Soccer

Butler: Europe counts down and prepares for the season

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Noel Butler
7/8/2013 10:00:41 AM
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As Brazil awoke last Monday morning with a sizeable Confederations Cup hangover, Armenia's Shirak FC were going through their final paces ahead of their July 2 encounter with San Marino's SP Tre Penne.

Remarkably, and only a little over five weeks since Arjen Robben's late Wembley marker the 2,000-odd fans packing out Shirak's Arnar Stadium this past Tuesday evening were witnessing the opening salvo of the 2013-14 competitive football season in Europe. 

The qualifying stages of the UEFA Champions League were underway and come the final whistle the first hat trick of the competition was in the books. Take that Cristiano.

As the so called minnows of European football fight amongst themselves the elite of European football began unlocking the padlocks on training camps and David Moyes was altering the speed dial numbers of Sir Alex Ferguson's office phone.

Moyes' first official day in the job saw him put the final touches of the coaching jigsaw in place. The new Old Trafford supremo didn't need Google to map out his search as the English champions announced coaching roles for Ryan Giggs and old boy Phillip Neville.

The London bookies reacted immediately - some installing Giggs as the favourite to succeed Moyes.

Giggs, who signed a one-year extension just as Sir Alex Ferguson was putting the finishing touches on yet another BPL title, made his club debut back in 1991 as a fresh faced 17-year-old. By sheer coincidence, United's opponents at Old Trafford that early March day was Moyes' old club Everton.

Installed as player-coach, Giggs spent the offseason in the classroom continuing his coaching education which is due to culminate next summer when the club expects the 39-year old Welshman to receive his UEFA Pro License.

Alongside the well-respected Neville, who retired at the end of last season after finishing as a player under Moyes, United could not have wished for better ambassadors to act as the conduit in the dressing room with the new gaffer.

Moyes, who came under the media spotlight for the first time earlier last week, was his usual defiant self when informing the assembled throng Wayne Rooney was not for sale.

Although Moyes let it be known he has already conducted several productive meetings with a player he helped nurture at Goodison Park this will do nothing to dampen the heightened speculation of where Rooney's future lies.

The Rooney speculation is not just a media invention, as future Barcelona captain and ex-team mate Gerald Piqué got in on the act when saying earlier today he thought Rooney would slot in very nicely alongside Messi and Nou Camp new boy Neymar.

The two uber-stars who team up officially next week when Barcelona's training camp opens have spent time hanging out together as the Messi and Friends series of charity matches got underway.

On Tuesday night in Lima, Peru Neymar completely outshone Messi and capped a mesmerizing performance with the most audacious of 45-yard lobs.

It's lucky for the people in attendance Neymar did not join Arsenal as if he did it's quite likely following his MVP performance at the Confederations Cup Wenger would have wrapped the 21-year old up in cotton wool and packed him off to a health farm for a month of rest and recuperation.

Messi's charity tour - that culminated in a date at Soldier Field, has had its fair share of controversy including the last minute cancellation for Wednesday's planned date in Los Angeles.

Added to this, many of the high grade talent including the likes of Aguero, Fabregas, Alves, and Prince-Boateng withdrew from the wrap in Chicago as they prepared to meet up with their clubs for training camp.

AC Milan, who get underway at one of world football's grandest of training complexes Milanello on Monday only managed to finish third in Serie A last season will themselves have to qualify for the this season's Champions League.

Before that early next month along with Chelsea, Valencia and Internazionale, the Rosonerri will take part in the New York leg of the International Champions Cup, a brand new pre- season tournament which also counts amongst its participant Real Madrid and the Carlos Tevez-strengthened Juventus.

The unique concept calls for games in Indianapolis, Los Angeles and even Valencia where the competition will kick off July 27 before concluding in a show piece final at Sun Life Stadium, Miami August 7.

It's hardly surprising that with the likes of Real Madrid off on a European jaunt prior to flying to Los Angeles, Liverpool playing in Australia, Manchester United jetting off to the Far East where Chelsea will also play prior to arriving in New York - it is the world's airlines which have leapt to the top of world football's sponsorship table.

Barcelona, who will tour Asia this pre-season, recently announced a global partnership with Qatar Airways. With the Qatar Foundation already installed as jersey sponsor the Spanish champions have considerably strengthened their ties with a nation that will host the 2022 World Cup Finals.

The pre-season also affords the perfect platform for clubs across Europe to launch their new jerseys. One of the grandest events took place a few summers back when AC Milan took to Times Square and live television to unveil their new road jersey.

Mercifully for Liverpool fans, the club spared them the embarrassment of live television when they unveiled their new alternate jersey yesterday and one that would not look out of place down the local bowling alley.

For a club that has tested the patience of their phenomenal fans starved of domestic league success for over two decades, Liverpool are certainly doing their level best to invoke their great history with a jersey that was inspired by the one they wore back in 1995-96.

According to club legend Jan Molby, the five-time European champions are now preparing for life post Suárez.

With Real Madrid the most likely destination for Suárez, it certainly increases the possibility when the curtain comes down on this season's UEFA Champions League at the Estádio do Sport in Lisbon on May 24, Los Blancos may finally have claimed their 10th European title.

Magnificently Madrid's pre-season gets underway about as football far removed from the prestige and glamour of a date in the Champions League Final when on July 21, they travel to Goldsands Stadium for a date with AFC Bournemouth.

A once in a lifetime David and Goliath encounter which will certainly have the locals talking about for many generations to come.

You can reach and follow Noel Butler at:
Noel.Butler@BellMedia.ca
@TheSoccerNoel

Ryan Giggs Wayne Rooney (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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