KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- Referees in the new Premier League season are using vanishing spray at free kicks. But any legacy of pain and angst from England’s first-round failure at the World Cup will have vanished within hours of the start of the campaign.
Indeed, World Cup referee Howard Webb has vanished already. The 2010 World Cup Final referee has taken up a role within the management of match officials.
Then, once Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United have kicked off against Swansea at Old Trafford on Saturday lunchtime all the focus will be back on the tribal rivalries, the unequalled pace and the power, the goals and the glory.
In the background Greg Dyke, chairman of the Football Association, is working on the England-angled proposals of his year-old inquiry commission.
However, rebalancing home-grown and foreign players, creating a B-team league and developing a ‘nursery club’ system are issues of structure offering no immediate effect on the day-to-day drama.
UEFA’s financial fair play has had a minor effect of transfer dealing but only to the extent that champions Manchester City could hot spend as freely as manager Manuel Pellegrini would have liked.
Thus estimations of favourites to win the Premier crown in 2015 vary between City and Chelsea who are expected to be pushed all the way by Arsenal and Liverpool with Manchester United, Tottenham and Everton in the chasing pack.
At the other end of the table promoted QPR and Burnley may go straight back down. The other ‘drop spot’ is between newly-arrived Leicester and last season’s strugglers Crystal Palace, West Ham, West Bromwich Albion and Sunderland.
Last season, his first back in England, Jose Mourinho insisted consistently that his Chelsea were not ready to win the league title. He cannot sustain such modesty now.
Veterans Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard have gone and the squad has been refreshed and rejuvenated with the arrivals from Spain of playmaker Cesc Fabregas (from Barcelona) plus goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, leftback Filipe Luis and Spanish/Brazilian striker Diego Costa (all from Atletico Madrid).
Didier Drogba has also returned to increase the attacking options by comparison with last season’s inadequate mix of Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto’o and Demba Ba.
City have refined their squad with the addition of rightback Bacary Sagna and midfielder Fernando but the key factors could be keeping Sergio Aguero fit and Yaya Toure happy. Between them they scored 37 of City’s title-winning 102 goals last term.
Arsenal will expect Chilean World Cup star Alexis Sanchez to live up to his £30m fee while Liverpool hope not to have fallen into the Tottenham trap. A year ago Spurs sold Gareth Bale for €100m and spent the money on an ill-judged clutch of new players who took the club backward; Liverpool tried not to commit the same sin in spending the £65m obtained for Luis Suarez.
The league will miss the undeniable talent of the Uruguayan but nothing else about his negative contributions to the game or its image.
His headline-creating potential has been assumed by Louis Van Gaal’s arrival at Manchester United to rescue the league’s commercial monolith from the sporting rubble left behind by David Moyes.
Van Gaal has already warned United fans about expecting too much too soon.
He said: “At every club I have been, I have struggled for the first three months. After that, then the players know what I want: how I am as a human being and also as a manager because I am very direct.
“I say things as they are, so they have to adapt to that way of coaching. It’s not so easy, and also the way I train and coach is in the brains and not the legs. A lot of players play intuitively but I want them to think and know why they do something. That’s a difficult process at first.
“But after we have survived the first three months, then it will be the same as at Bayern.”
Van Gaal has described the United squad he found as “broken” and “unbalanced” after their worst season for 23 years.
Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham and Roberto Martinez at Everton will be expected to keep the ‘top five’ on their toes but the manager will perhaps the toughest task of all is Dutchman Ronald Koeman, on his English managerial debut at Southampton.
Saints have not only sold five of their finest players but brought in a chairman, in Ralph Krueger, whose sports experience lies not in the Premier League or even football but in ice hockey.
Koeman and Southampton are skating on thin ice indeed. But then, like every manager in the Premier League, he is not alone. The most secure manager in the country is probably, and ironically, England’s Roy Hodgson.