LONDON – For English soccer, it has long seemed unthinkable: a league season starting without the finger-jabbing, combative colossus of management on the touchlines.
When England’s top league opens its season, Alex Ferguson will be a bystander for the first time since 1986, watching from afar as Manchester United starts its pursuit of a record-extending 21st English title.
David Moyes now carries that responsibility.
Widely admired during 11 years at Everton despite failing to collect a major honor, Moyes was hand-picked by Ferguson in the biggest decision – gamble, perhaps – taken by the owning Glazer family.
Although he openly flirted with United in the months before Ferguson’s retirement was publicly disclosed, Jose Mourinho – one of the most talented but temperamental managers of his generation – wasn’t approached for the job.
The charismatic Portuguese is back in the Premier League, though, after six years collecting trophies with Inter Milan and Real Madrid.
Claiming to have mellowed since leaving Chelsea after a fall-out, Mourinho is widely expected to return to his combustible self once the season begins and produce the touchline tantrums Ferguson can no longer provide.
Just a week into the season, the 50-year-old managers will get a chance to size each other up in a match that could set the tone for the opening weeks, with United hosting Chelsea.
Ill-feeling between the sides has been inflamed by Chelsea’s hostile pursuit of United striker Wayne Rooney.
Mourinho insists he’s not engaging in “mind games” with Moyes, but has still offered a few pointed words of advice.
“One of the most difficult things in the club is to create a victory culture, where you walk through the door and you smell the success, you smell confidence, you smell self-esteem,” said Mourinho, who has won league titles in England, Spain, Italy and Portugal. “David is in a big club and that is a big help, everybody knows how to win. Of course, it is up to him now.”
With the spotlight on Mourinho and Moyes, Manuel Pellegrini has been able to make a quiet start to his first job in English management.
The 59-year-old Chilean left Malaga for Manchester City after Roberto Mancini was fired for failing to follow up the 2011-12 Premier League title with a single trophy last season, finishing 11 points behind United in second.
Talk of dressing room disharmony has melted away as Pellegrini started to re-shape the squad, spending more than $130 million on strikers Stevan Jovetic and Alvaro Negredo, midfielder Fernandinho and winger Jesus Navas.
Such a lavish outlay was easily affordable for the oil-rich Abu Dhabi ownership.
By contrast, United failed in its pursuit of Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas, and even more ambitious thoughts of bringing Cristiano Ronaldo back to Old Trafford from Madrid.
Chelsea might have missed out on Rooney, but around $40 million has still been spent on signing striker Andre Schuerrle and midfielder Marco van Ginkel.
As for Arsenal, which finished behind Chelsea in fourth, not a penny has been spent.
Moves to entice Luis Suarez from Liverpool for more than $60 million have been rebuffed by Liverpool, which is insisting that the Uruguay striker honor his contract after the club backed him through racism and biting controversies.
The Gunners have seen north London rival Tottenham invest $65 million in the squad, although manager Andre Villa-Boas could still be faced with losing arguably the league’s most potent player in Gareth Bale before the transfer window closes Sept. 2.
Yet for all the new arrivals and the dramas that unfold in the 20 grounds in the coming months, the absence of one man is still likely to be felt most.
Moyes’ job is to ensure United fans don’t hanker after the 71-year-old Ferguson and plead for his return.
“It has to be a new era,” Moyes said. “My job now is to make my history … make sure now that my history and my time is something which the fans and people in the future talk about.”