Home and Away

Legions of soccer faithful ready to shake off holiday blues

Community Shield match will be ideal baptism for David Moyes, but chance for Wigan to claim a Manchester scalp

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 August, 2013, 2:31am

And we're back. Praise be.

We soccer fans have been basking in a rare English summer stuffed to a sombrero's brim with sunshine and smudged sunscreen. But we will eagerly hop off our patio loungers, snub the heaven-sent weather and to our sofas we will head, swishing the curtains closed and plumping the cushions to benefit fully from the rays of the HDTV and the live feed from Wembley Stadium.

Perhaps the clergy can draw cold comfort in that the season's curtain-raiser will herald the reign of a new Good Shepherd, of sorts

For it is written the 2013-14 English Premier League shall officially kick off on that hallowed turf with the Community Shield, and so save us from the sin of football-less weekends, those long Saturdays and Sundays that dragged on for all eternity.

The traditional "glorified friendly" between the league champions and FA Cup winners is to fans what Easter Day is to many of the world's religions. This weekend and next, teams will emerge from their dressing rooms reborn with new players, a new kit and perhaps a new manager.

They will reappear offering renewed hope to lift our spirits as we prepare for the slugfest of EPL life. And what a juicy opening verse to entertain us as we take our pews. Serial champions Manchester United take on Wigan, who beat Manchester City 1-0 in the FA Cup final and were duly relegated for their pains.

Despite the proceeds from tomorrow's match being distributed to community-based projects and charities, church leaders still lament how the Sabbath is tainted by football, threatened as their congregations are by the allure of the world's unofficial yet more popular religion. Perhaps the clergy can draw cold comfort in that the season's curtain-raiser will herald the reign of a new Good Shepherd, of sorts.

David Moyes leads Manchester United into their first competitive match since taking over from Alex Ferguson. You have to flick back to 1985 to find the last time United played this fixture without Ferguson in charge.

It will be a fitting baptism for Moyes. Wigan will not roll over, determined to claim another Manchester scalp as compensation for their drop, as well as signalling their intent of a bounce back to the EPL in nine months.

Beating United would not only boost the Latics' confidence, but also win whoops of joy from all non-Manchester United fans, many of whom are praying for an implosion at Old Trafford now that their nemesis is chewing the retirement cud and not gnashing gum in the technical area.

Moyes declared United's marathon preseason international tour a success, though you can't help wondering what a loss to the Thai All-Stars, conceding two goals to Hong Kong's Kitchee (no disrespect intended) and the midweek 1-1 draw against lowly AIK in Sweden might signal.

A portent of doom, perhaps? Many are praying so.

All eyes will be on the team sheet and the inclusion or absence of Wayne Rooney. Rooney said he would look to move abroad if he could not engineer a £30 million (HK$360 million) to £40 million transfer south to the Chelsea flock, where the arms of that other evangelical-esque boss, the self-declared special one Jose Mourinho, are open in a Jesus-like welcoming.

What a tempting thought that is … Rooney at the Bridge, firing on all cylinders and haunting United. The striker's discontent is reportedly now causing friction in the dressing room, though the saga is not of Moyes' making.

This niggling situation and the lack of deliverance in the form of a big summer signing means the squad is looking both light and unusually discombobulate. We all know Moyes' first season in charge will be hard - but this difficult, so early on?

He will be buoyed by the goal scored by young Chilean Angelo Henriquez midweek in Sweden. The 19-year-old won't solve the immediate problems, but he provides proof there is life - and all chances of equal success - after Ferguson.

However, tomorrow's showdown has unwittingly become a must-win game for Moyes to steady the nerves of the Old Trafford faithful.

Oddly, I find myself sympathising with Moyes. A Hong Kong friend recently posted on Facebook a photo of Moyes on the preseason tour. He is in the foyer of a hotel in Hong Kong, sharing a joke with what look to be some backroom staff and a trio of local well-wishers.

It's a rare, intimate moment of a relaxed Moyes, dressed in non-committal pressed, black trousers and a crisp, white short-sleeved shirt. He exudes an apostolic air and what with the two-tone attire, the photo brought to mind the earnest, friendly and badged Mormon missionaries often seen chatting to Star Ferry passengers next to Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui. "Elder Moyes seeks miracle" I wrote in the comment slot to poke the ribs of the United fans adding their gushing likes to the photo.

I expect a slew of "Judas!" retorts if the New Messiah fails to deliver during his first sermon tomorrow.

And here endeth the first lesson.