In every respect, Man City was the worthy champion, writes Dileep Premachandran
In the end, there was none of the drama of 2011-12, when it needed injury-time intervention from the brilliant Sergio Aguero to ensure Manchester City win its first championship in 44 years.
Two years on from that most memorable of Blue Moon days, Man City was the embodiment of steely-eyed focus. For all the talk of West Ham’s Liverpool connection — Kevin Nolan is a lifelong fan, while Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing are both former Reds — the visitors didn’t so much as register a shot on target.
Man City laid patient siege to the away goal, and was rewarded with a superb effort from Samir Nasri and another from Vincent Kompany, whose mistakes at Anfield looked to have derailed title hopes.
With so much focus on the enormous investment that Abu Dhabi’s royal family has made in the club, it’s easy to lose sight of the enormity of Man City’s achievement. This was the club that once epitomised gallows humour, the team you could depend on to mess things up. Joe Royle, who managed it between 1998 and 2001, termed it City-itis. If something could possibly go wrong, Man City would make sure it did.Final day drama
It wouldn’t have escaped veteran City fans either that it was Liverpool that was the other protagonist in the final day drama. Back in 1995-96, Man City hosted Liverpool at Maine Road in its last game, needing a combination of favourable results to stay in the top flight. It fell 2-0 behind, before an Uwe Rosler penalty and a Kit Symons goal gave it parity. But in perhaps the best illustration of City-itis, the bench worked on the wrong information that Southampton, one of its fellow strugglers, was a goal down in its game.
It was not. By the time the correct score was relayed to the players, who had till then been dawdling around the corner flags in an effort to kill time, it was too late to go for the winner. So, while Manchester United completed the league-and-cup double, City was relegated to Division One. Two seasons later, it went down to the third tier.
That was then. Now, the club that Sir Alex Ferguson sneeringly dubbed the ‘noisy neighbours’ is on the threshold of greatness. In a league awash with third-rate owners, City’s have behaved with great dignity. They deserve special credit for hiring Manuel Pellegrini, a true football man unfairly labelled a failure by those who know nothing about the game.
This ‘failure’ took lowly Villarreal to third place in La Liga in 2004-05. Three seasons later, it finished second to Real Madrid. It might have reached the final of the Champions League in 2006 if not for Juan Roman Riquelme missing a penalty in the second leg of the semifinal against Arsenal.
When Pellegrini got the big job, it was unfortunately at Real, a club that have justly suffered in the past decade because of its idiotic hire-and-fire policies. In his only season there, Pellegrini finished with 96 points. It wasn’t enough, because Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona tallied three more.Owners’ faith repaid
Eyebrows were raised when Man City appointed someone nearly 60, but the owners’ faith has been amply repaid with two trophies.
Arsenal was rubbish against the top teams, Chelsea was one Eden Hazard away from being dishwater dull, while Liverpool forgot that the game of football also involves stopping the opposition from scoring.
Man City was as thrilling to watch going forward, but also had the second-best defensive record in the league. In every respect, it was the worthy champion. The trick now is to replicate this success on the continental stage.
Pellegrini will buy wisely in summer, and it should not surprise anyone if the supporters that invaded the pitch at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday are singing Blue Moon in Berlin after the Champions League final next June. The ‘noisy neighbours’ are here to stay.
(Dileep Premachandran is Editor in Chief of Wisden India)