By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (May 8, 2013) US Soccer Players – It seems like just yesterday, when I asked about what the Premier League might have to offer the mainstream American sports fan when it gets regular network coverage for the 2013-14 season. Fortunately for the league and its new broadcast partner NBC Sports, Alex Ferguson announced his retirement earlier today. All of a sudden, 2013-14 is full of an intrigue that didn't exist a day ago.
It's not just what happens with United, still the premier brand in English soccer. It's what happens to the other clubs impacted by Ferguson's choice to step down.
First in line is Tim Howard's Everton, a club arguably the most manager dependent in the Premier League. David Moyes took the job in 2002, turning Everton into a club at the cusp of a European place. In recent years, they've almost always been in the conversation. That's a major move for a club without the pedigree of many of its new rivals. Everton were last champions of England in 1987, with a tendency to put a decade or two between their championship caliber teams.
Moyes doesn't have a title or a trophy as manager of Everton, but he's shown an ability to make sure Everton competes. That includes picking up goalkeeper Tim Howard, now an Everton legend after moving to the Premier League as a member of Manchester United. It's a different way of looking at a squad than what happens at the truly major clubs. Moyes doesn't have the financing, and it's already an open question what he might do in charge of a club with money. Enter Manchester United, now linked with a move for perhaps the greatest team builder in English soccer not already employed by a top-four club.
That means change at Everton, a risky proposition for a club that relies on its manager to make the right decisions with the resources the club makes available. That might read like a throwaway sentence, a blindingly obvious description of every manager's job in English professional soccer. Still, more often than not, managers get it wrong. The wrong player, the wrong contract, the wrong fit, and suddenly a club with prospects is fighting for its league status.
Everton's period of growth means pushing into 6th or 5th and holding on while other teams around them with more money to put into their squads falter. It's not exactly attrition, more along the lines of playing their game and realizing that other teams won't meet that standard. For Everton, their current 6th-place is success. For Spurs, a spot ahead of them with a five-point lead, it's not.
It's the big club versus achieving club difference, and Moyes now moves to one of the handful of teams in England where the only success is winning trophies. Specifically, that means the league and Champions League titles, something that changes the scope of the job. There's no over-achieving with a club like Manchester United. Instead, it's about meeting expectations and doing the most with considerable resources.
Again, it's not just United and Everton. Should Manchester United choose Moyes, every other manager in England now looks at the United job and wonders what they needed to do to put themselves in that conversation. United has money and pedigree, along with the opportunity to follow a legend in the business of managing soccer teams. It's almost like a coaching clinic scenario. How does a manager reinvent a title-winning squad over an offseason? Who stays, who goes, where does he spend the money? What does he do to not look like a caretaker? Meanwhile, the rest of England's elite clubs - not to mention the rest of Europe's moneyed elite - are making moves.
Chelsea would like their elite status back. Arsenal needs to change to return to a true title contender. Manchester City isn't happy playing runner-up to their nearest neighbor. All of England's elite would like another shot at making a Champions League opportunity count. What happens if one of those elite clubs gets the balance wrong and starts to slide down the table? Who replaces them? Everton are a likely candidate, but what happens without their established manager?
Suddenly, 2013-14 has the potential to be the most intriguing season in recent memory. It's not one club finding a new source of funding and spending at a greatly increased level. It's Manchester United, with a new manager for the first time since 1986, defending a title while trying to win again in Europe.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org.
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