Sunderland; 11th Stoke; 12th Fulham; 13th QPR.
The usual dogfight will break out in the basement. In Roberto Martinez, Wigan Athletic have a manager with the tactical nous to keep them up.
Robert Snodgrass looks a neat signing by Norwich City while the hugely popular Chris Hughton will be welcomed warmly back to the elite division.
Michael Laudrup’s mere presence near the touchline will revive memories of his elegant playing days. His Swansea side are losing some of their cultured cygnets but Michel Vorm and Danny Graham should see them safe.
West Ham’s ebullient Sam Allardyce will relish his return to Premier League arenas, like an ageing rocker performing at old haunts again. West Brom’s squad is strong enough to stay up but Steve Clarke must prove quickly he is a No 1.
Southampton’s expected signing of Gaston Ramirez demonstrates they are certainly not here just for the view.
Reading will need all of Brian McDermott’s quietly inspirational leadership.
Predictions: 14th Wigan; 15th Norwich; 16th Swansea; 17th West Ham; 18th
West Brom; 19th Southampton; 20th Reading. Overall prediction: another
rollercoaster of a season. Hold tight.
“Last year was a different type of year, it’s the first time anyone has beaten us on goal difference. That is what cost us the league and It won’t happen again, trust me on that.”
“United are favourites – they have played for the title always, every year for 20 years. Although we won the last championship, we can’t change this in one year.”
Roberto Di Matteo
“We have to try, for sure. It’s not that we’re not going to try. We have to try to challenge ourselves with the other teams, so I wouldn’t say there is no expectation [from Roman Abramovich].”
“At the moment I believe we have what is needed to be ambitious and to play our game. We have to be even more of a team and work even more together to compensate for the loss of Van Persie.”
“It’s different for us this year. It’s a new start under a new management team, but we want to build on last year. The spirit is good and the motivation is high.”
“The top four is certainly not something we’ll shy away from. It’s where a club of this status wants to be, but it’s always easier said than done. The reality over the past three seasons or so hasn’t been that.”