Now that the motions have been thoroughly gone through in terms of World Cup qualifying, and every nation that FIFA and its sponsors approve of are safely aboard the plane to Rio or in the rigged playoff system, attention turns back to domestic club football this weekend. And in terms of the English Premiership, it only looks like we’ve gone and got an open title race on our hands. Presuming Southampton drop back and United get their act together, six teams, as opposed to the standard two, look like being in with at least half a shout this year. How very 1974 / 75 season of us.
What spices things up even further is the interesting blend of managers at the helm of England’s big six. From the wise old heads of Wenger and Pellegrini, to the suave continentals of AVB and Mourinho, via the rugged Celts of Moyes and Rogers, there is a bit of something for everybody. Obviously all the top class English coaches and managers are busy working on other projects this season…
In Eamon de Valera, or Arsene Wenger as he is now known, the Premier League still has at least one wizened old sage with a steady hand on rudder, guiding the good ship EPL through the unchartered murky post-apocalyptic seas of the Sir Alexless era. He got his own crisis over and done with quicker than usual this year and the ever knowledgeable gooners who were calling for his head two months ago have now settled back into the chorus of silent appreciation the Emirates is famous for. Top the league and top of their Champions League group, there has mercifully been very few little deaths in the Wenger household so far this year.
Manuel Pellegrini looks to have a touch of the Arsenes about him. Another college boy, civil engineering rather than economics this time, the Chilean arrives in England largely on the back of successful spells with Villarreal, Malaga and Madrid. The British press don’t seem to know what to make of him yet but he is one those men who gives off an air of intelligence by saying little or nothing. An exact opposite of Ian Wright, if you will.
Back in London, there is no love lost between the smooth operating Portuguese pair of Luís André de Pina Cabral e Villas-Boas (LAPCVB) and José Mário dos Santos Mourinho Félix. Mourinho certainly appears to have mellowed in his middle age, although it would have been hard to go in the other direction after three vitriolic, eye-poking years in Spain, but something tells me the old Mou is never far away. I reckon he still runs Chelsea FC like Karate Kid’s John Kreese ran the Cobra Kai dojo. At some point in the season Jose is going to look Oscar in the eye in the dressing room at half time and order him to go out there and sweep the leg. AVB certainly doesn’t have that level of viciousness in him. In fact, it is hard to improve on Barney Ronay’s classic description of Villas-Boas as a “life-sized wedding cake figurine”.
That just leaves our two Celtic warriors. Moyes has had a shaky start filling Ferguson’s size seven and a halfs and something just doesn’t seem to fit. It is like Sean Connery walked out of Old Trafford and unfortunately Timothy Dalton has walked in. Only a really scary, sweary, bulging eyed, ginger psychopath version of Timothy. Brendan Rogers’ shaky start at Anfield lasted an entire season but he appears to have hit his stride now. Liverpool are a vastly improved side and if he can keep his carnivorous Uruguayan forward under control they could be there or there abouts.
Nevertheless, there is at times something strangely unsettling about Rogers’ appearance. Almost as if everything is not exactly as it seems with the Northern Irishman. In a certain light, his skin and golden tinted hair take on an orange glow that contrasts sharply with an abundant mouthful of brilliantly white teeth to give him the look of an out of character burlesque show transvestite. Well, if that’s what it takes to make Jordan Henderson play like a £20 million midfielder then so be it.