17 Aug 2012

After golden summer, can Premier League still thrill?

Despite England struggling in the European Championships and Team GB’s footballers doing no better at the Olympics, the outlook is good for the Premier League as the new season approaches.

Manchester United signed Robin Van Persie for £24m (pic: Getty)

So the football season is with us once again. But there is a slightly different feel to the big kick-off this time around, writes Malcolm Boughen.

After the European Championship extended the season – with the usual disappointing quarter-final exit for England – we had the novel experience of, not just one, but two Great Britain teams to watch at London 2012.

And that was a curious experience for many fans in more ways than one. Not only did many of us have more interest in the progress of the women’s team than the lacklustre Stuart Pearce outfit, but we found much more excitement and fulfilment in watching all the other sports on offer.

And as the medals poured in we soon learned that most of these winners seem more likeable, well-spoken and more rounded people than many of the overpaid prima donnas we’re accustomed to watching and hearing from on Sky Sports or Match of the Day.

So we enter the new season with less than the usual enthusiasm. But give it a couple of weeks. The raw passion, power and partisanship of club football will soon have us back in its thrall. And – for all the current cynicism – we could be in for an exciting season.

Statement of intent

Manchester United’s £24m capture of Robin van Persie from Arsenal is a clear statement of intent from the red side of football’s capital city.

Alongside the earlier signing of the Japanese midfielder Shinji Kagawa, van Persie’s signing will give United a new cutting edge. And his partnership with Wayne Rooney should have the Old Trafford fans drooling.

While Manchester City have had – for them – a quiet close season, the signing of Jack Rodwell from Everton could be a shrewd piece of work by Roberto Mancini, adding to the wealth of talent already on offer at the City of Manchester Stadium.

The brilliant Sergio Aguero, the commanding Vincent Kompany and the unpredictable Mario Balotelli will all be keen to add the first league title they acquired last year.

So what of their challengers? Despite the loss of van Persie, Arsenal have added to their attacking strength with the signings of the German international Lukas Podolski, the French striker Olivier Giroud and the exciting Spanish midfielder Santi Cazorla. They may do better than expected.

Their north London rivals Tottenham will face a testing season with Andre Villas-Boas replacing Harry Redknapp as manager and star midfield Luka Modric looking for the exit door. Roberto di Matteo continues his rebuilding job at Chelsea – and will be expected to pick up more silverware along the way.

And Liverpool, with Brendan Rogers now in charge, will expect a better season, with two young signings – Italian striker Fabio Borini and midfielder Joe Allen – giving them some cause for hope.

New boys

The newly-promoted teams – Southampton, Reading and West Ham – could all face a tough time. West Ham, particularly, have thrown a bit of money at their campaign to stay in the Premier League, but with at least eight new signings the question will be whether the team will gel quickly enough before they’re dragged into the dog-fight at the bottom.

The new boys will be hoping to repeat the feat of Norwich, Swansea and QPR in holding on to their top-flight status for at least another season. But beware second season syndrome.

Both Norwich and Swansea kick off with new managers and could find life harder this time around, though Mark Hughes has had a bit more time to sort things out at Loftus Road and looks to have made some useful signings.

Apologies if I haven’t mentioned your team, but the season is sure to throw up its usual crop of surprises and, before long, the fortnight of Olympic euphoria will be replaced by the weekly fix of agony and ecstasy that – for many of us – only football can give.