Analysis: The new Premier League season will only really start when all the transfer deals are done
Premier League in transfer limbo while big names are still agitating for moves
For the teenagers playing on the new synthetic surface at Bacon's College in south-east London, Thursday will have been an eye-opener. Decked out in Tottenham and Manchester United kits, with the latter given a team-talk by Nemanja Vidic, they also had to bear in mind that any stray clearances could end up in the makeshift Sky Sports studio on the touchline that was broadcasting live.
This was the Premier League's official season launch, one of those occasions when the league is not afraid to showcase its heady mix of football celebrity and generous gifts to good causes. In case you had not heard it mentioned, the Premier League does a lot of work for charity. The new college pitch was paid for through its Football Foundation as part of £290m the league will give away this year.
It is a considerable sum, certainly more than any other European league donates, even if £160m will be in parachute payments to relegated sides. That is one of the great conflicts at the heart of the league. It is one of world sport's most popular competitions and yet the more the league points to the amount it gives away, the more everyone is reminded just how much money the whole competition generates, £1.9bn in this season alone.
For the children playing football in Docklands there was the pure excitement of being coached by Ledley King, refereed by Andre Marriner or having their picture taken with David Moyes. That is the simple, uncomplicated view of the day, but this being the Premier League, there is another narrative unwinding as we count down to tomorrow's start of the new season.
That is the all-consuming transfer stories of the summer: Wayne Rooney, Luis Suarez and Gareth Bale chief among them. While Andre Villas-Boas reluctantly agreed that his club may not resolve their dealings until the window closes on 2 September (and they have, relatively speaking, made more than most having signed France midfielder Etienne Capoue) Moyes was once again obliged to confirm that Manchester United are in the market for big names.
Arsène Wenger, whose signings with 17 days left comprise the free agent Yaya Sanogo and no money lavished on fees, could only promise that his club would be "active until the end".
Richard Scudamore, the Premier League chief executive, said that in an ideal world the window would shut before the season starts. "But we are caught by Uefa," he said, "each of the European leagues starts at a different time and has a different attitude."
One day to go until the start of the 2013-14 season and it is striking how much is unresolved. That is part of the Premier League's attraction, no doubt. It can build a new 3G pitch at an inner-city London school and sprinkle a little stardust at the opening; it can cart the roadshow around Asia in pre-season; but no one can tell you with complete certainty whether Bale will still be at Spurs come 3 September.
As for Villas-Boas, his demeanour when the subject of Bale was raised did not suggest that here was a manager who had any certainty that he would have the league's stand-out talent in his team beyond this transfer window. In the keenly pragmatic world in which this serious young manager operates, he conceded that, in his words, "speculation is going to arrive" around the very best players.
"It has been happening with Liverpool, it has been happening with Rooney at Manchester United for a different reason," he said. "We can understand and we can speak to the players regarding their ambitions. We can explain to them that at certain stages players are under contract and have the responsibility towards their clubs and we as a club, or the person who controls the club, has to defend their own interest."
One cannot blame Scudamore for feeling embattled and he does not see a weakness in the league potentially losing Bale. "We are going to have 20 of the world's wealthiest top-35 clubs in terms of income," he said. "You are not going to see a huge talent drain. We've always seen the odd player leave. David Beckham left us and it didn't stop us. Cristiano Ronaldo left us and it didn't stop us. I don't worry about individual players leaving.
"A player rebellion to me is when a whole squad says, 'We aren't playing this afternoon'. If you are talking about a player agitating for a move, that's happened forever. The only difference is it's back page every day, every nuance. It's not a rebellion. If you go back to Pierre van Hooijdonk, he sat in the dressing room and sulked at Nottingham Forest [in 1998]."
Whatever may unfold in the next two weeks it does not compare to the mess that those outside the top two in Spain are experiencing, not least Valencia who have sold their striker Roberto Soldado to Spurs for a club record £26m. In answer to the question of whether he could be left with a lot of money in the bank but no scope to spend it if Bale is sold late in the window, Villas-Boas implied it was more a case of Spurs having spent the money from that potential sale in advance.
"This season I think we have gone an extra level in terms of our investment in new players and maybe this is a different pattern from seasons previously," he said. "So I think that won't be the case [that money is left unspent]."
No one at the Premier League's latest facility, paid for by rights-holder billions pouring in from all over the world, was left in any doubt that the season starts in one day's time. But only once the transfer window shuts will people know where they stand.
Trading places? How Tottenham have outspent the Gunners
£26m Roberto Soldado
£8.6m Etienne Capoue
£7m Nacer Chadli
Free Yaya Sanogo
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