Spoiled by pulse-racing drama on a weekly basis for nine months of the year, ravenous after the famine of a predictably dismal international summer, mid-August found the football fan in a state of delirious excitement. No longer were kicks to be got from the gossip columns. No longer were we to rely on social interaction to fill our weekends. The Premier League was back.
However, as the dust settles on the biggest summer of spending in English footballing history, the eager, hungry public might be forgiven for feeling slightly unfulfilled. Big players such as Pogba, Ibrahimović, Batshuayi, and Sané have all made big moves to big clubs, but the bang their arrival promised hasn’t really been realised. Pogba has shown sporadic flashes, Zlatan has brought pomp and circumstance but not much by way of substance, Batshuayi’s impact has been restricted to off the bench, and I honestly couldn’t pick £37million Leroy Sané out of a police line-up. Not that I’m suggesting I would have to. Leicester’s wild night of euphoric debauchery has whimpered to the inevitable hangover. Arsenal are stylishly mounting their annual title challenge, which everyone knows will grind to a toothless halt in March. Spurs are still quietly excellent. All in all, the season has spluttered into something akin to life – flashes of box office amidst Saturday night light entertainment.
But why? Whilst the early season international breaks – which really need to be looked at by FIFA – have undeniably been as ill-timed and restrictive as ever, they are not the main reason. For the real culprit, you need to look at who the really big arrivals of the summer were: the managers. With the exception of Guardiola – whose seamlessly successful introduction to the Premier League has its own sense of tedious inevitability – the other big managerial arrivals are still in transition, getting to grips with life at big new clubs. Antonio Conte at Chelsea is still trying to work out how many defenders to play. Mourinho is still trying to manoeuvre his chess pieces in a way that will incorporate big players and appease big expectations.
The best football – again, Guardiola’s Man City aside – is being played by Spurs and Liverpool, big clubs with big managers who have had time to bed in, stamp their indelible mark, and build teams in their own image. As the other new arrivals catch up, the season is sure to catch fire, with the world’s greatest managerial wits pitted against each other each week for you delectation and delight. Whilst it may not be so just yet, this season in going to be, well… BIG.