Eternal City?


Manchester City’s Kyle Walker celebrates with the trophy and teammates after winning the Premier League on Sunday. — Reuters

AFTER the celebrations come the questions.

A fourth straight Premier League title for Manchester City marks an unprecedented period of dominance by one team in English football.

A sixth in seven seasons underlines City’s superiority in a league that is widely regarded as the most competitive – and certainly the most popular – in the sport.

But does City’s pre-eminence mean England’s top division is in danger of becoming a turn-off for billions of fans around the world?

Pep Guardiola doesn’t think so.

City fans invade the pitch. — ReutersCity fans invade the pitch. — Reuters

“It’s boring? It’s not. It is so difficult,” the City manager said last week as his team closed in on another title.

City’s run of success bares comparison to the likes of Germany where Bayern Munich had turned the Bundesliga into a one-horse race until their 11-year winning streak was ended by Bayer Leverkusen this season.

Paris St Germain have won 10 of the last 12 titles in France.

Celtic have won all but one of the last 13 in Scotland.

None of those leagues are as popular as England’s top flight and a lack of competition could be a reason why.

That is not City’s problem. But if four in a row becomes five, six, seven, it could be a problem for all of England’s leading clubs if it impacts on the revenues generated by the sale of global broadcast rights.

Boring?

The competition is what makes the Premier League such box office entertainment. And, for now, that competition is still evident.

City needed to win their final game of the season against West Ham to finally hold off the challenge of Arsenal and clinch the title by two points.

It was the third time Guardiola’s team had been taken to the final day of the campaign before being crowned champions, having twice been pushed all the way by Liverpool.

While the headline figure tells the story of City’s near unbroken rule over the past seven seasons, the detail shows just how closely they were challenged, with Liverpool missing out by just one point in 2019 and 2022.

Raising standards

Liverpool amassed totals of 97 and 92 points in those campaigns – more than any team that have not gone on to win the title.

A total of 97 points would have been enough to win the title in all but two other Premier League seasons – in 2018 when City set a new record of 100 points and in 2022 when Liverpool ended their 30-year wait to be champions with 99.

That is a measure of the heights City have had to reach to stay ahead of the rest. Even last season they had to overcome an Arsenal team that spent 248 days at the top of the standings – the most for any team that have not gone on to win the title.

This season Arsenal set a new club record for wins (28) and goals (91) in the Premier League – even surpassing their last title-winning team from 2004, which went an entire league campaign unbeaten.

“Before it was Liverpool to push our limits and now it was Arsenal

“We got the message from Mikel (Arteta) and his players. We have to make the right decisions in the next years because they are here to stay,” said Guardiola.

Money, money, money

City’s dominance has certainly been underpinned by the fabulous wealth of their owners, having been bought by Abu Dhabi’s ruling family in 2008.

Since then some of the world’s finest players have been lured to the Etihad Stadium at a cost of around US$2bil (RM9bil) along with arguably the greatest manager of this generation in Guardiola.

Yet City are not alone in being able to spend big and their Premier League rivals are among the richest clubs in the world.

“They spend much more in the last five years than us. They should be there but they are not,” Guardiola said.

Manchester United have consistently splashed out to try to keep pace with City – spending an estimated US$1.5bil (RM7bil) since Guardiola’s arrival in England in 2016.

In that time Liverpool have set new transfer records for a defender in Virgil van Dijk and for a goalkeeper in Alisson.

Chelsea have spent around US$1bil (RM4.69bil) over the past two seasons since being bought out by US investor Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital. Before that they were bankrolled by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich.

And Arsenal were able to sign Declan Rice for a then-British transfer fee of US$138mil (RM647mil) last summer to strengthen their title challenge.

Arsenal’s Takehiro Tomiyasu, Declan Rice and Oleksandr Zinchenko react after the match. The Gunners finished second. — ReutersArsenal’s Takehiro Tomiyasu, Declan Rice and Oleksandr Zinchenko react after the match. The Gunners finished second. — Reuters

Dream team

United and Chelsea are examples of what can happen when money isn’t spent well, with both teams assembling expensive squads that have drastically under-performed.

It is now 11 years since United last won the title in 2013.

In that time they have repeatedly missed out on Champions League qualification – this season included – and have never been closer than 12 points off the eventual winner.

Chelsea, meanwhile, have endured a dramatic slump since winning the Champions League in 2021 and have failed to qualify in each of the past two seasons.

City had already won two titles by the time Guardiola took over, but he has turned them into a super power.

It is the perfect combination of spectacular wealth and managerial genius that has made City a near-unstoppable force in the Premier League.

Manager Erik ten Hag is likely to leave United regardless of tomorow’s FA Cup final result after a turbulent season at Old Trafford. — ReutersManager Erik ten Hag is likely to leave United regardless of tomorow’s FA Cup final result after a turbulent season at Old Trafford. — Reuters

After Guardiola

How City will manage the post-Guardiola era is unknown.

United appeared totally unprepared for life without former manager Alex Ferguson and have not managed to win a title since he retired in 2013.

Arsenal, too, took time to reorganise after Arsene Wenger and that was from a much lower base.

Liverpool face an uncertain future without Klopp.

While City have the players, the money and the executives to give it the best chance of continuing to be a winning machine, Guardiola is the X-factor.

“If you put any other manager in that club, they don’t win the league four times in a row. That’s down to him and his team,” Klopp said last week.

Guardiola’s contract runs through the end of next season and he has been coy about his future.

“The reality is I’m closer to leaving than to staying,” he said. “It’s eight years, will be nine. Right now my feeling is I want to stay next season. I will stay and during the season we will talk when calm.”

Eras end

While City is the first English team to win four top-flight titles, it is certainly not the first to enjoy a prolonged period of success.

Liverpool dominated from 1973-90 – winning 11 titles, four European Cups and a host of other trophies.

United ruled the Premier League era under Ferguson, with 13 titles from 93-2013.

He also led the club to two Champions League trophies and United became the first club to win a treble of the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup.

It is up to a rival to step up and end City’s run.

City’s Kevin De Bruyne shoots at goal in the 3-1 win over West Ham. — ReutersCity’s Kevin De Bruyne shoots at goal in the 3-1 win over West Ham. — Reuters

The rivals

With Klopp stepping down at Anfield and set to be replaced by Arne Slot, it is not known how Liverpool’s rebuilt team will develop without the German, who looked like he might go out on a high with another title before the Merseyside club fell away late in the season.

It would be a lot to expect Slot to immediately make Liverpool title contenders in his first season in charge after leaving Feyenoord in Holland.

United look set for another period of upheaval following the arrival of new co-owner Jim Ratcliffe who is overhauling the club’s football operations.

Erik ten Hag’s position has been in question for much of the season and even winning next week’s FA Cup final against City might not be enough to save him after United recorded their lowest Premier League finish ever – eighth.

Arsenal look like being the main contender for a third year running and if Arteta can strengthen his squad with a prolific striker, it could prove the difference next time around. — AP

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