James Lawton: The monster is back: cheat-ridden, greedy, mindless and... highly addictive

This season's Premier League promises to be as intriguing and controversial as ever
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The Independent Online

Somewhere along the road of brilliant summer sport maybe your wish list for a new Premier League campaign was mislaid.

Perhaps it was because the last one was in many ways so wretched, so lacking in style and communal heart off the field and, for so much of the time, so deeply mediocre on it. Indeed, when Barcelona came to Wembley and outclassed the champions of England was it not so much a defeat as a judgement?

But then if a week is a long time in politics and the serenity of our streets, a summer without the national drug, the barometer of so many distracting dreams and hopes, can for so many touch on eternity.

It is why the wish lists, including this one, are being scribbled now.

The monster is upon us again with its brassy claims, mindless greed, capacity to cheat and flagrant disregard for the old principle that any league is only as strong as its most vulnerable member. But has it any real need to fear a significant level of indifference?

No, of course it does not. The Premier League knows it remains attached to so much of the national vein. Some of its manifestations may be repellent but it is also addictive. So what do we do? We make our wishes, which are variously one-eyed, eccentric, fanciful, well-meaning and about as likely to be fulfilled as a first-time mortgage application for a penthouse overlooking Kensington Gardens.

At the top of this particular list goes some hope for new gusts of self-appraisal in the dressing rooms of the Premier League. From Spain we hear of Carles Puyol and Iker Casillas, captains of Barcelona and Real Madrid, standing shoulder to shoulder with less celebrated workmates in a bout of industrial action and for a second at least we might speculate where such a selfless initiative might lead. The great recurring wish is for some sign of a decline in the instinct to cheat, to exploit football's dismal failure to embrace technology.

It is not so hard divining the deepest desires of those impassioned by the prospects of what used to be a Gang of Four elite but now, with the possibility of Liverpool's survival as a serious football club and the striking progress of Tottenham Hotspur, may have swollen to as many as six.

At Arsenal there is an overwhelming need in the wake of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri. It is convincing evidence from Arsène Wenger that he still inhabits the real world of football and not some place of shadow that has replaced the old brilliance of his understanding of what the game at its highest level should be about: the possibility of winning the great prizes along with an enduring ability to make football beautiful.

Now there is talk that his genius for unearthing talent may have found expression in his £12m move for a Brazilian named Jadson. He has alsoinvested £16m in the promise of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Some see adherence to principles brought down from the mountain top. Others detect a worrying detachment from reality. What everyone should want, is Arsenal's continued presence at the top of English football, not as a fantasy project but a club reminiscent of its old aestheticism and competitive instinct.

In two of these categories at least, it is possible to welcome back Liverpool. There is much debate about the depth of quality in Kenny Dalglish's summer signings but unquestionably the American ownership was right to recognise what he achieved in the few months of his return to the action.

There is no limit, of course, to the ambition of Manchester City, and nor should there be when you glance at their resources, but is there a ruling philosophy about how they should play the game, how they should see themselves? The careworn expression of Roberto Mancini was less than convincing when Manchester United restated an apparently timeless ability to reinvent themselves.

Yes, of course, United must start favourites – and Chelsea, who looked so formidable 12 months ago in the charge of Carlo Ancelotti, must prove just about instantly that they are involved not in some new speculative lunge involving 33-year-old coach Andre Villas-Boas but some measured response to a growing litany of fundamental mistakes.

Heaven knows, the possibilities are intriguing enough. But is there enough collective understanding that if there is a new stage today there are also some old questions? Yes, it is that day when football goes on show once again but with an unprecedented need to wear its best clothes – the kind most appropriate when you know you are on trial.

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