written by Robert Pollard – 14th May 2012
With both Manchester City and Manchester United going into the last match of the season with a chance of lifting the 2011-2012 Barclays Premier League trophy, it promised to be a great final day of the season. However, what ensued will go down in football history; a day of the highest possible drama that brought a fitting end to one the most entertaining seasons in recent history.
It was Manchester City who won the coveted prize; their first league title in 44 years, a period in which their fans have suffered ridicule on a grand scale. Relegation to the third tier of English football saw them branded as a laughing-stock, with even their own staff recognising their problems. Former player, and one time chairman of the club, Francis Lee famously claimed City would ‘win cups for cock-ups’, and Joe Royle, the manager who rescued them from their deepest slump, coined the phrase ‘cityitis’, a word which described City’s unerring ability to grab defeat from the jaws of victory.
But all that was forgotten as they clinched the biggest prize in English football in the most dramatic of circumstances, scoring two late goals to seal the trophy their fans, players, management and owners had long craved. Manchester United did what they had to do on the final day – beat Sunderland away. Their 1-0 victory had, at one stage, seemed enough to snatch the title from their rivals, but City’s late, late salvo changed it all within minutes, scoring with their 43rd and 44th shots of the match. It seems poetic that the team so often praised for their ability to produce late drama have been usurped in exactly that fashion.
Roberto Mancini, City’s Italian manager, must now begin to take some long overdue credit. He took the job when many others were shirking it, coming to a new country to take the reins at a club where expectations had soared due to their new-found wealth. Since then, despite success, he has received little praise. When City do well it is to be expected; when they don’t it is a failure on his part. An FA Cup success, qualification for the Champions League, and now a Premiership title, all delivered in the space of two-and-a-half years, mean his excellence deserves to be recognised. He found himself trailing United by 8 points but managed to win the last 6 matches of the season – including a win against United – to take the title. This is a remarkable achievement. You feel if Harry Redknapp, or another similarly well-liked manager, had turned round such a deficit and won the league he’d be carried on the shoulders of journalists through the streets of London. However, Mancini is not afforded such favourable press.
The hard work starts here for Mancini and creating a team capable of dominating for a long time his the task he is charged with and he has an outstanding set of players to achieve this. Vincent Kompany grows in stature every day, with his performances, leadership, professionalism and interview style now a vital part of Manchester City. Every club needs a leader and City have one of the best. The spine of Hart, Kompany, Yaya Toure, Silva and Aguero is the best in the league, and provides a frightening prospect for opposing sides. This City team is young and hungry for more success.
A special mention must also go to Pablo Zabaleta, one of the best full backs and undoubtedly the most valuable utility player in the Premiership; his grit and determination is something City fans will long remember in what has been a tiring campaign. Gareth Barry, who may not feature quite so heavily in a title-winning side again as he enters the twilight of his career, has also been excellent. City must now use the momentum this title has created to push on and become even better.
Manchester United also deserve great credit for their season. They have had crippling injuries to deal with, most notably the absence of Nemanja Vidic who, along with Kompany, is the best central defender in English football. Sound logic would suggest if he had been available all season, United may well have been lifting the trophy. Sir Alex Ferguson will spend this summer and United will be a force again next season. Only a side managed by Fergie could have kept pace with such an excellent City side, and they came so close to an unlikely 20th league title.
If city were ever going to become champions of England, one suspected it would be dramatic, heart-in-the-mouth type stuff, but even by their standards this was remarkable. Never will there be a final day quite like yesterday.