ZAK HAWA WHEN the whistle blows on Friday night in the clash between Crystal Palace and Arsenal, it will mark the beginning of yet another fascinating season of English Premier League soccer action. Now into it’s thirtieth year, the EPL is undoubtedly one of the biggest spectacles, draw cards and money spinners in world sport.
While it’s a proudly English brand, it’s participants are the very best players from around the world and it’s watched by a global audience in excess of over 3 billion viewers.
It has as a brand and in terms of popularity over the last 10 years, decimated it’s rival products in Spain, Germany, Italy and France who can now only dream and watch in awe and indeed frustration too, as the EPL soars and roars to even greater heights.
The EPL has over the years marketed itself like no other, in the process drawing in unprecedented and previously unthought of revenue from television rights. It’s helped to create a league which at this juncture is unrivalled and has no close competitor.
Right now, no other league has the same revenue nor the same appeal, no other league has the level of quality and excitement on the field or off it and no other league has as much interest from it’s own domestic fan base or from it’s world soccer fan base (with as many as 70% of soccer fans round the globe expressing an interest in the EPL).
In a nutshell, the EPL stands head and shoulders above everyone else and from the evidence on hand ,will continue to do so for years to come.
It’s hard therefore not to come to the conclusion that the EPL is the greatest football league on the planet and only a nut would dare to contest this. But underneath the outer shell, its becoming quite apparent that not only is it the greatest league on the planet, but it’s also now deserving of another accolade, “The Greatest Farmer League!”
Farmers League was a term coined up by EPL fan boys to denote a supposedly inferior league dominated by one or at most, two clubs. For years they mocked these leagues as being weak and uncompetitive and ultimately incomparable to the ultra competitive EPL.
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But, my dear learned readers, the EPL is rightfully now the greatest farmer league on the planet having usurped the crown from the likes of France, Spain and Germany.
In current EPL champions Manchester City and I hope the not to be perennial runners up Liverpool, the EPL boasts two sides that are so magnificently streets ahead of their nearest rivals that this season’s title has already been decided before a ball has been kicked in earnest.
Come to think of it, so has the next five years! It’s either Manchester City or Liverpool! Both clubs in the off season conducted their transfers with absolute assuredness, swiftness and minimum fuss and drama ensuring that they began this season prepared and ready with finalised squads long before anyone else.
They are definitely also now stronger than last season which has created extra distance between themselves and their counterparts. The discussion everywhere on live soccer talk shows, podcasts, newspaper articles etc has focused purely around who will occupy the places behind Manchester City and Liverpool.
It’s considered a given that City and Liverpool and not necessarily in that order, are expected to fill the top two places and it’s quite honestly not really a surprise.
Guardiola has surprisingly gone against his own trusted and tried formula in the purchase of Erling Haaland (pictured), a striker not in the classic Guardiola school or mould. It represents I believe a final last gasp ditch attempt by Guardiola to salvage his Champions League reputation where he has not succeeded since he left the comfort zone of prime time Messi led Barcelona brilliance.
While Haaland might take a while to settle, no one doubts that he will succeed eventually as both the team and Haaland merge their philosophies and styles. When that happens,I suspect that opposition teams will be terrorized and won’t stand a chance!
Liverpool on the other hand have had an almost seamless integration into their side in the last six months with first Luis Diaz and now Darwin Nunez gelling instantly. It’s worrying for everyone else that the departure of their conductor Sadio Mane hasn’t appeared to hinder them.
In fact they might even be stronger this season with Salah looking superhuman as if he’s getting a little help from Mohammed. Mind you perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into a charitable match such as the Community Shield and should wait for the real action to commence.
Last season City started poorly and were way off the top at Christmas. I fear that If there’s a repeat of that malfunctioning start again this season,then City will not be eating turkey this time around and Liverpool will ski to the title.
Elsewhere,no one with a good head on their shoulders expects any decent sustained challenge from Chelsea or Manchester United this season. Thomas Tuchel of Chelsea is already in a touch of trouble after Barcelona stole in ahead of Chelsea to cherry pick Chelsea’s desired targets and will enter the weekend carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.
However there’s still three more weeks to go for Chelsea before the transfer window ends to enable them to get their crumbling house in order and make the necessary acquisitions,so they may yet get it right.
However I’m sticking my neck out here and predicting a difficult season ahead for the increasingly grumpy German. Over at United, it’s imperative that United legend Cristiano Ronaldo is immediately consigned to the history books as this will release the shackles curtailing new boss Erik ten Hag’s efforts to get a new era off the ground.
Of course its not cast in stone that he will prove to be a success but he’s already showing good early signs of being a disciplinarian as well as being tactically astute.
Managers arriving at Old Trafford are naturally burdened with the obvious permanent pressure of repeating the historical success of the ultimate don of managers, Sir Alex Ferguson, but I have a hunch that he might actually be the first manager since Sir Alex who is not just capable of filling his shoes, but who also has the backing of the board, which has not always been the case. He will though have to get a couple of transfers done with haste before the end of the transfer window or I fear that United with their threadbare squad, will like Chelsea, have a pretty mediocre season.
Not even Spurs believe that they can compete for the title but they have been refreshingly spurred on by the arrivals into Tottenham of Ivan Perisic, Yves Bissouma and Everton hotspur and hotshot Richarlison amongst others.
Try as they may though,they will cane it at the end as they simply don’t have the depth of squad of a City or Liverpool. With new laws coming into effect this season in the EPL allowing teams to use five substitutes, the effect of a deep squad is enhanced and my fear is that the big boys are only going to get stronger.
Talking of Spurs,my genuine wish and hope for the season is that their remarkable selfless striker Son Heung-min finally gets the belated but true recognition he absolutely deserves.
Arsenal meanwhile will continue to make steady meaningful improvement brought about by a combination of some wonderful purchases in the summer, the next big manager after Klopp and Guardiola in the form of Arteta and of course a little help from Jesus!
Other major Farmer Leagues to get cracking this weekend include the German Bundesliga and the French League 1 with an unprecedented break in the season in November to accommodate the Qatar World Cup,it’s anyone’s guess how things are going to pan out in terms of player commitment prior to or for that matter,after the World Cup.
Does anyone really believe that Lionel Messi is going to fully exert himself in league action and risk potential injury,weeks before his last attempt at the cup he truly craves and furthermore needs, to justify his tag as the greatest player ever? I’m just saying….
When the English Premier League began in 1992, the theme song was Alive and Kicking by Simple Minds. Thirty years later,the league is very much alive and kicking. In fact it’s hunky,strapping,flourishing and flying becoming in the process a mega commercial success that not even the Football Association in their wildest dreams,ever believed could scale such heights.
It’s now a grand farmers league though. Till the next time, get ploughing!