There’s nothing quite like the start of a new season. The months to come are filled with promise, with fans dreaming of trophies, continental qualification or just, well, being a bit less bad.
There’s certainly plenty of intrigue with European football back from its summer break, with plotlines galore across the continent.
In England it may seem that Manchester City have established something of a stranglehold on the Premier League, winning four of the last five, and Pep Guardiola’s side look set to be a scary proposition once again with the addition of Erling Haaland. If City were already a sleek and deadly fighter jet, it’s now being piloted by a Terminator.
They’ll start as favourites but Liverpool look ready to run them all the way again, with some impressive recruitment to bolster Jurgen Klopp’s pressing machine. The Manchester United content roadshow will roll on, regardless of whether Erik ten Hag can actually make them a force again, Chelsea have new owners and a revamped squad and Mikel Arteta has to manage Arsenal now the world has seen him drawing love heart cartoons in the dressing room.
In Italy Milan are defending the Scudetto for the first time in over a decade, but their city rivals have brought Romelu Lukaku back to wrestle it off them. Juventus, like Dracula, are never really dead and will be looking to claim back what the Old Lady feels is her property while Roma have had one of the most eye-catching transfer windows on the continent and are entering the Jose Mourinho second season – that’s the really good one before it all goes wrong in the third.
La Liga could see a thrilling battle as double-winners Real Madrid look to hold off a Barcelona who, having realised they had no money, decided to solve the problem by spending lots of money. It’s a bold strategy; let’s see if Robert Lewandowski pays off for them.
Even in leagues where we can probably guess the outcome there are things to be interested in. Borussia Dortmund might actually be able to challenge Bayern Munich – for a bit at least – and over in France Paris Saint-Germain are, whisper it, being… sensible? New sporting director Luis Campos has controversially opted to actually build a squad, rather than assembling yet another collection of ivory back-scratchers and they may just make a run at the Champions League.
Sound good? Appetite whetted? Right then, well you’ve got a couple of months and then we’re stopping. Ladies and gentlemen, the Lusail Stadium, the white elephant in the room, the host of the 2022 World Cup final. The moral issues with Qatar hosting the tournament have been discussed at length, including in these pages, and are clearly far more important than the scheduling of European football.
That said, stopping the world’s biggest leagues from mid-November to early January is a sure-fire momentum killer just when things are getting interesting. On account of it being too hot to play football in the desert in the summer – but not to build a stadium, of course – the leagues will grind to a halt while the first-ever winter World Cup takes place.
What will this actually look like in practice? The truth is that we have no way of knowing how players will react to having football’s greatest show shoved in the middle of a domestic season. Have coaches prepared differently? Will we end the season with teams of knackered athletes playing the world’s most high-profile game of walking football?
For supporters Stateside the timing couldn’t be better, with the World Cup coming just days after the MLS Cup final. FIFA, taking the game to new places and growing it in new markets… unless viewership – and those potential future fans – in the US will be affected by a little-known sports league called the NFL which will be mid-season when we kick-off in Qatar.
The obvious analogy is unprintable in a family magazine, so as we reach into the bag of similes we find it’s like zooming off in a Ferrari then running out of fuel after two miles. Welcome to the new season, settle in, perch on the edge of your seat – just don’t get too into it.