The most watched football league in the world, Barclays English Premier League, undoubtedly had an epic finale to its 2011-12 season. The winner of the year-long battle for glory was decided and sealed in less than five minutes.
While at the Stadium of Light, Sunderland FC’s home ground, Manchester United reigned supreme and won with a goal’s margin, Manchester City produced a game at Etihad Stadium, its home ground, that can only be described as phenomenal. The title holder was to be decided between the two Manchester teams, with City needing a win at home to surpass United, who played away to Sunderland.
Towards the end of the ninety minutes, it looked like United were destined to lift the trophy for the twentieth time. Sir Alex Ferguson, United’s manager for over quarter of a century, looked confident of having done just enough to win both their final game and the title. While Ferguson just waited for the final confirmation of his success through the referee’s final whistle, Roberto Mancini, Manchester City’s manager, hoped for a miracle at Etihad.
As if He heard his prayers, The Almighty granted City that opportunity to prove to the world the existence of a miracle. Edin Dzeko, the Bosnian striker who moved to Manchester City in Jan 2011, emerged as that miracle in the 92nd minute of the 5-minute stoppage time.
A corner kick converted into a brilliant header by Dzeko put some hope into the Citizens. The long-awaited equaliser had finally come. There was still work to be done, however. City needed to win the match to etch their name on the trophy. As would be expected, with just a couple of minutes left on the clock, City attacked incessantly and out of the blue, Sergio Aguero, after the slightest of touches to get a clean shot, created history for City. City, the tortoise in the race, proved their worth at Etihad with late goals, driving Citizens crazy.
On the other side of the battle for the title, United had already finished their match and were awaiting news from City. But in a tragic quirk of fate that rendered him speechless, Ferguson could only wonder what had hit him when he heard the score and success of City at Etihad. He would have almost certainly felt those ‘so-close-yet-so-far’ emotions that give a sense of seeing the finish line of a marathon yet being unable to reach there first. Darkness had suddenly befallen the Stadium of Light, not for Sunderland, who were not in contention for the title, but for Manchester United, who had their victory snatched away by a whisker. United had already taken the shuttle to seventh heaven but were brought back. Manchester had changed colours – from glazing red to sky blue in less than five minutes.
Aguero emerged as the saviour for City, bringing league glory back after forty-four long years of patience. Jubilant City fans had moments of nostalgia and at least a half of the city had reason to celebrate while the other half tried to figure out what had just happened.
As all this unfolded and the excitement subsided, I analysed the season in my own perspective and looked at what I could learn. Towards the end of the season, April and May in particular, I noticed some aspects that struck out as crucial to one’s learning.
1. One gets what one deserves. Manchester City truly deserved the title. City performed when it mattered the most, stuck to their guns and did not choke under pressure. Big spenders City have picked up talent from all over the globe and it has proved crucial when it mattered. Dzeko’s arrival in January 2011 and Aguero’s in July 2011 show that it is important to have the right talent, in addition to a strong vision, to achieve a goal, literally and figuratively.
2. How to lose the lead when it’s almost in your bag: Manchester United, who had almost sealed the title around April, became complacent and paid a huge price. Despite an eight-point lead till April, United threw it all away in spectacular fashion to hurt them when they were supposed to be cruising to victory. The draw with Everton was one of the most damage-inflicting results of the season.
A two goal lead was squandered away in the final few minutes of the game at Old Trafford, United’s home ground, due to an appalling defensive display. The Red Devils, known for their fluid counter-attacking play, could not even get enough shots on target against derby rivals City in the final few games of the season. Such lacklustre performance only added to City’s chase and United’ downfall from a pedestal of vantage.
3. Temperament of the leadership needs to carry the team till the end. Sir Alex Ferguson may arguably be one of the best managers in the history of English football, but he failed this season to take his team home across the finish line. His squad selection in crucial games has received much criticism, his verbal spat with Mancini in the so-called title-decider came under fire, and even his renowned strategies failed, and, at times, even boomeranged. Ferguson, who referred to City as “Noisy Neighbours”, was silenced by the noise at the end of the season.
4. There is a misconception that money buys victories. I have heard numerous United fans lament that deep-pocketed City won only because they were able to buy the world’s best players. I, frankly, find this notion foolish because there is no correlation between deep pockets and wins. Secondly, United also has deep pockets and the management at United has always been supportive of the decisions taken by Ferguson and his team.
What matters is what one does with all the resources at one’s disposal. Had Ferguson snapped up a couple of star players, which were rumoured to be transferred, we could have seen an entirely different end to the season, who knows !!!
This is not to say that money is not a factor at all. Financial backing by owners and directors does obviously matter, but what matters more than that is the ability to invest smartly on players who can produce results. City played that hand well and were rewarded for it.
5. Competition can arise out of nowhere. After a long time, the title race was fought only between the two Manchester clubs. The London-based clubs had a torrid time this season. Champions League finalists Chelsea finished sixth, third placed Arsenal were 19 points behind the two Manchesters and Liverpool, well, let’s not even go there…
The might of the Red Devils as the more prominent team from Manchester has been challenged. London clubs will face a Herculean task next year when they try to assert their stand on the league as they face not one, but two immensely competitive teams from Manchester. Expect some big names to fly to London next season, not necessarily for the Olympics, though.
Quite a lot to learn from football, eh? What are your views? Which team do you support? What was your reading of this season? Drop me a line and let me know…