The Limey
Friday March 19th, 2010

As a lone infantryman wistfully bugles a lamenting Last Post into the chill twilight air, Team Limey stands forlornly on the battlements of Castle Limey contemplating our final EPL column for Together, over a last pint of ale, let's relive some highlights from our five years here. And what a five years it's been.

We've marveled at some of the greatest players in the world: with Manchester United, Cristiano Ronaldo honed his youthful exuberance and obsession with stepovers to become a devastating attacking spearhead and FIFA's World Player of the Year. The evergreen Ryan Giggs, winner of 11 league titles, two Champions Leagues and numerous other honors, became the most decorated player in EPL history. Paul Scholes' bustle and creativity led Zinedine Zidane to describe him as "undoubtedly the greatest player of his generation." Roy Keane was a ferocious perfectionist anchorman whose wrath on and off the field was feared by friend and foe alike.

Looking forward, if Wayne Rooney's bulldog form is maintained, both the World Cup and Bobby Charlton's Manchester United goal-scoring record are achievable.

Nouveau riche Chelsea continued to establish itself in Europe's elite, thanks, amongst other factors, to the athleticism of Michael Essien, the power of Didier Drogba, the tenacity of Claude Makélélé, the speed of Arjen Robben and the dynamism of Frank Lampard. And while John Terry and Ashley Cole play loose with women, they've kept a tight shop in defense, as did once world-beating goalkeeper Petr Cech, whose form has sadly deteriorated since suffering a severe head injury.

Arsenal legend Sol Campbell will be remembered as one of the greatest center backs of his day, but also for going full circle from the Champions League final with The Gunners to Portsmouth and then a single appearance at League 2 Notts County before returning to Arsenal at age 35. Meanwhile, Cesc Fabregas became Arsenal's midfield heartbeat, taking the crown of former incumbent Patrick Vieira, the once-main adversary of Roy Keane. Ahead of them, the speed, skill and rapier finishing of Thierry Henry was encapsulated by Arsene Wenger, who astutely summarized that, "Thierry Henry can take ball in the middle of park and score a goal that no one else in the world could." Henry's fitness afforded a then-aging and less mobile but still intelligent and deadly Dennis Bergkamp -- twice third place in World Player of the Year -- a final season in 2005-06.

Although we've been frustrated by his inability to play at the same level for England, Steven Gerrard has throughout been Mr Liverpool. The EPL title still eludes him, despite the goals of marksman extraordinaire Fernando Torres, but coming from 3-0 down against AC Milan to hoist the European Cup in 2005 will always provide some well-deserved consolation. The visionary Xabi Alonso and valiant Sami Hyypia also contributed much at Anfield.

Outside the 'big four' other noteworthy strikers included: Teddy Sherringham, who was still goalscoring at nearly 41; Alan Shearer, who combined a rocket shot with penalty-area presence; Carlos Tevez's explosive goals and laudable workrate kept West Ham in the league in 2006-07 and now grace Manchester City; fan favorite Dean Windass briefly re-appeared in the EPL despite being 38 and resembling a regular at a truckers' diner; and Dimitar Berbatov and Robbie Keane were outstanding (goal celebrations apart) at Spurs before their respective moves to Manchester United and Liverpool.

Shay Given is probably the best EPL keeper of the period; Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta offer flair at the heart of Everton's midfield; Rory Delap's throw-ins are probably the longest in soccer history; David James and Marouane Fellaini take hairstyling to another level; and without Jimmy Bullard, Fulham would surely have been relegated in 2007-08.

And the EPL wouldn't be so interesting a spectacle without its bad boys. Who can forget Craig Bellamy attacking then-Liverpool teammate John Arne Riise with a golf club as a result of the Norwegian defender refusing to sing karaoke?

We've also witnessed some epic matches. The all-English Champions League final in 2008 took every football fan through the fall range of emotions with nothing to separate United and Chelsea until John Terry slipped at the crucial moment, sending his penalty crashing into the post at 1.30 a.m. local time in Moscow. Chelsea reached that final by beating an indefatigable Liverpool 7-5 on aggregate in the semis -- revenge for their ECL semi-final match-up with the Reds in 2005.

