THE BIG KICK OFF

By Daniel Rankine
Aug 15th, 2008

Once again, it has seemed a long summer. Even though it’s been a summer with an International tournament, showcasing a feast of footy; even though we’ve had no football to watch for, let’s think, all of about three tedious weeks, it’s still seemed long. (I say summer but it’s apparently what passes for those spasmodic fits of sun amid the grey clouds and rain.)

You’d have thought the boffins would have by now figured out that lack of football, squared by crap summer, severely affects the laws of space and time. But no, I’ve checked, there have been no new theories of football related quantum physics to speak of. Still, at long last, this weekend sees the return of the Premiership, and if it’s anything like the last recent years, it promises to be yet another humdinger.

One reason it may have seemed a long summer is the endless transfer speculation of three players. Firstly, footballing genius and oily, smug gimp extraordinaire, Christiano Ronaldo and his proposed move to Real has dominated the headlines. Bar announcing his undying love for the Galacticos he made his intentions pretty clear but it still wasn’t enough for old Red Nose and he reined him for another season at Old Trafford.

It seems the seeds have been sown though and no one will be remotely surprised if the transfer goes through next summer instead. At the Charity Shield it was all smiles and hugs between the United players but if the protracted transfer talk hasn’t disrupted the harmony in the camp I’ll eat my own shirt. No striker signed as yet, no Queiroz and an indifferent grease-boy means our rivals have had a summer to forget about whilst we’re feeling the confidence grow.

The second player to take up the back pages was Villa’s Gareth Barry. Happy to slag off the manager and sign for Liverpool until it all went pear-shaped and now he’s back with his tail between his legs and ineligible for the Champions League. Liverpool didn’t have the money, only for a generously priced Robbie Keane, and seemed to have left the England international hanging high and dry.

Last but not least was our own Frank Lampard, courted by Mourinho all summer and seemingly heading into his last year at the club. Like the other two, all the transfer talk came to nothing, and Frank’s committed himself to the Blues for life. Unlike the other players though, there is no animosity from the Chelsea fans. If Frank had gone we still would have been appreciative of everything he had given the club, strangely could the same be said of forgetful Villa and United fans? We’ve greeted the Lampard news like the club’s best summer signing, which it probably is. There is genuine belief that the Lampard-Terry era can go on to be, undoubtedly, the greatest in the club’s history.

We’ve got to know Big Phil a bit during the close season and, fair play, he has done everything right so far. He’s managed to do the seemingly impossible by keeping the core, big-game players at the club, and not only kept them happy but tied them to new contracts for the future. He’s promised attacking football and flair and the two new signings look astute ones already. The next task is keeping the abundance of midfielders happy and also fitting all the attacking players onto the pitch. The two favoured formations, the familiar 4-3-3 or Brazil-like 4-2-2-2, promise more fluidity in movement but the proof will be in the preverbal pudding. The cherry on the cake of course would be the signing of Robinho, a skillful sand-dancer for the attacking left side would do nicely and fingers crossed it’ll happen. But what most of us can’t wait to see is how Scolari’s Chelsea shape up and the Portsmouth game should give us a few hints of what we can expect.

With the kick-off approaching you can’t help but feel the familiar, kid-like excitement that only a new season brings. There are infinite possibilities for the team this year and here’s hoping we can reclaim the league title and/or clinch the Holy Grail in Rome. They’re the big two and if we’re to match Europe’s established order then it’s European Cup that is lacking from the trophy cabinet. If anything it’s a season of revenge for players and fans alike and the league title would certainly help put the heartbreak of Moscow to bed. As for Rome, it’s not even worth thinking about yet; my nerves still can’t take it.

Roll on the season.

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