The Soccer Whiz: English football returns

Manchester United fans on the other hand would like us all to believe that all is well in the red half of Manchester.

AND so here we go!

To coin the words of the fabulously famous clued up football pundit Fabrizio Romano, we find ourselves unbelievably at the start of yet another football season.

It’s been a mad, frenetic, short and unheralded close season like no other in the history of the game and as a consequence, it feels like the season just ended yesterday with brilliant Bosphorus sky blue images of Ilkay Gundogan finally lifting the Champions League for Manchester City still vividly etched in the memory.

Since then, in the short space sandwiched in between; we’ve barely had a chance to get our breath back, stung by an endless stream of pre-season seismic transfer activity, classic pre-season not so friendlies, early bath (for some) European club qualifiers, Messi’s marvellous Miami MLS magic show and of course the best ever Women’s World Cup down under which is still ongoing.

Crikey, please will someone tell me if and when, the players actually do get a proper break as I am already dizzingly knackered just thinking about their schedules and at the prospect of what lies ahead.

And by George, best you better believe me when I candidly tell you that football fans have never had it as tasty.

Right now is the best time in history to be a football fan as you are spoilt for choice from a menu of the world game that serves up a range of delicacies including English Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, Italian Pasta and Pizza, Spanish Paella, American French Fies, South African Pap and Vleis etc etc and now for the very first time Arabian Hummus!

Not content with merely showering Newcastle FC with their riches (a close look at Eddie Howe’s side suggests that they have been strengthened perfectly in the close season), the Saudis in one swoop and the shortest of close seasons, managed to attract some of the world’s finest footballers to their own shores, in the process creating a footballing frontier and a now annual football pilgrimage to Mecca.

Saudi Arabia was once known primarily for its oil but now any old or new players going slightly off the boil and lacking the energy or merely tired of the constant toil, have a new enticing option to become a part of the Saudi Pro League that’s laden with opportunity and promise aplenty.

Fabinho and Henderson of Liverpool were such examples unsure of their long term futures as they edged closer and closer to the Anfield exit door.

Genuine top flight destinations were unlikely to be realistically available for the duo, especially if Liverpool placed an honest transfer fee on their heads.

Instead the Saudis marched into town and turned heads as they enticed both the club and the Liverpool midfield veterans with more than generous transfer fees and substantial pay bounty too.

In the process, they have swiftly tailored a cult of camel lovers, shaken up and booted out any long standing moral  issues of principle and loyalty.

For a club like Liverpool with the tightest of budgetary constraints, this was a God send that paved the way for the arrival of a dynamite double transfer which was utterly remarkable in the circumstances as well as previously unthinkable.

From having a midfield last season that was slow, sluggish and out of their depth, Liverpool at the time of writing have (thanks to the Saudis), in Mac Allister, Szoboszlai and potentially either Caicedo or Lavia, a midfield that has the ability to instantly transform them once more into serious title challengers.

If Darwin Nunez continues to evolve into the finished version of Luis Suarez and if Luis Diaz can finally emerge from the shadow of Faustino Asprilla and become the finest Columbian to ply his trade in the EPL, and if Salah just does his Salah, then I have a hunch that Liverpool are firmly back in the title reckoning.

Over at Manchester City, guarded Pep will no doubt have drummed it into his players heads that the success of last season is indeed a thing of the past and must for now, be consigned to the history books.

Riyad Mahrez and Ilkay Gundogan for example are also a part of the City museum who welcome Gvardiol and Kovacic to their ranks.

On paper, the Croatian appears odds on to become a City folk hero with Guardiola shoring up an already impregnable  defence by adding the world’s best young defender.

In Kovacic, City have astutely brought in a midfielder who has the guile, experience and craft to be an asset for years to come while also lessening the blow of the departures of Gundogan and Mahrez.

It’s no exaggeration to state that Gundogan leaves the EPL for Barcelona as perhaps the most underrated superstar in the history of the EPL.As for Mahrez, it’s fair to say  that he only played less minutes because City were spoilt for choice upfront and Pep needed to rotate to keep the players happy.

However with Gundogan and Mahrez out of the door and with Bernardo Silva also unsettled and regularly being linked with a continental move, it’s precisely the deficit in this area that I believe will be a thorn in City’s aspirations this year.

For the first time in a while and even taking into account their comfortable opening day victory over Burnley, I genuinely believe that as it stands, City lack the depth of their previous campaigns and I would go so far as to suggest that both Liverpool and Arsenal have a deeper deadlier bench.

Arsenal then will start the season in fine voice and spirits.

The Gunners simply ran out of ammunition last season; out muscled, out run and outthought by Man City in the final legs of an EPL marathon which would surely have been a title victory parade had they had a bit more depth and experience.

The key signings of Declan Rice, David Raya, Jurrien Timber and Kai Havertz are the clearest indication yet that all is well in the Arsenal camp with a big thumbs up by the board for Mikel Arteta.

Everyone of these signings make sense including the signing of Raya.

Personally I believe him to be an even better stopper than Aaron Ramsdale and when he eventually gets the number one jersey, I am confident that he can go on to become the next great Arsenal keeper following in the tradition of Pat Jennings and David Seaman.

I have hopes for Havertz too but Arsenal fans must remember that he’s not a striker and hasn’t been purchased as one.

He does though offer so much variety and flexibility and gives Arteta a multitude of strategic options which should hopefully prevent the fans from chirping ’oh why oh why did we have to buy this guy Kai?’

Manchester United fans on the other hand would like us all to believe that all is well in the red half of Manchester.

I dare suggest that it couldn’t be further from the truth with an admittedly competent manager Eric ten Hag literally haggling and having to feed off scraps while the club have  spent the past few months contemplating the buy in from the Qataris and then seemingly dismissing the entire offer altogether.

Talk about a big tease but this disappointment is really hard for Man United fans to swallow.

Their club with The Qataris on board would have resulted in the biggest brand in world football being equipped at last with the tools and resources to make United truly great again.

Instead they have had to pretend excitement at the signings of a classy goalkeeper Onana (they had one anyway and short-changed De Gea), a Chelsea outcast midfielder Mason (it’s not like they got him for free!) and a young inexperienced costly Haaland lookalike and sound alike who has only scored nine goals in his one full season in top flight football in Italy!

Talk of a mountain to climb. This is insane.

Why for the sake of 30% extra did United not bite the bullet and make a concerted effort to get proven legendary striker Harry Kane away from the pain of White Hart Lane and on the next train to Manchester instead of Munich?

Actually I guess the answer is simple.

It’s actually possible that they have owners who are even tighter shmucks than Liverpool’s!

Till the next time folks, here is my top four prediction:

  1. Arsenal 2. Manchester City
  2. Liverpool 4. Manchester United
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