12:20am, Tuesday 9 August 2016. Announced with the swagger and the production of a Hollywood blockbuster, Paul Pogba officially re-signs for Manchester United for £89m. For the first time since 30 July 1996, when Newcastle United parted with £15m for Alan Shearer, the world transfer record is broken by an English club. For over 20 years the Premier League stood back and watched players move elsewhere for eye-watering amounts of cash – often from the Premier League.
Rewind back to a time not long after Big Al signed for the Magpies. On a typical cold October evening in 1996 I’m sat in the living room of a family friend waiting for the biggest game of the season. Not many people had Sky Sports back then, but this family did and I had a front row seat.
I was obsessed with Newcastle United (I still am!), and I watched us destroy Manchester United 5-0. Make no bones about it. We made the reigning champions look ordinary. The world’s best goalkeeper had been beaten five times, the last goal an audacious chip by Philippe Albert – the most famous Belgian in the world for a night. Thrilling, entertaining football, a full noisy stadium, the fans breathing down the back of the players’ necks, and everything’s at stake.
Fast forward to 2016, and whilst my own side are no longer involved in the Premier League (we’ll be back…), not much has changed.
And yet everything has changed. The 2015/16 Premier League season was one that nobody could’ve predicted – relegation favourites Leicester City ran away with the league, two huge established clubs were relegated, defending champions Chelsea nosedived and self-combusted, and Jose Mourinho, arguably the greatest manager of his generation, was sent packing with his tail between his legs.
For years, people have been saying the Premier League is the best in the world, but for me we couldn’t really say that until now. The fact that Manchester United announced the signing of Pogba to coincide with the opening of Asian financial markets and news outlets says everything about how big a deal this league is around the world.
Don’t fear stats fans, I can back this claim up. The Premier League total attendance last season was 13.8m. That’s roughly 0.6m more than the Bundesliga, 3.1m more than La Liga, and a whopping 5.4m more than Serie A - in fact, more people went to English Football League Championship games last season than attended Serie A games!
So far in the summer transfer window, Premier League clubs have spent nearly £800m on new players. Eight hundred million pounds. That’s over twice the amount Bundesliga clubs have spent so far. Staggering. Ok, so the market is a bit mad right now, but the quality on show next season, even for some of the smaller clubs in the league, is truly mouth-watering.
The Premier League has always been exciting though. Even 20 years ago when a measly £15m was enough to break the world transfer record, it was a big league and there were always jealous glances from other leagues around Europe. We’ve had some truly memorable moments, from “Alberrrrtttttt!” to “Agerrrroooooo!”, but I think only now can we say it’s truly the best in the world.
So what does the 2016/17 Premier League season have in store for us then? Well, anything can happen, as Leicester and their newly crowned King Claudio proved last season. What we do know is that whatever happens, it promises to be the biggest and best season yet.
Mourinho has resurfaced in the Stretford area, and with Pep Guardiola taking the reins on the other side of Manchester, the desire to knock champions Leicester City off their perch (copyright, Sir Alex Ferguson) will further fan the flames amongst the rest of the league. It already looks like it’ll be a blockbuster season – one that’ll make the Pogba unveiling look more like a cheap soap opera than anything Hollywood can produce.
And remember, Sky Sports are showing 126 of these epic games (in Ultra HD if you’ve got a shiny Sky Q Silver box), including Friday Night Football for the first time. We’ve also made sure you won’t miss any of the action either - just download the Sky Sports Football Score Centre app, log-in with your Sky iD and catch all the match-day highlights on your phone. We’ll be showing every club in the league live at least once by the end of September.
So, even though my own club might not be involved this season, I can’t wait for the Premier League to start. Why? Not just because I’m a football fan, but because it’s the biggest and best league in the world.