Dominance and Doom - A Week in the City

It’s May 2018. Manchester City have just cruised to the Premier League title, making the impossible possible by beating Southampton on the final day of the season for an unprecedented Centurion season. 100 points. One hundred points. Never in our wildest dreams would we have thought this was possible. City fans celebrated wildly, safe in the knowledge that the legacy of this season was secured for years to come.
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It’s May 2018. Manchester City have just cruised to the Premier League title, making the impossible possible by beating Southampton on the final day of the season for an unprecedented Centurion season. 100 points. One hundred points. Never in our wildest dreams would we have thought this was possible. City fans celebrated wildly, safe in the knowledge that the legacy of this season was secured for years to come.

“Pff,”, scoffed the media, “you won’t be considered one of the best until you’ve retained it.”

It’s May 2019. Manchester City have just gone through one of the greatest and most mentally taxing winning streaks the league has ever seen, winning 14 games on the bounce, including Arsenal, Everton, Chelsea, United and Spurs, to beat Liverpool to the title on the final day of the season with 98 points. 198 points accumulated over two seasons, a title retained and a never-before-seen domestic clean-sweep including the Premier League, Community Shield, Carabao Cup and FA Cup.

“Woah, wait a minute,” the media hurried, “we didn’t want you to win everything, this is ruining football!”

And so, here we find ourselves in March 2021. Manchester City are on a 21 game winning streak in all competitions, a new record for an English club. They look like they’re well on their way to securing a third Premier League title in four years, though nothing is mathematically safe just yet.

As City chug along, much in the same way that Liverpool did this time last year, you would expect that the mainstream media circles would be littered with positive articles as journalists throw darts at a Liverpool-shaped dartboard.

“66! Right, it’s Trent’s turn (all Liverpool players are referred to by their first name as if they’re old family friends) to be the greatest player in the world in his position this week!”

“11! Easy, Mo’s turn. Going to be a nice month for me, I’m about to make some easy Egyptian engagement!”

“8! Tricky one that, Naby’s hardly kicked a football since he joined the club. How much did he cost? Ah, don’t worry about it. Not relevant. He had that decent game against Salzburg in the Champions League didn’t he? I’m sure that qualifies him to be the world’s greatest back-up!”

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Whilst there are some journalists who are more than happy to lavish praise on our players and the squad, whether it’s Jonathan Wilson praising the tactical evolution of Guardiola or Sam Lee’s in-depth analyses of City’s recent success, there’s not usually much money to be made by the traditional, now click-driven media by heaping praise on Manchester City, especially when most Manchester City fans lost any interest in what the mainstream media had to say about their club around the time UEFA handed them a Champions League ban which was later overturned.

A new angle must be found to get people reading. There's only one thing for it - a negative angle.

Enter Luke Edwards, writer for The Telegraph. His views on the title race first became apparent on Monday during an appearance on the BBC’s Football Daily Podcast, where he decried Manchester City’s “dominance” of the league.

He then followed this up the morning after City beat Wolves 4-1 at the Etihad, further cementing this view that City’s “dominance” can only be a bad thing.

Luke Edwards is by no means the only person peddling this argument. As my introduction alluded to, there were anguished cries of horror when we retained the title in 2019, despite the fact that everybody insisted that we had to in order to be taken seriously. How will the league ever cope under the heavy weight of Manchester City’s unrelenting, inevitable stranglehold over the league for the next decade?

Then Liverpool won it the next season. Not only had they won it, but made a mockery of it. At this stage of the campaign last year, with 27 games played, Liverpool were 22 points ahead of City in second place. They were 29 points clear of Leicester in third.

Manchester City are currently sitting 12 points clear of second place Manchester United, who are almost neck-and-neck with Leicester in third, who are 13 points behind City. Manchester City might be on an unprecedented winning streak but, make no mistake, if this season is bad for the Premier League then last year must have almost destroyed the brand.

Only that’s not the case. Liverpool winning the league, from a pure business point of view, was probably the best thing that the league could have hoped for. The fallen giant who’d risen again to win their first Premier League trophy after nearly 30 years with everybody’s favourite gurning German leading the charge. The Premier League, covid aside, probably had one of its most lucrative seasons in terms of sheer marketing power, such is the global reach of Liverpool’s fanbase.

Not only was it good business for the league but it was good business for many journalists. There’s a reason why there was no talk of Liverpool’s dominance destroying the Premier League and everything it stood for. There’s a reason why there were weekly op-eds written about random members of Liverpool’s squad and how they’re actually all the best in the world. It was good business, just like it’s now good business to talk down City’s achievements when 99% of your readership aren’t City fans.

