The Premier League Is Back, With Quite an Act to Follow

Eight days after a World Cup, that is probably best described as a tricky sell. No other tournament, not even the Champions League, can offer quite the drama, quite the tension of the final rounds of the World Cup. Its secret is its scarcity; every game carries the sense that it is now or never, do or die, once in a lifetime. It is a competition of a different order, a blockbuster in a world of soaps, and one that offers something that most leagues are now far too stratified, far too hierarchical to provide on a regular basis. Every World Cup game has an air not just of jeopardy, but of balance, too. The gap between the strong and the (allegedly) weak is not quite such a chasm has it has been allowed to become in domestic soccer. The World Cup offers regular viewers a dash of something they do not get — but may secretly want — from their more ordinary diet.

That is not to say, of course, that the Premier League, and the rest of Europe’s major competitions, will trudge reluctantly to a conclusion. The stadiums will be full on Boxing Day, because that is what lots of people do on Boxing Day. There are still plentiful stories to transfix fans around Europe: Arsenal and Napoli, genuine outsiders, competing for championships; the ongoing crisis at Barcelona; Liverpool and Manchester United trying to attract new investment, in the wake of the rise of Newcastle United; Chelsea’s attempts to buy every player in existence. In February, the Champions League will be back, too, which means we all have at least three remarkable Real Madrid comebacks to admire.

To ask fans to pick up with those plot lines so soon, though, feels just a little like a misstep. It invites a contrast that, unusually, is not especially flattering for the Premier League, in particular, and risks casting the flaws in European domestic soccer in a rather sharper light than it might like. It will be eight days since what may well come to be regarded as the best soccer game of all time. It is asking a lot of Everton and Wolves to match that standard. Just because you always play on Boxing Day does not, in fact, mean you should.

After a World Cup that can, I think, be fairly described as intense, I’m going to allow myself a one-week break from the newsletter over the holiday period. Think of it as The Times taking the Serie A approach to life, and coming back, fully refreshed, in early January. We already have a month’s worth of correspondence that has gone unattended, but if you have any questions, or thoughts, or observations that you would like to throw into the mix, they’d be more than welcome: Send them along to [email protected].

And if you don’t have any thoughts and would prefer to relax over the next few days, that’s fine, too. I will be endeavoring to have as few thoughts as possible. I hope that those of you who celebrate enjoy the time with family, or friends, or people you know from Twitter, and I hope that those of you who do not choose to celebrate have a wonderful time, too.

All the best,