EPL returns without United legend | Soccer | CBC Sports

SoccerEPL returns without United legend

Posted: Thursday, August 15, 2013 | 10:55 AM

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Many wonder how Wilfried Zaha and the rest of Manchester United will fare without legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson. (Victor Fraile/Getty Images) Many wonder how Wilfried Zaha and the rest of Manchester United will fare without legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson. (Victor Fraile/Getty Images)

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Twenty-one years after breaking away from the century-old Football League, the English Premier has a fresh look about it as it kicks off the 2013-14 season.

One heck of a summer, eh? No, not here. There.

An ocean away the party has been virtually non-stop. In a rare summer of success, British sports fans have had plenty to celebrate.

First, there was a homegrown winner at Wimbledon. Andy Murray's grinding victory on centre court -- the first British men's champion since Fred Perry in 1936 -- puts him in line for a knighthood and a statue at London's All England Club.

Then, there was an English winner in the Tour de France. Chris Froome pedalled home ahead of the pack to claim victory in the 100th edition of cycling's most prestigious and now, apparently, clean race.

To top it off, England won The Ashes. One of sports' oldest rivalries, England against Australia in cricket has, from time to time, been unfriendly and downright hostile. The latest skirmish was decisively settled, but only until the next time.

Throw in the royal baby for good measure and there seems no end to the celebration.

But enough with the fluff.

The cycling, tennis and cricket were fun, allowing a nation of sports fans to beat their sunburnt chests in pride.

Now comes the serious business.

The English Premier League has come of age. 21 years after breaking away from the century old Football League, the EPL has a fresh look about it for a brand new campaign.

For the first time since its inception, Sir Alex Ferguson is no longer a factor. The surprise retirement of the "Grand Master" will come as a huge relief to match officials and media alike. Manchester United fans, meanwhile, will be holding their breath wondering what happens now the autocratic Fergie has taken his leave.

Will it be business as usual at Old Trafford? David Moyes, Ferguson's handpicked replacement, is tasked with keeping United at the front of the line. But Moyes is under immense pressure before a ball is kicked.

Ferguson's formidable track record allowed him the occasional misfire, domestically and in Europe. Moyes, who won nothing yet achieved minor miracles on a shoestring budget at Everton, is unlikely to be afforded such latitude should United fail to be a title contender at home or abroad.

The very absence of Ferguson gives everyone else hope. He defined United in the modern era and his yardstick measured all others. He has left a legacy, of course. But he also casts a huge shadow over everything that comes after his glorious reign.

A posse of other clubs, retooled on and off the field, will sense their opportunity. As Moyes comes to grips with the enormity of expectation, so too will others be planning some dynasty building of their own.

The "Special One" is back for more. While Jose Mourinho might have been hoping for a phone call from Old Trafford, he can settle back into familiar surroundings at Chelsea. Mourinho was the one who led the Londoners to back-to-back EPL titles seven years ago. But whether he can repeat his magic remains to be seen. The league he left has changed significantly.

During Mourinho's previous stint, the Big Four were fixtures year in and year out. He returns to an EPL in which Liverpool is no longer a member of the elite, Manchester City's buying power has made it a major player and Chelsea itself is no longer guaranteed top-four status. 

The noisy neighbours need to calm down.

The very public and extremely undignified way in which Roberto Mancini left Manchester City lends an air of uncertainty. His successor, Manuel Pellegrini, has been left to pick up the pieces and restore some sense or order and discipline in an alien environment.

Pellegrini, the first Chilean to coach in the EPL, has bags of experience, though not in this neck of the woods. Despite his excellent work in Spain, with Malaga, it is worth remembering he didn't even last a year at Real Madrid and his new paymasters in Manchester may also become trigger happy should the transition prove problematic.

The managerial merry-go-round might just play straight into the hands of Arsenal. Ferguson's exit leaves Arsene Wenger as the longest-serving, single-club coach in England's top flight.

The Frenchman knows the secret of success -- he has three English titles to his name -- but the trophy cabinet has been left undisturbed for eight long seasons. A lack of significant activity during the transfer window does nothing to suggest the barren spell is about to end.

Then, there's the new crop.

For the first time in EPL history, there are two Welsh clubs. Cardiff City, last season's runaway Championship winner, joins Swansea, aiming to keep pace with neighbours and rivals. Wales will come to a virtual standstill when the two teams go head-to-head for the first time on Nov. 3.

Hull City is back, with a new look and name. The owner, aiming to maximize the club's appeal from an international perspective, is rebranding the team the Hull City Tigers and reviving the black-and-amber striped jerseys. Here's hoping Steve Bruce can produce a winning team or, very soon, the headlines will be all about the "Toothless Tigers."

Crystal Palace, winner of the Wembley playoff final, finished 15 points behind Cardiff, but has made its intention clear by signing Arsenal misfit Marounane Chamakh. Palace has also embraced hypnotherapy in a bid to boost the players' belief and self-confidence.

If London's sixth EPL club survives, the mind games will all have been worth it.

Follow Nigel Reed on Twitter @Nigel_Reed

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