All right, my soccer-agnostic Atlantic reader. It is time for us to relate on a new level. Because I say this not hyperbolically, but demurely and with a quiet and pious certainty: The upcoming season of the English Premier League will be the single most enthralling and ugly/beautiful season of professional sports played anywhere, by anyone, ever. I know this in my buzzing journo-bones, and if I could show you the picture in my mind—the roaring managerial heads, the soccer balls bending goalward on beams of Blakeian light, the stadiums shaking with vilification and worship—you would know it too. The stage is set, les jeux sont (just about) faits, and on August 13 it all quite literally kicks off. Do you feel a wary prickle of interest? Do you want in? Let me help.
Some background: Since its formation in 1992, when the top 22 clubs in English soccer broke away from the rest to form an elite super-sphere of television deals, corporate sponsorships, and Bond-villain money, the Premier League has ballooned into global brandhood. Today it is the most watched, most discussed, most thoroughly marketed and heavily merchandised soccer league in the world. In the United States, where not long ago fans had to slope off to an Irish pub with a satellite dish to watch a Liverpool game, NBC Sports now pipes all the Premier League action you could want directly into your home (or onto your handheld device, if you’re post-TV). The point is that you can just sit there like Noël Coward with a bag of Doritos and soak it up. Technologically speaking—also narratively and theatrically, as we shall see—there has never been a better moment for an intrigued American to venture an engagement with the upper tiers of English soccer. So here we go.