The opening weekend of the Premier League football season and first thoughts were mildly contravening. How many more months until this juggernaut reaches some sort of climax?
That, though, was unforgivably forgetting that the Premier League is a smorgasbord of deceit, intrigue, scandal, calumny, gossip, disgrace, rivalries, back-stabbing, flare-ups, walkouts, bust-ups, failed defamation suits, wags, supervillains and superheroes. It’s a game of winners and losers every week and that’s not counting the results.
Starting one week earlier than last season after an 11-week break — not counting summer tours — from competition as well as an unusually restful November baked in as players catch up with the winter World Cup in Qatar, and Sky Sports was already in a monstering Manchester United mode.
“Hoping to rock Old Trafford, Erik ten Hag?” or, ‘how long will the honeymoon last Eric ten Hag?” the new United manager stepped up. As it transpired it is already leaning towards the honeymoon Eric ten Hag as United fell 2-1 to Brighton on Sunday.
For his new role, the Dutchman was granted the Sky mini-doc treatment before the match. Theo Vonk, one of Ten Hag’s former coaches from the Netherlands, described his then captain as a coach in the making while players from FC Twente and Go Ahead Eagles (he didn’t get to pick the name) sketched out a man who was “vocal and present, a leader” and a coach “who likes to control everything.”
With Liverpool visiting Manchester on August 22nd, it doesn’t give him much time to heal the PTSD suffered last season. Manchester United in such addled condition isn’t much good for their supporters or their haters.
“Changing the culture, which won’t be a quick fix, you’ve got to think Manchester United can be competitive,” said Roy Keane before the match began with his splendid Ernest Shackleton beard, Ronaldo sitting on the sideline naughty step having tried to bolt from the barn over the summer.
“He’s working really hard to get in the right fitness levels,” said Ten Hag of Ronaldo. “It will take time. He started pre-season last week. I want to see a team performance. That is everything.”
Brighton had never beaten Manchester United at Old Trafford in 14 attempts. But nobody told two-goal Pascal Gross. A goal on the half-hour and another on 39 minutes and “the Ten Hag era is off to the worst possible start,” screamed commentator Jamie Carragher. “They [United] don’t know where the players are and where they are popping up.”
At half-time and 2-0, Keane’s beard began to resemble a thunder cloud swirling under his nose with bolts of lightning shooting through it, his eyes shifting left and right, and those, too, on fire.
“Man United looked very, very fragile. The same problems. Out of possession they looked so open. Gaps everywhere it’s untrue,” gasped Keane with a tone of menace. He sounded like he wanted to get the entire United team in a headlock. “I’d go back to personalities on the team,” said one of the biggest the club has ever had. “It’s not when you have the ball, it’s when you don’t.”
Ronaldo for Fred early second half. Two players, one name each and Ronaldo wearing a Superman cape. In fairness his time on the pitch coincided with United’s hottest period of play and their only goal, a messy bouncing ball in the box OG. They departed where they had left off. A few goals better than when Brighton beat them 4-0 in May and the restorative Dutch therapy obviously needing some time to work.
Already the punters are thinking of the possible drama ahead. A new Dutch coach. A Portuguese superstar who wants to leave. A great club struggling to be average. All in the first weekend.
If England can’t get enough of their football, the Commonwealth Games showed that the BBC just can’t get enough of their English athletes. The women’s 400m final, an 11am start on Sunday, was a case in point. The favourite to win was Oregon World Championship bronze medal winner, Barbados runner Sada Williams.
After a confident run where she slowly built up to kick off the bend and win the gold medal comfortably, England provided the second, third and fourth-placed athletes. That was all too much and in the post-race interview Williams was door-stepped by the roving BBC reporter.
Not that Williams, the winner Williams, but Jodie Williams the English third-placed runner. Beside her stood a smiling Victoria Ohuruogu, who had won the silver medal. “How does it make you feel that you are up there with some of the best?” she was asked. Maybe they could have asked Sada, gold medallist, what it felt like to be the best with her Championship record run.
The Empire Games at its best and who really wants to hear from a Barbados athlete. Irritatingly that is how it has been all week. A Commonwealth Games made to measure and make the host country feel good about itself and its dominions, with the BBC artfully in support all the way.