Sunday 24 August ~
Of course league tables mean nothing after two games. A fact that will be borne out if West Ham go top by winning at Man City this afternoon. Alan Curbishley, widely rumoured to have fallen with his bosses at Upton Park, was the bookies' favourite to be the first Premier League manager to leave his club in 2008-09 until last week, when he was replaced by the man he is up against today, Mark Hughes.
The Man City manager met his employer Thaksin Shinawatra for the first time only a few days ago. As well as getting authorisation to go head with the purchase of Belgian defender Vincent Kompany from Hamburg, Hughes declared himself impressed by Thaksin's plans, which apparently don't include selling up. But every story about English football club ownership involves a consortium from the Middle East being poised to make a takeover bid and City are no exception. Thaksin will be Eastlands today; on his last visit City blew a two goal lead in losing to Fulham, something that supposedly infuriated him so much that he resolved to sack Sven-Göran Eriksson.
City now have an extra layer of authority between owner and manager in the form of "executive chairman" Garry Cook, imported from Nike and quite thoroughly, almost heroically, bumptious. City are a "global franchise entity" now and Gary won't rest, probably won't even shave or sleep, until he has made the world aware of their name: "Growing up at Nike, you don’t sit around saying, 'Can we?’ You say, 'We will’." Now that Olympics are over the sports-loving masses of China will be turning their attention to the City of Manchester Stadium, where they might even see a home win.
Even if West Ham prevail in Manchester, any sort of victory for Chelsea at Wigan will send them to the top of the table thanks for their 4-0 pounding of Portsmouth last week. Bearing in mind the physical challenge presented by today's opponents and his new team's frailty at set pieces last season, Big Phil has been getting his players to practise their defensive drills. This is reported to have annoyed "one senior international, accustomed to getting his way with coaches" who insisted that the lesson has been learnt. Some may remember that the team would have benefited had the same individual practised his penalty kicks a little more before the end of last season.