Excitement Bounds As European Soccer Kicks Off

For all you that thought that the World Cup was as good as it was going to get in terms of soccer this year, you might want to think again. I am here to tell you why the best is yet to come.

Let us start with this summer’s transfers and signings. It seems like more big names were on the move in the final weeks before league play kicked off than ever before, as some of the biggest clubs in Europe felt they needed to revamp their lineups to compete on both the domestic and international stages.

At the head of that group was Italian powerhouse AC Milan, who pretty much pulled a Miami Heat and signed two superstars and instant impact players in Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Brazilian striker Robinho. Both were unhappy with their former clubs and are coming to Milan with a chip on their respective shoulders. With talented veteran midfielders Clarence Seedorf and Ronaldinho lining up behind them, “Ibra” and Robinho could find themselves right at home in Milan and should be netting SportsCenter Top-Ten-worthy goals in no time.

Another team that bolstered an already potent attack was defending Spanish La Liga champion Barcelona, which signed Spanish striker David Villa, previously of Valencia, fresh off an impressive World Cup campaign in South Africa. Villa joins Lionel Messi, Xavi, and Andres Iniesta up front for Barca, which could spell major trouble for opposing defenses and goalkeepers this season. Villa scored a beautiful headed goal in Barcelona’s opening game of the season, a 3-0 dismantling of Racing Santander. Barcelona also signed Argentinean midfielder Javier Mascherano, a move that could prove golden if and when the physical defensive-minded veteran gets in match-shape and fits into Barca’s free-flowing style of play.

Barcelona’s rivals, Real Madrid, also made some interesting moves this offseason, signing German midfielders Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira as well as up-and-coming 19-year-old Spanish attacking midfielder Sergio Canales. Real Madrid’s biggest offseason acquisition, however, was Portuguese manager and self-proclaimed “Special One,” Jose Mourinho, a two-time Champions League winner, most recently with Inter Milan last season. Mourinho will hope to fuse Madrid’s All-World lineup (featuring the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Karim Benzema, Xabi Alonso and Gonzalo Higuain) together this season and take a shot at dethroning Barcelona and possibly winning his second Champions League title in as

many years.

On the English side of things, Manchester City were the big spenders for the second summer in a row, splurging to the tune of roughly $100 billion (okay, it was actually only $194 million) on defenders Jerome Boateng and Aleksandar Kolarov, midfielders James Milner, Yaya Toure and David Silva and striker Mario Balotelli. City has taken a lot of heat for its big spending and is yet to prove that its star-studded lineup can gel and turn dollars (or pounds?) into victories.

Manchester United was another English club that made some moves in hopes of chasing down defending Premier League champs Chelsea, adding Mexican forward Javier Hernandez a.k.a Chicharito (“Little Pea”) to their lineup, hoping his strong play during this summer’s World Cup was no fluke. Hernandez looked great during the team’s North American preseason tour, scoring a number of electric goals and making a strong case for taking underachieving striker Dimitar Berbatov’s place in United’s starting 11.

Arsenal think they have improved their chances of contending for the Premiership title with the addition of French striker Marouane Chamakh and relatively unknown French defender Laurent Koscielny, although much will still be expected from the team’s returning leaders, notably Robin Van Persie, Andrei

Arshavin and Cesc Fabregas.

Lastly – and I really thought I’d never say this – the New York Red Bulls of the increasingly attractive and exciting Major League Soccer made a serious splash in this summer’s spending madness, luring two big names to the Big Apple in French striker and all-time great Thierry Henry and Mexican defender/defensive midfielder Rafael Marquez. This is great news not only for New York fans, but for all-American soccer fans, as the play on MLS pitches is getting noticeably better year-by-year and it surely seems like more top-class talent is being displayed in front of American fans than ever before.

So, what does this all mean, you may ask? Simple: big spending means high expectations, which means lots of drama, which means more great soccer for me to watch. Each of the major European leagues (and MLS!) should have some great title races, with lots of big matchups and great play on the field. Plus, it is not only the top-tier teams that are getting better. The Fulhams and Atletico Madrids of the world are vastly improved and are quickly showing why they are going to be major factors in their respective title races. So get your soccer jerseys back out, embrace the fact that it’s 7:45 a.m. (since that’s the only time soccer is ever on major television in this country) and get pumped for what should be an exciting 9+ months of the beautiful game.