30 July ~ Not only did England being rubbish at the World Cup cheer me up, it has helped me to feel distinctly positive about a new season for the first time in a while. Like many football supporters, the stratospheric hype surrounding the star players is the biggest single reason for my sense of alienation from the national team. The bombast will be cranked up again for the new season but no one can fail to be aware that it's a sham now. The feted young men being paid up to 20 grand a day are not among the best players in the world.
Meanwhile, the star performers at South Africa 2010 are not beating a path to the Premier League either. Of the winners' squad, Cesc Fabregas and Fernando Torres were here already and were mostly peripheral to Spain's success while Man City new boy David Silva was a reserve. Diego Forlán is still with Atlético Madrid and the various outstanding German players are not leaving the Bundesliga.
With hardly any high-profile arrivals, the top end of the Premier League looks considerably more competitive than it has been for a long while. It still seems inconceivable that Chelsea and Man Utd would fail to at least finish in the Champions League qualifying places again but everything else is up for grabs – including the possibility of a title challenge from one of the clubs who didn't even finish in the top four last season, Man City.
This may not seem like much to celebrate but it is a vast improvement on how things have been for the past decade. We may even be edging towards a return to How Things Used To Be. Of course, there were hierarchies created in every decade – from the mid-1960s to the mid-70s, for example, you could safely bet that two of the top-four places would be taken by Leeds and Liverpool – but there was far more fluidity at the top end of the table than we have seen since the Premier League became part of global corporate culture.
We're not about to see the implosion in top-level football that some have been forecasting for a while – there is no chance of that happening while Sky and the holders of overseas broadcasting rights are still pumping in the cash and a modest democratisation of the league may even suit them. But some of the richest football clubs in the world, who previously felt themselves immune to failure, will be feeling more than usually nervous going into the new season. As will some of the nouveau supporters who have attached themselves to one or other of our football mega-brands in the past few years. Perhaps some of them will even give up and go away – but that may be taking summer optimism a bit too far. Rob Weston