This idea of <insert club who’s just won the league> going on to dominate for years to come is a narrative which seems to rear its head after pretty much every season. When City did it under both Mancini and Pellegrini, conversations were had about how the club would create a dynasty with their vast wealth. Both times this proved not to be the case. When Jose Mourinho won it with Chelsea in his second stint at the club, the same thing happened again, only to be quickly dismantled. Likewise with Jurgen Klopp’s title win. The only club spared from this hyperbolic hypothetical in the last decade has been Leicester, who were just happy to be there.

Should Manchester City go on to win the Premier League this season, and a collapse is still technically mathematically possible, it will be five of the previous ten that the club has won. This, admittedly, could be seen as some slight form of dominance, though it’s not like Manchester City have comfortably walked away with every single one of them, which brings us to one of the points Edwards raises in his article.

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“Manchester United dominated English football for the best part of two decades under the management and wider leadership of Sir Alex Ferguson, but they were constantly challenged, whether it was Arsenal or Chelsea. And they rarely, if ever, cantered to the title as City have done.

"[...]For so long we have looked at Bayern Munich in Germany, Paris Saint Germain in France and Juventus in Italy and shaken our heads. The Premier League was far too competitive, with too much money sloshing around, to worry about it happening here.”

What Edwards does here is serve a massive injustice to the word “dominated”, because Manchester United didn’t just dominate the Premier League for two decades, they tied it up in the basement and made it wear a gimp suit.

They won 13 of the first 21 Premier League titles, going back-to-back twice and going back-to-back-to-back twice also. During their win in 2000 they finished 18 points clear of their closest rival, Arsenal. Of the remaining titles, ten were won by four points or more, meaning that their wins only ever went down to the final day of the season twice. This is complete and utter, league-ruining domination.

So, let’s look at City’s league wins and see how dominant they truly were. In 2012, the title was won with literally the last kick of the game after being 8 points behind United only a month prior to the season ending. In 2014, the title was won on the final day of the season despite, much to the annoyance of scousers, only actually being top of the table for 14 days throughout the entire season. In 2018, a Centurion season saw a legitimate claim to true dominance, however in 2019 the title was, once again, won on the final day of the season as Liverpool pushed them to the wire, requiring a 14 game winning streak to do so.

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To put it simply, of Manchester City’s four current titles, three have gone to the wire. That’s more than Manchester United managed in 13 wins. City’s best ever Premier League finish in terms of points ahead of second place is admittedly the highest the league has ever seen, though it’s only one more than both Ferguson’s United and Klopp’s Liverpool managed. In general terms, it’s nothing the league hasn’t seen before or since.

And ultimately, this is the main problem. Manchester City’s “dominance” is being talked about as if it’s some kind of death knell for the Premier League despite the fact that it’s nowhere close to the levels we’ve seen before. Edwards literally makes the argument against the very premise of the article in his own article.

As for the idea that we’ve always looked at the likes of Bayern Munich and Juventus and scoffed, that’s absolutely true. However, we basically had that level of league domination once before. Yet that period of Manchester United domination is often looked back on fondly - a testament to the utter genius of Ferguson rather than their ability to strong-arm rivals out of their best talents and throw around sums of money which virtually nobody else was capable of doing, a narrative which is suddenly all the rage now that City are the one hoovering up domestic trophies.

If anything, during the last decade where Bayern, Juventus and PSG have monopolised their leagues, the Premier League has only once had a club retain the league and has experienced five different champions in that time, comfortably more than any of the other top five European leagues. The Premier League is doing just fine.

“In terms of the title, we have had two clubs turn it into a one-horse-race from the halfway stage, two years running. They were different teams, true, but it is not great for entertainment or excitement levels when you effectively know who are going to be champions before the spring flowers have bloomed.”

The first line of this particular segment is absolutely true, though again this brings me back to the point that little of this ire has been aimed towards Liverpool - only City. It might be easy to exclude the current champions now that they’ve fallen so hilariously, desperately behind that they were long gone from the conversation by January but, where City accumulated 198 points over two seasons from 2017-2019, Liverpool managed 196. Not exactly a huge difference.

However, much in the same way that Ferguson’s success is treated as a great thing, the prospect of Liverpool continuing to dominate was met with glee in the wider media. The only one who actually did bring up the conversation of Liverpool walking away with the league being a negative, staying consistent to his own narrative about City, was every City fan’s favourite journalist, Miguel Delaney.

