Opinion: The 2018/19 season just got real!
The release of the Premier League fixtures is always the first real trigger for the new campaign in August.
Yes, there will be grumbles the last season has only just ended, and it doesn’t seem long ago at all when I was watching Manchester United in the Emirates FA Cup final at Wembley, but thoughts inevitably fast forward to the big kick-off when the schedule is published.
Of course, the World Cup is now about to dominate the footballing agenda across the globe, and rightly so, but this morning’s news does provide a great sense of reality about 2018/19, remarkably the 20th season since that Treble-winning campaign at the end of the last century, when we also started with a home game against Leicester City.
If the cup final was a click of the fingers away, even that joyous night at the Nou Camp does not seem too far in the past. Those two decades have flown by and United have enjoyed far more than our fair share of success in that period. The way I felt on 26 May 1999 and throughout the next couple of days in Barcelona, I don’t think I would have complained if we’d never lifted another trophy again.
Yet, thankfully, this is not the nature that prevails within the club and there will be increased determination to wrest the title off Manchester City when the domestic game restarts. Jose Mourinho’s relentless pursuit of silverware and appetite for achievement means you can bet he is planning meticulously for next term.
Sir Alex Ferguson always used to say Jose raised the bar at Chelsea, making such fast starts that anybody with serious title pretensions had to be in peak form for August. The current climate would suggest City reached new heights in dominating the division and there was far less margin for error than could have been anticipated at this time last year.
Hence, the Reds need to be quick out of the blocks and the early transfer business appears to indicate things are running smoothly off the field in this regard.
By the time of the pre-season tour to the United States, the squad should be taking shape. It’s not just any new additions who can expect to be involved but also maybe those returning from loan spells and youngsters pushing for promotion.
And, with the tour, comes the build-up of excitement and anticipation that precedes every campaign. With the club flying across the Atlantic Ocean on the same day the World Cup final takes place, the transition from international to club football will appear completely seamless.
So, while we are all enjoying the action in Russia and hoping the Reds enhance their reputations, fulfil their dreams and, of course, avoid any injuries (if past tournaments are anything to go by, maybe I need to add 'avoid being made scapegoats'), there will be the constant thought at the back of our minds of what it will all mean in regard to the bigger picture that is life at United.
The World Cup is huge. Absolutely massive.
For all of us, though, Manchester United is bigger.