TODAY, football’s traditional curtain-raiser, with the Premier League champions taking on the FA Cup winners, will lay down an important marker for the rival managers.
In the red corner, Arsenal’s veteran Arsene Wenger, who had a bruising last campaign, and in the blue corner, the exuberant Antonio Conte, who grabbed the Premier title for Chelsea at his first attempt. Wenger has to win over the discontents on his own terraces, while his Italian opponent has to show he is no one-season wonder.
They met at Wembley a few months ago in the Cup final where Chelsea were denied the League and Cup double. More recently, though, Chelsea took a 3-0 revenge in Beijing and are the slight favourites to win this third clash between the two in the Community Shield in the Premier era.
Two years ago, Arsenal triumphed with a goal from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain while back in 2005, Chelsea ran out winners 2-1. Their manager surprised us all recently by claiming to lose four to five pounds in a match as he vigorously orchestrates his team’s performance. Wenger has no such touchline diet.
He prefers to stay in his seat unless something is going very wrong. But the pair have more to unite than divide them and each had a wrangle with their clubs before renewing their contracts this summer. Conte was in trouble for sacking his top forward, Diego Costa, by e-mail, a decision which is likely to reduce his transfer fee by many millions.
It was quite a deliberate move, making the point that in the dressing room Conte must have all the power and it must be his alone. Player and manager had fallen out and one had to go. It was not going to be Conte and Chelsea, knowing Juventus also wanted him, gave way.
He was also allowed to bring in an extra member of his coaching staff and granted easier access to Russian owner Roman Abramovich. Arsenal, meanwhile, asked Wenger to overhaul his back-up team but ended up giving them all fresh contracts, and they also dropped the idea of appointing a director of football.
The Frenchman had been scathing: ‘What does a director of football do?’, he asked. ‘Show customers to their seats?’ It was a robust dialogue which, hopefully, went some way to restore some of the managers’ slipping powers at other clubs.
The board, though, have insisted on taking on a contracts manager and he has a busy agenda for eight players, led by Alexis Sanchez, are out of contract next summer. Unless new ones are agreed, they will all be able, under the Bosman rules, to leave on free transfers.
Like their managers, Sanchez and Costa have a deal in common. Both have been in England for three years, they were born within two months of each other and will be 29 before Christmas knowing they have one big contract left in them. Arsenal have offered their Chilean £180,000 a week but Neymar’s £200-million move from Barcelona to Paris St Germain, with an alleged tax-paid wage of £500,000 a week, is now making that look quite small beer.
The official club view, as Wenger expresses it, is that they will simply allow Sanchez’s contract to expire – but that would cost them at least £50m in a lost transfer fee. That is clarifying minds at the Emirates and they could come round to the view they will have to strike a deal giving him three years with at least as much as he would expect to make from moving on. That would be far short of the Neymar class but could set a top rate for this country.
It would have to be pitched at around £300,000 a week, a sum, alas, beyond the reach of us mortals. The intriguing thing is that clubs have been reluctant to say they would like to sign him, possibly because of the financial stir it would cause inside their own dressing rooms. Costa’s position is different.
He could have made an eye-wateringly rich move to China last January but is set on returning to his old club, Atletico Madrid. They are under a transfer embargo until the New Year and the player is in limbo. He would like to go out on loan until Atletico are free to negotiate, but no leading club apparently wants him for just half a season and, of course, Atletico might not be so keen come January if their line-up is settled and results are going well in the Spanish league.
Goals are scarce, usually, in the Community Shield but we know one winner. The FA are donating the £1.25-million gate receipts to the fund for victims of the Grenfell Tower block fire disaster.