LONDON Aug 12 Blackpool's ground is being
hastily upgraded, as is their squad, but the return of the
seaside club to the English elite for the first time since 1971
adds a juicy orange twist to Saturday's Premier League kickoff.
Relegation favourites they may be, but Ian Holloway's side
will hog some of the limelight on Saturday as their season
begins with a trip to Wigan Athletic -- a match that was
switched to an away fixture while their Bloomfield Road stadium
Blackpool began last season tipped for the drop into the
third tier but instead ended the campaign by beating Cardiff
City in the Championship playoff final at Wembley -- a victory
worth an estimated 90 million pounds even if they, as most
pundits predict, go straight back down.
Not that they have been splashing the cash in the offseason
-- a situation that left Holloway frustrated until he finally
got clearance to sign five players on Wednesday.
Striker Marlon Harewood, previously with West Ham United
and Aston Villa, will offer a physical presence while defender
Craig Cathcart, signed from Manchester United, and midfielders
Ludovic Sylvestre, Malaury Martin and Elliot Grandin will add
"I've been running up blind alleys but we have a structure
and we want to stick to that. I'm not falling into other
people's traps," Holloway, whose quips will enliven the
forthcoming season, said on Wednesday.
"I can sell sand to an Arab and fridges to Eskimos if I
believe in it. But it's not easy because the difference between
where we are and the rest of this crazy world is astounding."
While Holloway gathers little-known cast-offs, Manchester
City need no encouragement when it comes to opening the
chequebook for the game's big names.
The new financial muscle men of English soccer have
lavished another 80 million pounds during the close season as
they bid to tilt the balance of power.
So long in the shadow of Manchester United, City, now
fuelled by seemingly limitless funds from their billionaire Abu
Dhabi owners, came agonisingly close to breaking into the top
four last season and after signing Yaya Toure from Barcelona
and David Silva from Valencia and with more on the way they are
being widely tipped as genuine title contenders.
Manager Roberto Mancini took over halfway through last
season from Mark Hughes and the Italian will know that he will
have to hit the ground running in his first full season in
charge, beginning at Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday.
Tottenham, like City, have to go back to the 1960s for
their last league title, but after pipping City to fourth spot
last season courtesy of a 1-0 win at Eastlands, will also be in
the frame for what promises to be a wide open title race.
Mancini's biggest challenge will be picking his strongest
team out of the embarrassment of riches at his disposal and
wily Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp may just view the opening
day as the perfect time to play the league's big spenders.
"I would have liked another two weeks training with them,
but of course that has not been an option," Mancini, who still
hopes to sign Aston Villa's James Milner, said this week.
"But I'm excited, it's going to be a big year for us. I
would have liked to have another 20 days together with the
squad, because we want the whole squad to the same level, so
for that reason it's so important that we start the season
City's spending power stands alone in a new climate of
budget cuts and tightening purse strings which, added to the
new 25-player squad rule, could usher in a less frivolous
Chelsea, for one, appear to have become almost frugal these
days compared to owner Roman Abramovich's early years in
The champions, who begin at home to promoted West Bromwich
Albion on Saturday, have so far signed only Yossi Benayoun from
Liverpool while Carlo Ancelotti's squad has been shorn of
midfielders Joe Cole, Michael Ballack and Deco and defender
Ricardo Carvalho, who agreed a move to Real Madrid on
While West Brom, managed by former Chelsea favourite
Roberto di Matteo, should be brushed aside, Ancelotti will be
keen to top up his squad before the transfer window closes.
"It was not a good pre-season," Ancelotti said of a
disappointing run of friendly defeats and Sunday's 3-1
Community Shield defeat by Manchester United.
United, runners-up last season, open against promoted
Newcastle United on Monday.
The new air of confidence at Liverpool in the wake of Roy
Hodgson's replacement of Rafa Benitez, the signing of Cole from
Chelsea and Spain striker Fernando Torres' loyalty pledge will
be put to the test with the visit of Arsenal on Sunday.
Aston Villa, who were rocked on Monday by the resignation
of manager Martin O'Neill, host West Ham United on Saturday
while Everton begin at Blackburn Rovers.
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury; To query or comment on this
story email firstname.lastname@example.org)