I have to bring it back to the earlier stat, Liverpool were 27 points clear of second placed City at this stage of last season. That’s more than double our current advantage over second place. Despite this, City have simply managed to put a run of wins together in a Premier League season where absolutely everybody is tripping over themselves to drop points and suddenly we might as well just pack it all in, football’s doomed.

City’s opening to the season was pitiful. Even with the games in hand, we found ourselves 13th in the table after losing to Spurs. If nobody else in the league could capitalise on the fact that we weren’t at the races for the best part of three months then that sounds like a problem with everybody else, not us.

If Manchester United hadn’t lost to Sheffield United, giving them their second win of the season, and had held on for one free-kick against Everton, or if they’d managed to beat only one of the top six this season they’d be only four or five points behind City right now and a derby win would bring them within a couple of points, blowing the league wide open.

However, they didn’t. They’ve dropped stupid points all season long and find themselves 12 points behind. That’s on United, not City.

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“When you also know that the club’s financial support from Abu Dhabi is so extravagant and immune to the financial squeeze of a global pandemic that it is City who will be able to sign more of the world’s best players in the summer - maintaining their luxurious position of constantly being able to strengthen from a position of strength.”

This is obviously true, City will be able to spend money in summer, though this isn’t a privilege which is exclusive to City.

Chelsea are coming off the back of a nearly £250m summer window and they’ll no doubt be going for it again next summer, with Champions League money, a transfer ban and some high-profile player sales in that time giving them a hefty cash reserve and the platform they need to continue spending.

Manchester United, a club who last year had the Norweigian Andy Serkis boasting about how they were in a great position to “exploit the market” because of coronavirus and ultimately only didn’t sign Jadon Sancho for approaching £100m because Dortmund stuck to their valuation of £115m. United have noodle, tractor and mattress sponsorships coming out of their arse, you can’t tell me that, even with their high ticket prices, they’re utterly dependent on their gate receipts in order to spend money.

Liverpool are riding the wave of having won the Champions League followed by the Premier League. They received a bigger share of the TV money in the last two seasons than anybody else. FSG should be exploiting this opportunity to, as Edwards puts it, strengthen from a position of strength. If they don’t want to do that then that’s on them.

Manchester City will always have money to spend because we’re backed by rich owners. This is just an undisputed fact. However, we’re not the only top club with rich owners who could easily make funds available to spend in the transfer window. As the below thread points out - the issue is other clubs’ owners don’t want to spend the money, not that they’re incapable of doing so.

We’re also not the only club who have spent vast sums of money - we’re just the only ones who are turning that expenditure into legitimate success because we have the world’s best manager at the helm and have spent that money wisely with a transfer strategy which, certainly in the last five years, has served us perfectly.

Edwards goes on to talk about the example of Erling Haaland and how, if it comes down to money, he will definitely choose Manchester City. Firstly, it’s been widely reported that it, in fact, will NOT come down to money and will, in fact, come down to where Haaland sees himself best fitting within a sporting project, much as he did when he chose Dortmund over Manchester United. Secondly, Manchester City have missed out on numerous targets because of money. Harry Maguire, Alexis Sanchez, Jorginho, Koulibaly, all high-profile examples in just the last few years of players who Manchester City have missed out on because they’ve refused to either exceed their own transfer valuations or match the wages another club is offering.

Sure, if Haaland says “give me a blank cheque and let me decide how much you pay me”, I’m sure (within reason) City could absolutely do that deal. So could United. The only difference is that City have repeatedly proved that they won’t do that, whereas the red half of Manchester has frequently proved that it will.

City will not simply go unchallenged for years to come with nobody able to possibly compete with their spending. This is just demonstrably false.

Reports of Manchester City’s dominance in the Premier League are greatly exaggerated. On the surface, yes, five titles in a decade (should we actually go on to win it this year) looks like a fairly dominant display, however this doesn’t really account for the fact that three of those have been heavily contested and have been decided on the final day of those seasons and that the club has only actually ever retained a title once. It also pales in comparison to the Ferguson years which came before this.

If we’re looking at the wider scale of English football, including all domestic cup competitions, then yes, City are absolutely dominating English football with silverware virtually every year. This is because we have a coach who will take the competitions seriously and not just do everything in his power to get out of the domestic competitions as soon as possible to free up space in the schedule. Pep Guardiola, and Manchester City, understand that truly successful teams are defined by consistent success and winning trophies regularly, not just winning two big trophies and calling them the best trophies ever.

However, when it comes to the Premier League, Manchester City are no more dominant than teams of the past. I would personally love for them to become the Juventus of the Premier League but, just like every other time a team has been set up to make the league their own for years to come, I highly doubt that will be the case.

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