KEIR RADNEDGE in LONDON: England in general and even football fans can hardly believe it: the most successful British Olympic Games – in medal terms – has not yet concluded and yet Manchester City and Chelsea are preparing to kick off the new football season.
The Premier League champions face the winners of the FA Cup (and the Champions League) at Villa Park, Birmingham, on Sunday in the Community Shield, the traditional curtain-raiser to the season.
Traditionally the match is staged at Wembley. However the stadium staff will not have enough time to transform the sporting and commercial configuration of the venue after the final of the Olympic Games football tournament the previous afternoon.
Brazil’s presence in the final, against Mexico, means that Chelsea fans will be denied a sight of one of their new signings, Oscar, who completed his transfer from Internacional of Porto Alegre earlier in this Olympic fortnight.
The attraction of English football remains immense. More than one million people visit each to watch the games, spending an average of £800 each which is £500 more than the average tourist. They come not only from Europe – Norway and Ireland in particular – but also from United States and Mexico.
City have yet to take a significant step into the transfer market. Managerf Roberto Mancini has to unload some players to balance the wages bill so there is no apparent push yet to persuade Arsenal to part with captain Robin Van Persie.
The Dutchman, whose current contract expires next summer, has said he would not sign a new deal in north London but Arsenal have rejected approaches from City, Manchester United and Juventus.
Chelsea, by contrast, have taken major steps towards rejuvenating their squad. Manager Roberto Di Matteo is thus likely to benefit from the rebuilding programme which Andre Villas-Boas tried to begin last summer.
Apart from Brazilian playmaker Oscar, Belgian starlet Eden Hazard has arrived from Lille for £32m along with his younger brother Thorgan, from Lens, himself a youth international.
On the back of the Champions League triumph, striker Fernando Torres expects the Blues to challenge City for the Premier League title. He said: “I would love to win a Premier League. Hopefully it will happen this year but for sure we will be challenging for it.”
Sunday may offer the first clue.
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