Almost everyone in the sack race, including Jose

Crystal Palace may not be among the big boys of the English Premier League (EPL), but they have certainly made a mark by parting company with their manager 48 hours before the new season began this weekend.

Whether Tony Pulis jumped or was pushed scarcely matters. He left with that old line "by mutual consent", and doubtless will be back somewhere else before Christmas.

The EPL, feasting on a billion pounds of global TV income per annum, is really a league of unequal halves. Chief salesman Richard Scudamore can boast for all he is worth (and he does) that the EPL is the most competitive league in the world, but the reality is that a handful of clubs are in a separate financial league to the rest.

With the exception of Arsene Wenger, no manager is safe in his post because no other club is prepared to back - through thick and thin - the man they appoint to run the team.

Last season, it proved 50-50. Half the appointed managers stayed, and half were paid off.

The bookies will give you odds on when, rather than if, Sam Allardyce gets the sack at West Ham United. Louis van Gaal might have arrived at Manchester United with a mandate to recast and rebuild, but wasn't that the very same deal for David Moyes this time last year?

The seeds of instability are sewn by false expectations. There are as many club owners from abroad now as from Britain. They understand the bottom line, which is business, but they seldom grasp the reality - the beauty - of sport.

Maybe they know there can only be one winner, but how many of them know the game?

Even Roman Abramovich, who has spent many billions of rubles, in his quest to make Chelsea that No. 1, is at times his own worst enemy.

Sure, Abramovich backs his managers. All of them, every time, for a few months anyway.

He has run through so many that he is back with Jose Mourinho for the second time around. Once again, the owner has given the manager everything he could ask for, which is one season to get to grips with the job again, and the authority to recruit or get rid of whoever he wanted.

There has been a balancing of the books at Stamford Bridge this English summer.

Coming in there is Atletico Madrid's Diego Costa for £32 million (S$66.5 million) as the main striker. Cesc Fabregas (£30 million from Barcelona) is the playmaker while Filipe Luis (£16 million from Atletico) is the replacement for Ashley Cole. And Didier Dogba is back for a delayed swan song.

In the other direction there was David Luiz (£50 million to Paris St Germain) and Romelu Lukaku (£28 million to Everton). Demba Ba, Frank Lampard, Samuel Eto'o as well as Cole were also freed or dispatched for small change to end their service in Chelsea blue.

"We like what we have," says Mourinho. "We don't say it's perfect, we don't say it's the best. No manager in the world says his squad is perfect.

"But ours is a squad for tomorrow, for next season, for 10 years with so many young people. So I like my squad, very much."

Forget the 10 years bit. Forget next year if Mourinho does not look like breaking a duck that might grow into an albatross if he fails for a third season to win a trophy.

Nothing won with Real Madrid the season before last, and nothing in his first year back at the Bridge, although he said from the start that it was not his squad and he didn't think he had Manchester City's years of spending or Arsenal's decades of allowing Wenger to build.

Abramovich presumably bought those excuses, and bit hard on the bullet of this summer's buying and selling to satisfy what Jose said he wanted.

When you look at the re-shaping, and include Juan Mata whom Mourinho sent to Man United in the January window, there remains one area of indecision.

Does Mourinho stick with Petr Cech, the permanent goalkeeper behind Chelsea's back line for the past decade? Or does he demote Cech in favour of Thibaut Courtois?

The man for all Chelsea's yesterdays, or the keeper for the future?

There are 10 years between them. Cech is 32, Courtois 22. And while Cech, the man in the helmet since he overcame a fearful head injury in Chelsea's cause, has the perfect stack of medals from EPL to FA Cup and Champions League, Courtois returns to the Bridge as the heir apparent.

He was designated as such when Chelsea bought him as a teenager from Genk in Belgium three years ago. But until now, Courtois hasn't played a competitive game for Chelsea.

He was too good to waste in the reserves or on the bench. In more than 100 games on loan with Atletico Madrid, the young giant has spread his 1.99m frame with such agility, such calm, and such decent judgment that Atletico won the Copa del Rey, the Europa Cup, and last season not only won La Liga but pushed Real Madrid all the way in the Champions League final.

If he was ever a novice, Courtois outgrew that years ago.

If Chelsea don't make way for him soon, then just about every team in Europe would be happy to do so. He looks ready for his inheritance, but what do you say to Cech?

Thanks pal, now it's your turn to be deputy?

Unlikely, with PSG, and some say even Real Madrid prepared to offer the Czech Republic keeper their No. 1 jersey.

We will know by tomorrow which way Mourinho is leaning. The manager has to decide, as he has with Lampard, Cole and the rest, whether Cech's time is up - and whether the understanding the goalkeeper has with John Terry and others is worth more than the proven class of Courtois.

Mourinho says he knows who is number one. But he plays a dangerous game, a typical Mourinho game, by making everyone, Cech and Courtois included, wait until he names the line up for tomorrow's game at Burnley.

The intrigue keeps the spotlight on Mourinho, but the response from the chosen keeper might determine the season ahead.

It looks like Courtois but with Mourinho, who knows?

This article was first published on Aug 17, 2014.
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