Premier League at 25: Ruling the world – 2007-2012

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Fifteen years into its existence, life appeared to be accelerating for the Premier League: more money from more television deals; bigger stadiums and a vastly larger global audience; club owners showing less patience with their managers, supporters showing less patience with their club’s owners.

A year after winning consecutive titles with Chelsea, a few months after beating Manchester United in the FA Cup final, Jose Mourinho was gone from Stamford Bridge. His rehabilitation would not take long; at Inter Milan, he would win both Serie A and the Champions League. The club he left behind would get through another three managers in two years before finding their own way back to the title.

This was an era when, having conquered the sport’s commercial markets, Premier League teams would go tilting at the continent’s big trophies too. A run of seven years out of eight with an English team in the final of the Champions League included the appearance of both champions (Manchester United) and runners-up (Chelsea) in the final of 2008, John Terry’s penalty slip giving United their second European Cup under Alex Ferguson. Barcelona’s peerless tiki-taka would deny them two more over the next three years.

The balance of power could change quickly. On the last day of the 2007-08 season, Manchester City lost 8-1 at Middlesbrough. On 1 September, taken over by the Abu Dhabi Group, they were instantly the richest club in England. The noisy neighbours had arrived, flaunting their wealth with the £32.4m signing of Robinho and a billboard featuring former United star Carlos Tevez and the slogan ‘Welcome to Manchester’ on the city centre’s Deansgate. Rolando Bianchi and Gelson Fernandes would not be long for the Etihad.

With the wealth of the big boys at the top of the table it was a contest between the haves and the have mores. Elsewhere the football and the finances were not adding up in the same happy way. Portsmouth, big spenders, FA Cup winners, went into administration in 2010 with debts of £60m and would fall all the way to League Two. Derby were relegated in 2008 with a record low of 11 points.

While Ferguson fought on at United, seemingly reinvigorated by City’s fresh challenge, the other old stagers lost their touch and began to be moved on. Sven-Goran Eriksson, supposedly lined up as Ferguson’s successor when retirement had been mooted a few years before, instead came in at City and was then usurped himself by the younger charms of Mark Hughes and then Roberto Mancini. Kevin Keegan’s second spell at Newcastle ended just the way all had feared. Paul Ince, Roy Keane and Tony Adams, all playing stars of the Premier League’s first burst, found managerial posts harder to hang on to.

You couldn’t fault the entertainment. Before disappearing down the leagues, Portsmouth beat Reading 7-4. Sunderland beat Liverpool with the help of a beach ball and a confused referee.

When Chelsea, having experimented with Avram Grant, Luiz Felipe Scolari and Guus Hiddink, finally settled on Carlo Ancelotti, they won the Double in 2010 by scoring a record-breaking average of 2.71 goals a game. Didier Drogba powered in 29, Frank Lampard contributing 22 from midfield on his way to becoming the club’s all-time top scorer. His team scored seven or more goals in four Premier League matches.

Clearly in need of goals, they then spent £50m to bring Fernando Torres from Liverpool, just as the Spanish striker went from unstoppable to unrecognisable. Flush with funds, Liverpool then spent 50% more on Andy Carroll than they had on Luis Suarez earlier on the same day.

Neither Torres nor Carroll would score for three months, which was one of the reasons Ancelotti found himself sacked having taken Chelsea to first and second place in his only two seasons there. He also left with the third best win-loss record in the league’s history, a one-two-three made easier to bear by the £6m severance payment he received. More money, less patience.

Totems kept toppling. Newcastle United were the next great old club to be relegated – just months before the football world mourned the loss of their former manager and servant of England Sir Bobby Robson. Technology kept moving the game along, match reports being challenged by live text commentaries and then social media, even if not everything stuck – 3D filming arrived on Sky to a fanfare and slipped away to shrug.

When Ferguson’s United won their 19th top-flight title in 2011 to surpass the mark of their traditional rivals Liverpool, their hegemony seemed safe. Liverpool had lost patience with their own Champions League winner Rafa Benitez. Chelsea kept hiring and firing, Andre Villas-Boas succeeding Ancelotti, Roberto di Matteo succeeding in Europe and then getting the heave-ho too.

How rapidly it changed. In October 2011 United lost 6-1 at home to a rampant City. Losing again to Mancini’s men as the season reached its climax, this time by the far narrower margin of 1-0 but with just as much impact, they were still champions elect with 92 minutes gone on the season’s final day.

Then came Edin Dzeko, and then came Sergio Aguero. In three added-on minutes, Premier League supremacy had shifted again. Everything in higher definition, everything speeding up.

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