'Super-coach' era arrives in cash-laden Premier League
ABS-CBN Sports on Aug 10, 2016 05:41 PM
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho, right, with Manchester United's Zlatan Ibrahimovic during the Community Shield soccer match between Leicester and Manchester United at Wembley stadium in London, Saturday August 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
STEVE DOUGLAS, AP Sports Writer
MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Awash with more cash and global appeal than ever before, the English Premier League is still struggling to lure or retain the elite players in world football like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez.
Here, for the moment, the Galacticos are the managers.
The era of the super-coach has arrived in England's top division. Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger, Antonio Conte and Juergen Klopp make up possibly the most outstanding group of managers seen in this country at one time.
It means some huge reputations are going to take a battering during another highly anticipated Premier League campaign, which begins Saturday with no obvious title favorite and with predictions warped by Leicester's improbable surge to the championship last season.
"This season," former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand said, "the managers are the box-office."
For drama, it may pay to check out the coaches' technical area as much as the field of play. No more so than when Mourinho and Guardiola renew their rivalry as the new managers of Manchester United and Manchester City, respectively.
The Manchester clubs have hogged the limelight this offseason because of the coaching arrivals and their heavy spending in the transfer market that reached $400 million on Tuesday with the signings of Paul Pogba (for a world-record $116 million) and John Stones. Most British bookmakers make the teams the two favorites for the title this season.
Of course, the bookies can get it wrong. Take last season, for example.
Leicester started out as a 5,000-1 shot to win the Premier League and ended up romping home to finish 10 points clear, delivering one of the biggest underdog triumphs in any sport. Chelsea started out as defending champion and favorite, and limped home in 10th place in the worst title defense seen in the Premier League.
This time round, City, United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham (in that order) are expected to be the main contenders in what is probably the most open field in years. Champion Leicester is still only the seventh favorite.
A record injection of TV money, split evenly between England's 20 top-flight teams, is leveling out the Premier League and increasing competition. This is the first season of a new three-year broadcasting deal for domestic and international rights worth a record 8.3 billion pounds ($10.8 billion) — 71 percent above the previous deal — and clubs have used that windfall to spend around $1 billion this offseason.
The likes of West Ham, Swansea, Bournemouth and Crystal Palace have broken their transfer records over the last two months and the so-called lesser teams have no compulsion to sell their top players, given the cash they are raking in. There are unlikely to be many easy victories gained this season.
Guardiola said as much after joining City.
"To find a team to win four, five, six games in a row is not easy," said Guardiola, a coach for whom losses were rare in trophy-laden spells at Barcelona and Bayern Munich since 2008. "All the managers that have more experience than me in England talk about that. Maybe that is the challenge."
It might be time to redefine the parameters of the word "success" this season. Wenger has been criticized by some footballing romantics for saying that qualifying for the Champions League is tantamount to winning a trophy, but few will argue this season. Two or three big teams could easily finish outside the top four.
Eight teams start the season with new managers — none more high-profile than Guardiola, who makes his debut in the English game as a player or coach.
Making John Stones the world's second most-expensive defender ever at $62 million took City's spending to $200 million, building on an already-strong squad that underperformed in the Premier League last season but reached the Champions League semifinals. Like in his previous coaching jobs, Guardiola probably has the strongest team — but the depth of competition is far greater than he's ever experienced.
United will be more dangerous with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, while Mourinho is often a quick starter at clubs. Chelsea, under the master tactician Conte, has added marauding midfielder N'Golo Kante for what could be the most inspired signing of the lot this offseason. Arsenal and Tottenham have been quiet but have more strength in depth. Liverpool should improve in its first full season under Klopp and could be more dangerous with no European distractions, just like Chelsea.
Few would feel confident predicting Leicester's final position. A first season in the Champions League is a wonderful reward for a club still on a high from last season, but might prevent the team backing up winning the title with a top-four finish. Watch out for pacey striker Ahmed Musa, Leicester's club-record signing, causing defenses problems this season.
Elsewhere, David Moyes makes his Premier League return at Sunderland after sobering spells with United and then in Spain with Real Sociedad, Everton could threaten the top teams again with Ronald Koeman as coach and a more ambitious owner (Farhad Moshiri) in the boardroom, and West Ham might be a danger to the top four if the club adapts to life as a tenant at the Olympic Stadium.
Promoted clubs Hull, Middlesbrough and Burnley have recent Premier League experience so don't expect them to be overawed, although they will start among the favorites for the drop.