Victory in the Premier League is sweet when it is won from the heart
Whose title was more satisfying – oil dollar-backed Manchester City’s in 2012 or Leicester City’s triumph this season? For purists, the answer is a no-brainer
History-making ... the best ever ... an advertisement for the English game ...
This remarkable Premier League season might be all these things but it should be chiefly remembered for the death of predictability and humdrum.
No longer does the argument “money can just buy you the title” wash. Those who claim the Premier League is boring need a new cause to rebel against.
If you’re a Leicester fan, then enjoy your natural high; may it last a lifetime because it deserves to, following such a feat and morality tale that has endeared the world to the game.
A year ago to the month, election polls predicting the outcome of the UK’s parliamentary elections were dismissed as fools for getting the end result so spectacularly wrong.
This year the egg-on-face has landed on the bookies; their 5000-1 odds on Leicester at the start of the season will be sired into folklore to be chortled at by generations to come.
Many ask: what is the chance of relegation-escapees Sunderland doing similar? Quite good, given what we have just witnessed – not that it matters whether Sunderland storm to the top, Foxes-fashion or not .
What counts – what has fundamentally changed since last August – is that outplaying over 38 games the likes of gilded Arsenal, Manchester City and United, Liverpool and Chelsea, is no longer a fanciful dream. It’s a realistic project to vigorously pursue.
“If Leicester can, why can’t we?” is the new mantra for players, managers, owners and fans at the likes of Bournemouth, Crystal Palace and the other clubs for whom survival has been the only goal worth playing for.
Teams like Southampton, West Ham and Tottenham now have every entitlement to an automatic renewal of European competition loyalty cards as much as the established big-five clubs.
Newly promoted Middlesbrough and Burnley need no longer think small and draw up defensive strategies to just stay up. They can think boldly and plan big.
Money still counts, of course. But this season the megabucks lost much of their value in both monetary and emotional worth.
Underdogs get much more out of winning than favourites. Leicester fans have a bigger smile on their face than Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and United supporters because the Foxes’ achievement cost far less, making it worth so much more.
Victory is sweet when it’s won from the heart, with raw team spirit and obscure players plucked from lower leagues. When money instead of pluck buys you the crown, the taste is saccharine.
Whose title was more satisfying, oil dollar-backed Manchester City’s in 2012 or Leicester’s 2016? For purists, the answer is a no-brainer.
Ironically, next season will see more money than ever before flood into the game. But no longer will most of it be splashed on big signings.
Clubs now understand that to win, and to win good, they need to spend as much on developing the young and home-grown, scouting the municipal parks and non-league windswept dugouts for golden finds like Jamie Vardy, as well as going to the international market for headline acts.
The newly emboldened minnows can never own the Premier League outright. The arrival of Pep Guardiola at the Etihad, Antonio Conte at Chelsea, the first full season under Juergen Klopp at Liverpool, and another season for ( last-chance saloon) Arsene Wenger, means the elite’s competitive edge will be resharpened .
And surely Jose Mourinho must replace Louis van Gaal next season. The midweek loss to West Ham has all but blown Manchester United’s chance of claiming a Champions League place for an unthinkable and embarrassing second time in three seasons.
Many point to the childish, hysterical social media posting by Jesse Lingard from on board the team bus that was attacked by West Ham fans as it headed to Upton Park as evidence of the lack of discipline, leadership and composure ahead of such an important match; such a response from the squad would never have happened under Alex Ferguson, many complained. They are right.
Old European foes squaring up to each other on English soil should make for battles royal ahead – all that tactical dugout genius from the Bundesliga,La Liga and Serie A mixing it up with the hurly-burly, no-nonsense British football and managers Sam Allardyce, Alan Pardew, Eddie Howe and Mark Hughes – not to mention the miracle workers, Ronald Koeman, Slaven Bilic and Mauricio Pochettino.
Among all the positives, the season saw the return of violence just this week. It also witnessed the outing of the truth from the Hillsborough tragedy and the first whiff of doping.
Next season the Premier League will play host to many of the world’s best players and most of the best managers. It will have the most money and of course the best supporters. On the last weekend of this redeeming campaign, we also have what we have longed for – unpredictability.