With Olympic fever consuming London as records tumble and gold flows across the nation, the start of the football season has approached with all the stealth of a Lockheed Bomber. There are just days to go until English football’s traditional curtain raiser, the FA Community Shield, yet talk has been at a premium with the advent of the Premier League currently flying under the radar.
The only football news that has hit the headlines recently are exploits in the festival of sport currently taking place in the nation’s capital with Chelsea’s contingent snaring them largely for the wrong reasons. Juan Mata’s Spain side entered the tournament as favourites but instead were eliminated before the knockout rounds without even scoring a goal. While he might not see it in the same way, his early trip home at least means he will get added rest ahead of the new campaign especially given his – albeit small – participation at Euro 2012.
Meanwhile, Daniel Sturridge was the traditional fall guy for Team GB’s exit from the tournament at the quarter final stage, missing the crucial penalty in the shootout against South Korea. His misfortune should not overshadow what was a decent showing at his first major international tournament scoring two goals that included an exquisite chip in the win over UAE. His displays were all the more impressive given that he was diagnosed with viral meningitis just weeks before the start of London 2012 and his return to fitness and form is encouraging. Unfortunately for the youngster, there is still uncertainty over his role at Stamford Bridge where Roberto Di Matteo is clearly not his biggest fan given the sparse opportunities afforded to the striker in the back end of last season. Sturridge’s future is far from certain and will hinge upon any further activity in the transfer market.
Romelu Lukaku’s prospects of first team football look more likely to occur at another club with Fulham leading the chase and should he make the short switch across SW6 then Sturridge’s chances of game time will be greatly enhanced as Fernando Torres’ understudy. But should Roman Abramovich deem it necessary to spend large sums on Edinson Cavani or Hulk then he could be back to square one. Florent Malouda is another who is yet to know precisely what he will be doing in the forthcoming months. Expected to depart the club after a flurry of new creative signings, the France international still calls London home.
Potential targets are also on tenterhooks. Victor Moses has been the subject of much negotiation between Wigan and Chelsea yet remains at the DW Stadium while Cesar Azpilicueta does not know whether he will be playing in blue or still sporting the white of Marseille come the close of the transfer window.
With no new developments regarding squad development, the focus has instead been cast on a markedly average pre-season. Defeats to AC Milan, MLS All-Stars and most notably Brighton and Hove Albion has set many tongues wagging in the press pack. Clearly one would like results to be better and the concession of ten goals in five matches is not something to dismiss lightly but it must be remembered that pre-season is not always the best barometer of side’s impending fortunes. Arsenal’s 3-0 battering of Manchester United in the 1998 Charity Shield – as it was named then – saw Sir Alex Ferguson’s team written off before the season began with new signing Jaap Stam derided by all. As it turned out United went on to win a historic treble with Stam remaining one of the best centre backs ever to play in the Premier League.
That example is not meant to guard against a possible defeat to Manchester City in Sunday’s Villa Park encounter but to pre-empt any hyperbole should a similar fate befall Di Matteo and his men. Eden Hazard and Oscar have been big-money arrivals but they are young men in a foreign land with no previous experience of English football. It is natural that they might take time to adapt to its rigours; not everyone can be an instant success which is why Mata’s performances from the off last season were so impressive. In the case of Oscar, a patient attitude from the supporters will be all the more important. Still involved in the Olympics as the fulcrum of a Brazil side that will surely win gold, he will not meet his new team mates until next week at the earliest unlike Hazard who has had the whole of pre-season to acclimatise. However, the Brazilian’s performances in the tournament have been eye-catching to say the least and once he is up to speed I am convinced we will see a gem of a player dictating play in the Chelsea midfield for years to come.
The new dawn promises much but let’s give the youngsters time to shine. Until then Frank Lampard, Ramires and Torres can show the new boys how it’s done.
You can read more of Phil's opinions at ShoutyAndSpitty.com or on Twitter @PhilLythell