For English soccer, it has long seemed unthinkable: a league season starting without the finger-jabbing, combative colossus of management on the touchlines.
Alex Ferguson will be a bystander for the first time since 1986, watching from afar as Manchester United start their pursuit of a record-extending 21st league title. David Moyes now carries that responsibility.
Widely admired during 11 years at Everton despite failing to collect a major honor, Moyes was hand-picked by Ferguson in the biggest decision — gamble, perhaps — taken by the owning Glazer family.
Although he openly flirted with United in the months before Ferguson’s retirement was publicly disclosed, Jose Mourinho — one of the most talented but temperamental managers of his generation — was not approached for the job.
The charismatic Portuguese is back in the Premier League, though, after six years collecting trophies with Inter and Real Madrid.
Claiming to have mellowed since leaving Chelsea after a fall-out, Mourinho is widely expected to return to his combustible self once the season begins and produce the touchline tantrums Ferguson can no longer provide.
Ill-feeling between the sides has been inflamed by Chelsea’s hostile pursuit of United striker Wayne Rooney.
Mourinho says he is not playing “mindgames” with Moyes, but has still offered a few pointed words of advice.
“One of the most difficult things in the club is to create a victory culture, where you walk through the door and you smell the success, you smell confidence, you smell self-esteem,” said Mourinho, who has won league titles in England, Spain, Italy and Portugal.
With the spotlight on Mourinho and Moyes, Manuel Pellegrini has been able to make a quiet start to his first job in English management.
The 59-year-old Chilean left Malaga for Manchester City after Roberto Mancini was fired for failing to follow up the 2011-12 Premier League title with a single trophy last season, finishing 11 points behind United in second.
Talk of dressing room disharmony has melted away as Pellegrini started to re-shape the squad, spending more than US$130 million on strikers Stevan Jovetic and Alvaro Negredo, midfielder Fernandinho and winger Jesus Navas.
Such a lavish outlay was easily affordable for the oil-rich Abu Dhabi ownership, but the spending could pose a challenge in complying with UEFA Financial Fair Play regulations, a requirement of playing in the Champions League.
By contrast, United failed in its pursuit of Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas, and even more ambitious thoughts of bringing Cristiano Ronaldo back to Old Trafford from Real Madrid.
Chelsea may have missed out on Rooney, but about US$40 million has been spent on striker Andre Schuerrle and midfielder Marco van Ginkel.
As for Arsenal, who finished behind Chelsea in fourth, not a penny has been spent. That is despite chief executive Ivan Gazidis raising the hopes of fans in June by pledging to “escalate” spending.
The Gunners have seen north London rival Tottenham Hotspur invest US$65 million in its squad, although manager Andre Villa-Boas could still be faced with losing arguably the league’s most potent player in Gareth Bale before the transfer window closes on Sept. 2.
Real Madrid’s pursuit of the Wales forward threatens to destabilize Spurs in the opening weeks of the season unless quickly resolved.