Welcome to the Virgin Media Midweek Kick-off! So Leicester have finally, actually, unbelievably won the Barclays Premier League. And what a season it’s been! We asked writers Joel Golby and Matt Blake if this was in fact the best ever season in Barclays Premier League history… or not.
YES! It was simply the best
“For the first time ever, the old top-four death grip has been loosened” – Joel Golby, football writer, Mundial Magazine
Leicester won it!
I know we’re rapidly approaching “peak Leicester”, where we’re saturated with long reads and YouTube videos of Claudio Ranieri being quietly adorable, and can all recite the starting XI top-to-bottom. But: Leicester. They won the league. 5,000-1 odds. The greatest sporting story of all time. Not just football, but all sport. Ever. Leicester. They were most people’s bet to go down – including many of their own fans. Leicester! They will wear gold badges on their shirtsleeves next year and might play Barcelona! LEICESTER.
Big scalps were taken
Chelsea are a creaking giant; Manchester City’s form is erratic at best; Manchester United are a shadow of the old Fergie days; Arsenal are exhibiting their usual pathological fear of success; and Liverpool have sacked Brendan Rodgers to hire a manager who, form-wise, is basically the same as Brendan Rodgers. For the first time in, well, ever, the old top-four death grip has been loosened, and that can only be good for the league.
There could actually be hope for England
I was starting to believe – as many of you must be too – that the England national football team were cursed by a witch, condemned to trot the earth trophy-less, forever. But – whisper it – there are some real shining lights coming through now. Kane, Alli and Vardy all lit up the league. Dier, Cresswell and Rashford are exciting, pure new talent that can make you believe again. No more of that Lampard/Gerrard, two-jigsaw-pieces-that-don’t-fit-together nonsense. England have cohesion, they have youth, and they have hope.
Money isn’t everything anymore
Squint back and think about it, and, oh yeah, Manchester City spent £96 million on two players (Raheem Sterling and Kevin de Bruyne) last summer, and are still a bit twitchy about making the top four. Manchester United dropped £38.5 million on Anthony Martial, but still ended up playing some games with a back four of lost-looking youth-teamers. Stoke bought £18.3 million midfielder Imbula. Everton invested nearly £30 million on Lukaku. And yet Leicester City’s most extravagant pre-season purchase was £7 million-man Shinji Okazaki. Yes, Leicester are a freakish anomaly, but as TV money continues to parachute down the league, we could be on the cusp of an era of buying smart rather than buying big.
The moments are what make a season memorable
John Terry’s Chelsea career ending in a red card and a tantrum. “Dilly ding, dilly dong”. Big Andy Carroll scoring history’s most boisterous hat-trick against Arsenal. That entire Chelsea-Tottenham game, but especially the last ten minutes when Tottenham knew they’d lost the league and just started going for Chelsea. Louis van Gaal’s “sex-masochism”. The triumphant return of Big Sam, handfuls of chewing gum in his mouth, replete in an XL tracksuit and laughing at the haters. Every single Dimitri Payet free kick. Jürgen Klopp being interviewed by a nine-year-old
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NO! Other seasons were better
“Aside from Leicester’s fairy tale, it’s been a pretty forgettable season” – Matt Blake, sports writer, Virgin Media
We’ve been blinded by Leicester
Let’s press pause on our delirium for a second. Aside from Leicester’s fairy tale, it’s been a pretty forgettable season. Leicester deservedly won because none of the “big clubs” played well. Let’s not forget, at Christmas pundits were asking if this was the worst ever Barclays Premier League season for that very reason. Chelsea did their best impression of The Titanic; Man Utd just managed to stay afloat; Man City doggy-paddled to shore; Arsenal did what they always do: swam well till they realised it was easier to just tread water and wait for the lifeboat; and Spurs seemed to have scuttled the ship at the first sight of treasure. The point is, Leicester won despite an overall possession of just 42%. It was more a will-they-won’t-they season than a touch-that-remote-and-I’ll-kill-you one.
Remember Arsenal’s Invincibles? That’s how to win a season in style. The Gunners were a juggernaut in 2003-04, ploughing through every team that stepped in their way, leaving a trail of emotional wreckage in their wake, from Middlesbrough to Southampton. It was mind-blowing to watch. Just because Arsenal were one of the designated big four, does that make their achievement any less impressive than Leicester’s? They didn’t lose a single game, for crying out loud!
It was over before it was over
I find it jarring when a season’s over before it’s actually over. As a neutral fan, watching a team win in early May always leaves me feeling a little cheated. Certainly, you couldn’t help but feel tingly watching Andrea Bocelli sing Nessun Dorma at the King Power on Saturday. But secretly I was looking forward to that thing Match of the Day do on the final show of the season when they split the games up to ramp up the tension.
Where was the final-day drama?
“Agüero. Balotelli. He’s got it through. Agüeroooooooooooo!” That was the most dramatic moment in the history of the Barclays Premier League. It was everything we love about football, distilled into one fleeting moment: last-gasp desperation, local derby showdown and pure, uncut drama. In 2012, Manchester City needed to beat QPR to trump Man Utd on goal difference on the final day of the season. It was 2-2 until the final seconds, when Agüero scored to pandemonium. But more, it was the culmination of a spectacular season that saw Manchester City beat Spurs 5-1; Man Utd beat Arsenal 8-2; City beat Utd 6-1 then Spurs 5-1; Arsenal beat Blackburn 7-1 then Chelsea 5-3. You can keep your Leicester City one-nils.
Leicester’s victory wasn’t very English
England loves an underdog, but we love a loser more. Maybe it’s to do with our dysfunctional relationship with America; or the failings of England’s national football team; or Eddie the Eagle. Who knows? But watching Newcastle so spectacularly implode in 1995-96 as they squandered a 12-point lead, gifting the title to Man Utd, was too heartbreaking not to love them for it. It was the year Kevin Keegan did his infamous “I will love it” speech. It was the year Man City tried time-wasting on the last day, thinking a 2-2 draw with Liverpool would save them, only to be relegated by Southampton’s goal difference. It was the year Man Utd changed out of their grey strip when 3-0 down at half time, and still lost. Leicester are a team of winners… and that’s not how we do things in England.
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