The English Premier League opens today, awash with more cash and global appeal than ever.
Yet at the moment, the biggest stars might be the managers.
The era of the super-coach has arrived in England's top division. Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger, Antonio Conte and Juergen Klopp make up possibly the best group of managers seen in this country at one time.
"It's a world championship of managers," said Wenger, 66, who begins his 20th full season as Arsenal's manager.
His is the only club with stability at the top. Half the league's clubs have a different manager than they started last season with, including glamor clubs Manchester United (Mourinho), Manchester City (Guardiola), Chelsea (Conte) and Liverpool, where Klopp arrived partway into last season. How unusual is Wenger's reign? The manager with the second-longest time at his current club is Bournemouth's Eddie Howe, at just under four years.
So some huge reputations are going to take a battering in a league where Leicester City's improbable surge to the title was the story of last season.
The Manchester clubs have hogged the limelight in the offseason because of the coaching arrivals and their heavy spending in the transfer market that reached $400 million Tuesday with the signings of Paul Pogba (for a world-record $116 million) at Man U and defender John Stones at City. Most British bookmakers make the teams the two favorites for the title this season. Pogba will miss the opener, serving a one-game ban left over from his time at Italy's Juventus.
Of course, the bookies can get it wrong. Leicester started as a 5,000-1 shot to win the league last season.
Its manager, Claudio Ranieri, believes it will be "impossible" for his team to retain the title, saying Thursday it's more likely that "ET comes to Piccadilly Circus." Ranieri said the odds on his team should be "6,000-1,"
A record injection of TV money, split evenly among the 20 teams, is leveling out the Premier League and increasing competition. This is the first season of a new three-year broadcasting deal for domestic and international rights worth a record 8.3 billion pounds ($10.8 billion) — 71 percent above the previous deal — and clubs have used that windfall to spend around $1 billion this offseason.
"To find a team to win four, five, six games in a row is not easy," said Guardiola, who collected trophies galore in spells at Barcelona and Bayern Munich since 2008. "All the managers that have more experience than me in England talk about that. Maybe that is the challenge."