Jonathan Wilson's Editor's Note from Issue Five
Even before the astonishing finale, 2011-12 had been voted the best ever Premier League season. After Manchester City had scored two goals in injury-time to win it, there was every reason to support that conclusion. This was a season of superb and unlikely games, of collapses and recoveries, of brilliance and stupidity, of a title race that went to the very last second. This was drama of the very highest order, of the sort that only sport can provide.
It feels churlish to say it, but behind the excitement there must be a doubt and it is this: United collected 89 points and still didn’t win the title. Only twice before in a 38-game season have they, by far the most successful side of the Premier League era, surpassed that tally. In the only season that has come close to 2011-12 for drama, 1998-99, they took only 79 points and won the league. This year, United won 28 of 38 games and still didn’t win the title. Really, how unpredictable was this season?
True, the champions aren’t as far ahead of the rest as in 2005, when Chelsea racked up 95 points, but the trend is obvious. Where 80 points tended to be enough to win the league in the late nineties, now it’s 90. City and United finished 19 points ahead of the rest. Admittedly, it’s fair to assume Chelsea and Arsenal will improve next season, and Tottenham, Newcastle and Liverpool may do so as well, but still, 19 points is a huge margin — and without significant investment you’d be surprised if Sir Alex Ferguson can coax similar performances from that squad again. The competitive imbalance between top and bottom is vast: the blurb may say that on any given day the bottom can beat the top, but the fact is it happens far less often than 10-15 years ago.
The reason, of course, is money. That’s not to denigrate City — plenty of clubs have had vast resources for a variety of reasons — but there is something worrying when even a pundit as cogent as Graeme Souness responds to the final-day drama by saying, “What an advert everyone concerned with the Premier League this year has put out. To have a day like this on the very final day when it’s gone right to the wire and taken extra-time for Man City to win it... what an advert for the Premier League.”
Maybe a finish like that will drive up TV rights even further, but surely that’s a minor footnote. This wasn’t an advert: this was the thing itself, indelible sporting drama. Maybe it’s unfair to criticise Souness for his first comment after a breathless few minutes, but as Jamie Redknapp went on to speak of the “product”, you did wonder whether, as Sid Lowe said, we were witnessing a sporting culture that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.