So soon after those feelgood Olympics, all those supremely talented athletes, at once successful and humble, in tune with the crowds who roared them on. After all the smiles, the friendliness, people of all nations happily mixing, celebrating, drinking in the atmosphere…
The return of the bloated, snarling, avaricious monster, the braying, hate-filled crowds, the cosseted, isolated, arrogant players? Yes, welcome back the Premier League!
At 3pm, British time, the first games kick off. I’m sitting in the Spanish sunshine, so I’m rather removed from the hype which is no doubt being generated as I write. Olympics? What were they, compared to “the greatest league in the world”? Back to self-regarding business.
But, yeah, I might feel a little anti about the League That Ate Itself right now, as it intrudes on the summer and the Olympic vibe, but I know that very soon I’ll be as engrossed as ever in the comings and goings, the controversies, and yes, the crazily entertaining football, the sublime skills, the acts of heroism, the atrocious refereeing decisions, the impassioned debate, the micro analysis of formations, pass completion rates, and all the rest.
And with West Ham back in “the greatest league in the world” it’ll be more personal than it was last season. Is the squad good enough to stay up? Yes, I think so, and Big Sam has made some astute purchases to strengthen the defensive areas of midfield: Mohamed Diame from Wigan (he looked good for Senegal at the Olympics) and Alou Diarra from Marseille. It’s a team that increasingly resembles Sam’s previous Premier League sides, Bolton and Blackburn (we’ll ignore Newcastle). Lots of big strong lads, well organised, tending to launch the ball quickly forward, either to the wings or the Big Man. The Big Man. Why, we even tried to entice lumbering Andy Carroll down to London. He is Big Sam’s ultimate striker. In fact, I think he might have enjoyed playing for the happy Hammers, but I guess he feared it would harm his England chances. Or maybe, like a true Geordie, he just hates “Cockneys”.
Anyway, it won’t always be pretty to watch, but I reckon Sam will steer us to mid table mediocrity. Then the fans will get bored and start to fantasise about Paolo di Canio, as he takes Swindon to the top of League One…
So, what about the top, territory that West Ham are unlikely to stray in to, unless they have a little run at the beginning? (The opening few games are a relatively gentle re-introduction – fingers crossed!). Well, it is hard to see beyond the two Manchester clubs, with City favourites for a second title, now having the confidence of the breakthrough. United have added Robin van Persie to their ranks, which should, in theory, make them pretty unstoppable. But I wonder. Will RVP and Rooney gel? They play in much the same part of the field. Will Rooney sulk if he has to compromise? Will RVP have a Dutch tantrum if he’s not first pick all the time. Will he even stay fit? The joys of speculation!
Hard to see beyond Manchester, but, but… Chelsea could be exciting, with their new look midfield, Newcastle might continue their upward path, and Arsenal, post-RVP? Well, the fans seem optimistic, including the one in my household. Podolski, Giroud and Cazorla are exciting buys, especially the Spanish midfielder, who would probably walk into every international team but his own. Add Walcott and the Ox and you have some mouth watering attacking possibilities. But will the defence be good enough to win the League? Wenger has made no additions there, and as I write, there’s a possibility of losing defensive (as in Arsenal defensive) midfielder, Alex Song, to Barcelona. But one of the famous back five of old – Steve Bould – has been brought in to organise them, and the younger players will have matured. It might just work.
So, I’m going to allow a touch of wishful thinking to overrule cold judgement and predict a title win for the Gunners. City 2nd, Chelsea 3rd, United 4th, Newcastle 5th. Liverpool and Spurs battling it out for 6th – transitional years for both. Surprise success of the season? Everton maybe? QPR?
Or how about the mighty Irons?