The 20th, and perhaps most exciting, Premier League season finished on Sunday. Stuart Rayner asked what conclusions we can draw from it
1. The best team always wins
EVEN if it takes until deep into “Fergie Time”. You cannot judge a season on one performance, but the contrasting displays of both Manchester clubs at St James’ Park demonstrated why the trophy ended up in the right cabinet.
2. Money cannot buy everything.
A STRANGE conclusion from the season Sheikh Mansour’s boys won the title, perhaps, but the fact they only squeaked it on goal difference and will not be in Saturday’s European Cup final shows money’s limitations. Newcastle United finishing fifth, Everton looking down on Liverpool, and Swansea City and Norwich City comfortably outperforming Queens Park Rangers and Aston Villa were heartening victories for the little guys.
3. Pragmatism outweighs principles.
THE sight of Carlos Tévez back in a Manchester City shirt was utterly depressing. Roberto Mancini promised the Argentinian mercenary would never play for his club again after refusing to warm-up in Munich but once City wobbled, all was forgotten.
4. Some things you cannot sell.
NEWCASTLE’S attempt to sell the naming rights to St James’ Park was a reminder supporters will not jettison their principles so easily. Whether you think they are hopelessly deluded romantics or much-needed last bastions of tradition, boardrooms ignore them at their peril, as Cardiff City found trying to rebrand the Bluebirds as red-shirted dragons.
5. Managers with the wrong background are on a hiding to nothing...
THOSE trenchant attitudes can doom managers to failure. Steve Bruce and Alex McLeish never got the flying start to gloss over being born in and having managed in the wrong neighbourhood. Just as Steve Kean quietened the Blackburn rebellion, results took a turn for the worse and he was back to Public Enemy No.2 (after Venky’s). It makes a Cockney winning manager of the year with Newcastle even more impressive.
6. ... But having the players against you is far worse.
THAT Chelsea are in the European Cup final is nothing short of a disgrace viewed in the context of the seven months when the squad had a manager they could not be bothered playing for. Judging by all the dressing-room leaks about Andre Villas-Boas, it is a brave man who takes on the people who actually run that club.
7. Racism is still a problem in English football on and off the field.
FORTUNATELY, they take it more seriously than Uefa, who fined Manchester City almost £25,000 for being a minute late for the second half of a Europa League match with Sporting Lisbon, and Porto around £15,000 for monkey chants.
8. Handshakes are not always the answer.
FIFA boss Sepp Blatter thinks racism can be solved with a simple handshake. At Old Trafford even that humility was beyond Luis Suárez. The pre-match handshake caused no end of political problems when Chelsea met Queens Park Rangers.
9. You can quit too early.
AFTER half a season dipping his toe into coaching, Paul Scholes realised how much he missed playing, and instantly improved Manchester United. Footballers would do well to cling to a career most of us would kill for.
10. Do not sack your manager without a decent Plan B.
A MID-SEASON sacking only works if, like Sunderland, you know where to go next. Wolverhampton Wanderers made such a mess of replacing Mick McCarthy they were forced into Plan Z. Terry O’Connor’s appointment virtually confirmed relegation.
11. Demba Ba has a release clause.
ALLEGEDLY. Thanks for that, Harry.
12. Diving is not a foreign disease.
LAZY stereotypes about diving being imported ignores the fact it has been going on here since the days of Francis Lee, and probably long before. That Ashley Young picked up this season’s Oscar ought to put that one to bed, but probably will not.
13. Newcastle did well to get rid of Joey Barton.
NEWCASTLE prospered by weeding the egos from their dressing room and the fringe players flourished. Getting sent off on the final day when QPR needed a point to guarantee safety was not the behaviour of a captain. Regularly quoting Adolf Hitler’s favourite philosopher (Freidrich Nietzsche) on Twitter made him feel like an intellectual, but his infantile rants on the social networking site made him look a prize pillock.
14. Think before you take to Twitter.
IT is a valuable tool to reconnect with fans but puts you in touch with all manner of morons. Black players in particular have been subjected to some hateful filth. Others, like Sunderland’s James McClean, have got into bother tweeting in the heat of the moment.
15. Liverpool did better without Steven Gerrard.
ACCORDING to the stats. Something for England manager Roy Hodgson to consider?
16. Three quality keepers is too many.
STEVE Bruce probably knew as much when he signed Kieren Westwood last summer, but injury-prone Craig Gordon could not be relied upon. Appeasing a third-choice with a record transfer fee is damn near impossible.
17. Jumping to conclusions is dangerous. Why do we fall for it?
THOSE who wanted Arsène Wenger sacked with Arsenal in the relegation zone, who wrote off David de Gea as useless, and Wigan Athletic as relegation certainties before Christmas looked pretty foolish. Even Andy Carroll and Fernando Torres began to look the part eventually.
18. The Premier League is not as good as it thinks it is...
FOR excitement, it lived up to its billing as “the best league in the world”. But the brutal dismantling of Manchester United by Athletic Bilbao – 10th in La Liga – showed it is lagging behind in terms of quality.
19. ... And a massive handicap to England.
JACK Wilshere, Scott Parker, Gary Cahill, Darren Bent, Danny Welbeck, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Dawson, Jack Rodwell, Tom Cleverly and Chris Smalling are either out of, or doubtful for, Euro 2012. It’s been a long season.
20. Football can be a force for good.
THE outpourings after the death of Gary Speed and the brush with it by Fabrice Muamba reminded us there are still reasons to be proud of the beautiful game.