PREMIER LEAGUE: Ferguson looks on as new season kicks off


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 - Page 19

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.

Bale would be leaving a Premier League that will feature two Welsh teams for the first time after Cardiff City gained promotion to join Swansea, who will find it hard to repeat last season’s 11th-place finish and League Cup success.

The Cardiff-Swansea derby is shaping up to be one of the fieriest fixtures of the season.

The manager to watch out for, though, will be Paolo Di Canio, the confrontational and divisive Italian who succeeded in keeping Sunderland in the top flight after being hired in the closing stages of the season amid an outcry over his past comments about fascism.

Sunderland is one of the six Premier League clubs under US ownership. Alongside Man United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Aston Villa, Fulham is the latest, with Shad Khan buying out Mohamed Al Fayed last month.

The attraction of teams to foreign businessmen is underscored by the new riches being injected into the Premier League, notably from the US, where NBC has captured the TV rights and covered New York subway trains with advertising.

New rights TV deals will generate about US$8.5 billion over the next three years, with a record share of US$90 million per season guaranteed for even the bottom team.

Yet for all the new arrivals and the dramas that unfold in the coming months, the absence of one man is still likely to be felt most.

Moyes’ job is to ensure United fans do not hanker after Ferguson and plead for his return.

“It has to be a new era,” Moyes said. “My job now is to make my history ... make sure now that my history and my time is something which the fans and people in the future talk about.”