Sum­mer ro­mance doesn’t last long

Af­ter a sen­ti­men­tal off­sea­son, Premier League gets down to busi­ness with money talk

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY SI­MON EVANS sports@wash­post.com

For a mo­ment, it looked like a Premier League off­sea­son for the ro­man­tics.

Wayne Rooney — no longer needed at Manch­ester United and long linked with a lu­cra­tive pre-re­tire­ment con­tract in China, the Mid­dle East or MLS — de­cided to go home in­stead; he re-signed with his boy­hood club, Ever­ton.

The sight of Rooney pulling on the blue jer­sey again at Good­i­son Park felt right, es­pe­cially as he scored the win­ning goal in a 1-0 vic­tory over Stoke City in the opener Sat­ur­day.

An­other for­mer Eng­land cap­tain, John Terry, also found him­self sur­plus to re­quire­ments at Chelsea and de­cided to sign with As­ton Villa in the League Cham­pi­onship, the level be­low the Premier League. Terry, 36, said he didn’t want to sign with an­other Premier League club be­cause he would have to play against his beloved Chelsea. But even if that ar­gu­ment mer­ited some skep­ti­cism, the fact that a veteran was drop­ping down a di­vi­sion to carry on play­ing was a wel­come re­turn to the habits of the past. A few weeks on from those moves, how­ever, and the ro­man­tic off­sea­son is over.

The Premier League sea­son kicked off this week­end. And the buildup has been to­tally over­shad­owed by talk of player trans­fers, con­tracts and money.

For some rea­son, the trans­fer win­dow in Europe does not close un­til the fi­nal day of Au­gust, mean­ing that clubs head into their open­ing game not with fi­nal­ized ros­ters for the 38 games ahead but with a long list of ques­tion marks.

Take the first game for ex­am­ple, Fri­day’s be­tween Arse­nal and Le­ices­ter that Arse­nal won, 4-3, in Lon­don. Alexis Sanchez, Arse­nal’s star for­ward, has been re­port­edly on his way out of the club all sum­mer with Manch­ester City and Paris Saint-Ger­main, Europe’s two big­gest spenders so far in this trans­fer win­dow, both strongly linked to him.

Man­ager Arsene Wenger in­sists the club doesn’t want to sell Sanchez, but Sanchez has only a year left on his con­tract.

“I’m not su­per op­ti­mistic” said Wenger when asked about the Chilean’s long-term fu­ture at the club.

Le­ices­ter’s top player, Al­ge­rian Riyad Mahrez, an­nounced in May that he wanted to leave the club, and at one time it seemed he could be lin­ing up for Wenger’s team in the open­ing game. Roma has tried to buy him, but he re­mains a Le­ices­ter player, for a week or two at least.

Liver­pool, which started its sea­son with a 3-3 tie against Wat­ford on Sat­ur­day, also has sig­nif­i­cant per­son­nel ques­tions. On Fri­day, the club’s Amer­i­can own­ers, Fen­way Sports Group, felt the need to is­sue a state­ment mak­ing clear that their Brazil­ian for­ward, Philippe Coutinho, would not be sold.

Barcelona, with the rev­enue from the world-record $263 mil­lion sale of Ney­mar to Paris Saint-Ger­main burn­ing a hole in its pocket, has had two bids for Coutinho, the lat­ter for $117 mil­lion, turned down.

Within a few hours of that strongly worded state­ment, Coutinho sub­mit­ted a for­mal trans­fer re­quest, ac­cord­ing to re­ports.

If Liver­pool main­tains its hard line, a long and bit­ter wran­gle with Coutinho could sour the sea­son. If Liver­pool gives in to the player’s de­mands, then, as with the sale of Luis Suarez to Barca three years ago, its plans and am­bi­tions will be se­verely un­der­mined.

But any sym­pa­thy for Man­ager Jur­gen Klopp, try­ing to pre­pare his team while his best player’s fu­ture is spec­u­lated on in the me­dia ev­ery day, is tem­pered by this: Liver­pool is the preda­tor in an­other deal.

Southamp­ton will start its sea­son with­out ex­cel­lent Dutch de­fender Vir­gil van Dijk, who has made a pub­lic re­quest to leave the club, amid strong re­ports that Liver­pool wants him. Van Dijk signed a six-year con­tract with the Saints last year — such agree­ments no longer se­cure loy­alty but ap­pear de­signed only to raise a player’s price.

Pep Guardi­ola’s Manch­ester City has spent more than $260 mil­lion on new play­ers this off­sea­son, in­stantly mak­ing it a ti­tle fa­vorite. Manch­ester United is viewed as a strong chal­lenger, hav­ing in­vested about $190 mil­lion on Bel­gian striker Romelu Lukaku, Ser­bian mid­fielder Ne­manja Matic and Swedish de­fender Vic­tor Lin­de­lof.

Tot­ten­ham is an ex­cep­tion, hav­ing been quiet in the mar­ket thus far. Man­ager Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino’s start­ing 11 is hard to im­prove upon, and it is dif­fi­cult to sign qual­ity play­ers when they know they will start on the bench. But what some might see as ad­mirable loy­alty to a squad is in­ter­preted by oth­ers as a lack of am­bi­tion.

Chelsea be­gan its ti­tle de­fense with a 3-2 loss to Burn­ley on Sat­ur­day. Chelsea’s Brazil­ian-Span­ish striker, Diego Costa, was on the side­line as he waits for a move away from Stam­ford Bridge, prob­a­bly to Spain or Italy.

New­cas­tle is back in the top flight af­ter win­ning pro­mo­tion, but its Span­ish man­ager, Rafa Ben­itez, gen­er­ated head­lines this past week af­ter say­ing he was “not happy” with the club’s in­com­ing deals. The other two new clubs in the league, Brighton and Hud­der­s­field, bear lit­tle re­sem­blance to the teams that won pro­mo­tion from the Cham­pi­onship. Brighton has so far signed 10 new play­ers, while Hud­der­s­field, man­aged by for­mer U.S. in­ter­na­tional David Wag­ner, has nine new faces.

LEE SMITH/AC­TION IM­AGES VIA REUTERS

Wayne Rooney ap­plauds fans fol­low­ing Ever­ton’s 1-0 vic­tory over Stoke on Sat­ur­day. Rooney scored the win­ning goal.

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