The wait is over. Soccer devotees across Europe, strung out during the off season with only the scraps of transfer rumors and player sales to keep them sated, can now quench the pang of their addiction with weekly hits of league football.
The German Bundesliga returned on August 9 with Bayern beating Borussia Monchengladbach, France's Ligue 1 saw nouveau riche champions PSG held by Montpellier on the same day, while Italy's Serie A gets going on August 24. The two remaining elite divisions of Spain and England kick off this weekend.
There have been many managerial moves since May but the English Premier League has seen a fascinating shuffling of characters that now hold the reins at a clutch of the world’s biggest clubs.
Jose Mourinho has reignited his love affair with London-based Chelsea after a tumultuous tenure at Real Madrid, the sagacious Manuel Pellegrini replaced Roberto Mancini in a bid to regain Manchester City’s grip on the title and, in one of the most arresting events of the last few months, Arsene Wenger looks like he might splash some money at Arsenal to reinvigorate a challenge for domestic silverware. (Not sure I’d advise holding your breath …)
But the most important story in town has to be David Moyes taking over at Manchester United. Not just because the Red Devils are arguably the biggest club in the world in terms of fan base, not just because the side strolled to the title last season, but mainly due to the fact there is no European Champions League side that could boast the continuity of leadership and success that Alex Ferguson embodied.
Fergie wasn’t just a manager: he built the modern club and forged its fearsome reputation. The challenge of managing the transition while also delivering continued success on the pitch has to be one of the toughest gigs in world football in 2013.
The first hurdle has been cleared. United brushed past second-division side Wigan 2-0 in the FA Community Shield, the traditional season-opener between the FA Cup winners and the league champions, to seal their first trophy of the campaign.
Next up: The Wayne Rooney saga. So far Moyes can be pleased with his performance. It would be my guess that Rooney is going nowhere unless one or two marquee names move to Old Trafford as replacements, and this seems wise. Rooney is a world-beater on his day and the task of reinvigorating him is far easier than replacing him, even if the Old Trafford fans have tired of his petulance. A bag-full of goals would surely solve that.
Conversely, if Cesc Fabregas can be persuaded to leave Barcelona (the odds are slim, admittedly) and Leighton Baines can be prised from Everton, selling Rooney for $45m would seem good business. Moyes’ mantra should be "stick" unless United come off stronger, and he looks to be following that so far. During his time at Everton he was fantastically surefooted in the transfer market and it would be out of character for him to be blindsided now.
The transfer window will shut in a few weeks’ time, and Moyes’ market mettle will have been proven or dispelled by September. Then there are the fixtures.
Away to Swansea is a tricky first game. Michael Laudrup’s League Cup winners lost only four games at home last season and, with Michu and new signing Wilfried Bony leading the line, the Swans have strikers who could trouble any side.
Moyes must then face Rooney's suitors Chelsea at home and trips to Liverpool and Man City before October. United under Ferguson were famously slow starters, picking up form post-January to peak in the run-in. Moyes will not have the same luxury this time around. Draws will be fine; too many defeats could sow seeds of doubt.
Finally, he needs to manage the media. Famously predatory, the English press are salivating over the potential for headlines from Old Trafford. Bad news normally sells better than good, too. Moyes, then, will need to spin his narrative to provide headlines and copy that keep the press on his and United’s side.
Despite criticism, my personal opinion is that the Scot has been solid in this regard so far. He lacks the flamboyance of Mourinho but he has projected an unruffled, man-in-control type vibe. One of Ferguson’s greatest assets was maintaining this under the greatest pressure; Moyes will be hoping he stands up to the test in similar fashion.
The start of the English Premier League will be fascinating. Moyes will be hoping he can prevail through the challenges above and be around for many more opening days to come.