Jim White

Here we go again

Jim White

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On Sunday it all starts again. We can forget the brief East London sideshow and gird ourselves for the main event.

While the last of the gold is being struck at the Olympics, Manchester City will be taking on Chelsea in the Community Shield. There are those who have suggested the very idea of a football match kicking off while the world's favourite sporting fiesta is still in action seems self-defeating. But that is to forget the real purpose of this match: to provide Sky with some live content to offer its subscribers as the BBC hoovers up television audiences.

Imagine what it must have been like in Sky HQ this summer. There have been three great British sporting successes and none have taken place in their remit. First Andy Murray reaches the Wimbledon final, then Bradley Wiggins pedals quicker than anyone round France, then the GB Team have lit up the Olympics. And all they have had to offer in competition is a washed out test match. Sky needs this new football season to start quicker than Usain Bolt.

And what better way than with the English champions playing the European champions, albeit in exile at Villa Park (as more serious venues have been sequestered by the Olympic village fete). While it will not give us any more than the most tenuous of signals about what lies ahead, it will be an intriguing match-up. Not least because it marks a very rare curtain raiser in which Manchester United do not feature.

While Chelsea have been dispensing with old favourites in the manner of a snake shedding its skin over the break, City remain unsullied, unchanged, without reinforcement. There is an old cliché about football management that you should improve from a position of strength. Buy when you are on top is a tenet handed out on tablets of stone at Uefa Pro Licensing training seminars. And there is still time for Roberto Mancini, perhaps, to bring in Robin van Persie, for instance. If for no other reason than to stop him ending up down the road.

But the lack of transfer activity at the Etihad may be a response to an attempt to bring financial reality to a place that has been making up its own rules for the past four years. A bit of fiscal discipline now the main prize has been earned would not go amiss, for sure. But Mancini will  undoubtedly want more. He stated at the end of last year he could use a central defender, a jet-heeled winger and a back-up striker. None has yet been forthcoming.

It probably doesn't help his cause that he has so much deadwood weighing down his wage bill. Even the richest men in football might baulk at the idea of signing yet another forward when they are already forking out a couple of million quid a month in wages for strikers to score goals for other clubs.

Whatever the condition of inertia in their squad, City will undoubtedly be in the mix at the end of the season. With characters like Vincent Kompany and Joe Hart leading the team, there will be no lay up, no resting on laurels. They will power into the season, kick off like David Rudisha and head straight for the line. The psychological lift of knowing that they can do it will carry them a long, long way. Probably to the top again.

For Chelsea, the issues are very different. The most demanding, capricious owner in football will not have been satisfied by last May's improbable glory. Indeed, it will merely have stoked his impatience: if you can do it once why not do it again? For Roberto di Matteo life is about to get tough.

In many ways he was gifted the golden ticket when he took over last January. Andre Villas-Boas had failed when attempting to do the very thing he was hired to do. Free of any great expectation, all Di Matteo had to do was appeal to the egos of the big-time players Villas-Boas had upset, then sit back and allow them a glorious swansong, carrying the club to victory. Now he has to do the work his predecessor was never given the time to do: rebuild and refocus. A much, much tougher task.

Last season, the Italian won two trophies, a magnificent achievement. If he comes close to matching half such a glittering haul this season then we will know precisely what a manager he is. And, as he knows full well, whatever the fanfare given on the box ahead of it, the Community Shield doesn't count.

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