There was a certain déjà vu about the start of this year’s Premier League season. The unrest that built inside the Emirates while Arsenal were losing to Leicester on the opening evening mirrored the unrest aimed at Arsène Wenger throughout last season. A day later, Liverpool forgot how to defend set pieces, or rather they forgot to learn how to defend set pieces, evoking memories of last season (and seasons before) when Liverpool’s defending proved an enduring hurdle. The heated discussion on Sky Sports between Jamie Redknapp and Jamie Carragher after the match resembled a debate more likely to take place as the season reaches its climax.
On first sight, it appeared this wasn’t the normal start to a season. After some unwinding during the summer break, the start of a new football season is supposed to offer dreams that you cling to as you embark on a new journey. The new season is supposed to offer hope that your team can fulfil those dreams harboured by its supporters, a hope that binds fans in an atmosphere of unity. The new season brings new aspirations, as you pray for summer signings and young blood that can take the team to new levels. These feelings are what makes the start of the season so special and unique.
So why did the Emirates dismiss these feelings for anger and fury during a large part of the season’s opener? Why did Carragher and Redknapp and some Liverpool supporters on Twitter blast the team’s defending as if they have already lost any chance of winning a title? Liverpool didn’t even lose the match. Why did some Chelsea fans boo their team off the pitch after losing to Burnley, with a starting XI containing nine players who won Premier League medals last season? The never-ending Premier League soap opera is to blame.
The emotions synonymous with the start of a season require a break, and a period of contemplation. A time to reflect upon the previous season before forming hopes and aspirations for the next season. Yet a break away from the limelight is the last thing the Premier League’s marketing men would want, and that shift has undoubtedly arrived. Through social media platforms, the characters of the Premier League soap opera live on after the season has ended. Their stage may have changed from the football field to Ocean Beach in Ibiza, yet we still take as much interest, if not more.
The action then changes scene to a far-flung location abroad, joining the drama of a pre-season tour. Pre-season or not, anyone is interested to see how Manchester United face up against Real Madrid as they did in San Francisco this year. Similarly, anyone is interested in finding out the next Leicester player to prove during pre-season that they’re a racist. And as teams attempt to broaden their brand in the Americas or Asia, social media fills with images and videos of our favourite team’s engagements abroad. Who isn’t entertained or bemused by watching Jurgen Klopp learn to dance with Australian aborigines?
They are painted more as royal ambassadors than footballers. And as clubs open up abroad to capitalise on a new territory to win new fans and revenue, the media pounce on their open stance to produce interviews often far more candid than any produced during the football season itself. In an interview with Spanish newspaper Marca, Alvaro Morata explained how Chelsea fans are already on his back after missing his Community Shield penalty in a mere 15 minute performance. Evidently fans now use pre-season as the time to judge the ability of their new signings. No time to settle in, I’m afraid.
However the most important scene change is from the pitch to the transfer window. It is the transfer window that has invaded more space than anything else; our daily conversations, our social media interactions, our summer sports coverage. No wonder Sky Sports News uses so much of it to fill its 24/7 broadcasting. Indeed, their coverage of the ‘window’ and our appetite for it are mutually dependent. Bar the two weeks of Wimbledon and the occasional Ashes series, the transfer window seems to captivate modern sports fans more than anything else during the summer.
The way it is often referred to as the transfer “season” further helps it seamlessly blend in as a part of the true football ‘season’. The fact that the transfer window overlaps with the start of the season for nearly three weeks helps make it all the more ironic. The boundaries between the transfer window and the football season are truly blurred, as if they seamlessly blend into one never-ending cycle. In this modern day the transfer window and football season are inextricably entwined, each dependent on one another for attention and hype.
Potential plans to close the transfer window before the season starts were met with general applause by football fans recently. But it will certainly continue to engage our attention. Neymar’s move from Barcelona to PSG proved this, not least for breaking the transfer record. It interested nearly everyone with its economic and political implications, and many with its football implications, as PSG take another step towards their European title dreams. With the various motifs, subplots, and characters (players, owners, managers and agents) involved in individual transfers alone, it is no surprise that to some the transfer season is more interesting than the football season.
On the opening weekend, perhaps it was some Chelsea fans who spoke the clearest in explaining their boos – that they were booing the board for their transfer business, rather than the players for a lacklustre performance. They revealed the unfortunate truth that a club is no longer judged on its players’ performances alone, but also on their activity during the transfer window. Football is an all-year affair.
They underlined that the football season never stops, it simply changes scene. Fans of clubs outside England’s top flight may naturally be less disposed to the endless theatre directed by Richard Scudamore, and enjoy some time to recuperate before August comes round the corner. It is only they that have the joy of sitting back, reminiscing, before building up an excitement for the next time that the football season captures their imaginations.
Look hard enough and sure, you’ll find the romance. Huddersfield’s dream start to their Premier League existence, Burnley toppling the champions, Rooney’s newfound form for his boyhood club, even Arsenal’s dramatic late winner on the opening evening glistened with romance as we were reminded of just how magical the game can be. Yet unfortunately these romantic moments have the tendency to become lost within all the other mayhem of the Premier League script. If our brains are constantly stimulated by football with no break or breathing space, then the emotions of a new season will forever be lost in the commotion that has now become the theatre of the Premier League world.