LONDON, ENGLAND – The Community Shield is usually described as the English soccer season's "traditional curtain-raiser." So imagine if you got to a theater for a play and, just before the curtain rose, the management announced that they couldn't yet say who would be playing the lead roles. This, sad to say, is the Barclays Premier League . It's supposed to be the greatest show in soccer - and year after year it starts with chaos.
I'm referring, of course, to the overlap between the summer transfer window and the start of the season and, of course, this unhappy coincidence is not confined to England . The agents continue their frenzied feeding well into the action in Germany and Spain as well. But the English seem to delight in doing their business late - and even some of the biggest clubs are keeping their fans in suspense once again. Manchester United included.
When, under the new management of David Moyes, who took over from Sir Alex Ferguson at the end of last season, defender the Shield as League champions with FA Cup holders Wigan Athletic with a 2-0 victory at Wembley without Wayne Rooney. He has missed most of the build-up, playing only in a private practice game against Athletic Bilbao amid well-founded speculation that he craves a move to Chelsea .
Jose Mourinho, back at Chelsea, has stated that he wants Rooney, who is thought to be disaffected with life at United. True, the hitherto all-important Ferguson has given way to Moyes but Rooney harbors resentment that only a few months ago he declared that a parting of the ways might be best - and he suspects that Ferguson will remain a power behind Moyes's throne.
Video: Moyes stresses Rooney not for sale
What does Moyes say? He's been adamant from the start that Rooney will remain a United player. He accepts that the 27-year-old attacker, once the idol of the Old Trafford fans, has been on an accelerating downward spiral in their eyes since his anxiety to switch to the London challengers became public. But the new United boss has no wish to begin his reign by selling a star to a rival and can wait another three weeks to see if any of the bigger spenders from mainland Europe are interested.
It's a big decision coming up for Moyes, then, when he sets about picking a regular starting XI at United. Rooney has been absent with injury - a genuine one, we are assured, the consequence of an awkward fall on a shoulder in the Bilbao game. Moyes, apart from anything else, might find it useful to keep Rooney at Old Trafford and see how the fans react. Around 50,000 United followers attended the national stadium - about ten times as many as originally expected to support Wigan and their new coach, Owen Coyle, who took over from Roberto Martinez after the young Spaniard moved into the Everton vacancy created by Moyes's switch to United.
Speaking of Everton, their fans don't know who their star players will be in the upcoming season either - because United have eyes on two of the men who took the Merseyside club into the Europa League . Left back Leighton Baines and midfielder Marouane Fellaini are expected to be the joint subject of a near-$70-million bid any day now. Moyes is especially keen to land Fellaini now that Cesc Fabregas, whom he wanted to bolster his midfield, has pledged his future to Barcelona .
Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas (L) remains confident that Gareth Bale (R) will stay at White Hart Lane next season (Credit: Stefan Wermuth/ActionReuters).
But the Rooney situation has to be resolved if United are to begin the defense of their Premier League title with an air of unity. It's quite a test for Moyes, just as at Liverpool the last thing coach Brendan Rodgers would have wanted as he prepared for the season was an escalating dispute with Luis Suarez, who was banished to train alone on Wednesday after going public with complaints that the club promised to let him join a UEFA Champions League participant club.
With Rooney, Suarez and the mounting disaffection of Tottenham fans with Gareth Bale as he continues to count the days before an apparently inevitable transfer to Real Madrid , it's little more than a window on unnecessary bitterness, this extra period of business after the players report for preseason work.
Why can't the transfer deadline be in mid-July instead of the start of September? Because the Spanish season traditionally ends late, we are told. What a weak excuse that is; even the Spaniards could get their transactions done in a few weeks. They don't need months. And the English certainly don't need to conduct the annual launch of their much-vaunted competition with a series of the media propaganda wars that tend to precede big deals. They are raising the curtain on a farce.