Summer romance doesn’t last long
After a sentimental offseason, Premier League gets down to business with money talk
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.
Wayne Rooney applauds fans following Everton’s 1-0 victory over Stoke on Saturday. Rooney scored the winning goal.