10 Premier League storylines to watch (Cont.)
In this age of austerity, with UEFA's Financial Fair Play regulations one season from kicking in, clubs (with a few exceptions) have been cutting their cloth accordingly. Keeping that in mind, teams have prioritized retaining current talent ahead of bringing in new players. The news in late-June that Gareth Bale signed a new Tottenham deal, taking him up to 2016, was greeted with relief by Spurs fans; the summer's contract extensions for Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal) and Luis Suarez (Liverpool) were equally well-received.
Keeping your best players may be a costly exercise -- all four players received hefty pay hikes on their deals -- but it works out better than bringing in new ones. And with the likes of Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona and Juventus sniffing around, the market is fluid enough for clubs to need to protect their best assets.
In today's landscape, one good season is enough to earn a huge pay rise. If only it worked like that in the real world.
Although it did coincide with a suspension served by captain Vincent Kompany, Manchester City's poorest run of last season came in January, when Yaya Toure was with the Ivory Coast squad, eventual runners-up in 2012 African Cup of Nations. The tournament is being held again next January, in South Africa, which means that some clubs will be without their top players once again.
Because this edition has come around so quickly, the qualifiers will be played over two legs in September and October -- with the most interesting match between Senegal and Ivory Coast. If Senegal wins, Newcastle will be without strikers Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba. If Ivory Coast wins, City will miss the Toures, Arsenal will miss Gervinho and Newcastle (which loses either way) will miss Cheikh Tiote.
We have already seen the difference between a top team's No.1 and his backup: It's unlikely that Manchester City's Joe Hart would have spilled Daniel Sturridge's shot as Costel Pantilimon did, allowing Ryan Bertrand to pull a goal back for Chelsea in the Community Shield. Of the top six teams, one could argue that only Manchester United (and possibly Arsenal and Tottenham) has two goalkeepers close in standard. Manchester City and Liverpool certainly don't, while it's impossible to imagine Chelsea winning the Champions League -- or indeed, keeping a Premier League clean sheet -- with backup Ross Turnbull instead of Petr Cech in goal. (Chelsea conceded five goals in the two league games that Turnbull played last season.)
It is a surprise that clubs are willing to spend more than £20m on an attacking player relegated to a role on the bench, but they won't spend one-third of that amount on a reserve goalkeeper. Not that Arsenal would be too bothered. It benefited, on the final day of the season, from a calamitous performance of West Brom reserve Marton Fulop, in for injured Ben Foster, in its 3-2 victory that secured third place.
It took Manchester City's owners four years and €486m in transfer fees to win the Premier League, while QPR's boss Tony Fernandes spent heavily last January just to keep the team in the division. The latest benefactor-owner to join the Premier League is Anton Zingarevich, a 29-year-old Russian who acquired newly promoted Reading for €30m in the summer. Coach Brian McDermott, a former scout, has spent sensibly for the new season, signing a mix of players from the Championship and the Premier League, with the only marquee name being Zingarevich's compatriot Pavel Pogrebnyak. He is also funneling money into the club's academy to produce more young talent like Simon Church and Hal Robson-Kanu, first-teamers who have been at the club since they were 15. But which club will be bought next? Everton and Wigan are still on the market and have yet to find buyers, while Newcastle owner Mike Ashley is unpredictable and could sell his club for a healthy profit.
The FA brought in the pre-match handshakes at first to mirror the Champions League ritual in 2004-05, but it made them a centerpiece of its 'Respect' campaign in 2008. They might not last. Given that the row between Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra flared up over a Handshake That Never Was and that QPR's players refused to shake the hand of former England captain John Terry following his racism charge, of which he was acquitted, respect was in fairly short supply for much of last season.
QPR coach Mark Hughes, for one, would not be upset if the handshakes were cancelled. "Why give handshakes if they're not done with integrity, they are an irritation," he told the press last season.