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A New Challenger for Sir Alex but Little New Challenge for the Big Two
By Steve MacClare
August 8, 2008           


Three of a kind: Roman Abramovich, Sir Alex Ferguson, Luiz Felipe Scolari

   Another EPL season is upon us, and yet another in the long list of challengers to Sir Alex Ferguson has arrived. Luiz Felipe Scolari is known universally in the media as Big Phil. As manager of Brazil in 2002, he won the World Cup. As manager of Portugal, he knocked England out of tournaments in both the 2004 and 2006; a feat he also achieved on his way to that triumph in 2002. To rub salt in the wounds, he turned down the England job prior to joining Chelsea (although Ferguson has claimed not have been asked to manage England because, as a Scot, he said he would happily destroy them from the inside!). In short, he has the attention of the English football nation. 

   Now Scolari finds himself up against two of the most powerful men in English football. One is Sir Alex. The other is Roman Abramovich, Russian billionaire owner of Chelsea and theoretically Scolari’s new employer. How Big Phil copes with those two may yet determine the path of his early tenure at Stamford Bridge. He will hold no fears for Ferguson, however. Ferguson has already seen off Jose Mourinho, Scolari’s famed and self-confident predecessor. Even more remarkably, he’s seen off no less than 16 Real Madrid managers during his reign (you can read the full list below*), and is currently at war with the incumbent over Cristiano Ronaldo who seems destined to have to suffer another year as a ‘slave’ at Old Trafford on £100,000-a-week. So Ferguson, who’s seen off the best, now awaits the man who’s done something no previous adversary has – won the World Cup. 

   If anybody is to threaten the duopoly of Chelsea and Manchester United, it’s Liverpool and Arsenal who once again seem best placed. Arsenal don’t seem to have significantly strengthened their side since last year, and have in fact lost Alexander Hleb to Barcelona and Mathieu Flamini to Milan. However, if Arsène Wenger’s young and inexperienced side continues to mature, results will continue to improve without huge purchases. Liverpool have been far busier, adding David Ngog, Emmanuel Mendy, Diego Cavalieri, Andrea Dossena, Philipp Degen, and Tottenham’s Robbie Keane for £20.3m. Still, consistency remains an issue for them and Rafa Benitez may be running out of time to find it as Liverpool’s new US owners become impatient. Gareth Barry may yet still arrive, although that saga became tedious quite a while ago 

   Of the remaining sides, pundits usually quote Aston Villa, Newcastle, Everton, Manchester City and Tottenham as likely outsiders, but this seems more to do with their status as the next five biggest clubs, using resources and tradition as the yardstick. City have a new manager in Mark Hughes, who arrived from doing a fine job at Blackburn. Everton and Villa have managers who have now been long enough there to shape the club in their own image, but David Moyes at Everton has as yet added no players, and uncertainty surrounding a new stadium and the sudden resignation of chief executive Keith Wyness are not helping. To add to this, Moyes hasn’t as yet put pen to paper on his new contract. 

   Villa have added Team USA keeper Brad Friedel and Chelsea’s Steve Sidwell but look pretty stable apart from that despite the uncertainty over Barry’s move to Liverpool.  Newcastle have Kevin Keegan in charge, a recipe for drama, emotion and good media stories, but not especially good for putting out a side that can win league matches consistently. Spurs have spent big, bringing in David Bentley from Blackburn, Giovani dos Santos from Barcelona and Croatian international Luka Modric from Dinamo Zagreb for hefty amounts of money. Maybe just maybe, they can be the best of the rest this year. 

   Of the remainder, for all but FA Cup Winners Portsmouth, there is little to be confident about. Any of the remainder could find themselves in relegation trouble with newcomers Hull City, West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City starting favourites to make a speedy return. 

   Next week, we’ll be looking back at Seattle Sounder’s US Open Cup semi final match against Charleston Battery on August 12 and hopefully looking forward to the final.  

   *(Real Madrid managers while Alex Ferguson has been at Old Trafford: Leo Beenhakker (twice), John Toshack (twice), Alfredo di Stefano, Jose Camacho (twice), Radi Antic, Benito Floro, Vicente Del Bosque (thrice), Jorge Valdano, Arsenio Iglesias, Juup Heynckes, Guus Hiddink, Carlos Queiroz, Mariano Remon, Vanderlei Luxemburgo, Fabio Capello (twice), and Bernd Schuster)


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