The Premier League season starts on Saturday but to be honest, I’m not that bothered by it. Why? It feels like there hasn’t even been a break. Since the Champions League final at the end of May we have had international friendlies at the start of June, then the U-21 European Championships and then the Confederations Cup during the rest of June. By that time, pre-season has already started and we are into the endless cycle of transfer sagas, manager speculation and predictions. There is just no let-up. Football has lost its allure as it creeps ever increasingly into the summer months traditionally reserved for cricket. Because of the insatiable appetite for the beautiful game, one can watch it all year round and for me, that seems wrong. I like my June and July to be totally football-free (unless the World Cup is on of course) and so when August comes around, I am genuinely tingling with anticipation at the thought of my first glimpse at the newest signings to the Premier League. Remember that glorious time, pre-internet, when players like Andrei Kanchelskis and Daniel Amokachi came to England? The first opportunity one had to see them play was the first game of the season (unless you were some super-keen fanatic who would travel to Bury on a sweltering July evening to see your team put in a half-arsed performance) and one would be genuinely excited. Nowadays, all the mystique has disappeared. It’s like a girl on a first date handing you a picture of herself completely starkers. Yes it’s good to have this information but all the mystery has been ruined. A couple of clicks and you can see your new signing in action on youtube, read his personal preferences on twitter, get to know his family on Instagram; so this pre-season I have steered clear of youtube, deliberately not followed Iago Aspas on twitter and avoided watching videos of pre-season games. Despite this impressive self-denial, I am still completely apathetic towards the coming season – and this seriously worries me.
Part of the problem is that this summer has seen amazing achievements from Britons in other sports. Whilst our brave footballers were drawing with Ireland, Andy Murray was busy becoming the first British man for 77 years to win Wimbledon. The Lions were winning their first test series in four attempts and England’s cricketers are currently making mincemeat of Australia in the Ashes. Not to mention Mo Farah’s 10,000m victory at the World Championships or Christine Ohurougu’s incredible British record to reclaim her 400m crown on Monday. In other sports, British competitors are improving, testing themselves against the best in the world and regularly coming out on top. The footballers meanwhile are plodding along, seemingly content to be good enough, but not world class. There has been a recent change in the British psyche from being gallant, plucky losers to hard-nosed winners. This is evident in Rugby Union, Tennis, Cricket, Athletics and Cycling but seems to have passed football by. I daresay the fact that there is so much money in English football at the moment is to the detriment of the game. Young players who have achieved relatively little get rewarded with huge contracts and suddenly at 19, 20, 21 they are already millionaires living a very comfortable lifestyle. Take Raheem Sterling for example. He played maybe two or three good games for Liverpool last season, yet was demanding a £30k plus per-week contract (as an 18 year-old) when in real terms, he had done absolutely sweet FA. Liverpool, loathe to lose one of their brightest talents, relented and Sterling proceeds to go and behave like a complete wally and gets himself arrested last week. Is that the behaviour of a potential star of the future? Do you hear about the best young Spanish or German or Italian players (let’s forget about Balotelli for a second) conducting themselves in such a manner?
One thing that I have noticed about successful athletes from other sports is their hunger and desire to win, their willingness to work hard to achieve their goals, and how grounded and disciplined they are. Take Mo Farah for example. In preparation for the World Championships he spent several weeks training at altitude in the Swiss and Austrian Alps. Farah has a young family and he sacrificed seeing them in pursuit of his goal of a gold medal – so much so that he admitted his youngest daughter barely recognises him. Bradley Wiggins, in a similar situation to Farah with a young family, spent weeks training at altitude in Tenerife in preparation for his tilt at the 2012 Tour de France. This is the sort of dedication and ruthlessness required to become the best in the world. The footballers of today seldom have such drive and desire. Last year, England cricket’s star batsman, Kevin Pietersen, fresh from a stunning 149 not out to save the game against South Africa at Headingley, was dropped for creating dressing-room unrest by sending provocative texts to the opposition and generally being a bit of a Billy big-bollocks. England lost the next game, but sent Pietersen a strong message which was along the lines of ‘nothing is bigger than the team.’ The Surrey man repented, was re-admitted to the team with the proviso of a new attitude and look what has happened since: England have not lost a series.
I like the Premier League, I genuinely do. It is probably the most exciting league in the world and it showcases some of the greatest players on the planet. However, especially since the 2012 Olympics, I have become slightly disillusioned with football. The Olympics was a glorious festival of sport, where athletes dedicated up to four years of their lives living off pittance in some cases in the pursuit of a medal (in some cases, just the start line). That is what sport is about – the passion, the determination, the drive to try hard every day in the pursuit of excellence. When I see Premier League footballers not giving much of a shit (Q.P.R take note) who are on more money per week than most athletes earn in a year, it leaves a slightly bitter taste in the mouth.
So, what hopes do I have for the coming season? I hope that the football will take pride of place instead of debates about strikers trying to eat central defenders. I hope the season will throw up a surprise package that plays enterprising football (Stoke and West Ham to be relegated please). I hope that just for once, greedy footballers stop thinking about how much money they can earn, handing in transfer requests and actually get on with improving themselves. I hope that I can fall back in love with the beautiful game. I hope, but I won’t hold by breath.