An air of uncertainty and promise hangs over football with the new European season that has just kicked off with various national leagues. Most of the big clubs have new managers who will be under pressure to prove their credentials as the season unfolds.

While several of the new appointees are experienced and accomplished professionals whose trophy cabinets are lined with all the silverware that the club game has to offer, there is no guarantee that they will reap success in their current assignments. Change is constant in the high octane world of big-time football, barring the rare examples of longevity in the form of former Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson or the now endangered Arsène Wenger at Arsenal.

Pep Guardiola of Bayern Munich says he is no super-trainer. Photo: Christof Stache/AFP
Pep Guardiola of Bayern Munich says he is no super-trainer. Photo: Christof Stache/AFP

Guardiola has played down the expectations and cautioned that it is not possible to win by big margins. “The supporters want more and more and more, but I have only been with the team for six to seven weeks, I need more time. I’m just a normal coach, I’m not some super-trainer," he said last week as reported by AFP. The 2-4 defeat to Borussia Dortmund in the German Super Cup and the narrow 1-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt in his second Bundesliga outing shows that even the best in the business can’t take anything for granted.

Gerardo “Tata" Martino’s appointment in Barcelona is a surprise, considering he has no experience in Europe, but it represents a continuity of style at the Nou Camp. The Argentine played under maverick countryman Marcelo Bielsa, till recently boss at Athletic Bilbao. Bielsa teams prioritize possession and pressing high up the pitch. Even protégé Guardiola thinks Bielsa is the “best manager in the world". Martino displayed a conservative streak when he was with Paraguay but the new Lionel Messi-Neymar combo at Barcelona offers him exciting attacking possibilities. His main problems: some ageing maestros and a hole in the central defence in veteran and injury-prone Carles Puyol for whom an able replacement is yet to materialize.

“I am not looking for a Barcelona modelled by Martino. I was already a fan of Barca’s concept of play before I came and all I want them to do is to do some things they have forgotten or stopped doing," Martino said after beating Levante 7-0 in their opening league fixture on 18 August at the Nou Camp.

At the Santiago Bernabéu, the genial but experienced Carlo Ancelotti will try to cool down tempers after the acrimonious three-year reign of José Mourinho. With Zinedine Zidane as his assistant and a team of superstars in tow, the Italian will have to manage big egos and also turn in the trophies for Real Madrid. La Liga still remains a two-horse race as Atlético Madrid, Valencia, Sevilla, etc., do not have the wherewithal to compete on equal terms with the Big Two.

The “Special One’s" return to Stamford Bridge, where he was both popular and successful, is ironical, considering Mourinho was eased out six years ago because he could not win with flair, an imperative with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich. Will Mourinho change his attritional ways both on and off the pitch? Chelsea have already been anointed as favourites by bookies—the Mourinho effect. The Portuguese will be under lesser pressure to prove himself just as David Moyes at Manchester United and the cerebral Chilean, Manuel Pellegrini, at their equally ambitious cross-town rivals.

The no-nonsense Moyes was a surprise choice to step into Ferguson’s big boots. He had an awful pre-season but redeemed himself by lifting the Community Shield with a 2-0 win over Wigan Athletic. United fans expect attacking play and wins. Moyes must deliver both on both counts. The former Everton manager has some big games against Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City coming up in quick succession and a slip-up in the early stages will put him on the edge. Ironically, United have failed to sign on anyone of note so far.

At once mighty Liverpool, the upcoming Brendan Rodgers faces another challenge to get the reds into Champions League while Wenger’s imperative will be to also end the trophy drought which looks even more difficult this season. The 1-3 defeat to Aston Villa in the Premiership opener on Saturday and the Frenchman’s rotten luck on the transfer market so far might make it a season of sorrow and have fans gunning for change.

More than the new managers in the dugout, it is the star players’ signings that capture the imagination of the fans and every big club has tried to acquire somebody significant to look their part or banish the blues of the previous season. Not all have been successful, though there is time till 2 September to do the needful. While Barca can proudly flaunt Neymar and Bayern Mario Götze, Los Blancos’ quest for Welsh winger Gareth Bale at a ridiculous world record fee of around €100 million (around 860 crore) is beginning to fade. Even if they don’t snare Wayne Rooney, Chelsea are still on the lookout for a surefooted spearhead as their strike force of Fernando Torres, Romelu Lukaku and Demba Ba is of uncertain recompense.

UAE-owned Manchester City have spent around £90 million (around 890 crore) for the season and the likes of Jesús Navas, Álvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic will have to team up with Sergio Agüero and Edin Džeko to get the goals that will help Pellegrini prosper not only at home but also in Europe where the former EPL (English Premier League) champions have yet to make their mark.

The cash-strapped Italian biggies have been unable to break the bank and splash the cash though Juventus’ modest acquisitions of Fernando Llorente, Carlos Tevez and Angelo Ogbonna look promising. Fading Inter Milan have done nothing of note in the transfer market nor have AC Milan. But the latter’s existing frontline trio of Mario Balotelli, Stephan El Shaarawy and M’Baye Niang have the potential to set the stands on fire.

So take your pick of player, manager or team to make a mark this season.

NEW MANAGERS

Bayern Munich: Pep Guardiola

Barcelona: Gerardo Martino

Real Madrid: Carlo Ancelotti

Manchester United: David Moyes

Manchester City: Manuel Pellegrini

Chelsea: José Mourinho

Paris Saint-Germain: Laurent Blanc

Inter Milan: Walter Mazzarri

Mario Rodrigues is a senior sports journalist based in Mumbai.

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