The highest scoring fixture in the period was Portsmouth's 7-4 win against Reading in 2007, while numerous 4-4 draws have left us with curtailed fingernails: Tottenham and Hotspur's 4-4 in March 2008 saw Chelsea's title hopes fade away, while in a 4-4 draw against archrivals Arsenal in October 2008, Spurs scored twice in the last two minutes. Arsenal was also caught late at Anfield in April 2009, when after diminutive Russian Andrey Arshavin scored his fourth goal of the match in injury time, there were still enough seconds remaining for Yossi Benayoun to snatch a late equalizer.

And there's been some great upsets too. Geovani's 25-yard screamer saw Hull win 2-1 at the Emirates in 2008, while how could Burnley better mark topflight football returning last August to Turf Moor, after a 33-year absence, than beating Manchester United? Later in 2009-10, Manchester United lost 1-0 at home in the FA Cup to Leeds United from the third tier of the English league. Even more extraordinary, though, was second-tier struggler Barnsley's cup run of 2007-08. Having beaten Liverpool 2-1 at Anfield in the fifth round, they then overcame Chelsea 1-0 in the eighth -- the quarterfinal.

Liverpool's 2006 FA Cup final win over West Ham on penalties, having drawn 3-3 after extra time, was another classic cup tie. Rafael Benitez's stock as manager has been on a downward trajectory since this last piece of silverware, and his job now hangs by a thread. How he must wish for a result like their 4-1 EPL win at Old Trafford in March 2009.

The most successful and longest-serving managers in the EPL have experienced a mixed five years. Alex Ferguson went back to the drawing board and built yet another team after big spending Chelsea, guided by Limey favorite Jose Mourinho, won consecutive titles. Ferguson's latest creation then won the Champions League and is gunning for a fourth successive EPL title. Meanwhile,Wenger has been trophyless since we started out in 2005. He frustrates and thrills Arsenal fans in equal measure with his dogged perseverance with youth, slick quick-passing football and reluctance to spend large fees on established world stars.

Mourinho is sorely missed from the EPL, and his triumphant return to Stamford Bridge this week emphasized this. In a victory he described as a "perfect win" his tactics were flawless, his demeanor typically relaxed and understated. Roman Abramovich must much regret having dispensed of the Special One. A triumphant return to the EPL is rumored to be in the offing, with Rafael Benitez and Manchester City's Roberto Mancini looking nervously over their shoulders.

Elsewhere, David Moyes has performed strongly at Everton and is touted as Sir Alex Ferguson's eventual successor at United. Roy Hodgson has impressed since he returned to England, saving Fulham from relegation on the last day of the 2007-08 season to qualify for the Europa League the following season. In the Europa League this season, they remarkably came back from 4-1 to triumph 5-4 over two legs against Italian giants Juventus.

At the other end of the table, Paul Jewell oversaw the catastrophe that was Derby County in 2007-08, finishing with only 11 points and a solitary win: an EPL record low. The soap opera set in the North East of England that starred Kevin Keegan, Joe Kinnear and Alan Shearer had us chuckling all the way through 2008-09 and it climaxed with Newcastle United being condemned to the second tier of English football. Kinnear's tirade to the press in October 2008 famously contained 52 expletives. That same season then-Hull boss, Phil Brown, despairingly took his halftime talk on the pitch as his side crashed 5-1 at Manchester City, and then sang to the crowd when Hull avoided relegation.

Looking forward, Manchester City, along with Aston Villa and Tottenham, are this season threatening to become the first English team from outside the 'big four' to qualify for the Champions League since Everton in 2005. If one succeeds at Liverpool's expense, this could represent a significant change in the EPL's power structure, especially given Liverpool's indebtedness and the strong financial backing of super-rich owners that clubs such as City, Birmingham and Spurs have secured.

Commercial investors will desire revenue returns, and while expectations exist that Internet streaming will provide an increased global audience, we expect that calls to allow clubs to individually negotiate media deals will resurface as will, in a few years time, moves towards a European super league where higher revenues will be divided between fewer participants.

For now, though, as we lower the portcullis for a final time, much remains unchanged since that distant first issue: EPL clubs are still a dominant force in the Champions League and the EPL still draws the largest TV audience; Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea are vying for the title; Gary Neville still fails to grow a decent moustache; Didier Drogba's diving and injury feigning continues to irritate; Emile Heskey still lumbers like an mal-coordinated sea lion, and Peter Crouch still can't dance. Plus ça change as our French counterparts L'équipe Limey might say, even if our banter is now becoming a past chapter in the annals of soccer journalism. Goodnight and God Bless America and the wood on the side of your cars.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.