And so the end has come once again, the moment every ardent soccer fan dreads; the final kick of the ball, the last high-pitched call of the whistle, and the customary sign-off from FOX Soccer and ESPN (in the States) and Gary Lineker and the boys (in the UK).
It has been a long and eventful season in the Barclays Premier League, a mixed bag of triumphs and tumult, and once again the red side of Manchester is caught up in jubilant victory songs.
At the other end of the spectrum, the battle has not been so predictable, with the scrap for relegation promising to go right to the wire until Arsenal crushed Wigan’s hopes of yet another miraculous escape. Speaking of Arsenal, the North London club have kept things interesting in the tussle for a Champions League spot despite having to nurse a fresh wound from another big name departure, though once again they have finished the season empty handed.
During the past 10 months of domestic affairs, the English elite have come up short in the Champions League, upstaged by their German counterparts whose pursuit of European glory has been somewhat of a procession. There is some consolation to be had for Chelsea of course, after lifting the Europa League on Wednesday night, but next season the big hitters will all be looking to do much better in one foreign ground.
However, the priority for every team is to make their mark in their own back yard, and when August comes around after the idle days of summer and money-spinning pre-season tours have finished, serious business will commence. In soccer, few things are certain, particularly for less wealthy outfits that will have to perform a precarious balancing act, giving their supporters palpitations aplenty. But in the upper echelons, a new dawn is on the horizon, and a major shuffling of the pack at United, Manchester City and Chelsea promises to ruffle the feathers of fans who have lived a charmed life in the past few years.
With the last of the dinosaurs, Sir Alex Ferguson, now riding off into the sunset with one final notch on his hefty championship belt, the newly crowned victors will be starting from scratch under the stewardship of the wily Glaswegian David Moyes, the third longest serving manager currently operating in the league. Having been commanded and protected by Ferguson for so long, there are more than a few whispers of trepidation circulating Old Trafford, and Moyes will be under an enormous amount of pressure to succeed, especially now in an age where patience is a virtue that only a few in soccer possess.
Just beneath them, Manchester City will also have to adapt to change after Roberto Mancini was rather harshly shoved out of the back door only a year after guiding the club to their first league title in 44 years. Rumor has it that the fiery Italian had lost certain parts of the dressing room in the latter months, and the amount of highly publicized rifts with his players did little to quell any of the gossip, particularly the training ground rough and tumble with Mario Balotelli before a gathering of salivating photographers. With the imminent arrival of Malaga coach Manuel Pelligrini, a man who is no stranger to controversy after a spell at Real Madrid, City’s sheiks will be hoping that the team performs far more cogently in Europe next season after two previous lacklustre showings.
At Chelsea, yet another managerial shake-up has come along, and even though the club has managed to acquire silverware on a consistent basis during the reign of Roman Abramovich, a great bulk of the supporters will be hoping for at least a few years of stability. However, with a certain Special One destined to return to the dugout at Stamford Bridge, the club is sure to continue as English football’s big-top circus. Naturally, if Jose is restored to power, Chelsea will be competing for all the main prizes, but having already left the club under a cloud, will the Portuguese fall foul of Roman again? A great manager he may be, but wherever Mourinho goes, the spotlight deflects from his team, a consequence which ruptured any hopes of a restoration to power at Los Blancos.
With all this change afoot, Arsenal and Tottenham will surely fancy their chances for a major push for silverware in the 2013/14 proceedings, providing that Wenger is given healthy funds by Peter Hill Wood and co., and wonder boy Gareth Bale commits himself to The Lilywhites. This furore is sure to make for a captivating transfer market, with the top five seeking to snare the coveted targets that they believe will help deliver the accolades whilst keeping the supporters happy.
At United, this summer will be crucial in terms of how they respond to the loss of Ferguson, and only time will tell if David Moyes has the mentality to cope with an ample budget after a decade of pinching the pennies. Their noisy neighbours are certain to splash out after last year’s prudence brought them no rewards, and players of a higher calibre than the likes of Scott Sinclair and Javier Garcia are expected to pull on the sky blue jersey, no doubt rewarded with mind-boggling contracts. The same is to be expected of Chelsea, with interim manager Rafael Benitez claiming that Abramovich is willing to pump up to 100 million pounds into the club in search of a clean sweep of trophies.
Taking all this into account and much more, the prospects for next season’s title race looks to be very tantalising indeed. Even though Financial Fair Play has been implemented to bring some stringency, it is the smaller clubs that will likely suffer and not the herculean giants, so the gulf between the top five and the rest of the pack will only expand; a sad but inescapable fact. Still, there is plenty to be excited about; Swansea look to be coming along leaps and bounds, Southampton are sure to improve, Paolo Di Canio will be stirring things up, and Cardiff, Hull, and either Palace or Watford are on their way. Though a few months of tedium and gossip fodder lay ahead, the drama will be back soon enough, and the weekends will come to life anew.
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