FINALLY, life returns to normal. For millions of football fans in Asia, normal service is resumed with the start of the English Premier League season.
For those of us suffering from withdrawal symptoms as a result of three months of rugby, cricket and cycling, the most exciting league in the world cannot come soon enough. David Beckhams signing for Real Madrid has no doubt boosted the popularity of the Spanish League, and the Italian League still boasts some of Europes best teams, but for sheer enjoyment, the EPL cannot be beat.
Looking at this seasons transfer dealings, its hard to go beyond the Big Five, Manchester United, Arsenal, Newcastle, Chelsea and Liverpool, when predicting the champions or Champions League qualifiers.
Then there are the pretenders, Tottenham, Blackburn, Everton, Birmingham, Middlesbrough, Southampton and Aston Villa, Manchester City, Fulham, Leeds and Charlton. For these teams, a UEFA Cup spot or a long Cup run, would make a successful season. At the bottom of the scale, survival and avoiding the drop is the priority for the third tier clubs: Bolton, Wolves, Leicester and Portsmouth.
The key to a successful title challenge involves a combination of factors; the right blend of youth and big money signings, as few injuries as possible to key players, the right tactics, and to a certain extent, luck. Supporters of the so-called smaller clubs can always hope for a David to make a fairy tale charge to the title, but with financial clout playing an increasingly vital role in the development of teams, it looks highly unlikely that a team outside the Big Five will be crowned EPL champions in May.
Of course, there have always been outsiders who have bucked the trend. Ipswich and Liverpool (they were a second division team the season before they won the league!) in the 60s, Nottingham Forest and Derby County in the 70s, Aston Villa in the 80s and Leeds in the 90s have all emerged for one season to lift English footballs ultimate trophy, but can you honestly see any other team from the Big Five doing so this season?
Nope, much as the neutral supporter would like to see someone else win it, its going to be the usual suspects once again. This domination of the league in recent years by Man Utd and Arsenal, could have led to a decline in attendances or even TV viewers.
After all why follow a league, when the outcome is a foregone conclusion? But, the opposite seems to have happened, league attendances are on the rise, TV viewership is at an all-time high and interest from football fans, especially Asians, is phenomenal.
Its obvious that the crowds and TV audience are drawn to the open attractive football, tough tackles, football characters and controversies.
The EPL is like your favourite soap opera, not all the episodes are great, but you keep coming back for more.